Monday, February 28, 2011

Trek to Meknès

Our grand taxi, and the kind man who supplied our tissue needs.
You may remember my summary of expectations, some things I jotted quickly before we went off to Meknès for the moussem. Well, we made the trip and went on our way, but (of course) I forgot to charge my battery beforehand. It's rare for me to be wandering around with the nice one, so I went a bit photo-crazy and ran it out before the actual moussem started. I'll give you what I got.

As for the celebration, we got to Meknès' central square, the Hdima, to find people milling around as if it were any old normal day. Disappointment set in. Then, in the crowd, we saw some flags rise above! Knowing Morocco, we assumed that things would take a few hours to get going, so we took our time and visited a café, strolled through the food market, and Annie even got herself a towel/hat for coming home from the public bath.

Then the crowd got itself going. For about 45 minutes we watched some kids and old men team up to try and lift a giant rug with a 10-foot business card pasted to the front (think of the signs that you sometimes see leading a parade, announcing just which fire department you're watching walk by). The wood-braced carpet followed the six flags and a fella carrying a two-foot wide incense burner. Then you had the 'Assawis who formed a circle and performed their "hadra" ceremony (lots of jumping and swinging, looked pretty fun), and 6 ghaita players sitting atop horses. The ghaita is a double reed, much like an oboe, but far, far, far louder, made for playing in large outdoor spaces such as this. The players maintained winding melodies that cut through the noise of the crowds and reached us as we attempted to snake toward and away from the activity. We retreated to a café sitting along one of the city walls so we could watch from a better viewpoint as the group slowly progressed under us and around a busy corner. Shops and salesmen pulled in their goods, waited for the spectacle to pass, and reset themselves as before as a more typical stroll overcame the streets.

We saw a good friend of mine leading the group, and I need to get a hold of him now that things are settling back down. I have questions, he has answers. PS: no one tried to eat our clothes (we were worried, since a few from our group wore black!).

It feels good to get out of the city every once in a while.

Annie and Carol enjoying the ride out.

The best part of this moderately ridiculous museum was the sunshine.

This was the last photo I took before the battery died. But isn't it a beautiful coffee?

Memories of the Old Place

As of this afternoon, we no longer reside in one of Fez' most prestigious abodes. We moved from one palace to another. We only had to go a short 5-minute walk away, but with the windsucking uphill battle against incessant (and uneven) stairs, hot damn...

So just to get back into the habit of posting, I'm going to toss up a few old photos that had no proper place before. Think of it as a small ode-to-the-old-house-slash-taking-care-of-business-so-we-can-all-move-on-with-life post. We're close to being settled, classes are over, and it's about time to roll up the sleeves and do some research.

(Speaking of...) I just returned from a trip out west and down south to Sidi Ali, Marrakech, and Tamesloht. I was interviewed for a film that a French group is making - suddenly I'm a resident 'Gnawa Musicologist Expert.' Not sure exactly when that transition happened, but I'm glad to have made it. More on that soon, God willing.


Brunch for the first (probably ever) Fez "Stitch and Bitch"

While Annie and friends were stitching and bitching, us men went back to the Mellah (the old Jewish quarter, now filled with antique shops and goods likely taken from those Jews who left Morocco) to pick up her new writing desk. The new prized  possession...

As part of the negotiations, I got myself this little something. I have yet to get it fixed, though. But once I do, I'll be the coolest guy around.

Check it out! I made a banjo case! With a sewing machine! It even has a secret pocket.
I've spent a lot of time lately just sitting around playing the new banjo. Eric (the one making the absurd gesture here) got himself a mandolin and has been joining in. Except for those nights when we've had a bit too much gin and he loses his pic... Then we gotta get down to the difficult business of finding it on those pain in the neck tiles.

Just before we left, we took one last day for a good, old fashioned barbecue and some bluegrass on the roof. Winter has left us, and the comforts of spring are making their way across the city.

Friday, February 18, 2011

FW: Egyptian Riot Gear

 This is from an email that my pops recently sent my way. These photos were too good to pass up.

Your classic 1979 "Tribottle Rag" helmet - a must in any type of combat
Textbook saucepan with lifejacket combo.

The "boxhat" - The guy next to him doesn't appear to be sure of its effectiveness.

The brick/scarf outfit.

Old school broken bin helmet. Downside is that it needs to be held up in order to avoid walking into things.

And the winner: This fella is going to war with two baguettes strapped to his ears and a loaf taped to his forehead. Check out the confidence...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The 'Aissawis of Meknès

Today we're heading to Meknès, a nearby city, for the moussem. Yesterday was the Prophet's birthday, a holiday that sets off a long series of celebrations across the country. The first, and in some ways, most well known, is only a few hours away by taxi. It began yesterday and will continue through tomorrow, so we'll be just in time to catch the height of the celebrations.

Meknès is home to the major shrine to Sheikh al-Kamil, the "patron saint" (if you will) of the 'Aissawa brotherhood. The 'Aissawis are one particular sect of Sufis who I have had the pleasure of working with in the past. Their music is incredibly popular, and the presence of a large group (15 or so  members) is a staple for weddings, naming day celebrations, and other life celebrations. They also perform layla rituals, not completely unlike the Gnawa (the sub-Saharan group that made of the bulk of my past research). They foster relationships with some of the same historical figures, saints, and spirits. Further, the ceremonies heal inflicted individuals (spiritually and physically) and provide baraka (blessing) to the families that are present.

During this moussem, I have been told a bit about what to expect, but of course, when you're dealing with religious topics, foreign languages, and multiple perspectives, you really can't get a grasp on what's coming. It will all be a bit of a surprise.

'Aissawa groups, led by flagbearers, will process from the central square to the shrine of Sheikh al-Kamil. They will be performing segments of the ritual, songs that are known to the crowds, and potentially a few things that invite adepts to fna, literally extinction (of the self into Allah). The groups are large, percussion heavy (mostly hand drums of different sorts), and include a few wind players. They usually have two or three 6-foot long trumpets that play complex and coordinated rhythms between them, creating an unexpectedly tight stereo experience. The ghaita, a relative of the oboe, plays long, winding, ornamented melodies alongside the chanting. Each group, I am told, will have a cow. Upon entering the shrine, there is a sacrifice, and celebration ensues once again.

We were warned that if we wear red or black, people who are trancing might try to eat our clothes. Not sure yet what to make of it, but I'm wearing brown.

After this, the mawsim (moussems) continue in two other cities, taking me on a trek across Morocco as I jump full steam into research. Classes are pretty much finished, and now the real work clicks into gear.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

We got lost this morning. Walking around with no idea which way was which. It only happened for a few minutes on a few roads, but man, it was embarrassing. (We did, however, keep from having to retrace our steps, so no one knew but us... I trust you'll keep our secret.)

The walk that so threw us was from our taxi to the Fez Café, a somewhat new restaurant in the Batha area of the old city. The place is physically huge - another reason for our inability to grasp the possibility that we couldn't find it - thanks to a giant garden that consumes most of the space within the walls. It's open air, very French, and they feed you food fresh out of the dirt. Today was our Valentine's Day, and the Fez Café's chalkboard full of today's options (which, unlike much Moroccan cooking, did not come out of a pressure cooker) was the proper choice. I even enjoyed my simple cup of hot water with orange flower water.

In other Valentine's Day weekend news (we like to spread our celebrations out as much as we possibly can) we got tickets to go to Paris in March! While it seems gluttonous to head to Paris less than a month before a trip to London, we have to. I promise. It's all about the visa (we have to leave and return every 90 days, and the trip to London is 95 days from our Italian excursion). Any recommendations?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Poisoned by the Cold

With all the blankets, I guess I just looked like a cozy seat.
It's cold. During one of my classes a few weeks ago I learned four different ways to say that I'm really, really cold (ranging from "the cold is poisoning me" to other less politically correct phrases). It's a constant battle, keeping our fingers and toes intact. The funny thing is, like in Florida, winter is not that rough during the day and in the sun. Temperatures regularly sit in the 60s. But the old city, where we live, was made for summertime. Walls are high, windows are conspicuously absent, streets are narrow. The world sits in the shade while cold breezes settle into the valley. And the kicker - no central heating. 35 degree mornings become a battle of wills. Recently, I've been losing.

In fact, we have it better than most. Our house has two radiators that we can wheel around. But electricity is expensive, as expected. Some folks get propane tanks and light them on up. There's a certain vivacious living-in-the-danger-of-my-heater-exploding that really adds a zest for live into those particular solutions. Aside from wearing (all) our clothes throughout the day and night, covering in blankets, and occasionally placing the cat on cold feet (she's a very warm little animal), the hot water bottle has been a boon. But we're getting by, day by day. And when the sun is out, there's always the roof, where you run the risk of simultaneous frostbite (from the wind) and sunburn (from, obviously, the sun).

There may be some insight to the Moroccan (complete and absolute) fear of the "winter sun," but for now, we'll take whatever heat we can get.