sweetmusic_27: A biohazard symbol (biohazard)
I  condensed all my emails to various people and put in a few photos so that [livejournal.com profile] quadrivium and [livejournal.com profile] tanuki_green and anyone else who wanted to could see the whole story of Our Big Trip.  All the chapters were written separately and aren't edited for style or continuity.

Chapter One: Jetlag Makes Me Hate Everything
Well, we've reached the I-hate-everything stage of jetlag, where I'm adjusting to the time, but everything else seems incredibly difficult and awful.  We arrived in Marrakech, and I hate it.
I was doing fine this morning.  And then we got train tickets, fine, we waited for the train, fine, we got on the train... not fine.  I hated the lady next to me, who played songs out loud on her phone, played games with the sound on, argued with the conductor twice, bumped into me repeatedly until I put the armrest down, got up to walk around like six times, and finally got off after two hours.  She had to come back for her many bags, and it took her three trips.
I... Didn't actually hate the train station.  No, scratch that, I hated it, the bathroom had no toilet paper.  I hated the cab driver, who asked for 66 dirham when it should have been thirty (it's always higher at the train station, but it shouldn't be that much higher); I hated the guy who he seemed to pass us off to, who showed us down the street to our hotel and then demanded money, scoffing when I offered a two-euro coin (worth 20 dirham); he said it was worth 2 dirham.  You've got it backwards, asshole.  (I didn't say that out loud, though.)  Benet was able to fob him off with a five-dollar bill.  US money, people always like.  It was way more than he deserved.  I'm sad we were out of change.  I hated the hotelier, who instead of presenting us with tea first, which is the polite thing to do in Morocco, presented us both with lengthy forms demanding our passport numbers and birthdays and social security numbers, and the last was where my demand-resistance finally came up, and I wrote down only as much information as I was willing to.  THEN there was tea, which was great, but then there was also him showing us all the day trips they have on offer, which was less great.  I also hate our room.  I mean, the room itself is pretty great.  However, it's right next to reception and it will be right next to where they have breakfast.  So I'm fairly certain we can expect to be awoken by plates clattering and children screaming at eight o'clock in the morning every day.  ((As you know, I wound up greatly enjoying our side trip to the Sahara, and it turns out that it's not that noisy on the ground floor, so all is well.))
I liked Casablanca.  It was filthy, sorta downtrodden, and honest.  A working city, with dust and metal poles on the sidewalks because otherwise you bet your ass the battered red taxicabs would drive on it.  Marrakech is a suspiciously well-groomed con artist.  The palace is here, the tourists are here, the palm trees are planted just so, and the beige taxicabs look fat and sleek, inasmuch as a Fiat can.  I said it was like going from Detroit to Disney World; Benet said that to be fair, Detroit to Lexington was a pretty big change all on its own.
I didn't know if I'd want to go out again.  But later on, after quietly playing iPad games in the dark for an hour, I awoke Benet from his nap and asked if he wanted to go find dinner.  He mentioned that we could just eat here at the riad, but I reminded him that I wanted pastries.  So we set off towards the square and made it past two restaurants before seeing a Big Fancy restaurant.  Some hawker for another restaurant saw me eyeing it and said, "is very expensive..." And began gesturing to the restaurant he worked for.  And I was just like, "Looks like it is!  But I have to check it out." And grinned and walked by.  I'm getting better at a cheerful brush-off.  This trip may turn out to be a crash course in Saying No For Dummies.  At any rate, the restaurant was expensive.  And gorgeous.  It was basically the L'Etoile of Marrakech, though I don't know that for certain.  But I looked at the menu and at Benet and said, "can we order the tasting menu?"  Which was $75 for two and was gonna wind up, with drinks, being $100, which is about as expensive as restaurants in Morocco ever get.  And he said sure, and then they began bringing us EVERYTHING.
First, little saucers with about 1/3-1/2 cup of their "salad" courses, which were all cold, and had everything from pico de gallo to carrots to lentils to a nice eggplant thingy; also they brought these little skinny egg rolls, and those were hot, and delicious.

Then they brought us six little tagines, and in them were braised lamb with prunes and almonds (This was my favorite!  Possibly the best lamb I've ever had, and I've done a lot of research on this subject.  Prunes don't sound terribly romantic but these had been sitting in lamb fat and this faintly-honeyed fragrant marinade, and they'd absorbed lots of juice and oil and were warm and soft and really made you remember that they had been plums only yesterday, but now they were wise to that plum bullshit, and had realized that being covered with sesame seeds and full of lamb fat was the good life.  The almonds also deserve a very honorable mention, because they were peeled and roasted and seemingly unrelated to the rest of the dish until you happened to spoon one up and then they were the perfect counterpoint, so crunchy.  This dish also managed to perfectly complement the only-slightly-dubious Moroccan half-bottle-of-red we got.), roast chicken with preserved lemon, meatballs and an egg in tomato sauce, braised beef shank with caramelized onions and tomato, fish and vegetables, aaaand couscous and vegetables.  And then finally two desserts; orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon and cloves, and a plate of little pastries.  And I ate EVERYTHING, or at least some of everything, and unsurprisingly, I hated the world a lot less.
Then, I slept for twelve hours.  That helped a lot, too.
Chapter Two:  Shopping in Marrakech, the Good, the Not-so-good, and the Ugly
So today, we had a three-hour shopping and tourism outing.
The good: We went to the little square we'd gone to last night for dinner, and this time everyone had come and set up their wares.  There was a spice seller as soon as we came in, and I was excited to finally see the big piles of colorful powders in person.  The spice-seller saw this, and asked if I wanted to know what was what, and I grinned at Benet and said, "Sure!"  I was happy to get the full shop demo and play the rube at a spice shop.  And so Abdul the spice merchant showed us his wares.  The full talk took at least twenty minutes.  He started with the big piles of spices, showing us the chunks of cedar, taking out his lighter and burning some so we could smell the fragrant smoke.  He moved on to the cakes of fragrant extracts, rubbing each on a different part of our hands or arms.  Jasmine, amber, lavender, musk (Berber musk, very special, very famous all over, we put on for special celebration, for ritual, for go home, relatives, party, you know, very important to us), and rose.  And then, the tea.  There are a good six or seven ingredients in Berber tea.  Ginseng, star anise, soft Berber cinnamon, lemongrass, big lemon peppercorns, cardamom, mace, and big chunks of raw sugar from gum arabic. He showed us the tea that had been freshly steeping, he poured us glasses of it, we toasted, he showed us how to add a fragment of eucalyptus resin crystal, just a tiny fragment, to make the most sinus-opening tea you've ever had.  We went to the inside of the shop and he showed us more spices, the fresh Argan oils, the herbal medicines.  Finally Abdul seemed to be winding down and repeating himself a little and I looked at Benet with wide eyes, and he nodded.  Rashid came in to take the order and measure everything out into bags.  We bought tea and eucalyptus resin and black cumin and a cake of amber, basically a hundred dollars worth of stuff. So much tea, though, and they threw in enough ginseng to make a Madison hippie cream his jeans.  They were so nice.  "Welcome, welcome, come back anytime, just to have tea, this is your home."
I felt good, I felt happy.
The not-so-good: We began to walk out of the square and a lady came up showing me bracelets.  She shoved one on my hand that looked like it came out of a gumball machine, "this free, this present, from me, for you, this free, for you, un cadeau, c'est free.  But see here, this one, so pretty, real silver," et cetera, et cetera.  She took bangles and unbent them, then closed them around my wrist like manacles.  I unfortunately kind of liked one of them and it showed.  Four hundred dirham later (I overpaid by about two hundred, I think), we escaped.  Then another, more positive experience - on the way to the main square, a jewelry shop.  Empty, but the owner says after I walk by, "come in and look."  I made the mistake of glancing to see if he had any lapis.  "Just a look, no more, is okay," he says.  He, too, is Berber.  I look around, lots of colorful stuff, lots of silver.  "Est-ce que vous avez le bleu, lapis lazuli?"
"Yes, I have.  I have here, and here," and he sets a few necklaces on the table.  Some look dull, one is made of overlapping squares, but there's a bit of white on some of the corners.  I push up my glasses, frown, look closely.  "Is not painted, is not painted, is solid, just some lapis is more light, is solid stone, I show."  He bent over to a faucet over a bucket and rinsed the stone so it would shine true.  It looked good, but I scraped it a little with my fingernail just to be sure.  He pulled off a really beautiful necklace with big round chunks between silver discs, lovely but not my style.  "And oh, aussi, the pennadont, we have the peennadonts," and pulled out the most beautiful piece of all, a good round lump of lapis in a silver setting with sweet filigree at the bottom.  My eyes lit up and he knew, he just knew.  "You tell me, what is to your taste, what you like."  He took out a slip of paper and a calculator.  I pulled the squares-overlapping not-painted one and the pendant.  "I like these, but mostly this, the pendant."  He looks at them, writes down 470 on the top line and 1040 on the second line.  "Ah, no, no, I can't, just the pendant, three hundred?"  We go back and forth.  He says he knows I want the necklace, that it looks good with every color, how bout both of them, twelve hundred, what can you spend, good stones.  I bit my lip and said that I could maybe spend eight hundred dirham.  A thousand?  Eight hundred.  I must eat.  "You can come eat with my family, we take you in."  Eight hundred is all I can spend, I had to give the rest to my husband because I'm an easy mark,  I'm too soft.  Just the pendant, then, three hundred, I say. He laughs and acquiesces, telling me a few times that he likes me.   Eight hundred, yes, shookrhan, thank you, it's good. Sometimes he'll make a deal with someone that isn't quite fair if she is just very nice, sympa,  tres sympa.  He wraps them in paper and tapes them up, cautions me to put them in my drawstring backpack, not in my plastic bag of spices, protect your jewelry, be careful with your wallet, okay?
Finally we made to to the square, and there's an orange juice booth!  I love the orange juice here more than anything, four dirham a glass, perfect.
The ugly:  We get the glasses of juice, it's so good.  Liquid sunshine, squeezed all of ten seconds ago, just for us.  A lady approaches me and grabs my hand, flashes me a book of henna designs.  "Non, non, merci."  I try to take my hand away.  She locks on and starts putting henna on.  "Free, free, for you, free."
"Ah...." I try to finish my orange juice quickly so I can give back the glass.
"Non, non," says Benet.
"Your husband, what his name?"

"On doit partir maintenant."  (One must leave now; my French has never been that great, but it's worse when I'm stressed out.)
"No, your husband, what his name?"
"Beenie.  I write here.  And your name?"
"Amy, but no, no, I cannot."
"I write it here, I finish design, is good luck for good sex.  Here, this is my daughter." Another woman comes up and starts drawing on my hand.  By now, we have only been in the square for two minutes and I'm getting a hardcore hustle.  I finally get my hand back and take the glasses back to the orange juice guy, and say to Benet, 'give her a coin, let's go.'
He tried to give her a coin, she shows him the book, "These designs, good designs, four hundred fifty dirham, seven hundred dirham, three hundred fifty dirham."  She follows him to me, she won't stop, she won't go away, "Pay me now, please."
"But you did this," Benet says.  "You can't, it's not fair."
"I didn't want that, you wouldn't give me back my hand," I say.
"Pay me now, please."
I roll my eyes and look at Benet.  "Give her a hundred and let's go."
He doesn't want to.  But.  He gives her a hundred and we start to walk away, she follows us with the book, "No, pay me now."  I finally give her a death glare and say, "Laissez-moi rester." As firmly as I can manage.  (I meant to say leave me alone but that was all that came to my lips, I was so frightened and angry.)
Then she either said, "vous et fou" or "foutes-toi", but there was definitely an emphasis on the "fou" part.  Either "you're crazy," or "fuck you."  Whatever it was, she was angry and shrill, but she'd made out with a hundred dirham, which will buy you two good lunches, for the work of two minutes.
The bad:  What I really wanted was a hat.  If we're going to the Sahara, it'd be foolish not to have a hat.  But in a country of scarves and hijabs, there are not a lot of hats.  So we have to walk around the big marketplace to look for one, this gooshy henna drying on my hand.  I don't have anything to wipe it off with, and it'll flake off easily in a couple of minutes.
But shopkeepers and hawkers, they see my name on my hand.  Lots of them on my right say or shout, "Excuse me, excuse me, shoes, leather goods," et cetera, but a couple of them on my right say, "Excuse me, excuse me," then see my hand and say, "Amy, Amy!"  It makes me feel violated, my name being bandied about.  I finally make it through enough of the marketplace to see where I might buy a hat, and I wait, and I scrape the mostly-dry henna off with a napkin from my bag.  I buy a hat, twenty dirham, great.  We figure out where we are and start to walk back to the hotel.  I realize I can go back to the spice shop with Abdul and Rashid, because there's henna there, and maybe I can buy a little, mix it with water at the hotel.  The design is on my left hand, I can use my right hand and pipe some clumsy flowers or vines over the lines of my name and Benet's transliterated into Arabic.  Two more sellers see it and say my name on the way there.  My ears are bright red, I can feel them under my hat. At least I can hide my ears now.
We arrive back at the spice shop, and at first they look at me blankly on approach, but I take off my hat and they recognize me.  "Il me faut un peu, I need to buy a little henna, is that okay?"
"Of course, of course, welcome, this is your home, have some tea, sit down, what's the matter, we get you henna, come inside."  As soon as we sit down I burst into tears, I'm too jetlagged, too worn down from all the colors and shouting, too angry at the henna woman, too embarrassed from having my name shouted at me all the time.  Abdul sees, says "Oh, no!  I get you tea, don't cry, what happened?  This is terrible, you're on holiday." and fetches Rashid.  I choke out the story and explain that I need to cover up my name.  He gets a dish, mixes henna with rose water and bright paprika, takes my hand himself, smears henna over my name and Benet's.  All the while, we are talking about the big market square.  "In fifteen years, I've been here fifteen years, one-five, yes?  I never go there, never.  All the go here, buy, buy, look at this, see here, do this, buy, buy, some people not even there to sell things, they just want money, just there to shout for money, is always like this.  Morocco is my country, it should be better, it is better than that."
Rashid explains that he has to go to an organization meeting, he is sorry, but he must be gone two hours, advises us to go look at the palaces instead.  Abdul comes back in, says, "Oh, good, no more crying, okay?  You're on holiday.  You were sympa, yes, sympatico, you look, you smile, they think you are stupid.  You're not stupid, but you must not be sympa, cannot be sympatico, must say 'la! La.  La.  La. Lla!  Lla, shookrhan.'  Do not look, do not smile, just nod, la, shookrhan, and they will stop and if they do not stop then you can say 'Police!' And they will come, yes?"
"La.  La! Shookrhan."  I practiced.
"Is good, is good!  I get you more tea.  There are good people and there are bad people, in Morocco. Here, our little square, it is quiet.  You were in big square, yes?  Yes, there are more bad people there.  We're not all like that, you know that?  Sometimes, you know, here, there are the ladies with the bracelets."  He looks down at the bangles on my wrists and smiles.  "I know them, seven or eight of them, they must sell for their family, they are always like that, but if you say no, it is fine, they are good.  But you, you are okay?  You come whenever you want, you are family here, welcome, welcome, always welcome, come by for tea, free always, just sit, just talk, just have tea.  Stay as long as you want, always welcome, this is your home."  They wouldn't take any money for the henna, though they offered to package up some for me to go.
We got home to the hotel.  I was embarrassed that I cried, and Benet was all worried that I hated the trip or I blamed him for not being strong or loud enough.  I laughed and said now I've gone to the square and had my Tourist Experience, and tomorrow we will go to the desert and nobody will hound me there.  And then I put on my new necklace, lapis squares clinking together.  I wouldn't even care if it's painted, at this point.  It's mine, and I'm happy with it.

Stay tuned for chapters three and four!


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