The drums start at sundown in the Medina

Don’t get caught on the plaza after midnight.

Down the side alleys off the Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh, the unwary can find perdition or boredom, but never salvation. It is choked with vast sprawling food stalls, dozens of entertainers—from monkey and snake wranglers to henna artists—but the princes of the Fnaa are the storytellers.

For centuries, Marrakesh has been a center for culture of North and West Africa, drawing entertainers, artisans, and merchants. By day, it is an enormous open-air market where you’re equally likely to get run down by a donkey as a motorbike. But at night, the pavers open to reveal a network of cooking gas and electricity. Several dozen mobile kitchens appear, seemingly from nowhere.

The songs of a dozen countries from a dozen different musicians begin drift across the square, competing for your ear with the sellers of treasures and grilled meat.

The storytellers are easy to find. Look for a ring of silent people staring at one old man. He gesticulates, shouts, then whispers to one small boy, his stories pulling you inwards and closer till the circle is intimate. 

Just as he reaches the peak of the action, he holds his audience, breathless, and passes the hat. When the hat jingles, he closes the action. Everyone breaths out a sigh or laugh, the tension released and the story concludes.

You’re so caught up you ignored the lady daintily applying a lace-work of henna to your left hand while a snake charmer wrapped a python around your right arm. Don’t get caught on the plaza after midnight.

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