14 February 2005

First week in Morocco, 8–14 February 2005

Tuesday, 8 February 2005 (Fat Tuesday), Casablanca, Marrakech: Miss Understood and I first touched ground in Morocco in Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca and ate at Café Café there during our long layover. We knew we had plenty of time and stayed lounging too long. We had to run to our gate to catch the flight to Ménara International Airport in Marrakech, and although we were late, we still made it on the plane. There was a flight attendant beaten down with make-up; it changed her complexion so thoroughly she had a severe line on her neck where the color changed abruptly from light to dark. When we finally arrived in Marrakech, we discovered the larger of Miss U’s bags had not made it with us.

A taxi driver charged us too much money to take us to our apartment complex in Daoudiate. There was no one there to meet us, so we dragged all our luggage to a téléboutique and then to a cybercafé trying to contact the people involved with our rental. Miss U had left the middlewoman’s and the local contact’s telephone number at home in America, so all we could do was send them (and Polly Grip) e-mail messages and hope they’d respond promptly. We dragged our luggage down Boulevard Âllal el-Fassi to Hôtel Redouane, booked a room and fell fast asleep due to our jetlag.

When we awoke, we went to another cybercafé, read their replies and discovered the owner had given the middlewoman the wrong building designation (building J instead of F). We were given the correct address and made an appointment to be picked up at the hôtel the next day. We were late for a unilateral appointment Polly suggested in an e-mail message, but luckily bumped immediately into Polly and Glamamore in front of the post office upon our arrival at Djemaâ al-Fna in the médina.

Since my last visit in 2002, all of Djemaâ al-Fna and two streets leading to it (Moulaï Ismaîl and Foucauld Streets) were essentially closed to traffic, the asphalt replaced with stone tiles! Tour buses no longer roll past Djemaâ al-Fna, taxis no longer clog the street going past the Hôtel CTM and N’zaha. The four of us walked without dodging traffic to N’zaha and had lunch, delighted to see Zoubair works there again. I received greetings galore walking amongst the foodstalls, barely being able to take a few steps without someone from my three prior visits recognizing me. Miss U bought figs and almonds on the square, and we walked to Polly’s and Glamamore’s riade on Derb Snane (“Teeth Alley”) next to Pasha Glaoui’s palace. They showed us around the place, and there we chatted until rather late eating Miss U’s fruit and nuts. Derb Snane winds a bit, so they walked us back out to Djemaâ al-Fna. Miss U and I returned to Hôtel Redouane.

Wednesday, 9 February 2005, Marrakech: While Miss Understood and I sat eating our complimentary breakfast at the hôtel, the lady who would bring us back to Résidence Narjis showed up to meet us. We rode a taxi there, and met Mr. Bachir who is what would be called the building’s bawab in Egypt. The apartment is lovely, but no amount of beauty can make up for the location so far from the médina. We briefly visited Petit Prix on Avenue Âllal al-Fassi. We shopped for food and other household items at the nearby Aswak asSalam hypermarket where Miss U promptly accidentally rammed the shopping cart into a wall and a space heater tumbled to the floor from its perch. Then we went down to the médina and eventually met Polly and Glamamore after unsuccessfully looking for them at Snack Sahara on Rue Bab Agnaou. After having repeatedly heard about them but never seeing them in person, I finally saw and tipped and taped the Djemaâ al-Fna drag performers. We saw the flirtatious man in a turban in the souk, then had drinks at l’Étoile on Rue Bab Agnaou where we bumped into Polly’s and Glamamore’s gay French next-door neighbor Pierre and had a poor man approach our outdoor table and attempt to pour some of my bottled water into my empty Coca Light can and walk away with it but was shooed away by l’Étoile workers and my calling him a thief. The turban man even walked past us. We ate dinner at Moha (#117) with Yacine repeatedly hugging me and pronouncing my name properly. We walked around Djemaâ al-Fna and saw the sexy orange juice man. Back at the foodstalls I spent time at Maslouhi with my old friend corkscrew Youssef while he taught his co-worker ÂbdoulFatah some English while other co-worker Muhammad (stressed on the last syllable in the Berber manner) looked on. I was invited to mint tea by Si Muhammed from Charaybi (#25) but was touched by his middle-aged co-worker rather than Muhammad himself. While the others lounged at Moha, I saw the lovely new bathrooms at N’zaha, then rejoined them and sat a long time by Moha, temporarily running away to Maslouhi again to hear Youssef’s wild story and bump into Mr. Kebir. Youssef had been on a road trip outside Marrakech with friends when he realized he had left something behind in a cybercafé in another town. He got in the car alone and sped back in the direction of the café. Somehow, so he claimed, an old man abruptly appeared before him, and he swerved to avoid hitting him. Instead he smashed a huge hole in a retaining wall in a small Berber village where no one spoke Arabic. (He knew no one spoke Arabic because the whole village came out to see.) His head hit the windshield, and he lost consciousness for at least a little while. Now I think he’s finished paying for the medical bills, and is very slowly working on the payments for the car he destoyed. I brought Mr. Kebir over to Moha to see Polly. Later, Hafida painted my right hand with henna, which meant I hot great difficulty using my video camera and couldn’t put my hand in my pocket when it started turning blue from coldness.

Thursday, 10 February 2005 (Hijri New Year), Marrakech: (AM) The four New Yorkers ambled over to Café Kebir, originally named after Mr. Kebir, with Hafida for drinks. There was a crazy man sitting near Alex who was snorting and talking to himself. Miss U and I managed to pay for a taxi ride back to Daoudiate and get the keys to our apartment building from our pockets without completely destroying Hafida’s handywork. Our apartment with its tiled floors is very cold, and we were freezing at night despite our butane-fueled space heater. (PM) I ran out to Café Kebir to meet Polly while Miss U went to the airport to try to get her luggage. Polly walked me to her home, and I met her houseboy Muhammad. Eventually the French gays from next door arrived (Pierre [Vanilla Ice], Luc [Roddy McDowall], Lorique [Jack Gilford/Mel Tormé], Alain [Desi Arnaz Jr./Rosemary Clooney]), as well as Muhammad from the Moha restaurant at Djemaâ al-Fna. Houseboy Muhammad served us the most amazing food on the roof, course after course. Miss U telephoned in a panic because her telephone card would soon expire, but she spent most of her time complaining Polly was yelling at her rather than expediantly exchanging information. When told to go to Bab al-Oucsour, she replied “I don’t know how to spell that!” The Frenchies really abused houseboy Muhammad, being familiar with him from having stayed in Polly’s riade in the past. Luc was grabbing Muhammad’s crotch, and then a bunch of them were pushing themselves up against him all at once like a big erotic dance. After everyone else had left, Polly, Miss U and I went to La Maîson du Kaftan Marocain on Rue Mouassine, and Miss U tried on clothes in her “fixin’s,” i.e. in drag from the neck down to ensure the dress she was buying would fit properly. She was really a sight, her fake breasts and rear end as well as her tremendous shoes made her head look disproportionately tiny. One staff member was loudly having fun with the ludicrous situation, yelling compliments at her, but yet still responding to one of her requests by saying "Yes, sir." We went to the French gays’ place for drinks. Their place is decorated much more sparsely and with a heavy handed modern or avant-garde touch. Pierre, Luc, Lorique and Alain were there plus boyfriends Tony [Ming the Merciless] and Moroccan Hicham who live together here in Morocco. We had a very loud time, especially since the last thing a normally boisterous person like Pierre needed was to get drunk. He would frequently burst out into song whenever he was reminded of one (not unlike myself actually) even when he didn’t know the words, which were usually replaced with “na na na....” When he left the room to change his clothes, he returned before he’d finished, wearing nothing but a towel, and proceeded to dance for us. Later he turned over a chair and started drumming on it with his hands. Hicham has the most adorable high voice. The Frenchies kept trying to kiss us four New Yorkers much to our horror, but we still managed to make humorous conversation, like coming up with the concept of Polly Holliday and Billie Holiday teaming up as a singing duo; their big hit single as the Hol(l)iday Sisters would supposedly be “Kiss my strange fruit.” We saw Si Muhammad at Cyber Internet Iris when we checked our e-mail.

Friday, 11 February 2005, Marrakech: (AM) I ate shwimps at Moha at Djemaâ al-Fna without Yacine, and Si Mohamed from M’barek (#114) said someone had given him money to help pay for some medication he needed. Would he ask me next? (PM) This was our first day without Glamamore. I ate an oversized fried egg sandwich lunch at Tortilla Âsise in Daoudiate with Miss U and purchased a telephone card on Avenue Âllal al-Fassi. We walked downtown intending to visit the Dar Si Saïd Museum, but as its closing time drew near, we instead toured the surrounding neighborhood seeing the Place des Ferblantiers, and the little shopping area in the mellah. Miss U noted locals seemed to know we’re Jews (referring to it as “spooking our t”) and attributed it to people’s recognizing me from prior visits. However, in the spice shop where Miss U bought saffron and other stuff, they asked if we wanted to see the local synagogue but also presumed we’d never been to Morocco before, so it seemed we simply looked Jewish, the connection being helped by the fact we were in the mellah. We visited a quaint tailor shop on Rue Riad Zitoun el-Qedim and visited Boutique Ahmed. We sat having drinks at N’zaha and saw Youssef with the corkscrew curls in next-door Café Toubkal, and he later briefly visited and sat with us. We walked to Polly’s riade but barely stayed a moment because we needed to rush to al-Fassia réstaurant on Avenue Mohammed V for our reservation. We entered the telephone kiosk on Place de la Liberté. Cyber Internet Iris; went home around midnight.

Saturday, 12 February 2005 (Abraham Lincoln’s birthday), Marrakech: (AM) I bought sweets at Dépôt Lait on Avenue Âllal al-Fassi. Miss U was sensitive about my saying she eats often. Sleep. Neither cybercafé on or near Avenue Âllal al-Fassi was open at 09:something. I ate a hard-boiled egg sandwich breakfast on Âllal al-Fassi. Miss U and I walked to the Majorelle Garden, the street in front of which was also tiled over and closed to automobiles. “Pretty little fountain” sung to the tune of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” We continued walking downtown and went to the cybercafé opposite the Koutoubia. We met Polly at Café Kebir. Polly and I temporarily left Miss U eating at N’zaha and looked around the shallow souk. We saw Rachide (who used to work with ÂbdoulÂli) in his new store and returned to N’zaha and then wandered the deeper souk. We saw Moustafa in his usual shop on Rue Souk Semmarine and Moulaï at his usual carpet store. Miss U bought a tagine for her sister Esther from Hicham, and also bought shirts. The tagine was carried around and around with a shirt inside. Juice at Djemaâ al-Fna. Left tagine at Moha. Cyber Mohamed Yassine on Rue Bab Agnaou. Formally met Akshash/ÂbdourRizac. Walked up to Guéliz. Saw crazy queen Moustapha at Café les Négociants at Avenue Mohammed V and Boulevard Mohammed Zerktouni. Visited crowded Atika with screaming children. Ate at la Sirène. Saw Mr. Fouad at Star Food and saw drunk Mr. Hassane at the same intersection. Saw Bagheera for the first time this visit. Âsise and ÂbdourRahim asked for whiskey at Charaybi (#25). Walked in small circles around Djemaâ al-Fna. Saw drag queens removing veils (five o’clock shadow). Polly turned in(to gryphon).

Sunday, 13 February 2005, Marrakech, Igri el Khemas, Setti Fatma, other municipalities in the Ourika Valley: crêpe breakfast at N’zaha, bee fell into Miss U’s coffee. Ourika Valley with Jawad. Muhammad in Berber house in Igri el Khemas. Setti Fatma with Muhammad. Lantern shop where merchant gave price so low he had to vomit in adjoining room. Taxi ride from Derb Snane to the Marjane. Cutting in line. Djemaâ al-Fna around 22:00. Day we saw Âli in Cheese Man’s store? Corkscrew Youssef does not appear to be working. Getting up from one restaurant to sit and drink in another. Si Mohamed from M’barek wore turban and sang us song to the tune of “Hôtel California.” “We love Bagheera.” “Mina from the médina” to the tune of “Copa Cabaña.” Chunky Muhammad at Charaybi (#25) who studied English.

Monday, 14 February 2005 (Valentine’s Day), Marrakech: Alex left dry cleaners without paying to fetch new, dirty clothes. Breakfast at Tortilla Asise again. Bumped into Bert and Youssef. Shopped at little mall on Rue Bani Marine. Passed Youssef ben Tachfine’s tomb en route to Bert’s riade. He spoke French to us despite hating the language. Youssef kissed my cheek and wanted twenty dirham. He also showed us his penis upstairs. Bert is a Macintosh enthusiast. “Paris is best without the French.” Houseboy Âbdoulla is adorable. La Maîson du Kaftan Marocain with changing, topless male tourist. Tour of souk. Nourdine Fouay in his new shop. Lovely fountain opposite lovely Le Diaffa restaurant (1 Rue Jbel al Akhdar). Dar Si Aïssa. Souk sebbaghine/Souk de teinturiers. Sexy young masseur by herboriste. Souk de tailleurs de pierre. Cute ÂbdoulLatif’s shoe shop. Souk âttarine cuivre. Wandered through little streets. Souk feld. Probably near Marrakech Museum, definitely near tanneries. Hôpital Cheikh Daoud el Antaki, Collège ÂbdoulMoumene. Wide open area with coubba and sport center. Taxi to crowded Djemaâ al Fna area. Walk through calèche park. Bougainvillea Café. Cute “fondouc” (market) at Place Bab Ftouh. Ibrahim’s (Ben Affleck’s) flirting with Miss Understood. Miss U bought lanterns, the adhesive tape used to wrap them cut with a Fatima hand. Corkscrew Youssef horsed around with ÂbdoulFatah. Lounged at Moha again drinking whiskey and Fanta with Yacine. Shoes shined.

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