We’ve spent the last 8 days doing a whirlwind tour of
Morocco. 4 cities in 8 days means that we get an entire day in each city, and we’ve become well-acquainted with
Morocco’s train system, which is rather good.
We started in
Casablanca, which is a bustling, modern city with traffic that is truly horrific. We gripped the edge of our seats as the taxis wove in and out amongst the trucks, scooters, cars, and pedestrians. The climate was cool and mild, and we responded well to the stands filled with fresh, local fruit and flowers, the streets lined with orange trees full of fruit, and the greenery in general. We passed a pleasant day, and then caught a train up to
Fez, an ancient town located on the lower slopes of the mid-Atlas mountains. The train wound through groves of olive trees, sometimes with a shepherd sitting underneath them watching his small herd, past fields and through villages. We made good time.

Fez is a fascinating city that can be neatly divided in two; ancient and modern meet and mingle in a series of paved roads connecting the two. There’s the ancient medina (old city) that dates from the medieval times; a rabbit warren of tiny twisting alleyways lined with shops selling leatherwork (you can smell when you are near the tanneries), brass and silver work, pottery, cheap Chinese imports, olives and orange-water and nougat and pastries and even camel’s head, all inexpensive and locally produced (except the Chinese imports). camels-head1.jpg Water sellers dressed in red, with cone-shaped hats covered in bobbles, attract tourists, and you must constantly move out of the way of horses and donkeys, who are the only way to transport heavy items in and out on the tiny streets. We love it. It’s picturesque and yet has a genuine feel to it that even the tourist tours can’t spoil. We have a great time wandering all over, coming up later to sample an incredible fruit salad that includes peaches and grapes and kiwi and strawberries and walnuts. It had an avocado-milk dressing on it, which I realize sounds vile but was actually delicious.

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We next went to
Rabat, another coastal city with clear blue skies and a refreshing breeze wafted strands of brilliantly-coloured bougainvillea hanging over the walls of gardens full of lemon trees. We drove past the Roman ruins and toured an old fortress at the mouth of a river, now full of tiny, winding alleyways and houses all painted blue and white. At the end, we sat on a terrace and drank mint tea and looked out over the river and the sea.

Rabat is the capital city and is full of palaces for King Mohamed VI, but it seemed a peaceful and well-ordered city, with delightful sea breezes and a welcoming charm.
Marrakesh was the final stop on our whirlwind tour. We both had very mixed feelings about it. It’s a very attractive city, full of red-brown buildings with fantastic arches and openings, a city of palm trees with towering snow-capped peaks just behind. But we toured the medina and it felt very cynical. There were snake charmers and monkey sellers calling out to us, women offering to paint henna on my hands, men crouched behind skulls and horns and animal parts used to perform magic charms, stands piled picturesquely with colourful spices or fruit; all arranged to catch the tourist’s eye. People wandering in are immediately seized upon, and viewed as little more than cash machines. Everyone clamours for a photo and then demands payment. It’s a beautiful city, but I don’t think I’d want to live there. Also, it’s far enough south that it’s close to where the desert begins. I’m ready to be a little farther away from dust storms and oppressive summer heat. We did pay 3 dirhams (about 35 cents) for a large glass of freshly-squeezed, while you wait, orange juice that was heavenly. We bought figs and apricots and salted almonds, and some really pretty tea glasses.

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One thing I liked about
Marrakesh was the women on scooters. The streets were full of them, zipping past in full covering, wearing white gloves and headscarves and sometimes even the full-length gowns, calm-faced amongst the larger vehicles.
Now we’re in
Philadelphia for a conference. We are amazed at the green; we feast our eyes on it. They’ve put us up at a conference grounds at a local university, which has a beautiful campus full of huge trees and lakes and streams. We eat in the cafeteria. Things have changed since my college days, and I’m amazed at the choices offered, but in one way we can definitely tell we’re not on the West Coast and I can best sum it up by saying Maxwell House coffee in styrofoam cups. I thought styrofoam was illegal! Other than that things are going well. I notice that my laptop is putting strange spacing into my posts again–sorry. I don’t seem to be able to fix it.

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