Archive for November, 2006

It’s the Little Things…

Posted by len on 29th November 2006

Hmm…I think this image speaks for itself: CLICK HERE FOR THE MAGIC OF MOROCCO

Posted in Fez | 4 Comments »

More About Those Cats

Posted by len on 29th November 2006

So what was with that “shrine” where I was covered with cats a few posts ago? Well here’s a photo tour of the Chellah, where that Islamic shrine was. The shrine itself is actually a shallow pool, like a fountain, that contains eels (we saw only one). Supposedly it is a holy place to Moroccans. Women who are hoping to get pregnant bring a hard boiled egg to feed to the eels. This promotes a fertile future, so the lore goes. The Chellah is a Roman and Islamic ruin that has stood next to Rabat for centuries. It has been uninhabited since the 12th century! It’s pretty amazing.

Posted in Fez | 2 Comments »

One More Kittie Post

Posted by len on 27th November 2006

Cats on Len  These kitties were living near a shrine and really liked climbing on you if you stopped moving for a moment or two. Good kitties.

Posted in Fez | 7 Comments »

Arabic studies, update

Posted by sue on 22nd November 2006

I’m getting really frustrated with my classes lately. I have only one other student in my class and she’s well behind where I am in terms of vocabulary and grammar, and the teachers (one in particular) don’t seem interested in close analysis of texts or in helping us be able to translate them into English. In the textbook (Al-Kitaab Part Two), there is a central text in the middle of each chapter that the chapter rotates around in with its vocabulary list and grammar lessons, and my assumption is that when it’s time to read that text, we’re to read it many times with increasing attention to detail, analyzing sentence structure and making sure we understand how words are used and such. You know, understand thoroughly what we’re reading, and discuss it at length using the hard-won new vocabulary words (60 or so per chapter, though it’s more than that if you count all the different forms that basic words can change into in Arabic).

But no. Today was the day for which we were assigned to read the text and complete some exercises from the book which focus on certain aspects of the text. So you’d think we’d spend the whole time reading passages, analyzing grammar here and there, discussing the subject matter to reinforce our verbal command of the vocab and confirm our comprehension of the text. But instead we went through the book exercises in the most superficial way, skipping the ones that actually would push us to understand the text well, translating nothing. I tried to push us to look more closely at what the text said in a couple of parts which didn’t make sense to me, and the teacher actually seemed to get a little testy with me about it. So I gave up, and we spent the rest of the time slogging through some other exercise in which we had to practice putting proper case endings on parts of sentences with the sisters of “kana” (Arabic students will understand that)– something I learned from Jihad at UCLA ages ago, and which my classmate seemed not to understand much at all. So I’m bored and she’s lost and neither of us is learning much from this guy and he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

It’s not all bad–I have two teachers, and the other one is better, but unfortunately I have fewer class hours with him. I’m just trying to figure out what to do here– I can’t force the class to move along faster because my classmate will lag farther behind, but I feel like a lot of our class time is wasted time for me. There’s only about two weeks left, though, and then I’ll be free to go to Rabat or Cairo or somewhere.

Through all this, I’m starting to think more about a long-term goal of becoming an Arabic teacher, which I hadn’t considered much before. If I ever manage to learn this crazy language, I think I could be a decent teacher.

Posted in Arabic | 5 Comments »

Kitties of the Maghreb

Posted by len on 21st November 2006

IMGP3164.JPGCats are quite abundant all over Morocco, and especially in Fez. They aren’t super mean or aggressive either. There’s also every age represented, from kittens to old, scarred nasties. Many of them like to hang out near garbage. It’s pretty cute to be drinking a coffee and have a little kitten wander over doing that cutesy meeyu, meeyu that only kittens can do. Kitten in Pizza Box
There are many fewer dogs and the ones that you see are so incredibly lazy that they’ll sleep in the middle of streets and wait for cars to stop in front of them and honk before they move.
Aloof Alif Kittie Some of the strays are partially adopted by nearby businesses or families and given shots, etc.
Stacked Cats

Posted in Fez | 5 Comments »

A Moroccan Wedding

Posted by len on 20th November 2006

Last thursday I had the opportunity to go to a Moroccan wedding here in Fez. I was invited by a man, Nabil, about 27 I’d guess, whom we met on the train back from Meknes. He was recently married to an American woman living in Florida but grew up and lived his whole life in Fez, Morocco. He spoke English very well. His friend Joseph’s cousin was getting married and that was the happy occasion that let me experience Morocco from the inside. The first bizarre part of the whole experience was telling Nabil I could probably not go since I had French class until 9pm. Not a problem for Morocco. All Moroccan weddings start around 11pm at night and go until about 7am! So he picked me up at 10:30pm and we arrived at a reception hall, not unlike the ‘event spaces’ you can rent around America for large groups. Large tables filled the floor and each table was full. Women filled the tables on the left and men on the right. Just as we made our way across the red carpeting to our table, about 15 catering staff, each carrying a large covered silver serving dish, flooded from the back in a choreographed stream. I was squeezed in next to Nabil and Joseph at a large round table with about 15 Moroccan men. Seconds after sitting down the first course appeared from the caterers: a one and half foot diameter seafood pastilla, looking very much like a huge covered pie outside its pie tin. Pastilla is a pastry-covered sweet and savory dish usually with chicken or pigeon that also liberally employs confectioners sugar. It’s a very uniquely Moroccan dish and supposedly a specialty of Fez. This pastilla was somewhat different: it had seafood inside, along with a thin pasta and other seasonings. It was very spicy (which seems rare for Morocco) but fantastic. Everyone cut themselves a slice and washed it down with bottled water and Fanta. That dish was replaced with half a lamb, surrounded by olives and a small plate containing salt and cumin to sprinkle over your meat. Everyone attacked it only with their right hands, trying to peel meat away onto their plates. Using the left hand is seen as ill-mannered since it is considered the cleaning hand and not the one for eating. Sometimes a fork was employed to help scrape meat off. Also, everyone got a large round of bread, a very typical Moroccan serving. The lamb dish was reduced to bones before it was replaced by three chickens, covered in a savory sauce and topped with olives. I was amused by Joseph trying at one point to get meat off using only one hand. It can be as problematic as you imagine. He struggled a bit with a twisting motion trying to tear meat away. A lifetime of similar weddings has given all Moroccans the ability to persevere I imagine. Luckily, Joseph usually did the tearing for me as well. After the chicken came the final course: a pile of fruit. After dinner all the women moved into a connected chamber where the band had set up and the men congregated around the dinner tables. The band began playing what my friend Nabil said was ‘pop music’. It was a very Moroccan sounding up-tempo kind of music mostly based around triplets. Meanwhile we moved to one of the closer tables to be able to see the band and were served espresso and small cookies and pastries. Another interesting difference of Moroccan eating I had heard about showed up here: shared water. There were about 7 men sitting at my table but only 3 water glasses. I filled one and took a sip. A moment after putting it down, still half full, another man snatched it up and took a drink. After about 15 minutes of listening to the band a procession of the betrothed couple occurred. The bride, sitting cross-legged in an ornate box, was raised up by four men and paraded outside. The groom was put on a decorated horse and the fassi folk music kicked in. The music now became very medieval: Two long horns that could only play one note each; Two of those shrill snake-charmer pipes, and very large, very loud tambourines. This music got louder and faster as the bride swayed gently in her box and waved. The groom sat smiling on his horse, quietly acknowledging the friends and family surrounding him. The whole time the bride looked incredibly unhappy. I have no idea if that’s the case but she had the most sour expression on her heavily made-up face. She also wore a crown and elaborate jewelry. The man was much more simply decked out, with only a fancy shirt and vest. The horse and box were moved inside while the music reached a crescendo of speed and loudness. It was so intense that it dawned on me at that moment how it was possible to keep an entire wedding awake from 11pm to 7am: you make it get incredibly loud now and again. Nabil told me that this procession is repeated throughout the night, each time the bride changing outfits. Next the original band kicked in again but now with Berber dancers from the middle Atlas mountains (since some of the family were from there, I was told). Three black-haired dancers, who were all fairly heavy women, made the most of their long hair, at times whipping it around in a frenzy and even twice whipping it at men watching. Nabil’s friend Joseph grinned ear-to-ear with delight at watching them. Nabil decided to leave the wedding around 2:15 and we went to a nearby nightclub for a brief close to the evening. Before I left the wedding I noticed a large, American-style white wedding cake waiting in the corner. Nabil said it would be much later in the evening (or morning) that they would finally get to the cake. Though I was ready for bed I was a little saddened to miss what I heard was a nice benefit of attending a Moroccan wedding: come 6 am they give you breakfast.

Posted in Fez | 4 Comments »

Digital Camera Charger Has Arrived! Thanks, Mom!

Posted by sue on 20th November 2006

We received it on Friday, and took pictures in Rabat on our weekend trip there, some of which will be posted shortly. Receiving mail from the U.S. seems to take about 10-12 days.

The quick take on Rabat– a lot nicer place to live, we think, than Fes. So far Fes strikes us as one of those places which is good to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. However, we’ve decided to start trying harder to find things to like about Fes in the time we’re here. We might move to Rabat at the end of January, depending on how my language study at ALIF goes in early January.

Posted in Morocco | 2 Comments »

Moroccan Food

Posted by sue on 15th November 2006

In response to heavy demand (okay, Jeanene asked), a word about eating in Morocco.

The food, in theory, is very good, and very similar to the food we had at Moroccan restaurants in L.A. The main dish here is tagine, a kind of stew/casserole dish made in a clay dish with a conical lid (called a tagine). It can have different ingredients– we most commonly see chicken or beef with vegetables, but it could be just about anything. And of course there’s couscous, usually prepared with meat and vegetables and sauce. Both tagine and couscous are typically eaten with your fingers (right hand only!) with pieces of bread to scoop out the food. And finally, one of our favorite things is pastilla, which is usually sweet chicken with cinnamon inside a pastry.

However, the delicious potential of Moroccan cooking is sadly not met in most of the restaurants we’ve eaten in. They just don’t have much of a restaurant culture here, so most people cook their big meals at home, so your best bet is “home cooking.” The best tagine I’ve had in Fez was at a group dinner at the student residence prepared by a very nice Moroccan woman named Leila, and the tagine prepared in caves (no joke!) by Berber women we had by the river on our field trip was also quite good. We do hear that there are some more expensive places in the medina with good food, but we’re trying to economize. We will have to splurge at some point.

Somewhat oddly, the best pastilla we’ve had was in a restaurant just around the corner from ALIF, which is an Italian place run by a nice Australian woman named Juliet.

By this point, I’ve had so much ho-hum restaurant food that I’m just not that excited to eat out, so Len and I make simple food at home. It is cheaper and healthier, but it’s funny that now that we’re actually cooking at home as much as we can, we don’t have our nice Calphalon pans or pile of utensils. We have a couple of cheapie pans, 4 forks, 3 spoons, 3 knives, 2 plates and 2 bowls. If we ever invite anyone over, we’ll have to buy more.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 5 Comments »

Ramadan Prayer

Posted by len on 13th November 2006

Early this morning Sue and I were awakened around 5am by bizarre music, soft, but filling the night sky. It was, like all sounds happening that early and filling the air, from a distant mosque, or possibly several. It reminded me of audio that I captured several weeks ago during our second night in Morocco. It was one of the last days of Ramadan (the holy lunar month of fasting) and shortly before sunrise, while the sky was still pitch black, we heard an eerie vocalist. After several days it stopped being quite so eerie and just funky. One night I grabbed the Squid Cam and captured the sound as heard from our hotel room. I remember my first impression was being reminded of the spooky horn sounds from the death machines in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The audio is linked through You Tube.

Posted in Fez | 9 Comments »

Monday Morning Optimism

Posted by sue on 13th November 2006

We went on a lovely group excursion with fellow ALIF folk on Saturday to a waterfall picnic area a couple of hours by van from Fez, and then to the town of Khenifra where there was a Berber carpet auction.

The good part was how beautiful and various the scenery was on the drive there. Olive orchards and apple orchards and small villages for miles and miles. Then hills with cedar forests and a troupe of Barbary macaques (also known as Barbary apes, though they are monkeys, not apes) along the road, just hanging out. Then the shaded picnic area along a river just down from a waterfall, with delicious tagine and mint tea provided by Berber women.

The bad part was the Berber carpet auction, not because it wasn’t an interesting scene, which it was, but because there we found out just how much we overpaid for a couple of rugs we bought in Meknes last weekend! We have thing or two to learn about bargaining for local goods in Morocco. We think the place to start is to offer ridiculously lowball counteroffers to the asking prices and get thrown out of a few stores before even really trying to buy anything, just to find out what the bottom is. I think if you don’t do that, it’s easy to get drawn in to the sales pitch and pay too much, especially for nicey-nicey shoppers like Len and me.

Then on Sunday we slept in, found a nice cafe to hang out and study in for a while, then came home and cleaned up the place and washed clothes in the bucket and studied some more. So today I feel pretty rested and ready for a hard week o’ learnin’, and then on Friday we’re planning to travel the three hours by train to Rabat to check it out. We hear Rabat is more cosmopolitan a city than Fez, and perhaps more liveable for a Westerner. They have Arabic training there too, and possibly more job prospects for us, so we’re open to moving there after the current term if it looks good.

Posted in Morocco | 4 Comments »