Saturday, October 15, 2011

MOROCCO WITH PRINCESS DR BECKY LEOGARDO AND MICHAEL MANTZ

KEE@FSWMAG.COM
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Kee Hua Chee caused a sensation in the Old Medina with snake necklace and signature attire with painted portraits!
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Michael Mantz just blended in...
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Kee Hua Chee by the wall of a corner shop painted with portrait of His Majesty King Mohammad VI of Morocco
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Michael Mantz with new friend Sahid, owner of 3 shops in the kasbah

MY FIRST TRIP TO NORTH AFRICA AND MOROCCO! I HAVE BEEN TO SOUTH AFRICA TWICE BEFORE, THE FIRST TIME ON MALAYSIA AIRLINES' INAUGURAL FLIGHT. SO FAR SO GOOD!

MIND YOU, IT TOOK THE THREE OF US SOME 18 HOURS TO REACH CASA BLANCA WHERE WE ARE LUXURIATING AT LE ROYAL MANSOUR LE MERIDIEN HOTEL. FROM KL IT WAS 7 HOURS TO DUBAI WHERE WE WAITED IN TRANSIT FOR TWO AND HALF HOURS AND THEN ANOTHER 8 HOURS TO CASA BLANCA, THE ECONOMIC CENTRE OF MOROCCO.

THE HOTEL NY MISTAKE SENT ITS LIMOUSINE YESTERDAY SO IN VAIN WE WAITED BUT GAVE UP AND TOOK A TAXI.

LE MANSOUR IS SMACK IN THE HEART OF CASA BLANCA AKIN TO KL'S GOLDEN TRIANGLE SO AFTER A SHOWER, MICHAEL MANTZ AND I WALKED 7 MINUTES TO THE OLD MEDINA WHICH IS LIKE A SOUK OR KASBAH OR BAZAAR. DUE TO ITS FAME, ALL 3 WORDS PLUS 'MEDINA' HAVE ENTERED MAINSTREAM ENGLISH! PRINCESS BECKY DECIDED TO HAVE A SNOOZE SO WE LEFT HERE TO EXPLORE THE OLD MEDINA.

The Highlight of Our Visit to Old Medina was This Unexpected Wedding Procession! The Groom was enroute to his Bride's House to Claim Her Accompanied by his Entourage Bearing Gifts
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We heard music and merrymaking and followed the crowd
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We rushed upfront to see the handsome groom who seemed surprised to see me in my attire
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They started with loud clapping
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The groom greeting and paying respect to a representative of the bride or she could well be the mother of the bride
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The groom brought a huge bouquet of flowers which was warmly received
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The 4 bearers put their presentation pyramidal offerings down and began to flap their cloaks in response that their gifts and dowry had been accepted
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More dramatic flapping of their mantles
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I was reminded of swirling dervishes
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My Leica managed to freeze the movement and flapping of the groom's gift bearers
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Two bearers joining the groom
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The groom could not resist having a good look at me as I was the most exotic creature in Old Medina!
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He looks back to acknowledge and thank his entourage for his successful application!
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The gifts are carried again as a representative of the bride sprinkled scented rose water on the bride's entourage and I had to make sure my Leica lens did not get sprinkled!
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A huge grin from this carrier! They entered the bride's fortress like abode but Michael and I did not attempt to gate crash!

BELOW ARE IMAGES IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
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Michael Mantz crossing the street into the Old Medina
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Rows of shops flanking the walls and ramparts by the pavement
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The immediate entrance reveals a taste of things to come
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Michael Mantz takes in the sights and smells
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Hookah smoking pipes make great souvenirs
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The Old Clock Tower
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I like the paintings depicting traditional activities and scenes
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Michael Mantz preparing to enter the souk
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Very authentic and this scene could have been very similar hundreds of years ago
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Told you I like these hookah pipes!
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Traditional, brightly painted pottery
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So many choices
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These wooden products have such a lovely sheen and beautiful grain
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The souk or kasbah was the traditional meeting place centuries ago and nothing much has changed
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Storekeeper with his leather shoes meant to be worn inside the house
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The Moroccan shoe show!
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The sequinned shoes are my favorite! As expected
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The traditional dagger and palm of fortune make great gifts when framed
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Sexy belly dancer costumes
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Handsome young man
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Michael Mantz enjoying the Old Medina
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Well preserved old building
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Trendy gear for the young
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Traditional wares
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The old and new blended or maybe not
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The blue and pink costume is my favorite and costs around RM 1,000
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Shops in a courtyard
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Fabulous Moroccan traditional costumes
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I will take them all!
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Which to take?
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The balconies are so French
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Typical scene
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The two towers of Old Medina
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In the shadows of the towers
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Towering scene
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The old and the new
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We emerged from Old Medina onto the main avenue
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And re-entered by another entrance. The miniature bags are so cute
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I love the fringe bags!
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The leather bowls are actually seats
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At first I thought the name of this hotel was Hotel Bags of Luxury!
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I was the latest attraction at Old Medina briefly
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Karim leather shop
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This wall was painted with a portrait of His Majesty King Mohammad VI of Morocco
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The stately avenue flanked by matured palm trees
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All main thoroughfares should look like this! So elegant and beautiful
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This palm has creepers and phone box at its base
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Beautifully framed by gracious palms
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The Old Medina has new Hyatt as neighbour
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Sunset at Old Medina
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The central building is our hotel---Royal Mansour Le Meridien
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We then explored the old town commercial centre
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There were many neo-classic buildings
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And no sign of McDonald!
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Kebab on the roadside
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The hamburger here does not refer to pork but lamb
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1940s cinema
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This could be Paris!
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Bust of Bacchus the god of abundance
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So elegant and French
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The sunken lobby restaurant of Royal Mansour Le Meridien; very majestic with its ornamental ceiling
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The marble foyer
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The many faces of Kee Hua Chee under the portrait of His Majesty King Mohammad VI of Morocco
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Handsome and tall Badr inside the Moroccan Restaurant in Royal Mansour
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The lavish decor
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Badr serving Michael Mantz
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Michael Mantz and Kee Hua Chee
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The magnifcently decorated restaurant worthy of a palace
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Handsome Badr only added to the pervasive charm
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The lamps cast a golden glow
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The annex of the restaurant is done in dramatic red, yellow and orange and resembles a caravan serai tent
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The delightful decor of Royal Mansour's Moroccan restaurant
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Cosy corner
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Badr pouring mint tea
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Pouring mint tea is an artform as you need pour from a distance to bring out the mint flavour!
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Badr did not spill a single drop
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Badr preparing my chicken cous-cous
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After preparing the cous cous into the traditional shape, he places the chicken in the middle of the cous cous
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Badr pours the gravy..yummy! Both my cous cous and him
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Badr has prepared my chicken cous cous---service with a smile!


Le Royal Mansour Le Meridien enjoys the most central location so the next time you visit Casa Blanca ('White House' in French as Morocco was once a French colony/Protectorate) you should make your base here. From my room 722, I can see and admire the huge King Hassan II Mosque by the beach. The minaret of this mosque reaches 210 metres, making King Hassan II Mosque the highest religious building in the world, not just in the Islamic world.

The Old Medina seems to be unchanged since centuries past though the goods are now different. There are the usual fake Louis Vuittons and fellow designer copies, the unavoidable Puma, Adidas, Nike and Reebok shoes and sports gear, handicrafts like leather house slippers and leather goods like bags for which Morocco is justly famous and finally the souvenirs like accessories, jewellery, knick-knacks and the hookah pipes. The nicer and better designed leather bags are usually quoted around 1,000 Moroccan Dirhams (their currency) which is around 100 euros or RM 500 but I did not bother to haggle but I am sure I could bargain it down to RM 300 or RM 350 but none really caught my fancy since i bought heaps of bags in Turkey and they seem rather similar.

The Old Medina , partly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake,contains the oldest monuments of the city and the two towers or minarets are famous landmarks. Nextdoor is Hyatt so getting there is easy. The avenue is lined with matured, stately pine trees which are very impressive and grand.
The Old Medina is by the coast and stretches a mile. We loved the old, original buildings. most could do with a new coat of paint and some came with lovely architectural details with a faint hint of Paris buildings as France was once Morocco's overlord.

Unlike Singapore whose heritage buildings have been painted and renovated to the skin of its teeth, the rather shabby and even somewhat rundown buildings in Old Medina give them a very authentic air. There did not seem to be many tourists as the mats sallehs (white men) were far and few inbetween.

Arabic is the main and official language but everyone also speaks French and most get by with English. A few spoke to me in French which I found flattering. One asked if I could speak Arabic and seemed surprised I could not. Quite a few thought I was Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Singaporean but none asked if I was Malaysian. By the time I was through, I bet all Chinky tourists would be assumed to be Malaysians!

Michael and I thought we would get lost amid the warren of mazes, side streets and alleys but the Old Medina was built with protective walls and ramparts so we knew we could not get lost for long. Surprisingly, our sense of direction held and we had no difficulty finding our way back.

As usual, I caused a major commotion as I wore my snake necklace, pink shirt with my grinning portrait, white pants with my images front and back and matching white shoes with my face painted on each.

The stallholders, 99% male, stared at me blatantly, either in great admiration or derision but since they were all grinning, pointing at me and inviting me to enter their shops, I guess they must be too stunned to do anything more than gawk. They kept calling me 'Jacky Chan' which is better than 'Bruce Lee' who is dead. In London Camden Town market, many called me 'Bruce Lee'. Several asked me pointblank if my snake had already bitten me. Or they seemed flummoxed I was wearing my faces all over my attire from shirt to shoes.

I lost count the number of times they pointed at my shoes and my face in mounting astonishment. As a few told me, they had seen lots of people wearing their idols or football heroes' faces on T-shirts but this was the first time they had seen someone wearing his own face not just on shirt but pants and shoes. Just as well I left my bag in the hotel as that had my face painted front and back.

Unlike the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, none offered me mint tea whereas the Turkish stall keepers kept piling me with apple tea. But Michael and I enjoyed infinitely better, more interesting and fascinating----a marriage procession by the groom to the bride's house! I am unsure if the building in Old Medina was really the home of the bride or a venue for rental.

But this irrelevant. We heard the banging of drums and cymbals and singing. So we hurriedly followed the sound of merrymaking and within minutes caught by with the spectacular sight of a marching band and 4 men carrying what looked like 4 purplish-pink pyramids on their head which contained sweetmeats or part of the dowry. The Chinese custom does not allow the groom to claim his bride at her house without giving dowry and angpow containing cash to the bride's family and friends who form a barrier easily dismantled by offerings!

I never knew Moroccan husbands to be had to know how to dance! The groom in western suit had to twirl and dance and clap as the four men in traditional white costumes danced and spinned around him, reminding me a bit of Dervish dancers. Strange the groom did not wear traditional costume like his entourage. But he looked dashing and handsome so it was one lucky bride!

He greeted the mother of the bride who led an all female contingent who emerged from inside the fortress-like gates. One elderly woman must have been a paid member as all she did was stick her tongue out to produce a strident, ear-piercing and unpleasant 'roo roo rooo roooo' sound made more bizarre by her raucous whistling and protruding tongue which startled my delicate senses.

The 4 male dancers put on their pyramidal structures they were carrying on the heads and pulled their white cloaks to flap them around, creating a dramatic scene as the groom seemed quite swallowed by a sea of white waves.

I wanted to follow inside but felt that might be a rude intrusion as I did so badly wanted to see the bride. I guess I should have been more thick-skinned and followed the crowd inside. I am sure the bridal couple would not be annoyed. Moroccans are famous for their friendly, hospitable nature.

By the way, you must ask permission to take photos as a handful were determined not to allow anyone take photos of their shops and wares. This is really a bizarre bazaar! I was told they believed anyone taking their photos would also take control of their souls! But this also extended to their goods which I doubt as I don't believe shoes and t-shirts and leather jackets have souls or spirits.

Anyway, one shop owner insisted I deleted the 2 photos I took of his leather slippers and to think I was planning to buy half a dozen pairs after snapping the images. So he lost some business!

Some allowed me to take pictures of their shops and contents but scooted off to avoid being in the picture! At least none asked me to buy first before taking pictures as have happened to me in other countries! Or asked me to pay for taking their pictures!

Another ran after me and was quite upset as I took a picture of a fruit drinks shop that had his wife inside! So I deleted and he was relieved and thanked me profusely.

Dinner was at the Moroccan Restaurant in Royal Mansour Le Meridien. The setting was magnificent! The entire restaurant was lavishly decorated with Moroccan artworks, friezes, canopies, lamps and comfy sofas worthy of a palace. The supervisor Badr or Peter in English as he explained was handsome and tall at 189 cm. He wore red harem pants trousers and expertly poured mint tea by pulling the liquid a metre high. So similar to our teh tarik!

Michael Mantz and I went to the Business Lounge on the 9 floor for more mint tea before returning to our adjoining rooms. And so ended my first day in Casa Blanca.

THE END