Sunday, June 21, 2009

"finger-lickin' good"

The coast at Casablanca.

And so begins Day 2 in Morocco

We had our complimentary breakfast overlooking the patio and breezy coastline. Within ear shot was an extremely french couple, the woman skinny, gazelle like and head to toe in linen. The man was wearing thin rectangular glasses that I have been pining after as of late - mine are I must admit gargantuan. They ate like birds of course and probably smoked des cigarettes après.

At first we were intimidated by the hordes of young Moroccans playing soccer on the beach, but the black and red sands, expansive sky and threat of rain moved us onward. We walked as close to the water as we dared - every so often the breaking wave would rush on so quickly and so uniformly across the beach that you actually had to run away from it. Aside from the teams of boys and men bright soccer shorts, there were a few groups of teenagers lounging in the sand.

As soon as we checked out and haggled for a reasonably priced cab fare, it was pouring rain and they had to shut down the mosque, a cool and vast place of marble nonetheless. Unable to find another cab to the train station for quite some time, we trekked through the rain with our cumbersome duffel bags but did see a good portion of the city. Much like the mosque there was a pervading marble color to the tiling, palm trees everywhere, carts heaping with tantalizing fruits, fresh bread or vegetables.

Suprisingly dry we kipped into a random café near the train station for lunch, again filled with Moroccan business men. The chicken tagine was to die for - by far the best tagine we had in Morocco. Our train ride to Marrakech was like a waking dream, transitioning from idyllic poppy fields and sheep flocks to what looked like Jurassic park. Whilst reading jihad, I unfortunately fell asleep and happened to be sitting next to a scholar of islam. I definitely missed out on what could have been a rousing discussion of Sayyid Qotb.

After dismissing a faux guide who had suspiciously perfect english, we once again walked to our destination. The wide avenue in the new city was strongly reminiscent of a grand boulevard in Paris and a stark contrast to the bustling medina in the old city, where the stalls boasted anywhere from fresh goat head to moutains of mint leaves. It was utterly hopeless trying to find the nook our hostel was in, so we paid a teen to show us the way.

Riad Massin was by far the best riad in Marrakech - unlimited mint tea, loving people that treated you like family, free internet use (a community laptop), organized excursions, beautiful, clean and really really cheap (I think it was like 11 euro a night).

We had dinner at "the stalls", basically glorified picnic tables at the main square called Place Jemaa el Fna. The stalls were lined up in succession - some had only locals, some had only tourists. Each stall was manned by a loud, multilingual dude that yelled stuff at tourists to attract them to their stall. Our favorite was the one who used "finger-lickin' good" on us KFC-loving americans. Everything was a bit flavorless and disappointing except for the fried eggplant, which was delicious. We were too intimidated by the stalls with all locals. This was compounded by the fact that the menu signs were in arabic and not french.

And so ends day 2. Many more pics on my flickr.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I'm BACK. For good.

(view from our hotel in Casablanca)

After a stint in candyland in which I lost my internet savvy, fear no more I am back in the U S of A and ready to go BLOGCORE.

I have my itunes on shuffle, Beck is serenading me and I am ready to climb the formerly insurmountable mountain of a task that is recounting my time in Morocco from April 15th - 22nd.

But first, there are a few things you should know about Morocco (from my interpretation at least) before delving into my memoir:

1. Morocco is a muslim country in North Africa. This means droning prayers throughout the cities several times a day. The women are liberally

2. Morocco was formally a french colony, thus many of its inhabitants, especially the younger generation, speak french. Even the smaller towns have chairs spilling out of the cafés onto tiling. The entire country is very clean... for this and its convenient location it is what I dub "the white man's" vacation in Africa

3. 11 dirhams to the euro. Pretty sweet exchange rate.

4. Every price is negotiable. There is not a single thing bought without bargaining.

5. Moroccans are some of the most hospitable people out there.

Day 1

My friend auspiciously chose one of the nicest hotels in Casablanca, which the cabbie informed us was located on the "Champs Elysées of Casablanca". Indeed it was on the nicest road with all the other hotels and nice restaurants along the coast, but even then there was gravel everywhere. Aside from the palm trees, the beautiful mosque and the beach, Casablanca was vaguely polluted, open and desolate. The night was chilly, windy and moist and salty from the sea air.

We shied away from a rather nice restaurant that french tourists decided on and went with another that was more of a hashisha bar. The waiter outside was very convincing. As we would soon find out later... there's always a welcoming borderline obnoxious man trying to flock you into his establishment. We descended the stairs to find live music (which is generally traditional arabic music + a dude singing it), moroccan business men sitting at white clothed tables and certainly no tourists. The effect was instant - we definitely looked odd amongst them.

About halfway through our meal of probably the best couscous we had our whole time Morocco, heavily made up women wearing tight clothing and stilettos, basically walking ads for baby phat morocco, strutted in accompanying older, portly moroccan men. My companions were convinced they were paid escorts, but I like to think that the generous wallets of their men guided them into the state of holy matrimony.

We ended with mint tea - about as omnipresent in Morocco as Speidi in fine media outlets. Since I was lame, tired and still feeling the heavy weight of my epic jihad paper, I read jihad by gilles kepel (excellent but damn near killed me) and my companions frolicked on the coast.

So ends day 1.