Art, Nudity and Necessity

On Friday night, I kicked off my weekend by going with a friend – an arts journalist – to a theatre production wrapping up its run.

Overall, I liked the play and its messages.  (You can visit Play Anon’s blog for her take.)

But near the end, the leading actor (and central character) – in what would have been the emotional height of the play – took off ALL his clothes and just stood there on stage. Stark naked.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback.

A couple of times, I cast a sideways glance at my friend. She was partially covering her mouth with her hand. I could only guess at any number of things that could have been running through her head. But among them, she probably wasn’t thinking:

“I can’t believe I’m looking at this guy’s junk.”

Sophmoric and unsophisticated? Well, I’ve never professed not to be.

But it did get me to thinking … Was this necessary?

I know I’m not asking an original question. But I think it’s one occasionally worth raising.

When is seeing an artist nude crucial to the message they’re trying to convey? And when it is just gratuitous ? 

With respect to the production I saw – and without going into much detail – I think I understood why he did it. Within the context of the piece, he used his body to represent, among other things, vulnerability and discomfort at facing a personal truth.

That also probably meant also getting us to face our own personal discomforts … making us in the audience feel just as uncomfortable  … to address the matter head on (so to speak).

For as he stood there in all his naked glory, save for his pair of socks, I found it difficult to look at him – and to look away.

Was it relevant? In this case, yes, I think so. But I still hold my reservations.

I’ve never considered myself to be the most liberal person around – who truly is? But I don’t think I’m a complete prude, either.

Neither is the friend with whom I saw the play. But I think even she has her limits.

When we hung out on a previous occasion, she recalled going to an art charity event a few weeks earlier. One actor – a friend of hers – did this piece in which he performed au naturel.

She said the performance made her a bit mad. She felt as if her colleague had gone for that “gotcha” moment, doing his bit naked, because he thought he could get away with being able to do it for art’s sake.

I remember another instance, a handful of years back, in which I went to the film festival here in town. A friend of a friend had a free movie ticket at the last minute; I thought, why not?

Granted, when she was like, “We’re going to see a sex film,” almost gleefully, I knew what I was getting into.

The film itself – based on the blurb I read beforehand – focussed on the anatomy of a relationship from just the physical perspective.

Was there nudity? You bet. Was it explicit? Yes. Was it a cinematic achievement? Hardly. I just thought it was a bit excessive.

Looking back, I wonder: did I just spend almost two hours in a theatre on that late summer evening watching glorified pornography? Or art?

Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. So consider this:

For the last couple of spring semesters, another friend of mine – a high-school art teacher – goes through the process of finding people to work as nude models for her students’ sketch class. 

Is this acceptable?

To me, I don’t see a “gotcha” element to this. It’s for educational purposes – learning to sketch and draw a live form.

Do I think it’s the only acceptable circumstance? No, of course not.

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I’ll see nudity in an art piece or production. Perhaps as I see more of them, my personal standards will expand.  

Or maybe I’ll never stop questioning its relevance.

I, The Kite-Killer

Miscellaneous 022As a kid, one of the things I’d look forward to during warmer weather was flying kites with my dad.

I remember he’d bought this one kite, which I think was supposed to be shared between my younger brother and me.

I can picture it in my mind: black, plastic, triangular-shaped – “delta”, I think the design’s called – with two, bloodshot eyes, and a little ragged “tail”.

We’d go to the park nearby and he’d show us how to get it up in the air, providing there was enough of a breeze.

When there was a good wind, man, how high that thing could go! It would dart and swoop. And when it was time to go home, he’d reel it in and off we’d go.

It’s memories like these that sadden me as I say the following:

I now HATE kites. Okay, maybe “hate” is a strong word. But they irritate me.

It’s not as if they’re bigger and more ostentatious these days. Or that they make annoying sounds or give off crazy emissions.

It’s almost as if there are TOO MANY kites. Kite pollution, if you will.

The source of my irritation:

There’s a huge park close to my parents’ house. On warmer, windier days like the ones we’ve had lately, people and their kids are over there flying their kites by the dozens. 

Kites of all colours, shapes and sizes … that seem to hang suspended in the air … that list and dip and dive … that soar to incredible heights …

And then end up dangling into – or over – our backyard.

Grrrr.

Yes, I sound like a miserable, Grinchy neighbour. I should have a heart and think of the children.

I completely agree. But here’s the problem:

‘Cause of the great heights, these kites drift over, and the string gets caught and all knotted around something – the edge of a roof or the top of a tree.

Most of the time, the kites are too high to retrieve, so they’re left twisting in the elements, to “decompose” for the rest of the year.

Sometimes you can reach the string. But it’s so taut, it can cut your fingers as you try to pull it down.

Even if you successfully get the kites down, you can’t even return them to their rightful owners, because the friggin’ things flew over from almost a kilometre away.

Worse still, there’s kite string EVERYWHERE. Which means some animal will probably end up choking on it.

The picture above was taken last Sunday, when the weather conditions were prime for kite-flying. And bingo – not one but TWO kites dangling in our backyard.

So THAT’s what I did when I got my hands on them. And they weren’t the mass-manufactured types, either. Someone’s dad or grandfather probably helped make these.

Do you know how much that SUCKED to toss them out?

Oh, but yes. I, the Kite-Killer, feel pain for these innocent wind-vehicles of joy. But hey. This property ain’t big enough for the three of us.

I suppose there’s no real “solution” to this problem.

So for now, I will have to continue crushing little kids’ summer hobbies with a pair of scissors and the recycling bin, until flying season is over …

And the kites that survive are stored away.

Why I Want to Write Books, Reason # 3

“Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed … I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph.

“I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.”

– Rapper Kanye West in a recent interview, on why he doesn’t like reading books. He is the co-author of the book, “Thank You And You’re Welcome”.

<smites own forehead>

 Seriously? SERIOUSLY.

Um, Kanye? Books can actually be like TV shows. If you don’t like the one you’re looking at, you can CHANGE it.

Oh, and by the way? If you haven’t seen this (it’s been out for over a year), I think you should:

As for all you folks who have kids who “don’t like books”, please keep them away from me.

Because if I see them, I will smite THEIR foreheads. Repeatedly. And then you’ll have to call the police.

Siiiigh. I think it’s now time for a lie-down …

To Tweet (Or Not To) …

twitter_logo

Once upon a time, there was Friendster.

Then it was replaced in popularity by other social sites, like hi5 …

Then MySpace. And of course, the Facebook.

And now? Twitter.

Do I join? Or renounce?

I’d been doing a pretty good job of the latter … until a former co-worker of mine – who’d since left to work overseas – sent me an invite through my work e-mail to join.

Since then, I’ve been flip-flopping between “Bah! I refuse! This thing is a passing fad” and “I dunno … it might be fun”.

I’m in an industry where a number of my peers use it as a communication/networking tool and, I suppose, a way to keep in touch with various friends and colleagues. So in a way, it would be logical for me to use it.

But isn’t that what other already established media  – ie. Facebook, e-mail, cellphones, etc. – are for?

And, while I realize that there are other functions to Twitter as well, the one I’m most familiar with is the Facebook-esque status updates, in 140 characters or less, letting people know what you’re doing – the “tweet”. (Don’t I sound un-hip?)

I bet I’d be FASCINATED the first week or so. But I’m not sure my interest would hold. I mean, unless I’m bungee-jumping off some gorge one day and doing a road trip to a bunch of little towns the next, why would someone want to know what I’m doing? Do people actually care what I’m having for lunch, or where I happen to be going after work?

I’m already highly engrossed in Facebook, to the chagrin of some friends who live an FB-free existence. Could I handle the world of tweets, twit pics and TweetDeck as well?

(I haven’t pressed “delete” on my Twitter invite just yet.)

What do you folks think about Twitter?

Has it got a few miles to go before it hits the dust? Is it here to stay? Or is it the party guest that’s overstayed its welcome?

Grilled Cheese? Yes, Please!

cheesevictoryAt a birthday party over a month ago, a friend and I were talking, and somehow we veered on to the subject of cheese.

Grilled cheese sandwiches, to be exact.

About six minutes later, a funny conversation morphed into a fun idea for a theme party.

And last weekend, my friend threw a grilled cheese sandwich party for his birthday.

Awww YEEEAAAAAH.

To clarify: I am NOT professing to be the first person to ever think this up. CBC Radio 2 held its Grilled Cheese Invitational last Friday, the day before our party, but I had no prior knowledge of it until someone mentioned it to me at the party.  

I’ve also learned that said event was based on/inspired by the original Grilled Cheese Invitational created in Los Angeles six years ago. 

Big disclaimer/acknowledgment aside, this was probably one of THE tastiest party ideas ever.

We were well-stocked with more than enough breads, cheeses, two kinds of butter (plain or garlic) and other “go-with” ingredients to make the magic happen, as well as the crucial tools to bring all these things together …

Two George Foreman sandwich grills.

Oh, but YES.

As a bit of a grilled cheese purist (if you don’t count grilled cheese bagel sandwiches), I loved the party ’cause I got to try different combinations …

Like grilled cheese, marblelized with maple syrup, and sweet, carmelized pear.

Or brie and Nutella. Yes.  Together. (Don’t judge me.)

There are probably only two, if any downsides to this:

(1) If you’re lactose-intolerant or don’t eat dairy, you wouldn’t be at this party. And you’d hate us. And we can’t spread the ooey-gooey love to people who can’t appreciate.

(2) If you don’t come with a big appetite, the novelty of filling one’s  insides with cheese could wear off. But maybe it’s just a matter of pacing yourself … or learning some special technique to stretch your tummy.

But really, I highly recommend trying this at least once.

And if someone were to do this again in future, I’d only have one question:

“What time should I be there?”

Viva la queso!

Changing the Pattern

Although problems seem to be thrust on us by an unfair destiny, they are all made to meausre as a result of our attitudes. We choose the cloth, cut and colour of our garments. If you don’t like what you’re wearing, change the material.

Thus spoke my daily newspaper horoscope several weeks ago.

I’d been at work a little over a week,  and I could already feel the old surliness creeping in.

Not that I consider my horoscope to be a source of absolute truth, but the message that day seemed pretty apt.

Outside of my personal situation, the environment at my workplace hasn’t been the greatest lately. People have been losing jobs. A handful are choosing to take retirement packages. Most are in limbo, waiting to see if their names are on the list of casualties, or be spared in some way.

Meanwhile, I’ve been continuing to struggle between being grateful for working, period, and feeling even more cemented in a rut than ever before.

On top of which, the one thing I thought would be an avenue out of my rut has been roadblocked – for at least the next six months, anyway (if one of my friends – who knows the area I want to work in – is to be believed). 

So over the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly trying to change my attitude and make the most of my job. ‘Cause let’s face it: where I currently am is, for now, not in danger of disappearing. So I might as well try to keep myself busy instead of sitting like a bored little bump on a log.

Hopefully this updated “pattern” can last me at least through the next several months, or until the right material comes along to make a whole new garment.

It has to.

And The Winner Is …

Yes, I know, I know. I should have posted this two days ago WHEN IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. But I had better things to finish writing.

Anyway … In case you missed all the coverage, this is the winner of the most coveted job in the world – six months as caretaker of Hamilton Island off the Great Barrier Reef, promoting the area on behalf of Tourism Queensland.

Sadly, they weren’t Canadian. *sigh*

But their significant other apparently is … so maybe it’s kind of a win-win?

Meh. Either way I’m jealous.

But in all seriousness, to the winner I say, congratulations! You truly do have the best job in the world. And I’ll be happily reading your posts when you begin blogging in July.

(Hell, if I’m going to be house-bound and unable to travel, it’d be nice to live vicariously thorugh someone who’s living the dream!)

And for the rest of you, you can visit the Web site to see the winner pasted atop the front page, and see the application video that caught Tourism Queensland’s attention, if you haven’t already.

Happy Friday!

Morocco: The Epilogue

morocco-march-2009-522I can’t believe I’ve been back home for OVER A MONTH.

It’s truly mind-boggling how quickly time evaporates after you’ve done a trip. It’s as if time slowed down just enough for me to take things in … and then boing! out of the wormhole I was flung.

(And, in what’s quickly becoming a routine in my travels, my backpack – lost in the fray – was spat out a day later.)

Now Morocco seems to be all but gone from my immediate memory, save for my photos. (It’s the only reason it’s taken me so long to churn out the last few entries. Apologies.)

I remember within days of being back, friends were already asking me questions, like, “What was the highlight of your trip?” and “Where’s your next trip going to be?”

Highlight? I didn’t have a single highlight. I had a bunch of them.

Like the madness of crossing the streets in Meknes and Marrakech. 

The tour through Fez. 

The trek through the desert and peering up at the night sky, sitting on the sand.

The crispness of the mountain air.

The colours. The sounds. The smells.

I like having all the little memories. It’s as if, deep in the recesses in my mind, I have this tiny compartment with my memories pieced together like mosaic tiles, and safely tucked away, covered in cerebral bubble wrap.  

And where am I planning to go to next, you ask?

As much as I’d like to start researching that five-week trip to Southeast Asia, I can’t really think about that right now.  For starters, I’ve barely finished paying off for this trip.

And if I were to, say, acquire some real estate this year, there’s no way I’d be able to travel. Unless I suddenly fell into money. Or on top of a rich boyfriend.

Besides, I’d still like to have a little more time to lovingly gaze at my pictures.

But it was so nice to have the chance to travel somewhere, and plan it in advance. And I’d gladly recommend this country to anyone who asks. It’s truly a place to visit at least once.

Okay, enough. Onward with life, yes?

The Final Stretch in Marrakech

morocco-march-2009-541Saturday, March 28.

Call it a case of last day lethargy, but I don’t really have a lot planned, nor do I want to. I’m tired, actually.

We saw the Djemaa el-Fna the night before, and I’m on the fence about returning. The only two things of interest to me today is (a) visiting the Majorelle Gardens and (b) trying to get in touch with my friend from work, who’s supposed to be in Marrakech with her fiancé for a family function. It would be nice to see them before I return home.

Home. That’s the other thing on my mind.

It’s not the destination that’s making me anxious. It’s the journey to the airport. How in the sweet hell I’m going to get from Marrakech to Casablanca? I haven’t even begun to steel myself for the long, god-awful flight itinerary back to Toronto. 

Before leaving for that morning’s outing, I see Will in the front lobby and explain my dilemma, which he offers to help me with. He phones around until he finds someone who thinks he can take me in a private van for 900 DH (currently about $127 CAD). He’s just awaiting confirmation.

It’s friggin’ steep. But not a choice I’m turning down at this point since my only other options are :

(a) missing the group dinner, taking the 9 p.m. train out of Marrakech, and sleeping on the floor of the Casablanca train station or airport overnight, or

(b) taking the 5 a.m. train Sunday morning , arriving at the airport around 8:30 a.m., and risk missing my flight. 

I also use Will’s laptop to try contacting my friend. She hasn’t been on Facebook for a few days now (duh – would YOU be?) so I’m unsure of what to do. At a tour-mate’s suggestion, I leave an e-mail, plus messages on her wall (and her fiancé’s as well) and hope for the best.

After, a group of us – consisting of Alex, Nikki, Grace, Amelia, Liz, Nonnie, Colin and myself – decide to start our day by walking over to the Majorelle Gardens.

Unlike last night, today feels MUCH cooler, and it’s slightly windy. I’m wearing my sandals, thinking it would be warm – but my toes are freezing.

After about 30 – 40 minutes (including a couple of stops), we finally reach the gardens.

Backstory: The gardens wemorocco-march-2009-559re designed by a French expatriate artist, Jacques Majorelle, in the 1920s, when Morocco was still a French protectorate.

The garden was opened to the public in 1947, and in 1980, the late Yves Saint-Laurent and an associate took over ownership.

(You can also visit the official Web site here for more information on Majorelle and the gardens.)

It’s really hard to guess how lush it is from the outer wall of the complex. From the minute we enter, there’s lush greenery – palms, flowers and plants – everywhere … especially cacti and other types of succulent plants.

Also everywhere: the shade of bold, blue paint used on the various structures in the garden – like doors, clay pots and the base of some fountains – named Majorelle blue, after the artist. 

morocco-march-2009-549There’s also a memorial to YSL in the gardens. (When he died, he apparently had his ashes scattered here.)

The little tile plaque leaning against the base of the memorial’s pillar says “silence” in English/French and Arabic.

We’ve only been in the gardens about 10 minutes when it starts raining. Again. Luckily I was smart enough to bring my trusty baby blue rainjacket.

Strangely enough, despite us folks getting wet, the rain seems to make everything in the gardens look even prettier.

Upon leaving, we split up. Nikki, Amelia, Alex, Grace and Colin all opt for heading down to the market straightaway. Nonnie and I take a taxi back to the hotel so we can change into warmer clothes and drier shoes.

Back at the hotel waiting for Nonnie, Will fills me in on the private taxi situation. Essentially the 900 DH offer has evaporated, and another offer – for 1,500 DH (about $210 CAD) – has taken its place. I’m incredulous, and a bit discouraged at the prospect of forking over THAT much money. He’s also checked for other options by plane and train. None. He says he’ll keep trying.

Nonnie and I set out by foot to the Djemaa el Fna. Of course, it’s NOW stopped raining and has gotten warmer than when we arrived a half-hour earlier.

morocco-march-2009-5771We also get lost when we get really close to the square. 

Somehow we end up around the outer wall and have to take the scenic route (by which I mean travelling alongside huge, high metal roadway guardrails, on strips of concrete one could barely call a pedestrian sidewalk) until we hit the Koutoubia Mosque (pictured at right).

The mosque is the largest in Marrakech. The minaret is said to have been used as the model for the Giralda in Seville, which I visited almost two years ago.

By the time we reach the square, all I can think about is my rumbling, empty stomach. Forget the market! We end up going to one of the rootop restaurants overlooking the square.

morocco-march-2009-580The service is slow, but I don’t mind.  While we wait, we watch the tourists, the snake charmers and other performers below.

After lunch, we return to ground level. We pass by one of the street performers, watching briefly. Wandering towards the entrance to the souks, Nonnie’s accosted within seconds. She’s looking for a little trolley to transport all the things she’s bought, but no dice.

Minutes later, we run into the others inside the souks. Nikki and Grace are sealing the deal on some jewellery they’ve bought; poor Alex has unfortunately been accosted by a local guy, leaving her quite fed up with the Marrakech experience; and I think in sometime in the space of the seven minutes we’ve been here, Nonnie manages to barter for yet another pair of shoes.

As for myself, I end up buying a pair of cushion covers. I get Nonnie’s assessment before I start the bartering process. While not entirely happy with the price, I at least hold my ground, raising my price in increments. It’s better than past barters I’ve made.

The group elects to meet near the post office ’round 3:30 p.m. to plan their next move. I opt to break away and hang out near the Koutoubia Mosque in hopes my friend and her fiance receive my Facebook message and can meet me.

I give it a half-hour before giving up. As I’m crossng the street, I see the others, who I thought had left at least 20 minutes earlier.

The girls hop in a cab; Colin, Nonnie and I venture down the street and discover a cyberpark. No, not wi-fi. I’m talking internet kiosks set up around the park grounds for public use. Call me weird, but I’ve never seen anything like it back home.

We do eventually find an internet centre, where Nonnie logs on to arrange her accommodation in southern Spain for the next day. I check my Facebook and – as luck has it – catch up with my friend’s fiancé via Facebook Chat. Turns out they’ve had a busy morning, checking out of the really shady riad they booked and finding a safer, less dodgy one. So sadly, our paths do not cross. 

We grab a taxi to the train station near our hotel so Nonnie and Colin can book their tickets for Tangier.

When we return to the hotel, I find out the issue with the private transfer has been resolved – Will manages to find someone who can take me to Marrakesh for 1,000 DH. Relieved, I chill in my room, relaxing into the pillows on my bed as I watch the back half of an American  movie with subtitles.

By the time we assemble in the hotel bar before dinner, it starts raining AGAIN. And it’s a downpour.

Will can’t find any petit taxis for us to hire, so he’s forced to arrange a minivan with the shadiest, most difficult driver we’ve come across in the two weeks we’ve been here.

Not only does he make us pay 200 DH upfront, he kicks up the HUGEST stink when we ask him (even with translation help from Alex) if we can stop off at an off-license place – near the restaurant, no less! – to buy some alcohol along with us for our meal.

Granted, he warns us (though not very nicely) that it’s closed, and it is -by the time he manoeuvres through traffic. But on top of his ridiculous behaviour, he demands another 20 DH. (What?)

We get our revenge in the end. As we’re piling out of the van, a middle-aged guy walks up to the driver’s side of the van and starts talking to him, probably about hiring his services.

We just turn and walk away from the van.

(To anyone thinking of travelling in Marrakech: If  you have to hire a van service and can’t avoid using Sté Transport Tahanaout, at least steer clear of a driver called Haj Lahcen. Yes, I’m calling him out, because he’s an ASSHOLE and he had the gall to give us his business cards … as IF.) 

morocco-march-2009-585Once out of the rain, the restaurant we’re at for our goodbye group dinner is quite nice, if more French-influenced than Moroccan.

I pore over the menu and order one last harira for the road (I can only eat about half of it), along with some pasta.

We make a gelati stop after dinner for the younger half of the group  and say our final goodbyes to Sally, Cathy and Nonnie, who head back to the hotel.

The rest of us walk down to this restaurant/bar, Comptoir Darna, for a drink. It’s pretty upscale compared to where we’ve been so far. I suddenly feel grossly underdressed. And the prices for drinks seem to match.

morocco-march-2009-588We stand, clustered close to the bar, and stay long enough to see the establishment’s other big draw – its bellydancers.

I don’t know what impresses me more – the fact these women can get their to hips gyrate while standing on the backs of armchairs, never mind on solid ground …

Or the loud, syncopated clapping of the male staff members in time to the music. (The similarity in rhythm to flamenco music strikes me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two styles are distant cousins.)

We walk back to the hotel, spending some of our remaining time together just hanging in the darkened lobby.

THIS is when Colin finally decides to whip out the whiskey he’s kept closed during the trip, for a goodbye swig.

I wish my mates a final goodbye in the elevator ride up to our rooms, and begin the task of packing just before midnight. 

I finish packing just after 1 a.m., grabbing about an hour and 15 minutes “sleep” before changing and leaving my hotel room for the last time …

From The Hammam To the Market

Friday, March 27.

Before I hit the hammam (with tour-mate Sally), I head over to a nearby internet cafe.

I haven’t checked my e-mail for days. And (sadly) it’s feels weird. It should feel liberating. But instead it’s almost as if my brain’s a goldfish -it’s  finally used to having its own bowl with fewer fish around, and now it’s been pulled out of its solitude and dunked into that huge tank with schools and schools of other fish it left behind almost two weeks earlier.

This feeling takes hold as I open my e-mail and read about the imminent  job cuts announced at my workplace while I’ve been away.

I also get an e-mail from my long-time friend, who also happens to work in the same building, in another department. Her contract wasn’t renewed, so she’s out of work.

I return to the riad a little sobered and a bit sideways,  and hurriedly pack my backpack for our trip later in the afternoon to Marrakech.

I rush downstairs after to meet Sally and a young woman from the hammam. We walk down the main street nearest to the water and catch a cab that whisks us away from the old part of the city to the more modern, suburban part less than 10 minutes away.

We’re dropped off in front of a nondescript block of white buildings where the hammam is located. Once inside, it’s another matter.

We start with one-hour, full body massages. We assume we’d be getting these AFTER the hammam. But whatever – it’s absolutely awesome. 

Following this, we enter a small, tiled, bathing room. We each lie on adjacent heaed slabs, as a woman (the one who gives me my massage) individually washes, exfoliates, and soaps our bodies, covers us in scented paste, rinses us and washes our hair.

We feel like we’re five years old again. But it’s a worthwhile experience that leaves us feeling relaxed and understandably dazed.

We’re completely mellowed by the time we head back out into the harsh sunlight, grab a taxi and return back to Essaouira’s main square, where we both have some well-deserved gelati.

We return to the riad, collect our things and load them into the carts of porters waiting by the front entrance. We’re taken to the bus depot, where we wait for our bus to arrive, then cram into the first 10 seats once it arrives.

It’s a packed bus on the way to Marrakech, but I’m feeling too dopey to notice. When I’m not trying to record trip details into my travel diary, I’m fast asleep.

We pull into Marrakech ’round 6:30 p.m. The sun has started to fade; everything seems sepia-toned and dusty. It looks like it’s about to rain.

And the streets are congested – cars and scooters going every which way. Men on scooters. Young women on scooters – probably the most I’ve seen all trip.

Getting off the bus and walking towards our accommodations, we feel raindrops spordically pelting us; I hope it holds off until we can take shelter.

morocco-march-2009-5301Our hotel isn’t in the medina –  where I assume most travellers and tourists would stay to get “the authentic Moroccan experience” – but in the newer part of town, in a hotel about two minutes’ walk from the train station.

For the second – and final – time, I get my own room. Pros: big bed, clean towels, a bathtub complete with towels, a shower rack and those little wrapped soaps, a TV and a shower all to myself.

Cons: the big neon sign right outside my window. Meh. You can’t win ’em all.

(While I’m casing my room, tour-mates Nikki and Alex – who’re right next door – apparently look our their windows and witness an accident involving a woman hit by a car. I’ve no idea how the situation resolved itself, but I got the impression the woman was all right.)

morocco-march-2009-531For dinner, the group walks from the hotel to the Djemaa el-Fna, the square and marketplace within the walls of the old city – the beating heart of the district.

 There are all sorts of people hawking their wares; street performers galore during most parts of the day and night; and – in the evening, when we go – there are food stands lined up beside and across from one another, with benches to sit at and eat.

We feel a few droplets of rain as we approach the food stands; just after we find stand #42 and take our seats, the heavens just open up. The rain pelts the ground, forming huge puddles under the benches and pooling in the plastic tarps above. The skies even toss down some hailstones for good measure.

morocco-march-2009-535There is no set meal. All we do is sample dish after dish after dish … plates of salty fries, sizeable shrimp, salad, grilled eggplant (or aubergine, as Alex would say to correct me, ’cause that’s the British way 😉 ), vegetarian coucous, meat skewers, pastilla … 

I didn’t think it would fill me, but I am surprisingly stuffed by the end of it.

Following dinner (which includes the guy who runs the stand hovering over us for tips), we’re given a bit of time to explore. 

From the time we congregate near the juice stands, I finally experience the in-your-face nature of the market. It’s almost a bit too much, even on a full stomach.

We pass by aggressive henna ladies calling out for a sale, and vendors in their stalls farther away saying things like, “Hello! Australia! Hello, Obama! Rasta!”

(Oh NO he didn’t.)

Out in the main square, people are gathered around various dimly-lit performers, whether they were musicians, snake charmers, or just odd witch-doctor types with even odder things on display … all hoping to get your attention, and your money. This includes the odd pickpocket spotted nearby, trying to blend in with the crowds watching the performances.

We leave the Djemaa el-Fna and are back at the hotel by 10:30 p.m. It’s been a long day. And we’ve got just one more left.