The plans to travel into Madrid by way of TWA from JFK Airport in New York are made. From this point, our best recommendations suggest we go to Algerias in Spain, then to Sebta or Centa by ferry, then take a bus to Tangiers.
The national dish is Tajine. Drink: Mint tea.
Most important archaeological sites:
1) Meknes Volubilis
2) Rabta Chellah-Oudaias
3) Larache Lixus
$1 = 8.4 dr
$1 = 1.23 pesadas
$550 Tickets to Madrid 2x RT
$550 Tickets to Tangiers from Madrid
$ 40 Taxi to/from airport - Centro de Madrid
$ 20 Knife
dr 415: dinner
$ 25 Jamal guide in Tangiers
dr 250: Room -- Hotel Continental
dr 50: Afternoon tea
$120 Jlabas and trinkets at Jimmy’s
$ 10 Street trinkets
$ 4 Trilobite
dr 250: Room
dr 200: dinner
$ 50 Jamal as guide
dr 500: Train one way to Marrakech
dr 30: Train food
1/10/96 (HAVE NOT LEFT YET)
Today would have been the first day of the journey to Morocco. The heaviest snowstorm in fifty-three years shut down all East Coast airports, specifically JFK International, where we’d planned on landing from LA, and then departing for Madrid, Spain.
I purchased tickets to Madrid with Ted’s authority to get the standby tickets at $330 each/round-trip, LA to Madrid. Small logistical problems plague what should have been a smooth time line. An offer on a house in Agoura Hills was placed prior to departure. We managed to find a flight to New York that allowed us to make the 5:45 PM flight to Madrid, landing in Spain at 7:45 AM on the following day.
Unfortunately, the train leaves Madrid at night (11 PM,) to arrive in Algecitlas, a city just west of Gibraltar, at 7 AM Thursday. Then a short ferry crossing, which should cost about $20 per person each way and take four hours to cross the nine-mile ocean span in Ceuta, a Spanish possession on the northeast tip of Morocco.
I’m told, according to John Estrada of the S.M. Youth Hostel, that Tangier, a touristy city, is a short two-hour bus ride from Ceuta. It looks much further.
Yesterday I called the Moroccan Tourist Board in New York to inquire about weather conditions. The operator responded with a temperature report of several major cities. My greatest concern was Tangier, which has a high annual rainfall, and January is in the midst of the rainy season. Her response was that the temperature has been unusually high and very little rain this year (so far). Last year, around March, Morocco’s Tourist Board sent me a beautiful packet of maps and booklets about their country. Along with several other books we purchased we are trying to determine where we want to go. Since we have no clue of the hostel situations there or hotels, we’ll wing it when we arrive.
Because of the snow delay at East Coast airports, the trip won’t begin until next Tuesday, 1/17/96.
I’ve recently seen in the news reports that the Congress is struggling to prepare a balanced budget, and Federal employees were not being paid so services were shut down. Sarah is poised to move back into the condo with us after living elsewhere for almost a year. Carol is seeing Mike, who is from Croatia, and Mark has been with Angie for a while now. Carol and I completed several (three) counseling sessions a week ago to bring us closer. I’ve perceived a problem, manifested in Carol’s subservient relationship with Mike from Croatia.
1/16/96, Tuesday - LEAVING LA
I parked the car in distant Lot B, because it is only $5 a day there.
We woke at 4:30 AM to arrive at LAX and were checked in by 7 AM. Marcy’s foot is not in good shape, but she thinks it will last through the trip. Major surgery is scheduled for shortly after our return to the Western World.
Our 8 AM plane was delayed because of a problem with the fuel line. After a thirty-minute delay, the announcement was made that the flight was cancelled.
The half-filled plane disgorged itself of us; as we left the plane we immediately cued-up for the plane scheduled for 10:20 AM. Marcy and I were at the tail of the line. The long line had passengers from our flight, and from the 10:20 flight list, too.
LA TO NEW YORK:
Since we were flying “stand-by” at about 25% of the regular price, we had to wait,, albeit impatiently until it was determined that there was room for u,s and the twenty other stand-bys. Carrying our luggage on our backs, we shoved the backpacks into the overhead crevices. Anxiously we waited for the moment when the plane pulls away from the docking bay, and doors are locked tightly.
New York time is three hours ahead of LA. We arrived on time, but without sleep. In New York it was 5:30 PM, and the next flight to Madrid was boarding in the bay adjacent to where we had disembarked in the international wing of JFK Airport. We carried all our stuff with us to make the transfer. This plane, scheduled to leave at 6:30 PM EST, took off through the busy airport traffic, on time. There were so many empty seats, I had no problem finding an empty row of three seats where I lifted the center armrest to make a not-too-uncomfortable bed. The international flight allowed smoking (while the domestic flight would not), and played a 1994 movie called “Hackers,” a movie about some kids that committed small computer crimes -- a two-star movie at best. I slept through most of the film, waking intermittently, lost in the changing time zones and not knowing what time it is or how many more hours until we land. The arrival time in Madrid is about 7:45 AM, if we catch a quick bus or taxi we’ll take it from Madrid to Ageciras, Spain.
According to the Book of Morocco by Lonely Planet Publishing, the bus should cost about $30 each way, then we have the ferry crossing, which happens four times daily into Spanish Centa.
Centa is on the Moroccan Peninsula, but is considered Spanish land. Landing in Madrid in the cold twilight of the winter morning, it was 7 degrees Centigrade. I don’t know how cold that is, but I needed my jacket.
I could see that it was impossible to connect to the bus; we only had forty-five minutes to get through workday morning traffic for a ten-mile trip to El Centro de Diudad, where the station is. The taxi trip probably couldn’t make it. We decided to take a flight. The flight, round trip, was $220 each on Iberian. We took tickets on that flight scheduled to leave at 12:30 PM Madrid time. Spain is 1 hour ahead of Morocco, so we gained an hour on the two-hour flight from Europe to Africa. Both backpacks were checked in as luggage so we could see downtown Madrid for awhile, and then came back to catch the plane. I got two hundred dollars exchanged into Spanish pesetas. I got 2,345 pesetas for the $200. The taxi ride down and back did not cost much. We walked around del Prado. The wide boulevard was crowded with cars taking their passengers to work. The temperature had taken two hours to warm up to 11° C. There had been a lot of building and construction done in Madrid since I had been there twenty years ago. The old part of the city was still beautiful.
With more than an hour before departure we arrived back at the airport. Since our backpacks had been loaded already, we had little to carry. It seems that all international airports are quickly looking almost like the others -- each with the same perfume and high fashion, high-priced goods. Everything was priced far beyond its intrinsic value, from American Marlboro cigarettes to Parisian mens’ scarves. It’s the same at every one of the airports.
While we sat waiting for the plane we ate most of the salami and cheese we’d bought at Trader Joe’s market before leaving.
1/17/96 - MADRID TO TANGIER
The plane loaded its passengers -- us among them -- and then took off. About two hours later we landed in Tangier, Morocco. During the flight I saw the ferry cutting its way across the Mediterranean Sea. The water was choppy, filled with white-capped waves. I think it would have been a rough trip to take.
We saved a day by taking the trip by air, even though it’s more expensive by $120 each. We scheduled our return trip for Friday, the 26th so we’d be able to get home on Saturday and get Sarah.
We experienced another smooth landing. We walked across the cool tarmac, barren of any plane but ours. The red Moroccan flag waved to us as we walked to the Customs office and stood in one of the two long lines.
1/17/96 - TANGIER
I recovered from the airport luggage our backpacks, and we were off to find a taxi into town. The old man with crooked teeth guided us to one of the light yellow Mercedes that stood patiently lined up to take the next passengers. I asked Marcy if she had a hotel selected . . . “The Continental” in Old Tangiers. The driver knew where it was. It was the first large hotel built in Tangier, so it stood as a landmark.
Since Marcy had more qualities in mind than me that the room must possess, especially a tub to bathe, I let her inspect the room before we unloaded our luggage from the taxi (I paid 150 + 10 tip for the ten mile trip). I could immediately see a strong Spanish influence in the construction of this spacious old hotel.
1/17/96 - TANGIER, MOROCCO, AFRICA
At about $30 US a night, it seemed both inviting and comfortable. No elevator for the three flights of stairs was a bit taxing. Still, the room seemed comfortable and open, with a huge dark armoire standing by the foot of the bed, and we could look out over the embarcadero and further into the seasonably cold Mediterranean Sea.
As I waited by the cab to hear Marcy’s approval of the room, I met a thirtyish looking Tangerine name Jamal. Jamal came up to me and spoke in fluent English. He gently introduced himself to me and explained that he is not an official tour guide. In Morocco, as an attempt to have visitors feel safe, the state began appointing official guides. But as is tradition here, the system became mired in bureaucracy and nepotism. Jamal, as we discovered, knew many Moroccans and was a good choice as a guide. He wasn’t above bringing us to his plethora of merchant friends to earn a commission of whatever sales were made, its just part of his job. That part not withstanding, he did an excellent job of helping us through the twisted narrow streets and into the main souk (or marketplace).
Noticeably absent were beggars and other alms collectors. Only a third of the men wore djalaba’s, the traditional garb of the Arabs. Most wore typical Western or European clothing. The women almost entirely wore traditional Eastern clothing, but only the oldest and ugliest of the lot wore the traditional veil. These patterns were also true for the young boys and girls. I saw only five or six men who donned fezs, the red felt bucket-shaped caps which often reflect certain nationalistic political views.
Throughout the souk they had all kinds of things, usually European or American in style -- everything from M&M’s, Q-tips, to Harley-Davidson motorcycle jackets and lots of other leather goods. There was no shortage of goods available for tourists. With the promise to send a photograph, we were invited into the home of a typical poor Moroccan -- an opportunity to look around.
Like most similar places, his kitchen had few spices -- some parsley, but no real food. He would have to buy it at the market. The small apartment had blankets as doors, and I noticed several ram’s horns gilded with paint or somehow decorated to reflect their value to him as a pious Muslim. A young woman was hidden under several blankets in a room just outside the kitchen.
The twisted and gnarled streets required a guide or some assistance to maneuver. At each corner there was someone Jamal knew and greeted.
Rue 98 No. 3
Unless one has tried to walk these twisted streets, they could not begin to comprehend the unreasonable number of twists and turns each street possesses. Only a few streets in the old Medina section of this city follow a predictable pattern. The new part, which seems to be five times the size of old Tangier, has been arranged with forethought, and that section is experiencing massive growth with buildings being erected all over its popular and mundane streets.
Our “friend” Jamal took us to an expensive restaurant. We were the only patrons in the three-story, lavishly furnished eatery. The food was very good. I ate a beef tijina, a stew of sorts made with no potatoes or other vegetables that I’m familiar with -- instead, raisins, probably turnips, and onion-flavored celery (I couldn’t determine what it was). Small portions were served. I also had a spicy date soup. I wasn’t unhappy about the expense since we had seen the prices before entering . . . what did bother me was a “value added tax” of 25%-- outrageous! The ambiance was charming and did add value to the meal. We sat on long plushy upholstered sofas; all appeared new or very well kept. Pillows were plentiful, and all for our comfort.
While waiting for the first course to appear I wanted to wash my hands. The toilet room was near-by, just down the hall. While standing and washing my hands, I noticed an obscure portal in the furthest reaches of this elongated chamber. Someone might watch from behind this iron-barred opening if they occasioned by. I forewarned Marcy should she need to visit this room since it is used, at separate moments, by either sex.
Jamal brought a joint in for all of us to share. I am not certain as to why he was predisposed to doing this, but we were very surprised. The idea of sharing a marijuana cigarette in a public restaurant seemed extremely illegal.
The bill paid, we walked through dark alleys and narrow passageways back to the hotel.
Deprivation of sleep during our journey to get here was enough that we fell asleep immediately.
My biological clock has not re-set itself for the eight-hour time difference between Morocco and home. I awoke a few hours later at 2 AM local time. I toyed with the idea of showering, but the chill in the room was convincing evidence that it would not be a good idea. But because of the chill and the lack of heating in the room, I went into the bathroom and decided to use the steam from hot water to heat this small enclosure. The amount of hot water is limited, due to a five or ten gallon electric water heater. I tried to get warm as I wrote my recollections of the day in this book. It helped some.
New Day: Thursday, 1/18/96
We both slept late. It was afternoon when we woke. The sun was shining, and it was much warmer outside than in the room so I opened the windows. A warm breeze deftly made its way in here, but it was over an hour before a noticeable change of temperature could be felt.
After bathing and getting ready for the day I went down the four flights of stairs. The first level up is called the first floor, not the second as it would in the U.S. I went out on the large patio outside the hotel and asked for two coffees, bread, and jam. By the time Marcy had come downstairs, the bread had been brought to the table. We are slowly savoring the moment of where we are and the decadence of it all. Cameras in hand and enough money to carry us through the day, we walked beyond the heavy gates that opened into the alleys of the Medina.
Jamal had kept a sharp eye out for us. He knew, as we did, that the agreed fee of $5.00 U.S. per hour was much, much more than the usual fee a licensed guide gets, and of course, he was entirely unlicensed. He had shown us a spectacular day yesterday so we’d use him again today.
We went looking for “jlabas,” the typical Arab gown. We spent over $100 on several pieces at Jimmy’s Place, a group of small stores, located just outside the courtyard. If he didn’t have what we wanted he’d send a boy to another merchant and bring over goods from him to sell to us. We walked to the grand souk, where I bought a small knife for about $1.50 from a second-hand street vendor. We exchanged money on the black market with guidance by our well-paid friend and guide Jamal. We went to an African restaurant where I had cous cous and Marcy ate a beef and vegetables. I had fish soup, a thin consommé with bits of shellfish and small sections of a fish fillet.
The Lonely Planet had accurately provided us with details of our choices in Tangie,r so we will continue its use.
We went through many shops, each attended watchfully by Moroccan men -- never women. The men would attempt in all ways to retain our attention until the sale was made, and even after that he’d endeavor to bring other goods out before we left to make another sale.
I entered a perfume store because of its colorful displays, which seemed to be a medicine/herbal healing potions. I was mistaken. This merchant sold “rare” perfumes -- large jars filled with aqua colored finish, small jars holding coarse black sand . . . all for cosmetics.
It had been a long day for us so we headed back to the hotel. Marcy went in, but I went back into the merchant square to purchase some postcards and stamps. While I was selecting them, I heard loud horns and drums accompanied by tambourines and many women shrilly issuing a high-pitched “Le-Le-Le-Le-Le.” The long, thin monotoned horns blared one tenor-range sound, but that was the first sound of the wedding procession I heard. As they approached, the cacophonies drew everyone’s attention. People living along the route pulled open their curtains and hung over the balcony for a good look.
I stopped in the middle of my purchase to see the sight as they joyfully paraded down the street to the shop I was visiting. In front there were five young men dressed in white, each wearing a soft, red, cone-shaped felt hat. Each hat had a long black tassel draped on it. They danced in a circle before the bride and groom. In the middle of it all were several people, all in their twenties, who carried a tasseled white pillow on their head. Each one carried a separate pillow, and one man carried a fancy carved wooden box with ornate insets of colored tiles. They danced and joyfully proceeded further on down the street.
Jamal explained that many weddings occur just before Ramadan. Ramadan is the most important Arab/Muslim holiday -- a month of fasting and personal deprivation.
1/19/96 - TANGIER, MOROCCO, AFRICA
At 7:30 AM, as requested, a knock on our door to remind us to hurry for the train to Marrakesh. This train actually goes through Casablanca after Rabat. It ends in Marrakesh at about 5:30 PM tonight. It will still be early enough to find a place to sleep.
Last night before going to sleep we wrote out nine postcards and took care of repacking our stuff into the backpacks. Both of us were tired still and wanted more sleep, but there are only 2 trains each day and one is late in the evening. We went down to the patio for coffee, bread and jam (dr 50), then we walked to the station. It was downhill, and only ten minutes from the hotel courtyard. We sat in the first class compartment, which is second-class standard in Europe. The blue plastic seats had cracks and cuts; of the six seats in our compartment, four needed a good cleaning. The train costs 250 dirhan each to Marrakesh, one-way.
Like Spanish trains, the tracks are not assembled with great precision. As I write the train sways and jerks side-to-side without end. I find it a bearable inconvenience after the first two hours.
The train started at 9:20 AM; now it is 3:50 PM, and we have about two or three hours remaining to travel to Marrakesh. We have eaten most of the cranberry trail mix, all of the summer sausage, and we are very hungry, and tired. We will eat when we get to our destination.
While we were smoking in a non-smoking car two young Moroccans came in. Introducing themselves to us were Maskine Abdelarif and his cousin Mohammed, 62 Sidi Aberrahmen, Lemlili Fes.
We talked for quite a while; both were English-speaking. When they were preparing to leave, Maskine invited us to stay at his house to experience life as Moroccans live it. He said he’d ask his mother if she has time if she will take us to the souk in the Medina. He believes that she’ll get us the very best deals. We will try to meet them at the bus center at 3 PM the next Monday.
After they got off the train in Casablanca, we bought a cheese sandwich from the train vendor, added some salami, shared a tiny cup of coffee and relaxed. While the two cousins were with us, I showed them magic tricks and left the pencil and string still attached to Maskine’s buttonhole. I said I would remove it when we see him on Monday. His cousin had a big laugh, but Maskine agreed to wear it. It was almost 7 PM before we arrived in a dark, rainy, Marrakesh.
Although warned against it, I found a Berber named Abdullah who claimed Jewish heritage. He described Marrakech as a bastion of Judaism. But he says they must be very modest religiously, since presently it is only tacitly accepted by their Arab Moslem neighbors.
He took us to his petite taxi -- they are un-metered little cars, but if you know how much to spend and where you are going exactly, they can be a good bargain. Abdullah also got a commission from the hotel because we said he brought us here. He was happy to get the 20 dirhan from us, and the commission from the hotel. Still more for Abdullah -- I promised him a pack of American Marlboro cigarettes for, he said, his father.
He drove erratically -- like everyone else -- but we got to the hotel. After checking in we walked about one mile to the souk . It was a very large souk made of a large center plaza filled with food sellers’ booths, raw fruit and vegetables, meat, and fish. It was raining lightly. The souk drew us in further. The stalls had many sellers of spices and dates, henna, grains, and vegetables which I had never seen before.
The rain came down harder. Some sellers were closing as it approached 9 PM. Children and adults followed to bring us into their place of business or to beg some change or small gift. As we walked back in the heavy downpour we were happy we had prepared for rain and we were dressed for it. Small lakes grew at the edges of the streets, making pedestrian traffic scatter as each car approached. All walkers searched for the highest ground to ford the growing bodies of water.
I neglected to mention that we had agreed to meet Abdullah tomorrow at 9 AM for a Jewish tour of the city. This will definitely be a different perspective to view this large city from. If the weather clears just a little, we’ll stay and see the city as the Muslim Medina described in all our tour books of Morocco.
Once back at the hotel, we stopped at a very pretty bakery. The fragrance of the coffee and pastries pulled us in. We bought three for later tonight. The wonderful thing about traveling is no matter how much I eat I lose weight every time. It could be the constant activity, but I am inclined to truly believe that I eat less while traveling.
I bought several postcards and stamps to mail to my friends and family. The postcard costs 1 dr, the stamp to get it there costs 5 dr.
The restaurant in this hotel had a simple menu, and our meal of typical Moroccan faire was not the best, nor was it terrible. The beef was a bit tough but edible. I had pastella, which is a flat but circular flaky roll filled with pigeon, almonds and complementary spices then dusted with powdered sugar. The dinner, including my coffee and Marcy’s mint tea (with 15 dr as a tip), cost drl 30, or about $16. The restaurant, I was told, is open all the time.
After dinner we walked up one flight of stairs to our garishly decorated room. Marcy fell asleep quickly around 10 pm, but I stayed watching French and Arabic TV -- the pictures tell the stories for me.
Because the room was warm, I showered at night. I was surprised that when I turned the water faucet marked with a red dot, it never warmed up. After a few moments of experimentation I noticed there was plenty of hot water in the faucet with the blue dot. I’m sure this bit of Moroccan humor will not strike Marcy as funny as I thought it was.
1/20/96 -- Saturday: MARRAKESH, MOROCCO, AFRICA
We woke about 7 AM, and took our time getting dressed.
At 8 we were eating a light breakfast of coffee and pastries. We had to meet Abdullah at 9 AM across the street. He was waiting for us. He led us through muddy and slippery streets and alleyways to the Mellah, the Jewish quarter. Nearby the synagogue was closed while it was being cleaned. The weather was bright and sunny, but the ground had held the water from yesterday’s downpour and was not easy to traverse. The guide led us to his Jewish friend, the carpet man. They put on a real dog- and- pony show to sell us a carpet. The workmanship, the attention to detail, the amount of time (eight months of work) that went into making one. He was there to explain the beauty of it all to us.
Unfortunately, we didn’t want a carpet, so regardless of his persuasive talents we wouldn’t buy. We were rested so we left. Next he brought us to a perfume and herbal shop. Half-gallon jars with red tin screw-on caps lined the walls of the three-room shop. Each jar was filled various levels with substances either liquid or solid. Each one had color and hue to contrast with its neighbor. The liquids, besides varying in color and intensity, had different viscosities. Thick, thin, bright or muted, they glimmered in the afternoon sun. The solids were grains or minerals coarsely ground or pulverized into misty powder. Broken cobalt bricks filled another jar. Shards of a red sandstone leaned against the side of another clear container. Saffron, chile powder, flower
pistils -- each had their own domain.
Back out on the muddy alley, I could feel the fineness of this mud having been trampled and ground daily under the babooshes, or Arab-style shoes, for centuries.
Our guide led us back to the synagogue. This holy place, he claimed, is never open to the public. The few remaining Jews are not open to all but remain in their small enclave for most of the day.
I looked down into the place of prayer and, as it was explained to me, I could see many adaptations to the world around them. Women had a small section segregated from the main body of the synagogue. Rather than facing forward to see the Rabbi, the congregation sat back-to-back facing the side walls of the one room. As we left, I gave the Rabbi twenty dirham as a donation, he accepted it, but looked at it like it wasn’t enough. I merely thanked him, shrugged my shoulders, and we left.
We walked back to the hotel after parting company with Abdullah, our guide. He met his wife and two young children. I paid him a 100 dh. Then we proceeded casually along the busy boulevard to our hotel. Somehow we passed it while we were talking and could have easily gotten lost in the old Medina but, at Marcy’s insistence, I asked a local citizen for directions. He kindly stopped working and brought us to the corner of the street. He pointed to the hotel, which was only a short block behind us. Happily, we dragged our weary feet the last few yards into the hotel and upstairs.
After we lightened our load, we left the room to go back to the souk square. We hired a guide for dh 50 who was friendly but professional. He brought us through the market place, even though Marcy wasn’t enjoying the pressure required to resist the merchants who were begging for our business during a very slow tourist season. Ramadan was approaching on Monday, and it had been raining much more than usual in the last three days.
My plan was to walk around the square only. He brought us by some very good shops where handicrafts were expertly made. The modus operandi of the sellers, once you were inside the store (which is a craft unto itself), was to say something complimentary on the country they suspected you were from, then show you whatever you happened to glance at just a moment too long. Since nothing has a price on it already posted, every shop negotiates as follows: after the merchant sees some interest, he will then offer it for sale at three or four times what he expects to sell it at. As interest by the potential customer wanes he will reluctantly reduce the price but he’ll tenaciously hold on to you until he’s sold you everything he can.
In one shop I bought a very nice leather bag. But what need did I have for it? None. After Marcy highlighted my judgmental error, I walked back to the store and the owner politely gave me my money back. I bought a leather belt for 40 dh and a wooden bowl for 30 dh. Just as a gauge of prices, a 1.5 liter of bottled water costs 5.0 * dh.
When we were tired after three hours of walking, we sat down to enjoy some mint tea on the upstairs balcony of a restaurant overlooking the square. Using the remote microphone, I wandered through the crowds, and Marcy filmed from a distance. She had some difficulties, but she filmed it as best she could.
We were both weary. I arranged a carriage ride around this city. The weather, while clear, was getting cold. The carriage was open, and the concave shape of the carriage caught the wind and amplified its chill. “To the bus station,” I pressed the driver. “I’ll get you there soon,” he replied. I said, “T’out suite!” He acknowledged he heard, but went no faster or more direct. When we finally did get to the bus station it was closed. Tomorrow we will see what time the bus leaves for Meknes or Fes.
Because it is so cold now we took a petite cab back to the hotel. We tried to get all ready for an early morning start.
1/21/96 LEAVING MARRAKESH; GOING TO MEKNES/FEZ
We woke at 6 AM, dressed, left the hotel, and took a cab to the train station (no bus). At the station we see we have to wait until 8:30 before the train leaves. We could have taken one at 2 AM but why? Many people are traveling now. It’s somewhat equivalent to Christmas Eve. I was told that businesses are closing early today.
It was a cold morning . . . The station janitor wanted to finish mopping the floor, so he walked around with a bucket of water splashing a bit here and there by luggage and packages. Everybody got out of the station, and he was able to do his work. While we talked with another passenger on the same train he mentioned that we would be able to board around 8 AM. We did. Since it cost only a few dirhams more to go first class, we went first class. In second class there is more difficulty storing luggage or getting comfortable.
The one-way passage to Meknes cost dh 406 for both of us.
After we got comfortable in the compartment, Marcy struggled to get warm. She used the little hand warmer, and my jacket over her jacket. Nothing seemed to help.
The train sluggishly began its journey to Tangier. We must transfer to a different train in Rabat. The trip should take about eight hours The train made several stops on its northern route. At one stop, we could sense we would have an intruder violate our serene compartment, which we had all to ourselves for a couple of hours. .
A young man named Hamri introduced himself to us. He told us his story, and we told him ours. It filled up several hours. Meanwhile we were passing beautiful scenery. The ground had absorbed a lot of water. It was raining again today. Rivulets ran into streams. The verdant countryside was filled with bright green, smooth rolling hills punctuated with rose-colored homes of clay clinging to hillsides.
The light rain did not stop the many shepherds from tending their flocks. We saw about thirty shepherds with their charges in the 400-mile trip. At 1:15 we got off at Rabat and waited with Hamri and forty other people in the restaurant at the Rabat Train Station for about 90 minutes to get the east train to Meknes.
Everybody sought safe shelter from the mildly chilly rain. Most packages people were carrying were not waterproof at all. The train came, and everyone struggled to board. We found a car already occupied by one Moroccan man, about sixty, who sat quietly by the window.
We pulled into the Meknes Station at about 5 PM. As we were coming to the station, we saw a tremendous amount of building being carried out throughout the new section of the city. It was raining -- not terribly hard, just enough to want to protect myself with my jacket over my head. I walked with Hamri. Marcy said her stomach was upset. The Hotel Bod Mansour was one long block from the train station.
Hamri carried his things, and was kind enough to carry a package of ours. He brought us to this hotel. The Lonely Planet book recommended it, and Hamri knew it.
Marcy checked out the room. It passed muster. The room had an American-style toilet and a bath. Also, the restaurant was open on Ramadan, and there was an elevator, which was nice since we were on the third floor, facing the street. The room cost $38 a night. It would have been awarded one or two stars in the US, but for here it’s clean and good enough.
Because Marcy had an upset stomach, I left the hotel with Hamri in the light rain and walked in the new part of the city around the corner to a small busy cafe. The cafe was warm, and the sweet smell of roasting meat made me feel comfortable immediately. The front of the cafe was illuminated with a flood of yellow lights that kept the roasted chickens warm while they turned on one of six spits. The cement floor was mud-stained. Every time someone came in, they carried in mud from the street. One old, poorly dressed woman carried a blue plastic pail half-filled with soapy water. She would saturate the big gray rag in the water, and then clean the muddy footprints away.
Between the two of us we ate four skewers of lamb, and two small steaks. Each steak of beef was about one quarter inch thick, and about 1 ½ times the size of a dollar bill. Tomatoes, carrots, artichokes -- most vegetables I’m familiar with -- all were there to make salad with. The gardens and farms of Morocco have much to offer. The meal was good, but I was surprised that it cost about eight dollars -- expensive in Moroccan terms.
On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a bakery and bought two round loaves of Moroccan bread for Marcy. Since this was all that she felt her stomach could handle, I wanted her to have enough. We ate little other than this meal today.
I brought Hamri back to the room. He had nothing else to do until midnight, when his train was scheduled to depart. Since it was about 8 PM, I wanted him to leave because, with her illness, Marcy needed some quiet private time, and she has been a good sport for this trip thus far. I walked to the train station with him. I needed to see what time the train to Fes would leave. 11:24 AM was the third train of the day, but earlier would have been very difficult since the first was at 12:07 AM, the second followed at 2:20 AM.
Tomorrow is the first day of Ramadan. During this month long religious fasting in the Muslim Arab world, no food or water is consumed during the day. I anticipated my greatest obstacle to be overcome if I participated would be that I am not supposed to smoke . . . no, water would be the second most difficult, so I bought two 1.5 liter bottles, especially because Marcy could become dehydrated because of her sickness. She fell asleep quickly; I watched TV and wrote until after 10:30 PM, then fell asleep myself on top of the blankets. The heat made the room so warm I needed no blanket. I woke about 3, wrote some more, then went back to sleep.
1/22/96, Monday - MEKNES
The next morning we both woke at 8 and went downstairs for a light breakfast. Even though Ramadan had started, we had slept through the proscribed breakfast time at 4 AM.
Bread, coffee, jam, and butter cost 120 durham, the cheese (6 small slices) cost an extra 60 dh. After eating we got everything together and left for the train, with an hour to make the ten-minute walk. The rain was coming down lightly. As we came close to the station door, we saw the familiar face of Samir with his friend Ahkmed, who is a schoolteacher for Berber children. The Berber language is distinctly different from Arabic. It is not a dialect of Arabic but totally separate. He teaches the children Arabic and French. He says the children really want to learn. He has one daughter 14 years old, a son who is 7, and he thinks his wife may be pregnant again.
While Samir went to find a taxi, we waited on a street corner with Ahkmed. We were a tight fit into the small cab with our backpacks. The drive to Fes took about an hour and cost 100 dh in the Petit Taxi. Grande Taxi is always more expensive.
We were invited guests at their home, which seemed comfortable for us. We were escorted into the main room of the house, not unlike the living room of a house in America. The walls were ringed with long sofas built along the thirty foot wall and the sides too. The walls were tiled three-fourths of the way to the ten foot ceilings.
We left everything here, trusting the family as though they were ours. We left to see the city. The taxi could only hold three people so Samri said he’d meet us in the Medina, but we didn’t go there. Instead, we went to see how they make special glazed pottery, and Marcy bought a set of bowls. They are heavy, but the fellow at the pottery place packed them (hopefully) very well. Then we got back into the taxi and saw some of fortifications of the town, as well as the palace walls.
It seems many towns have a mellah, a Jewish market center. This one does too. Near to it is the Jewish cemetery. I took some pictures of these things in the rain.
The converter plug to recharge the video batteries was lost, so it had to be replaced. We planned to do so after dinner.
I had two cigarettes during the fasting. Dinner was finally served; the housekeeper prepared it.
Harira, the spicy date soup, was delicious. Cauliflower with small bits of lamb, it was wonderful and I would have liked more. The dinner was delicious. We ate in the living room and the women (except Marcy), ate in the kitchen. I do not know where the father ate. He is the only one who dressed in a jlabba. The young girls were under blankets but wore kerchiefs. A sweetbread, too sweet, was served with sweet mint tea at the end of the meal.
After eating we went to see the Medina shopping area. In a few minutes we found the proper plug for my camera battery charger. After that we bought some jlabbas and that cost $200+. Next, we traversed more dark, twisted streets, and found a carpet place where they offered mint tea while they told us, in English, the story of how the carpets are made. We found one we liked and after much haggling, we bought it for $230. He had started at $1,200 U.S.
1/22/96 - FES
I was exhausted after the haggling at both stores, so when we all returned after being chauffeured by Samir’s cousin Ali, a burly man of forty, I was content to sit and talk for awhile.
I neglected to mention that before and during the meal I entertained all with my simple magic tricks. Everybody laughed heartily. The father heard all the laughter and decided to make his first appearance to us. Samri was shown how to do several of the tricks, so he was able to amaze his father who was befuddled by them. I showed him a card trick, but saw he wasn’t as amused as I had hoped. I pretended that he had stumped me on a simple card trick, and he rocked with laughter, too.
Every few hours the damp night air is awakened with the Arabic singing from the minarets calling the people to prayer. This is done five times each day.
We discussed plans for tomorrow to include a drive through a Berber village, and several small important towns or ruins outside Fes.
With plans made around midnight we retired to the living room where blankets were distributed and we were allowed the pleasure of a room heater, for it was cold in this room. Marcy got two blankets, but still professed she was cold. I stayed up until 1:30 AM to write, and now I’ll try to sleep on the sofa with one blanket.
1/23/96, Tuesday - FES
Everybody awoke late today. I slept until eight, everybody else was up soon afterwards. Some members of Samir’s family had left to go home -- like his married sister and Akhmed, the teacher, or like the father, an important school board member and the mother, who works for the post office. They had left for work. The house was still filled with people.
We walked to a bank to exchange more dollars for dirham. For $100 US I got 849 dirham at the local bank. The clerk at the bank examined the bill then looked at me and proclaimed it a legitimate bill. I walked back to the house, and the taxicab was waiting for us. To drive us for the day for eight hours he would charge 2,500 dirham - - way too much! We sent him away. Samir called and renegotiated the price to $100 U.S. (we thought.) After a few minutes the same driver reappeared, and off we went -- Ahkmed, Samri, Marcy, and me.
We drove to the High Atlas Mountains, where scattered tribes of Berbers lived. Most seemed to be tending sheep or doing nothing at all.
While the sky was clouded, there was no rain until we reached the high elevations, where vast barren, rock-strewn fields lay covered in snow. The air became much colder as we got higher, the temperature dropped to below freezing. The sky grew darker. Rain was falling intermittently. We stopped a few places I thought were photogenic.
We walked through a marketplace, which was a mellah, but now was used by all groups.
The vendors were selling every part of sheep, goat, chicken, or cow. One vendor sold only the skinned heads of goats. Another sold the legs of goats, each strung on a thick loop of wire he hung outside his shop.
The butcher took a five gallon plastic bucket and poured it into the street from behind the half door that served as a counter top for customers. The weathered wood of the door shielded the butcher from any back splash of the thin rose-colored water as it mixed with the already muddy soil of this alley.
8.49 dh = $1
Postcard: 1 dh
Postcard stamp to U.S. - 5 dh (really 4.8 dh)
2.2 lbs. of oranges - 3dh
5 mile taxi ride - 7 dh
2 star hotel room, U.S. style with shower/bath - $38 U.S. per night
The alley was a brown frothy mud that swirled around my shoes and threatened an unstable step each time I moved forward. I walked on, as did the hundreds of other people in the marketplace.
We went back into the taxi, and then into the Atlas Mountains. As we traversed the gray asphalt ribbon of road, the road narrowed, often too narrow to allow a truck to pass, and we pulled to the shoulder of the road when se saw a truck to let it pass. I saw a Berber group of homes near to the road we traveled. I asked the driver to stop.
Despite the frigid wind that was blowing, I left the protection of the battered ten-year old tan Mercedes that had carried us safely so far. The surrounding fields were rock-laden, like most of the other land around here. I saw him telling me to stop taking photos by his hand gestures. I continued anyway. When he came close, I could see the rough years of mountain living etched on his toothless face. Quickly I handed him about six dirham, and he was now content after the initial surprise of getting money. He smiled warmly now, and in a Berber dialect invited me into his home.
Like other Berber homes, his was made of stark cement. It was unpainted and without any exterior decoration at all, except for the littered utensils and excelsior that swirled about in the wind. I entered his abode cautiously, for an angry dog stood above the entrance ready to attack. It was only because the Bedouin took a long stick and prodded the vociferous animal that I was allowed to pass. Once inside the naked floor passed the mountain chill through to my feet. Only one of the three rooms had a source of heat. The first room into which I entered had a chicken in a basket ready to lay an egg. Several black iron tools rested, propped against the wall.
Some Goods We Liked
Couscous stew w/
Dates pitted w/ blanched almonds inside
Boiled egg with cumin
Harrira - soup of mystery
Pastilia - Pigeon almonds baked in a 3" flaky crust w/ powdered sugar
Yougurt - More of a custard taste (but watery on top)
Milk & Apple Juice - very tasty
Orange juice with shredded carrots
There were two other rooms were for us to see in this house. I looked into the room to the right, and it had his wife busy at a primitive loom making rugs. She sat on a thin blanket with legs folded under her as she repeated the strokes she must have made hundreds of thousands of times before. The woman was both diminutive in size and surprisingly youthful. He seemed to be in his sixties, while she was probably in her late teens or early twenties. I tried to communicate ideas to him, but sign language in the most basic form was the only success I had.
I purchased a handmade drum that is used at weddings and other festivals. The goatskin cover is heated to make it taut before it is used. The purchase was only going to be fifty dirham, but Akhmed suggested 100 since the man is poor, even though he claimed to be a chieftain. They usually herd sheep for money but little else. Also, they don’t speak Arabic.
In the next room he had many possessions, none of which had any significant value to any but him and his Berber peers. After the money and the goatskin drum passed hands, I left to go back to the waiting taxi. He was so happy with the amount of money he asked me to come back after Ramadan to eat with him and his family. I thanked him but declined the offer.
Another twenty miles down the road we drove through a university resort town with many Swiss style homes sans gingerbread molding and wood beams in the stucco exteriors. Looked like a place that Europeans might travel to for an inexpensive ski holiday.
ARAB VOCABULARY I HAVE LEARNED:
In Shala God willing
Zswin Tastes good!
Alebar Great (size)
Showkran Thank you
Tanegine Meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot
Couscous Moroccan stew w/ grains
Bifstek Minute steak
Mellah Jewish marketplace
Baboosh Arabic style slipper shoes
Djalaba Arabic style gown
Baksheesh Arabic style of tipping
Harara Arabic soup w/ dates
Medina Town Center
Sidi Honored mister
Another twenty miles and off the main road through a snow-covered narrow street led us to a place in the forest that sheltered a tribe of protected baboons or monkeys. They came down out of the hills to get bread we had bought at the town souk. The monkeys approached without fear. Only a few of them had any trepidation of an extended hand holding a loaf of bread. The snow fluttered gently down over us and the monkeys. One had his ear tagged.
Back into the warm taxi with the stained interior.
Finally, the furthest point in our adventure: we entered the township of Azrou. This developed Berber village had homes like most others in Morocco -- no better, no worse. The streets were seldom more than dirt, and as a consequence of the heavy rain, were churned into thick mud, which made them difficult to travel. Other people could not drive the roads as well as this Mercedes. Most people walked or rode astride a donkey. Sellers and a few buyers came with wooden flat trailers, most with rubber tires. The trailer was hitched to one or two tired horses. There were numerous sellers bringing their load of fruit or vegetables mounted steeply on the back of a sleepy donkey They guided the donkey with a heavy stick to beat the weary animal with if it should dare wander from the path its owner desired.
(AMERICAN) MOROCCAN PROVERB
When we were in the Meknes Train Station, we met an American who told us an American “proverb” of Morocco. He said:
When you’re in Morocco, you are never alone.
Its meaning is that whenever you are outside, throngs of Moroccans -- usually ones who profess to “just want to practice their English” -- will try to become your guide, and act as a shill to get you into their friends’ stores, for which the price is not greatly increased but always enough so that your new friend makes money at it.
Once we arrived at the market the only way to travel the last one hundred meters was by foot. The mud road was heavily traveled by everyone. All kinds of fruit and vegetables were sold there. Only two sellers had a few Chinese or American items of little monetary value. Only three sellers had clothing, mainly American or French brand rip-offs. It was very cold, windy, and raining. I tried to brave the elements to get a few good pictures, but with every step I could imagine falling prone into the muck. I turned back soon. We started the drive back after the driver purchased some eggs here. All eggs have a brownish rose hue here.
I had tried to resist eating, drinking, or smoking during the daily period that Muslim experience for Ramadan, but I needed to smoke.
On the way back, I had him stop in a “chalet” where Marcy and I had harrira soup, dates with almonds, mint tea, eggs roasted then dipped in cumin. It was unusual, but still delicious.
Three hours later we were home in Fes. In a few minutes the break of the daily fast would end, and it would be noted by air raid siren blaring.
Marcy had fallen asleep, but I talked with the young men until 1:30 AM.
I spent another hour writing before I fell asleep, fully dressed to protect myself from the cold night. The thin blanket I had was not enough.
I found the Moroccans to require less than Egyptians, but more than Jordanians.
It is ingrained in their customs and etiquette. If a service is done for you, you should give a dirham or two for the opening of doors, carrying luggage (which often will change hands many times before it is brought to your room from the taxi -- each time they expect baksheesh). From the taxi to the front of the hotel, to the elevator, from the elevator to your room. Each man wanted baksheesh, and a different man carried our goods from one place to the next. If an Arab allows you to take his picture, baksheesh should be paid.
1/24/96, Wednesday - FES TO MEKNES
We awoke in Fes at the home of our friends. The taxi driver had agreed to bring us to Fes for 200 dirham at 8 AM. We were ready and he was on time. The rain had momentarily stopped.
There was little conversation with the driver since he spoke Arabic and French. He drove us to the Hotel Ben Mansour in Meknes and offered several times to drive us to Tangier for 2,000 dh. Later that day I arranged such a drive for 800 dh. If it hadn’t been raining so hard the trains would still be working, and we would have paid less by taxi and only a third of that by train. But the trains were stopped all over Morocco because of the heavier-than-usual rain.
Petite Taxi - Much cheaper, but cannot leave its city of issue. Prices can be pre-arranged, or if un-metered, you pay him what you think it is worth. Often the car is a small vehicle and cannot hold more than three squished people. It has yellow boards on the roof that state “Petite Taxi.”
Grand Taxi - Generally a beaten-up Mercedes. It can hold five people if they are not very big people, and it has a large trunk for lots of luggage. Prices are more than twice what the petite taxi charges, but if you must go from one city to another, this is the only taxi that can legally do it. It has “Taxi” painted on its sides and a small red disk on the radiator area.
1/24/96 - MEKNES
The driver brought all of us out of Fes and dropped them on the way.
We wanted to see the Medina. It was more shopping. We went by taxi in the rain. The market was a huge one. While it may not have been the largest, I found it to be one of the best arranged. The rain came down hard while we were in the covered mall.
Fruits, vegetables, pottery (which was all hand-thrown), meat, and live poultry were usually grouped together. Noticeably absent was any fish. I don’t know why. The main part of the Medina had sections from which the sellers of one item gathered. One alleyway was only for djalbas. One was used mainly for shoes. Another for pharmacological and cosmetological goods, shared with sellers of elixirs and amulets.
If you dared to look at something closely, the merchant would be with you trying with great effort to sell his wares. Only reluctantly will he let you pass without making every effort at a sale.
Very, very rarely are women seen in sales areas. All negotiations are done by the men.
CUSTOMS AND DRESS IN A MALE-DOMINATED SOCIETY
Maybe just because it’s Ramadan, there were amazingly few women in the shops. I had no saleswomen, in any of the shops I went to. They were always quiet unless buying, or walking, usually in groups of three or more in the marketplace.
The women eat in the kitchen at home, and they eat what remains after the men eat in a separate area.
I noticed four times the number of women wearing traditional djalbas than men. Each town was different, but like in Fes, about 15% of the men wore djalbas, but about 60% of the women donned them. All over Morocco towns we visited, veils were commonplace for the women.
If it hadn’t been raining, this would have been a quiet day for us. When we first arrived at the hotel we hurriedly bathed. While in Fes they had not repaired the water heater so to take a bath, the teakettle would be heated to provide warm water for a bath. This was not a feasible way for either of us to bathe. It also explains why public baths were prevalent.
At the Hotel Bob Mansour, a well-known hotel in Meknes, we had most amenities, and since we felt a bit more freedom from the restrictions of Ramadan we ate in the hotel restaurant. We were the only patrons there. For 45 dirham each, we had a plate of roasted egg, dates, bread, and a bowl of harrira.
The rain was cold, and the wind added to the displeasure of walking outside. We made only a short walk around the souk in the Medina before Marcy said, “I’m all souked out. . . I’ve had enough.” She went back to the hotel and watched Channel One, the only Arabic station broadcasting at that moment. I discovered the souk behind one wide opening in the wall. Actually, I just watched the flow of people and joined in with them. I swam through the river of people, always guarding my pockets even though anything of value was in my hands or buried beneath layers of clothes.
This was a fine covered souk. Still the rain found its way through both new and ancient cracks and crevices in the frail coverings above.
After an hour or so, I wasn’t watching my watch, I took a petit taxi back to the hotel.
While in the souk a young man approached to tell me his father owned the spice shop where we had purchased some whole saffron for 12 dh for one gram. We bought ten grams. He said he’d like to walk and talk with me so he could practice his English. He claimed he was no guide and wouldn’t want any money. I said clearly I would prefer to walk alone, but if he wanted to walk with me he could. He tried to show me the school where the Koran is taught and written, but it was closed. Then he tried to steer me into numerous shops. I carefully resisted. However, he did get me into a shop that contained some antiquities. The shopkeeper showed me several items that may or may not have been fake, but his prices were astronomically high. That is part of the bargaining process. In recent time the shopkeepers started at twice the expected selling price, but everyone got wise to that, so shopkeepers have quadrupled the opening price.
When I had gone back to the hotel I had acquired no new goods. Marcy was very pleased about that. She’s been a great traveling companion so far even though there have been some tough moments.
Once back at the hotel she asked me to get some oranges, since I had to get postcards and stamps. Still, with the rain I managed to bring back a kilo of oranges for three dirham, water (1 ½ liters) for five dirham, stamps, and postcards. Also, I made arrangements with a taxi driver to bring us to Tangier tomorrow morning at 11 AM. The cost was to be 800 dh. At the hotel they said it should cost about 1,000 dh. The trains had been washed out and many roads were destroyed by the strongest rain in many years.
The deal was struck but because I was unsure if he would show I decided to wait until 11:15 before seeking out another grand taxi.
I went back to the hotel. The room was very warm, and it felt very good to remove the layers of clothing I had worn to stay warm and dry. We shared the sweet oranges and wrote out postcards before falling asleep.
I stayed up until past midnight to bring this journal up to date for this was another day filled with adventures.
Marcy said she had enough of this shopping and was ready to leave.
1/25/96, Thursday -- MEKNES TO TANGER
We woke around 8, and endeavored to get dressed and go to the souk for one last look. We were out in the rain at 8:30 AM and got a 10 dh ride in a petit taxi to the souk.
Roads had worsened. Train service was non-existent. Little did either of us suspect that this day would present us with the greatest obstacles of the entire trip.
We had a sparse breakfast on our return from the souk, which was closed still at 9 AM. Our breakfast of mint tea, coffee, orange juice, bread and butter was okay, but not great. We were the only people in the restaurant during the daily Ramadan abstinences.
In preparation of leaving we paid the bill, which included $40 US for washing and drying about one load of clothes. It would have been less, but they added a 50% surcharge for same day service. These prices stunned us since the room was cheaper.
All luggage was brought downstairs where I met Marcy, who was waiting for the grand taxi.
He was there. He came in to get some luggage to put in the trunk. We have a lot more stuff to take home now. Two large bags were added to our backpacks. After he explained to the hotel clerk, who acted as interpreter, that if the route must be changed for the weather the price would change. We agreed. In a few minutes we stopped to register with the local police that we were using the taxi for a trip to Tangier. They needed to see our passports.
After about three hours he pulled over to the side of the road to change a flat tire in the rain. A while later, after we were turned back by a closed road, he stopped at a taxi stand to have the flat tire repaired in an adjacent shop. While it was being repaired we tried to get local advice from the other taxi drivers parked in the lot made available to them.
We tried another road. It, too, was blocked but while he contemplated his next course of action the taxi was besieged by young locals who attempted to take out luggage from the unlocked trunk. They were not successful since the taxi continued to move through the crowd. We stopped again and I insisted, while he was talking to several older men, that he immediately lock the trunk. He did so just before the crowd re-emerged around us again. Fortunately, they were not able to open the trunk or the car doors, which were locked.
So on we went through back roads and paths that just didn’t seem to be shallow enough to maneuver through. But the driver knew his craft. It was an incredible ride to on the flooded and destroyed road.
Our next destination was no longer to be Tangier since all roads were un-navigable. We chose instead to go to the Mohammed V airport outside of Casa Blanca.
More dirt roads and small rivulets to cross. Water was often higher than the bottom of the car, but our driver managed. Despite all the fantastic scenery we passed, I fell asleep during the ride for over an hour. This was really the back country of Morocco. Since the rain had turned every thing so green, the entire countryside was a riot in color.
The ride was wet and wild. We ended the long journey without a stop in the open for a smoke. Nor did we stop for the bathroom or for food. Nothing stopped our drive to the Casablanca Airport.
Marcy got out to speak to someone about either changing to a direct flight to Madrid or a short trip to Tangier. She was able to arrange the trip to Tangier, but it was leaving in 15 minutes and her problem was further complicated by the fact that the end of Ramadan today was about to commence. Nobody wanted to help her -- they only tried to make it more difficult for her. She has her own story to tell.
Later, once we boarded the plane, I met a man named Kaghar Abdelhak
He sat next to me on the plane. He looked a great deal like a young Omar Shariff. He is married with two children who are 14 and 7, a girl and a boy. Both his parents are dead, but he told his story of how his father reached an old age of fifty and his wife could bear no children so he took a second wife -- his own cousin -- and she bore him several children.
Abdelchak said he thought the Western world would be appalled to hear that the father was happy, the second wife was proud, and the first wife was overjoyed to have children finally.
Abdelchak talked with me throughout the flight.
We landed in Tangier in the early evening (the flight lasted from 6:30 PM until 7:40 PM, which was after the end of Ramadan). We went by taxi to Hotel Rembrandt in the new part of the city. This hotel was maybe three star (U.S. style). The room overlooked the busy street with all businesses reopened after Ramadan’s end.
Abdelchak brought us out of the hotel and through several small streets until he found a cafe that is popular with the airline people. Marcy had tuna salad. It was prepared with egg, potatoes in a white sauce, coleslaw, and ground carrots, each in a separate pile arranged symmetrically around the plate. In the cold air that blew into the street side cafe the hot bowl of harrira felt good. This variation had strands of egg cooked in it. The bread served was fresh and, as always, wonderfully sweet. The dish I had requested was fried calamari rings, larger and a bit tougher than what I would have been served in the U.S,. with french fried potatoes -- some real artery cloggers. Abdelhak insisted on paying. Then he paid again as we walked the main boulevard overlooking the bay when I admired the peanuts sold in small newspaper cones. He bought two for us.
Marcy had such a small dinner, and she didn’t fully appreciate her salad. She ate both tiny portions of the large Spanish peanuts. I bought some Moroccan cigarettes, then the three of us walked back to the hotel. Marcy had, at first, said she didn’t want to go out because she was cold and tired. We had to get up at 5:30 AM the next morning too. So Abdelhak and I brought Marcy to the hotel, and we walked across the street to have some mint tea at a bar for only men. This is a Moroccan tradition. Men go to talk with their friends at places like this all over Morocco. We talked for a long time about Arab relations with Israel. He had strong ties with a Jewish family in Brazil. I invited him to stay with us if he should come to L.A.
Once back in the hotel room I talked with Marcy about this crazy day -- a scary one. Then the rest of the night I was writing until I fell asleep around 1 AM.
1/26/96, Friday -- TANGER TO MADRID
We woke before the front desk could call at 5:45 AM. The streets were quiet, but the rain continued. I had arranged for the taxi driver to be available to take us to the airport at 6:30 AM. He was there. He knew which roads to take and got us there quickly in about 15 minutes. Everything was loaded on a cart in the rain, and a porter wheeled it into the station.
Without a problem we passed customs and boarded the plan. There I saw Abdelhak. He asked if I had the key to the hotel because they called him. I could not find it. I did offer to pay for it.
While we were preparing to board the plane I met an older American gentleman, Jimmy Richards from Connecticut, in the airport store. They sold many things -- seemingly at reasonable prices the way everybody was buying stuff even at this early hour.
We still had almost eighty dollars in dirham, and they are not exchangeable in other countries. I was really shocked when I looked at the prices posted. They were posted in French francs! Not pesetas, not dollars, but especially not dirham. And, although this is a Moroccan airport, in Morocco, and only flying Air Moroc, a Moroccan Airline, they refused dirham! Jimmy bought $40 worth from us, thankfully. In flight things were sold, too, but dirham was not accepted. We talked for a long time with Jimmy, he was an interesting fellow. He follows a free lifestyle.
1/26/96, Friday - MADRID
In a short while we landed in Madrid. The time is one hour later than in Morocco.
Like real tourists and without a guide for the city, we were at the mercy of the reservation center in the hotel or a taxi driver. Both earn commissions for wherever we choose to stay. We decided to get taken advantage of by the airport reservation center because we’d have a wider choice by price and location. Since we’d only spend one night here, it didn’t make a lot of difference.
The taxicab situation is a little different because we were charged a small surcharge from the airport for a taxi, then a base rate or 170 prs. Then, the meter ran at a reasonable rate. A 45 minute drive through some heavy traffic to the hotel had about 3,0000 prs including a tip. We were sent to the Hotel Madrid, an okay hotel. It wasn’t fancy, but it was fine by Marcy’s standards. I never care as long as there is a regular bed, with blankets and there is a toilet nearby. I am even happier if there is a place available to bathe indoors. This was the nicest of the hotels we were at on this trip. Since today marks a three-day holiday in Spain, it would be a busy day for Madridians.
We checked in at the hotel. The cost was about $64.00 in U.S. money. A cup of coffee in the hotel bar costs about one dollar for cappuccino. After getting everything stored away, we got up out of the room and out of the hotel. While we were at the airport we also purchased a ticket for a city tour called “Madrid Panoramicos” for 1,400 prs each. Our flight landed at about 9:30 AM; after Spanish customs, the taxi ride and checking in at the hotel, we had about one and a half hours to make the start of the tour.
At various points throughout the city there are electronic devices that flash alternately the time and the temperature. It isn’t easy for me to translate Centigrade to Fahrenheit, but a chart I have says 8 degrees C. equals 40 degrees F. This is plenty cold, especially because we had prepared for rain, but not the extreme cold here in Madrid. The wind encouraged the frigid air to dig under the layers of clothing we wore. Marcy decided that she would be warmer with the heavy brown djalba we brought from Fez.
Attired in every article of clothing we could wear, we still could not fend off the icy chill. There was no snow, but the intermittent rain added to our misery.
The wonderful “edificios,” or buildings, especially along Avenida Alcala, were stunning. The drama of this busy metropolis was played out with the backdrop of these rococo and baroque style buildings that had been cared for with love and respect. They all looked well preserved. Many women donned fur coats to travel the high fashion streets.
We wandered through the streets without any direction in mind, just following the heaviest flow of pedestrian traffic. We looked in store windows to see what attracted people inside. Especially in this area by the Plaza Mayor, a central point of the city, the shops had all kinds of goods from around the world, but mainly the best and most costly that Madrid could offer. Anything that could be found in another worldly metropolis could be found here.
The afternoon closing of shops still bewilders me. I wanted to go into a tobacco shop, but all were closed at this hour. They would open later. I noticed McDonalds and 7/11 stores or restaurants. The exportation of American fast foods dulls the exotic splendor of this romantic street, or “calle.”
We stopped in a small smack shop for a pastry and coffee. Marcy ordered a bacon sandwich, but “jabon”, or bacon, is not cooked as we do in the U.S. It is much more meaty, and uncooked (at least to our tastes). We sat under one of the heat vents from the ceiling to warm up a bit, but the small coffee bar offered little refuge from the cold because it kept the front door open.
After paying about $4 for the two coffees, a bacon sandwich on a baguette, and a piece of citron (or lemon) pie, we walked further until we were really lost, and then I hired a taxi to take us to the city tour bus center. We waited for 45 minutes before boarding the bus.
Our tour bus guide was named Maria Rosa. Her Spanish was probably impeccable, but her English was faltering constantly. With such a thick accent we often could not understand what she said. The bus had air conditioning, but no heating (except near the driver). The guide had brought her five-year old son and reserved the first seat -- the one with the best view and the warmest since it was by the driver -- for him. Marcy tried to get it, but the guide insisted that we sit elsewhere. I found another spot to sit and Marcy surrendered her tenacious to the guide. She ran ahead to get on to the bus first, too. The ride lasted about two and a half hours. WAY TOO LONG!
The city, without any doubt, has big city charm, and it possesses history far surpassing any American rival. Yet the chill of the day without any relief on the bus, and the rain blurred sights, together made this a forgettable venture through the city.
The tour was eventually over. We took a taxi into Plaza del Sol where there were beautiful fountains and statues, but we were so cold we didn’t leave the taxi until it was back at the hotel.
Since Spain eats dinner late, we would have to wait until the restaurants open at 8:30 PM or 9:00.
I hired the first cabbie that had the green and black sign that says “Libre” on it. While the hotel was on a small and narrow street, it was very busy anyway.
I had the cab driver bring us down Alcala, then he had to find Plaza Isabella II. He didn’t know where it was and had to keep checking his map book. In this plaza was a restaurant recommended to Marcy by someone who worked in the hotel. The eatery was called La Paella Real.
We arrived at 8:30 PM, a few minutes before it opened, at 8:43 (give or take seven minutes). They just opened when they felt like it. We sat. One hard crust roll was served to each of us. The waiter returned, and took our expensive order of paella de camerones, Spanish wine, bottled water, and an appetizer of fried squid. Shortly thereafter, the squid was served accompanied by a three dollar half bottle of wine for which we gladly paid fifteen so that I could inspect the first drops and taste it. There was no cork to inspect as it as it had a screw top.
Marcy left for a few minutes while I sat quietly. An American couple sitting close by began to question me about how long we’ve been in Madrid and what we’ve seen. They were impressed by a few words about Morocco. Marcy returned, and then the food was served like it was the most precious meal ever. We had to shell the two shrimp, and the one mussel served on top of rice cooked with some spices was good, but too much butter was used. This place was filled with, as I just noticed, only Americans and a German couple. If it is supposed to be so good, why aren’t any Spanish here?
After dinner we went outside, got a taxi, and went right back to the hotel. Once in the room I was so tired that I fell asleep almost right away. I heard the party-goers celebrating in some other room, but it didn’t stop me from sleeping. Marcy said she got up a couple of times to complain about the noise because I refused to do anything about it. I am a stranger to their customs and nightlife along with all else here. I’ll not ask a man to change his ways in his own house.
The sun sets and the sun rises, and each day happens after the next. They were happy, we would sleep and we would wake. Let it be, was my decision.
1/27/96, Saturday - MADRID TO HOME
We are listed to go on the return flight, and we asked the hotel clerk to wake us at 7 so we’d have time for dressing, breakfast, and the taxi ride to the airport.
I woke sometime early; it was still dark. I felt well-rested. The bathtub was very short and the bottom was not flat -- instead it was split into two levels to accommodate sitters rather than loungers. While sitting in the warm tub I shaved, then showered myself.
Marcy woke excitedly. I had not looked at the clock, but Marcy did. It was after 8:30, and the taxi was requested to be waiting at 9 AM. It wasn’t possible to be there on time for Marcy, but I was ready to go. Without breakfast we left for the airport.
After paying the airport tax of 1,000 prs each, we went to Gate A where all international flights leave from. We bought a few small tidbits to eat later, and boarded the plane at 10:55. We left with a smooth takeoff. The reservationist in the airport at Madrid said the flight to LA is really light so we’ll easily make that flight (we hope).
We disembarked at JFK pretty much like the pilot said -- about 7 hrs, 43 minutes later. Not much turbulence until we got over JFK Airport. After a few good rainy flyovers, we landed.
Customs didn’t check our bags, they just asked us a few questions then sent us on our way. We got the luggage then. We brought it over to another counter. There they loaded it again so it should be in LA when we get there.
I wanted to smoke, so we went out of the building headed toward the domestic terminal. The rain was coming down very hard -- something we are really used to by now. While crossing outside to the other terminal I had a cigarette.
We boarded the LA flight and sat. Because the plane’s computer got wet it was not working properly. The mechanics had to replace the entire unit. This delayed take-off by an hour.
REFLECTIONS OF MOROCCO
Morocco is a country of warm mystery. Shadowy corners threaten the wary visitor. People of this country are very friendly, yet each of them warned me of others. It called upon all my powers to discern who to trust from who not to. Still it was even money when I made my call. We had good luck; nothing bad befell us. We knew no one to whom misfortune had visited while in this exotic land.
The fruits and vegetables filled a bountiful plate. Oranges taste more like oranges than ever before.
The people we had the good fortune to meet were all friendly. They were occasionally motivated by money. The tourist trade was weak at the time. We chose to visit because of the rain and the strict adherence to Ramadan’s rules.
Still, I would rank them among the most hospitable people I have ever met. I must confess that the women generally did little to make themselves attractive, except for the younger girls in their teens or twenties who had adopted more Western ways. Outside the larger cities this was extremely uncommon to see among women, especially clothes of the Western world.
American style businesses have made inroads here. We were told there is one McDonalds in Casablanca, I didn’t see it, but I was told that the wealthy people of Casablanca like to be seen there. It’s the “in” place to be. I hope they don’t open their doors too widely for more American ways to permeate their social structure -- with the exception of women’s rights (for they seem to have none). On the other hand, when one thing is changed, other things must adjust to accommodate that change. And maybe there is no “right way”’ to do it. And who am I to sit in judgment?
I also noticed that there was a very small “middle class.” Most were poor, although few had not enough to eat. This was pointed out to me several times by Moroccans.
I’ve already mentioned the wide array of fruits and vegetables; even though I have heard that there are many varied fish available, and frequently enjoyed by all, I saw few “fruiti del mare” in the marketplaces. Morocco has a vast seacoast which is mostly the Atlantic, but it stretches to the warmer Mediterranean Sea. Nonetheless, I saw what I saw -- the people can’t eat fish unless
they can buy fish (unless you’re a fisherman). The meat was frequently an offering of lamb or beef. Because of Islamic religious laws no pork was usually available. Restaurants never refused entrance to cats. These animals had free rein to go as they pleased. The same gratuitous behavior was not extended to canines, for although they were better treated than in other Moslem countries, they never looked happy and seldom had joined a human family.
Morocco’s future seems to be politically a very rough one. King Hassan and the politicos that support his power base cannot continue for very long like it is now. Maybe five years before the people rebel. He has the popular support of the people, but with a strong middle class no government is very stable, especially when they are educated. I do not know how thorough the educational system is, but the young graduates have difficulty finding employment in Morocco unless the family is well connected in the government.
While the time spent there was very limited, it was adequate to pass some sort of judgment if only for myself, and if it is understood to be from just a eye blink of a visit.
Here, too, the rain afflicted what could have been more pleasant, and the biting cold was no pleasure. But the Spanish grandeur and magnificent buildings stood as testament to
the careful design each artist used as the structure was erected. Yes, I think that the construction was managed less by an architectural designer and much more by an artist.
The few bits of Spanish cuisine were just not enough to issue any statement, positive or negative.