By CHARLES ANDREWS
“IT’S A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY”
— the young American (Canadian?) traveller observed “knowingly” to me as we disembarked from our cab at close to 7 a.m. He probably thought he was telling the older American something he didn’t know. “It wasn’t like this the last time I was here,” I growled back. That was six years ago.
I was pretty grumpy at that moment, having been flown on to Fez at half past midnight after my connecting flight from Barcelona made two attempts to land in thick fog at the Tangier airport, suddenly gunning the engines and climbing straight up just as the landing strip was barely below us. Whoaaa! Since we were told nothing, it was a bit unnerving.
AFTER WE SAT IN FEZ
For a couple of hours — again no announcements, will we spend the night on the plane? — our final landing was pretty bumpy, and a young woman sitting behind me, a teenager in head scarf with her family, broke down in a sobbing, gasping hysteria. I think we all felt like that.
But my adventure was not over. I wound up in a cab with a driver who could not find my hotel by the address nor by the map on my phone. My new plane friend Soufiane had given him directions before getting out at his home — “you are just a short ways from here,” he assured me — but the driver continued to drop off everyone else and drive some more and even pick up another fare from the street. I felt like Charlie on the MTA (Kingston Trio). But at least Charlie and the MTA spoke the same language.
A SHORT, DARK BEARDED MAN
In a traditional djellaba robe emerged from the shadows when the cab driver finally dropped us off, and said he would take us the rest of the way, “it’s not far.”
Right, I thought, I’m hauling a suitcase and a laptop down narrow cobblestone streets at dawn and I’m going to follow this new guy God knows how far until he announces, I can’t quite remember where it is but for another 100 dirham I might. I’m already paying 150 ($16) for a too-long cab ride that isn’t taking me where I need to go — and I had to insist a few times to get my change from a 200 — and now this?
I DIDN’T HAVE MUCH CHOICE
And that was when my young fellow traveller made his remark. The next day I realized my arrival in Morocco indeed “wasn‘t like this the last time I was here” — it was worse. Funny thing, memory. I was in our van with my family waiting to get official papers to enter when my daughter yelled, “some guy is trying to get into the back of our car!” He didn’t get anything. Any country where most of the people try to survive on a lot less than any tourist who has the means to travel there is going to be about the same. You just have to be aware. No thieves in Santa Monica?
The djellaba man indeed took me just a few steps to my hotel. And held out his hand and insisted, “tip, tip.” I wasn’t about to hand him my smallest bill, a 50, so with irked reluctance I reached into my pocket and held out all my coins, for him to take the local money, when he grabbed it all.
“Hey!” I barked, “I don’t know how much is there!” He stared down and fingered the American and Moroccan coins and declared “19 cents!” in perfect English and perfect disgust, and dumped it all back into my hand and walked away. But I was standing at the beautiful carved wood door of La Maison Blanche, breathed a sigh of relief, was taken to my room, drew a comforting warm bath in the glorious tiled bathroom with filigreed lighting fixtures and a latticed wood window cover, then fell gratefully, soundly asleep. (Not in the bath.)
NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A “THIRD WORLD” COUNTRY
Whatever that is, these days. Morocco may not be in the elite group of wealthy industrialized nations but it probably wouldn’t be on that “third world” list either. Most places Americans would travel that aren’t in Europe/Australia are just different, mostly because they are thousands of years older, and visitors have to adjust. If you don’t value other cultures, go to Miami or Milwaukee.
I’m not going to tell you what I went through to get use of my laptop again after my charger cord broke in transit (Khalid, an electronics wizard just down the street, with limited inventory, came through just in time) but I came really close to sitting in a corner and tapping this column out on my phone. It’s all just another page in the blog.
I have connected with my two Moroccan friends. My reason to come was Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians, who William Burroughs dubbed “the 4000-year-old rock and roll band.” For some time I’ve had this chemerical urge to meet up again with Bachir, also a master storyteller, and see if there wasn’t… something, I could write, or that we could write together. But I didn’t know what. That’s kind of a crazy vague reason to go 6000 miles. But even if he wasn’t available I figured I could see my friend Aziz Begdouri, Morocco’s top guide, now with a luxury boutique hotel in the kasbah that he built from bare walls, a really interesting man and a most wonderful human being.
The worst would be that I would spend my days sitting outdoors at Cafe Hafa, where Ginsberg, Bertolucci, Kerouac and all the others came to visit Paul Bowles, drinking sweet mint tea and gazing at the Mediterranean just below, and my nights wandering the kasbah and the medina taking it all in. Beats mowing the lawn.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain (RIP)
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org