As we settled in over the next two days we slowly discovered the riad’s hidden charms. There was a lovely sunny terrace on the roof, with a fabric tent in the corner providing shade for a colorful outdoor couch. The friendly owners, Simon the Brit and his French-Moroccan wife Mona were incredibly helpful and generous. Even the main room, which I found too dim at first, grew on me. We ate our breakfasts there, surrounded by a riot of blue and white tiles, blue and white cushions, crystal chandeliers, and thick red rugs.
After a mediocre lunch at a touristy table overlooking Place el-Hedim, we ducked into the shady market tucked away in the rear of the plaza. We immediately came upon mounds of handmade chocolate bon bons. The man working at the stall pressed a free sample into each of our palms and we were hooked. We bought ten candies, each of them filled with sweetened ground almond paste. Nearby there were buckets of black soap for sale. I have no idea what it’s made of but it looks like something you’d use to get dirty, not clean. It’s goopy and sticky, the consistency of warm taffy. We passed heaps of fava beans in big pods. A cardboard box of baby chicks dyed blue and purple. A bin of turtles crawling sloooowly over each other. A chameleon gripping the bars of his birdcage, eyes swiveling to watch us. At the back of the market, there’s a row of butcher shops, each fronted by an enclosure of chickens scratching at the floor. A butcher with a knife in one hand reached across the counter and grabbed a chicken by the neck. I hurried past, not wanting to see what I knew would happen next.