Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A refuse you can’t offer

We tend to accumulate - not excessively but on a fairly regular basis - wine bottles. This is not a problem - certainly not in Windsor, where the Council give you a special container and call every Tuesday to empty it; or in France, where you take them to a nearby recyclage. But what to do with them here is a serious and growing problem.
In Morocco, it being a Muslim - and largely boozeless - country, drinks receptacles come in either plastic or cardboard: there's no need for glass bottles, and there are no facilities for recycling them. When it’s only a matter of a honey- or mustard-jar or two, there’s no harm in putting them in with the rubbish. But putting bottles into landfill is something we are now conditioned not to do. We can't leave them for the landlord to dispose of. What to do? Answers on a post card.

As predicted here, Everton beat Manchester City last night and are now back in fourth place, and breathing down the neck of the number three. It’s an over-used word I know, but it really is phenomenal, especially when you think of the money Chelsea and the other big guys spend. I’m surprised that no journalist - as far as I know - has remarked on this phenomenon: though it‘s something Finkelstein may well have done. It seems to me there’s a great story to be written based on the ‘points won per pound spent’ value of our top clubs’ management. When it happens, David Moyes‘s canonization - if not sainthood - should be assured. But there's a cloud on the horizon; a problem more serious than wine bottles. Would this marriage survive both Everton and Liverpool being in the Champions League next year?

Greetings and a message to the faithful reader(s) in Valencia who join us nearly every evening around happy hour and are now north of us for a change: thanks for your interest and support. By the way, what do you do with your empties?
Off to Fès in the morning.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Going places - but not the right ones

Getting around is always a challenge for me. As I tend to get lost easily, I carry a compass and map as if traversing the Gobi desert - even when going to Windsor Post Office. But in Casablanca it’s especially challenging: it’s not only the unfamiliar street names, but the fact that they are in the gradual process of replacing the old French names with Moroccan ones. This means that every street map you get is different depending on when it was printed. Further complications are that not many of the streets are sign-posted anyway, and even the locals do not know the current nomenclature.
The other evening I was having difficulty directing a taxi driver to our street - Bashir Ibrahimi - and, thinking that the problem was my Arabic pronunciation, I asked him what its original name was, so that I could find it on my map. He said. “I don’t know - taxi drivers know only the French names”. (That space under the sign is where the original name - which I now know to be Rue des Quinconces - used to be.)
So the procedure is as follows: find a street that you both know that still has a French name and navigate from there. It‘s a bit like the old Radio Four game, Mornington Crescent:
“Avenue de Londres?”
“Rue Foucaud?“
“Boulevard de la Resistance.”
The other day I had to get to the British Embassy to get something signed. What I had thought was an impeccable pronunciation of “Royaume Uni” was repeated back by the driver as “Roumanie” and off we sped, crammed with our shopping into the back seat of a Fiat Uno, not knowing whether we were on our way to the Roumanian Embassy - or Bucharest.

Je n'egret rien. The DG complains that I am obsessing on storks. There seems to be some controversy about whether they're storks or egrets: can anyone help? But who was it gave me the camera?

Back last December I posted that Everton were fourth in the table. I did it in a hurry because I thought it wouldn't last out the day. Well, they are still fourth, even if - unless they’re playing one of the top three - they continue to appear last on Match of the Day. You can guess why I’m posting this now: Liverpool play Middlesborough later today.
(OK, so now you know I didn’t manage to post this in time. The Reds beat 'boro and we’ve now swapped places with them. But we play Man City tonight...)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Blessed are the pizza makers

They make great pizzas in Rabat, thin and crispy and not smothered in tasteless cheese. All the food is good in fact - I only highlight pizzas because I liked the title - but the best bit is the bill. Salad, sole and filet steak, a good bottle of wine and coffee for two people (that’s one bottle of course) with tip, set us back £24.
Rabat is about 100 kilometres north of Casablanca, but a universe away if measured in terms of civic pride. Wider boulevards, cleaner streets, shallower potholes, clearer air, quieter traffic and more discreet calls to prayer. Perhaps the last two are linked: Oxford City Council is currently debating whether to allow one of the city’s mosques to do its muezzin over loudspeakers. If they do, let it be along the lines of Rabat. Casablancan worshippers are summoned by something along the lines of a Brazilian football commentator on steroids – a noise level that I guess is necessary to compete with all the other street sounds. The DG asked a guy yesterday if they’d ever thought of bells. He smiled indulgently - it’s a national characteristic that no one admits voluntarily that they don’t have something.
The menu last night listed about a dozen items of fish:
“I’ll have the turbot aux fines herbes.”
Shrug. “Sorry, we don’t have turbot.”
“OK. I’ll have the St. Pierre aux champignons.”
“Sorry, no St. Pierre.”
“What kinds of fish do you have?”
At the newsstands, it goes:
“Do you have The Times?” The answer is either “It didn’t come today” or “There are none left”. In three days, we never saw an English paper - which after all isn’t surprising: we haven’t seen a Brit or American, or heard an Anglo-Saxon word since we’ve been in Morocco. It’s doing wonders for our French, if not our Arabic.

That's the 12th century gate to the Kasbah in Rabat. We went to Rabat on Edith Wharton’s recommendation. She was right. New monuments can be impressive, beautiful even: old ones are also moving. The walled town of Chellah, just outside Rabat, for example: first - from 20BC for three centuries - the Romans, then in the 12thC everyone left and it has remained uninhabited ever since. (Well that’s what it says in the guidebooks, but a security man pointed out the house, half-covered in foliage, and garden where the first French Governor, (from 1912) Marshall Hubert Lyautey, had lived - clearly derelict, but far from a 2,000- or 900-year-old ruin.) Edith was very impressed by Chellah; and apparently also by Hubert, whom she knew when she was here in 1917.
But there are other inhabitants who hardly get a mention: hundreds of them. They’re everywhere you look, occupying every height and mating, with a call that’s a strange rattle like a North American woodpecker in low gear. Yes, storks. All that's missing is the hoarse whisperer, David Attenborough.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Isn't she lovely

Everyone asks if we’ve seen the Grand Mosque. We went there yesterday. It’s big - I mean BIG. The nave would comfortably house Wembley and the Giants Stadia and still leave room for Goodison Park, (though perhaps the Emirates would be more apt). It’s also exceptional in that non- Muslims are allowed in, except on Fridays - and I’m glad to say one is allowed, exceptionally, to carry one’s shoes in a bag rather than leave them at the door - much more sensible, (especially during Ramadan, when it can house 25,000 worshippers) than coming outside to find a 50,000-shoe mountain. Especially if you’ve just bought a pair of Bally’s and you aren’t the first out.

Strange things happen in taxis: if there’s an empty seat, people will stop you and - - if you’re going their way - hop in. Very eco-friendly, and presumably helps keeps the price down: the most we’ve paid so far was still less than £2 - for a 5-kilometre trip. Kids approach you at traffic lights, selling roses or paper tissues - and today a guy stopped the car, waited until the driver wound his window down, and said, ‘Madame, Monsieur, I would like to sing you a little song.’ - and bursts into it, accompanied by cab driver on Arabic obscenities. As we speed away, the Casablancan Stevie Wonder just manages to extricate head from taxi in time to prevent it departing therewith. Off to Rabat tomorrow, for, we’re told, a bit of sanity.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Quick or the Dead

We’re still trying to get the hang of the Casablanca traffic and hoping we get it before it gets us. It reminds you of the old Irish joke about switching from left- to right-hand drive in stages - cars only for the first year, then trucks and busses. The Casablancan Highway Code as I read it is: cars stop on red lights, bikes and scooters never. Pedestrians have no idea what‘s going on, because, to add to the excitement, the colour of the lights is a secret to all except drivers approaching the crossing. Thus ‘cars still’ means you can cross, but only until the lights change, an event that you do not become aware of until three lanes of bikes and Peugeot 106s are hurtling towards you, horns a-braying. There are traffic cops, but their function is unclear: sometimes they’re pro-lights, sometimes they’re anti. When in anti-lights mode you can’t tell which stance means Stop - profile or full frontal? - until he's approaching wielding a wad of tickets.
It sure keeps your weight down, but I can’t help wondering how many lives might be saved by a few Run like Hell!/Don’t Run signs

I’m not complaining - honest. We don’t have a word for depaysagement - unfamiliarity I guess - the thrill of not being at home - of expecting the unexpected. It’s more fun than being in Florida or Grand Canary - or even Windsor - where everyone speaks English and you can’t get lost. We have a super apartment, in which, although we can't both be online at the same time (one of us is XP and the other Vista, and each system jealously demands the deinstallation of the other's driver!) we have so far coexisted amicably. Just watch this space...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Another try at looking at you

When Murray Burnett was sitting in the Grand Hotel du Cap on Cap Ferrat writing Everybody Comes to Ricks – later to be given the much sexier name Casablanca – I suspect he may never have been to Casablanca. If so, as well as telling us about the corrupt police chief rounding up the usual suspects, he would have mentioned Air Quality. The AQ reminds you of LA on a bad day – with added dust. Construction and deconstruction seem to be Casablancas cottage industry, and the guys who aren’t knocking something down or building something are watching others do it. If doing any of these, youre allowed to block whole pavements, leaving the rest – ie. tourists and women – to dance pasadobles with the traffic.
Ah yes, the traffic. Tahir Shah, in his otherwise excellent book, The Caliphs House: A Year in Casablanca, fails to mention it. When a Casablancan checks out a new car, he must test the horn first, for noise level and durability. The average motorist has one hand permanently on the horn, one on the mobile phone, one on the gear stick and one on the wheel – using them in that order of priority. OK, so that’s four: I guess the horn must be foot-operated. The first result is double-glazing -defying, ear-plug-penetrating, noise, 24/7. The second result is that other drivers don’t notice it any more, thus causing klaxoneurs to klaxon, not less, but more, in the hope of even being noticed.
I should explain why this post is apostrophe-bereft: I cant find it. Its bad enough learning to use a French/Arabic AZERTY keyboard and having to go through afterwards changing the qs to as, but now I live in fear of Lynne Truss reading it. (The DG did have the presence of mind to bring her laptop but the ADSL line isn’t – hey! An apostrophe – what did I do? – Vista-compatible). That’s (another one!) enough for today. Ill tell you something about Casablanca later.

Heres looking at Casablanca - through the haze

Thursday, February 07, 2008

To Erm is Human

After England’s pedestrian performance against Switzerland last night – literally so, since much of it was played at walking pace – the BBC selected two Scousers for interview, and we saw Rooney and Gerrard competing to see how many “erm”s you can get into a single interview, I think Gerrard won by 47 to Rooney’s mere 35. But to be fair, Gerrard was asked more – erm – questions than – erm – Rooney. And they couldn’t interview the coach because they don’t have an “erm” in Italian.

Road to Morocco When you look in the London Library catalogue for books about Morocco you get 249 responses. But don’t get too excited, because in half the cases it’s a reference to the binding. Like Hope, Crosby and Shakespeare’s 1623 folio of “The Tragedie of Julius Caesar”, we’re Morocco-bound. We’re Casablanca-bound to be precise: I’ve had the trench-coat dry-cleaned and am learning not to grit my teeth when friends put on funny accents and say “Play it Sam” or “Here's looking at you, kid”.
Having spent some time in Marrakech a couple of years ago, we decided that this year we would spurn the tourist traps and see out the last of the winter in a real working city.
But we’re beginning to have misgivings, whatever they are, because we fear we may gone too far. Sandford’s, London’s leading map shop, can sell you maps and guide books on Marrakech, Fez and Meknes, but not of Casablanca. The Moroccan Tourist Board produces a glossy brochure called “The Imperial Cities”, which recommends doing a 1,047-kilometre road trip that takes them all in: Marrakech, Fez, Meknes and Rabat. Casablanca, although it’s on the route and is bigger than all four of them put together, does not get a mention. Casablanca is literally not on the tourist map.
But as I said to the - erm - DG, “It don’t amount to a hill o’ beans. We'll always have Marrakech".