At first sight, the vast square at the center of Marrakech is a complete tourist trap. A second look confirms that impression, with a crowd of snake-charmers, itinerant dentists, story-tellers, magicians and musicians in exotic costumes vying for your attention – and money.
It is easy to lose patience with the constant hustling – salesmen pushing carpets, would-be guides, waiters waving restaurant menus – but the solution is simple. I stand still for 15 minutes and start to be ignored, having become part of the scenery and not the action. Now I can watch the drama in comfort. The backpacker getting caught trying to sneak pictures of the shake charmer without paying, the wealthy couple having a quiet argument about what to do tomorrow, the visiting rural Moroccans wandering in awe, mouths agape.
Orange sellers bring an extra splash of vivid color to the picture, their fruit made brighter by harsh neon lighting. The smells of cooking hang the air, as does the noise of animated conversation from the many food stalls, busy with many more locals than foreigners. It is a world away from the modern suburbs of Marrakech, with their detached European-style family homes, identical apartment blocks and unfinished air: buildings started in a flush of optimism that sit awaiting some final touches that may never come.
The Djema el-Fna might not be real life, but everyone here knows they have a part to play on this stage. Even if it's only a walk-on role for the camera-snapping tourists like me.
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