Monday, December 29

Diseased Kittens, Small Thieves, And General Change of Pace

Time to stop making my posts so painstakingly SERIOUS.

I think I lost touch with being able to present things to people back home as anything other than painfully-wrenched descriptions of things that don't ever actually satisfy me or do justic to them. Time to let go of that, and thanks for bearing with me through the muckier ones. Maybe time to save this blog from becoming a bog.

A little kid came over with a cute, very very cute, little kitten in Fez. This kid couldn't have been one loose tooth over eight and a half, the kitten looked to have about five weeks of life experience, and no loose teeth as far as I could tell. It was a freaking cute one. Little boy is playing with her, putting her on his head, scooping her up, flipping her around, things normal little kids do with really cute kittens. On second though, the cat looked actually kind of sick in a cute way--goopy eyes, irregular fur tufts sticking out. I pulled out my camera, imagining how genius it would be, this rare documentation of Moroccan street kid and cute maybe-hepatitis-ridden kitten. I snap some. Kid wedges himself between me and Jess, puts little diseased kitten on my lap, smiles at me little kitten-playing Moroccan kid smile and eventually he wanders off and I go back to whatever I was doing before, which was soaking up the sun because I am in Morocco and it is very, very, gloriously, sunny.

I look over at our Moroccan friend Taha. He is soaking similarly. I think, hey what a genius picture it will be, my Moroccan friend so luxuriously soaking in the sun like me, with all that Moroccan stuff in the background, you know, mosques and really old falling-down city walls. I put my hand down to retrieve camera.
It is not there.

Camera is not there. It is not in my bag, it is not on the ground where I put it. I know where it is. It is in the hands of a guy who is going to sell it in a nice-looking little boutique, who got it from a guy who was selling it off a semi-legitimate main alley electronics rug, who got it from a guy who had it in a sketchy backalley cardboard box, who got it from a certain little kid we know in exchange for 5 dirham and a piece of crappy Moroccan candy. It has been about 11 minutes since the kid disappeared, but Taha confirms that this is probably where my camera is. He goes off to question some local kids who have been watching us, but they pretend cute little kid innocence and we know it is by now too late, and the camera has changed hands about 756 more times. Ah, well.

What really got me is this. A little while passes, and I notice a familiar-looking kitten, not far away, sitting under an old guy who's smoking a cigarette, looking very cute, still kind of diseased, and very confused. You'd think the kid could at least have the consideration to use the same cat over and over. A horrible thing to do to a poor little kitten. But then again maybe it was saved from a lifetime of crime, only to be a one-time offender. That is if you could even call it guilty, poor little cute sick thing.

Saturday, December 27

This morning I woke up. It was rather early, maybe eight o'clock, we are in Morocco, the sun was golden coming through fuzzy glass panes. This town is called Essaouria, Jess and I put on our identical Merrills, hers with holes and mine without, and went running down to the beach, running along the beach, where there were small waves breaking, a line of camels waiting for the tourists to start their days, people and dogs, washed pebbles half-lit and half-wet shadow, and rich packed sand under our feet. Yesterday we walked from the Medina back to the beach to watch the sun set, sang whatever songs we could think of that felt good and said poetry imperfectly but it didn't matter. It is the Atlantic Ocean again.

But Morocco hasn't been like this all along. It has been many things. We took the ferry from Algaceres, Spain to Tangier. Tangerines get their name from Tangier, and the tangerines here are the best I have ever tasted. So sweet. The ferry ride was kind of nightmarish. Not nearly the blue and white cruiseship that carried me from Ireland to France, this one was mostly a cold little lounge where people were either vomiting or nearly vomiting. Us too. The sea was unbelievably rough, and by the time we docked in Tangier all of us passengers looked at each other with the camaraderie of survivors, lined up weak and pale by the door like refugees, waiting to be admitted to sturdy land.

Jess and I went almost immediately to Tetuouan, a hour or two taxi ride south. It poured rain when we stepped out of the car, but we managed to find a hotel, hang up the wet things to dry, venture out. Delightful, the first Moroccan city at night! Medina is what they call the old walled-in part of a Moroccan town. Lovely tiles, arch walls, narrow passages, little shops selling thick Berber sweaters, natural soaps, dough-smelling little pastries, typical drugstore fare, fake Converse shoes, vegetables, souvenirs, nuts and dried fruits. And it was a happening place. People--mostly men in long robes with pointy hoods that looked vaguely like the Klan and also wizards or hobbits--swept along the streets and alleys buying, chatting, hanging out. It was a Saturday night, after all. We bought the most amazing sandwiches for less than a dollar a piece. Delicious french bread, warm, with tuna and an egg omelette thingy like a Spanish tortilla, lettuce, olives, carrots, and all topped with mayonnaise and chili sauce and french fries. This is a Moroccan sandwich, and we have been either eating it or talking about it ever since. It may be like going to the States and falling in love with a Publix sub, but we don't care.

On the topic of food, that night we also discovered that this country knows how to produce a damn good nutty cookie, as well as amazing street food. Jess bought something that looks kind of like a flat pie and is served in messy slices like pie but is gooey and salty and tastes like southern grits. Oh yes.

We loved Tetuouan with the kind of wonder you feel loving the first place in a new country, but we didn't stay past the next morning. We took a winding taxi ride to Chefchaouen (shef-SHA-wen), a town in the Rif Mountains. The medina there is painted all blue and white (it is really worth looking up some pictures of this place--I can't show any pictures for reasons that will be disclosed soon) and seems to have first grown organically from the mountainside and then continued growing from itself, sending out shoots of whitewashed archways, sandy steps leading up or curving down and around, twisting narrow alleys that fit one donkey and cart, blue-tiled water spouts tucked in corners. At night it really looks like a hobbit world, or a surreal waiting room to a kind of distorted dream-like slumber party, all the figures walked out of the little archways in their long robes, hoods and slippers. The strange thing about Chefchaouen was not that it was freezing at night, but that they didn't seem to have many facilities for getting warm. We searched the first night for a place, any place, with a warm fire, but really found nothing. The warmest place was a tiny internet cafe that was heated only incidentally by dint of having eight computers working hard in a very small space. We slept under three or four heavy blankets each night, ate soup with garbanzo beans in it, and finally discovered the hamam.

The hamam is a traditional Moroccan bathhouse. For our first time, we decided to forego the public hamam in favor of a private room with massage included. It was a very short old Moroccan woman who came into the room that was not nearly as hot as a sauna. She started dumping buckets of water on the floor and motioned to us to lie down there. She had this laughing old wrinkled face, a few teeth, big soft rolls all around her belly, and a curved but strong back. And she basically washed us like we were little babies, and I can't say that it wasn't really nice. She soaped our bodies, firm and experienced and thorough, and then took this kind of scrubby glove thing you put on your hand and scrubbed us hard so the dead skin came off in gray wormy rolls. We never exchanged a word with our little grandmother, only giggled when she inadvertently tickled us or made a motion for us to wash "down there" and looked at her in cute-inspired wonder, like when, getting dressed again in the upstairs room, she came over to Jess with a badly-fitting bra put awkardly over her t-shirt and turned around so Jess could fasten it in the back. A three-toothed smile, and that was it between us and our Moroccan bubby. I left feeling well-taken-care-of, pink and fresh.

We headed further south, to Fez, but I will have to do this update in a couple of passes. For the next installment: how a little kid stole my camera, more delicious foods, and general clumsy description of sundry things and sundry thoughts about things.

Wednesday, December 10

Everything Is

Yesterday Jess and I took a walk down by the water. It is the Atlantic Ocean. It is ten minutes from her friend Gabriela´s apartment, where we´ve been staying the past week and a half. I can´t believe I have been here a week and a half. By those who know from experience, and there are many who pass through here, the apartment is affectionately known as The Vortex, for its sucking-in tendencies. Gabriela is so warm and lovely, people just unconsciously move toward her. And from the seventh floor balcony you can practically see, way out over the water, Providence.

We walked down by the water, we watched the sun setting in it. It is quite strange the number of sunsets that happen in a life, and the number of sunsets watched. Jess talked about the forgotten beauty of hunting, which is to witness the waking up, the feeding, and the dusking of nature. A ritual like dinner. There is a man she met once who goes kayaking with his wife every evening to watch the sunset. I want to try now to stop each day and watch it too. I think if that is the only habit I pick up on these travels, it will be good enough.

We are leaving today for Lisbon. We have a couchsurfing host there who has been to about a million and a half places in the world. I read some of what the guidebook has to say about Lisbon last night in the bath. It was leveled by an earthquake in 1775, and rebuilt in a late eighteenth-century grid, which is lucky for us because I seem to be able to navigate cities successfully only at right angles.

From there, we are thinking of heading down south and into Morocco for a couple weeks. I really want to go to Morocco, and I think it is a good place to go with Jess since I probably wouldn´t want to travel there alone, but I feel impatience to be on my own again. I guess it feels too easy being with a friend all the time. I guess it´s why I have stopped writing.

Friday, December 5

More Pastries, and Pomegranates

From the life of Julien I went to Paris to Melina´s apartment, the most comfortingly familiar place I could have walked into in Paris. Her room is full of things I recognized--pictures of the Baettis, Maria´s jewelry, american products, random Pope and UGA things. Her kitchen full of little packaged things, chocolate cookies, little crusty breads, Pringles. And a general feeling of warmth and welcoming. Melina was such a good host, making sure I saw the Eiffel tower, and the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame, and ate delicious crepes, got on the metro okay, had warm enough clothes. It was nice to see someone from home who has come into her own in the way Melina has, finding and creating this pleasant life for herself, very happy and in love, in her element.

I met up with Mae, my cousin. We ate a bunch of pastries and talked about going to Barcelona or Portugal next. We walked from her friend Kevin´s apartment to the Centre Pompidou to the Jewish neighborhood, where we ate homemade matzah and some kind of dry kosher sausage. We talked about family, which was a bit strange because, despite our being cousins, we had hardly ever had a conversations and it seemed, since these conversations were our first, that we couldn´t have anything as familiar and intimate as our families to talk about. Gossip about, I admit.

Paris was too big. Knowing I would be there only a few days, I didn´t commit to it, and have almost nothing to say about it. The food, of course, was spectacular. That is all.

Mae and I went to Barcelona for a week and a half. I have entered and left Spain since I last posted, I am sorry.
I am in Porto, Portugal.

Barcelona is a city so hip and full of surprises. My delight in it was something like the way you feel eating a pomegranate with your hands. With the bursting juicy bits still lingering in your mouth--lovely--your stained fingers absentmindly peel away a seemingly dead-end little spongy bit, and there, suddenly, is yet another magical little cluster of purple-red jewels. It´s astonishing, the number of times I turned a corner somewhere and found something--a museum, church, neighborhood, set of shops--worthy of days of investigation.

Hmm. I will post this now, so there is something. And write more tomorrow maybe. It´s no fun playing catch-up this way. Porto is lovely and relaxing. The roofs are red, the tiles are falling off, everything is