Friday, September 16, 2011
At a souk in the Medina of Marrakesh. (Mom, I promise I did not see the "no photo" sign until much later! Not that this would have stopped you from taking a picture!)
Update: No newsletter or word-a-day, on Monday. I'll be in Avignon, chez le plasticien, or plastic surgeon. Wish me luck (it's only a consultation, following the skin scare). Also, wish Jean-Marc & our crew courage--for it's the first day of the red wine harvest!
vexer (vexay) verb
: to upset, to morally injure
il m'a vexé = he upset me
elle est vexée = she is offended
se vexer = to be hurt (emotionally)
A person who is vexé might also feel irked, miffed, or annoyed--or quite over and done with you! (as was the man in the following story... read on....
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
While in Marrakech for un mariage, I joined a group of wedding guests for a visit to the souq--an outdoor market selling everything from oriental rugs to virility drugs (and in the "everything in between category", please know that for a certain number of dirham coins you can dance with a wide-headed, beady-eyed serpent, while the snake charmer holds your destiny in his flute filled hands!).
I watched in amusement as we tourists let ourselves be lured into the crowded stalls of the bustling bazaar. "Come in, come in!" The stall owners beckoned, as we navigated the maze of shops. "It doesn't cost anything to look!" they called after the shy or suspicious shoppers. "And if you find it anywhere for less--I'll give it to you for free!" But I wasn't in the market for anything more than a treasured experience, and my fellow soukers--not to be confused with "suckers", for they were not at all falling prey to the peddlers--were helping to grant this wish. I watched as my friend Isa purchased, from the street chemist, Moroccan dye powder (for painting her kitchen) in canary yellow, Mediterranean blue, and brick red. As the shop-keeper transferred the colorful powder from large mason jars to tiny plastic baggies, he pointed to the opposite wall (covered from floor to ceiling with more mason jars, inside of which there were mangled roots and dried leaves and other mysterious things). "Can I interest you in some viagra pour femme?" My friend laughed at the shopkeeper's gumption. "Je n'ai vraiment pas besoin, Monsieur!" Isa's husband, Eric, who sat on a nearby bench, shrugged his shoulders but could not hide his pride. I was impressed with Isa's moxie, but I couldn't help but picture the locals, or the modest women in head-scarfs, and I wondered about the demand (a popular one?) for such a love potion. Out of respect, I quickly let the image (that of an eyelash-batting berber) dissipate in my mind's eye. Best to leave the shroud of mystery in its place, for such is the beauty of a foreign land.
Weaving in and out of the market stalls, our small group purchased Moroccan slippers, or les babouches, silver earrings, cendriers, tassels, and pottery. And when Temptation finally met me, she came swiftly calling from outside the ironmonger's. There, in a shopfront no wider than a minivan, I found my objet fétiche.
It was an antique door-knocker (much like this one) shaped like a hand curled over a metal ball. The detail was such that the hand even had une bague on it! I had seen and photographed the hand-heurtoirs, but they were rarely found for purchase.
This one was unique in that it was a mini version of the others. The shopkeeper unhooked the iron knocker from the display and set it in my hand, where I cradled it, admiring its colorful facets, in faded blue and green and burgundy. The paint had been scrubbed off, leaving a fragmented patina which lended so much life to the object that, if it were mine, I wouldn't dream of tampering with it further. It couldn't be more accidentally perfect!
The peddler told me a story about these iron hands, seen on doors throughout his country: "...placed at the entrance of one's home, they protect one from the evil eye!" His own eyes narrowed as he studied his potential buyer....
I nodded, further captured by the history, which I had never thought of or even wondered about before. "Combien?" I asked the skinny shopkeeper.
The antique piece was 50 euros. Too much for me--I had only 100 dirham--enough for lunch, but no where near enough to buy this unique, evil spirit repelling door piece (not that I had plans to put it on a door: It might be used on a wooden medicine cabinet, a desk, a beehive mailbox, an armoire--or used as a paper weight or an interesting bibelot--the possibilities were endless!)
Noticing my first attempt at negotiation, a member of our group wandered over.
"Combien?" Jean-Philippe asked, only to get the same answer from the owner ("500 dirham!").
"Too much!" my souk gardien informed the skinny adversaire. "Let's go!"
And with that, I let myself be led aside in what would be one of many moves in The Game of Negotiation. The stall keeper called us back, "450, then!"
"Non, mais, ce n'est même pas la peine!" "At this rate, it's not even worth negotiating," Jean-Philippe answered, brushing the man off, and I followed my friend to the next stall, as we carefully left our ears behind, at the thin man's shop--lest we miss the next offer!
"Take it for 250!" The man shouted.
Cupping one hand over his mouth, Jean-Philippe whispered to me: "How much do you have?"
"Only a hundred," I admitted, feeling the first pangs of guilt--for I did not mean to take advantage of the thin man!--but before I could be completely overcome by my conscience, Jean-Philippe made the final offer: "100 dirham!"
The thin man shook his head in aggravation. "Non! 120 dirham!"
I could not believe it -- the treasured object might be mine for 120 dirham--almost one-fifth of the price! Only, that is when I learned that the twenty dirham that were needed to seal the deal were nowhere to be found. My friend had spent all his money in the previous shops. The others in our group had disappeared and I stood there with my 100 dirham note, not daring ask the man to lower the price any further.
I rifled through my wallet, finding only a two-euro coin. But two euros did equal 20 dirham... if only the man would accept foreign currency--as the other shop owners had.
I had wandered away from the salesman in order to check my purse for any money that might have slipped into its very seams, and by the time returned to make a final offer, the shop owner ignored me! I showed him my 100 dirham bill and the two euro coin. He shook his head, angrily, and waved me away. "Je l'ai vendu!" he snapped, dismissing me. "It's been sold!"
The thin man's reply came as swift as a slap in the face. More than the disappointment of losing the chance to buy the door-knocker, I felt a surge of shame. I knew the stall-owner had not sold the antique hand, or "chaser of evil eyes", as he had earlier taught me. He seemed to have yanked it from the display and hidden it away--after very nearly being thieved by an evil tourist! His message was clear: I would be the last person on earth to have the privilege of buying the door-knocker! All that was left to do now, was to SCAMPER back to the little hole from which I had crawled out of, while searching my purse seams for loose change.
"The shop owner is vexed," my friend Jean-Philippe, explained, feeling horrible that I'd missed the chance at buying the antique. Only what Jean-Philippe didn't realize is that he wasn't to blame. What's more, I'd taken away with me a priceless souvenir: one that would be a valuable lesson in respect: there is a limit to negotiation; in a healthy transaction there must be a positive balance... and that sometimes leaves a fine line between finding a good advantage for oneself... and taking advantage of another.
I never meant to vex or to take advantage of the thin man--and I yearned to turn back and let him know this truth... The idea came to me that I might even give him, flat out--for keeps!--the 100 dirham and the two euros, to boot--a steal, after all, for this lesson in humility! Only, out of respect for the one vexed, I did not turn back. In so preserving his self-righteousness, indeed--his very dignity--I dragged on.
Le Coin Commentaires
Corrections, comments and stories of your own are welcome, here, in the comments box.
Selected French Vocabulary
un mariage = marriage
viagra pour femme = women's viagra
le cendrier = ashtray
combien? = how much?
le bibelot = knick-knack
adversaire = opponent
un objet fétiche = a favorite (collected) object
une bague = a ring
un heurtoir = (door) knocker
The classic Bescherelle, the complete guide to French verb conjugation. Read the five-star reviews, and order, here.
While walking along the ruisseau, Braise, Smokey, and I stopped in our tracks, and stood mesmerized by these dragonflies. Read a tender story about "The Lost Libellule," or dragonfly, here.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety