Quote: To get to know a country…


To get to know a country, you must have direct contact with the earth.
It’s futile to gaze at the world through a car window.

– Albert Einstein


Looks like good stew ingredients – the soup souq?


Photos of lusciously arranged market wares are almost cheating, blog-wise.  I mean the layouts are designed to be beautiful and tempting!  It's nearly inescapable, the magnetism of such images, and I am not immune.  But occasionally something a little different is nice.

I've seen several gorgeous pictures of spices, dyes, and even shoes come out of the souqs (markets) of Morocco.  However, I wasn't as liberal with my camera usage there as I usually am, due in no small part to my friend, Rachid, warning me about how Moroccan people don't like their pictures taken.  He would sometimes walk several paces in front of or behind me, and be cleverly distracted by needing to tie his shoe or send a text message, during the times I did take a photo (plausible deniability, you see).

In an effort to respect privacy, I tried to get wider, more anonymous shots while I was there.  There were times when, as both a blogger and an appreciator of beautiful imagery, I found this tremendously frustrating.  The profile of an exceedingly handsome older gentleman at the Tetouan bus station still strikes me as one of the great missed opportunities of a lifetime.  (On the other hand, I have complicated feelings about objectifying people, so…)

In any case, during our limited time in Marrakech – not enough time for me, but too much time for Rachid – we made the obligatory visit to the main souq.  I was glad I'd spent so much time in Naples, as the zooming scooters and surprise donkey carts squeezing through the narrow lanes could easily squish an onlooker.  Rachid still had to warn me a couple of times, since the aforementioned artistic displays were indeed quite mesmerizing.

As with real estate arrangements world wide, those with the greatest visibility and ease of accessibility probably paid the highest rent, and thus charged the most for their products.  The further one got from the main paths, the less commercial and more affordable things became.  I think things also became more locally-oriented, which tends to be more educational than staying where all the flash and finery reside.

I cannot claim that exploring the back alleys of the souq was necessarily the "contact with the earth" of which Einstein spoke, but it was certainly less glossy and insulated than riding around in a tour bus.  (Also, I got to say, "soup souq".  ;)


Have you gotten to know a place minus the insulation?


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  1. I definitely accidentally get people in my photos even when I don’t want to. I figure if they see me taking pictures and walk in front of my camera I don’t really need permission. I don’t really do people pictures at all (even of myself) although I should really try.

    Love the markets, looking forward to wandering Istanbul in a few weeks.

    1. Dang, Andrew, I thought I replied to this comment already. Sorry for the delay, buddy. I guess I write more in my mind than in the outside world.

      I generally go by the “identifiable face” rule. If they are in the distance, covered, or turned away, it’s usually a safe bet. I think there are some legal precedents for that, too, and I know there are specific guidelines for photographers’ rights and responsibilities online. It varies by country, naturally, but there are some general rules to keep you and your subjects safe and happy. Rather than try to memorize it all, though, I tend to go with attempting to be generally respectful as best I can. :)

  2. My fingers were itching to take photos at a K-Pop concert last weekend, but I couldn’t for copyright reasons….OK, so that’s not the same thing at all.

    I do get what you mean about taking photos of people, though. I never want to ask because I’m afraid it won’t look “natural”, but yet usually don’t take photos because I’m worried about the reaction of the person who’s photograph I’m taking. I usually stick with buildings, scenery, and photos of me and my friends.

    And YES to getting away from the centre – it’s a lot more rewarding, and almost always easier on the wallet ;)

    1. Interesting about the “natural” angle. In my experience so far, it’s North Americans and Europeans who cheese it up the most. I’m sure it happens elsewhere, but the horrible fake mugging doesn’t seem as prevalent in other cultures. Well, except in children, and then it’s just cute. ;)

  3. I always feel so weird taking photos of strangers, even where photo taking is perfectly acceptable. I think that’s why I end up mostly taking shots of buildings or landscapes.. they don’t seem likely to mind ;)

    1. Yeah, when I’m up close to someone, I ask permission. But people photos are not my specialty. I tend to go more for nature, critters, food, or landscapes myself. I often find myself waiting and waiting for people to get the heck out of the way, and yet 2 of my favorite photos of all time – Roman baths in Pompeii and two women looking into the crater on Vesuvius – had accidental people in them (anonymous). Sometimes the thing that irks you is the thing that makes the picture.

  4. I love your market photo — that first one is truly special, with so many layers. Dreamy idea of traveling without insulation. I honestly think I do that too much. It wasn’t until my 30s that I would, shudder, take a tour. But I’ve missed out on so many things! There are often reasons that something is “touristy”!

    1. Very true. My first trip to Italy helped shape some of the way I look at travel. First part was a couple of simple day tours – Pompeii, Rome, etc. – but the second part of the trip was ALL Couchsurfing, camping, and faith! I find that both types have merit for different reasons. Independent, off-the-beaten-path travel is wonderful for so many reasons, not the least of which is the great friends you meet, but kitschy, tourist stuff has a charm all its own. Will have to make to that giant twine ball in the US some day!

  5. I don’t understand how anyone could go somewhere like this and not want to get out of a tour bus? Or if they got out, not want to go exploring? Walking around markets is one of my favourite things to do in a city!!

    1. Sometimes it’s not so much a matter of desire as time or other factors. Our trip to Egypt was a total package deal, hand-held and sculpted from start to finish. Most of the time we prefer to Couchsurf and travel more adventurously, but I was working 40 hours/week and there just wasn’t time. …but I’ll go back! :D

  6. I can imagine how your fingers must have itched to take more photos, especially of the people around the souk, it’s a great place to do portraits but I can also see how that must feel really strange for them. Those photos that you did manage to take capture enough of the atmosphere anyway, to get an idea of what it must be like.

    1. Thanks, Aledys. I appreciate that. I started out blogging on Photoblog.com, so having good photos – whether artistically beautiful or simply substantial enough to tell a story – is important. I think I need to go back to Morocco and simply be bold enough to ask people for permission so I can tell stories the way I like to do it. But I’m glad what’s there is enough for now. :)

  7. I have seen a ton of market photos, too — but they are still compelling! Markets always feel so vibrant, and make me really want to visit a place!

    1. I know what you mean! All the fruit and finery are so compelling. :D

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