About Me

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Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in English, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with MA from R.I. School of Design. Barking Cat Books published my first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. My humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. In 2018 Barking Cat Books published my SURVIVING YOUR DREAM VACATION: 75 RULES TO KEEP YOUR COMPANION TALKING TO YOU ON THE ROAD. See website By CLICKING HERE.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Notes from Morocco, June, 2019, Part III

This is the last in a series of blogs about a recent trip to Morocco. 

     After experiencing the Medina of Fez for four hours, we needed to clean up and chill out. At dinner in the Palais Faraj we enjoyed the company of a friend I'd grown up with and her granddaughter.
Marilyn, Claire, Charley, Pam
Our itineraries intersected at two locations, but their journey would end in the desert (south). Charley and I skipped the desert experience because of the heat in June.
Dinner entertainment in Fez, Morocco
     The following day we headed into the Middle Atlas Mountains. We passed orchards of cherries, nectarines, and peaches, as well as olive groves. After a couple of hours ascending two-lane winding roads with no guard rail, we encountered fog. Our driver “Bob” was not concerned and kept on till we reached the first village, where hundreds of day workers waited in the square to be picked up by orchard owners to work on the Plain of Saiss below. “We’d better turn around,” “Bob” declared, as we made a U-turn in a white-out while the temperature plummeted. In the back seat I wrapped my long wool pashmina over my shoulders and around my neck. 
     “Good idea!” Charley commented. “I was afraid to look down past the side of the car.”  We crept along the white center line down the mountain to the city.
     We drove from Fez south along the coast to Casablanca the next day, passing wide promenades above beaches filled with umbrellas or water parks. Our hotel in that city was on a street barely wide enough for one car, a refuge from the city’s 6,000,000 inhabitants. Shopping malls and condominiums were going up in every direction.
Casablanca skyline
     We made a reservation for dinner at Rick’s Café, made famous in the movie “Casablanca.” Although it was definitely a tourist attraction, the swordfish was excellent ($50 for the two of us, including a drink); we befriended a couple from Australia who owned a B&B on Bali; and we had our photo taken at the piano made famous when Bogart said, “Play it again, Sam.”
Piano in Rick's Cafe, made famous in movie "Casablanca"

  The next morning we visited the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, one of the few that non-Muslims can enter. With its mammoth interior and hanging balconies (for the women), it can hold 25,000. Another 55,000 can worship in the surrounding plazas overlooking the sea. The ceiling is nearly 200 feet high, although the roof is retractable so that the interior can be turned into a courtyard. Funded through public subscription, designed by a French architect, and built by a team of 35,000 between 1987 and 1993, it is the third-largest mosque in the world.

The many buildings of Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, 3rd largest in world
Inside mosques, shoes must be removed. Bags are provided for tourists.

Main entrance, Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca
Main entrance, Hassan II Mosque

Balconies for women inside Hassan II Mosque. Women are not permitted to worship with the men.
     Five times a day faithful Muslims hear their call to prayer (the Muezzin) played on a CD. An estimated 99% of Moroccans are Muslim, with the king able to trace his lineage to the Prophet Mohammed. The second most practiced religion is Christianity; Jewish Moroccans remain another minority. Moroccans on the whole tend to be tolerant of other religions, interpreting Islamic laws in a less conservative way than in many Muslim countries. Modesty in women’s dress, for example, emphasizes covering the skin rather than disguising the female form. Young women around the universities wore contemporary clothing that was form-fitting but covered their limbs.
     It was a Friday, Holy Day for Muslims. After we'd visited the Hassan II Mosque, Rasheed (our guide) deposited Charley and me in a café for lunch, where we ordered sweet and savory bastillas, flaky dough with a filling of either chicken or pigeon. Rasheed excused himself to pray at a nearby mosque and was back in fifteen minutes. “If we have no time to pray, we can do so at home,” he explained. 
     In the mosques, shoes are removed upon entering. Men and women are separated, with a women-only section. On Holy Day, especially, all worshipers must purify themselves before prayer. In the Hassan II Mosque on the basement level there were round sinks of marble for worshipers to wash their hands, wrists, elbows, face, ears, ankles, and feet THREE TIMES before entering the upper sanctuary.
      Hammams were for communal bathing, used by Moroccans once a week before going to the mosque. Charley and I didn’t experience the hammam, since we had our own facilities where we were staying. Small, enclosed, dimly-lit to encourage piety and reflection, whether public or private, hammams segregated the sexes and “Salaams” eased anxiety for a tourist in semi-nudity.

Marble cleansing sinks, Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

     During a trip to Morocco, my friend Pat followed her tour guide to the waiting bus. There were four men and seven women who had signed up for the “hammam experience” in Tangier, after two days in the desert. One of the men was Pat’s husband.
     The hammam is a bathhouse. Since the Moroccans visit the hammam just once a week, there were probably more foul-smelling Moroccans than Western travelers.
     The group drove to the Ouifak Hammam where two gorgeous ladies, Yatto (age 30) and Etoh (age 26), greeted the seven women. The men in the group expressed their disappointment that they had been greeted by a Moroccan male.
     The seven women followed Yatto and Etoh into a changing room, where a large number of women stood in nothing but their panties. Young daughters stood next to their mothers in the same state of undress. Their djellabas and hijabs (robes and headscarves) hung from pegs.
     Any female who’s tried on clothing in a communal Western dressing room can picture the scene—perky boobs still pointing at the ceiling that hadn’t nursed, saggy boobs in a race to reach the navel, and minuscule boobs that raised the question, “Male or female?”
Tile wall in cleansing area of Hassan II Mosque
      Like the others, Pat and her fellow travelers stripped to their panties. Etoh led them through two rooms of white marble to a wall, where she instructed them to sit on a colorful tile floor covered with hot water. She put a blob of dark olive oil soap in each visitor’s palm and asked them to lather themselves, except for their faces.
     SURPRISE! As in the ice bucket challenge, Pat felt the shock of a bucket of Antarctic water flung at her. The only difference was there were no ice cubes.
     Pat was first in the lineup. She heard Etoh say something and point at her. Etoh wanted her to lie on the hot, wet tiles on her back. Pat followed the gestures to the floor.
     Immediately, she felt a loofah mitt scratching her arm. It seemed like steel wool rubbing her skin off. When that arm was done, the attendant scrubbed Pat’s other arm and then her legs, ending with her stomach and chest. The attendant turned her over like a flopping fish and the torture began on her back and legs.
      “Back to the wall, please.” Pat heard and obeyed, waiting till everyone had a turn with the loofah.     
     SURPRISE AGAIN! Buckets of hot water flew through the air to wash Pat’s dead skin and soap down the drain.
     “Please stand up,” Etoh said. She led the seven Western women in a column to a cooler room, where they sat against another wall to . . . SING! The only English song Etoh knew was “Cum-bye-ah, my lord,” so that’s what they sang. Seven naked ladies sitting against a wall singing “Cum-bye-ah.”
     One by one Etoh brought Pat and her now best-buddies forward for the olive oil rub.  Up one side and down the other, but this time Pat’s beet-red skin stayed in place.
     Shampoos followed. On the wet tile floor, her back to the attendant, Pat aimed her nose to the ceiling and felt water dripping down her scalp, like a neophyte in baptism. The attendant worked olive oil shampoo into the wet strands and combed without restraint. Then more buckets of water.
     But wait . . . Pat’s feet were still unclean! A pumice stone fixed that, removing calluses that had built up hiking in the desert, as well as some live skin.
     Ninety minutes later, Pat and her best-best-friends emerged looking radiant. She didn’t tell me how much the “hammam experience” cost, but she said her husband looked like a new man, so it must have been worth it.

     From Casablanca Charley and I drove to Marrakesh and unloaded our luggage at the exquisite Villa des Orangers, an old French villa with a pool, library, game room, garden, small shop, and outdoor terraces for dining. Our room was similar to that in Riad Myra, consisting of a large bedroom with sofa and television and a tiled bathroom with walk-in shower and tub. The young woman who showed us to our room instructed us to put a fez (hat) on the outside of our door if we didn’t want to be disturbed!
     At poolside that evening we watched two wood storks nesting on electric poles behind the hotel.

Ceiling detail, Villa des Orangers, Marrakesh

Courtyard, Villa des Orangers, Marrakesh
     We avoided any drink that contained ice cubes and only drank liquid from bottles. We declined fresh-washed lettuce but ate the ripe, juicy tomatoes and cucumbers without a problem. Our “salads” were individual dishes of sautéed eggplant or cauliflower, stewed tomatoes, fava beans, or corn. For dinner I enjoyed chicken with figs and lemon and Charley devoured his beef with apricots and plums. Both meals had been slow-cooked in tangines with lids resembling circus tents.
     Since we were unaccustomed to the tipping mores, Rasheed stepped forward to tip whenever necessary: the toilet attendant, subjects of photos, etc. When we purchased souvenirs and arranged for delivery to our hotel, he called the shops to confirm delivery. He paid our entrance fees that had not been prearranged through his agency and bought us cold drinks from vending machines. For all this, we gave him $250 after our eight-day trip ended. After studying our guide book, we were able to use the local dirhams to tip.
Outside the Medina, Marrakesh
     The architecture of Marrakesh resembled the flat, adobe-style, red clay buildings of the American southwest. We relaxed in the Yves St. Laurent Museum (fashion, accessories, and culture of the Berbers) and among the bamboo and palms of Jardin Majorelle, owned by the late designer who had lived next door. However, I was most anxious to take a dromedary ride, offered outside the city in a Berber village. Charley declined, since he’d been on a camel in Egypt that had spit at him.

     Badis, a thirty-five-year-old father of two in bright blue robes, matching headpiece, with two overlapping front teeth, pushed me onto my high square seat atop “Madonna.”
     He assured me “Madonna” was a gentle soul. My thighs spread wide and my feet flopped without stirrups. I bumped up and down for about ten minutes, but soon was able to sit back with the gentle swaying rather than bounce in my seat. I became oblivious to the burning in my thighs. After twenty minutes, Badis handed me the reins. The poor dromedary merely followed his master, who walked beside her. The reins were really for photo ops, as this photo illustrates in silhouette.
     We plodded for an hour through acres of dirt and scrub palms toward his Berber village, wrapped behind high sand-colored walls that blended into the acreage. The only sign of life in the village was a baby crying. Rising beyond was a Club Med property and unfinished villas protruding under mechanical cranes. Water bottles, paper bags, and remnants of meals lay strewn across our trail of dirt, with water (sewage?) gurgling up in a pool far behind Badis’ Berber village.
     Motorcycles zoomed over a far hillside as we rounded the final turn of my ride. “That is my boss,” Badis said, pointing to one of the motorcyclists. Badis took almost fifty photos of me on “Madonna” using my cell phone, reminding me that he was a family man. At the end of the ride, I dismounted to join Charley and Rasheed in a café owned by Badis' boss. Badis followed, to collect his payment and his tip. The tents of the café were shredding, there was no food available (only drinks), the children’s carousel had been abandoned, and rest room faucets yielded no water. At least the toilets flushed! “The Berbers could make something of this for tourists, but they don’t care,” Rasheed said.
     We noticed in Casablanca and Rabat that buses and trolleys traversed those cities. Rasheed told us buses serviced the countryside, and a train ran from Tangiers south to Marrakesh. Below Marrakesh,  a bus ran into the desert. As we whizzed back to Casablanca on an eight-lane toll road, square sand-colored villages blended into the landscape, dwarfed by the backdrop of the High Atlas Mountains. 
     Rasheed and "Bob" walked us to our security screening area in the Casablanca airport.  Rasheed  transferred my carry-on bag to me, which he'd been pulling. He handed me his business card and hugged both of us. "Next time, call me direct," he said. "No fees for the agency!"

Read about our return to the island of Ischia, Italy, in my next blog.