Saturday, 30 June 2007

long distance trouble

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Q is sitting at her desk looking quite distraught and sighing loudly, over and over with good cause. The apartment in NYC (the place where you just can’t get one!) is in danger as is the $2000.00 deposit that A had given “the landlady”. Q put up an ad on Craig’s List to sublet the apartment until her arrival in September, because in order to get it they had to pay July and August rents. The tale of how many and how quickly came the queries to that ad is another story all together. They had many possible takers lined up to see the apartment this morning at 1030 hours EST. Their good friend J. who lives in New York was going to show the apartment and screen the candidates for them. Housing is so tight many of these people sent Q their resumes, and some sent photographs! The apartment is unfurnished!

Last night her friend J called after we arrived home at 1900 hours. We had a splendid afternoon of gym, lunch at Paul’s and shopping in Agdal and were ready to sit down, relax, and enjoy our purchases from La Vie en Rose. J tells her she has been unable to contact the landlady – yes the one A gave a check to for $2000.00 of their limited budget. A was on his way into Ghana (the plane was late, duh). Finally late last night he arrives in Ghana, a bit stunned I’m sure, and Q told him the status and that he needed to put a hold on the checks on Monday if it turns out to be some horrid scam. Background: He left Boston to go to NYC and look at the apartments that Q had found through the paper, Craig’s list, and referrals, and sign the lease and put down the deposit. You have to admire a young couple that can work together while over 3000 miles apart. Then he went back to Boston, packed up and left for two months in Ghana for some study for Harvard.

Just before she got A on the telephone Q found their apartment listed on Craig’s list for rent. Da da da dum. However I suggested it could just be an ad still running out its time, the landlady could be out of town (A did NOT get a key. Don’t ask Me?), and it was still early in NYC when she last spoke to J….

Q left it very late last night our time with another call to the landlady saying if they do not hear from her by Monday they will put a hold on the check. It is such a no win situation. If the woman is just off doodling her thumbs somewhere they are still out money every day the apartment sits empty. The worse case scenario is it is some horrid scam, and she is out an apartment when she lands in NYC in September.

I have just sent her back up to bed. She had very little sleep last night, none of it good, and with the time difference there is nothing she can do. She has that horrid defeated look that you get when you know matters are beyond your control – in spite of all the effort you put in to do just that. Ah yes the mother-rage is building. Do you think that woman has ANY idea how fortunate (as in to keep breathing) she is that I am 3000 miles away!? Why do people behave in such fashion? Grrrr
It has fled my mind what ever I was going to write about today. I think it will be a good day for a boxing session at the gym. Uh huh.

Friday, 29 June 2007

how to 'work out' in the maghreb

For the mothers, and the daughters in the group go here, and then do return.

Let me tell you about Club Moving located in Souissi. It is “the” place to be in Rabat apparently and I can see why. When Q told her always stylishly dressed and buffed and toned French tutor I was joining, “Oh it is so spectacular. I would join there if only I could afford it. Everyone wants to go there.” Granted this is one woman’s opinion. We have made note that the middle and upper class of women in Morocco are just as obsessed with fitness, as are their western counterparts. However it was the all-knowing Suzanne who told us about the 1001 Arabian nights treatment here. My reasons are twofold, one of course to prevent the back of my bum from meeting the back of my knees, the other to meet some people as Q is leaving at the end of August.

The club sits in the middle of a flower filled block in Souissi just down from Dessange. There is plenty of parking space and an attendant to assist. The lobby is spacious with a juice bar and tables to the left, the service counter center, and a sitting area with lovely blue chairs and couches to the right with a flat screen television mounted in line of sight.

The young women who work the front desk, Houzo, Iman, and the lovely Safi are always bright and cheerful. Safi and Houzo both speak English even though when the conversation is in depth they call Sabel from her office whose English is quite good. It was a bit cumbersome to set the original contract as I don’t (won’t) use Moroccan banks, I can’t remember the last time I had to work that hard to get someone to take over a thousand dollars from me; but it was all worked out in the end. Sabel and the other staff are all very attentive and helpful. Now remember I am doing all this from a foreign language.

And just to clear that up, it is not that I speak no other languages but rather I was set up for another continent. My taxi driver and I yesterday went through the list when I got into the car: English (him no), French (me no), Hindi (him no), Darjia (me no), Ancient Greek (him no), Italian (me no), Spanish, YES FOR BOTH. I turned into Chatty Cathy I tell you. And yes that is the Polo Clubhouse and Field we always pass on the way back from Club Moving. I knew it; think I don’t know a Polo field when I see one?!

You enter the Club and pass by the exercise room (4+ treadmills, 4 elliptic, 2 Stairmasters, bikes, free weights, weight machines, one of those great le-me-help-you-do pull-ups machines, flat benches, abdominal benches, pads for the floor – the only thing I have not seen (yet?) is a Roman chair, my own personal favorite abdominal killer or the big balls for balance); then go down the stairs to pass by the salon and hamman (more on that later) and enter the dressing rooms with wall to wall lockers, a center aisle for dressing, a sink and mirror for make-up, a door to the showers, and my personal favorite- a prayer room. I think it is only for Muslims however. There are two to three attendants present every time I have been in there. The dressing room smells like fresh pressed laundry! That is a big one for me. All the exercise equipment appears to be either new or close to it and in top working order. There are mirrors on the wall facing front and the sides and back are all floor to ceiling pristine clean windows looking out on Zen-like gardens, just spectacular really. Very helpful when you are inflicting pain upon yourself.

Upstairs is the exercise room for women only. I have not been in there yet, but intend to next week. Perhaps they have the exercise balls.

Also upstairs is the large mirrored room where they conduct classes in all the stuff you would expect. The two items that caught my eye and made me happy are the boxing dummies and the ballet bar. Oh yes!
The thinking on this place is brilliance itself. Once you finished killing yourself upstairs (look I do it all right, I am an exercise fiend, but I do not enjoy it until it’s over…well maybe the boxing) you go to the desk just outside the women’s lockers and set yourself up for a variety of pampering.

On Wednesday while I was hitting the treadmill and pumping up those triceps, Q was downstairs having the 1001 Arabian Nights treatment. Oh it gets better, there are three levels: Rituel Royal, Rituel Ancestral, or Rituel Mille et une nuit. You can go in for one hour to ninety minutes and get the hamman (steam, soap, scrape), a honey mask, a shampoo and head massage. Then you are toweled up and led into a lovely room (think that Disney movie…with the Arabian princess). They lead you to a bed/couch and bring you water and tea. Then when you are sufficiently collected, you go and dress. There is also a half-day version, Ceremonial Marie, where I can only assume this is all magnified. You can also have anything and everything waxed of course, very hygienic. Prices range from 170 dirhams to 2000 dirhams. I can tell you this when Q came out of there her skin felt like silk velvet. Oh yes!

After my work out yesterday I had the Reflexologie plantaire. I cannot abide back massages. I don’t know why, they make my teeth itch, but I had reflexology with both of my pregnancies and it was heaven. I never had morning sickness or any other of the normal bothersome maladies. I totally buggered my knees on K2 and Everest so all help to that area that does not involve a scalpel is welcome. The young woman at the desk took me to the back waiting room, which is tastefully decorated, very soothing – again with the large flat screen television. Myriam came for me and took me to her room. The room was clean, nicely decorated, not overdone. The massage was fantastic! My only complaint is that it is to be a thirty-minute massage for 200 dirham, and it was fifteen minutes instead. Because it was so good, I will try it again to see if the time is met before writing it off . After the massage she gave me a bottle of chilled water and a delicious dark tea that tasted of the desert.

Club Moving is indeed costly, and for this part of the world really costly but depending on what you are looking for I think it is worth it. You can enjoy all the treatments (there are four pages) of the spa and beauty salon without being a member. Membership is 9,440 dirhams for membership with a monthly fee of 350 dirhams and an additional fee of 400 dirhams every January. Membership entitles you to some off all of the spa and beauty treatments.

Every part of the Club I have visited so far is spotless. Beautiful wood floors, blissfully cool throughout. I have noted two or three “fitness counselors” on the floor. I will check that out later as I don’t need a work out instruction per se, (I have been doing this a long time) but I do want to be introduced to all the equipment and I think it is a good idea to have someone assess your progress now and again. Don’t you? Club Moving is located at 33, Avenue Mehdi Ben Barka, Souissi-Rabat, 037 65 29 60

I will leave you today on this note; the majority of taxis in Morocco have the handles that control the windows removed in the back. The only reason for this we have been able to glean is that it is a Moroccan superstition that the moving air is bad for you. If any of my Moroccan readers out there have some more informed insight on this question let us hear from you.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

I'm just thinking..

“Ow ow ow.”

“What?” Q says with a rise in tone.

“The cat is climbing my back like you scale a mountain, only one made of cheese,” I screech.

“Made of cheese?” The eyebrow lifts.

“Yes, as in he is sinking in his claws!”

“Harrumph.” As she turns back to her computer screen. So much for parental affection returned. Elder abuse!

All the taxis in Morocco have a cover over the dash of the car to protect the leather from the relentless sun; they range from plain to very fancy indeed.

The constant ever-present migrating crop of the developing world is plastic carry bags. You see them as they line the fields outside the Fez Marjane like a carefully planted crop, and in Rabat along the streets of the Medina and the market.

The best French fries in the entire world are made in Morocco- period, end of discussion.

Coming into the Blue Gate into the Fez medina one is always inundated with offers of a guide. My standard line that evolved was, ”No. I don’t need a guide I live here.” Which was for the most part effective. On this day the chap pulls right up, cocks his fez over one eye, spreads his hands in the universal symbol of “I have no weapons.” and says, “But Madame, I am NOT as guide, I am a HUSTLER.” It was priceless and left us in giggles.

It’s funny how people pick up habits. I never, never bite my nails because my governess, Mrs. Davidson for whose approval I was always striving, said, “People of character do not bite their nails. It shows a lack of control and a tendency to become slovenly.” Of course she also said, and quite rightly, “Cursing of any sort is a form of laziness or an ignorance of the English language which contains quite enough words to give anyone a verbal thrashing of the most severe sort.” Yes, so the second one did not take…
Sally told me when she was young she saw several Grace Kelly movies and was so taken with her beauty, grace, and charm that she tried to emulate her. Specifically “She folded her handkerchief just so when she needed it. I then decided I would never blow my nose again, just dab.” Isn’t that sweet?

One of the trials of shopping in Morocco is that you can find something you like once, or in only one size and perhaps never again; from candles to shoes.

There is a school of thought that writing, the forming and practicing of spiritual beliefs, and masturbation should all be practiced alone, and you should wash up after.

Q to M.C.: “Your balls better get bigger or she’s not going to be able to cut them off.” Speaking of course of the upcoming appointment with the vet. Now I am no lobbyist or public relations persons, but I am a manipulative person (now, now you who think it is a bad word, I never talk anyone into anything they either didn’t really want to do in the first place or that they shouldn’t do) but I am fairly certain that is not a winning argument for being neutered. I’m just sayin’…
It rather strikes me like the unbelievable, “If you don’t stop crying I’m going to give you something to cry about.” Now, stick with me here, if the child is crying does he not ALREADY have something to cry about? Hmmm?

Wouldn’t having multiple personality disorder (MPD) be a good thing in some ways? Someone to share the blame, the guilt, the work, the popcorn… Would you qualify for the double rate on those package tours?

I don’t know, but I think it might be a bad thing when you come to know your pharmacist so well he invites you home for dinner with his family. What do you think?

Just as chocolate is the cure for all ills in Australia, apparently the cure for all ill in Morocco is the sea, or olives, or both. My pharmacist and my housekeeper, and the landlord have suggested a visit to the sea (out the door and around the corner) as a cure for my migraines. I will try anything once..

We get our fresh squeezed orange juice every day from the nice man who has a hanut on the corner of the next street over. He is obsessed with American Rock n’ Roll music. When we go to his stand, or just pass by on the way to the Fort’s gate it is surreal. You hear anything from Guns and Roses to The Allmen Brothers, or Elvis!

We now have our very own police station in the Oudayas, twenty-four hour coverage. Not that there is much for them to do I think, still it’s good for the tourists. From what I have observed Moroccan policemen don’t eat donuts, they eat the small cake pastries.

There is a too die for lingerie shop in Agdal called “Vie en Rose”. The merchandise is luscious, silk and lace galore. All the best French brands. Q has her eye on a white silk nightgown for the honeymoon.

I have to go to Club Moving now and work out. Ug and yea. I am going to have an hour’s foot massage after, so really no sympathy huh?

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

A Tale of Two Restaurants

On Monday after having our selves tarted up at Dessange we went to the Mega Mall. What an experience. It has an ice-skating rink and a bowling alley. Shops for clothes and jewels that would fit on 5th Avenue or Knightsbridge. While it was lovely, and blessedly cool it felt just a little off. I think anyone who has visited Dubai, Acapulco, Kuwait City or like kind will know what I mean when I say it is confined excess. This is a poor country. It is a lovely country, full of wonderful history and magnificent people, but it is economically in bad straits with an unemployment rate reported at 20%, and more likely at 45+%.

I think Q said it best when she was in the hamman at Moving having her 1001 Nights treatment. She was speaking with the ladies in Darjia and they ask what she thought of Morocco. “Morocco is great if you have money, and not so great if you don’t.” They were amused as well as impressed, and told her that was the most honest answer they had ever heard.

If you stand inside the mall and close your mind to the rest of Morocco it is perfectly normal, but if you look around you at the luxury goods and think of the state of the rest of the country, even the city – it is unsettling at bit.

We had lunch at XO International Restaurant, or rather we tried.. It is a lovely restaurant decorated with lots of cedar, fountains, and marble. The seating was comfortable in a cushioned booth. The waiter was very personable. I fear it was all terribly downhill after that. To begin I could not get him to bring me my Oul Mes (bubbly water). Then we ordered appetizers. He took the order and returned, without my water, “We have no avocado [Avocat aux crevettes.” Fine, we ordered something else.

He returns, “We have no veal [Filet de veau].” At this point we have become wary and decide we shall only order appetizers (if we can find some food they actually have), and hold off on the main course until we see how they taste. Finally we found something they had in the kitchen Assiette Chevre Chaude for Q, and Salade Pecheur for me. Sounds good eh? Warm toasted cheese for Q basically and a seafood salad for me; we are after all on the ocean.

Finally the water arrives. No bread. No butter. At this point we are saying, “I miss Palais de Fez.” Not a good sign.

The food arrived. The food was inedible. I had one forkful and could eat no more. Q had about a third of her dish. When I had him bring the tab there was no mention or notice by him of the fact almost all the food he had served REMAINED. I paid the 98 dirhams for the food and left a ten percent tip – he was nice; and we left – hungry. Now for me dining is fifty percent about the experience, the ambiance. Q is a total food person. We both were unhappy. Very unhappy. XO International Restaurant is on the first floor of the Mega Mall in Souissi.

Yesterday we had lunch at Le Comptoir. The food was so good Q wrote the following.

sliced baguette and olive bread with black olive tapenade and butter

swordfish tartare

grilled swordfish

mineral water
café au lait

Le Comptoir (The Bar) has an old-school French appearance. And it tastes old-school French, too. No surprises here, but surprisingly well-prepared fish, good service, and a Casablanca -esque atmosphere. They'll even grill you a salmon filet well done without complaint. Not that that's necessary a culinary blessing, but it is good service.
The meal began with bread, butter, and bitter black olive tapenade. Instead of a breadbasket, someone had apparently deemed it infinitely more chic to replace the bread every three--thin!--slices of baguette by a white-gloved waiter bearing silver tongs and the "master" breadbasket. The bread was unremarkable but fresh, and the Moroccan black olive tapendade went well with the salty yellow butter.
Our appetizers arrived in short order. The gazpacho looked a little more like chilled Campbell's tomato soup than something painstakingly chopped and chilled, but it was tasty enough, if not particularly authentic. My swordfish tartare was very good, and hit all the right notes with a bit of creamy binding, parsley, and lemon to hold the pile of minced meat together. No surprises, and nothing to life the dish from "good" to "excellent," but a simple dish done well.
The main courses were a study in the amazing ability of browned garlic butter to improve absolutely everything savory it touches. The swordfish steak was tasty and firm, not too dry despite being cooked "a bit more than medium" at Lady MacLeod's request. The langoustines were juicy and sweet, although the lack of the proper shellfish-eating equipment presented a problem (I was given a shell cracker but no meat pick, and elected to give in and leave the claws in a little pile on my plate.
Both dishes were accompanied by a small vegetable sauté with toasted almonds, and a cauliflower gratin. Both were liberally drizzled with the aforementioned garlic butter. This also rode in a little side bowl, ready to anoint anything which might need further buttery goodness. A final quaint touch was the addition of a steel finger bowl filled with warm water, mint, and some lemon.
Our allowed 3 slices of baguette continued to be replenished throughout the mains, and by the time we both finished, there was no real question of dessert. Coffee was all either of us could manage. The café au lait was highly decent by Moroccan standards, which is to say overly bitter and requiring most of a packet of sugar to be drinkable, but the foam was excellent and the mugs cute enough to want to take back home.

Back to me: I found the service excellent and the surroundings delightful. The food was delicious and artistically presented. The bathroom was small but well acquitted. My only complaint was the smell in the bathroom; while not offensive it was not pleasant. There is a wood bar downstairs, you can have drinks and order them with lunch or dinner. The divided wood staircase that leads to the bathrooms makes for a grand entrance back to the table. The cost was 514 dirhams plus 52 dirhams for tip. It was well worth every dirham. We will be back. Actually I have penciled Grand Comptoir in for lunch every Tuesday. They are located at 279, avenue Mohamed V (212 0 37 20 15 14).

File under...

File under too cool: Hatshepsut was one of the greatest queens in Egyptian history, but after she died her nasty stepson had all mention of her name chiseled out, burned out, and generally done away with. Some loyal soul secreted her mummy away in another crypt. It has recently been identified. I can only assume it will take a place of honor in the museum in Cairo.

File under think this over: "As scientists are d
iscovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges - not just in people but in other animals as well - Descartes's dictum, "I think, therefore I am," loses its force."

And only the CIA, an organization so secret it had its own television series could use its past crimes to divert attention from its present dodgy activities. You have to love it.

File under courageous: I must say to the Germans "huzzah" on their decision not to allow the movie about one of the heroes of the German army, who tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Hitler, to film there if Tom Cruise is the star. I have learned too much of the Scientology organization to approve them. It is a personal opinion.

File under headache: I had a run in this morning with a nasty, nasty, taxi driver. It is notable for its rarity. We were just making a quick run to Marjane because where I can live without incense, I prefer not to.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

This one’s for you Ladies!

What a day. What a day! My eyes are full from the lushness and sparkle of diamonds, emeralds, garnets, amethyst, and Patek Philippe watches; and my self is aglow from the pampering. My step is a tad more brisk from the loveliness-es that are my toes. My gestures are a bit more graceful from the glisten that flashes from my impeccable nails. My height is at its full 5’10” due to the swing from my brilliant hair cut. My memory warms at the recollection of yummy chocolate confections and café au lait made to perfection. My hands and feet are soft to the touch from lotions and massage. My nose is filled with the scent of money well spent. My wallet has a dent. Wonderful dent. Worthy dent. When can we go again?

1100 hours we leave Oudayas for the taxi ride to Souissi (26 dirhams). Truly from the East End to Knightsbridge. I am beyond wonder that the Oudayas has not yet been gentrified, it is all riverfront or on the ocean side. As Q says, “It is a good thing, at least this way it gets to keep most of its soul.” The child has a point. There are expats scattered about here and there, and they get the students coming in to stay for six to eight months but the rest are life long residents.

Club Moving is on one corner of the street in a very modern sleek, deliciously a/c cooled building. Jacques Dessange is at the other end of a block with the stonewalls filled port to stern with gorgeous flowers.

We arrive at Dessange at 1250 hours after our visit to Club Moving; I am holding back on that story pending the outcome. The elegant building is set in a lush oriental garden filled with flowers, trees and fountains and a pond. The only thing I found to find fault with all day was they could really use a better filtration system. Where upon we walked in, announced we would like a manicure, pedicure, and hair cut with blow dry for me and a massage for Q. On first glance I am tempted to order whatever combination of treatments will make me look like the gorgeous young woman, Nawal, at reception. She speedily sets us up with our assigned crews and gets us into motion. The salon has a still, calm quality to it with no harsh smells (the color room is separate) or colors. It is blissfully cool.

The very large, I am so thinking ‘eunuch of the harem’ (but I am SURE he is not, just the movie image), looms up silently behind me with a white robe, drapes me into it, and leads me into the salon to a chair. He then brings me a delicious espresso in a lovely china cup and saucer.

Muss then comes to take me in for the hair wash, which feels like luscious lather of something that smells of cinnamon and tops it off with a massage to relieve any headaches I may decide to have for the next two weeks.

After my shampoo, he wakes me from the slumber I have fallen into from relaxation and leads me back to the chair and the rest of my espresso. Malika appears in front of me with her little silver suitcase of goodies and a foot-massaging footbath. Next up is Nuss who looks like a Moroccan version of Jose’ Eber of “Shake your head darling” fame. He takes my instructions, “Cut it to shoulder length with ver-r-ry long layers. It is very dry.”

“I will put something special for you. I will put a serum to *some word I don’t understand but sounds divine along with the hand description”. I feel in good hands. As he dives in with the scissors the lovely Layla shows up and sets up on my right side for the manicure.

With Nuss at my head, Layla massaging my hands, and Malika painting my toenails I was in some form of heavenly bliss. Better than food, better than shopping, better than riding, better than…yes hold the phone at that one…not better than intimate physical contact with a gorgeous person of the opposite (or attractive) sex but really, really close.

I am a hair person, as in if my hair looks great then I am good to go. I live in terror of new hairdressers, but once committed I adhere to the policy, “No matter what happens it will grow back, and it grows very quickly.” So I kept my gaze averted. Actually with all the wonderful massaging and stroking and brushing I kept my eyes closed in some sort of self-indulgent meditation.

The hand massage was fabulous; my hands felt five years younger. The line of the defining white color on the French pedicure looked as if it had been placed with a plumb line, perfection. My haircut? My hair? I LOVE my haircut! It looks smashing. From the kid, “OOOh Mom its very sexy, very edgy…. It’s very French.”

“Shake your head darling.” And he has me bend over, he fluffs it out with the dryer, I raise up and shake my head and – perfection! I love my haircut.

Sometime during what Q called “quite a production” she returned from her Swiss massage by a Russian masseuse in the Moroccan salon. The report is, “it was delightful.”

They had us in, four on me, and one on Q and thus had us out, everything done to perfection in a little over an hour! Five stars really. Total cost for both of us plus a healthy tip for all came to 1000 dirhams. Dessange is located at 1, Avenue Ahmed Balafrej, Souissi, Rabat. Salon 037 65 76 46.

Tomorrow the tale of the Mega Mall of Souissi – there is Curling! Yes, you heard me. I took photographs for you. A terrible restaurant, a wonderful desert place, and scads of divine clothes and jewels.

Monday, 25 June 2007

a more frivolous day after some serious reading

This is a more frightening sign than if they were opening the fueling bays for their intercontinental missiles.

Q was up until the wee hours making the fresh meat-homemade-organic-special-vitamins-and –ground bone-sent from America-cat-food last night. I have no fear for the dietary health of my future grand children, and THIS is the healthiest cat in all of Africa!

We are off this day to take advantage of the decadent luxuries, are you listening Dulwichmum, offered in Souissi. Suzanne, who knows everything I will write of her soon, said the best hair and body place in Rabat is Jacques de Institut Dessange Apparently there is one treatment offered that takes all day, called 1001 Arabian Nights. Ooooooh. They start with the hamman where they scrape you down to all new skin cells that glow like a baby’s butt, then they oil you down with musk so you smell like the king’s harem (the old king, the new king is much more modern) and glisten.

While this is going on two other women sneak in: this is from our experience in Fez where we learned there is no good way to say, “Please don’t wax my ass!” in any language. A bit distressing that. I intend to sit firmly on anything I don’t want ripped off today, use your own visualizations. It is considered “hygienic”, a word that gets used to the point of pushing up against the popularity of the oft-uttered “Inshallah”. Hygienic in this part of the world apparently translates to: not a strand of hair anywhere on your body save your head! I’m all for hygienic, but I draw the line in certain areas. Q felt herself lucky to walk out of the salon in Fez with her eyebrows in tact. The common consensus among the women in the salon (the five working on her exclusively) was that she wanted to keep her eyebrows “au natural” because she is “modern”. Yes, that’s it.

Normally during the waxing experience there is another woman at your head washing your hair in some luscious smelling lather and massaging your head. Then you get a total rinse off, wrapped in a huge towel and they put the conditioner on your hair and take you off for the manicure/pedicure portion of our program.

Here is where I always have a contradiction of desires. I am a Scot; it is in my nature to want a “deal”. I lost the bones in both my large toes to frostbite on Everest in 1968, which means I have only eight toenails. I mean really what will they do to the two attractive, but none the less “nubs with a scar” that pass for my large toes. I will say, showing cultural differences, I did have a manicurist in Beverly Hills say to me once, “You know I could paste a false nail on those for you. It would look just like the real thing.” Yes you have to love Hollywood the land of make believe, and all those movie stars really look like that up close, uh huh.

Back to the dilemma, having only the eight nails I feel I should get 20% off the pedicure. I mean really? But I have yet to find a taker for that bit of Scottish logic. And I do so love having a good pedicure, so there lies the rub.

During the pedicure the hairdresser comes over and takes care of the cutting, drying, and styling. And let me tell you, frizzy curly headed women of the world, head for Morocco because when they blow your hair out straight they say, “That will last for one week,” in a voice any U.S. Marine Drill Sgt. would be proud to call his own. And it does!

This is our first time to try a salon here in Rabat, as we were so happy with the one in Fez it was worth the train trip back. Q is still going back to have them highlight her hair again before leaving for NYU because they did such a splendid job. I am trying to think of the name to give them a plug! Because we know where it is, I don’t remember the name. I will find it and list it later.

After our complete totting up this morning-afternoon and I think Q is having a massage. We are having lunch in the Mega Mall in Souissi. I don’t know, have no idea; I shall tell you upon our return.

After lunch if we have any energy left we are going out to visit a riding stable to possibly set something up or the gym called “Moving” over near the salon. It should be a busy day. I will let you know.. ta ta.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

bears repeating..

This was posted on the blog “View from Fez” back in September. Now that it is tourists season I think it bears repeating. It applies not only to Morocco.

Gifts from Abroad?
Our Social Reporter Lumen has been doing a little thinking about a recent post on Tripadvisor.

There’s a very informative travellers’ website dubbed ‘Get the truth. Then go’ called Tripadvisor ( When I’ve got time I like to browse the topics and will reply if I think I can contribute something to the Morocco pages. The other day an old chestnut of a question hit the pages:

Heading to Morocco with my wife this week from NYC. We were wondering if there was anything "western" we could bring with us- not to trade but to give away to those less fortunate. We are not wealthy by any means but not starving either.
We will be in Fez, Marrakech, and Agadir for about 10 days total.
I hope I don't sound pompous.....just trying to be nice.
Thanks for your help.

Now I seem to remember my son going off to Malawi many years ago, and they took old t-shirts and new bicycle tyres to give away where appropriate. But Malawi was then, and still is, a desperately poor, now AIDS-ravaged, third-world country where the people might benefit from something given in good heart by tourists visiting from rich, first-world countries, or in our case, visiting Malawi from South Africa, a better-off, developing country.

XYZ’s question worried me a lot and got me a-pondering. What was it that made me so uncomfortable with the concept?

After a lot of thought, I decided that I really don’t like the idea of rich Americans thinking that doling out something ‘western’ will ease the plight of people in Morocco. There’s an arrogance there that these poor unenlightened Muslims might benefit from something ‘western’ that a rich (or this case, not starving) New Yorker could bring to ease their lot.

While still in pondering mood, I went to Marjane at the weekend and looked around to find something that I couldn’t buy. It’s true, I have to admit, that I can’t find Marmite, at least not in Fez. That’s an English thing, I suppose. But I can find everything else that I could find in my own supermarket in my own home town.

In the end, it’s ignorance on XYZ’s part; he’s showing his total lack of education and knowledge of the world. Morocco isn’t a third-world country. It’s a developing country. Sure, there’s lots of poverty and people from ‘western’ countries could look upon a lot of it with pity in their hearts and wonder what they can do to alleviate the lot of the poor.

In the end, I advised XYZ that bringing himself and his wife to Morocco and spending their tourist dollars here would provide jobs and keep people in employment. I said he should bring smiles and an open mind.

However, someone from Devon in the UK had the opposite reaction. She suggested he should bring pens, pads of paper and MacDonalds toys to give out to the children who are less fortunate. This is a common idea, I’ve seen it from Burma to Nepal to India and is something that perpetuates the common cry of Moroccan children: ‘un dirham’ or ‘un stylo’; something that really grates on my nerves, particularly as most of the time the children don’t actually know what they’re saying. This Devon person even said in her amazingly paternalistic fashion – ‘their faces are a picture – not to be missed’. I don’t like it; if you really want to help children, then find a school and donate some funds or pens and paper for them.

In response to this nauseating suggestion, a wonderfully erudite (but to me, unknown) contributor by the name of Dysfunctional said, ‘How would you feel when Japanese tourists started handing out pens, pads of paper and Macdonalds toys to children in the streets of sunny Devon?’

My sentiments exactly.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

sigh... but in a good way

Charming, charming, charming. I have just watched "Miss Potter" with Ewan McGregor, Emily Watson, and Renee Zellweger. Delightful! Beautiful cinematography of the Lake District and heart touching introductions to some of her main characters that we all remember from childhood.

digital alley DVDs

wool store

more wool, and wool.

I am not a sheep!

Morocco transport.

The wool store.

Fresh from the flock.

Saturday shopping in the medina.

Digital alley.

I am not from your country...

Exercise wear?! at Marjane in Souissi (posh neighborhood of Rabat).

Pussy in a basket. A floral display at the fruit market with paper flower fun.

I thought this was such a cool transport device!

I had decided to get you some ‘going for a walk through the Oudayas” photographs. I was returning from the bank this morning where they had lots of money thankfully and took a turn through “digital alley”. “Oceans 13” is everywhere but only in French, so I thought I would get some shots of the general bedlam. We have discussed this before; I am fastidious about asking permission to take photographs of people, but a thing? Running up behind me comes a young man flanked by two compatriots one of whom is now baring the site of the folding table with DVDs on it from my line of site. “You must not take picture, it is bad.”

Putting my camera away I said, “All right, I am sorry, but why is it bad?”

“Why are you taking pictures here?” he asked quite testy.

“I am a writer. I write about Morocco,” I said.

“You must not write about this, this is bad. Where is your permit?” he said angrily.

“Why? Why is that bad? I am writing for people to come and shop here,” I said.

“It is bad to take the pictures of men,” he said again.
I am talking to a brick.

“Yes, I got that thank you,” I said and walked away shaking my head.

I had the same reaction yesterday taking the photographs of the excercise? apparel in Marjane's. There were no people about, just the garments, no defensive arm placements, no secret satellite installations... yet the guard came in with his knickers in quite a twist.

Q had gone to run some errands yesterday and some chap comes up to her telling her the djellaba is nice, but she needs a hijab. When you go out of your way to be cognizant of a culture it is a bit annoying to have that thrown in your face. I had the same encounter at the police station in Fez, “The djellaba is nice, but that hat is not as good as a hijab.”

To hijab or not hijab? I read an article in the NYTimes yesterday on this topic. If I am going out of my way to observe local custioms in YOUR country should you not do the same in MINE?

Friday, 22 June 2007

found while cruising the net

TLLT , a visual macaroon
and a fun story of one of the great fighter planes that flew with the P-51 Mustangs, which was my father's airplane of choice during WWII. Now for a real summer tease go over and check out Sally in Norfolk skinny dipping in Corsica!
My new banner photograph is looking from the river park out to the ocean. That cliff outcropping with the Mosque in the distance is the Oudaylas. We live on the river side at the top.


As I descended the staircase, carefully, eyes on the gorgeous man in the white Navy uniform, I felt the dress swaying side to side. I could feel the slight pinch of my shoes with each contact with the stone steps. My fingers had gone stone cold and I could not feel my knees. I could hear my breathing over the strains of Strauss’s waltz from the ballroom on the left. The smell of pine drifting in from the fireplaces tickled my nose.

When I was about halfway down the staircase everyone in the little group in the foyer stopped speaking. I hit the last stair with a relief so profound I felt giddy as I walked over to stand in front of John.

“Well you look beautiful. You have done some growing since I was last here,” he said with a smile.

“Thank you, and yes I have. I think you should know I have decided to marry you,” I just blurted it out and then blushed to the roots of my red hair. I had that terrible feeling where you are in a cold sweat and the bottom has fallen out of your gut. I had no where to go, I had to stand my ground after making my declaration.

John started to laugh, then went quiet as he looked around the group - at the men who knew me best – none of them were laughing.

“I see,” he said looking at me with a new intensity. “Why don’t we dance first?” he said gently, smiling and held out his hand for mine.

That is the story of our first grown up meeting. If this is something you want more of, you know I am a slave to my faithful readers, I shall continue along this vein... after a day or so of tales of life in Rabat.

We had a fabulous lunch over at Paul's (very French, very posh, very lovely) with our friend Suzanne who is one of those young women with the energy, compassion, and know how to rule the world that only an American can exhibit with such expectation of success. The tale of Suzanne and Kareem is not only romantic, but also political, religious, and international in scope. We did two days of serious exploration of shopping the posh side of town - lacy sheets, to-die-for-French lingerie, ancient jewelry, and macaroons.

I have some great new photographs for you of some of the stranger shopping items I’ve come upon lately as well as unique travel devices, and the pussy in a basket. That’s what is coming over the next three days then. Thank you for coming by.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Part II..the plan

There was a party, a ball at the castle in April of the year I turned sixteen. My first ball! I went to London with Mrs. Davidson my governess and bought my first pair of high heel shoes, three-inch Bally black suede with peek-a boo toes. The seamstress came to the castle to measure me for my first gown that she ordered from Paris. I spent two months in fittings and practice walking up and down, back and forth the hallway upstairs in those damn shoes and up and down the stairway to the foyer below.

“Look up, never down. Lift your chin, shoulders back, and smile confidently,” said Mrs. Davidson over and over from her position in the comfortable chair at the end of the hallway. “Keep the book steady. Don’t wobble. Glide. Glide.” Like a metronome she recited the phrases again and again, as I stumbled, then tromped, and finally – glided up the hallway and down the stairs!!

In preparation for the night of the ball I had drawn up a battle plan that would make Patton proud. I was leaving nothing to chance. I needed him to see I was not a child any longer; alright still not old enough for him to consider romantically, but no longer a child.

I had called everyone together in a meeting. After securing their co-operation, I assigned positions and tasks. Dr. Hogan, Dr. Chang, and Sir Angus Campbell were to secure him at the doorway just inside the foyer, while I made my entrance from upstairs. After engaging him in conversation, they were to watch for the sign from Mabel the maid who would be collecting the coats and wraps at the door. She would be signaled by Maise the upstairs maid who would ring the bell for the dumb waiter. Once I started my walk to the staircase, the men were to turn him facing the staircase.

The staircase in the Castle Dunvegan is one of those grand affairs of stone. It runs along the side of the entry wall starting at the width of five feet and gradually widening each step until the last step as you enter the foyer is twelve feet across. Once you commit yourself to the middle of the case there is no banister for support.

My gown was emerald green silk with a satin bodice and darker green underskirt. It came off one shoulder, cinched at the waist and opened out into a heavy bell skirt. It floated when I walked. I had never felt so beautiful or so terrified. What if I stumbled? What if I fell?! I could feel the silk against my skin, cool and sliding with each step. The weight of my hair felt odd so high on my head, like a piled up bit of laundry. I was too chicken to have my ears pierced, so I had the heavy clip on emeralds that Van Cleefs had sent from London. They were drop earring with just enough dangle to refract the light from the overhead chandeliers.


Wednesday, 20 June 2007

laughing hysterically

Anyone who has not read the post at Pass the Chocolate today,!

You ask for it....

I took a poll from among my faithful and kind readers. You told me you want to know more about when I first met John, and more stories of Morocco. Here is Part I of I think three or four, let me know what you think. More?

I was twelve when I first saw him. He was standing in the foyer of the Castle Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye in his U.S. Navy dress whites. Six-two, hair like black silk, eyes so blue they could have been taken from the depths of the North Sea. He had a twisted scar running down the corner of his right cheek. I thought he looked like the embodiment of every hero in every myth I had ever read; and then he turned, and I recognized him. This is the man I would marry. This was the man who had always been destined for me; albeit apparently he had decided to be born a bit early. He was thirty-two years old.

I think we need concede up front I was not your “normal” twelve-year-old. I had grown up in a solitary childhood with only servants, nanny, and governess for play, and old men for company (old when you are twelve is quite unlike the definition when you are fifty eh?). I had already traveled three continents and lived in cultures as diverse as Paris and Lhasa. I may have missed out on mom, dad, big brother sam, a dog named spot, and the house with a white picket fence, but I had a castle complete with dungeon to explore and spiritual teachings from a man who traced his incarnations back to the third Dali Lama. Many, many years later my own child would ask me, “Didn’t you think your life was strange?”.

The answer being , “No it was my life, to me that was normal.”

“But didn’t you ever want a “normal” life. Like everyone in my class at school wants to live in a castle. Did you ever want to live in a regular house?”

“Actually yes I did. I remember I went through a time when I thought the grandest thing in the world must be to live in a little cottage with a regular family, but I got over it. The more I learned about other people’s “normal” lives, the more grateful I was for mine.”

The terms of my life made it not as shocking perhaps that I would come to such a decision concerning my future husband at such an age; but then I don’t know perhaps it is normal for more people than I know, or mayhap it is genetic, as my daughter began dating her husband to be when they were both thirteen – a little behind, but it was another century after all.

For the next four years I knew I had no chance as a “girl”, given the whole child-bride issue; so I would dazzle him with my brains! I did this, of course, by picking a fight every time he came to the castle – can we tell I am a full blooded Scot? No matter what side he took on an issue, I would take the opposing side – just so I could show off. His condescension did not aid in the banking of my temper; fortunately he came to realize I considered conversation a blood sport. It did not aid in his coming to see me as a possible romantic conquest.

The year of the ‘big change’, going from fifteen to sixteen; he was nowhere to be seen. I lost my buck teeth to the advancement of dentistry, the hairdresser tamed my frizzy mop into romantic curls, and I got a body – a real grown-up body with a butt and some breasts. Very exciting stuff that was.

Part I

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

crank up the presses

the beginning of the demonstration
somewhere around the middle...I was still not quite "sure" about taking photographs.

M.C. Solaar not impressed...

BANQUE CENTRALE POPULAIRE has one of its largest branches on
6,AVENUE CHELLAH/ANGLE MY RACHID which is an easy thirty minute walk from the Oudayas, but more often than is convenient – has no money. It is too strange to go to the bank and have it say, “Nope we’re out, try later.” Yesterday I tried three other banks within a half-hour walking radius at none of which was there money available to withdraw from the ATM. A line of people holding our bankcards, all doing the shoulder shrug – in three different languages! Fortunately the printing presses were at work last night and there was cash a plenty this morning. Joy and rapture and that Sparky is why I don’t keep my money in the Moroccan banks.

On my money search yesterday I walked up the Avenue Mohammad V toward the palace. I found no money but I did see the large, peaceful, and wonderfully noisy demonstration that filled the street for five or six blocks with demonstrators, signs, and singing. I have no idea what the protest was about as all the signs were in Darjia but it was so marvelous that the demonstrations can take place. This is not the first I have seen since we arrived, but it was the largest. Change is coming to Morocco, slowly but it is coming and it is exciting to see.

Walking back through the medina I noted the new snack food for the season is apparently roasted corn on the cob, served hot from the braziers; along with fresh figs and cherries all being downed by adorable children in navy blue school uniforms. There are days when I can’t get any cash, but I can always get something delicious to eat.

ADDENDUM/1430 hours

I have just read on CNN that nine firefighters have died fighting a fire in Charleston, U.S. I just have to comment, to pay my respects. I think firefighters are true heroes. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate police officers and soldiers, but some of those chaps (and women) are just mean people who want to get their hands on a gun and have the power to use it. A fireman/woman does nothing but run into a blazing building and rescue people. I remember when I first went to America in 1990 a friend of mine had invited me to a party in Bel Air where Kurt Russell was the guest of honor. He had just finished a film about firemen, and he is the one who told me, “If you have a problem, anything, call the Fire Department. They won’t ask why, or when, they just show up and help.” I always remembered that, and have found it true. True heroes, and I shed a tear for those who lost their lives in the line of duty today.

Monday, 18 June 2007

It’s not your mother’s medical system.

On Thursday night I had an ‘episode’ that required my poor child to show amazing calm and maturity, not to mention a stretch of her linguistic skills. Q came upstairs around eleven p.m. and found me post seizure, sprawled half-on-half-off the bed and not breathing (ten year medical history too boring to go into). Not a fun night for the child.

She put in a call to a couple of fellow Fulbrighters, one of whom has a Moroccan boyfriend with a car. Once I was coherent again, she walked me downstairs and out to the car. My little escort took me to the emergency room on the posh side of town where I was taken, now hold on people this is a shocker – taken immediately (did you get that? No forms, no waiting, no questions) in to see the doctor. Now granted the ER doctor was an anesthesiologist… They use the old British method of rotation of staff physicians, so what you get depends on whom you get. This chap was competent enough, gave me something to settle my stomach, took a history, and set an appointment with the neurosurgeon on Friday morning (the last appointment I had with a neurologist took me three months to set).

We went in Friday morning, (again with the no waiting) had the exam by the Neuro chap and off to the MRI. No line, no waiting. Disposable sterile needles and syringes, oh yes I checked. Q was fabulous with the medical terms, as she has been watching the last seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” in French. She was very proud of her medical linguistic skills. How fortunate her grandmother got her hooked on this particular piece of television fluff.

Now here is the part where you need to steady yourself, the cost of the ER visit was 300 dirhams (36 usd/ 19 pounds); the cost for the MRI with contrast, film and CD was 3070 dirhams (186 pounds, 379usd). Total, that’s it. Now I admit I would prefer a hospital in Boston or London if I had to have invasive procedures or if I didn’t already know my diagnosis, but as far as diagnostic tests it is actually less expensive to take a ride down to Rabat, have the test done and take the results back to your doctor in the west. Now that tells me we are doing something wrong that our medical cost are that far out of whack. The last MRI I had in the U.S. was around two or three thousand dollars. I don’t know because no normal person would ever pay that money, we pay for the insurance. That is quite a difference.

On Saturday morning we returned to the clinic and picked up the pictures from the MRI and the CD. I had to have contrast (so they can see the itty bitty vessels), which was the extra 70 dirhams in cost. The secretary gave us a prescription to refill the dye for the clinic! She sent us to the apothecary one block down to fill the prescription, and then bring the dye back to the clinic. Not the most efficient of methods, but at these prices I didn’t mind the walk. All that being said, I'll take western medicine and the quality control that comes with it; better yet I'm all for preventative measures of exercise and proper diet.

Interestingly enough the clinic is across the street from the best French restaurant in the city for lunch. We were just there on Wednesday!

That is also why I was silent over the weekend. I was doing the recuperation thing. I am fine now, a bit worn about the edges but that will mend itself by week’s middle. That’s it for this week’s episode of ER Moroccan Style.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Tagged: the sequel

Here’s my last bit of business before answering the poll with some stories; these are the ACTUAL questions of the Mama Zen tag…(the one I didn’t READ the first go).

What were you doing ten years ago?
I was quite ill actually. It was the last year of an almost four year span of being confined mostly to bed. Things got better.

What were you doing one year ago?
I was in Boston USA playing host to Q and A as they had just graduated university and were looking for an apartment. I also had a new cat in the house, Kuan lo Chen, who is a white Ragdoll with turquoise eyes. When I left for Africa A got my cat (sniff,) and Q will have him when she returns in August for life at NYU. Continuing my lifelong stint as a student I was taking classes at a local university, they abound in Boston.

Five snacks you enjoy
I love good caviar with sour cream, onions, and chopped eggs
Snickers bars (really should be a food group don’t you think?)
Canapés with olives and salmon
Popcorn. I was introduced to popcorn when I went to America in 1980. I had no idea what I’d been missing.
Scones and jam with tea

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics
Not a single one! But I know the plot lines to all of Puccini and Verdi’s operas, does that count? I can sing all the choruses with the Corries on all four of their CDs. I know most of Amazing Grace, Ye Jacobites by Name, and Bonnie Dundee. I hang my head in shame…

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire
Make a trust for Q.
Give one-fourth to Project Heifer International
Make a huge donation to the children’s school in Macleod Ganj
Have some nips and tucks done
Invest the rest

Five bad habits
I hate to exercise
If I am not pushed I won’t socialize. I am a hermit at heart.
I am a bit obsessive – but it’s not like I need medication for it! I just like things to be neat and put back where they belong.
Unless I pay attention I don’t eat, or I eat whatever is handy and easy.
I don’t cook. I can, but I don’t.

Five things you like doing
I love to read!
I like to run. I know, I know this contradicts the one above. I do hate it until I am doing it. It’s when it is over that it feels great. I am very suspicious of people who say they enjoy exercise. I surmise they are either lying or nuts.
I like to write stories. I love it when people read and like my stories.
I love to walk.
I love going to the opera.

Five things you would never wear again
Those red patent leather shoes! I will say they were appropriate at the time and I did love them so.
That lacy white dress with the empire waist. What was I thinking?!
Mini skirts (sigh)
Corsets…that could be a “maybe”
Black fishnet stockings

Five favorite toys.
My computer
My Apple iPod Shuffle
DVD player
My watch – it has all sorts of gadgets
My Afghani knife


The good woman

Life is just so Daily

Sally in Norfolk

James at nourishing obscurity

mutterings and meanderings


Thursday, 14 June 2007

Sally in Trouble in Norfolk

Sally in Norfolk best get herself to Corsica snappy quick because I am seriously considering heading for Norfolk and giving her a rather through thrashing! Just a mention on her blog, just a hint of untold entertainment and mystery, just a title, just a tidbit she left.

I had heard of "Prison Break" of course just as one absorbs these things in the universe, but I thought what could be episode after episode interesting about breaking out of prison. I mean once you have done it, that's pretty much it right?

But oh nooooo, they put in yummy men ( quite frankly for whom I would break INTO prison) and a political plot. then just when everything is looking up for the good guys they are BACK IN PRISON, only this time in PANAMA and you have spent DAYS watching every single episode of the two seasons with FRENCH subtitles. I'm going to get you Sally.

This Just In..

I placed a very respectable second place in Best Blog Outside North America and the UK behind Sicily Scene. Thank you to everyone who voted for me, and especially those who voted more than once. Being the new kid I was surprised to be nominated and pleased to have done so well. Thank you all.

I have had a very good response to the poll. "How you met John" and "stories of Morocco" have run neck and neck, so that's what we shall do.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Tagged by Mama Zen

Mama Zen tagged me while I was down for the count. Since I made it back up (tad da), I will make my list for today.
Before I begin I want to muse for a moment on this blog community of ours. I have never physically met any of my cyber friends but you all seem so real to me. Your good wishes impacted me in a very positive way when I was feeling like death would be a relief. The one thing I did besides listen to movies, was read all your comments. It was like multiple pats on the shoulder. I have witnessed others in our circle going through trying circumstance and everyone rushes to express their concern and support. Mayhap I feel it more being somewhat isolated in a country that is not my own. I have long believed there is power in positive thought no matter what label you feel most comfortable putting on them (prayer, meditation, vibes, et al). I believe our little community has that kind of power, I certainly felt it. I want to once again thank you all. On that note, here we go..

#1 I have a label tattooed on my forehead that only children and animals can see. It says SUCKER.

#2 I once hid in the trunk of a car to pass through the Kashmir – Pakistani border. Just as the guard had popped the latch to open the trunk, my friend who was driving put enough hadeesh (bribe) in his hand to pay that month’s rent, and he shut the trunk.

#3 As a genre I don’t actually care much for film actors with the notable exceptions of those who use their fame to do good (Bono, Gere, Jolie, Pitt, Sarandon, and some others).

#4 I am a Buddhist who owns two hand guns, but as Q explained to her Quaker friend, “She has never shot at anyone who wasn’t bad.”

#5 I had a horse named Bucephalus, an Arabian who was jet black. When I first rode him, he almost killed me by throwing me over a pile of rocks. We had a chat about that and became best friends. The deal was he would not try to kill me, and I would feed him.

#6 I liked to chew rocks when I was a child. Really there is nothing else to say about that is there?

#7 I thought people who were left-handed and wore glasses were cool when I was a child. I still do.

#8 K2 is the most wicked mountain that exists and Chomolungma (Everest) is for sissies. I have climbed them both, not summit, climbed. Fortunately I don’t have so much testosterone I feel obligated to go those last thousand feet. Albeit when I had my knee operated on, and was running on the treadmill three days later my surgeon threaten to test my testosterone level…

#9 I have been hang gliding, and high altitude parachute jumping. I love roller coasters, but only if they go really fast and turn you upside down.

#10 I am fascinated with quantum physics. In spite of the fact it is falling out of favor, I love string theory. I think physics and spirituality are closely interrelated.

Uh oh I f***ed up! I am just catching up on my blog visits and Mama Zen had indeed tagged me, but a tag with specific questions and orders to tag five others. As penance for not being more through I will post said blog and tags before the week is out.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Same as Monday, sorry

Monday, 11 June 2007

Lost day. Migraine. With any luck, back tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 June 2007


I watched him walk into the cabin from the cockpit, this man I had met two days ago who had flipped my world onto its side and left my head spinning. “We’re here. We’re back,” he said looking down at me. I stood to leave and he said, “Can you sit and talk for a few minutes?’

“Of course,” I said as I looked back at Ali with some concern, and then sat down. Hassan leaned over to pat my hand and gave me an “I’ve got this handled” look.

He turned, walked to the back of the cabin and bent down to speak to Ali in a soft whisper. Ali looked at him as if he had been slapped. He slammed his whiskey glass, which he had refilled several times during the flight, down on the table and stormed out the door and down the stairs to the tarmac.

“Oh my. Whatever did you say to him to cause such a reaction?”

“I told him you and I needed to speak privately and he needed to leave while we did that. He was not pleased,” he said. The grin was back. Now I certainly knew who stood higher on the ladder of power in that relationship.

“And what do we need to speak privately about?” As I asked I felt like I did the first time I flew an airplane solo – breathless, and my stomach was hollow. I could feel the touch of the leather seat, cold from the air conditioning and inhaled the smell of him, which made me want to touch him.

He took my hands into his and looked at me as if I were made of jade. “I have never been so surprised as I am now, the events over the past two days and how I have come to feel toward you. It was a lark you know? Something I could say to my son, ‘See I did it. I still have a spirit of adventure.’ But then something happened. I saw you on that bench in the park, you looked like the Queen of Jerusalem, and when you smiled I felt something in me melt that has been cold and quiet for years. This can’t be an accident.”

I couldn’t talk. I didn’t speak. My mouth was dry. I raised my hand to touch his face, he took me into his arms, and I fell into his kiss that was soft, warm and inviting.

“Madame? Madame?”

“Yes, I’m sorry what is it?” I realized the driver had been calling my name for the past few minutes.

“I said do you need to stop anywhere? Are you alright?” he asked turning around and looking at me in the back.

“No, nothing thank you. I’m fine really.” The city passed by the window like a dream. I watched the women and men in djellabas and an endless variety of combinations of western clothing as they made their way to home, or the café’, or to the mosque. I rolled down the window to hear the sounds of the city roll over me, and to watch the sea as we neared the Oudayas. As the wind brushed my hair back from my face, I felt pretty, desirable, and had an overwhelming desire to sing. I don’t know, something from Chicago? It’s amazing what infatuation will do for your outlook! I am not an unhappy person by any stretch, but this was that upper level of happiness, the intense kind you know? Colours looked deeper, sounds more musical, and smells more enticing. Walking to the door of my little house I could feel the rhythm of the sea and I inhaled the smells of the dinners being prepared on my little street by all of the mothers. My normal upright posture ensured by years of nagging by an English governess was if possible more erect, and I could not stop smiling.

I kept hearing his voice. “I’m sorry to be so forward but I know how fickle fate can be. You have hold of something wonderful and it can be gone before you have time to take it in.”

“Perhaps you should do it once again then, to be sure you got it.”

I couldn’t stop smiling.

Having arrived back home around 1930 hours, M.C. Solaar required thirty minutes of holding and stroking and another thirty minutes of attention after being alone all day – this cat is definitely male!

I had a brief text from Q telling me she is having quite a splendid time at the Music Festival in Fez. When I text-ed her back to say where I had been, her response? “What about the cat?”

I lay in bed listening to the sounds of the neighbourhood settling in for the night. A few souls still on their doorsteps softly talking, a child laughing somewhere, a baby crying, all made their way into my window with the cool night breeze and I relived the day in my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

He was so lovely about having to leave. “I would take you home myself but….Ali. I have to get him back to Riyadh. There is some big family affair and his father requires him there, and the King requires I get him there. Actually I would prefer not to take you home at all. I would prefer to keep you with me. Listen to me, I will be at least six months on this assignment but that doesn’t mean I can’t leave now and again. Would you see me again?”

I put my hand to his jaw again; I couldn’t seem to stop touching him. “Yes.”

“We could meet in Istanbul, Paris, or Barcelona if you like,” he said never losing eye contact. I felt we were in a bubble where only we existed.

“Not Paris, not Paris…anywhere else would be lovely,” I said feeling a small panic at the mention of Paris. I married John in Paris. We lived overlooking the Seine. Paris was full of him, of the memories of us. For me, he still walked the streets of Paris.

“What’s wrong?” He looked concerned and taken aback a bit at the change on my face.

“A longer story than we have time for now, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. When will we go? Q leaves in August and I want to spend as much time with her as I can, so after that?”

“Yes, I don’t like waiting two months I don’t mind telling you but it will take me that long to set up the flight school plans and to begin the second part of my assignment,” he said as he caressed my arms and stroked my hands.

And that’s where it stands readers. He flew off into the black velvet sky of North Africa headed east. I find myself giving out a deep sigh now and then for no apparent reason, and the desire to sing remains. Q said, “When will you see him again?” When I told her I gave him my mobile number she said in surprise, “That’s new!”

Yes, in answer to your question. He has already called. See me smiling?

Friday, 8 June 2007

Fez Sacred Music Festival

Friday 8 June
Vasumathi Badrinathan ( India )
Songs of Karnataka

8h30 pm BAB MAKINA
Jahida Wahib ( Lebanon ) and Elias Karam ( Syria )
Love, the Sacred and Profane
Saturday 9 June
Waed Bouhassoun ( Syria )
Songs of Jalaludin Rumi
Nâdira Pirmatova ( Uzbekistan )
The voice of Shash-Maqam

Q saw U2 and the Queen of Jordan when she was there. I will post Part V on Saturday. Ciao!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Part IV

All right sports fans I have an email from last night that says, “Don’t disappoint Brillig and Jenny. Tell it all. My Dad can use the ego boost and if necessary the references. Besides I want all the credit, as this was my idea. I have been trying to get him to start dating again for the past two years. Don’t worry, with the alias no one will even think of him. If it helps I give you my word I will not read your blog for the next three days. Agreed?” So here we go…

As we sat having our coffee Hassan told me more about his days of climbing here. How he came to the sport (his father) and why he loved it (the challenge). I sat watching him over the rim of my china cup, once again thinking how unbelievable this all was. Not that I don’t get “offers”, I still do much to my own amazement being a woman of a certain age and all that; apparently no one has informed the men of the world that I am off the market due to aging (thank the gods). Q has been after me for years to “have a relationship”, but of late she has been saying “at least date!”.

Here is the problem – a rather wonderful problem when you think about it, I married the perfect man for me. He was every woman’s dream man really, handsome, smart, funny, wealthy, and committed to making the world a better place. I fell in love with him when I was twelve years old and spent the next nine years growing up as fast as possible and convincing him I was the only woman for him. When he died, I wanted to follow him. There is a much longer story there, but this is Hassan’s story. The point is I know, I have always known I will never feel that way about another man. For a long time it felt treasonous to his memory, then I did try a few times but nothing was close enough so I concentrated on being Q’s mom and that was enough and it was wondrous, but now she is grown and has her own life, as it should be. Still I hesitate.

All this passed through my mind as I listened to Hassan’s soft voice in the empty dining room recounting his exploits on the rock faces of the world. Physically there is a lot to like here. Standing at 5’10” myself, I judge him to be about 6’1” or so and maybe fifty more or less? I love his smile – white teeth, full lips, and a single dimple on the left side and he uses it often. He is proving to have a great sense of humour and thinks I am funny which is essential – the humour factor is a deal breaker for me. A relationship, any relationship without good humour and laughing is a sad thing I feel. His skin is that fabulous copper cream colour of the Moroccans that makes you want to touch their faces, the kind of complexion you feel you can sink your hand into like a pail of rose petals. Years of climbing and exercise have left him in obvious good shape – broad shoulders, narrow hips, flat abdomen, and that bum is solid gold I tell you. The fingers of his hands are long and the palm is broad, like a pianist or a swordsman. There has been no problem in his genetic line with hair loss I am thinking as his is thick and black, the kind that begs you to check him for any bumps and bruises! And he smells fabulous. I finally remembered where I knew that scent from, he’ wears Creed Green Irish Tweed, I would bet money on it. It’s like inhaling endorphins.

“Are you listening to me?” He cocks his head to the side and gives me that grin again, the one that makes him look like he knows something he shouldn’t.

“Yes, of course I’m listening. You said you climbed in the desert in New Mexico and you’d never climbed in India. Why? Don’t I look like I’m listening?”

“Truthfully? You have the calculating gaze I see on the sheikhs when they come to the horse shows in the desert and look the stock over for defects.”

I laughed. “I don’t think you have to worry over me pointing out any defects unless of course you feel the need to confess something? I’m just along for the scenery remember (no double entender there, oh no).”

“I’m finding the scenery quite amazing myself today,” he said giving me a long look with those almond brown eyes that made my toes curl. I was having goose pimples in the most embarrassing places and I was fairly certain it wasn’t the air conditioning.

After coffee Ali had still not appeared. As we came out of the dining room he was coming into the lobby with the bellboy carrying enough bags for three weeks in Siberia – during winter.

Once the car was loaded Ali plops himself in the front seat next to Hassan! “Ali you need to get in the back. Lady Macleod is sitting there,” Hassan said as he took my arm and gave Ali a stare not unlike that of a fisherman who guts his catch. Oh yes ladies!

The drive to the airport was notable for its silence and the palpable feel of Ali’s stare on the back of my neck.

Ali climbed out of the 4 X 4 and walked directly onto the plane leaving Hassan and the co-pilot to deal with the mountain of luggage. I was watching it go into the hold wondering if it would put us over weight. Actually I was envisioning tossing it out one piece at a time at 3000 feet.

In the airplane he sat down in a seat nearest the back, drink in hand and did not so much as acknowledge my presence for the rest of the flight. A handsome man whose looks were ruined by his scowl and obvious distain for anything but his own pleasures, I had a pretty clear idea of his views on women.

Once we were settled into the flight pattern Hassan came into the cabin. “I’ve turned over the rest of the flight to my co-pilot. I thought you could use some company back here.” We passed the flight with him telling me about his wife, the story of how they met and married when their parents had arranged it, had their son, and became the best of friends, and how she became ill and died four years ago. “We did come to love each other. It grew out of the friendship really, she was a great partner, a help not only at home but in my business dealings as well. She had a sharp mind that could see right through to the heart of any situation, and she was a fantastic mother. I credit much of my son’s independence and compassion to his mother’s influence. Of course at times that can be trying!” His eyes lit up when he spoke of his son, and were far away when he spoke of his wife.

The co-pilot called back to say we were coming into the landing pattern at Rabat. “This flight, this day has been too short. There is more I want to say to you, there is everything I want to know about you,” he said lifting my hand to his mouth for a soft kiss. He left for the cockpit and I was pretty much capable of flying without the airplane at that point. As I looked down at the ocean we crossed into the city and I realized he is leaving, today! Six months he had said, in Saudi Arabia. What did that mean, would he be back? When? Was he serious about what he was saying and what his eyes were telling me? I realized the bigger question was how did I feel about this? Was I actually considering getting involved with this man? Just how would that work? What would that mean…hang on I have known him for less than two days let’s get some perspective here. But I didn’t feel like getting perspective, I felt like I wanted to know what those lips would feel like somewhere other than the back of my hand.

We are wa-a-a-y over 1000 words here. Spank me Rosie (in the immortal words of Col. Jack O’Neill) but I think we have to have a Part V. Are you up for that?

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Part III

On our way out of the canyon we passed some loaded burrows, donkeys? Not quite sure which one but they were cute, brown and black furry, and not at all impressed by the noise and people that were about. We exited at the palm trees that mark the entrance to the gorge and the river that is clear and cold and at this point very inviting. The heat hit me in the face like an unkind slap.
Hassan turned to me and ask, ”What did you think of my little rock climbing spot?’

“Magnificent, really. I enjoyed it. I wish I had longer to explore,” I said.

“Next time we'll come for a few days so we have time to explore some of the trails,” he said turning his attention to the road.

Next time? Next time “WE come”? All right then. I was just being really quiet, but that ruckus going on in my stomach and the small difficulty with breathing might have had something to do with what the charming fellow next to me just said about “next time we come”.

We left the gorge for the hotel in the afternoon heat, which was approaching surface-of-the-sun standards. I don’t understand how anyone in this country doesn’t wear a hat, but most of them don’t. Hassan drove back through the Todra River valley road so I could have another look; there are apparently almonds as well as the pomegranates, olives, and palms. It really is lovely. Banks of dirt and rock built up to keep the moisture in surround the fields. The sky here is endless and a blue that is so intense you get lost in it. The green of the fields and palm trees stand in stark contrast to the surrounding desert of unending parched earth and sand in shades of red and brown. It makes you want to drink in the sight of green with your eyes and take it in through your skin. Now I know why the religion of Islam, born in the desert, has green as its holy color.

The houses along here look like they have risen directly out of the earth with the cutout windows staring at us like ageless eyes. It is a lonely beauty. There were quite a few of the small Berber villages dotted among the palms and set against the backdrop of ruined Kasbahs that cling to the rocky sides of the valley. Hassan is familiar with the area and pointed out the different crops to me. In the villages the sounds of children’s laughter is mixed with the sound of the calls to prayer from the mosque.

Coming back into the city of Ouarzazate the countryside is every shade of beige and brown. The towns and settlements look like dusty Lego bricks stacked to different heights, and every body of water stands out like a blue beacon in the dryness and heat of the desert. On the way to the airport we drove past the Taourirt Kasbah. It’s huge, very impressive and forbidding. Hassan says at night when it is all lit up it looks a time from when the Berbers ruled the deserts.

We arrived at the hotel to find that Ali had not even risen yet, let alone was packed and ready. I was beginning to have an uneasy feeling about this fellow. Hassan sent someone to his suite to roust him with a message we were waiting. “Shall we go in and have some lunch? I have the unfortunate feeling he will be a while.”

We sat down and a young woman came to the table with a silver ewer filled with water that smelled like sandalwood to pour over our hands. We were the only people in the dining room, not an unusual occurrence in Morocco I have found. The food is so good at home they don’t frequent the expensive restaurants.

First we were served Bstilla, a paper think pastry that you can watch the women make in the Fez medina, it is amazing. The cooked-just-right flakey pastry was filled with spicy lamb. I have had this before in Fez but with chicken. It is mouthwatering I-can’t-believe-this-good, and I am not a “food person”.

Then came the spread of salads. In Morocco the word salad has an entirely different meaning than in the west. Anywhere from six to ten small bowls are set out around a larger bowl of hot cananelle beans and a plate of fresh bread. The small bowls are filled with different dishes depending on what is in season, and the restaurant – steamed carrots, beans, squash, a sweet apple dish that is brown and thick like jam spiced with something tangy, eggplant, another apple dish like apple crust, beets, corn, tomatoes, and the variety is endless and so filling. I always have to monitor myself on the salad or I can’t eat the rest of the meal – a very big insult. You dip the bread in the bean dish and put the others on your plate to eat with the bread or alone.

For the main course we had lamb and prunes in one of the loveliest decorated tagines I have seen. It was a delicate design of red and rust over the deep brown of the pottery. A tagine is traditionally used by nomads. Placed over charcoal braziers they are used to cook the meal. Tagines are made from iron or ceramic. The bottom is a large round platter and the top is shaped like a tent with a knobbed handle at the apex for removal. It fits snuggly onto the ridge of the bottom part. The dish inside, lamb, chicken, beef, or pigeon is also called tagine. It was succulent; the meat was so tender it fell apart. “I see you are fond of Moroccan cuisine,” Hassan noted as I was chewing with my eyes closed in bliss.

“It’s among the best foods of the world, don’t you think?” I ask.

“I can’t decide if I had rather eat my food or watch you enjoy yours,” he said grinning.

“How ‘bout you just eat and not make me self conscious. How does that work for you?” I couldn’t decide if I was charmed or annoyed.

He kept smiling.

After the tagine she came with the water again and we cleaned our hands. I love that.

Next a huge platter of fresh fruit was placed on the table with individual plates and knives for serving. Oranges, bananas, apples, cherries, and grapes. I was beginning to feel stuffed in spite of the morning’s exertions, as I had worn my snug jeans. No, not at all for reasons you are thinking! They help me remember to maintain good posture – and to keep my tummy sucked in. No, really.

After the fruit they filled the table with every kind of cookie made in Morocco, and Morocco is the queen of cookie country. You find them in mounds in the bakeries, the medina, and every home you visit. Cookies are served with tea, after dinner, and afternoon snacks. The café’ au lait was perfect. Both of us admired the cookies, put passed them by as we leaned back in the cushioned chairs and sipped our coffees.

All right this is obviously going to take four parts, not three. So I shall see you tomorrow then?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

BlogPower Awards

james higham (nourishing obscurity) is running the Blog Power Awards.
Nominations close at 9pm, Tuesday June 5, i.e. tonight. jameshigham AT mail DOT com is the address to which nominations should be sent.**

Rilly already has nominations in #16 (most consistently entertaining), I just cast my vote so go and give her a boost eh?

The more votes the blog makes the top list for voting. Check out Blog Power site for more data.
The voting for the awards starts tomorrow. check the Blog Power site.

Part II

Eight o’clock Sunday morning found me waiting on the corner of the grassy lawn just in front of the entrance to the Oudayas. Even though it was early it promised to be another scorcher of a day. Since we were going to a gorge I thought western clothes were called for in the circumstances. I don’t have any proper “desert clothes” with me, so it was jeans, a short sleeve pullover shirt, and Q’s snazzy little cap. I took along my silky beige djellaba top in the hope the plane would be cool enough to require sleeves. I could feel the ocean breeze blowing on my neck and I knew I would miss it today. I wasn’t at all sure where we were going, but I knew it was inland. Inland is hot! On Saturday night I had done some research and apparently Todra Gorge is a big hit with rock climbers. I have been climbing mountains since I was eighteen but I find rock climbing to be nuts. I mean you can’t see anything except the sheer rock wall in front of your face, your fingers are digging into the rockface, and it looks too easy to fall off, but then again Q has some choice words about climbing mountains.
“I don’t get it Mom. You struggle up to 26,000 feet or more, you can’t breathe, your feet are killing you, you have to haul your air up with you on your back, and when you get to the top you’re too exhausted to enjoy the view! Now exactly which part of that is fun for you Mom?

The car pulled up precisely at eight, a good beginning because after my bold acceptance I was still a bit nervous about getting into a airplane with some chap I didn’t know, lovely manners not withstanding. The driver spoke no English but I got the message – we were headed for the airport to meet Hassan who was doing a preflight on the plane. The car was blessedly cool. It was the beginning of a day where I was wrapped in a soft cocoon of foreign languages I don’t speak. I love the sound of Darjia. It has some of the bur-r-r- sounds of the Scottish highlander’s brogue and a soft blanket sound of Sanskrit. French is, well French is fabulous isn’t it? French sounds like Paris, champagne, and romance.

It took about half an hour to the airport where the car drove onto the tarmac which already smelled of heat, and delivered me to the Citation Ultra, which was ready for take off. I know it was a Citation Ultra because Hassan told me, I thought it just looked like a posh little jet! (see photographs to the right)

I didn’t take a camera because I didn’t want to look like oh-my-gods-I-never-get-out-so-I-have-to-have-photographs-of-everything idiot. Last night I went online and found the photographs for you so you would have an idea where we went – my bit for Moroccan tourism.

The flight was uneventful, as I couldn’t see much. Hassan said we would be flying IFR all the way. The air is murky in Morocco. I asked why, and he said "It seems to be a mixture of smog, (lots of old cars), dust from the Sahara and then moisture from the ocean. Even in town you can't see very far. From 3000 feet you can't see the ground." The scenery might not have been much but the plane was very plush with a couch, bar, kitchen set-up, and a bathroom with a full-length mirror! And blessedly frigid air conditioning! The seats were leather with silk cushions for your head. It was all done up in shades of beige, gold, and brown.

We sat down outside The Valley of the Kasbahs at Quarzazate airport where a driver and a 4X4 awaited our arrival. We had brunch at the Berbere Palace Hotel before heading for the Gorge. The hotel looks out over the surrounding countryside and there is a beautiful dinning room decorated in the style of Berber-does-Hollywood, but it works. Brilliant bathrooms. I am a sucker for a lovely bathroom.

After brunch we drove about an hour or less to the Todra Gorge but I was not so slowly melting in the hot sun, which was being reflected back from the sand and rock in waves. Thank goodness for the wind blowing over us as we drove, stopping was not so pleasant.
At Tineghir we took a 20 Km side-trip through the Todra River valley road through green ribbons of palm and olive groves. I saw pomegranate trees like the ones Q and I saw in Fez, and patchworks of tiny crop fields. There were about a dozen pink-grey villages before we entered the mouth of the Todra Gorge. At one point we had to stop and wait while a chap and his young son herded camels across the highway. We saw a lot of sheep and goats all along the way.

The canyon is 1,000 ft high where the river has cut through pink and green walls of rock limestone. Hassan said this is part of the High Atlas. I thought there were a lot of birds in Fez; this place is an aviary full of hunting birds and nesters in the canyon walls. You can hear birdsong all throughout the gorge. Unless you are going to climb, a 4 x 4 vehicle is essential.

About half way through you come around the turn, splash through the riverbed, and there sits several little houses and a hotel. I put a photograph for you. Apparently some people, tourists and climbers, like to stay over so they can walk the gorge at night. I don’t think so, thank you anyway, but I can see the appeal. Hassan said at night the canyon has its own climate. Apparently he IS a rock climber and spent a good bit of time here when he was younger. That could explain why when we got out to walk a bit he was as sure footed as a mountain goat of which we saw many. I on the other hand managed to stumble, fall over a bolder and bang my head on the side of the canyon and get a mouthful of sand. Graceful eh?

“Are you hurt? Are you bleeding?” he asked anxiously as he came up to me sprawled on the path like an awkward grasshopper.

My head certainly hurt enough to be bleeding. I mean really if you have that much pain you should get blood.

“Here let me check that,” as he ran his fingers over my head while I sat on the rock trying to recover my composure.

“This is not what I envisioned when I thought of you running your fingers through my hair you know,” I said.

“No? You’re not bleeding but you have a hell of a bump there and your sense of humor seems to be intact.” He has a smile like the sun coming up I swear it and smells like a cold day in Bath.

“Great. I’ll hang an earring on it and call it a third ear shall I?”

The sun only bathes the bottom of the gorge in the mornings. There is an ice-cold river that runs through, but even in the gorge the heat was impressive. We stayed about an hour or so. We had to return to the Rabat airport before 6:30 pm or they won’t let you land, they send you to Casablanca.

The best time for visiting the gorge is between is between 8.00 and 13.00, as the angle of the sun in the afternoons passes over and out of sight said the nice man at the hotel in the gorge where we had tea. The nice man who is a Moroccan and thinks you might MISS the sun.

Now this puts us at right over 1000 words which is where I try to keep the posting and the poll agreed.

As the forecast for today was 95 degrees, I intended to do my banking, pay the rent, and then be VERY STILL during the day, which I did. I made the foolish mistake of going to the roof to water the plants while the sun was still up and I thought I would burst into flame. It is going DOWN to 31 degrees C tomorrow (87 degrees F). Here I sit now in the coolness of the ocean breeze looking down on the river from the roof/terrace with Rabat spread out and sparkling to my right, thinking of all of you. Wherever you are be ready, you never know when adventure will come knocking – answer the door!

Q called to say she is having a fabulous time at the Music Festival in Fez, and to ask after M.C. Solaar – who is looking very fuzzy and growing by leaps and bounds. He does a lot of leaping and bounding actually.

Tomorrow I shall tell you about lunch and the return to Rabat shall I?