Monday, May 21, 2007


I just had a great weekend with my friends Carol and Mike. Carol really wanted to come while I was here, and decided to come early in my service even though it meant I had no vacation days to spend with them. I joined them in Fes for the weekend with my Saturday night out-of-site, and they came to Azrou for the day today, and tomorrow, they go on to Burgundy for the rest of the week. Good itinerary planning! I have been saying to friends of mine to just tell me when you’re coming and then we’ll figure out an itinerary, how many days I can take off, etc. I know this is a hard concept – after all, I am by nature a planner as well – but that’s the best I can tell people right now!

I’ll start this entry with a conclusion rather than leave it for a summary. I suggested to Carol that there is enough for two days in Fes, or we could do a day in Fes and a day in Meknes (since I still have a Meknes jones). She said that she is trying not to have to do everything. I had already been thinking about the weekend in Marrakesh where I kind of wore my friend Rob out, and then about my conversation with my friend Frank about learning to relax more while I am here, and if I can’t learn that while I’m here, I may never be able to. So I was impressed that Carol said that. We are very much alike, and if she can do it, I can do it! Well, Carol arrived with a list of 25 things she wanted to see and the Meknes information just in case. At the end of the weekend – where we had what was to me a more relaxed Sunday in Fes, instead of Meknes – I told Rob about it and he said it still sounded like a full day. Then I was e-mailing Paul about my plans for my weekend in the U.S. (which is looming, all of a sudden!) and he said, “Imagine that…you packing lots of things into a few days.” So is there no hope for me? Then again, is it such a bad thing to pack a lot into a day? I do think it would be good to learn to relax a bit more, and I have learned from my trips that I can’t see everything and that it’s always good to leave something to return for, but….???

More distressing is that I have been taking stock a bit this month and I realize that I really need to take stock. What did I want to make sure I work on while I am here? Are those still goals and am I working on them? Are there new things to work on and am I working on those? I designated May to work on things at home and get myself organized – while not ignoring the obligations that take me out of the house. So far, I have done just that. But I look around and I see a growing pile of magazines…again, is there no hope for me? The Zen room is still empty – and maybe I should abandon my idea of getting a big rug and some candles for it and just keep it empty, though I still like the rug idea; it just can NOT turn into a storage/clutter room! I have a bunch of letters to answer – I was keeping up before the holiday rush – though a number of friends are telling me they are not receiving my mail, and for the price (about 15% of my monthly allowance is spent on postage) it is even more distressing. But more than correspondence, I had dreams of writing things I have always wanted to write and reading things I have not yet had time to read, and I have done neither of those (though I do keep up the blog!). When I used to stress about all the things I wasn’t getting done at home I would remind myself that I spent an hour to two exercising every day, and that that was a priority. I can remind myself of the things I am doing other than reading and writing – spending time at the artisana and with other people in town (i.e. my job), seeing other volunteers, traveling – and then the fact that everything takes longer – washing the floors, laundry, shopping and cooking, for example – but whereas I knew that exercise was a priority, am I now spending my time on priorities or is it more that either I am doing things because I think I should as opposed to want to, or because I can’t or don’t want to say no? I have to think about this! Or – do I have to? Can I just go with the flow for a while longer? Is going with the flow the first step towards learning to relax more? Perhaps that is the question to answer first!

Philosophizing over for now…time for the weekend roundup. I decided to stay in the same hotel as they did, the Maison Bleue, even though it was a splurge for me – when I was unemployed I was amazed at how easy it was to spend money even though I wasn’t making any. It is even easier if the credit card bills are going to someone else! Actually, I have tried to remain very conscious of what I am spending – I didn’t quite need a splurge so close to the See the World trip, but opportunity knocked. The Maison Bleue is a riad, similar to the one I went to on my first weekend away back in December – an old house with rooms surrounding a central courtyard. The sign out front says “one of the romantic hotels of the world” and when I got to my room my first thought was that this was indeed a beautiful romantic room that I had all to myself! Maybe someday I’ll get to all of the other romantic hotels of the world by myself. Or….???

Carol and Mike had hired a guide for the day, and when she handed him her list of things she wanted to see, it was hard to tell his reaction, if any. Surprise? Any acknowledgement? He took us to the Bab Boujeloud, where all tours seem to start, and then the medersa just inside the old medina. He then said he would take us to the things that would be hard to get to by ourselves and leave the rest for us to do on our own – exactly the right thing to say! We next went to a potterie – not the same one I went to with my family - the process is just about the same but the layout was different and the products slightly different. Carol and Mike, by the way, were dutiful tourists and bought something almost every place we went, carefully considering each purchase. I bought some small items to bring or send back home and a couple of things for myself; maybe I will become more of a consumer when I am closer to leaving, or maybe I will return some day in consumer mode, but other than the hotel and meals, which were with them, I kept spending in check. Then it was back to the old medina and the tanneries – different shop, same vats. Then the same carpet shop where I saw the most beautiful carpet I have ever seen, and the same weavers making scarves. I consider the scarves a coup because the workspace is completely unmarked – I don’t know that I could have found it on my own – but now I think I CAN find it on my own. I think I can probably get back to almost everything we went to. With other volunteers we start at the Bab Boujeloud and go down the Talaa Kbira (big hill) and then back up it or up the Talaa Sgira (small hill) but the guides don’t do that – they go in to the medersa and then back out and take a taxi to another entrance to the medina where there are more points of interest. That is the key! We even went to the same lunch place I had been to with my sister – maybe all of the guides who take a few people around (as opposed to a large group) do that – it was certainly delicious! Our guide said he would pick us up again at 5:30 – because it was hot, or because he had something to do? – so we went back to the hotel for rose milk and dates. Then another few hours in the medina, this time seeing things I had not done before. An engraver of bronze and silver-colored trays – I have to add one of those to the list of things I want to buy before I go. An embroidery place, where it was interesting to see the artisans at work – they work without a pattern, ambidextrously – the pattern is the same on the front as the back, so for the back they are not even looking as they push the needle back through! Wood, except I told Carol and Mike to wait to buy their wood in Azrou. An herbalist – my sister had asked for more argan oil, so this was a good stop. And this all amidst the hustle-bustle of narrow streets with donkeys and people passing by and shops selling tourist items next to those selling items for residents next to food stalls. I like Fes! And now I feel I know it. Not that I wouldn’t get lost, and not that I wouldn’t recommend a guide when other visitors come, but last time I felt that I was one trip away, and this was the trip.

We dined at the Maison Bleue, listed in my books as one of the best or even the best restaurant in Fes. With a big meal, wine, live music, a full day, a bath, a comfortable bed, air conditioning, and no barking dogs, I slept better than I had in a while. Unfortunately, most of those conditions cannot be duplicated at home. And I did find myself lying awake – thinking, one of the most romantic hotels in the world. The hotel is certainly romantic but is Fes romantic? There have been parts of Morocco that I have felt have been romantic, but what makes something romantic at all, anyway? I decided that yes, Fes is romantic – in addition to the hotel, the meals are, with their riad setting, but there’s a mystery to the twisty streets, there are surprises, there is beauty. I asked Carol and Mike at breakfast and they agreed.

I told them that we could do Meknes but that in a way it might be more of the same, and that it would be more tiring – they said they had had enough of souks; so far I am the only person I know that can do all-souk-all-the-time! The Maison Bleue offers a tour of palaces that are otherwise off-limits (the benefits of luxury hotels), but that tour was unavailable because the King was in town. The King! With the Saudi King! I suggested that we go to the artisana, and they were more than happy to do so. I knew it was right in the area where I had been trying to find it last time, but still couldn’t find it. I suggested we go to a nearby hotel, the Jnan Palace, and ask the concierge. I had asked the people at the gates last time but didn’t go into the hotel. Glad we did – it had a beautiful pool, which might be available for a day fee, many flowers in bloom (including jacarandas!) and a lovely gift shop. And directions! Turns out we had been dropped off right in front of the artisana – it just has a very small sign. I wanted to take pictures of the displays, and when I explained who I was they allowed me to. And we bought some things. Mike and Carol (reversing the order for some equal time) were amazed by the Ville Nouvelle, with its wide, tree-lined boulevards – it is quite a change from the old medina, and they had no idea it was there. Does this mean all visitors should see it? Probably (especially if they don’t see Rabat or Marrakesh, which have a similar contrast). We had lunch at a nice restaurant there (kefta and egg tagine for me) and ice cream at one of the sidewalk cafés. We then walked to Fes El-Jdid, where we saw the Royal Palace and the mellah, where, with me as guide, we saw the cemetery, the main street with its balconies, and the potato chip man. A little more time together, and then it was time for me to go in order to make it home before dark. When I got back to Azrou, it was noticeably cooler. After all those years of "cooler by the lake," I guess I'm still there - without the lake. The picture of me is at the Royal Palace – you might notice that my hair is much darker! I had been thinking about making it darker – this might be darker than I had in mind but I am happy with it!

Today, Mike and Carol came to Azrou. Rain and cold 2, Visitors 0. Not as much rain or cold as there had been when my family was here, but still, it hadn’t been rainy or cold for a while! We started at the artisana, went to the Azrou rock to see the little lion sculpture and the view of the new part of town, walked in the old medina, met the met the rock carver, had fava bean soup, went to tea at the carpet shop with the kittens (how they have grown!), went to lunch, and then went to my apartment and just visited for a while. Over the course of the weekend we talked about the Peace Corps, Morocco, language and Islam but also about Chicago, the Princeton Club, other goings-on at Princeton, sports, current events, the 2008 election, interesting people, culture – great conversation, and there was so much more we could have talked about! They left on the early side in order to see the monkeys and maybe one of the lakes on their way back to Fes; I think I’ll work on my presentation this evening – I see another busy week ahead!

Oh, and I should mention that thanks to Carol, I now have Cubs and White Sox magnet schedules instead of a blank canvas on my refrigerator.

'Tis the season for jacarandas- they are in full bloom in LA- glad to hear that you got to enjoy them.
I thought of you when I saw them and wrote that, of course!

And also of South Africa – I would love to see the jacarandas in Pretoria some day. Not only that, but there is a palm-lined street in Fes that reminds me of one in Cape Town. I think of South Africa often – my trip there started the ball rolling that got me here.
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