The Plaza el Hauta is a theater in the round. In actuality, it is more wedge shaped than circular, like a thick, rustic portion of harcha, a Moroccan semolina-based flatbread, cooked on a griddle and sold for spare change by the slice by wrinkled women who look like witches.
There are four major entrance and exit ways leading to and from the plaza, as well as a handful of small shop fronts and residential windows and doors from which people pop their heads out from time to time. We struggled to re-find the plaza after first discovering it among the tangle of blue-walled, uphill-winding, grapevine-draped alleys of the old town.
Perhaps it sits on an 800-year-old lazy Susan, we theorized, which rotates and changes how the paths connect up at the center of a labyrinthine game board. Make no mistake: this is a fantastical place. The men of Chefchaouen look and dress like wizards, protecting themselves from the crisp mountain air under heavy robes with pointy hoods. Cats with ancient Egyptian profiles own the alleys. Everyone’s skin, bathed in the blue light reflected off the painted walls, looks elfin.
At the center of the Plaza sits one of the city’s larger public water wells, which attracts a constant flow of people into view. There is faucet for filling vessels and a small pail on a chain for drinking. At this particular moment, a tall man with a blue-gray mustache from a blue bakery around the corner (at least it used to be around the corner – has the board shifted?) has entered from the left-most corner of the wedge’s outer crust carrying a pile of pans in need of rinsing. We watch from one of the plastic café chairs in the opposite corner where local men gather to smoke illegal substances from long pipes, drink tall, milky café au laits and play Parcheesi (a popular pastime in Moroccan prison, I learn from a friendly part-time artist and full time drug dealer who joined me for wholesome coffee and conversation yesterday).
Demonstrating good behavior, but with no intention of getting out town early,