Sahara road trip, Part I

We were a little nervous about renting a car in Morocco. But we asked a lot of questions, listened to stories from other travelers, and decided to do it.

Sitting on the couch at Mami Tours, we asked: is it an automatic? Does it have air conditioning? Does it have a CD player? Yes, yes, yes, he said.

Two out of three isn’t so bad. It’s just that it’s been a long time since I’ve driven a car with manual transmission. And that was in New Zealand, on the other side of the road. And car.

But it comes back to you.

Even on roads like this.

winding road in the atlas mountains

With goats crossing. (Sorry for the windshield smudge in the photo.)

goats crossing the road in the atlas mountains

Mara took the wheel first and navigated the traffic and roundabouts of Marrakesh and our first taste of Moroccan highway. Once we started to approach the Atlas Mountains, we switched.

goats grazing in atlas mountains

The Tizi-n-Tichka Pass is Morocco’s highest road pass, reaching 2260 meters (7413 feet) before descending again. The road winds through pale rock, green valleys, red rock, cedar forest, and black rock before it brings you into the desert. Continue reading


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A fes in Fes. Or a fez in Fez, if you rather.

French spelling, English spelling, whatever.

I bought a fes in the town of Fes. My brother used to collect hats, and I couldn’t help myself. I gave it to him when I got back yesterday.

Since internet wasn’t quite as easy to come by in Morocco as I’d anticipated, I’m going to write a bit about my trip now that I’m home.

We arrived in Fes late in the day. Once we finally landed in Casablanca (after the saga of the cancelled flight and the unhelpful airline and the new flight a day later with a layover that hadn’t been part of our original itinerary), we took the train to Casa’s main station and then hopped the express train to Fes.

When we stepped off the train, bleary-eyed and travel-weary, the sky was pink from the setting sun, and the call to prayer echoed even through the station. The moon was already rising. Finally, we were where we wanted to be.

The Fes medina (old city) is said to be the world’s largest car-free area. The little car we’d gotten into parked outside a gate, and we took our bags and followed our driver into the narrow streets. Some were steep enough to have steps on one side. All curved and intersected unpredictably. It was getting dark, and only men – and a couple of mules pulling carts – walked the streets. Small groups of men sat on low chairs, smoking and talking drinking glasses of mint tea. Continue reading


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The Sahara

I just spent ages typing a post about driving through the Atlas Mountains to see the Sahara, and it’s gone. So for now: I’m in Marrakech, heading to Essaouira this afternoon, and I’ll write another time about remembering how to drive stick on winding mountain roads, riding a camel through red sand dunes, sleeping under the stars, and wandering through old kasbahs with crumbling pisé walls.

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I made it here. Eventually. After a canceled flight and other hijinks. Fes was wonderful/ we stayed in the medina, near the square where craftsmen hammer brass and copper plates by hand and men laze at the cafe. The riads (old houses) and other buildings (medersas, palaces, mosques) are stunning, with layers of deep carving and colored tile and intricately painted wood, and central open-air courtyards planted with bananas, oranges, jasmine, hibiscus, and other leafy lovely things.. Museums hold old weapons and scabbards, ceramics, wedding robes, carpets, urns, teapots, platters, carved doors. This French keyboard is confusing the hell out of me, and I’m off to see Yves St. Laurent’s gardens.
More later.


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Films about girls by guys.

I went to the Connecticut Out Film Fest last Wednesday night for a double bill of chick-chick flicks:

scene from "eloise's lover"A Different Kind of Love
Dir. Martin Dolensky, 2010, Czech Republic, 61 min

Eloise’s Lover
Dir. Jesús Garay, 2009, Spain, 92 min

I liked them – particularly Eloise’s Lover (scene pictured here) – but found them frustrating. Then I noticed that both films were directed by men. It explains a lot, particularly in the Czech film.

Here are some tropes the two have in common:

  • The “established” lesbian, the one who is out and comfortable with her identity, has long hair in an unconventional style. (You know, not so unconventional as to be short.)
  • Beginning to come out will leave you alienated from your mother or your kids (depending on which is featured in the plot), and definitely from your peers.
  • People will think you’re a perv, or will have awkward conversations in which they assert that they’re fine with it but warn you that everyone else will think you’re a perv.
  • Hooking up after having a crush seems to result in assumptions that a relationship will develop.
  • There’s no happy ending.

I can think of a lot of things that annoy me about the Czech film. Eva’s talking-head scenes gave away plot points so that other scenes didn’t have to do the storytelling as clearly. Daniella, the younger teacher, seemed to function as an adult, and she was supposed to be the one experienced with same-sex relationships; but when it came to dating, she had absolutely no capacity to think ahead or make rational decisions. (Getting it on in her classroom after school? Renting an apartment without even talking to the woman she wants to share it with? Not realizing that a woman with two kids will always have those two kids? If she’s that much of a moron, make her consistently a moron.)

The storytelling in Eloise’s Lover, fortunately, made a great contrast. With the way it cuts back and forth between the hospital and earlier scenes, you only sort of know where it’s going, and without knowing at all how the characters got there and how it ends. The characters made sense, and some lovely acting (Asia’s mother!) added depth. But the way the camera lingers on Eloise and Asia, particularly when they’re swimming and floating, just screams, “A man made this movie!”


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In the woods

ladyslippersI went hiking yesterday last Saturday [I forgot to finish and post this, of course], and it was the most confusing hikes I’ve ever done. It was also beautiful.

About the confusing part: the trail and blazes didn’t match the map after a couple of miles, so even though the trail was clear and we kept following the blue blazes, we couldn’t figure out why we were in a low pine wood getting eaten by mosquitos instead of climbing Lamentation Mountain.

Then we heard cars, and pretty soon we came out to a road. The same road, we realized, that we’d driven in on. So we were a mile or two away from our starting point – by road – and not all that close to our intended end point, where my car was waiting for us.

So we followed the road, taking a little detour around a pond and through a cemetery and then back to the road, and it started to rain, and a car honked at us (for what? Walking? Existing?), and just as the rain turned to a downpour we reached our starting point. And drove to my car, and tried to figure out where the trail had diverged.

We found out later that they’re in the middle of moving the trail but haven’t gotten around to, oh, putting up signs saying that you’re about to go in a huge and confusing circle.

Anway, for the good part. We saw:

  • Tons of ladyslippers. I’ve never seen so many in one day. And a bunch of jack-in-the-pulpits.
  • Three snakes. Two of them were a pair, a pretty big one paralleled by a slim little young thing, sunning themselves on some rocks. They might’ve been black rat snakes. The other one was pretty small.
  • A mama quail acting like a spastic, injured freak in order to distract us from her babies. But soon the babies startled, too, and about six tiny dark chicks jumped up and starting running deeper in the woods, crying, “peep! peep!”
  • Two families of geese and their goslings. A pair of swans and their cygnets. A bunch of ducks, including mallards and one white duck.
  • A great blue heron, taking off in slow motion above a lily-covered pond.
  • A low-lying pine grove, damp and cool and lovely. And full of mosquitoes, but that’s okay.

I’m heading back into the woods this weekend. Can’t wait.


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And I don’t even like baseball.

The composer David Lang has a great editorial in today’s New York Times.

It’s “a pitch for new music.” You know how much I love puns. And as a kid I enjoyed baseball, at least the one or two games a year that I’d go to with my dad and my brother and, once in a while, my mom.

Anyway, back to David Lang and his great piece on baseball and classical music. You should read the whole thing, but here are a few excerpts worth highlighting.

Somehow the legendary magnificence of baseball’s past doesn’t get in the way of enjoying what is happening in baseball’s present. Can we say the same thing about classical music? Not always. Our love of the past can enhance what we hear but I often feel that the appreciation of classical music’s glorious past can get in the way of truly hearing the music being made right now.

It turns out that classical music fans do a lot of the same remembering and measuring as baseball fans. Both baseball and classical music have a great sense of history, a tremendous respect for the past, and a slew of nerdy people like me [and me!] who want to know all the details. Both are made of people who argue passionately with each other about who was the greatest.

The strange thing is that music fans and baseball fans remember the past with very different results; appreciation of the past helps baseball fans enjoy the game in front of them, while sometimes classical music’s illustrious past can keep us from enjoying what is happening right now.

It is a real problem — listeners who come to hear new music searching for only the composers and performers who can fly up immediately to some musical pantheon will almost always be disappointed. Not because musicians are worse now, or aren’t skilled, or inspired, or serious, but because “greatness” is not an objective measurement. It is the end result of an unpredictable communal process of the sorting of memories; the listeners of the future will decide if something is memorable through the simple act of remembering it.

I think what baseball projects, and what classical music needs, is the sense that one goes to a live event not to experience greatness, but to experience the possibility of greatness.

The possibility of greatness: yes.

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