February 15, 2020
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O, Marrakesh

O, Marrakesh
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AS the plane noses down towards Marrakesh, stately domes the colour of dusty salmon swim into view. There is something unreal about them—as if a latter-day Kubla Khan has decreed they pop up overnight. On the ground, driving through the wide avenues lined by date trees, the impression of being in an illusionary city persists. Every building is the same colour: dusty salmon. It has to be: it’s the royal decree. There are no high-rises, no ubiquitous glass of corporate modernity—just exquisite domed palaces with endless courtyards and corridors, and palace-like hotels, of largely Moorish architecture. You could be wandering through the land of Arabian Nights—one made to order for the rich and famous of Europe on the Oriental track. It’s long been the playground of rock and film stars: the Rolling Stones frolicked here a while. And many French actors, including Alain Delon, have homes here. Yet, you can’t help but feel that all this is just a painted backdrop. Backstage, the modernity mantra prevails: another royal decree, to push back reactionary forces and fundamentalism gathering force in many Islamic countries. You rarely see burqas or chadors outside the Medina or the old city. Young women walk about, carefree, in off-shoulders and halters. The men don’t glare. An Indian diplomat tells me King Mohammed VI has made it a punishable offence to impinge on the freedom of women to behave and dress how they want to. Wish others followed suit.
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