Archive for the ‘Food & Wine’ Category

Day 9: Seville

My first full day in Spain, we went to Seville. It was quite a drive through the Spanish countryside. It was gorgeous. Rolling green hills with olive trees. That is one thing I love about European countries, as well as Morocoo—people live in cities. The countryside is for farming. People can live without cars. Not that they do, but they can.

We wandered the city. There were long lines, so we looked at the exterior of buildings without going in. We stopped for lunch. Lunch happens at exactly 14:00 for Spaniards. Restaurants have had to start opening earlier to accommodate tourists who expect to eat around noon, but that isn’t when they are most crowded. So we sat at 14:00. That also meant that service was Spanish slow. Luckily, I like long lunches. As a friend pointed out, for an atheist vegetarian, I sure have lots of pictures of cathedrals and meat. It is true.

Back in tourist mode. We stopped in to visit Catedral de Santa Maria de la Sede. According to Wikipedia, it is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world. I can mark it off my list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It didn’t seem so big at the time, but now that I think back on it, it was enormous. It was built to show the riches of the city, and that it did. Sadly, that also tends to make me find it less religious. I am excited about the new Pope possibly bringing the church back to its roots.

To bring my trip together, one of the bell towers is a replica of the Koutoubia Mosque I saw in Marrakech. It was a fun little reference.

Inside, besides all the riches, they also house the burial site of Christopher Columbus. They also love their relics and had a ton of them.

We climbed the bell tower. It is unique because it is designed with a ramp wide enough to ride a horse instead of with stairs. The view of Seville was incredible.

After that, we walked over to Plaza de España with its incredible courtyard pond. Each of the provinces are represented in the lower façade. We took photos in front of our favorites.

There is a beautiful park connected, but since the car didn’t have any lights, we had to rush back to get home. We barely made it home that night before dark.

Act 2: Spain. Scene 1: Pray.

Today, I left Morocco.

We started driving to the new port which happens to be about half an hour outside of the city. We forgot to fill up the gas tank before leaving. In the US, this wouldn’t be a problem. We would have run into a strategically placed gas station. In Morocco, this is a severe error. We kept looking for one, hoping for one, like searching for an oasis in the desert. We didn’t find one and the gas tank was getting dangerously low.

Then, to make matters worse, the stupid light that we don’t understand came on. We pulled off to the side of the road hoping to let the engine cool. It didn’t. One of the things I love about Morocco is that three cars stopped to offer help. The last one actually tried to figure out the problem and decided it was fine and we could keep driving. So when we got to the port we were practically out of gas and possibly overheating the car. I felt bad leaving Tour Guide to solve all the problems.

He helped me buy a ticket and we grabbed some food. I had him watch my bag while I went to the bathroom figuring it would be difficult on the ship. I didn’t want to let my bag out of my sight.

Then I tried to get him cash to pay for the extra days of car rental. I tried the ATM that I knew took my debit card. After entering the pin, the screen went black. Black! I freaked because I didn’t know if I could get my card back. Then it asked if I needed more time. I ejected the card. I tried again. Fail. So I tried the other ATM. It rejected my card. I tried my Visa card. Rejected because my sister had put the reception dinner on it and I hadn’t had a chance to call and accept the charges. The only card left was an Amex and neither accepted that.

So Tour Guide left without the money he needed, without gas, and with the stupid warning light still on. I felt so bad about that.

I went through security. On the other side, people were waiting for buses to go to the port. There was no signage to tell me what bus to take. I asked one guy and he told me to wait inside. Wait for what?

So I asked another guy. He also told me to wait inside. No one was there and it was a gorgeous day. I sat on a bench. The first kid told me that was a good idea. Sit there. He would tell me when it was time.

I asked him how he knows. He just laughed. I was at his mercy. He started joking with me about the buses. I wasn’t sure what to think. He told me to get on a bus, them said it wasn’t my bus. Then said it was my bus. I was so confused. I got on.

On the other end, I made it past the passport check and onto the boat. I hoped I was going to the right place. I was never really sure. It looked like I was supposed to store my bags on the car deck, but I dragged it around with me. I didn’t even use the lift. This also kept me from going to the top and taking photos. I kind of regret that.

I sat inside, in a safe corner where I could keep my luggage safe, as if the drug smugglers don’t have high speed boats or jet skis. Ridiculous.

We had sat at the port in Morocco for a long time. I didn’t understand what was going on. At one point, the engineer was requested by the captain. Not a good sign. When we finally docked in Algeciras, I was significantly late.

I looked for Andalindsia in the main lobby but didn’t see her. I was nervous. I didn’t even know if I’d made it to the right place and we were late. So I turned on my phone and called.

She was at the bar drinking a coke. I was in the right place and could stop freaking out. She walked into the room and everything was suddenly okay. It had been ten years, but when you are from Maine, being around others from Maine is an instant comfort. It didn’t take long before it felt like no time had passed at all.

We drove to her house, then went out in Málaga. We walked along the new waterfront, which was gorgeous, then looked at places to eat. We settled on one on the waterfront for tapas. Then we looked for another place for tapas, but strangely enough, everyone was closing up shop early. So we headed home.

Something was wrong with the car. Just my luck, right? Turns out, the headlights weren’t on. We drove with our hazard lights blinking. But that really put a damper on us going out after dark for the rest of the week.

Andalindsia gave me her room and slept in one of the kids rooms. I was grateful and appreciated her Ikea comforter. I did wonder if they had heat. The answer is no. No a/c either. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I had no heat or a/c. I put on my wool socks to go to sleep.

Day 7: Meknès, Volibulous

After another great breakfast in the morning, we took a roundabout way to Tanger. Our first stop was in Meknès. We drove around a little, then I think we went to see the stables of Heri es-Souani. It supposedly held 12,000 horses and had an underfloor, water cooling system.

We went into a place that had an interesting graveyard. I was surprised with the raised graves covered in tile. I was also confused because not all the graves were facing the same way and I thought people were always buried in the direction of Mecca.

Next we went to Volubilis. I had no idea that there is this incredible Roman ruins in the middle of Morocco. Out among the rolling, green hills stands the remains of an entire city. Beautiful floor mosaics unprotected from the elements. Stone walls to climb on. Remnants of olive presses and baths baking in the afternoon sun. Evidence of complex water and sewage systems. Enormous archways and columns standing tall after so many centuries. And we climbed all over it. And stood behind the podiums of the courthouse. It was fantastic. All those things we talked about in four years of Latin classes come to life. It was a great addition to seeing the Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome in October.

I loved the countryside of Morocco. The rolling farmlands, the cows blocking the road. The sheep and goats eating under the watchful eye of their shepherd. I’ve never been much of a city girl and it was obvious from what I liked best.

The too small back roads with all their animal, bicycle and motorcycle traffic were just as stressful to navigate as the city streets. I was actually grateful when we got to the highway again. But soon enough we were back in crazy city traffic and Tour Guide was lighting up a cigarette to calm his nerves. I won’t miss the smoking.

We found Hôtel Rembrandt and ditched the car in a parking garage. Not my favorite hotel of the trip, mainly because I had a hard time getting the Internet to work. I barely got on long enough to confirm with Andalindsia that I would be getting on the ferry tomorrow and when to meet.

We went out in search for dinner. Always late. We wandered around, then decided a view of the ocean would be good. We sat down at a table by the window on the second floor of a restaurant by the beach. But the view of black water wasn’t that great and no waiters had been by, so we left.

I checked The Book. The Lonely Planet Guide had been fairly accurate in their descriptions of places and history and culture. Tour Guide was always amused when I’d read him stories from The Book that were exactly like the story he had just told me. Especially the stories of unsuspecting tourists and the drug trade in Tanger. The Book also told me not to walk down by the beach at night, but I felt fairly safe with Tour Guide.

The Book suggested Number One. It was described as being a pink renovated apartment. They weren’t kidding. And it was right across from the hotel. We’d had a lovely evening stroll for some good exercise before my last dinner in Morocco.

Dinner was home-cooked French/Italian. Not particularly spicy, just comfort food. We had a great bottle of French wine though. I’d asked the owner for a recommendation and he didn’t steer me wrong.

We adjourned to the Blue Room of our hotel, decorated with deep purple, velvet couches. There we had a small bottle of the Saharan wine. Still a decent wine. We talked about how could I possibly be single. This seems to be a common question people have. The basic answer is that my life is awesome. I am strong and independent and don’t need someone to take the garbage out for me. So I’m looking for that person I want to confide my secrets in and bare my soul to. I just haven’t found that person yet. Some day.

Another late night, but that is what vacation is for, right?

Day 5: Agadir

Another day of mostly travel as we headed to Agadir on the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco. We found our way out of the city, but signage was severely lacking. We ended up going further north than we should have, but eventually found our way back to the right path.

The highway took us through the desert, through the southern mountain range, and into the hillsides of argan trees that litter the landscape like oversized tumbleweed. I was disappointed to not see any goats in trees. Check Wikipedia for argan and you will see what I mean.

The desert wasn’t the sandy kind you see of the Sahara in the movies. I believe that is further south. This part of the desert was littered with small bushes and the occasional oasis of underground water with more greenery.

Agadir is a more modern city built along the ocean in Southern Morocco at the top of the Sahara. By the way, Sahara is the Arabic word for desert, so I’m going to stop calling it the Sahara Desert. It is just the Sahara.

Agadir has a big tourist business with all of its beaches, hotels and resorts. The only reason it is more modern than some of the others is because it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. The only thing remaining is some walls of the Kasbah on top of the hill overlooking the new city and a mound where the old city was, covering the 18,000 dead from the earthquake.

We found a hotel and then tried going to the beach. The wind was fierce and blowing sand into everything. We caught a little train, you know the kind you ride in the parking lots at Disney World. It was a 35 minute tour around the city so we could see what there is to see.

We decided it was too windy to walk, so we went for a drive. That was when a light came on in the car and we didn’t know what it was. We drove slowly back to the hotel and popped the hood, checking all the fluids.

After a few minutes, we tried again and the light was off. We have no idea what was wrong with the car. We took it for a drive to make sure that it would be good on the long trip back to Rabat the next day.

We drove up the twisty road to the casbah and ruins just in time for sunset over the city. It was a gorgeous view. It was also ridiculously cold and windy. I’d put on a skirt because it was warm earlier, but I regretted it. Thank goodness I still had a sweater in the car.

Back in the city, we changed for the cool weather and went out in search of dinner. We tried a French place, but it was filled with old men. There was no parking at the marina. We ended up at the English Pub for karaoke night and I had the vegetable pie. I’ve decided that vegetable pie is very similar to Moroccan tajines. Both are cooked in an earthenware dish, but pie cooks the bread on top instead of separate as with the tajine.

I tried two beers, one was Bavaria, the other was Flag 33, local to Marrakech. I tried to get something darker, but it seems they only sell light colored wheat beers. Good enough. Neither are ones I’ll try again, but I appreciate trying them once.

I was chatting with Meine Schwester while out to dinner (thank you iMessage!). Seems we were out to dinner late because she was just going to dinner soon herself. This has not been a trip of my usual going to bed early. Saturday night, we were just about to go to sleep and I looked at the clock—3:08 am! No way!

Turns out it was daylight savings. Thank goodness for automatic updating clocks on phones. We might not have known. :-)

Day 4: Marrakech

We started out the morning in Marrakech by going to the Bahia Palace. Our first mistake was trying to drive into the place. Tiny little street, people, animals, carts, vehicles everywhere. We managed to find a parking lot and squeeze the car in. Don’t think by parking lot, I mean a paved lot with lines. I’m talking about a dirt lot with cars crammed in two or three deep.

We walked back to the palace. I realized that this is where all the European, Australian and American tourists are. I fit right in with my Nikon taking photos. The palace itself wasn’t much to see. All the contents had been robbed, mostly by the harem, after the death of the last owner.

We rescued the car and headed to Djemaa el-Fna to see what we had missed the night before. I knew that if I took pictures, I’d have to pay, so I kept my camera away for the most part while I was close. I did take a picture of a snake charmer, so a guy came by with a hat. I tossed in a coin, then he started talking to Tour Guide. Next thing we knew, Snake Charmer had wrapped a snake around Tour Guide, was whispering something about getting the devil out and feeding them, and then stuck the snake down Tour Guide’s shirt. I was laughing so hard and taking pictures. It was all fun and games until Snake Charmer put the snake around my neck!

Next, we wandered through the medina. To commemorate the Snake Charmer, I bought a wooden, hand-carved snake. I saw the artist making them. The seller said 250Dh. I said 200Dh. He said 230Dh, I said, No 200 Dh. Tour Guide said something and I gave 200Dh for the snake. I know I could have started lower and gotten a better price, but I’d decided that just over $20 was reasonable for a snake hand-carved out of one block of wood. The artist deserved me not haggling over his work.

Back in Djemaa el-Fna, we contemplated the fortune tellers and monkeys. We thought it would be fun to mess with the fortune tellers since we knew they’d lie to us anyways. Instead, we decided to get pictures with a monkey. Dirty monkey. Actually, it didn’t seem too dirty, but I was petrified of it biting me or tearing my face open. I just imagined having to go to the hospital. Luckily that didn’t happen. I’ll admit, It was kind of exciting to hold a monkey.

After the monkey, we went for lunch. Italian pizza with a view of the tower across the way. Quiet and out of the way. Tour Guide had a nice conversation with the British couple behind me who were trying to figure out all the Muslim prayer times since one was just starting.

Back to the hotel, we dropped off the car, took a short Internet break, and then walked to Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful, enclosed park gifted by Yves Saint Laurent. An oasis of peace among the chaos of the city, it was a lovely retreat. We wandered around and took lots of photos.

Next stop, coffee shop. I finally got the gelato I’d been looking for all day. Not the best gelato I’ve had. I guess that isn’t really what Morocco is known for.

It was too early to go for dinner, so we decided to go for a drive. On the outskirts of Morocco, there is a ton of construction happening. Like miles of it. Plots of land ready for building, concrete blocks going up. Posters of gigantic buildings to come. Almost as if they are building a new city outside of the existing one. It was like that outside of all the cities. Suburban sprawl, not with houses, but apartment and condo units and gigantic hotel resorts. The city stretching out a leg here, an arm over there, expanding at an exponential pace.

Then we were outside the city expansion and surrounded by fields as far as the eye could see. The mountains of the High Atlas loomed ahead, and farmers walked the fields, herds of sheep and goats grazed beside the road, families had picnics among the rocks, boys played soccer on dirt.

In the mountains were tiny roadside towns with shops open to the passerby. It was always hard to tell where a building ended and the dirt began. I would not survive well in places like that.

The sun had set as we drove back into the chaos of Marrakech. We went up to the Sky Bar at the top of Le Caspien hotel hoping to have a drink. It was cold and the view was lacking. Skylines aren’t particularly interesting when all the buildings are the same height. And the bartender only had bottles of beer, anything else had to be brought up from the restaurant on the first floor.

We retreated to the restaurant by the pool. I tried a Casablanca beer and it tasted a bit like Budweiser. We had the salmon bruschetta, which was a bit large, but was excellent. I switched to a wine from the Sahara. It was surprisingly good, although warmer than a red really should be. Not sure if they heard me, but they brought me a bucket of ice water for it.

The waiter brought a plate we hadn’t ordered. Two more pieces of toast, one with sardines and a sauce, the other with roasted red pepper. The center had a bit of green salad with cherry tomatoes and carrots and the other end had a pâté of some sort.

By then, it was nearing 11 pm and getting too late to go anywhere else for dinner, so I skipped right to dessert. The tiramisu was an excellent ending to the evening.

Day 3: Travelling

After my solo breakfast because I’d gotten up just a few minutes too late, Tour Guide, Little A who still was home sick, and I went out in search of a car rental place. No such luck. So we went to the local coffee shop with wifi (don’t forget to pronounce it wee fee and feel silly).

The coffee shop was filled with men drinking coffee and smoking, inside and out. We got stuck inside for a while and eventually found seats outside. Tour Guide, who has lived in places like Canada and Australia, is always kind enough to leave the table when he lights up.

Outside with the smokers, we looked up car rentals while I uploaded photos. We weren’t having much luck and thought going in to the center of town and talking in person would help.

But first it was already time for lunch. Couscous, veggies and beef. I had to have someone explain to J’s dad why I wasn’t eating the meat he was pushing towards me. That and he wanted me to eat more and I couldn’t seem to explain I was full. I felt bad because I tried the milk but learned it was buttermilk. I should have just passed on it.

I got to meet J’s sister’s husband. He’d studied in Florida, so I had lots of people to speak English with. I still feel lame for not knowing at least one other language. Four years of Latin, two years of German, and half a year of Spanish twenty years ago doesn’t do much for me.

Tour Guide and Little A fell asleep where they were, so H and I went off to the room I’ve been staying in for a nap. I’m really hoping things go well with this next round of radiation. I hate to see her in so much pain.

At lunch, it was mentioned we were having a tough time finding a rental car, so J’s sister’s husband hooked us up with someone who would bring us a rental car for 300 Dh per day. That is about $30/day. It was better than we’d found so far.

When the car arrived, J and Tour Guide were both out on different errands, so H had to trek downstairs to help me through the transaction.

The car was a bit old and well worn, but it supposedly has working a/c. We didn’t try it, so I’m not sure yet. There was a stray puppy running around. Can Not Take Hone Stray Puppy From Morocco.

When Tour Guide returned, we headed off to Marrakech. About a four hour drive, we survived the crazy drivers, enjoyed the full moon, and had to ask multiple times for directions because there are no street signs.

The hotel room we rented was supposed to be a double, which normally means two beds. Not so much. It was a double bed instead of a twin. We convinced them to move another bed into the room.

We almost couldn’t get the room because we didn’t have a marriage license. But I have an American passport and Tour Guide has a Canadian ID card, so we got away with it.

After putting our stuff in the room, we went to Jamaa L’fna, the crazy square with the constant carnival. But we forgot that Friday is the holy day and it pretty much closed down by 11 pm. We tried to go to some restaurants, but they were closing, so we decided to chance it at a vendor. Cold grilled eggplant, beef tajine, I ate the veggies. Pop and the hanging lightbulbs under the tent all went out. They must have blown a fuse. They fixed it before we left.

In Moroccan cities, the streets have parking attendants. They help you find a spot and fit into it. We’d asked the attendant if we could find parking when we got back, so he’d actually saved us a spot. I was pleasantly surprised.

Day 2: Rabat

Houda’s brother came to take me around to see the sights. I’d call him an unofficial tour guide, but it turns out that is actually a problem in Morocco. Unofficial tour guides will hang out at airports and train stations and try to convince people to pay them to tour around the city, often diverting you to shops where they get a cut of the money. This was also a problem in Italy as the official tour guides had big badges to make it obvious. Even then, our tour director was probably getting a cut of the profits from one leather shop in Florence.

Regardless, I’ll refer to H’s brother as Tour Guide, of which he is neither an official or unofficial one, just kind enough to walk around the city with a complete stranger.

We started at Le Tour Hassan. It would have been the second largest mosque when it was built, but an earthquake destroyed it in 1755 leaving just the shattered pillars and a tower. I should see another tower like it in Seville.

Adjacent to Le Tour Hassan is Mausoleum of Mohammed V which houses the king’s father and grandfather. Here, I got in trouble for taking a picture of the back of a guard. I was asked to delete it. Not sure why I actually complied other than I didn’t want Americans to look bad.

Next stop was the Medina. This was probably a good Medina to start in. It was a Thursday at lunchtime, so not particularly crowded. And the shop keepers weren’t pushy. I didn’t buy anything, although I was thinking about a painting that I saw an artist working on.

After the Medina, we meant to go into a museum, but instead stumbled upon the Andalucían Gardens. Here, we found more cats wandering around. Always kittens. I don’t think they have a long life span around here. El Gato!

Through the gardens, we found a walking street into the Kasbah fed Oudaias. This is where I found the whitewashed houses with Mediterranean blue. These were built by Muslim refugees from Spain and are the original part of the city that has grown up around it.

Inside, we might have stumbled upon the Galerie d’Art Nouiga where there was an exhibit of the two faces of man. All self portraits of the artist, the Moroccans feel that everyone has two sides, the good and the bad, but also, that which faces outward and that which faces inward. The side that judges others, but always praises self.

The building the exhibit was in was the court for judging pirates and the prison was upstairs. We didn’t go up.

Back outside, there was an old cemetery overlooking the beach and ocean. I imagined that the dead would rise at midnight, walk into the ocean and then crawl back to their graves at dawn. Always seems silly to me when the dead get such great locations.

On the way to lunch, we ran into protests. The first one was a large group of people walking down the street with banners. The second was smaller and had been broken up by the police with riot gear and some ambulances were driving away.

We had lunch outside in a little cafe. The food was okay, but nothing to write home about. I had a panini. I downgraded their rating because there was no bathroom and they said they had wifi, but we couldn’t find it.

Next, we wandered back up the hill to Chellah. It is an old Roman city—Sala Colonia. It was later abandoned for Sale. We were allowed to wander around and climb all over the ruins. I’m so used to not being allowed to touch anything, that this surprised me the most. It is also the home to a flock of storks and their enormous nests. They were incredible up close.

After all the wandering, we headed back into the main part of the city for coffee. I hadn’t noticed it earlier, but all tables and chairs outside were set up to watch the sidewalk and street. They don’t even try to hide the fact that this is what they are doing. Might as well be honest about it, right?

We took a taxi to the high-end shopping district, which was not exactly what you’d think of as high-end in the US. I think part of it is just the street and sidewalk itself. Usually you expect to find sparkly sidewalks and perfectly paved streets, but these were well worn. Maybe there was more trash than I expected. Maybe the buildings weren’t as well kept. Maybe it was a combination of all of it.

We stopped in at a McDonalds there because I wanted to see for myself that people go there well dressed. They do. Some differences in the menu are that the meat is all halal and they had fried mozzarella balls. I’m sure there were other differences, but I haven’t eaten at McDonalds in years.

Dinner was at H’s mom’s place just outside Rabat. Another fabulous meal. I tried a new green vegetable that I can supposedly get in Cali, but I will have to ask for the name of it again. Sadly, H was having a tough day. We might have done too much the day before.

This morning, I think I used the wrong cup for my water. I’m not sure. And I still think I broke the shower. I’ve been a bit afraid to ask to try to shower again because I’m one of those sad people who doesn’t actually speak more than one language. If only I spoke French or Spanish or Arabic. I keep trying to say thank you in Arabic, but it takes me three minutes to remember the word, so I’ve stuck with merci instead. That has stuck over the years.

Act I: Morocco. Scene 1: Eat.

My trip started by sleeping on the couch. Sock’s family graciously hosted me so I could be closer to the airport for my 7 am flight, and even give me a ride. I was grateful for that!

Off to NY on Virgin, the middle seat was gloriously empty and the flight was fast. We even left on time, despite the sequestration furloughs. Sadly, the doctor is right, I don’t have an ear infection, in just deaf in my right ear. Failed surgery. That is going to suck.

I went searching for my last meal. The only maps of the services I could find were inside the baggage scanning area. I was scolded for being too close because I couldn’t read them, the the guy explained they were so out of date, I’d be better off not using them. Dear JFK airport, how am I supposed to decide to go through security before or after finding lunch? And yes, I had plenty of time to make that decision.

New Yorker’s hate vegetarians from what I could tell. Or at least the International terminal does. All the salads also include meat because that is what supposedly makes a meal. The McDonalds and Sbarro lines were packed. I spotted a sign at the Korean place that said something about bipmbap being good for vegetarians. I was sold.

I snuck in a gigantic wheat beer before my flight. I hid in the corner of the bar so that my flight mates might not notice and was the awful person talking on my cell phone to my family. Whatever. Sometimes even I break the rules.

The flight was barely a third full. We all had our own aisle. Mine only had two seats, but I’m not really complaining. Royal Air Maroc may not be the most luxurious airline, but I won’t complain because I actually got some sleep.

As the sun rose, we flew over southern Morocco with its numerous agriculture fields. It reminded me first of Wisconsin with many lakes, but maybe they were reservoirs. Hard to tell. It looked a lot like Nebraska, but with amoeba shaped fields instead of planned out squares.

That is all I saw, right up until we landed. Casablanca airport is outside the city, surrounded by fields. Somehow, I expected it to be more like the South Bay, where San Francisco is connected by suburb after suburb to San Jose. This was fields, fields, airport, fields, city. But I hadn’t found the city yet.

Landing at six am and trying to find my way around the airport in a place I don’t speak the language is always stressful. I had two goals: call to say I’d arrived, and find my way to the Consulat des États Unis.

Customs was easy. The agent didn’t ask me any questions. The bag check was busy and they just waved me and a group of grey-haired American women through.

I was ejected into Morocco like a newborn baby—unprepared.

The airport was like landing in Bangor, Maine. Actually, there might have been more people in the Bangor airport. About a dozen people were waiting for friends and family and another half dozen drivers with signs. Other than that, it was empty.

My cell phone wouldn’t pick up a carrier, so I found one pay phone that would take change. I needed a guichet bancaire to get cash. There were three. I chose the one with the most stickers and hoped it wouldn’t eat my bank card. I found an English menu, but it didn’t like my card. I had to use another.

I bought a water by pointing because I don’t know how to pronounce eau. I used the smaller coin first and called my friends. As the time was running out, I put in the second coin, but the phone just ate it. The call ended abruptly.

The train station was right there, on the -1 floor. The security guys looked at me funny because I couldn’t figure out which door to go through. They finally just pointed. I’d missed the 7am train. The next wasn’t until 8 am. I didn’t know what stop to get off. There was a guy in the billet booth and an automated billet machine, but I still wasn’t ready. I can’t even imagine how people who don’t speak English feel when they show up at JFK. It must be completely overwhelming. I, at least had English signs to get through customs.

It was too early and I wanted something a little easier than a train ride, so I went through the door to go back upstairs. The security guards made me go back into the train station area and put my bags through the bag stand and go through the metal detector. I hadn’t taken my phone out, so I pulled it out of my pocket. Without getting up, they waved me to get my bags and just go. The escalators weren’t working, so I tried to take the elevators on the left that I’d come down on. No elevator came. The waved me to the two elevators on the right, one of which was closed off for maintenance. I got in to the supposedly working one and headed back to the 0 floor.

Off to the taxi stand I went. The taxi driver who chose me was second in line. I’m not sure why the first in line didn’t want me. His loss. I handed the driver the piece of paper on which I’d written Consulat des États Unis. No address. Just that I needed to go to the US Consulate. He understood.

On the dashboard of his car was a red puffy Apple sticker with the word Maroc and the country flag imprinted on it. It was old and dusty. I said I liked it. He tried to give it to me. I took a picture and gave it back for others to enjoy. Hopefully I didn’t offend him. I’m pretty sure the sticker was not company sanctioned.

The driver spoke some English, so we had the occasional conversation. So far I’m impressed by the number of languages people here speak. Arabic, French, and occasionally English. The driver tried to teach me some words in Spanish for the next part of my trip. I hadn’t gotten through Act 1 yet.

He said 200Dh, but when I asked him to repeat it because I can’t hear out of one ear and I wasn’t sure I’d heard right, he said 300Dh. So I didn’t tip him.

He left me at the cement barriers and guarded gate of the Consulat des États Unis. He spoke to the guards. The guards asked if I had an appointment.

No, I’m just meeting friends. They have an appointment. Where is your passport? Here. Welcome, please enter.

I was now behind the large metal construction containers that held dirt and trees and other greenery. The next guard asked for my passport. I said the same thing. He sent me to the girl in the window.

I explained to her I was just looking for a place to hang out until they arrived. She said I was welcome to wait on the bench. I sat there as a curiosity to the guards.

I figured out how to get a phone service, but I couldn’t figure out how to make a call. I asked a guard. He didn’t know and didn’t understand me. He told me to ask the girl in the window. I sat and watched the line.

There was a kitten at one of the guard booths. It was cute. I wondered how long it would survive with the chaos around it. Driving in Casablanca is like driving in Mexico City. Lines aren’t even a suggestion. For a while, I actually thought you were supposed to drive with the line running through the middle of your car. Cars, small trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, people pushing carts, donkeys pulling carts, and people walking or running across highways was the norm. It was sheer madness!

I watched the guards and the line and the guards watched me. Eventually, my friends, H & J arrived with their little boy to prove that I wasn’t just making up some story.

Yay! Friends! People I could talk to. Relief. I understand why groups of immigrants flock to the same part of town. Familiarity. Comfort. Sense of home and belonging. I wish everyone in the US understood this feeling of being in a foreign land. It might help with compassion and empathy.

They went to their appointment and I hung out for a while longer. One of the guards awkwardly sat with me on the bench. We silently bonded.

Next, it was lunch time! Little did I know that this part of my trip would be the Eat portion of Eat, Pray, Love. Well, okay, I knew it would be, but I still wasn’t quite prepared.

We took a cab out to J’s sister’s place. There, we had breads and olive oil and argan oil and olives and honey. Traditional Moroccan mint sugar tea is everywhere.

Back into Casablanca, I was starting to have a hard time keeping my eyes open in the car, but managed. We drove past Western style shops and schools letting out. Clothing is a mix of western styles and traditional. According to the Lonely Planet guide, 70% of the population of Morocco is under the age of 30. So styles are changing with the younger population. There is also a lot of unemployment. We drove past some of the makeshift housing that I’ve never seen in the US. I’ve seen some really poor housing, but this really is so far past that. I can’t remember driving by anything like it in Mexico or Costa Rica. But it is like videos I’ve seen of Brazil.

After the shops and schools came the large walled houses on the hill, then down to the Atlantic Ocean. I asked if the water was warm and they said yes compared to the Pacific, but another family member today said it was summer and hot out, but it is in the high 50′s right now. She is pregnant, so that might explain the temperature discrepancy.

We went to the largest mosque in Africa. It overhangs the ocean and is outright incredible. Beautiful detail work and the closer we got to it, the more majestic it became. It was prayer time, so I wasn’t allowed inside, but J was, so he took some photos for me. I was useful by standing at the door and explaining to some German tourists that it would open for viewing at zwei Uhr.

On the way back to Rabat, I could barely keep my eyes open. Little A and I fell asleep in the back seat. I woke occasionally to see the scenery. After getting out of Casablanca, we were back into fields until the boarder of Rabat.

At the place in Rabat, I met the woman who is considered J’s Second Mom who cares for the flat and helped raise J, and J’s pregnant sister. Her English is much better than she gives herself credit for. And much better than I can speak in any other language.

I met Little S, Little A’s sister, who at first was shy and sleepy, but at age six, is quite a handful. I played with the two of them for the afternoon. They were born and raised in Portland, Oregon, but have been living here in Morocco for the last two school years. Their Arabic is excellent as well as their French. When other adults were around, they refused to speak to me in English. As soon as we were alone, I became a curiosity and they switched to English while we played hide-and-go-seek and red light green light. Little S painted me a picture and made me work with her on some addition problems, so I tried to teach her how to carry. She isn’t quite ready for that, but she will be soon.

They were amused by my wearing a tank top under my sweater and kept trying to get me to show my shoulders. I have on a 3/4 length sleeved shirt today to correct that mistake.

As soon as the other adults arrived, it was back to not speaking English to me.

We ate. We ate a lot. Not long after arriving, there was a full meal. A tray of vegetables, more breads and dips. A cucumber salad. Grilled eggplant. Then the second course came. Meat, root vegetables and tomatoes done in the big clay pots with teepee shaped tops. All for sharing.

I’m trying to learn how to eat. Bread is an important part, and very much not in my diet in these quantities. It is used for soaking up the juices and for scooping out food. I’ll figure it out eventually.

And tea, always sweet tea. Tea just appears out of nowhere any time of day.

The flats are configured interestingly. There is a formal sitting room where built in benches outlined with throw pillows line three walls. This can double as extra sleeping space for house guests. The dining rooms are set up the same way, but smaller, and with rolling tables that can be brought into the dining area.

So far, bedrooms and bathrooms are pretty much the same, although the shower I used was still the typical European bath tub with a shower head added on to the faucet as an afterthought.

H’s brother arrived early in the evening. He’s been living in Canada, so his English is excellent. We talked about going down to the medina. Luckily, this didn’t happen because I was exhausted.

Soup and tea appeared before the kids went off to bed. As everyone left, I attempted to take a shower. It became a bath when I couldn’t figure out how to turn the shower head on. Hopefully I didn’t break it. The water was pretty cold. I didn’t stay in for long.

Sleep was good. I got eight hours and could probably use a nap already. Second Mom made me a huge breakfast. I really can’t eat this much. I had one piece of bread with some jam. Half of the porridge type soup, some tea and a glass of oj.

She doesn’t speak English, and as we know, I don’t speak Arabic or French, so we are kind of at a loss. She came into my room, made the motion for eating and said mangia, which is the same in Italian, so I understood. But I wasn’t hungry. She was putting on clothes for going out. She took me on the balcony and pointed across the street. I thought she was going out. Then she wanted me to put on shoes. Finally, I realized I was to go with her. But I wasn’t hungry. I asked if I could grab my things. I threw on a sweater because it is cold out, put on socks and shoes and grabbed my purse not knowing whether I was going to meet people and might not be coming back.

We went downstairs. She held my hand as we crossed the small street and parking lot. We went into the shop she’d pointed to.

A butcher shop. Just where I wanted to go as a vegetarian. I just smiled and laughed to myself. There were illustrations of animals and the French words for them hanging around the small shop. Three large display cases, and two guys working. One guy in line ahead of us ordered something small.

Second Mom ordered and a big rack of beef was taken out of the display case and a large section was hacked off in four strokes with the cleaver. A small bone cut off, weighed, a chunk of fat removed, reweighed. Agreement. Two other people came in behind me not sure what I was doing there waiting in the sidelines. I tried to sneak a picture with my phone. It came out fuzzy. We left and came back inside.

Now I’m trying to finish this up and pick through photos before the next adventure arrives!

Vegucated

Now that I’ve been a vegetarian for over a year (with a few slip ups like Crabtacular, and Italy), I’m pretty comfortable with being able to find good food choices and cook for myself. The time has come to take the next step and become a vegan.

I watched Vegucated on Netflix tonight. It follows three people as they try eating vegan for six weeks. Interesting documentary. I recommend you watch it. We’ve all become so detached from where our food comes from. If anything, it might convince you to buy your meat from smaller, local farms. Or maybe just reduce your intake of meat.

For me, lunch will be easy if I eat at the caffe since I already usually go to the vegan station anyways. Cheese will be the hard part. I love cheese. But I don’t love that we make cows give birth and then take away their calves so we can use the milk. And cows produce a lot of methane which contributes to global warming. And farmland is used to grow grains for the cows instead of people. And I don’t like eating eggs anyways.

It won’t be an overnight change. I still have a few eggs, some milk, and cheese in my fridge. But when those are gone, I’ll be making dairy-free substitutions.

Suum cuique.

The Universe is Against Me

L and I, (I can’t remember L’s name, or if she has one, which means she needs a new one) went to lunch yesterday. In an effort to lose weight, I’ve been insisting that my lunch partners and I walk up to a mile to eat. Yesterday, the possibility of rain was strong, so we still walked, but went someplace fairly close.

Another coworker had stopped by my office earlier to ask if I had tried Islands yet. I hadn’t, and the seed was planted, so I suggested it to L. It is a SoCal chain, so she’d been before, just not the new Cupertino location.

As part of my diet plan, I check the menu online before I go out to eat. I found that they have grilled veggie tacos with a cole slaw for less than 500 calories. Perfect! I could definitely use 500 calories.

We were seated quickly at a large table next to two cute guys, so I had a nice view. L watched shirtless surfers on the big screen behind me. I ordered the veggie tacos, L ordered the soup and salad. The food was good and filling. We said no to dessert. The check came. We were satisfied with our lunch experience.

But, before we could pay the check and leave, The Manager arrived with Chocolate Lava—a warmed brownie topped with ice cream, whipped cream, almonds, chocolate, and a cherry on top. He sat it on our table and said, “You both were so good with your lunches, so I brought you a surprise.”

“No, we can’t.”

“Sure you can,” he said as he walked away. How could he possibly know that I was craving chocolate at that exact moment. Was I sending out chocolate pheromones? Why weren’t the cute guys at the table next to us picking up on it?

We couldn’t say no. It was impossible. I stuck a spoon into the cool ice cream and slid it through the gooey brownie. I added a little whipped cream and jumped down the rabbit hole. It was soooo good.

While I was falling, I decided that the guys worked on some utility crew, that they made a lot less money than me, that we couldn’t afford to travel to the places I wanted to go and that they had no interest in going anywhere exotic. I broke up with them and sunk my spoon into the devilish dessert again to get over the breakup.

L and I walked back to the office. Back to work and normal life. Our failed foray into Hawaii with two cute electricians left at Islands. The walk wasn’t long enough to work off dessert.

20130208-091725.jpg

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 756 other followers