January 26, 2010

Book report

Being seen in a bar or hotel is hshuma and even dating before marriage is viewed with suspicion, as Muslim girls are expected to remain virgins until their wedding day. Nevertheless, many young Moroccans engage in romantic relationships, though mostly of the innocent variety, involving incessant phone calls and SMS messages.

-Morocco: a quick guide to customs and etiquette (2006)

All my foundation in virtue was no other than a total ignorance of vice.

-Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, John Cleland (1748)

January 25, 2010

Doing things with language

There's a fruit stand on the corner two blocks away where they charge too much, but people pay, because the shop is right downtown, as much as anything can be downtown here. If I'm in a rush, I buy things there. Yesterday, in the rain, I bought half a kilo of tangerines and some apples and bananas. Usually I pick the fruit myself, but I was already carrying a box of cookies from Avenida bakery. The man behind the counter picked and weighed the fruit for me and handed it all over in a plastic bag. I hurried home.

Three of the tangerines had started to rot! 

The man knew they were rotten when he chose them for me. He had touched them with his own hands. He had abused the situation to sell me bad fruit. What to do? Thoughts: I could stop buying fruit there. I could buy fruit there, but always insist on picking it myself. These options were so negative, though, based on punishment and mistrust. This morning, after French, I wrapped one of the rotten tangerines in a plastic bag and walked over to the corner. It was a different man than yesterday.

Me: Salam aleikum.

Man: Wa aleikum asalam.

Me: Labes? Bighair?

Man: Labes, bighair, alhamdulilah.

Me: Alhumdulilah. 


Me: Amss, ana kuntu hinaya, wa nus kilo mandarine... [gesture] lakin, talata mithal hatha [holding up the bad one]. (Yesterday, I was here, and I... half a kilo of tangerines, but three are like this.)

Man: Talata? Fi kilo? [talks about how it's normal to have one or two bad ones in a kilo]

Me: Talata fi nus kilo! (Three in half a kilo!)

Man: [He thinks for a moment. He looks at me and the rotten fruit dangling in the air. Then he apologizes and fills a bag with three of the biggest, shiniest, unscarred tangerines.]

Me: Shukran bzef. Bslama.

Man: Bslama.


January 22, 2010

My first Arabic text message

Sent: Fatima, pouvons-nous recontrer a 2h ce jeudi, parce que je voudrais regarder le film a dar loughat, qui est a 3h. -mary.

Received: naam momkin, fat.

January 21, 2010

Can't keep up

Tarik, after French, asks where he can learn guitar, as in class I mentioned studying art here. I walk him to the conservatoire, where he asks in Darija for the secretary.

My friend from choir, Iman, speaks to me in French or English. I teach her the word "saddlebags" and she laughs for a full minute. Some days she helps me read the Arabic songs and translates the words. "Amal; hope." "Leyli; my night."

I forget that the girl on my right doesn't speak French. "Est-ce que tu es une etudiante, aussi?" She asks Iman to translate, but I stop her and ask again. "No, beleti: Hal anti taliba aydan?" She understands my rough Standard Arabic enough to say "la."

In the hamam, the women tell me that Arabic is sahal, easy. "La, la, saab!" I say. Oriane, my hamam companion, switches to Spanish for kicks and asks me, "Piensas que tu vas a regresar a marruecos?" Then the masseuse stops by and tells me in Darija to wait: "Beleti."

After years of feeling embarrassed by my French, I use it at l'institut des beaux-arts to do les analyses and les critiques with my French-speaking Moroccan classmates. Techniques we've used so far in the printmaking class: frottages (rubbings), tampons (stamps, not tampons), pochoirs (stencils), et l'imprinte digitale (to blow images up in size). 

In Arabic class, I laugh to learn "Eshia fi Tetouan" (I'm living--temporarily is the sense--in Tetouan). "Fi Turkia, nakul nefsi shey...fiil min nefsi asal." I tell Fatima. In Turkish, you would say "Tetouan'da yaşıyorum," and the verb must have its origin in Arabic.

Alaina talks to her boyfriend on Skype in Spanish while I lesson-plan. Later I realize I'm eavesdropping. At Casa de España, she orders some kind of pescado, and when the waiter informs me that there's no tagine de pollo con almendras, I change my order to el pescado, tambien. 

Selwa, who gives me singing lessons in exchange for English conversation, asks "Comment on dit shariaa?" "Sariaa? C'est street."

Passing the violinist from the conservatoire in the street, "Ça va?" "Ça va bien, alhamdulilah."

I can't process these language experiences in Tetouan fast enough, let alone write them all down. My brain is simultaneously flooded and on fire.

January 20, 2010

Things that get said

“And I was kind of pissed, because he was playing with my ball and his dick at the same time.”

--Anonymous for now

January 18, 2010

Questioning a Parisian

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No, not now.”

“Can you make any generalizaitons about Parisian men?”

“Buhf…they want a girl for the night. And all the good ones are taken. There are so many pretty girls…”

“Maybe when you’re traveling you’ll find someone that suits you better.”

“Yes, that’s the other thing. I know in a year I am going, and he will not follow me, so…”

She wants to escape Paris, where she has lived all her life, but she's trapped by student loans. University is free, but business school, where she went for five years, is about 7,000 Euros a year. She hopes to save enough this year to make a break.

January 17, 2010

How cool is my mom?


 November 11 – 22, 2010 

This will be my third tour to Bhutan and it offers a blend of the best of the first two. The Kingdom of Bhutan in the heart of the Himalayas is situated between Tibet to the north, Nepal to the west and India to the south and east. In order to protect its unique cultural heritage, Bhutan admits only a small number of tourists each year. We will explore Western and Central Bhutan, driving over high passes and through dense pine forests, visiting remote valleys, monasteries and museums. Late September to late November is considered to be the best time of the year to visit Bhutan, as it is mild and clear, offering magnificent views of the Himalayas. Bright sunshine keeps the days warm while the temperatures start falling toward freezing at night. We will witness harvest time in Bhutan along with the brilliant fall colours of changing foliage.  We will see Bhutan’s imposing architecture, beautiful artwork and have the opportunity to observe the role of religion in Bhutan. Bhutan is the only country in the world devoted to the Tantric form of Mahayana Buddhism and the influence of the red-robed lama is visible everywhere.

This trip is the perfect opportunity for the adventurous and flexible traveler. Bhutan continues to be one of the top world destinations and it is definitely not to be missed. We will have 10 days and 9 nights to explore this amazing country. 

Don't you want to go on her trip?

January 15, 2010

Get-togethers in Tetouan

"Hey Aziz."


"Look at the balcony. We've got a Pole, a Brazilian, and a Moroccan. What language do you think they're speaking?"


January 13, 2010


On Christmas Eve day, I drove with four strangers from Girona to Paris. They laughed at me when we crossed the border from Spain to France, because I reached for my passport. Had I taken the train, I would have been forced to travel at night, and I would have missed the scenery, not to mention the French immersion experience.

un Clio noir (a black Clio)
j'ai decouvert (I discovered)
en trein (in the process of)
rentrer/retourner (to come back)
moins cher (less expensive)
le région (the region)
ça fait trois mois (it's been three months)
en fait (in fact)
bourré (drunk)
prepare-toi (prepare yourself)
trés haut (very high)
viaduc! (viaduct!)
impressionant (impressive)
une falaise (a cliff)
requien (shark)
l'autostop (truck stop)
le trajet (the trip)
un truc (a thing)
dessiner (to draw)
les paroles (the lyrics)
á doite/ á gauche (to the right/ to the left)
putain! (fuck!)

It was all thanks to the French website for carpooling with strangers and some roughly hewn French emails. Language opens doors they say; even car doors. Emmanuelle, the driver, left the first opinion on my website profile:

Joyeux Noel! Super trajet, on a bien rigolé! Mary a plein de choses a raconter ! Yihaaa

January 10, 2010

Nicest thing I've ever read on a museum wall

“When Dalí meets Gala Eluard in 1929 she provokes such an intense and deep impression on the artist that, from that moment on, they never part.”

They claim this is the first portrait he made of her. 

January 9, 2010

Travel revelation remembered #5

You can do what you want.

Two blocks up the hill toward Gaudi’s famous Park Güell, I turned around. I took the metro to the train station and bought a ticket to Figueres, two hours north, and spent the afternoon in the theatre and museum devoted to Dalí. I did not think twice about Park Güell or leaving Barcelona early.


Alvaro from Chile had been studying cooking in the north of France for six months when he met me in Barcelona. He opened his mouth to speak English, which he had studied and spoken for years, to find that it was tangled in French. I told him to use whichever word came first. And so he continued.

When I was petit…

Barcelona hostel

An Argentinian guy talked to me on the balcony in Spanish. He had a nice scarf and didn’t fully fit the scene.

A drunk—“I’m twenty-three tonight! Yeah!”—American kept cutting in, insistent on pronouncing the “h”. A-HOR-A…wait, wait…A-HOR-A YO…”

Laurence the Australian came to borrow my alarm clock, as he was flying early to Paris to see his sister and her Parisian boyfriend. He would be staying in a hostel, because the apartment was emotionally cramped.

Also on the balcony were Michael and his girlfriend, both from Duluth, Minnesota (Michael originally from Wisconsin). They loved studying in Prague, talked about the clubs changing at a certain hour and all the E-tards coming out to play. Michael offered around hash, which was not strong at all. The girlfriend told me about dressing sluttishly to get free beer. When guys wanted more than to give her beer, she would hail Michael. Michael at some point threw up off the balcony.

Two half-brothers from Kelowna, fresh from beer pong, could be heard in the room. They discussed pot, pot legalization, and the pot legality differences between Canada and the U.S.

Dan from Calgary had been traveling for two months in Europe. He asked me if I wanted to do some coke. He talked about meth destroying some town north of Calgary. He said Red Deer was nice, though. He said that people selling coke in Spain mixed white powder with Novacaine, so that it numbs your nose when you sample it. He said it lacked the coke smell, though. He said I was the only sane and normal person he had met.

Two girls from Melbourne slept through it all. We had breakfast together and they asked me about Morocco.

The receptionist was from Dublin. He was too old to be as eager a hostel employee as he was. He got drunk and said I secretly wanted to be Quebecois. He asked Laurence about being over the bridge or under it, and neither Laurence nor I understood. I left before he explained.

Alex from Florida worked the hostel bar. He asked several times how I was doing and how Morocco was treating me. I couldn’t tell if it was sincerity or habit.

It's only a house

I watched "Up" on the train from Valencia to Barcelona. Funnily enough, the Spanish dubbing differed from the Spanish subtitles, so I was hearing and reading different words. Occasionally, the two merged; "Solo es una casa." 

January 8, 2010

Everything is different!

At a bar in Valencia, I meet a Polish girl. She says she spent one hundred euros and two full days on a bus to get there. 

“It is our first time outside our country!”

She smiles happily at her boyfriend and translates for him. She studied English at school, but this is her first time to use it.

“Do you understand me? Yes?”

When I speak, she leans in and stares at my lips. Her big, brown eyes search for the shapes of the sounds. She is unquestionably beautiful, made more so by her enthusiasm.

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” she shouts when she needs a word from her Polish friend, the one hosting her here.

“At first, everything was very weird for us. Everything is different!”

“For example?”

“The climate, the people, the city, the food…the hardest thing is that everything is so…Wait! Wait! Wait!”


“Yes! Late!”

I gesture to myself and smile. I arrived an hour late. She takes a photo of us together as a souvenir of her first conversation with a Canadian, and I spend the rest of the trip wondering what the world would be like if I had never traveled before.

January 7, 2010

el 21 de deciembre

diez menos diez
qué dijo?
se rompió
madre mia
no pasa nada

These were some of the words I used or heard that day, getting from Cartagena to Valencia.


la gente
la vida
el campo

Two men from Mauritania sat in the otherwise empty bus station in Cartagena. It was midnight and freezing. They helped me use the pay phone to call my host. One spoke French and the other Spanish. I said I had never met a Mauritanian, so they showed me their passports and pointed out the work visas, which they now used to pick lettuce. They had driven taxis at home and used their savings to get to Europe, not knowing that they would spend all their wages on housing and food. Neither had a family. They laughed about ten years of hard work to end up in a bus stop at midnight.

Leaving notes

Peter: At the Malaga bus station, go to bay number seven. Look for a public phone booth. There’s a big white sticker with country rates. Look for Senegal.

Travel revelation remembered #1

You can just go.

On the ferry, the Spanish man who took a photo for me also spoke fluent French. He switched between the two to explain why. He introduced me to his teenage nephew, who just nodded, and invited me to visit his family north of Madrid. Had I been traveling without a plan, I would have. On the bus an hour later, a German orchestra conductor told me to stay with him and his wife in their cottage north of Barcelona. Had I been traveling without a plan, I would have. And so on and so on.