>> Tuesday, February 18, 2014 – suitcases
Are we too dependent on vision? Years ago I saw an exhibition at the Canadian Centre of Architecture in Montreal that asked this question, one I haven't forgotten. Vision is often the golden sense. It is standardized in a way in which scent and touch are not. How we prioritize vision is even reflected in language. Do you see my point?
The 2005 exhibition Sense of the City questioned the dominance of vision in experiencing urban space. I remember walking through the galleries, slipping on headphones to hear the recorded oral clutter of the Paris metro at rush hour, opening glass bottles to smell the essence of freshly baked bread, in one bottle, and then ripe garbage in another. The exhibition certainly left an impression on me and I think it is because I heard it, felt it and smelled it, instead of having only looked at it. Regrettably, however, I did not taste it.
As I was walking to the metro this morning, the air was still crisp, but it also smelled sweet. It smelled malty. This is no coincidence. Munich drinks a lot of beer and, therefore, brews a lot of beer. No matter how scarce space is in the city, the local breweries certainly don't have any shortage. They are dotted throughout the city and at certain times, you smell them long before you see them.
If Munich smells malty, when I was in Marrakech in late December the city smelled like a blend between juicy citrus, grilled meat and fresh mint. As much of a feast for the eyes Marrakech may be, it is even more so for your nose and your mouth.
Nowhere is the smells of citrus, grilled meat and fresh mint stronger than at Marrakech's heart and soul: Jemaa el Fna. This UNESCO World Heritage site was by far my favourite place to eat and it is where we went for dinner no less than five nights out of the seven that we spent in the city.
Before arriving in Marrakech, I had heard mixed things about the food in the city's main square. Like with most reviews, some said it was worth it and others said it wasn't. I now side with the former. There is no denying that Jemaa el Fna is the Moroccan version of Venice's Piazza San Marco and has higher prices to prove, but the atmosphere is simply incomparable.
The food was pretty great too. Not surprisingly, the simpler the better: soft cornbread perfect for scooping up a soupy tomato salsa, fleshy olives, merguez sausages, couscous with good olive oil. They weren't my favourite, but I still had fun eating snails in saffron broth.
The definite underdog of the Jemaa el Fna is the stand selling a vegetarian rift on a burger. It sounds so wrong, but it was surprisingly delicious and satisfying: bread stuffed with chunks of boiled potato and egg, la vache qui rit, a generous glug of olive oil and then just some salt and pepper. That's it. It is is something that feels too silly to make at home, but if I find myself one day back in Marrakech, it will be the first food stand at Jemaa el Fna that I'll visit.
Often reduced to a supporting role, the olives and the sesame seed bread seemed to always be the part of the meal, regardless of if on the street, in a restaurant, for breakfast and with dinner.
There are lots of other little details that I want to remember - carrots in orange blossom water, honey pastries with candied orange peel, chicken tagine with preserved lmeons and olives, couscous with golden raisins, fresh avocado juice, saffron tea, buttery crepes, bitter lemon juice, red cabbage salad with argan oil and dried apricots, mint tea with verveine, purple cactus fruit, a date and orange blossom shake.
Beyond the edible, I want to remember the heat of the neighbourhood bakeries and that all of the historic descriptions for the city monuments are written in first person. "I am the remaining part of the old city wall." "I was built in year x to then be destroyed in year y."
It makes me want to write a recipe from the perspective of an ingredient. Keeping with the topic of citrus, let's say from the view of an orange. "Peel me and remove as much of my pith. Slice me thinly and then top me with cinnamon."
All of my senses were working hard in Marrakech and, like that exhibition Sense of the City, I think that my memory of the city is stronger because of it.
But let's return to vision for a second. What about that table with the view? It was at Kasbah Bab Ourika, where we stopped one day for lunch. It gave us excellent vin gris, tasty olive oil, and that view of the Atlas Mountains. Even up in the mountains it smelled like citrus, grilled meat and fresh mint, and I think that I enjoyed the view even more because of the background smells.