Essaouira is colorful in a different way than Marrakech. It is bright white and blue as opposed to Marrakech's rose. From the ocean side it could almost be taken for a Greek island town. There are surfers on the beach. The camera is drawn to bright colors.
And to cute vignettes.
But although I felt freer in Essaouira than I had in Marrakech, I still felt as I had there: outside and unwelcome, as I had rarely felt anywhere else I traveled. It's possible that the inwardness of the culture, the blank walls and closed shutters, contributed to this feeling, and the strictures of a Muslim culture underlying a tourist economy definitely did, but I felt uncomfortable in many ways.
I didn't feel free to hold Gene's hand in the streets or have his arm around my shoulders. I didn't like seeing women bundled up as if their very existence were shameful, even if I assumed they didn't mind it themselves. I didn't like the fact that nothing remained of a once large and vibrant Jewish community. I didn't like the sense that, with only a few exceptions, I was viewed only as a source of income to most of the people I encountered, and not as a human being.
To be fair I should say that Gene liked it much more than I did. He didn't feel as excluded, or not to the same degree. I wonder if being a man made him feel more comfortable.
I know others who have had different experiences, friends who love Morocco and return again and again, but my sense of otherness there was much different than the otherness I've felt in Asia, for example, where I never felt deliberately excluded.
Of course I know that people living in a tourist destination must feel invaded and resent being seen as 'local color', but I wanted to feel that I could enter and learn about the place I was visiting. Instead I felt that it was closed to me, and in some cases there was actual hostility, as when I turned down efforts to sell me something.
I wanted to feel a welcome visitor and instead I felt locked out. I'm glad I went but I doubt I'll return.