Marrakesh’s medina, or old city, is not a place for introverts. In the maze of alleys, the crush of people moving in every direction is constant. Motorbikes zip past, loaded with shopping. There are people shouting, horns honking, music playing, and the smell of smoke from tiny food stalls. Meet a shopkeeper’s gaze and he’ll greet you like an old friend. “Please, come in, take a look!” We made a few trips into the souks in our three days in Marrakesh, but I could only stay so long before I was overwhelmed.
Travel is sometimes uncomfortable. This experience, on our first evening in Marrakesh, was one of those. It had nothing to do with the snakes. I have no beef with snakes.
Jemaa el Fna is a nice place to stroll, get a glass of orange juice, or visit a cafe, but the performers are downright predatory. These guys saw my camera, steered us over and thrust a snake into Michelle’s hands. Like any logical person, I asked, “What’s this going to cost?” He answered, “Donation, whatever you want!” Mm hrm.
I was onboard, at first. I knew I wanted this picture before I even got to Morocco, and I knew it was going to cost some money, but I was unprepared for the audacity of this snake handler and his friend: “Give us each 400 dirhams,” he said. That’s about $42. Each.
I may have actually laughed out loud. “Absolutely not!” I said. Are people really paying eighty dollars to play with a snake? He pressed. I stayed firm. Finally I gave them 200 dirhams (about $20) and walked quickly away.
It was like this everywhere. As soon as I turned my lens towards some musician or mystic or monkey-owner, his partner would sidle up and demand an outrageous amount of money. It didn’t take long for me to get fed up. I know they’re trying to make a living, but I’m not paying anyone $20 for a few quick snaps of a maltreated ape. Fuck that. Uncomfortable.
At the beginning of May, Michelle and I went to check out the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. I found it while searching one of those “things to do you in your state” sites, and of all the things to do on a cold, dreary Saturday, it seemed like the most interesting. I knew the reformatory existed, knew that it was where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed (pretty neat), and knew that it had a reputation for being haunted (yawn). I wasn’t sure Michelle would want to spend her Saturday morning at an abandoned prison, but she was completely onboard.
The Reformatory is a beautiful from the outside, huge and imposing in the Romanesque style. It was built in the late 1800s as a place where young male first-offenders could pay off their debt to society without being exposed to the horrors of the state penitentiary. We passed under the brick arch, up the wide stairs, and into the vaguely Art-Deco vestibule. It was $12 each to enter, and a few more dollars for the behind-the-scenes tour (which we left for another time).