New friends cooking day, visit to atlas mountains

April 11 7:00pm approximately.

The Italian group invites me to join them for a snack. Roselyne walks us to a local café, and we look at the menu. I decide to get a petit salade Caesar with poulet marinee (Caesar salad with chicken) and drink water. Others ask for various baguettes. The waiter takes our order and disappears, bringing a bottle of water and two glasses. Then he returns again and tells us no pain, no poulet. No bread no chicken. This is a very small place.

Then we look at menu again, and there is some discussion in Italian about the safety of eating lettuce greens and vegetables that may be washed in water that is not clean. I contributed that Roselyne had recommended this place so it must be OK but I could not take responsibility if anyone got sick. Many warnings in Lonely planet guide, everyone says don’t drink anything but bottled water, peeled fruit, some question about milk and cream. So far I am OK and I have eaten twice in small cafes and in the riad.

Anyway, at the restaurant the consensus was salade nicoise (tuna salad) which came with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and canned tuna, some sort of potato salad with creamy sauce and carrots, and pasta- yes fusilli pasta and a hard boiled egg. 3 of us ordered this, two of us ordered tajines that were lamb stew with French fries on top, and one had a gallette, melted cheese with bread.

The German couple from our riad arrived also and I told them better to ask what the restaurant had to offer instead of using the menu because they were out of several items. There was also a hamburger with ground meat, but the writer told us we don’t know what meat this is, so we decided that was not a good choice.

We finished up the meal and the writer man Mino V paid for all of us. The young immigrant worker guy tried to pay but Mino insisted. We began our journey the two blocks back to the riad in the dark, me, Mino and his wife, the Italian doctor and immigrant husband/boyfriend (?) and the neighbor lady from Rome, and the German couple from Stuttgart. It has cooled down and is a nice evening.

I have to get Jamila to give me this writer’s name. He had published many books and research and novels and poetry I think, and still does visiting lecturer at Columbia. He also has old friend from NY who lives in San Diego. He asked me to see if I can find for him when I get home, but he is afraid that the man is no longer living. He asks me if I know a director friend in Hollywood and I tell him I don’t’ know. I tell them I work for Kawai pianos in Australia. I tell him I will inquire.

He does not drink, health issues I think, he talks about the pills. He tells me he has a friend in the US Boston I think or Philadelphia with whom he had an “intimate” relationship when he worked at Columbia U who has pancreatic cancer and is undergoing chemo and radiation. I tell him about my adventure with bladder cancer and he tells me to eat cranberries and some other supplement he doesn’t know the name in English. We also talk about the biological treatment with TB virus that my doctor has said is good for aggressive bladder cancers (not mine).

We talk about the adulteration of food, and the need to eat green and he says lamb and goat are the only unadulterated meats. I talk about documentary the future of food, and Monsanto and corn story. The young immigrant worker guy talks about “supersize me”. So despite limited English, Italian French, we manage to communicate. The writer asks for mineral water, so I go to find Roselyne and get him a big bottle for his room. We all go to sleep, with reminder petit dejeuner at a huit heures (8am).

4/11/10 I wake up again to the sound of birds chirping and it is dark and quiet. I look at my watch and it is 7:30am again. It must be that when the patio /central area is uncovered, the sounds enter the riad of the birds. It is a very civilized way to wake up. No clocks, no alarms. I take a shower, and get my hair wet. I have left my shampoo in Barcelona, but rinsing off the dust is all that is necessary. I decide to do make up after breakfast, if at all, I blow dry my hair and get dressed. I check all my money again, and immediately forget how much I have.

I am wearing my money belt around my trunk, tucked into my bra. Makes for a funny lump but all that is in it is my passport, the luggage keys and a bit of cash. Leaving most of it in riad, which I feel is very secure. Up the stairs to the terrace for breakfast, and Italians invite me to join them again. German couple at next table, I smile and say hello. We all have coffee, baguettes, other pastries, orange juice, bread, jam, crepes and some flat pancake like bread that is really good with jam on it, whatever it is.

Everyone is excited about going out into the city today. I have one more hour before Jamila picks me up, and I am sitting under the shade in the terrace speaking with the girl who I now know is a doctor in a psychiatric hospital in Viterbo (I think that is the name) above Rome, maybe one hour, and It is the beautiful medieval city where the pope has his summer palace. I walked around that city in 1981 and have some black and white prints somewhere at home from that visit. She commutes 2 hours each day and works about 12 hours daily and sometimes double shifts overnight. I explain what I do for work, and talk about job placement and group and individual supported employment. She works with very severely disabled psychiatric patients. She said they only treat medically, not psychologically – she said in Italy not very good.

I continue to write until I hear my name being called from the bottom floor through the open ceiling. Oops, Jamila is here, why was I thinking I still had an hour? So she gets to see Mino again, who is from Venice originally. He loves to talk and is very charming.

We get to the car, and make it to the parking lot near the post office where Malika is waiting to pick me up in her little car. We see people standing in line across the street because Zara clothing store from Europe is just opening up. We pull up and see Malika in her jellaba over a long shift and with a head scarf and long pants and sensible heels. Jamila greets her, and then we say goodbye, she says to send her a message once I return to riad .

It is now 11am, and I am off with Malika . She does speak some English. Right now she teaches Arabic at a French middle school for wealthy children. She used to teach French at an Arab school. Many years ago she met a writer for lonely planet when she used to do mountain hikes. She works Monday thru Friday but only in morning on Wednesdays. She asks me what I want to learn, I tell her whatever she thinks is important. She says OK to go to her home and I say yes. We head towards the airport to large apartments I think only a few years old. We pass a field with sheep I think, maybe goats. No fences. Lots of motorbikes, ladies in head scarves and jellaba.

We stop first at a market area, and she goes to buy fresh chicken (very fresh, clucking), and they butcher it, skin it, cut it into pieces and bag it in seconds after first weighing it live. She sees a friend and her boyfriend or husband and they greet each other and hug and talk for a few minutes.

There are several chicken shops right here, this is a neighborhood shop area, fruit stand across the street, bread piled high next door, strawberries on a cart, and entire cart full of snap peas, buckets of herbs like sage, parsley, celery root, all sorts of things. We go to buy peas also across the street, dodging the motorbikes, bicycles and cars and the people. Everyone in traditional dress. It is very hot and humid and the middle of the day.

We get back in the car, and she pulls the radio from the glove box and it attaches to the car magnetically it appears and she turns on Sufi music. I like the beat, even though I can’t understand the words, I like the melody.

We go to her house, park, open a big iron door to a ground floor spiral staircase, with the walls covered in beautiful blue and white pattern, and light switch at every landing. Her main living area and bedroom and one simple kitchen is on the 2nd floor I think, and she shows me a spacious living room, kitchen, dining area, bedroom, shower room and toilet/sink room. We then sit for a moment before taking the groceries upstairs and out onto a beautiful terrace rooftop with clotheslines. The side facing the street looks directly at the local mosque, considered a good sign.

We enter though a door and I see a second small kitchen with a propane/gas two burner table top stove, sink with running water, stone countertop, table, shelves for dishes, and cabinet for glasses. To the right are the fridge, and then a large lounge area with 3 sides covered with a lounge and pillows, the fourth a bed with lots of pillows. Two large windows I this room, a television, a large table at lounge height, and books.

There are lots of framed art here and downstairs but not on the wall, leaning against it on the floor. I think she said she has lived her for 3 years.

She asks me if I would like some tea, and I agree. She rinses out the kettle, then fills it with water and heats it. She rinses out the tea pot with hot water, then pours in a handful of tea and hot water and puts it on the heat. In the mean time she cuts up mint and some other herb, which right now I am thinking is marjoram but I couldn’t think of it all day, kept thinking thyme, and she puts the entire stalk into the tea pot and lets it seep.

She opens various containers and sets out little snack mixes, one salty with peanuts, what I think are chickpeas and salty biscuits, the other sugared nuts and sweet sugary biscuit bits, and the third domino sized cheese and herb biscuits to drink with the tea.

She adds a large block of sugar- maybe 1” x 2” and asks me if this is enough sugar and I say yes, and she says she likes it not too sweet also. Her English is pretty darned good! Best in Arabic, good in French, and better than me at English I think. Anyway, a good surprise she has some English.

She is 49 years old, and is single, never married, no children. She is from the seaside town of Essoura (sp) and has been teaching for 27 years middle school. She knows email but is not up on blogs and Skype and all that. She says she doesn’t have time. She loves music and loves to sing, but it is hard to keep up with it and work also. She also does some art, and she showed me a piece using bougainvillea petals where she had spelled the name of God I think Allah in Arabic in thorny letters also from a plant.

After tea we began the tajines preparation. I watched her light the brazier with charcoal, and put it outside to heat up on the terrace. She took very coarse salt and washed down and cleaned the chicken pieces very carefully removing all the nubbins and all skin and hanging bits rubbing the salt all over the pieces by hand. She then rinsed it off, and put it in a bowl, In another bowl she chopped up some onions, some garlic, some parsley, and in a second bowl some eggplant, carrots, potatoes, and a bunch of other stuff (I wrote it down) after peeling it and some tomatoes as well, also squash like zucchini, some salt & pepper and some olive oil. She then brought the hot brazier into the kitchen and put it on a tray on the floor, and laid the tajines bottom on top of the charcoal, making sure it was seated property.

She then handed me the chicken and told me to lay the pieces on the bottom. She put all the onions on top and the garlic and the olive oil, and some salt & pepper and spices (unlabeled, I wish I knew what they were, will have to scan recipes, especially a whitish powder) and then took a spoon and stirred it all up to make sure everything was coated and nice. She had me taste the broth which was good and asked me in French if enough salt I said perfect. Then she added some more olive oil and some water, and put the lid on and brought it to a boil. She removed the lid and began to add the vegetables in layers, potato last, and put the lid back on, and in a few minutes added the peas I had shelled while she did the prep on all the other vegetables.

She then placed the peaked lid of the tajines on firmly and started to make salad as it cooked. She took 3 peppers and placed them on grill racks on top of the burner, and let the skins scorch then put them in a plastic bag to steam. She cut up tomatoes with the seeds, and asked me if I eat the seeds, I said yes, sometimes. In another plate she put washed lettuce, some cucumber and some green olives. Once the chilies were steamed, she scraped the burned skins off and chopped them up and added to the tomatoes. Two salads. She cut up some of the great round Moroccan bread and covered it up.

She asked me if I wanted to go to the local souk market under tents, and I said yes, just to look. We headed back down the main drag, and she had to look around the back streets to find it because it moves from place to place. We parked the car and I followed her across the street into the end of a large field of olive trees, many cut down to build the buildings popping up all over the area. Maybe 50 tents were set up to shield the vendors from the sun, and the aisle ways were maybe 30” wide, filled with men women in headscarves and children. I look at all the produce and also see fava beans everywhere, a few artichokes, some cantaloupe, what appears to be watermelon, strawberries, beans, peas, bananas, mandarin oranges, herbs, big bins of spice, and some tiny avocados.

She buys some mandarins, a cantaloupe very small, the size of a baseball, and some bananas, and we return to the car. I see olive vendors, egg vendors, and water vendors, along with onions, nuts and every imaginable type of vegetable.

We return to her house and we go to sit in the lounge area off the terrace . She gives me a small notebook and pieces of herbs, and garlic, etc, and asks me to write the English names on them. I am also writing down the steps in the cooking as the happen, most of them anyway. She will later show me the alphabet in Arabic, and how to spell all the vegetables we used today and saw, and how to pronounce. She is a teacher remember! s/o I am scotch taping pieces of parsley, garlic, tea seeds and the tea carton top, celery leaves, sage leaves and more into my little notebook, and we talk about our lives and our families as best we can, and enjoy more tea, cool to room temperature. She also brings out some dates, and some special preserved olives she has made and some peppers in brine.

It is almost time to eat so she goes to get fizzy mineral water, and the plates, and we bring the salads and the tagine with the top still on into the lounge. I have now remembered my video camera so I did record some of the preparation of the meal while we worked in the kitchen. She leaves the room and returns with a towel over her shoulder, and a silver bowl and pot. She tells me it is the traditional way to begin a meal, washing the hands. She pours water from the pot over my hands I get them wet and pick up the soap, then she pours water again to rinse. It drains into the bowl below. She then places it on the base and folds the towel on the top.

I forgot to say that before she prepared the tea she poured several glasses, and then returned them to the pot, and that there is an entire ceremony involved in the tea pouring, and she must fill the glass tea cups from a height so that they have a head on them like beer, and the name of the foaming top is mousse, or chapeau like hat in French or turban in Arabic and it is very special to have tea with a foaming top. The tea was really really good, not too sweet and very savory with the herbs added.

We start with the two salads, and the combination is really yummy. I serve myself, and offer to serve her and she agrees. We then open the tajines and see that everything is cooked and steaming hot. She asks me to serve myself first, and I grab a chicken breast and lots of vegetables and she tells me to be sure to get some juice, it is very good. I grab some of the great bread and we begin to eat.

Everything is really wonderful and we start making up words like magnificent and she is telling me words in Arabic and we are laughing and having great fun. After we finish our meal, we continue to talk and she writes down the Arabic alphabet and the pronunciations, and then we do through the ingredients of this day, and she says and writes the Arabic for me, and asks me to try to repeat. I can’t make all the sounds but I give it a heck of a try, and tell her I will study it at home after my holidays and try to write one sentence she can understand.

She shows me how to write my name in Arabic. She shows me a game she plays to get the children in her classes to calm down with plastic eggs, she puts little pictures and words inside like fortunes and they open one by one and call out what they find inside. Her next plan is to put bon bons inside for a special surprise.

By now it is almost 5:30 and she has to go visit her uncle for a while and asks if it is ok to leave me here in her home for an hour or so and I say OK. It is very peaceful and comfortable. I tell her to take her time. She has given me almost her entire day off. She drives off and I look at a English French dictionary, and walk on to the terrace to see what is happening on the street, then I decide to clean up the dishes and tables as best I can including washing dishes while she is away so that she can relax after she brings me back to the riad. The sun goes down and the last prayer call is broadcast, and she returns, we finish cleaning up and then we go downstairs to leave.

It is after dark and the weather is pleasant and everyone is out walking the streets. Carts with fresh veggies move through the streets, and it is very active. Dozens of women in jellaba and headscarves, young boys on the street and motorcycles running around playing. We get to the Main Street, dodging cars, and bikes pedestrians and see a carnival of some sort has set up on the side of the street where we saw the goats or sheep earlier with a large Ferris wheel lit up in the night.

We head back for my riad in heavy traffic with hundreds of young people everywhere, dancing on the street corners their hands above their heads, apparently a football game just ended and they are very excited and just leaving the game. We finally make it back to the riad in bout a half hour and I come upstairs to prepare for tomorrows adventure and recharge my camera batteries, my phone, my computer and wash my face for bed. It is now 9:30 I call Jamila and hang up to let her know I am home. Up tomorrow to leave by 9am for my trip to the Atlas Mountains. I am having a wonderful time, feel healthy, little bit of hay fever, and sweaty, no makeup today (why bother) and smiling to sleep.

4/12/10 Up again to the sound of birds at 7:30am. Shower and head up to the terrace for breakfast. Only Mino is there. Yesterday they had a wonderful day, then as they were leaving the medina, a small boy threw his wifer off balance and she broke her wrist. They called Jamila and she sent them to a clinic/hospital, and she joined them there and stayed with them until they returned to the riad about 3 hours later. Mino said clinic was very good, doctor was very good, and she has a cast, but they have to go for another examination today to see if they need to do surgery. They just set the break and put a cast on her last nite.

As Mino left the young doctor and immigrant worker guy came up, and they were very tired and said maybe they must leave with the others on Thursday because of the injury. I finished up breakfast and as I headed downstairs, the young girl who works for the owners said my driver was waiting downstairs.

I headed out the door to meet my 28 Moroccan driver Redemon (don’t even try to prounounce it) who spoke a little English, is the youngest of 5 brothers and 6 sisters from a berber village we will pass through today. He normally works for his brother as an electrician on residential housing, but right now they don’t have contract so he works as a driver. He has also worked in a hotel, in a supermarket, and as a mechanic.

We headed through the city and began to climb elevation into the Atlas mountains. It is very beautiful, clay soil, and it is springtime so roses are blooming and trees like apricot, pear and almonds, olive trees everywhere, and the big cactus they make nopalitos from is the way they divide the land. They did the same thing in Malta, used cactus. He knew that the Mexican people eat the cactus, because he had a tourist from mexico that told him that. I told him we also eat squash blossoms which I saw all over the souk markets yesterday on the ground. They don’t eat them at all.

We passed under beautiful trees and steep valleys on a 1-1/2 lane wide road that had traffic both ways. He joked many times asking me if I wanted to drive in his broken English and I told him vous etes superior driver, using my fractured French Spanish odd language I was now speaking. He tried to teach me a few words in Arabic- like hello, and let’s go. But I was hopeless because you have to make that throaty guttural sound that is so natural to them, but difficult for Americans.

We drove for over an hour, talking sometimes, me taking pictures of goats, sheep, horse drawn carts, women in jellaba with head scarves, men in long gowns, shepherds, carpet shops, cafes, and everything imaginable. It is a beautiful drive.

We came upon a very nice looking casbah (hotel/rooms) where his brother Osmon has worked for 5 years. Redemone asked me if I knew who Richard Branson was and I said yes, originally thinking he was talking about Charles Bronson (duh!) but pretty quickly I figured out that this casbah was owned by R. Branson, whose parents saw it many years ago and loved the area, so he bought it and transformed it into a very chic (and expensive) spa retreat looking at berber villages and the river, with Arabic music, gorgeous landscaping, and 18 rooms which include two free standing bungalows and a very expensive 3 story home with its own pool for the very discriminating, at low season going for 1700 euros a night. So we stop at the back gate, he asks for his brother, who comes out hugs him, shakes my hand and tells us to come in the front entrance. He is a pool boy at this resort. He speaks English very good and he shows us the resort, and tells about the river that only 6 years ago was fast running and wide, and is now disappearing due to climate change. He answers all my questions about the trees I see on the drive up, and then leads me to a covered veranda in the middle of the grounds overlooking the pool and I order a strawberry fizz drink for 60 dirham- about 6 euros and redemon gets a cappuchino with a giant lump of sugar. We sit for about ½ hour. It is a verrry pleasant place (in my next life I’ll stay there). And then we continue our journey towards Imlil , a berber village. We finally arrive, and he drives all the way through the little town, points out a castle looking structure on top of a very steep hillside in the distance, and asks me if I want to hike with a guide to a waterfall, or do some hiking on my own. You would have to see the houses perched precariously into the gravel hillside to get the full effect. It is a little cooler today, but still humid, but not horrible up here in the mountains. We go back through the town until I find a landmark I can find again- café de soleil, and I jump out of the car, after he puts his mobile number in my phone and tells me to call when I am ready to leave.

We had headed out this morning and were supposed to stop at a bank for cashing travelers checks but I’m not positive he understood me, although he repeated it several times. So I had about $200 dirham or 20 euros or about $35 US on me, plus some travelers checks which I had no doubt no one would take in this small village, or I would pay way too much for anything I bought.

Within a few feet I had several very friendly young berber guys offering to be my guide to the castle or waterfall, or to look in their shop- not to buy, but just to see the quality of the goods, and they take any kind of money (except travelers checks) and they will bargain over everything do I want to buy a carpet, or a beautiful necklace.

An old man pulls out silver bangle bracelets while I am talking to the one guide explaining I have no money to pay for a guide thank you very much, and I end up buying two bracelets from this old man who doesn’t have a shop. I finally get the young guy to understand, he says something that sounds like Al Challah which means something like God provides, sounds nice anyway, and then another tall guy yells out hello, and I like Obama (everyone in morocco likes obama) and invites me for tea and to look in his shop which is a cooperative with the village berber women and they depend on tourism, etc etc etc, and I tell him I have no cash, only travelers checks, but he says come back on the way down the mountain.

So I head up the path, following men with mules, ladies with cows, goats and kids, and women in headscarves and shepherds up a very steep pathway , with stairs in many areas about 1 ft high, and I just kept going up and up (although I did sit down several times before I had a heart attack from lack of breath (this is pretty high above sea level (I’ll have to look it up). I then got very travelogue-ish and did some video with sharons opinions on the lifestyle of the people I was seeing in this village, with very little real knowledge. There was a trench for irrigation that ran from the top of the hill, and two little girls were splashing each other as I walked past them, and they both giggled and one little girl splashed water on me and said something like cool water, so I stuck my hand in the water and splashed both of them and we had a water splash fight for a few minutes and I walked on to the sound of their excited giggles.

I walked around a steep wall, on a very narrow pathway, and decided that was the wrong way, and walked back a ways to a stairway between houses leading up the hill, I passed many doorways on this steep stairway, and came to what appeared to be a dead end, and a woman came out and pointed the way around the far side of the building, where I made it to the path above the house line. The view up there was incredible, and I could see the waterfall from where I perched this time to catch my breath. It was almost meditative, sitting in the sun on top of this hill in the mountains or morocco with clay hills and villages built into steep hillsides, animals, friendly smiling faces and people living their daily lives very simply. After a little while I made my way back down using a different route, and my instinct that I could just head downhill and hit the village was right on…more to come


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