42) Lockdown 18: Return to Gueliz

A cloudy sunset over Gueliz, the first “modern” neighborhood in Marrakech.

When we first started spending time in Marrakech in 2005, we rented and then purchased a small apartment in Gueliz, the neighborhood planned and built by the French when they ruled this section of Morocco from 1912 to 1956. We have returned to the neighborhood now to be near to the clinic where Jean Marie is getting treatment for his heart and lung issues.

I took the photo above from the balcony of the furnished apartment we are renting. It is a good illustration of the rapid change here. When the colonial administrator Colonel Louis Lyautey hired architect Henri Prost to lay out the new town, buildings were limited to three stories in height. Gueliz was a residential area for the French colonists who built houses like the low buildings in the center of the photo. When we arrived, there were still many of these art-deco era villas, shops and hotels in Gueliz. Now almost all of them have been replaced by high rise apartments, hotels and commercial buildings. Some remain abandoned and crumbling, probably because of ownership disputes. The wealthy owner of one large villa next to a second apartment we rented in a different neighborhood left it to rot because he did not want to pay tax on it if occupied.

Abandoned villas as seen from our balcony.

An old three-story commercial building and a newer, higher one.

There are two stories about how Gueliz got its name. The first and I think most likely, is that the quarter is named after the hill at the north west border of this otherwise flat area, which is called Djebl (mount) Gueliz, probably derived from the Berber word Igiliz, a group of Berbers in the Atlas Mountains nearby. The second is that Gueliz is a deformation of “Église,” the French word for church. Indeed, one of the first things the French built was a large Catholic Church, still in use but no longer allowed to chime its bells.

A lovely large covered market featuring meat, fish, produce, flowers, spices, crafts, bric a brac and a few art galeries drew us to locate here 15 years ago. We could walk most everywhere including to the lively Medina, the old town, and still park our car in front of the apartment building. We paid parking guards small daily fees, one for day and a second for night, to keep watch on it.

About three years after we arrived in Gueliz, plans were made to tear down the market and build a shopping center. The old buildings were being speedily replaced and traffic was building up. I read in the newspaper then that a team of Canadian experts had been called in to consult on a new traffic plan. Seeing the morass of luxury cars, ancient taxis, horse carts and motor scooters with whole families aboard, the team told Marrakech officials it was an impossible job and left. One of the last straws for us was when the city replaced the efficient street parking attendants with parking meters and Denver boots. There were street fights over the Denver boots and many cars simply parked on the sidewalks since apparently that was not illegal. We began the process of decamping to Sidi Ifni. But that is another story.

An olive stand at a traditional Moroccan market like our old one in Gueliz.

Now replaced by the Carre Eden mall and Starbucks.

Prior to the arrival of the new coronavirus, Marrakech was a hustling bustling place. Morocco promotes the city as its prime tourist destination. A vast new airport terminal accommodates hundreds of cheap flights from Europe and beyond. Now, however the city is totally quiet, except for construction noise and barking dogs at night after the 7 p.m. curfew.

Avenue Mohammed V, Main Street in Gueliz, eerie without the usual all-day traffic jam.

Morocco has extended its lockdown order for three additional weeks to June 10. Although the total numbers of confirmed virus cases (7211) and deaths (196) are still low for this country of 38 million people, Moroccans are not known for discipline and with the end of Ramadan coming this weekend, without a lockdown family and friends would mass for large celebrations. The rate of virus transmission may also still above one (R is estimated at between 0.6 and 1.8 by economists at the Media24 news website). New clusters continue to pop up, predominantly at industrial sites and in densely populated places such as the Medina here and in poor neighborhoods. Marrakech has 18.6% of the national total with 1307 cases.

Jean Marie read on Facebook that Apple has designated Morocco as having the world’s strictest lockdown based on their data of how far people are moving around with their IPhones. I couldn’t track down the source of this report, but I am ready to believe it.

The prospect of airspace opening up is also moving further and further into the future. We had booked a flight back to Marseille on June15 but the airline informed us it is already cancelled. We have filled out the paperwork to try to get on one of the very few repatriation flights organized by the French government and Air France, but we have not been offered seats on one of the two flights we know of for the month of May. According to a report in French newspaper La Croix, we are among 10,000 French citizens still stuck in Morocco. If it weren’t for Jean Marie’s medical problems, we would be quite happy to continue lying low in Sidi Ifni.

Unlike Sidi Ifni, even most of the small food shops are closed in Gueliz. The only places I’ve seen open are the post office, pharmacies, our favorite shop for Moroccan pastries and of course the supermarket at the new mall. I do our shopping there now, and admit to being glad they have both alcohol (available for non-muslims only during Ramadan) and ice-cream. It is now normal summer weather here, above 30C or 90F every day, but dry heat like Arizona.

I must now imagine the cookie man’s smile since masks are mandatory.

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