Thursday, July 23, 2009

Morocco: At the Beach

Or maybe I should say "Le Moroc: A La Plage". My experience was the same kind of disconcerting as a foreign language that moves too quickly and keeps slipping away. It was the same when I was trying to write in my travel journal: lots of moments but no narrative. Which is probably why it's taken me so long to write this.

This trip is the first time I've really enjoyed all that goes into a beach vacation: getting overheated in the African sun in Cabo Negro, cooling off in the Mediterranean, finally learning how to swim (well, the doggy paddle and crawl), eating beignets on the beach, watching people get fleeced to take camel rides, spending long afternoons reading, speculating on the fishing boats on the water every night, and - one of my favorite parts of every day - late nights spent gossiping on the porch with Mark, Kristin, our cousin Elizabeth and our pilfered beers. We ate on a different schedule in Morocco than usual, which seemed to accentuate the length of the days: a light breakfast in the morning, a bigger lunch around 3 or 4 pm, and a snack with mint tea and pastries (le goutte) around 10.

The best of the day trips was having my father show us the Tetouan of his childhood. You remember that Sesame Street skit called "This is Your Life" with Guy Smiley? The afternoon felt just like that. The fantastic maze of the medina there had spice and thread and fabric merchants as you'd expect, but odd bits of the west, too, like an outdoor television display showing the NBA.

Other day trips were in some ways more memorable for their journeys than for the towns themselves. Chaouen was a beautiful little town all done in blue white-washed paint at the top of a mountain. In addition to beautiful crafts and the only tourists I saw anywhere in the country (probably because the town's a main hashish producing area), the drive to and from was a sliver of a mountainside road of switchbacks that reminded me of traveling through Asia.

A few days later, we went to Cebta, a Spanish protectorate that's simultaneously a half hour and a whole world away since it's technically part of the EU. The border crossing to Spain was helacious and took two hours in the dusty, honking-filled lines. The town itself had some fine architecture, but might have been more interesting if we hadn't spent so long getting there.

By then, we'd been in Morocco a few days and the ways in which women participated in public life was plenty obvious. I've never been in a Muslim country before, so I was somewhat surprised that the local women were dressed in everything from western clothing with their hair out to a full-length chador and everything in between. Women were certainly out and about but never sitting at a cafe. Every cafe - and there were two or three on every block - was filled with men and not a single non-Western women. Even on the beach, the men and women - dressed in clothing ranging from a chador to a bikini - obviously knew each other, but wouldn't sit together. Like women, alcohol was available but kept at a distance since devout Islam forbids drinking and frowns upon drinking in public for everyone - especially women - but makes alcohol easy to find and legal though expensive to buy. Despite recent political changes, my father says that even ten years ago the country was more culturally progressive than it is now.

Still we were somewhat removed from local living and preoccupied once all the rest of the cousins arrived with many children in tow. I loved having the opportunity to reconnect now that all the younger cousins aren't quite so young. Despite the language melange of 3/5 French, 1/5 Arabic, and 1/5 Spanish with occasional English translation, a surprising amount got communicated. Or maybe the semi-immersion experience left me dangerous enough to think I knew more than I really did? Anyway, their presence alone made me sad to move on to Barcelona...which is the next post.

No comments: