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6/3/09 Hotel Zween

As I may have mentioned before, zween is a useful adjective that can mean cool/stylish/fancy/high-quality/chic/attractive/exciting/etc.

And zween is the best word to describe a truly gorgeous hotel I recently saw, in one of Morocco's bigger cities...

The hotel has the word "gold" in its name. That should have been my first clue.

But when the taxi pulled past a guardhouse, through a gate, and up a private drive, to stop in front of a group of pale-skinned, silver-haired, shorts-wearing tourists...I knew I'd stepped through the looking glass.

I'd left the Morocco I know and love, and entered the Morocco that wealthy tourists see.

I walked cautiously into the lobby. I held my breath, waiting for someone to shout, "Interloper!" and swarm me with guards to hustle me out of the lushly-appointed lobby.

No one did. I guess my own pale skin and hair gave me an all-access pass to the halls of privilege, despite my general grottiness. (I could rant about this for a while, but I'll leave it at: Sigh.)

For the record: I was clean. Everything I was wearing was freshly out of the laundry. Even my hair had been washed just the night before (for the first time in nine days, so I'd actually shampooed it three times.) But when I caught my reflection in one of the many ornate mirrors bedecking the elaborate lobby, I looked seriously out of place.

Something in my ensemble - long-sleeved T-shirt over hiking pants over seriously abused hiking boots, with a zween Essaouira scarf draped in the usual loose triple-wrap over my shoulders, with a scuffed pack on my back and a faded, handwoven woolen satchel on my hip... The pretty, barely-worn new earrings I'd picked up for 10Dh in Marrakesh's Jm3a al-Fna (my favorite thing about Marrakech, in all honesty, is the selection of 10Dh earrings), couldn't counterbalance the general aura of ... grunge. In fact, the earrings are fairly hippy and funky, so they might actually have made me look more granola-y, and even less suited to the fancypants hotel.

How fancypants was it?

It had overstuffed chairs. Lots of them. CHAIRS, I tell you, not floor ponges, or even the fancy knee-high ponges, nor plastic patio-furniture chairs, which you see in cafes and such...but CHAIRS. Armchairs. Squishy ones.

Sofas. Hosting people wearing jewelry. Using laptops. (Invisible, but evident: wireless Internet.)

Thick carpets. (OK, that's pretty normal for me. Though these were way more elaborate than I'm used to.)

A swimming pool. I stopped and stared at the pool for a while. The water is so ... blue. And there's so much of it! It's like a lake with walls!

The hotel had multiple restaurants inside it. *Multiple*. I didn't dare set foot inside, lest I commit myself to a 20Dh glass of orange juice or something. (Fair price: 6Dh. Best deal in Morocco: 3Dh OJ from a stand in the Jm3a al-Fna.)

Behind the hotel, I found an enormous formal garden. I got nailed by the sprinklers, both because I was distracted by all the greenery - there was grass! Actual wiggle-your-toes-in-it, thick, lush, grass!! - and because I needed the tangible confirmation that I was looking at an honest-to-goodness sprinkler. This desert country gets all its moisture from the snow and rain that fall on its three mountain ranges...which means that the meters of snow I weathered last year (pun intended) have melted, flowed away, and been converted to irrigating grass so that wealthy westerners could feel at home. In Morocco. Isn't the point of going to Morocco to see, y'know, Morocco? If you have grass in your backyard, do you really need it behind your hotel, too? But I digress.

Scattered throughout the grassy, tree-filled garden were rose bushes. So I did what I always do in the presence of rose bushes: take literally the advice to Stop and smell the roses. I inhaled the rich, enveloping, heady aromas, and ultimately decided that the red-and-white ones looked the prettiest, but the pure white ones had the richest scent. (Brides, take note: have some of each in your bouquet and you're set.)

The sun hadn't been up for too many hours, so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to have the garden to myself...but I was. I wandered alone through an acre or so of lush, luxurious greenery (and in a dry country, is there a greater luxury than sprinklers?). The few awake hotel guests I saw were sitting on the veranda, looking at the garden without walking in it, or else sitting in an indoor restaurant, far from the sights or smells.

On behalf of all the guests whose overpriced hotel rooms were paying for this indulgence, I wiggled my toes in the grass, and smelled the flowers, and rested in the shade of the giant palms.

It might seem hypocritical of me to find the gardens a massive waste of resources and yet enjoy their beauty...but I felt like I *should* take the time to appreciate them.'s like buying a Lambourghini and leaving it in the garage. Inheriting an egg-sized ruby and locking it in a bank. If someone has invested this much in something - anything - the only moral choice seems to me to be to gain some benefit from all that cost. I can't recoup the spent (not to say wasted) water or all I can do is appreciate what it has created.

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