Friday, December 8, 2006

moroccan memories

I accidentally fell asleep a few hours ago and just woke up. It's 1:00 a.m., which means this post will probably be recorded on the 8th rather than the 7th, therefore already messing with my idea of posting daily. Shit.
Ok i'm over it. <>
Even though I just chastised myself yesterday about making clear that this is a writing blog, not a pasting-old-stuff blog, I decided to already break the rule again. Since I love to travel, and since I've been rediscovering stuff I wrote while living abroad or in NYC--I'm going to allow myself to post those things as well. At any rate, it'll at least give me the chance to combine words and pictures. <>
So here's my travel-logue of sorts from my weekend trip to Tangier, Morocco. <>
January 29, 2004 <>
I am sitting alone in a florescent-lit dining car on an overnight train to southern Spain. It’s 4:20 in the morning. The sleeping car was impossible to sleep in—four seats facing four seats with barely any legroom and stale air. One little student kept coughing. One little student listened to loud music. One little student chewed gum. One little student snored. And this little student climbed over legs and made her way sluggishly to another stale, yet roomier car. The floor is covered in discarded cigarette ash. A few of the tables have tiny ashtrays, which cradle cigarette stubs and reflect the hospital lighting quite well in the metallic gold foil. The seats have various stains, and the tabletops are a dull blue-gray with names scratched in. Noelia A.R. ‘heart’ Marc G.M. TESTIMO. I consider contributing to the graffiti, but I don’t have the patience. Besides, there’s no name to add after a heart. I’ve had to pee since we boarded at 11. <>
January 30, 2004 <>
I officially have a Tangier stamp in my passport. I woke up this morning when a man touched my arm and said in a British accent, “You should really wake up or you’ll miss out on this beautiful view.” My hand was entirely numb from sleeping on top of it, while guarding my bag by using it as a pillow. I mumbled something to him and tried to smile appreciatively. I am not what you would call a "morning person." I couldn’t see without my glasses, which had fallen off my face and onto the book beside me while I was sleeping. He asked me where I was getting off and I said I didn’t know. He cocked his head and said, “Oh, I thought you were English.” Never got that one before. I apologized for not being English. “Well I best be going. The next stop is mine,” he said and stood a moment looking at me. “Ok, well thanks for waking me up.” And I meant it. When he left I put on my glasses and saw what he had wanted me to see. Exotic green everywhere, small white shacks, huge bird nests atop phone poles, almost every one with a stork standing guard, and a stray horse grazing here and there. This is the Spain I had daydreamed about. It was almost nine in the morning. Our stop was soon after. All nine of us girls got off the train together, eager to start our adventure in a land where women are known to be restrained in a male-dominated society. <>
We had four hours until our ferry departed to Tangier. Half of us walked into town, found a coffee shop to sit in for a while and drank some café con leche to wake us up. It rained the whole time we wandered the streets. We trekked our way to El Corte Inglés (a department chain in Spain) to buy ponchos, but by the time we finally left, in a hurry to make the boat on time, it had stopped raining. The leftover air smelled like a soaked zoo. I fell asleep for most of the three-hour trip across the Strait of Gibraltar, again bent over a table, with my head on my bag and my body giving into the motion of the waves. <>
A well-dressed man, a Moroccan native named Abdul, pulled the nine of us aside as soon as we entered the port in Tangier and in practiced English offered to be our tour guide for the weekend; all he asked for was three Euros a piece. We rode in a van to the Hotel Saluzar, which was right on the beach. In the lobby there was a magnificent staircase that wound widely to the top floor. There, on the ceiling, a painting of a gold sky with white clouds. As I looked up and turned around myself I felt like I was inside an Escher drawing. The doors to our rooms were a bold blue with black art deco style numbers. The room key looked like it would open the secret garden and was attached to a large, heavy metal keychain, which had the name and address of the hotel imprinted on the back. <>
Abdul took us to the central market in “old town” where we rushed through the labyrinth of meandering narrow passageways, crammed with robed people, barrels of spices, and rows of hanging headless chickens. I told myself I might never eat meat again. Stray cats…stray kids…I stayed away from the men following us with their Moroccan merchandise. One kept my pace and listed off states, “Michigan…Missouri…Mississippi.” Morocco. I am in Morocco. Half the time I thought I was in the Moroccan section of Epcot Center. I forgot we were outside until I thrust my face up and there in a patch of black between the jagged roofs, a quarter of the moon revealed itself. <>
We had a traditional dinner, careful to avoid any raw vegetables or tap water. It began with spicy vegetable soup and bread, followed by an appetizer pie with ground up chicken, apricots, onions, and cinnamon (which everyone liked so much, we ordered a second one…months later we found out we actually misheard our waiter, and what we ate was pigeon pie, a common Moroccan dish.) Then the main entrée—couscous with seven vegetables and chicken (or pigeon??). We finished it off with their specialty mint tea. I kept my Fanta Límon bottle because the label was printed in Arabic. The restaurant remained empty the whole time we were there, except for Abdul and some of the staff gambling at a table in the back. A girl in the street started crying when her friends pushed her down. Little boys came up to the window behind our table and stuck their hands out, palms flat up. Their eyes opened wider as they looked from dangly earrings on some to the designer glasses resting on uncovered heads of others. They learn to ask for money at a young age. <>
When we got back to the hotel an older native man, petite, approached me before I made it inside. “Are you English?” he asked me. Twice in one day. Weird. <>
January 31, 2004 <>
This morning we took a two hour bus tour with a bunch of old, happy, Spanish people. Abdul sat in the back with us. The tour guide up front with the microphone spoke in Spanish the whole time, so I zoned out and gazed out the window. We went around the outskirts of Tangier, through a neighborhood with impressive houses both in size and design. This part of town was called, not surprisingly, “California.” We stopped on the side of the road later on to take pictures of the panoramic view. The road looked like it ran right out to sea—or the sky above the sea. As the bus came to a halt, I noticed a short man wearing a sombrero coming up onto the road opposite the bus with two donkeys. I rushed to get off the bus to take what appeared to be the perfect picture, but apparently he waits on the side of the mountain every day for the tour bus to stop in the same spot. I took pictures anyway. Next stop—camel rides. We each paid a euro to climb aboard a camel and walk in a circle for probably less than a minute. The weather was beautiful and some of us had rolled up our jeans to our knees and joked about showing our ankles in such a country. <>
The nine of us, plus Abdul, got dropped off in the marketplace again. It was nice to see the operation in daylight. We walked to a “famous” hotel to use their bathroom and got sucked into their large shop of trinkets for an hour. The terrace had been used in some movie, and the owner had faded pictures of him with Francis Ford Coppola and John Malkovich, among others, behind protective glass on the countertop. He recited all the area codes of our hometown cities. I don’t remember why he knew such a list. While I was browsing the random collection of jewelry and wooden boxes he approached me and said very close to my face, “You with the freckles—you know what you look like?” I don’t think I want to know, I replied, thinking of all the people in New York who frequently stopped me on the street to ask if I was Chelsea Clinton. “The sky with the stars.” Well that’s one way to gain customers. I bought two necklaces, 20 postcards (because when else are my friends going to receive a postcard from Morocco…), and a goblet-like shot glass to add to my now-international collection. We left the hotel and continued on to a building with an indoor narrow mosaic staircase that led to the roof where we had a fantastic view of the monochromatic houses stacked along the hill, many with Technicolor laundry hung out to dry. When we descended back into the main room the vendor did a show with his collection of rugs. He asked for a volunteer and I, the only one willing to take my shoes and socks off, pranced around the different materials and blandly described to the other girls how they each felt. "Feels good..." <>
The next place we went was an herbal pharmacy where we sat on a bench that ran the length of the wall and listened to a man talk about different Moroccan spices and medicines. He passed each one down the line of Americans for us to smell. He demonstrated how to cure migraines, snoring, and stuffed sinuses by putting a few tablespoons of crushed black eucalyptus into a handkerchief pouch, rubbing it against his palm to create friction and then walking up to us one by one to have us inhale in each nostril. It looked like black cocaine. I was the last in line. Only one girl turned it down. The rest hadn’t died yet so I figured I’d give it a go. After all, it was “all-natural.” And it was awesome. I bought some for my mom, being that she's a pharmacist, herself, and suffers from migraines. His description of their native ginseng included, “…this is also an aphrodisiac, much like your Viagra.” <>
As we followed Abdul around the winding maze I caught a snippet of an Elton John ballad seeping out of a wooden doorway. I stopped to take pictures of kids posing with sticks and waving at the camera. Some thanked me by yelling “grassy-ass” (gracias) as I waved goodbye. A man walked by gripping a sheep by its bloody horns. It was experiencing its last moments for tomorrow is a national holiday where every family has to sacrifice a sheep like Abraham. I couldn’t watch the sheep struggle against the laughing man’s grip. It made me cringe and again swear that I would try to give up eating meat. <>
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a “hole in the wall,” Abdul´s translation of an ATM machine. We all gave him five Euros a piece for his help and parted ways. We went in search of a specific pizza restaurant for lunch up the main avenue near our hotel. We passed a guy in a maroon robe on a street corner, and he started following us, then running after us screeching, his arms waving frantically in the air. I kept my pace when he walked next to me, his front facing my profile. I nervously glanced at him sideways. His eyes wild, he spoke loudly. “Ah-mer-ee-kahn woman. I watch you and you do nothing!” He ended his sentence with a horrible, piercing shriek. I tried to speed up, but out of the corner of my eye saw his arm wind up and then felt it smack my butt! I spun around, my jaw dropped, my eyes wide. I wish I could say that I hit him back, but I honestly was frightened of what might be hidden under his robe. Passersby walked past unresponsive. Eventually he left my side and became a faint speck at the bottom of the hill. <>
At the pizza place we all had our own good-sized individual pizzas for less than four Euros a piece. Families trickled in to pick up one pizza for the four or five of them there would be for dinner. Nothing like proving the fat American stereotype. At 10 p.m. we went to a seafood restaurant next to our hotel. Again we were the only customers. We entertained ourselves by watching the music videos on the TV suspended from the ceiling. Every other video was an American pop star. <>
February 1, 2004 <>
Right now I feel like I’m on a Girl Scout campout. Six of us are in a small sleeping car—a real one with bunk beds, three stacked on each side. I am on one of the top ones writing by the light of the tiny bulb at the head of my bed. This morning was beautiful. We woke up early enough to have breakfast in the hotel and then pranced around the beach, enjoying the seventy-degree weather. A dead rat circled by flies deterred us from going any closer to the water, so instead we laid out by the hotel pool, soaking in the Moroccan rays until we had to catch the ferry back to Spain. I rolled my shirt up a little and snickered at my white stomach that matched the sidewalk. Fifteen minutes of bliss. African sun. African freckles. <>
On the ferry ride back I jokingly sang along to Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart courtesy of the bartender’s tape player, while lounging on a cushioned bench that smelled like vomit. I felt like I was on a boat back to the States circa 1992, but the three hours only took me as far as we’d come from two days ago. <>
1) me and allison on the docked ferry, enjoying the last of the 70-degree weather in february, before heading back to spain...taken by anna? 2/1/04
2) this is one of my favorite pictures. taken at some point during our two-hour tour on 1/31/04
3) cute camel. taken when we stopped for camel rides. 1/31/04
4) soaking in the african sun, poolside. i can't tell which of the 9 of us is missing in order to give photo credit. i laying down on the far right with my jeans rolled up. 2/1/04)

No comments: