Saturday, July 19, 2008

Morocco: Day Eight: Moroccan Wedding


The wedding day, or more properly, the wedding reception day. Allegedly, the actual marriage paperwork signing (there is no religious ceremony, I believe) was done a few weeks ago, so I guess Fatima and Samir are already married. Today is a day for us to just be flexible and stay out of the way. The wedding chaos is very similar to Christmas with the Saia family. I love it because I'm not really responsible for much beside myself.

The women of the family drove to Casablanca, about 90 minutes away for six hours of hair and makeup. Tristan and Gabriel, a Belgian/Moroccan boy about his age were escorted to a local barber by Abla and Ghita. We didn't accompany him, so we're really curious what Tristan would be able to communicate to the barber about his desires. He got a good, normal haircut, but we heard later that he was trying to get the barber to give him a buzz cut, but Ghita wouldn't let the barber do it. Those two are a pretty good pair.

Jennifer and I walked to Acima, the local supermarket of the same chain we visited in Marrakesh. We were hoping to find Aromat, a spice blend used in Switzerland to season melted cheese dishes. The vast majority of spices in Morocco are sold loose by weight, so no luck on the aromat. We did manage to find some Fayrouz Poire soda,

some rotisserie chicken and thyme potato chips,

and some interesting fruit and chocolate cookies. It was all excellent, especially the chips. Interestingly, the locals thought we were crazy for walking "so far," all of 10-15 minutes to the store.

Most of the afternoon was pretty casual. I ended up getting bathed and dressed around 5:00, and that was way early. We went to the Choukailis' and hung out some more. Jennifer and Zoe were borrowing traditional Moroccan attire.

I went with the guys to a cafe for a coffee, then we came back and drank Chivas (and gin and wine) in the basement apartment. We had the impression the wedding started around 9:00 pm, but had come to realize the existence of MPT, Morrocan People Time, which is just like the extreme punctuality of White People Time, but just the opposite.

Sometime around 10:45, I think, Gerard and I caught a ride with a cousin to the wedding hall.

The band was already playing, Jennifer and the kids had gotten there too somehow, and the newlyweds arrived shortly.

At Moroccan weddings the bride is attended by several hired attendants (who are also not slaves) in this case, three. The bride entered the hall while all the women repeated this one chant (that we'd heard several times over the past few days) that ended with this most horrible "ulululululululululul" noise. Fatima, wearing gown #1, btw, was placed in this cupula or little gazebo thing that was carried on the shoulders of four traditionally-dressed Morrocan men (who turned out to also be some of the waiters) and paraded around the hall, accompanied by the band and a lot of clapping.

(picture removed)

Now I'll probably get a bit fuzzy on the details of the next parts, but do my best to recall everything. We were guided toward the tables which were surrounded by chairs and the salon wall of couches. The "king and queen" were seated on a kind of sofa in a raised side room off the main room. We at the tables had some bottled water and pistachios to snack on. Around 12:15 am they brought out the first main course; pastilla (pas-TEE-ya) بسطيلة which is a buttery phyllo dough pastry filled with chicken, honey, and a sweetened nut paste, probably from almonds. It sounds weird, but it was amazing. The pastilla on each table resembled a disc, maybe 14" in diameter and about 3" high, and decorated on top. We tore into it with our steely knives and bare hands, putting some onto our plates or directly into our mouths. It was fantastic. The beverage of choice to accompany this traditional dish was CocaCola. It seemed very out of place, but hey, whatever.

That was taken away and the top tablecloth removed. Around 1:00 am, the second main dish came out: lamb.

Each table scored half a lamb that was probably the weight of a good-sized holiday turkey. They were served on large platters surrounded by various cooked veggies. The lamb was eaten true pig pickin' style; you just tore off meat with your hand. There were small spice dishes with (maybe) cumin on one side and sea salt on the other. You'd grab a hunk of meat, dip it in a little of both seasonings and eat it. It was also fantastic, and not even the tiniest bit gamey or funky like lamb sometimes is.

Probably around 1:45 am the dessert came out: giant bowls of fruit.

Pretty normal stuff, but the quality was very good and it really hit the spot. I'm sure some hot mint tea was served at least once by now.

Also by now the bride had changed into at least her second gown,

maybe third,

and the groom, who had been wearing a nice western suit (western like "American", not like "cowboy"), was now wearing traditional Moroccan groom attire. The couple had a table set up for them in the middle of the main floor where they had done their eating. That had been removed, and now they were both hoisted on individual cupola/gazebo things and paraded around for a song. For the next few hours it was mostly dancing and gear changes for the couple. The band played all Moroccan music, and these guys were tight. The music was very syncopated and the (Moroccan) audience was clapping in time with the syncopation. It was a very impressive feat, and something there would be no possible way Americans (besides me) could do properly.

Cookies and more tea came and went. Around 4:30 am they brought out the wedding cake,
and Fatima was now in a traditional European/American wedding gown, and Samir in a different western suit.

As for the cake, it was spectacular. It had probably six separate levels, each composed of maybe 10 alternating layers of pastry and filling, and all wrapped in fondant. It tasted like a napoleon, or mille-feuille. Never had a cake like that.

After the cake? Soup! Harira, the traditional hot vegetable soup served with those strange-looking but delicious cookies. It's good soup, but at the end of the meal, and usually right before bedtime, I often don't have room, as was the case this time.

Around 5:00 am the party wrapped up, the couple departed in a clean, decorated Honda CRV, and the four of us, and four others, piled into a mid-sized car and drove the short distance to Shakir and Jalila's house. Fortunately, this was the end of the partying for the night. . . at our house anyway. We got to bed at 5:45 am.

(repost time 7/19)
Friday, July 18, 2008

Morocco: Day Seven: El Jadida


Woke up around nine, showered, and had a typical breakfast. I'm still confounded by the lack of toilet paper. I mean, what do they do? We brought our own, thankfully. Small, individual rolls of Charmin in a handy, watertight container. They could charge $10 for one of these, and it would totally be worth it.

We went to Hicham's parents' house to meet up with some others that had arrived last night, including Hicham's sister Badia and her husband Gerome, and their three kids ( __, Gabriel, and Alain) who live in Belgium, Hicham's brother Salah and his wife (____) and three daughters, who also live in Belgium, and Geraldine, a friend of Salah, and her two kids, who also live in Belgium. Must be some kind of weird Moroccan/Belgian connection.

We loaded up into several vehicles. Fortunately, the standard personal space and common sense safety rules don't apply, and that allows us to put eight people in a car the size of a Toyota Camry. We went to a beach town a few meters S/W of El Jadida. We set out all our gear, and to everyone's credit, I think everybody got in the water, which is saying a lot because it was cold. It was like New Jersey in May. It was a nice change from some of the hot and stuffy times in the previous few days. It was very refreshing. The cold water explains the nice weather in Casablanca and El Jadida. Of the 16 of us (three cars), the four men went to a cafe and had a local beer. . . or five. (Women don't hang out in cafes in Morocco, unless they're prostitutes, which we did see there). "Especial" for most of us. As the only American at the table, the task of defending everything my country has ever done fell solely on me. Everyone at the table had been to the US, so they weren't as filled with a lot of the stereotypical prejudices of the USA that people that have never been there are. I guess we took a while because eventually some of the kids and women found us. We collected the others and drove back to the Choukaili's, where Fridays are Couscous Night. They set up a huge bowl in the kitchen for the kids, at least a dozen, and Tristan and Zoe fit right in, tearing into the couscous with their bare right hands. No language barrier at meal time.

Meanwhile, in the smaller, auxiliary salon, the servants (still not slaves) set up the adult couscous.

They brought out a bowl that was at least two feet in diameter filled with couscous (which is actually pasta about the size and shape of large grains of sand) and vegetables of all sorts. Added into that is some kind of aged butter sauce (smen, I believe) and some other sauce that spiced it up a bit. The traditional drink with couscous is buttermilk, which sounds a little gross, but actually paired very nicely. You don't eat bread with couscous. There was way more food than we could all eat, but we did our darnedest.

Once again I have to mention that one of the most awesome facets of Moroccan culture is what you do after you eat a big meal. Conveniently, the living room is the dining room, so you're already sitting on wall-to-wall couches when you've finished your meal. The remnants are removed, you lay down, put your feet up, (you've already removed your shoes when you entered the salon, by the way) and even nap if you want. It's actually encouraged. What could be more wonderful! You eat a huge delicious meal on the couch, and then sleep it off. I so want to do Thanksgiving at my house this way.

After the meal, several people including Jennifer and Zoe, went to the hammam حمّام‎, bath house.

I declined, b/c I wasn't dressed for it, plus despite the glowing reviews by my Moroccan friends, the idea of getting bathed by some dude just didn't sound very appealing to me. At least in the hammam, you don't go commando, unlike Korean baths. (I didn't partake of that either, btw.)

After the guys got back from the hammam, and I finished working off lunch (woke up) we went to a cafe a couple blocks away. Almost the whole conversation was in French, and since I only understand about half of any French conversation, at most, I just drank my coffee (espresso in the US) and watched people. No complaints.

Meanwhile, back at the house, the women were getting henna tatoos.

The rest of the day/evening was a lot of just hanging out, interjected with the occasional hot mint tea and pastries.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Morocco: Day Six: To the Coast


Asmaa woke TR and I up around 8:30, and JR had just recently arrived. We haven't heard from Zoe, by the way, so the assumption is that she's having a good time with Rania and her cousins, the pool, and the sea.

Tristan, Jennifer, Fatima F. and I had the same food for breakfast that we had mid-evening yesterday. It was just as good. We went downstairs and got a Casablanca petit taxi, which are red in Casablanca, to the Souk District, for lack of knowing what it's called. Fatima F., who rode in a different petit taxi (since they only hold three passengers, remember?) stopped on the way to pick up her late father's "other" wife, i.e. the wife that is not her late mother. Sister wives, Big Love-style.

The souks were a little different, with hardly a tourist to be found. I'm not even sure of the last time we saw other Americans.

Here we were doing some of our souvenir shopping. Tristan found a really cool hand-made wooden soccer ball, Jennifer got a proper tea pot, family sized, and a brass door knocker for our faux Moroccan door at home. Our local "guides" did all our haggling for us, and we got good deals on everything. We found a juice cart for Tristan, who was being very patient during the shopping.

We took another petit taxi back to the condo, and hung out some more. We ate lunch of the usual stuff, and also some chicken tagine.

Around 3:00 we left for the train station, catching a petit taxi near the apartment for the 20 dirham ride to Gare Casa Voyageur. We had a little time to kill before our 4:30 train to El Jadida. We rode in 2nd class this time since first class last time didn't seem to buy us any additional comfort. This train took about 90 minutes, including a 15 minute unscheduled stop that would've been OK if the windows opened farther.

We arrived at El Jadida around 6, and greeting us at the station were Hicham (our friend from Chapel Hill, and Rania's dad), and Ghita (12, the daughter of Jalila and Shakir, all of whom have previously been to our house in NC). It was a short drive to Shakir and Jalila (and Ghita and Abla's (15) ) house to drop off our stuff. Zoe was there with Rania and the two servants (whom Shakir very clearly pointed out were not slaves), and Zoe seemed completely un-phased by our arrival. She just wanted to continue to play with her friends. Tristan just wanted to swim in the pool in the backyard. Hicham, JR, TR and I got back in the car and made the short drive to Hicham's parents' house, a block from the beach. Hicham's parents ______ and _____ have been to our house a couple of times. Their house was very nice, and busy with wedding preparations, visitors, and servants, who probably also were not slaves, cleaning everything.

We sat and hung out with Fatima C., the bride to be, then walked up to the beach and the "boardwalk," which was actually made of tile. It was a pretty typical beach with shops, restaurants, palm trees, soccer players and camel rides.

There were a couple of just magnificent abandoned hotels that dated back to probably the 1920's - 1930's and were built in an awesome art deco style, but had been abandoned for 10 years or so. The one had a huge lot surrounded by a high masonry wall from the boardwalk to the street, and Mother Nature had reclaimed the grounds, turning the place into a bird sanctuary. It was very cool.

We drove from there to a pizza place to pick up dinner for the people back at Shakir and Jalila's. We (and the pizza) were dropped off, and shortly afterward Ghita, Rania, and Zoe went to Ghita's aunt's house to spend the night. Tristan was feeling a little bit left out, as he's the only boy around, and hasn't gotten to do as much stuff as Zoe. He did finally get to swim though.

Shakir arrived pretty late, and the servants, who are not slaves, brought him dinner: brochette with cheese and sauce, while we hang out in the living room watching Discovery Channel in German, and drinking Heineken beer. Tristan crashed on a couch in a room adjacent to the living room, and JR and I got Abla's bed. I think Abla and the servants, who are not slaves, slept in the living room. It'll probably get weirder once more people arrive Friday. I'm not sure what the plan is yet, if there is one.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Morocco: Day Five: Casablanca


We finished packing and left Riad Hamza ~ 7:45, stopping at a patisserie for breakfast food and change for the petit taxi. We found two taxis near the mosque, and JR was able to negotiate 10 dirham for the first (TR and me) and 15 dirham for the second (JR and Zoe). Only a buck or two each for the five minute ride to the Gare du Marrakesh train station.


We bought four 1st class tickets on the 9 am triain to Casablanca for ~400 dirham total, about $54. We got a 6-person air conditioned compartment to ourselves for the three hour ride to Casablanca.

I guess "air conditioned" is a very relative term. That compartment was really stuffy. The temperature controls, if they were even functional, made no sense, so we opened the tiny window anyway. It seems like in many foreign countries it would be comfortable if only the air was moving. It's not the heat, it's the stuffiness.

There are several Casablanca train stations, so there was some confusion about which one was the correct one. We went with Gare Casa Voyageur, and that was right. We waited outside in the very comfortable air for about half an hour. We saw Fatima F. who had "borrowed her friend's chauffer." We piled our stuff into the back of a car the size of a Toyota Corolla, of a manufacturer I'd never heard of, and drove maybe 10 minutes to the apartment of Fatima's aunt and uncle, Torina and Ablilah (respectively.) It's in a pretty typical residential and commercial area, and was up on the fourth or fifth floor. It is very nice, and decorated in typical Moroccan style, with a giant salon with four couches around the walls, all about 8 - 10 feet long, a main circular table at about knee-height, and five little kind-of end tables of the same height. It was lunch time, so the main table was moved to a corner, and some extra chairs arrived. Jalila was there, as was Hicham and Jalila's youngest sister Fatima Choukaili, whose wedding we're attending.

We had a big Moroccan lunch, including olives, Moroccan baba ghanouj, veggie salad and bread, followed by the main dish; a large tagine filled with peas, artichokes, and slow-cooked beef. It was all delicious, and a lot of food. Moroccans will never let you go hungry. For dessert there was fresh fruit; grapes, peaches, plums, and figs. And the best part is, after lunch if you want to stretch out and sleep, that's totally cool. It's called sieste, and is a facet of foreign culture that I am totally on-board with.

After we relaxed a bit, it was decided that Zoe would go with Fatima C., who was traveling back to El Jadida, because Zoe's friend Rania (Jennifer's former student) was there. We're going there Thursday, so it's no big deal. Tristan wanted to go too because they have a pool and can walk to the beach. We kept him with us because he and Zoe together can be a handful, and we really didn't want to impose on our hosts' hospitality.

Fatima F. her 9-year-old cousin Asmaa, her uncle Ablilah, Tristan, Jennifer, and I went out to walk to the Hassan II mosque مسجد الحسن الثاني‎, supposedly the world's [second] largest, and right on the ocean.

As is Moroccan custom, dating back to the French protectorate (pre-1956) days, non-Muslims are not allowed in mosques. . . except this one, during scheduled tour times. The building was very impressive and huge. Someone said something about accommodating 500,000 worshippers, but that couldn't be right. Maybe if they were all standing, including the grounds outside, but that's not how muslims worship.

We walked back to the condo, stopping at a few places, like the roasted garbanzo beans and sunflower seed shop, the cornbread cakes shop, and the cactus fruit vendor cart.

These guys were everywhere (in Marrakesh too), and the fruit was a few pennies apiece. Allegedly at Whole Foods at home, they're a couple bucks apiece. The fruit was good, and subtle, a bit like mild pineapple. We were warned that if you eat too many, they'll stop you up. Good to know.

When we got back to the house, Jennifer and Fatima F. went out to a jewelers. TR read, and I fell asleep on the couch. After a while a family friend came over, and we had some mainly sweet food, including the cornbread cakes, homemade butter, confiture, honey, apple tart, and tea.

Jennifer came back for a short while, got changed, and went out with Jalila. I'll have to read her journal to find out what happened, but it sounded like they went out to a restaurant. It turns out Jalila is well-connected, and has many friends in Casablanca.

Tristan and I stayed at the condo, getting by with our very limited French, though Tristan and Asmaa, like children do, were able to not let the language barrier prevent them from having fun.
At around 9:30 we ate again. Hot vegetable soup (harira) that was delicious, but maybe not my first choice in the warm, still room. There were also cookies, bread, and tea. Tristan wasn't interested, at first, but I encouraged him, and he did a great job, finishing everything. They asked if we were tired, and we said we were, because faking our way through the conversations, watching incomprehensible television, and stuffing more food down our pie holes than we could comfortably endure was taking its toll on us. We got cleaned up (Tristan was requested to wash his feet, as his Crocs left a lot of street grime) and camped out on our now sheet-covered couches in a smaller salon than the main one. They closed the roll-down window grates (screens, fences, shutters?) which thankfully were perforated to let in some air. I think TR and I spent all night on top of the sheets. Jennifer stayed at the home of a friend of Jalila's, by the way.

(repost time 7/16 20:23)
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Morocco: Day Five: Oasiria


We're in Marrakesh one day longer than we initially thought we'd be. No matter. Jennifer found (through her new friendship with the nice front desk lady) a water park called Oasiria, a few kilometers from town. It didn't take long to get the kids on board with that idea.

We found the free shuttle bus behind the Koutoubia Mosque جامع الكتبية‎, and rode it out to the park, arriving just after 10 am when it opened. The park seemed pretty new, and was really nicely done. There was a lot of grass for us to set our towels on, not that the kids really ever used them. They were in the water the entire time, dividing their time between the two giant slides, the wave pool, the lazy-river tube float, and a few smaller attractions.

Once again, the low humidity was very apparent. Despite it being hot, probably in the 90's at least, when you got out of a pool, you actually felt chilly as the evaporational cooling was doing its thing. I could so get used to this.

In the afternoon we were surprised by an authentic Brazillian dance show. It was pretty random, but wonderful, none the less. The Brazillian women were spectacular! Once again, I missed my camera.

We took the free minibus back, rested, then headed out to a restaurant on that street again. It advertised that it was salle climatise (air conditioned.) The interior was an open courtyard with water misters 10 feet above our heads. They really did the trick. The evaporating mist definitely cooled the air.

We had a fairly light dinner, followed by Moroccan mint tea, which there is always room for.

We got more cash on the way back so we could pay our hotel bill: 2080 dirham for four nights, or about $70 a night. A great deal.

(Zoe's getting tired)

We washed more clothing in the sink (which we've been doing every night though I've barely mentioned it) and did most of our packing. I think we're finally accustomed to the time difference, +5 hours, so getting to sleep at a decent hour is getting easier.

(repost time 7/15 20:23)
Monday, July 14, 2008

Morocco: Day Four: Tourists


We got up at a reasonable hour, and had breakfast on the rooftop terrace. Still love the food.

We were determined to visit some of Marrakesh's gardens. First on our list was Jardin de la Menara It was too far to walk, even if we knew where it was, so we needed to figure out the local transportation. They have petit taxis. They're cheap, at most 10 dirham anywhere in the city, but they'll only carry three people. Petit Taxis in Marrakesh are beige. We convinced one to take all four of us, but he wanted 40 dirham. We checked out the grand taxis, which hold more in their Mercedes sedans, but they wanted 50 dirham. After some discussion, we checked out the Marrakesh Tour bus. It's a double-decker open top bus that runs all day in several loop routes around the city. For 390 dirham, all four of us could ride for 24 hours, and get off/on at any of the 20 or so tourist-interesting stops, including both gardens we wanted to see. there was also an audio soundtrack in our language (and seven others) pointing out what we were seeing. It was the Bateau Mouche of Marrakesh.

We got on at Djemaa el Fna, and got off at Jardin de la Menara.

I'm not sure what made this a garden, other than several hectares of olive grove and orchard. There was also a huge reflecting pool with large fish that enjoyed yesterday's Moroccan bread. There were several guys offering camel rides, but we did not make avail.

We got back on the bus and took it to the main stop (which immediately follows the Marrakesh McDonalds stop)

where we transferred to the blue line. By this point it was 30°C (86°F) but still felt very comfortable in the breeze. The reason is because the humidity must be ridiculously low. Humans sweat all the time, but when the air is dry, the sweat evaporates immediately and keeps us cool. We don't feel "sweaty." That's how it works here. In North Carolina, the humidity is much higher, and the air is closer to being saturated, so the sweat does not evaporate readily, and the reslut is feeling hot and wet. I'm thinking I'm definitely a desert kind of person.

We got off at the Jardin Majorelle, a private garden and former residence of Yves St. Laurent, who loved Marrakesh, and designed the gardens. Coincidentally, he died just last month, but they had already erected a proper monument to him. The gardens were impressive, with a lot of bamboo, cactus, and water features.

We walked from there back toward downtown, stopping at a cafe for lunch. JR and I each had the kefta, Zoe had a fruit salad, and Tristan had the fruit salad and a chicken sandwich. All the meats were grilled on a small charcoal hibachi-like grill out on the street, probably to 1) keep a little bit of the additional heat out of the non-air conditioned establishment, and 2) to tempt hungry passers-by with the smell of grilled chicken and beef.

Speaking of grilling, everybody uses natural lump charcoal here for cooking. There is propane, but that's used for boiling water and occasional lighting. Marrakesh smells great, and most of that is from the charcoal and things right above the charcoal.

Back to lunch. We each got a soda (Fanta Orange for the kids and me) and Coke Light for JR. Soda is the one allowable American food item during foreign travel, due mainly to the fact that it's usually more common and widely available than any other local soft drink.

We continued our walk downtown because I had seen a supermarket that I wanted to visit. Like I've said before, supermarkets are one of my favorite things to check out in any foreign country. It's like one giant "ethnic foods" section. This one did not disappoint. They're really big on yogurt here. Every other TV commercial is for yogurt, and the yogurt section in the supermarket was huge. We bought some ice cream novelties in frozen foods since they were much cheaper here than from a street vendor or bodega. We also got two cans of soda of a brand called Fayrouz that we discovered at a patisserie the day before. We got one pêche (peach) and poire (pear), my personal favorite. We ate the ice cream on the steps outside the store

We walked back to the main train stop and boarded a red line train that would take us back to Djemaa el Fna. We passed a bank sign that said it was now 38°C, over 100°F. Once again it wasn't too awful if you stayed in the shade and managed to find a breeze.

We rode to the Saadian Tombs, and toured them. It wasn't very exciting, and the kids were reaching the end of their rope anyway.

We went back to the hotel and turned on the A/C. We were lucky to have it. Like most non-US countries, you turn off the A/C when you're not there. You also unplug the fridge. Lights in elevators, hallways, and stairwells turn off automatically, and nearly bulb you see is a compact fluorescent. Our A/C worked great. We set it to 21°C (70°F) which people here would probably consider decadent and frigid. Regardless, it felt good.

After a while, we headed out to the shararma street, and picked up a few sandwiches to go at a restaurant, and some pastries at a patisserie. We took them back to the riad, and ate them on the rooftop terrace.

Once again, it had cooled down significantly, so it was pretty comfortable. So far, it seems the weather's pretty much the same every day, other than the temperature, which varies a bit from day to day. Evidently, it doesn't rain in the summer, and supposedly snows in the winter. I'd like to see that.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Morocco: Day Three: Pedestrians

Sunday. Happy 37th Birthday Jennifer!

We slept 'til 11:00 (6:00 am EDT) unfortunately, and missed the petit dejeuner (breakfast) that is served 8:00 - 10:00, and asked the nice front desk lady where we could get breakfast. She said she'd have breakfast we'd missed brought up to us in the first floor salon.

Breakfast included Moroccan crepes with honey, jam, laughing cow cheese, pain chocolat (chocolate croissant), cold orange juice, coffee and tea. It was great!

We headed out toward the Palais Badi, but it was closed. We wandered around a bit, bought some postcards, and hung out at the Place de la Foucauld park near the market. We weren't there too long before the overly friendly attention of a bum/drunk/mentally ill guy got to be too much.

We returned to the hotel to use our bathroom, since there wasn't any obvious place where all these people on the street go to unload. We went back out to see the Palais (palace). The kids thought it was very cool, which JR and I found surprising. I did take some good pictures though, and lamented the loss of my 40D as I was having trouble making the two cameras I'm using do what I needed them to. I think it is forcing me to be more thoughtful in my picture taking.

Palais Badia


From the Palais we sought a proper park. There was one nearby (on the map) called Cyber Park. It was only a short walk. The park was pretty nice, and filled with olive and citrus trees. We found some benches to rest on, and Zoe managed to get chastised a second time on this trip for putting her shoes where people sit (the first time was in a patisserie (pastry shop) where she sat with her feet on the seat of the chair.)

(btw, Farouz Poire (pear) is my new favorite soda.)

There was an actual cyber cafe in the park where we did a quick e-mail check for 5 dirham/hour. . . a good price.

Back to the hotel where we asked the nice front desk lady where we could find some shawarma شاورما‎ , a middle-eastern equivalent to a Greek gyro.

She pointed out a place on the map a quick back-alley meandering away. We found the restaurant, and along the way a quick exit to a very busy pedestrian street that paralleled the little alleyway we had been using to get to and from our riad.

A word on streets here. Every street may have pedestrians, mopeds, cars, donkey carts, horse-drawn carriages or any combination of the above. Traffic rules are arbitrary, like I mentioned before, but you really can't appreciate it until you've been out walking a while. It's kind of like Korea was, but worse. What is also similar to Korea is the amazing variety of things transported by scooter or moped; families of four, plywood (full sheets), wrapped gifts, firewood, hundreds of eggs, etc. The street our riad is on is literally no wider than five feet (1.5 m) across. Anything in bulk that needs to come to the hotel is probably arriving via hand cart or moped. When on foot, you spend a lot of time and attention avoiding undesired contact with vehicles and people. The rule of thumb is "might makes right" meaning the larger object prevails in any right-of-way conflict.

Back to the shawarma. The restaurant was a standard cafe, and the food was pretty good and more reasonably priced than the big market, just a few minutes away. We searched out ice cream and pastries, which are very heavily French-influenced, but featuring more local items, like honey, nuts, dates, figs, and orange blossom water. They are top-notch.

It was dark by the time we got back to the hotel, so we hung out in the salon on the rooftop terrace. It had cooled off signifcantly, so it was very comfortable with the dry breeze, aromas of charcoal smoke and roasting meat and veggies from the Djemaa el Fna, and the sound of drummers and snake charmers.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Morocco: Day Two: Welcome to the Dark Continent

07:44 Morocco Time

Five hours and 50 minutes into the flight, after a wait of about an hour from when we pushed back from the gate until we took off. We're 47 minutes and 339 miles from Casablanca. The kids have slept most of the time, other than the two meals. I've slept off and on while it was dark out.

We landed on time, disembarked onto the tarmac, and took a bus to immigration and customs. Those were no problem at all. We got our passports stamped, and headed into the concourse. Our friend Fatima Fedda (the mother of Rania, a former student of Jennifer's) was there waiting for us. We walked to the parking lot in the very comfortable 21C (70F) air where Hicham's (Rania's dad, Fatima F's husband) sister Jalila met us with her car. They were driving us to Marrakesh!

The four of us crammed into the back seat of the Alfa Romeo for the 90 minute drive. I was in and out of sleep, but woke up for Jalila's speeding ticket. She was able to pay the cop ~$5 to get out of it. Bribery works very economically in this case.

Just outside Marrakesh we stopped at a chain restaurant called Kanroo,
featuring traditional "Oriental Cuisine" which here means middle-eastern, bearing in mind we're not in the middle east. The food was great. We had tabbouleh, Moroccan baba ghanouj, Moroccan salad (mixed greens with cucumbers and mint) and some kebab-wraps of kefta - spiced ground meat grilled on a skewer. It was pretty filling, as we had eaten a fair amount on the plane already, and weren't overly hungry.

From there we drove through downtown Marrakesh, stopping near Djemaa el Fna, جامع الفناء ,the giant plaza/market that's a thousand years old. Take the time to follow that link. It does a much better job at describing the place.

Traffic is crazy, like a lot of the places I wouldn't want to drive in. This one filled with cars, buses, mopeds, horse-drawn carriages, and donkey carts, all with kind of an anything goes approach to traffic rules.

We walked with our stuff to our hotel on the periphery of the plaza. This one was pricey, so we looked around for another. The second one was cheaper and had a pool, but was booked up. The kids really wanted a pool. Fatima and Jalila found us another one, a riad called "Riad Hamza" a few minutes away.

(that's the main entrance on the left)

This one was perfect. We got a second-floor (third, in the US) room that opened onto an open-air atrium. The room was simple, clean, had its own bath with a western toilet, had a double bed, a TV, mini fridge, and air conditioning, and included breakfast for ~$70 a night. The staff brought up two big cushions and sheets and pillows to make kid beds.

We got checked in, had a rest, then headed out, stopping first at an ATM to get some money. We got out 1000 MAD (Moroccan Dirham), about $137 ($1 = 7.3 MAD) We saw more of the market and the souks around the area. We pissed off a snake charmer for not having enough cash to give him (he wanted paper money, the smallest of which is 20 dirham, we offered coins, the largest of which was 10 dirham) for letting us take pictures with the snakes.

We later got a "tour" of a tannery, including a high-pressure sales pitch at the end.
When we left without buying anything, they tried to make us pay 50MAD each for the privilege. We gave them a couple of dirham and left them to pretend to be mad. So far, her in Marrakesh at least, its like almost no one is helpful to you out of the goodness of their heart.

Out of our wad of dirham, we had made several purchases. We bought a few 1.5 liter bottles of water. Like in Europe, the drinks aren't cold, but cool. A bottle of water costs 6 dirham, or about 82¢. Even though this is a hotter part of the country, the temperature so far hasn't gone above 90F, and it's almost chilly at night, probably due to the low humidity.

We went back to the room to rest, then went out for dinner. At night, the Djemaa el Fna fills with food vendors, in addtion to the fresh citrus juice vendors, snake charmers, monkey handlers, henna artists, and various other sales people. At each food stall there's at least one "hawker" who probably speaks your language and makes a great effort to recruit you to his restaurant. After stiff-arming a few of these, we settled on one. We each had bread, olives, salad, and chicken, lamb, kefta, and veggie kebabs, and another bottle of actually cold water, all for about $38 (280 dirham).

We went looking for the dessert pastry cart that rolled past us a few times during dinner, then mysteriously disappeared when we needed him. We got some more fresh citrus juices from one of the many juice carts. Just in the first day we bought several glasses of orange juice, one pamplemousse (grapefruit) and one citron (lemon). The orange juice is only 10 dirham, and excellent.

We went back to the riad around 23:30, stopping to buy six 1.5 liter bottles of water for the fridge, and a liter of Schweppes Citron (my new favorite soda). I bathed, and washed the clothes I wore that day. It was hard to fall asleep due to the fact that it only felt like 7 pm, plus we had several naps since leaving New York. The A/C, set at 21C worked great though.
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