Flying in over Marrakech for the first time you can't help but be impressed with the riveting contrasts of the North African landscape—rugged mountains, stunning coast line, hard rocky deserts, verdant oases, sandy dunes—and a satellite dish on every rooftop. So we land in Morocco around lunchtime, meet Mo #1, who for the next week will be our guide, fixer, translator, problem solver, problem creator, con man, and raconteur. He is a piece of work. Six and a half feet tall, and every inch the walking, talking cliche of the savvy souk (market) negotiant. Need a rug? Mo has a cousin. Need a camel for a shot? Mo knows a guy. Of course once you drive half-way across the country to get your camel or your rug, the deal has changed, the rules have been renegotiated, and Mo is now in charge.
Here is a typical chat with Mo:
Me: What time are we meeting in the lobby tomorrow to start our day?
Shannon (my producer): I'm thinking 8 a.m.
Mo: 9 a.m
Shannon: Mo, we need to start at 8.
Mo: No, 9 is fine.
Shannon: But we have to be at our location at 9. We meet at 8, Mo.
Me: Mo, don't look at me, Shannon is in charge.
Mo, ignoring everyone, stomps off to the van. He does not like taking direction from an American woman.
Now this may all seem trivial, but since we are paying Mo, and he is translating for us, and arranging all our trip details, his reworking of our agenda, which he tries at least six times a day, is a royal pain in the ass. Everywhere we go, we grease his people, we stop for his coffee, we listen to him complain, and we quickly realize that we need to give him credit for the idea, out loud, in public conversation.
Shannon: Mo, I like your idea of getting an 8 a.m. start tomorrow, so we get to the shoot at 9.
Mo: That's what I have been saying!
You get the idea, and you will learn all about Mo as the week grows old. Mo #2 is Mo #1's assistant and driver-sidekick, and Mo #2 thinks Mo#1 is crazy. This should be a fun shoot.
So we check into our hotel and head right out to shoot in the Djemma al Fna, which is the oldest market in North Africa, the cultural ground zero of Moroccan street life, the location of the Koutoubia, a giant mosque tower and also home to every vagrant, peddler, and one-eyed con man in the city. Behind the Djemma is the old souk, a labrynthine spider's web of alleys and dead-ends that is home to tens of thousands of little shops, kiosks, and lunch counters. Anything you can ever imagine finding for sale is sold in the souk. Spices, olives, lamps, mint, kebabs, candy, caravan serai—you name it, and it's also highly dangerous the further and deeper you penetrate the network of streets that are purposely unnamed and uniquely serpentined to allow for people who know the layout to dissappear if need be, say with a purloined purse.
We shoot some b-roll and hit the main square at dinner hour, when all the carts roll in from all over the city, turning the Djemma into the greatest collection of portable snack carts I have seen since spending a few days on New Lane in Penang. From sheeps heads to liver kebabs, fresh-squeezed citrus juice to whole fried flounder, tagines of every type and mint tea at every turn. I am starting to warm up to this place.