The town itself is like the Palm Springs of Morocco. People clear out during the summer because of the sweltering heat. We were warned that it's going to get as high as 120 (which seems much cooler when you do the Celsius conversion--not that that's something I can actually do). Lots of wealthy folks own sprawling, secluded homes around the city. Some, like myself, are graced with hotel rooms that only a real estate agent could describe as "charming". But I'm not complaining. Really, I'm not.
Ouarzazate caters to the movie people as much if not more so than the tourists. The city is incredibly safe, and the police will driving violations go without taking the required "tip" if you just say the magic word: cinema. Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett just finished a film here. David Lean shot "Lawrence of Arabia" here in the sixties. At lunch last Sunday, our waiter went on and on about how much everyone loves the film crews. Of course, he was speaking French, so who knows what was really said? I'm sure it was positive.
1) Ask for a price. You will get a ridiculously high answer (this is a tourist and film town after all).
2) Give a ridiculously lowball offer for that lovely ashtray or leather camel you know they will love back at home. Wait for the shopkeeper's look of shock and disbelief that someone with so much would be so cheap.
3) Yell back and forth until it feels like someone is going to start swinging or perhaps the shopkeeper will hit you with that ashtray.
4) Suddenly, the shopkeeper will agree to a pretty low price. You shake hands, do the international cheek kissing thing, have some tea - you're best friends. Then you go to another little store or stand and go through the whole thing all over again.
Actually, the toughest part of the shopping here is walking past a shop without being forced inside. It's not like Marrakech, where there are thousands of people shopping, so the people here will do everything to get you inside. Getting past so many of them can be tiring. But somehow, we movie people perservere.
Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you how to pronounce "Ouarzazate". Imagine that you've had one cocktail too many at the local watering hole (I know it's a stretch for all you readers out there, but just try to imagine what it would be like) and some fool is trying to tell you about the location of the next bar. Of course, you can't really hear them, so you loudly slur "Where's zat at?" And that's how you say the name of this little burg in the sand.