Monday, October 29, 2007

THE Beautiful Fall Day

This is it! The one day in the fall with sun, changing leaves, and good weather. Fortunately, it was during my post-Morocco sick leave so I wasn't spoiled by the wonderful weather. Now we're back to normal -- 40s and raining.
Does This Mean More or Less Money To Be Laundered?

The bar near me that is a clear front for money laundering was open tonight! Of course, there were no customers, as is usual. Over the last 18 months, this place has kept a strict regimen of closed Sun-Wed and near-empty Thur-Sat (an average of 2 customers at a time). So does a Monday night mean they have more money to launder, or are they trying to fool someone?

Friday, October 26, 2007

What The Hell Do I Do Now?

I'm fairly certain that this is Elaine's least favorite street sign of all time. Seriously, what should I do when I see this? Panic? Get excited? They had these signs every few miles all the way to Marrakech. I tried screaming a little for each one, but that just freaked everyone out. If any of you know, feel free to inform. Or just humorously comment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Morocco: Day 7 Taroudannt

More photos at Shutterfly
Originally the plan was to go to Taroudannt on Day 2, which is market day there. This didn't happen, but it worked out for the best. On the way home from Marrakech, I met Nadia, a Moroccan woman who was returning from a cousin's wedding. She invited me to spend the day in Taroudannt with her & I went for it.

We met at 930 and took a grands taxi (hint: don't say the "s") -- basically a Mercedes-Benz sedan with a driver & 6 passengers -- 2 in the front and 4 in the back. Fortunately, Nadia is slim & I was able to get enough room to revive feeling to my feet midway through the hourlong trip.

Life in Taroudannt is a bit slower and has muchmore traditional dress than in Morocco or Agadir.

After a quick stop at her parents' house to drop off her bag, we walked around the city, accompanied by her younger sister, Ghizlain (I probably mispelled it, but since I called her by the wrong name for several hours, this is an improvement). This improved conversation a lot -- Nadia speaks French & Arabic, and I don't but Ghizlain speaks some English. Before this, we got by due to my Lonely Planet phrasebook and general good humor.

Taroudannt's walls lend it a cool vibe -- kind of militant and snug, all at once.

But there's plenty of green -- much more than Marrakech or Agadir.

We walked through the town, then headed back for a bite of lunch (for me & Ghizlain, who was mysteriously not fasting) and a nap (for Nadia, who was). Afterward we walked a bit more & then had a homecooked meal -- a quite tasty one, too.

Me, Nadia & Ghizlain

Nadia & Mohammed (her oldest brother) walked me to the grands taxi stand and I headed home. Luckily, I only waited about 5 minutes for a ride -- lucky since I only had less than a minute to spare between getting to my hotel room and the onset of the Sultan's Revenge...

Nadia's family & me at dinner.
I've FINALLY Let It Go

Wow. It has taken wayyyy longer than I thought it would, but I'm finally over it. Not even the slightest bit of backsliding today! It's been a week, but finally "Quimby4" is no longer occupying my thoughts and fingers when I login at work. Normally the first day or so I catch myself typing my previous password, but this time it lasted a week. I blame the demonic african intestinal infection, as I'm sure you all would.

We have to change our passwords every 30 days. Previously, I'd get a message saying "you have 5 days left before you must change your password. Do you want to change it now?" This time the message was "You have 12 days left...". TWELVE DAYS?!? Are you kidding me? That's almost half the life of the password. Stupid Citi security

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Morocco: Day 6 Marrakech

More photos at Shutterfly

My last day in Marrakech was spent with a quick trip to one last palace (Dar Si Said, not easy to find), a great meal, and a bit of shopping.

This is my room at Riad Numero 10. A riad is a former townhome that has been renovated into a Bed and Breakfast. Mine was pretty cool, though fairly standard.

This is the garden at Dar Si Said, a former palace that's now a museum.

This is some of the amazing ceramic work on the interior of Dar Si Said.

The view from the restaurant at lunch. Note the Atlas mountains in the background.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Morocco: Day 5 Marrakech

200 posts! I didn't think I'd make it. Day 5 was my culture day. More photos at Shutterfly.

First I hit the Badi Palace, built between 1578 and 1602, and stripped for the next 12 years. Apparently they didn't think of charging admission (invented by the Presley family, roughly 32 min after finding Elvis dead on the toilet). Now there's not much left but walls & a few scattered tiles. It's still impressive, much like the Colisseum is just a shell of its former glory.

Next up is the Saadian tombs, which contain the remains of the guys who looted the Badi Palace. They had the good sense to give a good sprinkling of superstition to their tombs to prevent the locals (but not the French colonists) from cracking them open and selling tickets to visiting yahoos (like me).

The Bahia palace is a well-preserved home of later rulers. The unbelievable tilework, carving and ceilings are amazing, which was the thought at the time it was built; it was looted the day the owner died. My favorite part is the sublime arabic seamlessly worked into the carvings along the wall. While there's no formal representation of people or animals in Moroccan artwork, the delicate scrolling writing more than makes up for it.

The Museum of Morocco is basically another fabulous home open to the public, with both contemporary and modern crafts and arts on the walls. The home itself is the centerpiece. For the same 5 euro entry fee you get a trip through the former mosque school, too. It's peaceful, though the rooms are tiny -- no more than 60 sq. ft.

Of course, the Koutubia mosque looks good all day & night.

I finished the day with another tasty meal at the main square. Another day in the Red City (because of the walls, not the communist leanings) was done -- though the grills were still running, as I could see from the roof of my hotel.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Watching: Walk The Line

So I finally got around to watching the Johnny Cash biopic. It was pretty good, though not as good as I'd been told. Let's be honest about these movies about famous singers/athletes/celebrities: they're not "Gandhi", they're just movies about some drunk/high singer. At this point, the whole overcoming-addiction-stemming-from-childhood-trauma is great and all, but it's been done. In spite of the story, it's well-done. The acting & directing are good, and it's fun to see Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, etc. as cameos. Speaking of which, just how lucky were the people who saw Johnny Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis & Roy Orbison in the same concert? That's like the '93 Lollapalooza for my grandparents (though I'd kill to see it, too).

Grade: B-
Losing Weight: The Natural Way

I gotta say, 7 days and 8 lbs later, this whole sickness thing works. I may try to market it:

The natural, healthy* way to lose weight fast! Up to 10 lbs in 1 week! Call now and ask for our botulism special! Forget bikini season -- look great for your date THIS WEEKEND!!!

*except for the whole "getting sick" thing

Monday, October 15, 2007

Reading: The Inheritance of Loss

Kiran Desai's Booker Prize-winning (in 2006) novel has the least likable set of characters I've encountered in a while. The story flits between Biju, an Indian in New York seeking his fortune, and a group living in the house of the judge, a self-loathing racist who won't acknowledge his granddaughter or his cook (Biju's father) though they live in his house.

While the novel reads easily enough, none of the characters drew me in. And the side characters in the novel, be they American, English or Indian, are all one-dimensional caricatures.

Sure, there are themes of alienation, loss, yada yada yada, but I don't think they're worth investing 350 pages, especially since there's not even a semblance of an ending.

Still, if you want it, go to Amazon.

Grade: C+
Dining Marrakech: Place Djemaa El Fnaa

I figured my first night in Marrakech I needed to hit the main square -- plenty of grilled goodies and exotic treats. To start, I filled up my water bottle with fresh OJ and hit the snail soup stand.

Julia made me promise that if I ate a sheep's head, I would get pictures. Here you go:

Rather than deprive myself of the grilled goodies on display, I went with the 1/4 head. Quite a bit of surreptitious hacking later, and I was presented with this:

I had no idea there was so much variety in a sheep's head. Though the flavors were all about the same -- kind of like mutton, though the spice mix they gave was quite tasty. The worst part was the weird thin pieces of cartilage or something at the back of the photo. I prefer not to think about their origin. But the two cooks were proud of me for finishing it:

Next up was the main course -- grilled meats, and plenty of them. I started with the mixed Moroccan salad, which was bland and horrible. Even the feral cats ignored it. The grilled eggplant was extra tasty, though.

Marinated chicken, kefta (spiced ground lamb), lamb chunks, red bell pepper -- all damn fine.

Final verdict? A
Morocco: Day 4 Marrakech

More photos at Shutterfly!

Marrakech! It just sounds exotic, much more so than, say, Düsseldorf. I'd seen Hitchcock's second version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day), and with "Que Será, Será" (which I continued to whistle throughout my stay) in my ears, I was psyched to see the city.

Unfortunately, first I had a 4 hour bus ride through the mountains. More goats in trees, hazy mountains in the distance, and a surprising variety of geology. From multicolored striations to bland yellow stone, it was far from monotonous.

Marrakech itself, the Red City, is a packed snarl of small alleys filled with markets and more than a little garbage. There is a constant stream of horns, buzzers & shouts from men on scooters, bikes and donkey-pulled carts (I know, it sounds like Sundance Square). Adding to the din are the constant calls of "hello!", "My friend", etc. as shopkeepers try to lure you in for a "deal". The general feel is best described as the market scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark", but with red walls instead of white and no Nazis.

I spent my half day walking around the city, trying in vain to find the Marrakech museum (it closed at 4, not 7, due to Ramadan). But this familiarized me with the layout & the complete lack of street signs. Between that and the similar lack of crosswalks & pork, I could hear the sobs of German tourists across the square.

I did manage to drink a good liter of fresh-squeezed orange juice, and Julia was right -- it is the best in the world. And at about $0.75 for 16oz, it's an incredible deal, too.

Dinner deserves its own story. Stay tuned.
Morocco: Day 3 Essaouira

All photos at Shutterfly.

3 hours north of Agadir on the coast is Essaouira (ESS-uh-wear-uh), a town that has retained its historic walls in spite of having been a point of contention for millenia. It was the source of the purple, non-fading dye that Roman emperors craved (and forbid anyone else from using). The Portuguese named it Mogador (meaning "We can't pronounce it"), but no matter the name, it's a pretty cool town. It's a center of the woodworking industry, has good seafood, and is quite popular with foreigners (the markets were whiter than Shawn Bradley).

The bus ride was 3 hours, the first of which was along the coast, and the last two were through the hills inland. It was here that I saw my first glimpse of a goat tree (goatus borealus):

The goats climb the argan trees, which is pretty impressive, since they have neither thumbs nor claws. No matter, all the exercise makes for tasty goat meat.

The city itself doesn't have too much to see. The ramparts are cool, the market is better than Agadir's but much more relaxed than Marrakech's. The highlight for me was lunch -- fresh caught fish & seafood, grilled to order. Unfortunately, prices are higher during Ramadan -- only tourists are eating lunch. Still, it was fabulous and not too pricey.

After some shopping, I checked out the rest of town then headed home. 30 minutes outside Agadir at sunset, the bus stops. Everyone except me & the two Brit women get off & start eating -- a roadside café had fixed everyone a Ramadan end-of-fast meal. A busload of satisfied travelers later, and we're on the road. We did make one quick stop after that. A guy debarked & picked up his luggage from the compartment -- 8 live turkeys tied together. Unfortunately, it was too dark for a photo, but I doubt that happens much on US buslines...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Morocco: Day 2 Agadir

The daytime view from my balcony

Agadir from atop the Kasbah

All the photos are at shutterfly. Since I slept late and the buses to Tafroute was cancelled (damn Ramadan), I decided to spend the day in Agadir. I checked out the museum for the victims of the 1960 earthquake, went up to the ruins of the Kasbah, and hit the beach. It was a nice, relaxing day. 1 day was about all I had in me for Agadir -- I'd seen the sights and was ready to see some of the rest of the country.
Morocco: Day 1, Agadir

Sunset from my balcony

Anti-Atlas Mountains at sunset

Photos from my first day in Morocco are at shutterfly. Lots of firsts: first trip to Africa, 1st time in a muslim country, etc. But it went well. Agadir is popular with tourists for its beaches, but there's not much here. Especially when you wait an hour at the airport for the bus driver to get his act together.

What should have been an omen of panhandling to come: finally get out of the airport, to be surrounded by guys asking which bus I was looking for, where I was going, etc. Though they weren't keen on helping with bags -- they just wanted to point out the correct bus in return for a euro or two. Of course, since the numbers were on the front of the buses, I relied on 30+ years of experience with numbers to find 34. It was tough, but I did it.

After a 30 min ride to the city, I watched the sunset from my balcony then went for a bite to eat. Since this was just after dark, the streets were EMPTY -- like a New Orleans church on Fat Tuesday. Everyone was eating, since my trip fell smack in the middle of Ramadan. I arrived at the restaurant just after they finished their meals, and they were thrilled to see me (who wouldn't be?). More on the meal soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hiatus... Continuing

I didn't plan on 5 days of bathroom sprints after the trip to Morocco. Even though I haven't been working this week, I haven't exactly been filled with energy. But I am accumulating many (well, none, actually) hilarious anecdotes about my trip and recovery.

I will say, that outside of a certain PA that we all know and love, German ER docs look a lot more like "E.R." docs than those I've seen in the US. Of course, talking about intestinal distress isn't exactly a good lead-in to asking them out. Or maybe it is; I was preoccupied with worry that the bathroom was too far...

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Due to planning for the trip to Morocco and going on said trip, the blog has been backseated (backsat was tempting but didn't seem correct). I'm hoping to do a day-by-day blog of the trip, but i wouldn't hold your breath on that. To tide you over, here's my rant on french-arabic keyboards:

what kind of moron separates the open and closed parentheses by 5 keys? And do the french really use the power of two more than the period? All you francophiles (poor bastards) can bitch about the decline of the language, culture, etc. but these jackass keyboards are at least partially culpable. The question mark requires the shift key, but the squared key (there isn't one on us keyboards) and exclamation point don't. And did they have to hide the M key? grrrrrr....