Wending our way from east to west, skirting the Sahara, we arrived in Ouarzazate, the premier film-making region of North Africa. We hired Mohamed, a local guide, to explore the town's impressive Kasbah Taourirt that has featured in so many desert movies. Not to be confused with Mohamed, our travel companion and my other son. Mohamed chatters enthusiastically about his own participation as an extra in many past movies.
Taourirt the Kasbah is immense ... we clamber up, down, and through dozens of interior stairways and passages. Without Mohamed we would still be wandering in the maze of over 300 rooms. It was a workout and well worth it. The harem, guest apartments, family rooms ... paying attention to the intricate carved cedar ceilings wherever we go.
Built in the nineteenth century, Taourirt housed an extended family that controlled trade routes in the region. Some of it now deteriorated, UNESCO has funded partial renovations for public viewing.
We discover an artists' gallery, oh good! Some of them are working on site, by a balcony overlooking the main courtyard. Plenty of mementos here to choose from.
Back on the street, across from the kasbah entrance is the finish line for a long distance runners' competition. An orderly crowd is applauding them; local police acting as marshals seem superfluous. Doug is kindly carrying my heavy bag for me as we near our vehicle. When I reach to retrieve it, he jokes, yelling "Help, police! Thief!" A cop on the corner immediately turns and starts toward us. Much nervous hilarity, Doug goes over to talk with him; another friend made.
|Credit: Mark Charteris|
On we go to Atlas Film Studios not far away. Countless well-known movies have been wholly or partly filmed here: Ben Hur, Cleopatra, Kundun, Alexander, Gladiator, The Man Who Would be King, Game of Thrones, even some of Lawrence of Arabia and Queen of the Desert, always something in the works. Much to my surprise, also The Way Back (escape from a Siberian gulag), a most excellent under-rated film. Presently a mini-series called Tut is in production. We are waved away, "no cameras, no cameras." Enormous Egyptian sets and replicas are everywhere, although it would take more than a few hours to cover its twenty hectares!
We walked through a biblical-era market village, passed the site of Cleopatra's milk bath, admired an abandoned shipwreck, posed on temple steps, mingled with mounted tribesmen, and, before enjoying a leisurely, quiet lunch by the pool of the studio's Oscar Hotel, Heather snagged this fabulous photo of two extras:
Our afternoon was devoted to the nearby UNESCO site of Ait Ben Haddou, a fortified village (ksar) on a hillside. A "traditional pre-Saharan earthen construction habitat" and good example of southern Morocco architecture. Seventeenth century buildings likely grew over older ones since caravan times. Families still live here, making it difficult to monitor conservation and repair.
First we head down the hill from the tourist-built town to the Mellah river. After crossing the bridge our little group splits up for different directions and paces. This is a town where people have lived permanently for centuries but I'm not surprised to see a few vendors on the upward, narrow thoroughfare. I am tired and decide not to huff my way up to the top to see a tower. A vendor (another Mohamed) of snacks and drinks lets me park on a chair. He has a little English.
An older man with some English from a shop across the way comes to chat even though I am asleep with my eyes open. He gets my not wanting to climb the hill and says "asthma" pointing to himself. He tells me his inhalor is empty; somehow automatically I say I always have mine with me. His unspoken question hovers ... I ramble on about doctor's prescriptions, uneasy with the thought.
Mohamed's place is more than snacks and drinks; now that I'm awake again I am eyeing some nice dresses and scarves within/without his shop. And next door. And of course across the way. Many locally-made products.
Eventually I can't resist browsing the merchandise. Older man is helpful. OK, my conscience leaps and I ask if he wants to use my inhalor. Brisk nodding of the head. He shakes it and takes three very deep satisfying puffs. In gratitude, he grabs a scarf and winds a turban around my head with Mohamed nodding approval.
So I decide it behooves me to sit out front and give the patter to passing tourists like "Come inside ... many colours ... nice gifts ... I make you best price."
Doug shows up a little astonished at the tableau. Another one of those Moments.
© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman