Archive for May, 2011

Sevilla


2011
05.27

Note: so many people have been asking about the photographs – I’ve combined some in a book called Blue: Photographs from Spain and Morocco.

Part of the plan on this trip was to visit Mark’s sister Dana and her husband Bishop who live in Sevilla.  We awoke way too early at Dar Jand to catch the early ferry.  Andrew kindly walked us through the medina down to the port where we boarded the fast ferry to Spain, watching Tangier recede in the distance.  Arriving in Tarifa, we took a taxi to the Comes bus station, which turned out to be two bus benches and a shed.  Hmmm – we had a couple of hours, lots of luggage and nowhere to go.  There was a small café across the street so we maneuvered everything in there and settled in, buying tapas  (not very good) for lunch and several coffees to justify taking up their space.  By the end, we were almost best friends.  Which was not easy because no one in Spain seems to speak anything but Spanish!  We’re used to people in Europe and even Morocco speaking several languages.  We kept speaking French, which was a little odd because English is our language, but after two weeks in Morocco, it just came naturally.

We both grew up in California with a large Hispanic population, but every Spanish word we knew evaporated.  Even the easy words!  Nonetheless, we made it onto the bus and were met in Sevilla by Dana and Bishop, who of course speak English.  We walked to their apartment, which is centrally located in the heart of Sevilla, easy walking distance to the historic core of the city.  They had a great array of tapas for us – olives, cheeses, and what is said to be the best ham – the Iberica Bellota – made from pigs who forage for acorns.  We were hungry and grateful for the munchies followed by minestrone soup.  We chatted a while and they walked us to our hotel, the Amadeus Musica.

Sevilla street

Dana and Bishop’s apartment is on the third floor of a modern building – the third being the top in this case.  The living room has a floor to ceiling window so it feels light and airy.  Many of the streets are lined with orange trees and we were there at just the right time to enjoy the heavenly aroma that is like no other.  The oranges are bitter, used for making marmalade, and that’s why they don’t get stripped from the trees by the populace.  Because otherwise who could resist?

We settled in and collapsed until they picked us up for a walk around the Santa Cruz barrio, the old Jewish quarter.  Bishop is a font of information – he really ought to be a tour guide because he knows every bit of the history and every detail of the architecture.  We just couldn’t take it all in.  We hadn’t expected our two weeks in Morocco to be as arduous as they were, so our brains were mush.

Note on the Amadeus Musica – our hotel.  There were instruments everywhere and each room had a CD player with a whole raft of opera CDs.

Interior Hotel Amadeus Musica

Alley our hotel was on

The streets were packed that night.  ‘Twas St. Patrick’s Day, heartily celebrated in Sevilla.  Of course – why not? Any excuse for a pint, funny green hats, and a party.  We settled for ice cream (at least I did) and early bed.  The promenade was just getting going, but we don’t seem to be able to stay up late anymore, and even 9:00 p.m. is a little early to be out on the plaza. Also, my stomach was hurting and I was getting a blister.

In fact, after two weeks of no ailments large or small, in Sevilla I had a bad stomach, a blister on top of a toe on my left foot and underneath another on my right.  My knee (I have condromalacia patella) flared up and every step was agony.  That made it hard to truly appreciate that amazing city.  And it was beautiful, relaxed and comfortable.

Giralda at night

Plaza by the cathedral

We visited the cathedral, which doesn’t have a name other than the Sevilla Cathedral.  It is built on the site of a mosque and the minaret is the only part of the mosque that remains.  The first 2/3 of the tower is the minaret from the 1100s, but when the Christians prevailed over the Moors, the mosque was converted to the cathedral and the top of the minaret to a bell tower called the Giralda and topped with a weathervane.  It’s the largest gothic cathedral in the world, complete with flying buttresses.

Flying buttresses, Sevilla cathedral

Here’s some information on the interior, and I’d like to credit the source but I don’t remember it, although judging from the translation it may be a brochure I picked up:  The most spectacular part of the interior of the Seville Cathedral is undoubtedly Retablo Mayor, the golden altar of the church, the main chapel.  This masterpiece was designed by the Flemish master Peter Dancart who worked 44 years on the reliefs, since 1482.  The altar was finally completed in 1564 with other artists.

Christopher Columbus was buried in this church and his tomb is impressive.

Christopher Columbus tomb

There is also a crown with 11,000 jewels and the largest pearl in the world (forming the body of an angel),

Crown with largest pearl in the world

as well as a beautiful reliquary depicting the crown of thorns and said to contain a piece of the true cross.  Although I have no idea how one would verify that.

Interior, Sevilla cathedral

We had a late lunch of sorts and the best part was the menu.  Some of the translations reached a new level of hilarity:  “in a mess of mushrooms of season” and “small cauldron of deer” being two examples.  If you click on the photo, it’ll enlarge.  Then just arrow back to return to the blog.

Hilarious menu

Another place we visited during our three days, as I limped along, was the Real Alkasar, a former Moorish fort that became a royal palace (the upstairs is still in use as such).  The Alkasar is one example after another of Moorish plaster carving, tile work, and carved wood.  It’s truly beautiful.  The best part is the gardens – which we couldn’t see because I could not walk at that point and had to get off my feet.

Tile detail in Alkasar

Interior courtyard Alkasar

Exterior of Alkasar

Front wall detail

Detail of wood carving in Alkasar

Blue plaster carving Alkasar

Ceiling detail Alkasar

We also enjoyed the Plaza de Espagna, which was built for the 1929 Iberia/America exposition and is now used as government offices.

Plaza de Espagna

Plaza de Espagna

There are insets along the curved wall (first photo) for each section of Spain.  I think they are equivalent to counties.

Dana, Mark and Bishop

Plaza de Espagna

Fans for sale at Plaza de Espagna

Maria Luisa Park, a short walk from where we stayed, is enormous, full of birds and blooming plants, shrines, fountains and pools.

Maria Luisa Park

Maria Luisa Park

Maria Luisa Park - retouching a tribute to a Spanish writer.

In one plaza, kids feed the pigeons, but they are not ordinary pigeons.  They are Paloma doves, all white, and live only in Sevilla.  They were a gift from the Philippines during the 1929 exposition.

Paloma doves

The public transportation system in Sevilla is excellent.  There are busses, streetcars (electric trains) and bicycles.  All over the city there are bike racks.  You buy a card, kind of like a subway pass, and when you need to go somewhere, you insert your card and grab a bike, leaving it in a rack at your destination.

Bicycles that can be taken from one rack and returned to another

I wish we had things like that here.  In the United States, our transportation systems were built around the automobile – at least in the wide-open spaces of the West.  Some of the big cities like New York, Washington D.C. and others are compact enough to have good subway systems, but the cult of the car isn’t letting go yet in the West.

Sevilla is where flamenco got it’s start and it’s THE place in Spain to see a flamenco show, so we did at a little place called Los Gallos.

Los Gallos

Judging from the backdrop on the stage, I think Los Gallos means the fighting roosters or the roosters.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the two-hour show was magnificent.  Accompaniment is not only guitars, but men clapping their hands in the most wonderful rhythms, making different sounds depending upon how their hands strike each other.  The costumes are extraordinary and the dancers – well, I don’t see how they could have been any better.  From what we could tell (not understanding the words when there were songs), it’s all about flirtation and lost love, or having been done wrong by a man.  It was a great way to cap our last evening.

It was time to go to Barcelona and Gaudi-land.  Dana and Bishop met us early and we took a cab to the train station.  We said our goodbyes, which was kind of sad, and hopped on the bullet train to Barcelona, our last destination.

To Barcelona on the high-speed train


 

Finally – Tangier and the American Legation – after crossing more mountains


2011
05.20

Last stop ahead

Time for the last big drive, Al Hoceima to Tangier.  At this point I believe we were regarding this as a strenuous trip because we had NO IDEA how much driving would be involved.  As we left Al Hoceima, the countryside was beautiful with orchards in bloom, wild lavender by the road.

Orchard outside of Al Hoceima

Some of the hills looked like the farms along The Three Gorges in China – multi-colored and terraced.

The weather was gorgeous and there were people alongside the road gathering herbs.

We passed fascinating haystacks.

Haystack outside Al Hoceima

We passed prickly pear in full fruit, but we noticed something alarming.

We were going up.  We had forgotten about the Rif.  We were driving Morocco’s third major mountain range.  But the weather was lovely, we could still see the Mediterranean – how bad could this be?

Bad is the answer.  It was getting colder and I did not have my long underwear on.  The car heater of course was still broken.  And it was foggy, then raining.  We passed patches of snow up on a hill.  I took a picture, thinking, “Ooh, I’ll show the kids how high we were and how close to snow!”

Snow in the distance

You might be asking yourself right now, as I am asking myself, what do the kids care if we are passing snow?  We have snow all the time at our cabin in Alta Sierra.  And the kids aren’t little either.  The youngest is 37.  Old habits die hard.  So when we passed snow at the side of the road, I took a photo of that also.

Closer patches of snow

If I’d had my crystal ball with me I would have known that in a matter of moments we would be driving through a snowstorm.

Snowing

Yes, for about 1½ hours.

Visibility was low.  And snow was starting to coat the roads.

The snow starts to stick

Snow is beautiful, one must admit, even in the midst of it.  The trees were turning white.

And then rain.  The road tricked us – we’d be descending and Mark would say, “We’re out of it now, going down.” And we’d go up again.  Each time, Mark hopefully said the same thing, and finally, at last, the snow and rain and fog were gone and we were out of the Rif.  We’d seen the snow plows going up to 7,000 feet, where we had been, and where the roads had been awful.  It registered now why Joaquin had said, as we drove away from Casa Paca, that the roads probably hadn’t been fixed yet since winter.  This place gets torn up each year from snow and ice and rain.

And all of a sudden, as if we’d never been through rain, fog and snow, there were wildflowers.

Tangier

So.  Tangier.  We lived there for six weeks in 1971 during our Peace Corps training.  And we were going back.  The American Legation, where we trained and lived, was the first property the United States owned on foreign soil, and it is currently the only National Historic Site not in the United States.

George Washington and King Mohammed I had correspondence back when, trying to solve the Barbary pirate situation.  And thus Morocco came to be the first country to officially recognize the United States as an independent nation.  We couldn’t wait to see it again.

But we needed to get rid of that rental car which meant find the airport.  Signage had been pretty good throughout the country so I just said to Mark, let’s drive into town and we’re sure to see an airport sign somewhere.  Now understand that “town” has gotten a whole lot bigger and we drove a very long way, before, on the verge of desperation, we saw a sign.  We knew we couldn’t go very much farther without landing in the Atlantic Ocean, and we knew the airport was south of town near the coast, but nonetheless, we were beginning to look for airplanes and what direction they were landing.

Walking happily into the airport to the car rental desk, eager to tell them about the lack of oil and the squeaky brakes and the lack of heat, we found – no one.  There was one person in the whole array of rental car agencies and he said, oh, they aren’t here, just put the papers under the window.  OK? OK, we did, and found Andrew from Dar Jand who was picking us up, and we were on our way to the medina.

We wanted to stay in the medina since the Legation was in the medina and it would be like old times, sort of.  On tripadvisor I found Dar Jand.

Dar Jand

And a plug for tripadvisor – it was invaluable.  I got most of our lodging based on recommendations on tripadvisor, and none of them were in the guide  books.  Unless it’s Rick Steves, I don’t really trust those books like Frommers and Fodors anymore.

Andrew and Janet – the JAND of Dar Jand, are an American couple who own a quirky, four (or was it five) story place in the medina.  Janet spent five years renovating it while Andrew was still working in the states and I am in total awe of what she accomplished.  When she arrived she spoke no French or Arabic, and she says now she’d never do it again – had no idea just what she was in for.  But she did a fantastic job.  Honestly? It was nice to be with Americans and speak English.  Andrew showed us where everything was, including the laundry.  We’d been three days in the same clothes and I mean all the same clothes and were desperate for something clean.

View from Dar Jand - Medina Rooftops

How was it that we knew that medina inside and out once?  It’s a rabbit warren, a maze, it tricks you into walking in circles.  But we’d had the adventure squeezed out of us by now and lacked the energy to care about where we ate or what we saw.  We just wanted to be there.  And visit the Legation.

Medina steps outside Dar Jand

Andrew gave us directions, we set out, walked in circles and got lost.  Someone offered to lead us so we knew a tip would be in order, which was fine with us.  It’s a way of working, it provides a service, and everyone we saw in this country worked hard.  We wondered about how unemployment is defined.  Are people selling their vegetables in the souks considered unemployed? Or people selling on the side of the road?  What kind of living do those people make compared to the cost of living? One thing is clear, I expect to the population in general as well as outsiders: the country runs on tourism.  It’s only 10% of the GNP and that’s hard to believe.  The unrest in the Arab world isn’t good for Moroccan tourism, although Morocco is completely safe.

So we were happy to pay our self-appointed guide to reach the legation.  Jerry Loftus, the director of the Legation museum, met us and actually got pretty excited when he realized we really truly had lived there during a Peace Corps training.  We were searching for our room; when we lived there we had the best room of all since having a two-year-old daughter gave us privileges. Where other volunteers bunked together and shared bathrooms, we got our own room and bath!  We did not just have any room, however.  Ours had a secret door with a hidden area that one could escape to if one didn’t want to be found.  And I don’t think it was for getting “alone time.” Perhaps the area could be treacherous.  We explained all this to Jerry but we couldn’t find the room.  I knew in my head exactly how to describe it, and now we’ve found that Jerry is actually living in that room – but since he has not found the secret door, he didn’t match our description to his room.  It may not be there but then again…it was a secret.

Jennifer outside of our room 1971

How did Jerry figure out he was living in the room? We sent him old photos after our return, which he was happy to have, room identified or not, as there is very little in the way of records for that time period.  He did bring out a very old, very crude scrapbook that someone had given him, and Jerry wondered about the photos.  We knew who the people were because it was our training group!  (By saying “very crude” scrapbook, I’m not disparaging the work of whoever made it – but it sure makes a stark contrast to all the technology available today.)

Scrapbook in legation

Little by little, the Legation is being restored and the museum enhanced.  There are copies of letters between George Washington and Mohammed I – difficult to read with the florid script of the day but thrilling nonetheless.

Courtyard steps 1971

Legation courtyard 1971

Dining room American Legation today

Dining room during Peace Corps training 1971

Jenny at kid's table 1971 - on the balcony

Legation balcony today

Exterior Legation crossing over alley

A neat feature of the American Legation is that it spans the road in the medina.

So it was over.  We’d seen what we came back for – Oujda, the Legation, Tangier, and points in between.  Tangier was the most different of anywhere.  A tourist in Tangier used to feel like a gladiator thrown into the pit, set upon by people offering to sell you goods, guide you, or pick your pocket.  It was not so much like that now, blessedly.  Plus, many shops do not bargain anymore, which is a huge relief no doubt and makes the tourist experience livable.  So many of Tangier’s tourists make day trips from Spain, and to have one’s first experience of Morocco seem like a hell-hole can’t be good for extended tourism.

Tangier is also feeling more like part of the country.  Hassan II did not like the North and never set foot in Tangier, which left them the poor stepchildren of Morocco.  Mohammed VI, however, has a residence there, visits, and it’s made a terrific difference to the populace to feel like they count.  That, at least, according to our host Andrew, and if I’ve misremembered, I offer apologies.

Here are a few pictures of our wanderings in the medina.  Everything is interesting, colorful, exciting.

Purple wall, Tangier medina

Blue wall, Tangier

Blue passage, Tangier medina

Inside a holistic herb store, Tangier medina

Medina port, Tangier

Now our zip was completely gone.  We were ready for Spain.  We’re getting old and organized tour groups are looking better and better; but we couldn’t have seen all we’d wanted to without driving the country and it was worth it for sure.  We’d been on camels, in planes, cars, taxis and trains in a little over two weeks.  We found a country we loved that had developed incredibly in 40 years yet still retained its character and heart.  We headed through the medina to the port to catch a fast ferry to Tarifa  to the bus for Sevilla.  We got one last look at Tangier as the ferry pulled away.

View of Tangier from ferry

We’ll be back.  Next year is the 50th Anniversary of the Peace Corps in Morocco so chances are good we’ll attend, then go to Agadir and spend a week or so at a beach resort and spend time with Krim.  As soon as we recover our energy from this trip, it’ll look a whole lot better for a return.

Next – to Sevilla.

 

Our Peace Corps Work Worked


2011
05.19

The Fruits of Mark’s Labors

Forty years ago we set out with our two-year-old on our great adventure – joining the Peace Corps.  We were just burning up with the idealism of the late ’60s and our desire to make the world better.  Mark heard a radio ad recruiting for architects and planners (he is an architect and planner) so we applied.  One day we got a phone call from Dick Holbrooke (yes, the Richard Holbrooke who just died, the master diplomat).  We were each on an extension when Dick asked us, would we like to join the Peace Corps and go to Morocco or Tunisia?  Yes, we would.  We hung up and raced to the bookcase to find the atlas.  Where was Morocco anyway? We had no idea.

We went, and right now let’s get it out of the way – the question I am always asked, What did I do in the Peace Corps?

This is a loaded question for me.  My husband is an architect and planner, and we were invited into an architect/planner training.  I was called a non-matrix spouse but promised I (and the other non-matrix spouses) would be given a job once in our final destination.  I pretty much didn’t have any formal skills at that time and didn’t have a teaching credential, but the Peace Corps knew that and said something would be available.  We were assigned to Oujda, Morocco, which made us very popular since Oujda was the least desirable location and we requested it, getting everyone else off the hook. After being somewhat angry for months about the lack of a job and the lack of action by the Peace Corps office to get me one, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.  Mark had been so valuable as an architect/planner that they wanted us and probably only had a vague idea of what to do with non-matrix spouses.

I started asking around on my own, trying to find some sort of meaningful activity but I wasn’t able to.  Part, or most, of that was political.  Oujda was at that time a small town on the Algerian border.  (Now it’s a bigger town on the Algerian border.) Women were treated passably well but they didn’t work at anything I could do without taking a job away from someone else.  Everyone thought we were CIA agents anyway, so I gave up the work idea and focused on being my own little personal good will ambassador.   And had a child.

See why this is a loaded question? I never know what to say when people ask me, “What did you do?”  So we were there just because of Mark, and it would be important that his work counted for something.

We went, and Mark spent two years in the office of planning and housing, as well as in the field, making site plans.  These are plans to guide the development of towns –  analyses of where housing should go, where the mosque should go, where business should be located – so that infrastructure can be utilized more efficiently and a town can be a pleasant place to live.  The theory behind this was good: the government did not want to see mass migration to the cities and the development of shanty-towns; they wanted people to live satisfactorily in rural areas.  By and large, this strategy seems to have worked.

Mark kept copies of all the site plans for 40 years and now we were going to see if they had been effective.  We were driving through Zaio, Taforalt, Sidi Bouhia, and Mt. Arrouit. We also wanted to drive through Berkane, the town fellow volunteer Mike Zelinski worked on for his entire two years.  First, however, we headed to the Gorges of Zegzel, where we had been on excursions so long ago with fellow volunteers and our friends the Krims.  We left Oujda, headed for the night to Al Hoceima, with these stops in between.  It was going to be another long day.

First stop: Gorges of Zegzel – we drove to the Grottes de Chameaux (cave of camels) and it had changed for the worse.  Whereas water used to gush from the opening into a pool where people swam, no water was gushing now and the pool was concreted in.  The cave entrance looked blocked inside with debris.  Forty years ago, you could walk through huge rooms and come out at another end.  That was disappointing, but at least we found it!

Grottes de Chameaux in 1973

Grottes de Chameaux 2011

Picnic in Gorges of Zegzel in 1973 - with mint tea

Look in the back right and you’ll see the Butagaz bottle.  It wouldn’t be right without mint tea.

When we went on these picnics or to the Gorges, we needed to fill up on gas.

Filling up at the Shell Station 1973

We headed on to Taforalt to see what changes 40 years had wrought.  This one was funny.  A housing tract had been constructed right where Mark had indicated on his plan, but it was a design unlike any we’d seen in Morocco!  More like Swiss mountain homes.

Housing development Taforalt

Not the style you’d expect, but at least they followed the plan.

We were hungry and had arrived at a traffic checkpoint, so we asked the soldier/security police/whatever he technically was where we should eat.  We had a little chat about how we used to live there, etc. and went off for lunch.  We were just a tad worried because we had all these city plans spread around in the car as we were talking to the officer, but I guess he thought we were harmless.

Outside town there is a strip full of butcher shops, cafes, and individual tagines sizzling on grills.  We each got a tagine, which surprised the waiter – I don’t believe very many non-Moroccans end up there!

Lunch in Taforalt

We had tagines for lunch

Sidi Bouhria was the next stop.  Mark was able to orient himself with the plan and found that it had been of some use. The mosque was right where it was supposed to be.

Sidi Bouhria

We stopped in Zaio and again, plans had been used.  The town had developed just as it should have.

Zaio

Zaio

Still lots of room for growth, but I think it’s incredibly gratifying to know that two years worth of work in the Peace Corps did actually amount to something.  The towns aren’t exciting to look at in the pictures, but when you think about what it represents, and when you  picture the slums and shanty towns in India, for example, you can really appreciate the forethought of Hassan II, never mind his other shortcomings.

Mt. Arruit had developed more than any of the other towns.  This next is a picture of Mark and others from his office taking a look at the site for Mt. Arruit.  There’s pretty much nothing there.

Mt. Arrouit 1971

This is what it looks like today from the same vantage point.

Mt. Arrouit today

On to Al Hoceima

Our trip down memory lane was finished and we pressed on to Al Hoceima.  Since we didn’t want to rush visiting the little towns, we again were in a race against dark, plus we were tired, hungry and grumpy.  We missed our turn and went into the thick of town – it was still light then.  But Al Hoceima was crowded, full of one-way streets, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It was the wrong time of day to be there for sure.  By the time we got it all sorted out it was dark and we blindly drove out of town searching for the correct turn.  How we did it I don’t know because we ended up in a residential neighborhood high on a hill, but I reasoned that what goes up must come down and it did.  Where was Casa Paca?  Apparently I was to have called Joaquin at Casa Paca for him to meet us and guide us to his guest house.  But I didn’t.  We did see a sign:

So we thought it would be a piece of cake until we found ourselves winding up a road – not even a road, a rock path – up and up and up.

Road in the daytime

No lights, pitch black.  We thought we were horribly lost and were going to turn around when we saw what looked like a parking lot prepared for three or four cars.  We stopped.  It was Casa Paca.  It was dark.

I called “hello, hello” and as we, despairing, were about to drive back down the hill, a voice called, “Susan?”  Saved.

It was Joaquin, who had given up on us.  We were the first guests since Christmas (Casa Paca is on the Mediterranean and guests just don’t go there in winter.  It’s a beach place.) We went in.  I said, “Do you have any food?” I must have looked awfully frazzled, because he and his wife whipped up a dinner of the most tender and flavorful grilled steak, grilled zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and homemade French fries.  I will forever be grateful to this wonderful man.  We wished we had more than one night to stay, but it was just a stopping off point on the way to Tangier.

Casa Paca

Joaquin built this place just about on faith.  He had constant doubts if anyone would want to come there and watched his savings evaporate as the house took shape.  He did a wonderful job – really thought out all the details to make guests comfortable – and it’s been a success.

Casa Paca Patio

The door on the left is our room. From our room we looked out on the Mediterranean and two interesting things: one a fortress, and the other, a big rock.  The fortress is a Spanish garrison with very high walls and the only way in or out is by helicopter.  The other, the rock, is Spanish territory and if you look closely you’ll see a Spanish flag.  This apparently is hotly contested land.  Maybe someone can enlighten me as to why Spain just can’t give the rocks to Morocco.  Not too long ago there was a little skirmish here.

There are a couple of towns in Morocco that are part of Spain, Ceuta and Melilla, both on the Mediterranean coast.  I’m sure Spain strategically is happy to have the towns and even the garrison, but those two rocks?  Really.  If I’d waded over there I’d have been in Spain!

If anyone is ever in that part of the world, I’d recommend Casa Paca.

Casa Paca comfortable sitting room

Joaquin takes pictures of all his guests and puts them in the stairway.

Now, our pictures will be up there also.

With Joaquin at Casa Paca

Next, we cross the Riff Mountains and go to Tangier, our last stop in Morocco.

Looking for friends…Where are the Krims?


2011
05.11

Now began the search for our dear friends, the Krims.

Krim Family

Where are the Krims?

We walked up and down streets looking for the Krim’s house with no luck.  We were great friends with Mohammed Krim, his sisters Safia and Zahor, and his parents.  Oh, we had some delicious meals at their house, me eating with the men since I was a foreigner, Jennifer running back and forth between the dining room and the kitchen.

Jennifer spent more time with them than we did – they adored her and she was an independent sort.  She’d spend the night at the Krim’s, Mark or I would walk over to get her, and she’d usually ask to spend the night again!  She’d often stay several nights in a row.  They would have her carry the bread to the communal oven and go to the store to get the milk pail filled.  Remember, she’s only three years old.  Once, right before Aid El Kbir (the biggest feast of the year that concludes Ramadan), she was there when they slaughtered a lamb in the backyard.  I was horrified – oh, poor Jennifer, having to see that, etc. etc.  It didn’t faze her a bit.  (I just this minute looked online to make sure I spelled Aid El Kbir correctly (I did) and found out the holiday has a Facebook page.)

The day we left Oujda, Mark went into the Royal Air Maroc office because Krim used to work there.  I thought he’d transferred to Casablanca.  We found out he’s in Agadir, retired from Royal Air Maroc and has something to do with a travel agency so we think we can locate him now.  But according to the folks in the airline office, the family home had been torn down – no wonder we couldn’t find it.  No public oven, everything changed.   When our Peace Corps service was finished in 1973, we bought our tickets from Krim, who was an agent for Royal Air Maroc, for the return flight to the United States.  We were to land in New York but the plane didn’t have enough fuel to circle as long as was necessary, so it was diverted to Washington D.C.  We landed in a terrific thunder storm; the pilot came out of the cockpit and said that had been a close one (just what we wanted to hear, but we were aware of the tough landing). Customs agents were called back to the airport, it took forever (they were home, asleep), and we were beyond tired.  But we were closer to Raleigh than we would have been in New York so we asked if we could change our tickets and fly straight from D.C.  That is when we found out Krim had booked us – sold us a ticket! – on Braniff, an airline that no longer existed!  The airline industry must have suffered a change between the booking of the ticket and the actual flight. Finally, Eastern Airlines (which now no longer exists) said they would honor our tickets and let us fly out from D.C.

Back to the present

Back to Oujda and the present day: We found Mike’s old apartment…(Mike was our fellow volunteer in Oujda.)

Mike's apartment, 1972

Looking up at balcony of Mike's old apartment, 2011

which overlooked Place Mohammed V (I’m calling it Place Mohammed V but I think I’m wrong.  I’ll correct when I find out.).

He lived in the only building with an elevator for which we were so grateful, because he was on the 7th floor and it would have been  hard to walk up that many steps with a baby buggy – or to leave the buggy at the bottom trusting it would remain there!  We did feel relieved when the creaky old elevator made it, however.  We never got stuck.  The building looked just the same and the lobby looked just as run down and the elevator door looked just as untrustworthy.

The Souks

We could have entered from the square with the post office and the old Palais de Justice or through the walled medina.  We went by the post office.

Oujda post office, 2011

Here’s the post office in 1973.  When we were about to take the photo, this huge group of kids gathered (they’d been playing on the steps) and arranged themselves for a photo as if they did it everyday.

Oujda post office steps 1973

Time for the souks

Time to tackle the souks.  This is where we had a real difference of opinion.  Mark wanted to head off in one direction but I was sure it was another way.  Positive.  The only thing was, there was a wall around the medina that I did not remember.

Medina wall, Oujda

Medinas usually have walls, but if I had walked into this medina so many times, would I not have remembered a wall?  Was it put up later for appearance sake?  When we went in, we did find more covered areas than had been there before, so perhaps the souk had been “modernized” to give it more livability and a more traditional appearance.  I don’t know, and we didn’t ask anyone.  We went in.  All along we were debating if that was the real medina we used to go to, but then we saw the butcher shops.  Yes, this was it.  I was positive.  The layout of the stalls was a little changed, but they were the same.  No, Mark thought, it wasn’t right.  After we got home and Mark looked at the photos, he agreed that indeed the butcher shops were the same ones.  The lack of refrigeration hadn’t changed.

Medina meat market 1973

Medina butcher 2011

In fact, it makes you wonder if we have over-regulated the heck out of our country.  In Morocco, and many other countries I suspect, meat sits out all day.  People just cook it well-done.  Eggs are not usually refrigerated. In fact, when we lived there, we never refrigerated our eggs, and we had a refrigerator!  For some reason that currently defies logic, we kept them on top of the frig. The egg man would ring the doorbell each week, Jennifer would greet him and speak to him in Arabic; we’d bring a bowl of water to the door and put the eggs in one by one.  If they floated, they were no good and we didn’t buy them; otherwise, they were fine.  To this day I float the eggs if I’m not sure if they are still OK.  We didn’t refrigerate yogurt and neither do the French people (The French owner of Maison Do made her own yogurt and didn’t refrigerate it.).  We bought yogurt drinks all over Morocco from refrigerator cases – but if there was any operant cooling, it wasn’t detectable.  We survived.

Back to the medina.  There were the usual cases of cookies and cakes oversaturated with honey and overrun with bees.

Pastry case with bees inside

There were vegetables, fruits, dates and olives everywhere.

Oranges, Oujda medina

Olives, Oujda medina

I would guess that Moroccans consume as many fruits and vegetables per day as Americans do in a week.  It’s funny how that works – we found this to be true 40 years ago in Morocco, and we’ve found it the last 2 ½ years here since we’ve been getting local, organic fruits and vegetables from Abundant Harvest:  when produce tastes better, one eats more.  It’s really quite simple.  In America in the name of efficiency, crop yield and progress, we’ve bred the taste right out of our produce.  Little by little I think we’re understanding that and starting to buy local and organic.  In fact, if we were to put tasty produce in school lunches, it just might be consumed.

We had a great time wandering through the medina and of course showing our photos everywhere we stopped, even if it was just to ask permission to take a photo.  We went in one area where some kids were playing soccer – their goals were marked by egg cartons with rocks on top – but someone sort of official looking guy came to chase us out, telling the area was forbidden.  I think restoration was going on at a local building, maybe a medersa, and they didn’t want folks around.  It just seemed better not to inquire.

Soccer in the medina

Sunday afternoon was market/socialization day and the streets were packed with food and people.  There were vendors of everything from what you’d expect to the old “junk souks” we remember.  Want to buy a door that had been used possibly beyond the use of the wood itself?  Available.  Want a cell phone that couldn’t possibly work, but then used parts are there also?  Available.

Cell phones in the souk

How about a broken toilet seat?  Why not? Snails?

Snails in the souk

Sardines? Pottery? Baskets? Jewelry? Plastic? White ceramic dishes?

Anything? All there in abundance.

God I love souks.  Outside the walls, people were squashed together, laughing and socializing.  We were zonked and went to the hotel, which was right across the street from the medina entrance.

About our dinners – not much to say.  Unremarkable. We realized we’d had so much home cooking when we lived there that we were spoiled.

One other Oujda note: We visited Sidi Yahia Oasis when we lived there and it was so exotic!

Sidi Yahia, 1972

It was a holy pool of sorts, a natural spring thought to have fertility properties if I remember correctly.  Supplicants tied banners to trees for good blessings, and there was a big festival once a year during which there was a fantasia. (A fantasia is an event where horsemen charge as fast as possible and discharge fire-belching guns into the air when they meet.)

Fantasia 1972

 

John the Baptist was buried at Sidi Yahia – but then, if he was actually buried all the places he’s claimed to have been buried, he must have been chopped into little pieces.

We wanted to see the Oasis again so we just drove in the right direction trusting we’d find a sign, which we did.  We also found a demonstration and wished we could have understood what the speaker was saying.  Lots of people, no one seeming unduly upset, lots of police.  Anyway, instead of countryside between Oujda and Sidi Yahia, there was…city.  Wow.  And the spring had been turned into a lovely fenced park, which did negate some of the former charm.  Also, a cemetery nearby that I remember primarily for graves that were little more than mounds of dirt, was a full-fledged packed-to-the-gills graveyard.  So the best we could say about that venture was that we found it.

Cemetery in 1972

Cemetery, 2011

We have to go

Time to leave.  We felt oddly sad and nostalgic, as if we were leaving our home.  Both of us were taken aback at how intense that feeling was.  Yet the day ahead held adventure: we were going to drive through all the little towns that Mark worked on, and we had the original plans he did to compare to what actually had taken place since.  We would also drive through the Gorges of Zegzel and see if we could find the places where we’d had picnics with the Krims (picnics that involved a butagaz burner because a meal without mint tea at the end just wasn’t a meal, picnic or not).  It was going to be another long day, but there were no mountain ranges to drive through (the Beni Snassens, where Gorges of Zegzel are, didn’t really count as a mountain range), and it was going to be one of the most important days of the trip.

 

Heading to Oujda: You CAN go home again


2011
05.10

Our journey through Morocco continues, proving that Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you CAN go home again.  We were finally heading to our home of two years – forty years ago!  It’s quite amazing how much it felt like going home. We left Merzouga and passed by another demonstration – the same place as the day before.  My photo is blurry – no apologies: it just didn’t seem wise to stop, get out, and take photographs, so I snapped one as the car went by.

Merzouga demonstration

The road to Guercif

There was much discussion before we left Merzouga; everyone had an opinion which route we should take.  Many suggested the southern route, which I kind of wanted to do, and in retrospect I wish we had.  The problem was where to stop for the night as there were no  hotels in the little towns.  So we settled on the road that went to Guercif, which at least had a hotel. And thus we blithely headed off, not realizing we’d be driving through the Middle Atlas Range!  We went through many of the small towns we passed through on the way down.  In one, we encountered another load of hay that seemed  precariously balanced – but as far as I know, it stayed upright.  I’d always been under the impression that if the base were larger than the top, it would be more stable.

Load of Hay

We always seemed to be passing through a town when kids got out of school for lunch break, and today was no exception.

We hit the mountains.  Oh no, not really.  More mountains?  it was cold and rainy, and this is when we found out the car’s heater did not work.  These mountains weren’t as beautiful as the High Atlas, but I was shivering and freezing so maybe I failed to appreciate the beauty.  I was not interested in getting out to take pictures.

The Middle Atlas Range

When we came down – which took far too long – we found the turnoff to Guercif, thinking we really had it made and we’d get there before dark.  We turned and  said, “Uh oh” because it was a one-lane road.  Seriously, a narrow one-lane road with bumpy rocky shoulders.  But it was a good road, so we took heart.

Good road

This was the only road we encountered like this on the whole trip and we have to assume they’re going to widen it someday because there was plenty of traffic considering.  It was scenic; plus, we drove by more old ruins.

And then things took a turn for the worse.  The good road was a trick and only went a short way.  THIS is the road we traveled on.

Not-so-good road

Did I mention there was quite a bit of traffic? We went through some more security checkpoints on this leg, and finally we saw Guercif.  It was dark, but trusting to luck, we drove down the main street and saw the Hotel Atlas.  I took a photo of a checkpoint – from a distance as you might imagine.  (If you click on a photo, it enlarges on another screen; then arrow back to return to the blog.)

Checkpoint in the distance

The Hotel Atlas was trying very hard but not quite cutting it.  The lobby was smoky.  Bad sign.  The desk clerk was trying to take my payment but didn’t quite know how to work the credit card machine so we decided we’d pay in the morning.  I asked where we should park and he said just right there in front of the hotel and told someone to move his car so we could have the space.  He was very kind and trying very hard to give five-star service. We were taken to our room, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or how to react, really.  Were we in a brothel?  There were little pink and red petals of incense scattered all over the beds and the nightstands and around the bathroom sink.  The effect was rather shocking, really.  There was a red lamp – with a red bulb – and candles all over.  Plus, on a shelf there were four decorative pitchers that looked like upright Aladdin’s lamps in graduated sizes.  It was so overwhelming, I forgot to take a picture. We tried to get comfortable and sleep because the sooner we fell asleep the sooner we’d wake up in the morning and the sooner we’d be out of there.  As I said, they were trying very hard.

To Oujda!

We were finally on our way to Oujda.  As a city it’s isolated, way in the eastern part of the country on the Algerian border, and since there are no tourist attractions, no one really goes there.  When we told Moroccans where we were going, the standard reaction was a blank face, then, “Ah. Oujda.”  I’m not so sure everyone knew where it was.  We did, or we thought we did, but on our way, a message came into my cell phone saying “Welcome to Algeria.”  Had we crossed the border? Were we in Algerian air space?

Welcome to Algeria

The drive was uneventful and when we reached town, we drove down a long boulevard with elegant street lights.  Oujda grew up in the 40 years we were away.

We encountered a large – really large – round point and saw a brand new McDonalds.  We stopped for lunch.   We like to eat at McDonalds in each country we visit to check out the different menu items and the ambiance.  The drive-through is something completely unknown to Oujda.  Looks pretty standard.  For us.

This McDonalds was brand spanking new, very modern, with a picture of Mohammed VI and his young son on the wall.  That’s one thing – pictures of Hassan II were everywhere when we used to live there, and now it’s Mohammed VI.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the case in most monarchies – remind people constantly who’s King.

The most fun part of this McDonalds was watching the employees – they were so proud, intent on doing everything right.  It’s not cheap, and going to McDonalds is a step up for most people, so the employees were bright and shiny and smiling.   We ate.  We left.

Again, counting on blind luck we drove to the Hotel Altas Terminus at the train station where we thought we were staying.

We did this all throughout the trip: just set out without preparation, trusting we’d find the way.  Since there aren’t that many roads in the country, it worked.  We reached the Atlas Terminus, which looked fantastic.  It was not our hotel.  We were going to the Atlas Orient so the manager had someone get in the car with us to show us there.  I’d reserved a suite, thinking that at this stage of the trip, we’d be tired and want to relax.  It was nice but not as nice as the Altas Terminus would have been.   We checked in, we unpacked, and we walked straight to 38 bis Hassan L’Oukili – our old house.  It looked exactly the same except the gates were gray when we lived there.

Our house

Let me explain the next picture.

We’re looking back at what looks like three rows of buildings.  Our house is a couple of houses in on the road on the right.  Then there’s a curve, another street, and a multi-story white building that used to be the Hotel Ibis and an epicerie on the ground floor.  When Jennifer was three, we’d send her to the store alone if we needed something.  Some flour, maybe.  It was completely safe.  No cars to speak of back then. The store proprietor knew Jenny and where we lived.  And Jenny conducted the transaction in either French or Arabic.

While we’re looking at this corner, I must tell you one more thing.  I’m taking the photograph just outside of the train station, so you can see how close it is to our house.  One day Jennifer, being quite independent, packed a little purse, put a knit cap on her head and told us she was going to take the train somewhere.  That’s fine, we said.  Have a good time.

Jenny going to the train station

How cute, we thought.  Actually, it was cute, but when she was halfway down the block we realized she indeed was going to the train station for real, so we zipped after her.

Oujda may have grown but the core of the city was the same.  It felt like home.  How could that be? You live somewhere two years, forty years ago, and it feels just like home?  I think the Peace Corps is like that.  The experience is so intense that everything is etched into your mind.

We wanted to find Café Colombo where we had café au lait many mornings a week.  We remembered it as being extraordinarily good.   We somehow blindly got to Ave. Mohammed V and walked right to Café Colombo which was still in business, and where, indeed, the café au lait and pain au chocolat were just as good as we had remembered.

It’s nice to have the old memories validated.  Another thing that hadn’t changed was that I was the only woman sitting outside at the café.  I didn’t feel self-conscious forty years ago and I didn’t now.

The pictures.  We had the old pictures.  We showed them to everyone – the waiter, the person sitting next to us, the security guard.  “See?  That is us, forty years ago.  We lived here for two years.”  We showed them pictures of Jennifer and Karen in Morocco and then Jennifer and Karen today.

Picture of friend Safia holding Karen, and Mme. Krim with Jenny

We showed pictures of Jennifer and Karen’s husbands and kids and tied it all together.  And to be fair, we showed them photos of Kim and her family also, although she wasn’t born until after Morocco.  People looked closely at them all.

Now the office.  Where was Mark’s old office?  I actually remembered how to get there better than he did!  We found Place Mohammed V, then the Palais de Justice and the post office, and then where the French Marche used to be.  Sadly, it was no longer the open-air fruit and vegetable market surrounded by charcuteries and epiceries and boulangeries.

Old French Market - the square filled with trees

And we walked to the office.  How did I know?  When we lived there I shopped mostly at the French Marche because it was a lot closer to our house than the souks in the medina.  We used baskets – now they are using plastic bags – which is not a change for the better – and I could get three days worth of food in the baskets and still be able to carry them.  Jennifer and I would walk to Mark’s office, which was right near the market, and leave the heaviest baskets for him to carry home.

Mark's office now

But you know what?  I have no recollection whatsoever of going inside the office.  I must have sent Jennifer in to find Mark while I stood on the sidewalk with the groceries instead of leaving Jen on the sidewalk.  It must have been too difficult to carry them up the stairs. Or did I go in? I think I would remember that.  Today, I would just text! But we had no phones and cell phones weren’t even an idea yet.  To call Mark, I would have had to go to the post office.   At any rate, we had a photo of the office and I said this has to be it, here.  But no, Mark said.  Yet after walking around a while, locating the mosque it was close to (and let’s face it, it’s not too hard to find a mosque) we ended up back in the same place.

Mark's office 40 years ago

And indeed, it was his office but an additional floor had been added to the building and the front had been changed..  Now, it is an attorney’s office.   Of course, since we were standing around looking at pictures and buildings, it attracted interest.  We fell into a conversation with a French man and a Moroccan and explained the whole thing, bringing out the photos.  The French guy said he moved to Oujda 50 years ago and he was a tennis coach.  Later on, as this information had been ruminating, I realized that we had actually met that guy and had dinner with him and some other people!

That concluded a very satisfying day.  Tomorrow we were going to tackle the medina and looking for our old friends, the Krims.

Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley: our camels in the Erg Chebbi Dunes


2011
05.06

Finally, the camels

First of all, to be accurate, we rode dromedaries, not camels.  Camel just sounds a whole lot more exotic.

Moha (another Mohammed who works at the riad and goes by Moha) took us down the street to a store to buy scarves for the desert trek.  We really didn’t need them but if it had been windy, we couldn’t have done without them. Pulling them over our faces (like outlaws) would shield us from blowing sand.  Moha wound them around our heads and we went across the street to Hamid who had Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, our camels, ready for us.

Susan on Jimi Hendrix, Mark on Bob Marley, and Hamid

We ride camels into the dunes

What contrary beasts! They don’t want to get up or sit down, stand still or walk.  They seem to want to do the opposite of what is required.  And can they ever screech and scream!  Their gait is not smooth and there are no stirrups.  Hamid told us to hold on and kept looking to see that we had our hands on the little steel bar, and I found out why.  Because in the middle of the trek, for no apparent reason, Jimi Hendrix sat down.  When a camel folds up those legs, the rider is at a 45-degree angle heading down! That’s just one of the things that made photographs difficult – doing them one-handed with a Canon 5D and an 18-250 lens was a real challenge.

When Jimi Hendrix did abruptly sit down, I asked Hamid why.  The answer?  He was tired and young – only three, whilst Bob Marley was 15!

Palmerie - as we head to the dunes

So just like that we were off on our trek – no permission slips, no signing our lives away and holding anyone and everyone harmless.  There is no adequate way to describe the dunes.  Every step reveals a new pattern, a new angle, new light.  It’s all astonishing.  Photos tell the story.  In the photographs in this post, you’ll see so many colors.  I look at them now and wonder, were they really like that?  How could it be?  But it was.

Late afternoon

We were lucky to have a cloudy sky – a vast improvement over the haze of the previous two days.  Seriously, I would have been devastated if that haze had remained.  I had been looking forward to this for so long – to taking my very own pictures of dunes in the Sahara Desert, and I almost got cheated out of it from having to photograph from camel-back.

Texture

The patterns of stripes and the undulation of the sand were mesmerizing.

The last three photos were taken not too far apart, yet notice the difference in the colors of sand.  Every little cloud that passed overhead yielded a new color on the sand.

Look at the shapes and forms!  Hamid probably thought I was batty because I couldn’t stop gasping at how remarkable it all was.

Me, Mark, Hamid, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix

Two hours on a camel was just enough.  We got to camp and were shown our tent with little flat lumpy mattress things on the ground.  (Those guys in the breakfast room this morning gave me one good piece of advice – bring a pillow! I did of course; I never travel without my pillow.)

Trudging into camp

Our tent

We were alerted when sunset began and tore out into the dunes, running up as fast as we could, to take photos.  I was barefoot and was happy to learn that camel dung is hard as I ran over a whole field of it.  It was simply stunning, sunset on the sand.

Looking out of camp

Sunset begins

Looking at this photo especially is when I begin to think, could it be so?  Yes, it was.

Mark and me in the dunes

Happily, someone took a photo of us.

Back in camp we were sitting in our little “lounge” area and heard laughter and fun from another little area next door.  We went over to find young Dutch women with wine, so of course we joined them.  I don’t believe I’ve even seen anyone have as much fun as they had.  They’ve come to Merzouga and done this desert trek at least four times.  One was a teacher, one an artist, one a voice teacher, one I forget, and the fifth had a pretty high position with Alcoa and she had the most money and was generous with it according to them all.  We talked, laughed and drank wine and then Hamid came and took us for our dinner.  After that, the women were singing and having a great time while us old ones went to the tent and to sleep, only to be awakened at 5 a.m. so we could be on the camels for sunrise.

Wow – what a beginning to the morning…

The show of colors and shapes continued as the sun rose.

Two colors of dunes

In the photo, you can see me taking the picture.

All too soon, we were back – not that we minded getting off the camels and back to the riad for breakfast and a shower before we set out on the next leg of the journey.  We were about to head to Guercif not as a destination, but a stopping point between Merzouga and Oujda.  And we had the next surprise – we had to cross the Middle Atlas Mountains!

Next:  what do you mean it’s freezing and the car has no heat?