31 May 2006


The land of the famous hat.

I arrived here last night with some new friends, two Argentines and a Guatemalan-Canadian. All three are girls, which has made certain walks quite interesting. An example of the type of conversation men enjoy having with these ladies:

"You come to my house, I give you a massage? Do you want some aphrodisiacs? One man from Morocco can handle at least three women."

I generally have the choice to laugh, ignore the whole thing, or act stern. The last choice usually seems the riskiest of all.

Still, the city is great, and in many ways the typical Moroccan city, comprised of thousands of winding, confusing, endless streets. The medina, or old city, is divided into hundreds of different sections, and one can easily get lost and see nothing but fish for ages, or leather, or meat....

The place is crazy.

One thing that is honestly beginning to drive me a bit crazy is the call to prayer. I have always enjoyed this sound, which emanates from every mosque in every town five times a day. The problem is that, as the hours of sunlight and heat change, so too do the times of the call to prayer.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the first call to prayer at this time of year is approximately three in the morning. And so my sleep, day after day, is destroyed by fifteen minutes of singing at three a.m. This was, at first, quite "interesting", but has very quickly become a part of the local color which I would much rather sleep through.

Needless to say, I am drinking a lot of coffee.

Besides this, things continue to go well, and I hope to begin looking for a place to take some Arabic classes soon. Also, on Friday begins a ten day festival of Sacred Music from around the world, so this should be a great city in which to spend some time.

Anyway, that is all for now. More soon.

29 May 2006

How quickly things change...

How quickly things can change.

As of last night, I was done with this city, ready to get somewhere where I could avoid, perhaps just by sheer numbers, the constant throngs of people dying to get me stoned or check out their shop.

I went to sleep last night wishing hard for a change of venue. A pillow never felt so much like a rock, the air was never so stifling.

I had bad dreams all night, and awoke with a headache and strange stomach cramps and a bad taste in my mouth. I had been tossing and turning ever since the 3 a.m. call to prayer, which had sounded from every mosque in the city.

I stumbled to the bathroom, washed my face and brushed my teeth, and headed out into the still quiet main square for something to eat and some coffee. The banks were still closed and the ATMs were far. The restaurant owner offered to start a breakfast tab for me until the banks opened.

And then, the ATMs would not work and the bank personnel could do nothing for me. I headed back to the cafe to drink more coffee, clear my head, and think of an alternate plan of action.

When I returned to the closer of the ATMs to give it another try, I noticed a foreign woman walking toward me. She held a bank card in her hand and carried a heavy look on her face. Ahhh...wonderful. I knew that the second of the ATMs would not work either. I decided to try anyway.

As I did, she approached, obviously wishing to give it another try. We stayed together, trying repeatedly until we both were able to withdraw money from the machine, and then began heading back toward the main square.

As we walked, she told me how much she loved the city, and talked endlessly of how wonderful the people were and how beautiful the place was. I thought of how ready I was to leave. She continued, and told more and more stories of walks she had taken and people she had met...And suddenly, I could see the place through her eyes.

I decided to stay another day.

We had breakfast in the square, and ate the local goat cheese from the mountains. We sat with a musician and played drums with him while he played the flute. She left a while later, and I stayed behind, ready to give the town another try.

I ended up heading out for a walk in the same direction that I went a few days ago. Back toward the crumbling hillside mosque I walked, and soon ran into some people I had met at the hotel--two Argentine girls and a Guatemalan girl. They were accompanied by a short Japanese guy and a Moroccan guide.

And so we walked for hours, passing through the fields of marijuana and past herds of goats, stopping at the now familiar mountain spring of icy cold, delicious water. We kept going, and passed through valleys and over hills, until we reached a town miles away. The sun was relentless and sweat poured down my face, but the landscape was beautiful and everyone that we met was friendly, and I do not think I experienced a single uncomfortable moment.

Strange country this surely is, and while I am well aware of this by now, I am constantly surprised. On the way back, I began walking rather quickly, and soon left the others behind. As I came back near to the spring, now without water and truly yearning to wet as much of my body as social conventions would allow, I saw a guy sitting beneath a tree on the side of the trail. He invited me to sit with him, and I scrambled up the hillside and sat down.

Placed in his lap was a portable black and white television with a broken antenna. A wire strung from the back was connected to the two contacts of a car battery. He was watching mostly static, but behind the static I could see the blurred outlines of a tennis match. He pointed at the screen and said, "basquet". I pointed and corrected him, saying "tennis".

Thankfully, he unplugged the set immediately, and began to give me an Arabic lesson. This was the first person I had met on this trip that did not seem to speak any Spanish or French, and so we stumbled through the rudimentary aspects of a conversation, eventually getting down our names and nationalities. I sat there in the relative shade with him, learning the Arabic word for water, and how to say "I go to Chefchaouen". Occasionally, he would plug the TV back in to check that the picture had not suddenly become crystal clear. Of course, it never did become clear, and as soon as he was sure of this, we would continue the lesson.

I left after a bit, and headed back into town with the others, and as we entered, I thought about how much I liked the place, and how nice so many people are. I saw people I knew, and enjoyed a great meal with my South American friends. And later, after a shower, sipping a mint tea on a rooftop terrace, I just thought of how much things can change and how much another person's vision can become your own.

And so, tomorrow I head to Fez, maybe.

28 May 2006


Yesterday morning, after four hours of sleep and a few cups of coffee in a bar frequented by truckers and prostitutes, I left Algeciras.

I took a boat through the fist-clenching Strait of Gibraltar, walked across the border into Morocco, and took three separate taxis until I arrived in the mountain town of Chefchaouen.

This town was originally built as a stronghold against the invading Portuguese in 1472, and soon after, became the home of the Jews and Muslims fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Christians were banned from the city until the 1920s, when the Spanish colonized the area. Those Christians that did enter the city risked the rather hefty penalty of death if caught therewithin.

The town is now most famous for its agricultural pursuits; which, much to the chagrin of the European Union, continue to be concentrated on the highly exportable crop of the finest grade of kif--a product manufactured with the Cannabis plant.

The place is beautiful--a collection of tightly packed houses and winding alleyways. Many of the houses have been painted a strange color--something between the most blinding and brilliant of whites and the lightest of blues--popularized by the Jewish population in the early 1900s. The huge Rif mountain range rises on nearly all sides, monopolozing the views and insulating interior life.

Unfortunately, the one group that no mountains have been able to keep out is the international tourist set, which is stopped by no geographical border or obstacle. As usual, this influx of tourists has spawned a burgeoning population of hustlers and dope dealers. One has a tough time walking even a minute without the need to turn down an offer for hash or kif. Offers are constant to visit the "family's artesanal factory" and responses to the negative are often met with icy stares, hurt looks, and occasionally, only slightly veiled threats. To be honest, the onslaught is so widespread that I don't see myself staying here long, even taking into consideration the beautiful natural surroundings.

Yesterday, after walking around a bit and eating a delcious tagine de kefta, I headed up into the hills, wishing to see the town from above and explore a crumbling mosque visible from the city center. The mosque was built by the Spanish and effectively boycotted by the Moroccans, and while it has settled into a comfortable disrepair, it is still painted by the municipality, and boasts a pristine white-blue color.

As I sat atop the hill, struggling in my dehydration and exhaustion, I began to talk with a young Moroccan guy, Ali, and an older American couple, Carole and Wilfred. We spoke of the local history and third world-first world relations, and eventually we three Americans decided to take up Ali on his offer to tour the fields of the Rif's most important crop--kif.

It is quite strange the way things work here in regard to the kif plantations. There is none of the Leo DiCaprio 'Beach' sort of secrecy about the work that goes on these hills. On the contrary, everything seems quite institutional, and taking a tour of the crop feels not unlike a winery tour in which one sees the plants, learns of the process involved in production, and is encouraged to try the local vintage.

As Ali explained to us, the plantations that we visited exist somewhere in the middle range on the scale of legal trouble. The big dealers, those that deliver to Europe and beyond, are very friendly with the police, and suffer little at the hands of local authorities. Very rural growers are likewise quite safe, as their isolation protects them. Small towns like the one we visited are generally okay, and their work is a very, very open secret. Those most at risk are small-time dealers and growers in highly populated regions. And so turns the world, as the fat cats build fortified mansions and the little man goes to jail.

So through the fields of waving green I walked with my new companions and our guide. I could hardly have asked for better company, as Ali was both knowledgable and friendly, and Carole and Wilfred were the most adventurous, open-minded, and vital couple in their mid-sixties that I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

I was amazed at how professional the entire operation is. A recent windstorm had ruined much of the crop, but what remained was well-tended and cared for. People roamed the fields, weeding and discarding male plants. Hoses and irrigation systems coursed through the land and homemade sprinklers [pierced garden hoses] spread the water. In addition to kif, I saw the fields of wheat with which local bread is made, potatoes, onions, and grazing animals.

What is so so sad and so interesting about this whole industry is the way in which international politics and locals laws affect the whole thing. For the local people kif is a normal part of life, not merely some sort of Bob Marley-loving, European thing. Kif is enjoyed by shopkeepers and shepards, men of all ages and professions. They smoke out of long, thin pipes, or spread potent hash oil on their cigarettes. This is part of their daily life, and has been for hundreds of years.

Big dealers and small hustlers are arguably only responding to a Western demand when they grow entire fields of the crop. They are then vilified, imprisoned and harassed at the behest of Western governments. It is, to be sure, a strange (and yet extremely common] state of affairs, and it doesn't seem crazy to think that a change in the laws or habits of the Western World would have a very positive effect on the situation here.

Tomorrow I head off for somewhere different, perhaps directly to Fez, where I hope to enroll in an Arabic class at a local institute. Until then, I bid you adieu, adios, and goodbye.

27 May 2006

Getting to Algeciras (26 May)

Bobadilla, Spain

I have just done some research into the name of this town "Bobadilla", and I have found that in the Middle Ages the name was given to certain areas designated as grazing areas for cattle (apparently the "bob" is like "bov" as in bovine).


I see the word much differently, however, and in a way much more fitting given my experiences in this town.

The Spanish language, like all Romance languages, has a noun form known as the diminuitive. The diminuitive, oddly enough, works just as one would assume, and makes things smaller. So basically, by merely adding an ending such as "ito" or "ico" or "illo", or their respective femenine and plural forms, I can make something big into something little.

For instance, if you have a house (casa) that is small (or somehow cute or endearing, as the diminuitive can also express this), we call it a "casita".

So, what then is a bobadilla? Well, a bobadilla is little bobada.

And what is a bobada? A bobada, put simply, is something that a bobo does.

And what is a bobo? A bobo is a fool, or dumbass, or idiot.

And so, a bobadilla is "a little thing that a dumbass would do"

Suffice it to say that the mere act of going to Bobadilla is, in and of itself, quite a foolish act. I am still not quite sure what I was doing there, expect that it had something to do with getting to Algeciras. I also know that every decision that I made yesterday was clouded by sleep deprivation and constant hunger, so I excuse myself on that basis, as well as on the fact that I did in fact finally make it to Algeciras yesterday.

Nonetheless, I cannot really excuse the residents of the town, many of who honestly seemed to be pretty stupid. I tried not to stare too much at the really strange ones, but I swear, this town had one church and at least ten bars, and I confirmed the existence of at least 6 total idiots and saw at least 5 photographs or paintings that featured shotguns.

But, all is well that ends well, I guess, and like I say I finally did make it to Algeciras, and today I made it into Morocco.

I'll write more later (or tomorrow) about the Algeciras to Morocco adventure. Right now, the sun is shining, coffee is calling, and this keyboard is driving me friggin crazy.

18 May 2006

One Week

One week from today I will fly from New York City to Madrid. I will then board a subway, then a bus or two. I'll follow all that up with a boat ride across the Strait of Gibraltar.

When I get off the boat, I'll be in Morocco, where I will be spending the next five weeks. But before I have the chance to sip tea and stroll through verdant mountain towns, there is much to be done.

Bills to be paid, rooms to be vacated, friends to see, tickets to be printed, bags to be packed.

More from Morocco.

08 May 2006

More news...

All is quiet here, so I thought I'd share another interesting piece of news from the New York Tiimes. I forget the date that this appeared.

06 May 2006

Get Energized!

New to the Revolutionary idea of turning every possible type of foodstuff on the market into an idiotic "Energy" provider:

And...I'm not sure if I feel comfortable dining at the Thai restaurant responsible for menu item number 12:

In other news...

I leave for Morocco on May 25th, 19 days from today. I will be there for approximately five weeks.

Work is almost over, trees are blooming or bloomed, the sun is shining. Brooklyn hipsters are slowly attempting to peel off their jeans and slide into something a little more comfortable. David Blaine is stuffed inside a fishbowl in front of Lincoln Center.

04 May 2006

Strange News

As reported today in the New York Times "World Briefing"

THE PHILIPPINES: JUDGE SEEKS REINSTATMENT A judge who claimed he could see into the future and admitted consulting three imaginary mystic dwarfs has asked for his job back after being fired by the Supreme Court. "They should not have dismissed me for what I believed," the judge, Florentino Floro, said after filing his appeal. (Reuters)

03 May 2006

A Day Without a Mexican?

In 2004, the director Sergio Arau released a film entitled, "A Day Without a Mexican." From a critical and artistic standpoint, the movie was a complete failure--the acting was terrible, the dialogue was flat, and as one IMDb reviewer said, it had "the subtlety of a brick."

Nonetheless, the premise of the movie was interesting--one day the people of California wake up, stretch, scratch themselves copiously, and look around to find that all the Hispanics of California have disappeared. They're just plain gone. Fruit rots in fields, rich men walk around in dirty clothes, restaurants close, and riots begin. The entire state, isolated by a (once again very subtle) mysterious cloud of thick mist, goes into a panic, and finally realizes the extent to which the Hispanic population supports every aspect of their lives.

This movie, lame as it is, has been getting a lot of attention lately, fueled by the plans for (and recent happening of) the May 1st economic boycots and demonstrations. Certain groups of immigrants around the country called for what was billed as a "Day Without Immigrants". They advocated worker walkouts, boycots, marches, and the construction of symbolic human chains.

Obviously the press was all over this story, and everyone, of course, had a different opinion. The liberals are talking about how this is like the civil rights movement of the 21st Century (the metaphor doesn't quite work) and the conservatives are freaking out because there were too many Che Guevara t-shirts and foreign flags. Everyone's going nuts.

Now, I'm no political pundit, but I'd like to consider a few things:

1. We shouldn't worry about Che Guevara t-shirts. Relax, Communism has been defeated, Che Guevara is dead and resurrected in the form of cotton haberdashery. Ask people wearing the shirt where he was born, what he did, how he died. Most won't be able to tell you.

2. Regardless of one's political opinions and leanings, it's important to realize that there is next to nothing that we can do to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country (for an interesting explanation of some of this, check out Piero Scaruffi's web page). This is a rich country and Mexico (the source of the majority of the immigrants in question) is a poor nation (or better said, a nation with many poor people and very few extremely rich people). People will always cross the border. There will always be immigrants pouring into the country. And you can't kick 'em all out. It would take too long, this country really would go to shit, and it would cost too much money. And it would pretty damn mean.

3. Most economists that study the issue agree on the fact that the average worker is really barely affected (if at all) negatively by the presence of illegal immigrants. In fact, some economists have even said that the presence of immigrants is beneficial to many workers. People always talk about how much immigrants "take from Americans." What about all the stuff they buy and the taxes paid by many (obvious many do not as well) of them?

4. Everyone's freaking out about how many foreign flags are flying at these protests. Have these people ever taken a walk down through Little Italy? How many Italian flags do you see?

5. Finally--and I'm no conservative on the immigration issue--there is one point on which I think that I nearly agree with conservatives (or at least disagree with certain liberals). This is certainly not the 1960's Civil Rights movement all over again. Whether or not one supports making illegal immigrants citizens (I do), there are serious differences that must be considered between these two movements:

A. Illegal immigrants are not citizens, but in fact do benefit from many rights afforded to citizens (ie healthcare, education, etc). Blacks were citizens, and were not afforded many of these rights.

B. We all piss in the same place, drink water from the same fountains, and ride wherever we like on the bus.

C. Blacks were brought over here as slaves from Africa and then mistreated continuously for hundreds of years. Mexicans were not (except in certain terrible circumstances) brought over.

Whatever...like I said, I'm no political pundit....I just think that it's important not to distort the present or the past, but rather to look at the question at hand.

Anyway, I took a walk down to Union Square the other day to check out the protests. I was only there a little while, as it was hot as the dickens and really crowded, but it was a great time. People were cheering and singing and chanting. Babies and mothers and men and children were there. It really was a pretty exciting atmosphere, and it awed me to think of the number of people risking their jobs and deportation to fight for a better life and a citizen's rights here. (note: non-ironic statement)

After milling around with the people for a while and taking some mental notes, I noticed a couple of interesting things:

A. Communists all dress and look the same (I saw a few handing out copies of their newspaper and pamphlets and whatnot).

B. Some people just love protests--There were people there protesting all sorts of stuff that had little to do with questions
regarding immigration, unless you really stretch the issues at hand. I saw, for instance, people with anti-Imperialism posters and people with (the ubiquitous) Che Guevara t-shirts, and one guy in a military uniform, wearing a gay pride pin and a brandishing a sign against the war in Iraq. No wonder us lefties piss off and confuse so many people--we can't just stick to the damn issue at hand.

C. It was hot as hell.

I finally gave in to the concerted dual attack by Mother Nature and Senor Big Crowd Anxiety and retired to the cool and relative quiet of Whole Foods for a cold juice and a bird's eye view of the protest. And that's that.