Friday, September 21, 2007

Frustration (nothing to do with Morocco)

I am very frustrated right now and my husband is out of earshot, so I am complaining on here instead. WHY is it that when I search for Gide on the MLA and, while trawling through it, joyfully find an article on Gide and Bowles, YET when I do a keyword search for Gide Bowles NOTHING COMES UP? And there are THOUSANDS of records for Gide and I do NOT want to trawl through them all, but it seems as though that is exactly what I am going to have to do. At least the man who wrote the Gide/Bowles article (which is in French, and thus slow reading for me if I can get my hands on it) is English and wrote another article on the two of them in English, presumably on the same material.

Looks like I'll be spending a bit of time in the library on my London trip next weekend when I go to hear Joanna Newsom in concert. Oh well.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Am I secretly in Ireland?

Look carefully at the pictures above. Do you notice something? Look again at the second picture. Now what? Nothing? Do you not see how the stones are... shiny? Wet, even? Yes - it is RAINING here. For the second day! For two days it has been cool and overcast here in Marrakech, with intermittent warm, heavy drops of rain, which leave a deliciously tropical scent on the air. Now, when I say "cool" apparently it's been in the early thirties each day, but right now (at eleven in the morning) it is only nineteen degrees, which is positively frosty. Sadly, we have a guest arriving on Saturday who is gasping to get away from London, and might not be as impressed at an overcast and rainy Marrakech as we are, but I'm sure the weather will be back to normal by the weekend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A kasbah in the mountains

We have just returned from wonderful Imlil, just south of Marrakech, tucked high in the Atlas mountains. After some brief squabbling about hiring a car, hiring a car and driver or getting the bus, I suggested getting a grand taxi all the way, and this is what we did, with remarkable ease and economy.

A little over an hour later we arrived at a fabulous little village arranged along a curving road - the end of the road, we discovered - after Imlil, you're into donkey tracks and little else when it comes to roads. We were met by a man from the Kasbah du Toubkaland led up a steep hill, along tracks winding through trees and rocks, eventually coming to this...

I will leave you to look at their website for more interior pictures of their lovely (but *very* overpriced) accommodation, but what really sells the the Kasbah has to be its unforgettable views, perched as it is on a hill surrounded by mountains with only a narrow gap, through which you eventually arrive back at Marrakech.

The air was crystal clear, it was windy and sunny and clambering through the rocky, tree-filled glades with grass (grass! in Morocco!) and small waterfalls and streams was positively heaven after months of urban centres, dust and traffic both in North Africa and Europe.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Air-raid sirens and all-night parties

Well, we’re definitely not in Kansas any more. Ramadan has just started and Marrakech is transformed. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, which appears to be 4.30am to 7.30pm, and do you want to know how I know exactly when the fast starts and stops? The siren. It would seem that among the blessings of our home’s location, we can count our remarkable proximity to the siren that goes off during (or right before or after) the call to prayer at what seems to me to be a rather ungodly hour of the morning and then a more civilised hour in the evening. It sounds like an air raid siren and it is very, very, VERY loud. Perhaps I will feel less kindly to being woken up so early in the morning as Ramadan progresses, but right now it gives me a tremendous sense of excitement and am I am very aware of living in a foreign country.

I don’t particularly want to go into an exegesis on my (mixed) opinion of Islam (although the fact that I live in a Muslim country can at least indicate that I feel no particular antipathy towards the religion, even if I wouldn’t choose to move to Iran) – apart from anything else I know that at least two of my readers are in a professional position to give a far more informed sketch of the relationship between Islam and society – but sometimes Islam’s sheer exoticism is both alluring and exciting. I don’t mean theologically, but the trappings of the religion can be so beautiful and dramatic, with stunning architecture in mosques and medersas, music that can take your breath away sometimes, such as the Friday afternoon call to prayer from the Koutoubia mosque whiche lies close to our house and a sense of national piety which, while it is a little difficult for me to accept sometimes (I am agnostic), rather puts modern Catholicism (my own culture) in the shade.

Lent seems a little… limp in comparison to the complete fast (no food, drink or cigarettes) that goes on here, from which only children, the elderly and ill, pilots and presumably medical staff are excused, although in fairness to Catholics, the minute the sun sets they don’t all hit the streets and party until the morning, which is apparently what happens here. We were wondering about how people fuel themselves for the day, and innocently asked Moulaid if people get up briefly at 4.30am to have a huge breakfast and then go back to sleep and she laughed and told us no, when the morning siren goes off, people go home and go to bed – they will have been partying for many many hours by then, and will not emerge until very late in the morning, which explains the ghostly desertion of the streets yesterday morning.

Well, Ramadan or not, it is my lunchtime, so I leave you to go for a rummage in the fridge.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Advantages of guests continued...

It has to be admitted that we have developed the habit of hiding in our house most days, rather than going out and exploring, so having a guest here who we feel we must impress with a) our city and b) our casual confidence in navigating it has forced us out of our beloved house and onto the streets...

Yesterday we explored the northern medina - we saw alleys, gates, cinemas showing Arabic zombie movies and small boys taking unbaked bread to the district's communal oven. Today we are going to the Menara, and on Sunday we are going to Kasbah du Toubkal. We should have guests over more - this is great!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No blogging. PhD-ing instead.

If you have anything to tell me about Gide and Greek tragedy, do let me know.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Today, back in Marrakech, we brought our guest with us to Acima. This was as much of a cry of pride as necessity as I think it is safe to say that most travellers find public buses a bit of a challenge when outside the first world, preferring taxis as a bit more reliable in terms of actually getting to the place you want to be. As such, our conquest of the Marrakchi bus system was a moment of great joy and pride for us, even though we quickly realised that it is a particularly idiot-proof system, the majority of buses leaving from one place, right by the Djemma el Fna, and at least half of them going by our favourite places. Still, buses here have made our lives a lot easier and have eradicated the need to argue with taxi drivers who refuse to turn on the meter, try to charge you fifty dirhams for a journey that should cost about seven and the DRIVE OFF when you try to haggle. The bus fare is a flat 3.5 dirhams, buses are frequent and drivers are friendly.

Yet somehow, our guest was not completely bowled over by either the ease of the bus experience or our treasured Acima supermarket. He quite calmly took these wonders for granted and puzzled over why we seemed to expect more enthusiasm and wonderment. Oh well. *We're* impressed with ourselves.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh dear...

Because John and I have been very selective in our eating out habits in Marrakech, gradually abandoning all so-called mid-range places in favour of either the very cheap (i.e. low expectations, but generally pretty solid fare, such as El Bahia, which I am sure I have mentioned before with their respectable mains and fabby yoghurt) or relatively expensive, such as Kosibar (which I spell differently every time) and my favourite, Grand Cafe de la Poste, we have more or less succesfully avoided culinary disappointment since we arrived.

Alas, I cannot say this any more. Buoyed up by our success at La Licorne we ventured confidently in to Sirocco last night. Fair traveller, if coming to Essaouira in the near future and feel tempted by this appealing-seeming establishment, I have one word for you - don't. The only thing that was tolerable was the wine (trusty Domaine de Sahari Reserve) and the tapenade. Tasteless soups, even more tasteless tagines with overcooked meat so bland that it took us rather more time than it ought for us to distinguish between the shark and the chicken. We left our meals all but untouched, finished the wine and made our escape as quickly as possible. I was under the impression that enough expats live or make repeat/extended visits here to make restaurants consider the benefits of return custom and accordingly provide edible food, particularly at the mid-range, but not Sirocco.

Oh well. There is still the fabulous La Cantina Mexican restaurant with the best vegetarian options in the town and the equally wonderful (if slightly less exciting from a vegetarian's perspective) La Licorne.

Apologies for the continued lack of photographs - we have cameras with us but no wire to connect them to the computers.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Essaouira again

We are still in Essaouira and have decided to stay an extra day because it is so lovely here - last time we were here, during the height of the hot weather in Marrakech, it was very cold indeed - extra blankets on the bed, heaters, wearing every scrap of clothing we had brought at once; this time it is breezy, sunny and warm and John and James have even been swimming (not something which would have held any appeal here last time).

My trips to Ireland and England were very very busy and exhausting - all the more so because our lives in Marrakech are so very quiet and relaxed. We get up in the morning, study, read, write and chat and sometimes venture out into Gueliz for lunch or a trip to the supermarket but that is pretty much it. This, of course, leads to a rather dull blog-reading experience for my readers, with anxious articles about shopping and interiors composed in an attempt to mask our Moroccan inactivity.

Of course, as I have mentioned, we have guests with us for the rest of the month and must at all costs hide from them the fact that we rarely leave the house if we do not absolutely have to, and must therefore bring them to all sorts of exciting places while casually pretending that this is what we always do. Oh if only they did not all actually read this blog. Still, whatever deception we practice on our guests, my family, friends and readers will have the satisfaction of a little variety when they come here to find out what I have been doing, starting with our few days here in Essaouira.

Yesterday the tide was in but John and James cheerfully stripped off and swam the short distance to the ruined fort that lies drunkenly on the beach here before coming back into town to eat grilled fish at the port, sleep it off and then go out for a long, slightly boozy dinner with a couple of bottles of excellent Moroccan vin gris at La Licorne, a fabulous and gorgeously located restaurant right under the sea-facing ramparts of the town. After a short conference with the chef at La Licorne, my husband had his first good tagine ever, which must surely endear Essaouira to him forever - John is vegetarian, an unnatural concept in this country and as a general rule resulting in the most boring food imaginable while I tuck into all sorts of fishy wonders. However, La Licorne had a meaty tagine on offer with all sorts of dry fruit and nut delights and the chef was applied to to adapt this for John and it was delicious, or so I was informed.

Today will involve more swimming, eating and sleeping, I imagine and when we are back in Marrakech and I am reunited with my computer I try to put up some photographs.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Essaouira again...

So sorry for my continued silence, my faithful readers (if there are any of you left). I got back from the UK very late after my flight was delayed in Gatwick. I didn't mind the delay too much as I was reading the gripping Atonement - go read it right now, if you have not already. I got home to be met by John and our friend James, who is staying with us for a couple of weeks and just about had enough energy for cocktails on our terrace before going out for dinner and afterwards falling into bed for a few short hours before leaving for our early bus for Essaouira, which is where I am now. However, my husband is standing over me as I write this, as we must leave immediately for a long walk on the beach, to which I am looking forward immensely, so I must go, but promise that I will be back if not later on today, then tomorrow morning.

Go read Atonement in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I am here

Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Interrupted service

I'm going to London and then on to Cambridge today for a conference and will not have my trusty ibook with me, so there won't be much in the way of updates for the next few days. If I see an internet cafe I will pop in and do the needful, but I think you're just going to have to wait until I am back in pastures... well, pastures dusty on Thursday to hear from me again. In the meantime, you can amuse yourselves by thinking of the following...

Avoca (where I bought a pretty dress and necklace on Friday)

The Gate Theatre (where I saw Private Lives last night - indifferent performance, fabulous costumes as always from Patrick O'Brien, one of which is at the top of this post)

The Unicorn (where I had a delicious lunch with my parents on Thursday)