Saturday, August 11, 2007

"What I did with my summer vacation" Part I

Rather than living in one place, we chose to spend two months sans domicile fixe, wandering around by plane, train, auto, donkey, bike, surfboard, and foot to see what a little planning, some serendipity, and God's good sovereignty could come up with. It's a curious feeling, being without a permanent address. "Home" becomes a fluid concept, meaning anything from a tent in a campground, to a guest room in a bustling city, to a friend's couch in Paris, to family in Minnesota. The actual space becomes less relevant, while what is truly lasting and fixed into clearer focus; that is, relationships built with people along the way. It is chiefly thanks to friends who graciously opened their homes to us that we were able to see, smell, taste, hear, and touch so much new territory. And for that we are so grateful.

Our adventures began in Messanges, France, with two of our very best friends from Germany, Thomas and Conni. We joined them for several days and braved some unseasonably chilly and rainy weather to surf and camp along a very lovely portion of the Côte Atlantique. Thank goodness for wetsuits. Despite the conditions, Karl fell irreperably in love with the sport, I'm afraid, and I foresee many future vacations where I will be doing a lot of barefoot beach running while my husband scrambles to catch waves and suck in seawater. Doesn't sound so bad. Before we were too tempted to completely quit our careers and become professional beach bums, we found ourselves shaking the sand out of our shoes and boarding a plane to North Africa.

The first time around, Marrakech meant boarding a hot dusty train and riding it north towards our friends Thibault and Samia. Thibault is a drummer that Karl works with in Paris, and a terrific friend as well. He and Samia recently wed, and they were happy to show us around her hometown of Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Like many cities in this ever-changing country, it has a split personality. One half is the medina, or old town, where many of the butchers, bakers, fruit and veg sellers, rug makers, jewelers, and craftsmen of all sorts set up shop. The other half is the sleek and modern nouvelle ville, where self-important businessmen strut around with newspapers under their arm, people buy baguettes in French-style boulangeries, and girls decide to flaunt their newly-found freedom in (usually-forbidden) miniskirts and the highest of heels.

We couldn't visit nearby Casablanca without setting the piano player in front of a piano, and so the obvious venue was Rick's café, a classy joint that is meant to reflect the film. The piano player who warmed up the keys was named Issam (as in, "play it again, Issam..."), and he and the drummer were able to switch with Karl and Thibault for a few tunes throughout the evening. What an experience. And if I'm allowed to say so, my husband was smokin' hot.

Next, thanks to a recommendation from a new friend named Omar, we were encouraged to board a train to Meknes and stay with his aunt and uncle. We were greeted by mint tea, delicate Moroccan pastries, and the news that we could be escorted that evening by our hosts, Touria and Melek, to a traditional wedding, if we didn't mind. Would we like to come? The answer was an emphatic oui, which swept us up in a a whirlwind of activity of primping, donning kaftans, and departing (in two different cars, so as to keep men separate from women) for a showcase of Moroccan hospitality at its most spectacular. The whole experience lasts from about 9 in the evening until 6 or 7 in the morning. It includes about 7 costume changes for the bride, along with a goodly amount of pomp and paegantry to show them off. 'Round midnight, we were treated to a feast of many courses that featured, among other extravagances, an entire sheep for each table of six. And as if one orchestra wasn't enough, their were two music groups present; setting the ambience, and setting our feet and bellies to dancing at regular intervals. Unforgettably fun.

Full of memories and bleary-eyed, we board the train the next morning for Fes. An incomparable place. Enterning the medina by way of the imposing Bab Bejeloud (below), you find yourself in another world. No one winding street is the same, just as no fingerprint is the same; they are traces that witness to the city's total richness, the sum of its experiences as a space. We let ourselves get pushed around, haggled, and wheedled for a while, like a couple of pinballs in a neverending maze of a machine. Bumped and rolled between street boys who beg to be your guide for a few cents. Most of these little ones with big eyes grow into the taller ones who patrol like sharks, watching carefully for someone's open purse. I remember the dear Andalousian man with clear eyes and bad teeth. He should work for UNESCO, what with his sincere little speeches in very good English about the equality of man. "Would you like some tea?" Every store we hesitate in front of, they offer mint tea, mint tea, mint tea. The centerpiece of Moroccan generousity becomes a bargaining chip to get you to buy a drum, a kaftan, spices... After about three hours of sensory overload, we somehow extract oursevles from a Berber gentleman's workshop with many thank yous, and race for the hotel for a moment of repose and Coca on the terrasse. Subsequent days teach us how to ride this wave of commerce and colorful experience without getting sucked under too many times.

Finally, Marrakech. Though this city has become disappointingly touristy for many people, we were still fascinated by the nightly gatherings of food and entertainment at the center place, Jemaa al Fna, and gobbled down soup, tea, tajines, and spectacles galore. There are too many beautiful things to recount. Daily, we were struck by God's creative hand at work in the faces and souls of these generous-spirited people.
(To be continued...)


Christa said...

I'm so glad you updated! I've been checking.
It's great to hear all about your adventures.

I can't wait to see you two when you get back to your home state!

Mel Arroz said...

On your previous post before you went wandering, some one left a suspicious post and link, which you might like remove.

The sun is shining here in Idaho!

Anonymous said...

Lovely story Abbey--I guess I was too tired to benefit from the real thing!