Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Finally, some photos

Now that I've gotten some sleep I'm ready to show you where we were. Don't be discouraged: only 35 pictures here! I can't always get the words completely lined up with the photos, but you'll figure it out.

Our apartment was a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and I spent a long time examining its construction. So beautifully intricate! How could those Parisians have been up in arms about the ugliness of the tower when it was built?

Here's a photo of Adame, the woman from Mali who invited us to her home for a Sunday dinner when we were in Paris.

And now the centerpiece of our vacation, the pool and veranda of the house in Casablanca. Now you'll understand why we had such a hard time tearing ourselves away from it!

There was beautiful detail everywhere, such as the brick wall near the pool with the decorative arches set into the bricks:

Rick often read in the sunshine -- buck naked -- and I usually read on the veranda in the shade of the bougainvilleas.

Our dinners, dressed in either nothing or in bathing suits, were also on the veranda.

So imagine you're living in this luxury, and you go to the supermarket. This is what you would pass on the way. We saw many slums of this nature, with walls and roofs of cobbled-together scrap material.

Working for six years, day and night, thousands of workers and artists built the Mosque Hassan II in Casablanca, the third largest in the world, large enough for 25,000 worshippers inside and another 80,000 on the plaza outside. Obviously, bigger was better.

Then we went to Marrakesh. The first photo shows the plaza which is transformed in the evenings into a huge open-air restaurant with hundreds of cooking facilities and tables set up.

Al Jedida is a town south of Casablanca. The first photo shows Al Jedida: the old town within the medieval walls but updated with electricity wires and satellite dishes. The second photo shows Rick as a Tuareg Arab, a fighter in the sands of the Sahara, with a jelaba and a scarf that wraps around your head to form a turban or, in case of sandstorm, over your face.

Along the roadside to Safi farther south were many produce stands. This one, selling squash, was especially beautiful.

The town of Safi is known for its pottery. This man is sitting on a stool in a hole dug into the ground with canvas around his waist, working the turntable with his feet. He is making a tagine, the terracotta stew dish I wrote about in the blog earlier. Once he finished the top you see here, he cut it off and then made the bottom: a perfect fit.

The Atlantic ocean surf is very strong at Essaouira, farther south from Safi, and the mist it throws up makes an extraordinary light.

Dozens of boys dove for fun into the water at the harbor in Essaouira, and later on that evening we had a traditionally Moroccan meal to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

Driving back to Casablanca, here are some of the people we passed on the road.

We were fascinated by the low, flat-roofed walled compounds made of mud brick and the haystacks .

And then we went to Fez. Taking the back roads we passed miles of rolling hills, golden with wheat and full of olive trees.

In Fez the souk, or market, was a labyrinth of alleys. It was Ramadan, and everyone was thinking about and buying food for that evening.

This was taken in a 900-year-old restaurant in Fez.

On the way back to Casablanca, Rick couldn't stand the idea of being on the other side of the Atlantic and not going into it.

Back in Paris, here's the garden of the Rodin Museum with a statue of The Thinker.

And here we are with Zhou and Roswitha, the Chinese couple we met in a park near the Rodin Museum.

A wonderful trip. I hope you've enjoyed the blog!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The last blog

With great difficulty we tore ourselves away from the pool in Casablanca on Friday and flew to Paris. We were quickly and painfully introduced to the horrendous exchange rate: because we got there too late to take the bus from the airport, we had to take a taxi: $85. Welcome back to France.

On Saturday, after a late start, we went to the Rodin Museum, a poorly maintained and arranged place. The building must have been glorious in its heyday: it was terrific learning that not only Rodin lived there but other artists such as Rilke, Isadora Duncan, and Jean Cocteau did too. In a park we fell into conversation with an interesting couple. Zhou (Chinese) and Rosewitha (Austrian) live in a town near Shanghai where he is a professor and a poet and she is an artist. They met when she got a scholarship to study art there and stayed to complete her masters and Ph.D. We talked about politics a little; he said that yes, he does have to be careful about what he writes. They looked to be about 40 and she's lived there for 15 years. We had a marvelous conversation, mostly in English, for about an hour, and talked about the possibility of doing a home exchange with them in the future. Wouldn't it be something else if that worked out??

On Sunday we took a walk along the Seine near our apartment, and got into a conversation with a woman walking her dog. Naturally, Rick got on the ground to play with the dog. We remain struck by the fact that the French seem so unfriendly unless and until you make an overture, in which case they respond beautifully. We took the bus to Sainte Chapelle, one of my favorite places in Paris, then wandered around Odéon and wound up at the Luxembourg Gardens, where I had never been. I loved seeing so many people enjoy themselves in the sunshine. This being France, however, a person with a uniform rousted Rick off the grass and onto a chair: lying down on the grass with your book is not allowed. On the other hand, at a bus stop we had a lovely conversation (which again we started) with two women, old friends who have an annual visit with each other since one lives in the south. We find that these contacts with people are our favorite experiences and wish there were more of them.

There were several interesting differences from when I was in Paris last, many years ago. The French seem to be as environment- and health-conscious as Americans, a big surprise. All over Paris there are stands of bicycles to borrow: you need a magnetic card to pass over the electronic reader to take one out of its stand and to pay for it, and you can return it to any other location. We saw hundreds of people using these bikes. Here in Seattle Smart Cars are rare but in Paris they're ubiquitous, very sensible when parking is at such a premium. I was thrilled that they've banished smoking from indoor locations: I remember gagging over the Gauloise cigarette smoke everywhere.

I also found that I had a different reaction to the physical reality of Paris than I did many years ago. While the apartment buildings are still ravishing with their mansard roofs and window boxes, the grandiosity of the monuments, the glorified heroism, the outsize scale of the monuments and the spaces around them struck me now as irritating while before I found them impressive. All this bragging, all this calling attention to France's glorious military and aristocratic past felt like protesting too much. The gardens which seemed to me to be well kept years ago now seemed overly controlled. Obviously this says much more about me over the years than about Paris.

We had a guidebook and could have gone to a restaurant for our last night of the trip but honestly were too lazy to take the Métro there and seek it out, so we had dinner where we found ourselves. Pretty mediocre food for about $55: the food on Air France was better. Home to pack and left Monday morning.

I've had a month of speaking and reading French and have taken much joy in seeing some of my earlier fluency return. I apologize for this last post: I'm impossibly jet-lagged and am operating on fumes now, but it was a superb trip and I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog.