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Ismail loves Canadians, he tells us. In fact, over the years, 8 different Canadians have lived in our etage, of course not all at the same time, he assures us. He manages to be out in the garden when we are first going out with our guests, and he gets to know them. Later that night comes a knock at the door. “Maman” has made a cake to honour our guests. He presents it to us, a bundt-shaped cake still warm from the oven, sprinkled with crushed almonds, rich with egg and raisins.

The next day he manages to bump into us again. Assured that the cake was delicious, he beams. How long are they staying? he anxiously inquires. Ah, good then. Time for another surprise. And so on Friday, when my maid has just finished making an enormous chicken-lemon-green olive tagine, we are presented with a platter of couscous from downstairs, and a plateful of loquats from the tree in the back of the garden. The table groans with food. We eat heartily, but there’s plenty of leftovers.

It’s rude to return empty plates. I’m making cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting. Last time, when they sent us up Moroccan crepes with local honey and sweet whole-wheat anis buns, I sent them chocolate chip cookies. Why can’t I lose weight?


One of our guests loves the medina and can’t get enough of it. She responds to the bustling busy atmosphere, the kaleidoscope of colours and smells and sounds, the cries of the vendors. She adores the rabbit warren of cool dusty alleyways and sunlight filtering, angled, glinting through layers of colored glass or catching just a corner of a vivid cactus-silk scarf, or a young boy‘s face. She wants to go back. Once is not enough, although she leaves with scarves and necklaces made of ribbon and colored stones, bought after much bargaining and cajoling from a friendly young Berber man.

So we take her back, just the girls, she and I and Louise, my former colleague from Nouakchott, and Ilsa. We take two taxis and head down into the bustling crowd of humanity that is the medina on a Friday evening. It’s amazing. I have never been in a human traffic jam before, where the people are literally so packed that no movement is possible. At first it is exhilarating, but soon it becomes exhausting.

Laura, however, is thriving. We meet a friend at the Marche Central, and head into the more modern section of the medina. You can still find traditional things here though, and Laura finds a tunic and pant set in turquoise. We form a wall with our bodies and the shopkeeper considerately faces outward as she tries on the pants in the back of the tiny shop.

After she has bought sparkly silver slippers to complete her outfit and Ilsa has made friends with an artist painting pictures on bowls, we retrace our steps to a tiny restaurant, a greasy-spoon type of joint where bowls of traditional harira soup are only 50 cents. We climb three flights of stairs to the rooftop, which overlooks the still-bustling central square, although things are beginning to close down now for the night. It’s getting on for 10 as we sip our soup and eat plates of salad and greasy fries, watching the kaleidoscope still swirl below, although more slowly now.


This picture goes with my previous post about the Chellah, but for some reason it wouldn’t load at the time.

I’m walking up a pathway when I hear a voice behind me. “Yesterday,” sings the voice in heavily-accented English, “All my troubles seemed so far away, now they have gone and went away…Oh I believe in Yesterday.” The singing stops, but the voice continues. “I am romanteek man,” it sighs, humour and pathos nicely blended in the tone. I start giggling, and turn enough so I can see, out of the corner of my eye, a tour guide in a burgundy djellaba, who by this point has given up on getting a reaction out of us and is now starting his spiel for his own tourists.

We’re leaving the Chellah, that ancient fort located right next to downtown Rabat (the one pictured at the top of this blog). We’ve had guests this week, former colleagues from Mauritania, so we’ve been playing tour guides, showing off the sites of our beautiful new home. We took them to the medina, where I bought three kilos of fresh strawberries and one peach, not to mention a new belt (genuine Gucci!) and two kinds of olives. (Total for all this: $6)

We went to the Oudayas again, where they have opened a new art gallery/pirate museum. We wandered in and admired the large oil paintings, which were abstract and used a lot of paint as texture. I liked them quite a lot, although not everyone in our party did. We were easily talked into paying 10 dirhams for a tour of the newly-opened second floor museum, site of a former prison, where people were tortured and beheaded and there were cannons. We eagerly climbed the stairs, appreciating the fascinating architecture and dusty light filtering in through narrow slits, then wandered dismayed through a really tiny area that had obviously been recently redone but was completely bare.

The man who’d taken our money jogged quickly up at one point, ran to the end of the small hall, announced this was where people were decapitated, mimed it for us by flinging out his arms and then mimed the torture, showed us where the cannons were, rattled off some facts very quickly about how the heads were preserved and then spiked in front of the Palace of Justice, and ran back downstairs to his other job of presiding over the art gallery.

We also managed to bump into a group of tourists, the real kind that go round in busses and wear shorts even though they are over 25 and have tour guides speaking heavily-accented English. We did our best to get round them so we could see the empty corridors for ourselves, with their beautiful brick barrel-vaulted ceilings and rounded torture areas. I didn’t get photos because my camera was out of batteries, which is a pity because I don’t know that I’ll ever go there again and the light was gorgeous, it was just that there was nothing there.

We also visited the museum in the old castle, where we ran into the tour group again and heard their tour guide offering them a chance to buy copies of ancient jewelry “for a very good price“. The second museum is much more established, with exhibits clearly labeled in Arabic, French, and Spanish. (Did you know that the Spanish word for jewelry is joya? I started humming “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”) It was easy to duck away from the tour group and look at carved and embellished ancient weapons, the “jewelry of men” according to the exhibit.

Yesterday, armed with brand-new Duracells, we headed off to the Chellah, our second visit to this combination Roman ruins/Moroccan ruins/picnic area/tourist attraction. It also costs 10 dirhams, which is about $1.25 at the current exchange rate. We declined the offer of a guide and joined the Moroccan families, picnics in hand, who were headed down the large central path, overhung with greenery. Rabat is green green green these days, thanks to the rainiest winter in 30 years. Squint your eyes at that hill, ignore the mosque’s minaret peeking over the top, and you could be in Ireland.



The storks, swallows and egrets have overrun the place since our last visit in September. Our house is not that far from the Chellah, definitely walking distance if you weren’t wearing your painful sandals, and every night at sunset the swallows dip and dive in the gap between my kitchen windows and the neighbour’s. San Juan Capistrano has nothing on the Chellah, where birds of all kinds of feathers are flocking near each other.

As we walk down the long pathway, the noise gets louder and louder. The trees are jam-packed with egrets and storks. I try to get pictures, but fail miserably. See those white specks? Those are the egrets.


We show our guests the Roman ruins. I remember everything perfectly from September. “This was the jail, or possibly a cistern,” I tell them, gesturing at a large hole. I show them the eel-infested pool, where infertile women can bathe and supposedly be cured. I don’t know how well it works on women, but it’s really working on the cats! Nearby is a woman selling bottles labeled “MAGIC.” I try to subtly get a picture, but I guess I’m not as subtle as I’d hoped.



There are many storks.


And also many arches.



Including tiled arches


And arches leading nowhere


Many families were picnicking, enjoying the lovely spring weather.


Not everyone likes to be photographed, like the woman selling magic above. I try to be subtle, which is theoretically possible with a digital camera, but somehow I’m not very good because it’s fairly obvious where the lens is pointing. I was far away from this man, who was enjoying some sunlight and a quiet cigarette between customers for his authentic Berber silver jewelry, but nonetheless he was staring straight at me.

I took his picture anyway, but it won’t load. Maybe tomorrow.

I also am trying really hard to get a definitive shot of this minaret with the storks’ nests. Which do you think comes closest?





April 2009

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