Saturday, July 29, 2006

How I (Almost) Became an International Terrorist

From the Royal Air Maroc website:

Items Prohibited in Passenger Compartment:
Firearms, Bladed Weapons, or any sort of cutting item is prohibited in the passenger compartment.

So, imagine my horror when I found, zipped inside an inner pocket of the courier bag that I use as my travelling purse, my Swiss Army knife. Now I have travelled a bit in my time and I certainly am aware that our post-911 world frowns upon carry-on luggage that includes firearms, tweezers, wet cell batteries & the like, so I began to panic because I had already checked my luggage and I didn't want the ground staff at Terminal 3 to confiscate my knife.

But ~ oh wait! What was I thinking? I had already passed through security; indeed, my courier bag had already been scanned by not one but two x-ray machines.

Phew! I felt better. Or did I?

Addendum: I am mindful of Mr. N's post-flight observation when, last week, British Airways gave him a real (i.e., not plastic) glass in which to drink his onboard champagne. As he said, "terrorists don't drink champagne". I got orange juice.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cat ex Rabat (almost)

Friday morning, 6:55 a.m. ... have packed the Lady Diana Virginity Soap and requisite gifts to friends & family which somehow bear witness to the fact that I've been here for the past year (like my new grey hairs aren't proof enough). Yes, off in a bit a few weeks' holiday back in the land of respectful men and respected traffic laws ... assuming that my driver, who speaks no French and no English, hasn't gotten lost or forgotten about me altogether. Assuming that he takes me to the right terminal. Assuming that my flight isn't cancelled or delayed so that I miss my connection.

Sigh. Was travel less stressful when one crossed the ocean by ship?

Anyway, I have no idea if I'll be updating the blog from Canada. I think that I'll be more hard pressed to be amusing, topical and/or just plain snarky than I usually am. Perhaps Morocco is my muse or, more accurately, my bête noire. Or perhaps I'll be bored out of my tree by Day 4 and won't shut the hell up.

In any case, happy happy August! By the end of this day, I'll be able to have a drink out of doors and not risk censure. Oh! ~ for those of you who have no clear idea what Canada is like, click on the maple leaf below & crank up your speakers (my Canuck readers will be all too familar with Joe's paean but sometimes it's important to remember that a chesterfield is a couch). Cheers! says Cat in Rabat with that not-quite-so-elusive pint of bitter in her hand.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Soap Sell

Well ... never one to resist a good buy in the medina, this morning I came upon a bar of Lady Diana Virginity Soap, sitting on the same shelf as those perennial favourites: Pretty Woman Bust Soap for Under-Developed Breasts (promisingly has coconuts on the cover) and Miss Beauty Acne Whitening Lobster Soap (with an equally promising zit-free crustacean). Since I am homeward bound tomorrow for a few weeks of R & R, I thought, what better gift for Mr. Cat in Rabat than a "touched for the very first time" virgin - even if it is one who, like Madonna, is rather questionably renewed. With a bar of soap. But won't he be thrilled!

Now according to the box, this "safe, mild & gentle" soap not only "clears out normal accumulations" (?) but (to quote the song) make "me feel shiny and new".

Directions for Use (insert sic's as necessary ~ CinR):

Uses Lady Diana Virginity Soap to tighten vaginal muscle and clean your secret area free of unpleasant odor. Use regularly twice daily, in the morning and night or as often as needed for more confidence and great feeling like a virgin.

Needless to say, I snatched a box.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Taking the Plunge

Now this is far more newsworthy than Miss Universe passing out under the weight of her dress (which generations of Victorian ladies would have unmercifully scoffed at) ...

A militant Islamic group has filed a police report against Indonesia's Miss Universe candidate (not pictured above ~ CinR) accusing her of indecency, a lawyer for the organization said on Tuesday. Nadine Chandrawinata's participation in the contest and display of her body in a swimsuit there "is actually insulting for Indonesian dignity and women," Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) attorney Sugito told Reuters.

Well, I can't help but agree that the parading of women in swimsuits (or evening gowns for that matter) for prizes is degrading to all - not just Indonesian - women, but I think I'm on a different wavelength here. Indeed, I am undoubtedly missing their point. So perhaps, next year, the Indonesian contestant would prefer to don a lovely athletic garb (as seen above) which bears the Islamicist Fundamentalist Seal of Approval. This particular design "makes the statement that a Muslim woman's body is not a part of the public conversation." Looking at this ensemble, I beg to differ.

Now, this year's Miss Indonesia - should she be found guilty of looking great in a swimsuit (or at least, not looking like a smurf) - faces offences which,

...carry potential sentences ranging from two to six years in jail ... adding that the posing requirements of the competition offended the standards not just of Islam but other religions.

Well, why not? It's bad enough that she lost, but incarcerate her as well. In fact, I hope they throw away the key. That seems reasonable. Personally, I'm just a little disappointed that the sentence isn't stoning. Where are the Saudis when you need them? A good stoning goes a long way to quash those irksome concepts that, as a woman, one has control over one's sexuality, the right of self-expression, or pretty much anything else.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Terminal Velocity

So, with 2 days left until I leave for vacation, I received, this morning, this timely little announcement from the fine folks at Royal Air Maroc:

Terminal 3 of the Casablanca Mohammed V airport has just been commissioned on May 01, 2006 in order to face up to air traffic growth and to ensure better conditions of comfort and security to passengers. This new boarding space with an area of 600 square meters is equipped with 3 (count 'em, 3! ~ CinR) additional check-in counters, a VIP lounge, duty-free shops, a point of sale for tobacco and newspapers, restaurants, a foreign exchange bank, and free and permanent shuttles ensuring the transfer between terminals 1 and 3 of the airport. A life space, including recreational and relaxation areas is also planned, in the very short term. With these new facilities, Royal Air Maroc and the Moroccan Airport Authority (ONDA) thus plan to offer you an optimal quality of service and reception, for your greatest satisfaction.

In case you're wondering, there is no Terminal 2.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

In Hot Water

(A Little Indulgence in Wishful Thinking).

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, as I somnambulated to the bathroom, padding across the hall carpet, I was rather bemused to not only hear what can best be described as a squelching sound but feel water bubbling up between my toes. Then I recalled that under normal conditions, a small creek doesn't run through my hallway. Still half asleep (or half awake), I decided to investigate its source, only to find myself wading in my kitchen. Ankle-deep in water and hip-deep in confusion (but now thoroughly awake at a bracing 7:00 on a Saturday morning), I was able to quickly trace the source of my new water table (aided by an incessant drip-dripping) to the hot water heater which is tucked away in a kitchen cabinet and was, in fact, inundating my home.

I am somewhat of an engineering dilettante; indeed, I cannot deny that my extensive knowledge of hot water heaters isn't limited to the fact that they should provide you with hot water only when you ask them to. Without appearing too boastful, I also know that water pouring out of an electrical device should be avoided at all costs.

Not being able to find an on/off switch on the heater, I turned off the electricity in my entire apartment. I sopped up my aquifer with towels and J-cloths, hung 2 sodden carpets out of the window to dry, and threw out 99% of my dry goods. Then I quickly washed my dinner dishes from last night (lest my concierge judge me as slatternly - yes, I am insane) and went in search of said concierge. Without a doubt, the last thing he wanted to deal with on a Saturday morning was anything more complicated than pounding a nail into the wall and I couldn't help but read the relief in his face that this repair was beyond his ken. He turned my electricity back on, unplugged my heater (which did nothing to alleviate the dripping, I might add) and assured me that a plumber would take care of it. Soon.

Four hours later, my plumber arrived. After a few moments of tweaking and jiggling (and turning off my hot water - why hadn't I thought of that?), he announced that he needed a copper-something and that he would have to call my landlord. At least, I think that's what he said because all I heard was "blah blah blah cuivre blah blah blah propriétaire ...."

He has yet to return. It is now, officially, 25 hours since I last saw him.

I have been waiting in my post alluvial apartment (an apartment, I might add, that is more or less bereft of food) very patiently, although I did become a little stir crazy sometime in the late afternoon. I believe that the temperature indoors yesterday exceeded 40 degrees celcius and that this may have contributed to a spike in my overall snarkiness (sorry Ms K). My concierge was (and still is) nowhere to be seen; my landlord did not (and has yet to) respond to my increasingly frantic messages. Finally, at 7:00 last night, I capitulated, succumbing to hunger and a need for fresh air, and beetled out to a hanoot to buy the makings for a nutritous meal that I like to call "potato chips & Coca Light".

I don't doubt that the plumber reappeared around 7:03.

In spite of a really crummy weekend, I am mindful of the fact that:

1) this could have happened while I was on vacation next week, making me somewhat responsible for the creation of a free-moving water system down Avenue Al Atlas; and,
2) cold showers are not that unpleasant in July and have given me free rein to have sweaty & naughty dreams of George Clooney Mr. Cat in Rabat; and,
3) I have the complete first season of Deadwood to watch as I await the imminent arrival of my plumber (bwahahahahahaha!!! - Cin R wipes away the tears of laughter); and lastly,
4) I am not in Beirut having foreign-financed bombs and rockets explode around my head (not so weak from laughter).

I wasn't going to post this blog until I had a natural ending to my water woes (hopefully fixed) but then I remembered that Truman Capote took the same approach with In Cold Blood, and the result was 2 executions. I am, admittedly, peeved but I don't want people to die over this. Maybe just suffer a little. Well, I have less than 5 days to nail down my concierge and/or the plumber and/or my landlord and get this minor glitch rectified before I leave for Canada. No problem, right? This is Morocco - how difficult can it be?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ship of Fools

As the world responds to the crisis in Lebanon by scrambling to get its foreign nationals the hell out as quickly as possible, I have to wonder: couldn't the evacuations ships have been loaded with food & medicine before they left port? I mean, ships travel both ways, right? On Monday, Morocco sent food & medical supplies. Five thousand Danes have already been evacuated - how many packages of powdered milk could have made the crossing for each Dane?

Germany flew three military Airbuses to pickup Germans from Damascus and Adana, Turkey. The three planes can carry up to 500 people. A flight brought 361 Germans, including 171 children, from Damascus, where conditions at the airport were reported to be chaotic.

Were medical supplies on board? Bottles of water?

Lebanon is not a wealthy country:

"The per capita GDP of Israel is among the highest in the world at $24,600, nearly four times as high as Lebanon's GDP per capita of $6,200. ... While the United States provides about $2.5 billion in military and economic aid to Israel each year, U.S. aid to Lebanon amounts to no more than $40 million."

So, although I most sincerely applaud the emergency monetary funds that Europe and Canada have just pledged (Muslim countries were the first to respond), I can't help but think that after a week of bombardment, I'd rather food than a cheque. Or clean drinking water. Or milk for my kids.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Sign from God?

A sign from god? Writing on the wall?

An addendum of sorts to the previous post:

I just responded to one of my Dear Reader's comments, and the word verification string of letters that was so-called "automatically" generated was .... hzzblha.

I kid you not.

Is that scary or what? The only thing missing was a few bars from The Twilight Zone. Does know something that our intripid world leaders don't (or do but they're not saying)? Is god taking sides? I thought Yahweh was cheering for the Israelis and Allah was rooting for the home team? - oh right, they're the same entity. Never mind then. Perhaps the Hezbollah is now intercepting and manipulating our - or more importantly my - blogs? Maybe even recruiting on the internet using cunning subliminal methods ?

Beware! Beware!

He Said, He Said

I confess that I was quite overwhelmed by the generosity displayed by the Moroccan government vis-à-vis the unfolding horror in Lebanon. It was announced today that 2 cargo planes had been sent last evening to Lebanon with:

...18 tons of medicines (MAD 5 million) and 16 tons of powdered milk, which Lebanese children desperately need ... the sovereign also decided to grant Lebanon a USD 5 million relief assistance, as another sign of solidarity with the suffering Lebanese people.

Quite frankly, I didn't know that King M6 had this much loose change jingling in his pockets or that so much unrequired medicine was just sitting on shelves watching their expiration dates draw nearer & nearer. But, what do I know? Bravo!

Having said that, I was a tad perturbed by the reporting of the story in The Morocco Times; its sole reference to the violence and any of the causes thereof being:

Israel has launched for about a week now a fierce attack on Lebanon, ostensibly to free two soldiers taken hostage by Hizbullah. The aggression targets mainly civilian infrastructure. It has so far killed over 200 civilians.

Wow. Now, I am not, by nature, what one might call a supporter of Israel's foreign or domestic policies - far from it. But in the interest of fairness, it might have been politic to mention the role that the Hezbollah has & is playing in this nightmare that we call "tensions in the Middle East". We shouldn't forget that it was Hezbollah militants who entered Israel, killing 3 Israeli soldiers and kidnapping 2 others in a bid to negotiate a future prisoner exchange. Exchanges that the Israelis are historically loath to do. For good measure, after the ambush, another 5 Israeli soldiers were killed. Israel - in typical fashion I must admit - responded by bombing the living shit out of Beirut (as well as a naval blockade). Hezbollah retaliated, firing rockets into Haifa. D. S. al Coda.

Two sides, two sets of players - with the playing field a much beseiged country that routinely gets the crap kicked out of it as soon as it rebuilds the infrastructure that was destroyed after the last shit-kicking. (Cat in Rabat wonders if it possible to grow up in Lebanon and not be irrevocably traumatized?).

Balanced reporting would be nice. Perhaps mention all the participants, especially the ones who launch rockets and drop bombs. Or those that finance and supply them. That's all. That's all I wanted to say.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

My Dirty Secret

I have not had a bath since September 25th, 2005. There, I've said it. I am not particularly proud of this statistical nugget but neither am I ashamed of it. Well yes, actually - I am ashamed of it. But more than anything else, I am frustrated by it. You're probably wondering why the date has stuck in my mind - but for me it's like knowing what you were doing when you heard about Kennedy being shot, or the Moon Walk, or Brad & Jen breaking up. It's just that important.

*Sigh* .... September 25th: it was my last night in Canada. I could say that it was like yesterday. But it wasn't. In fact, it was two hundred & ninety-four yesterdays ago. And many minutes and several handfuls of seconds. God, I need a bath.

Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I have been maintaining a rigorous level of hygiene: cats, as you know, are quite fastidious (and please, no remarks about licking myself). There is such an animal as a shower in my apartment. And there lies the rub (a-dub-dub): I only have a shower. Frankly, I should be relieved that I don't have a shower stall that doubles as a toilet - any convenience they might espouse is overshadowed by their shuddering repulsiveness. I have also freshened up in several showers that were located in kitchens. Can I get you a coffee? - no, the soap is fine. Really, I should just shut up right now and count my blessings.

Having a "shower only" is the norm for most modern Moroccan homes although it is still common for Moroccans (those with & without the marvels of indoor plumbing) to shlep to a hammam - scrubbing mitt (think macro-derma abrasion), glutinous soap, plastic stool & bucket in hand - for a communal soak and chinwag. I could offer all sorts of reasons why I have yet to enter a public bath; for instance, I could mention that:

In consideration of Islam's concern for women's 'awrah and its proper covering, the Prophet (peace be on him) warned the Muslim woman against entering public baths and disrobing in front of other women, who might subsequently make her physical characteristics a topic of their gossip and vulgar comments.

... but such arguments might be deemed a tad ingenuous since I'm not a Muslim. Truth is, I want neither to be pummelled by an untrained professional nor sit in fetid communal water. Water that someone else has contributed its general state of insalubriousness. How do I know that others haven't been generating their own bubbles too? Who among my co-scrubbers have gastrointestinal issues? I would add that among a hammam bather's accoutrements is sabon beldi - a soap that can best be described as molasses. Nope: I'm saving my wobbly parts for Mr. Cat in Rabat's loving eyes only. Sorry - not going.

That leaves me sans tub. Even during 2 forays into Spain, the gods (and several hotels) conspired to leave me tub-less. As one who believes that you can divide the world into people who bathe and people who shower (and, unfortunately, those who do neither), I find myself firmly ensconced in the bath-camp. I think on many lkevels, we might be superior creatures. Rabat's winters are cold & damp (imagine a solid month of rain, then multiply it by 3); I would have given my eye teeth for a hot bath last February. Now, showers can be delightful contrivances; in fact, on a hot day, there is nothing better. Well okay, a nice gin & tonic is better - but I'll save that for another post.

And so, you might ask, on another day of stinking reeking heat, haze & humidity (the Dreaded 3 H's of the Apocalypse), why am I complaining? I'm not - okay, I am but since I'm going home in about a fortnight, everybody and their dog has been asking me what I'm going to do/eat/drink/smell/scratch first in Canada. Well, I want a bath. With bubbles (and not self-generated ones). I want a freaking bubble bath, with a glass of something that would normally send me deep into the 3rd circle of Dante's hell (assuming he were Moroccan) & maybe even a glossy magazine (even colour brochures from a car dealership will suffice). I want to soak in said-bath so long that all of my extremities will look like they belong to one of those 112-year old yogurt-eating Balkan mountaineers.

Just in case you were curious.

Now, I have received offers from the only 2 tub-owning people in my aquaintance to partake of their baths, but I can't help feeling like the poor relations coming over to swim in the pool. Do I show up with towel and loofah in hand? Is this how patheric I've become? No, I'll wait. In the meantime, I will continue to walk about Agdal and press my nose against the windows of its ubiquitous chi-chi bath boutiques, salivating at the unbelievably elegant European fixtures the likes of which I will probably never enjoy. And who said that cats don't like water?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Reindeer in Rabat

(A Slightly Snarky Christmas Tale ... in July)

This past week, Morocco suffered through the desiccating heat (temperatures in the 40°’s), pore-clogging humidity, haze and dust of the chergui – a desert wind from the Sahara that can effectively bring life, as we know it, to a standstill and inspire such culinary delights as Diet Coke (or more accurately, Coca Light) for supper. Indeed, I am reminded that when I left Canada, I admonished my friends that if I were to ever complain about the heat, that they were to shoot me, without ceremony, between the eyes. With just a couple of weeks before my vacation home, I am now grateful for our gun control laws. So, in the hopes of offering a partial respite to this most noisome of natural phenomena – and to the Dog Days of summer for the rest of you – I humbly offer this Christmas story – soon to become a holiday classic. Meanwhile, think of it as a snowcone for the brain. Christmas in July ... I bet you feel cooler already ….

Reindeer in Rabat

One of my favourite stores on Follow the Leader is Ursine Direct, a heavily discounted factory direct shop that carries china and crystal from Portugal. Like most boutiques in my upscale neighbourhood, it is overstaffed with sullen and glowering salespeople whose withering stares serve to remind me that I am an inconvenience in a workday typified by volatile telephone conversations, languorous perusals through French magazines, and extended gossip sessions with family and friends who have just dropped in for an hour or so. But as my Achilles heel is made out of porcelain, I tend to spend a lot of time there, especially since their stock rotates regularly.

So shortly before Christmas, deep in the throes of Ramadan, I bought 2 coffee mugs that were bedecked with festive reindeer.
Sporting pompommed toques and scarves, and with ornaments and twinkly lights suspended from their antlers, their very presence suggested to me that Christmas did exist in Morocco in some bizarre if not kitschy way. And I can do kitsch.

With less than two weeks before Christmas, tragedy struck my home: one of my reindeer mugs slipped from my hand and crashed to the floor, its scattered chards displaying a ghoulish mosaic of anatomical quadruped bits and winter outerwear. I was devastated. Clearly all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Dancer and Prancer together again. At this late date, the chances of finding a replacement mug at the china shop were slim. At best the herd of reindeer would have been seriously culled, leaving only the sick and wounded; at worst completely wiped out. My sole remaining reindeer would be alone, friendless in a North African landscape devoid of traditional holiday cheer. Hoping for a Christmas miracle (miracle being synonymous with ‘a nice thing’), I returned to the shop.

I mumbled a hasty greeting to the doorman (who spends much of his time flirting with the salesgirls) and scuttled past the half dozen indifferent and underemployed salespeople to the back corner of the shop. Where my reindeer had once proudly migrated was now a display of Bart Simpson café au lait bowls. O the horror! I peered over, I poked behind and I prodded under the garish canary-yellow bowls but to no avail. Seeking more fertile retail tundra elsewhere, my reindeer had gone. A reluctant saleswoman came over to me and asked (I think) if she could help. In my addled French, compounded by the fact that I could not remember the word for reindeer (a word not used in my everyday lexicon of ordering coffees and croissants), I asked her if there were any mugs de Noël left. She made it painfully clear that she had no idea what I was babbling on about so I further humiliated myself by raising my hands to my head and wiggled my fingers mimicking antlers – a gesture recognizable by any Canadian four-year old. She looked at me dumbstruck but with just a hint of a French sneer and shrugged.

Another salesperson, perhaps recalling a customer service seminar in a past life, looked up from her magazine to see if she could help. Deciphering my shoddy attempt at charades, she barked something to her co-worker who went off to a storeroom and returned, a few minutes later, with three mugs. I suppressed my tears of joy and took all three. As another salesperson wrapped my purchase, I pointed to a reindeer and asked what the word was in French. Just in case. She looked at it and held it up to the other five salespeople in the store. No one knew and why, I asked myself later, should they? In Morocco, these garlanded sweater-wearing ruminants are purely decorative, at best hinting at something vaguely mythological and nothing more. They could have been unicorns or mermaids for all they knew or cared. The mug-wrapper looked at the mug, considering these ski-bunnyesque creatures with only a creatures with only a mild indifference.

“Ils sont les gazelles?” she suggested.

Gazelles? Gazelles!!?

I shook my head. “Non, ce ne sont pas des gazelles. Ils sont … ils sont ….” I gave up, cursing my limited French vocabulary, vowing to check a dictionary when I got home.With yet another in a long line of Gallic shrugs, she continued wrapping the mug. The thought of introducing my new herd to the solitary reindeer at home tickled me: my new family of gazelles, my gazelles de Noël. It was no great matter that the reindeer has no contextual basis in Moroccan culture; 'gazelle' would do just fine. And poof! - gazelles de Noël forever will they be: lithesome fleet-footed creatures eschewing the Arctic tundra for the Atlas Mountains, endowed with Alpine outerwear and possibly the gift of flight on Christmas Eve.


Addendum: to assist those who may suffer the same acute embarrassment and frustration in a North African country in some distant winter, take note: the word for reindeer in French is “renne”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Head Butt Around the World

(or when you care enough to send the very best)

I don't watch football and I didn't watch it this weekend (not having access to the channel probably had something to do with it. If I can't buy it in the medina, I don't see it). In truth, few North Americans actually watch football (aka soccer) and if they tell you that they do, they are likely lying to your face. And those that really do are either of European descent, got laid for the first time during their post high school tour of the Continent, or are sports freaks - all of whom you can pretty much dismiss as the fringe element.

But world tournaments have a way of bringing the lost lambs back into the fold, beguiling the uninitiated with its bits of arcana & lore (i.e., translated into sanctioned violence & beer), and secret passwords and language (little gems like "50/50 balls"). I myself have been known to watch curling during certain briars and that is a fact that I have kept hidden for years. Certainly, golf cannot be far behind. And a retirement home for the mentally feeble. So, I confess that I was rather taken aback when Mr. Cat in Rabat admitted to ditching work (not shocked at that) to go watch the games. This spawned a conversation which went like this .... how many players do you actually know? By name?
Between the 2 of us we came up with 4:
  • Pelé
  • Ronaldo
  • Zinédine Zidane
  • Thierry Henry
  • David Beckham
Now if that isn't pathetic, I don't know what is. I strongly suspect that, in the long history of football, there have been a few more famous names. I'll have to do a bit of research between now and 2010.

Now living in part of the world (i.e., the parts that don't include North America, the Arctic Circle and possibly Antarctica) that goes apeshit over football, the last few weeks have been somewhat of a learning experience for me. The most valuable lesson I learned was that if men are watching a television screen on which there are men in shorts and a soccer ball, they will ignore the very real women who walk by. This is an exciting step forward for male-female relations in Morocco. The telecasting of soccer games should be mandatory in cafés 365 days of the year.

The second lesson I learned is that football has profoundly deep fault lines and the only middle ground is a perilous chasm which destroys the weak and unsure. You are for a team or against it. The enemy of my friend is my enemy ... pithy pithy pithy blah blah blah bullshit. But, not giving a rat's ass who won, I found it interesting to watch allegiances shift as favourites were knocked out ... which leads us to the final game (which again I did not watch but heard the play-by-play via Mr CinR on MSN Messenger). I expect those who actually saw The Incident to correct me if I have erred. In a nutshell:
  1. A nipple tweak is perpetrated by Marco Materazzi upon Zinédine Zidane.
  2. Materazzi growls something to Zidane.
  3. Zidane headbutts Materazzi.
  4. Zidane is thrown out of the game.
  5. France, unable to bear another significant loss to their team, caves during the penalty kick.
This is pretty much it, right? And now the internet is awash with theories as to why it happened. Did Materazzi call Zidane a "dirty terrorist" (to which the former responded, rather ingenuously, that "I don't even know what the word means." I guess he wasn't kidding when he said that he was "ignorant")? No one's telling. I asked a large-ish number of people here whether the headbutt was justified and what could Materazzi have said that would validate Zidane's reaction. The overwhelming majority of men and women I asked (all the women, by the way, felt it was inexcusable & shameful) felt that the headbutt was necessary because the Italian team had been goading Zidane all day. Wow. Secondly, the uniform response to my second question was that a comment about one's mother - in the last heated moments of the World Cup - obliges you - the seasoned professional, on the cusp of retiring from a brilliant career - to ram your head into the diaphragm of your opponent. Wow. So just to reiterate, the following events are acceptable if you make a few amendments:
  1. A nipple tweak is perpetrated by Marco Materazzi upon Zinédine Zidane, probably in sordid reference to Materazzi's phantasies about Zidane's mother.
  2. Materazzi makes a scurrilous comment to Zidane about his mother.
  3. Zidane headbutts the mother-loving Materazzi.
  4. Zidane, the family honour intact, is thrown out of the game, unjustly.
  5. France, unable to bear the thought that the honour of Zidane's mother was impugned, loses to cravenly Italy during the penalty kick.
... and we'll toss out words like professionalism, camaraderie, and self-restraint. There, it all makes sense to me now. Wow, injurying your opponent, jeopardizing your team's chances to win an international award, and ending your career on such a disgraceful low note trumps the Mother's Day card I bought my mother last year. Hope she appreciated it. Even money next spring she says, "Zouzou, please, just a card this year!"

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Cat Got Her Tongue?

I lost my voice yesterday. Not my literary voice (because I have yet to find it) but my literal (or physical) one. In the second time in less than a year, I have been struck down by an insidious Moroccan headcold. To say that I am annoyed is the Mother of All Understatements. My last Moroccan cold - the first cold I had contracted in almost 4 1/2 years - began towards the end of Ramadan last year (early November) and ended in mid-February, and was characterized by (I kid you not) brown viscous mucus and a lingering "Rabat cough". As a Canadian, I take it as a personal affront to be felled by a cold (my hubris was punished by the virulence of my last cold); as a human being, I take exception to anything brown coming out of my body north of my netherbits. Now, after a particularly taxing week, I had really been looking forward to this weekend, a weekend of:
  • Sleeping in
  • Washing my floors (no futher details supplied but suffice to say, they're nasty)
  • Going to the medina
  • Buying groceries
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Doing Cat in Rabat Stuff (which may or may not involve anything at all)
Instead, my Saturday (which followed a sleepless Friday night during which my throat became fiendishly lined with razor blades) looked like this:
  • Willing myself to not swallow
  • Wiping the tears from my eyes when I foolishly did swallow
  • Blowing my nose
  • Sneezing
  • Sucking Ricola lozenges (brought from Canada, thank Allah)
  • Drinking tea
  • Peeing (averaging 3 visits for each gulp of tea)
  • Wishing that I had satellite TV
  • Feeling sorry for myself
  • Repeating often
The one activity that did not involve any of my orifices was a sprint to the pharmacy which is mercifully across the street from me. I have a love/hate relationship with Moroccan pharmacies. I like the fact that, for the most part, you don't need a prescription for many drugs that you would at home, and that drugs are inexpensive - a notable exception being vitamins which are mindbogglingly dear. What I dislike about them is that there is a gatekeeper mentality in effect, a lingering French mindset which insists on locking everything behind glass panels or from plain sight altogether. In fact, on first glance, Moroccan pharmacies look like clearing houses for anti-cellulite creams, wrinkle removers and sunscreen. You have to look hard for anything medicinal. Or, more likely, ask.

I confess that I prefer walking into a drug store and taking what I need from a shelf because this is what North Americans do best: self-medicate. Here, you have to ask a pharamacist (or person in a lab coat, as they are not all trained pharmacists) for pretty much everything, from cough syrup to hemorrhoid medicine. If your grasp of French is limited or you have laryngitis like me, this exercise will quickly devolve into a quirky little game of charades which (again, if you are like me) only adds insult to injury. Word to the wise: always know the word for diarrhoea before you go see the pharmacist (or person in a lab coat).

I also find it curious that just before the pharmacist (or person in a lab coat) hands the box of tablets (thusfar, the pills have never been in a bottle) over to me - grail-like - he or she will scribble their own directions and dosage on it. After comparing these cuneiform markings (1 dosage = a scratch) and the enclosed information pamphlet at home, I can say with much certainty that they always differ. Is this cause for concern? Who knows best? The French pharmaceutical companies that dumps cheap drugs in Morocco, or my pharmacist (or person in a lab coat)? Who knows?

Morocco has no universal health care system (although I've heard rumours of one in the making) and most Moroccans can't afford private health insurance; indeed, most Moroccans cannot afford a visit to the doctor. In 2004, the average income here was reported to be 1133 dirhams a month while a visit to the doctor (assuming one has access to a doctor) is anywhere from 150-250 dirhams. Do the math. The rich pay through the nose for their private health clinics; the poor go to pharmacists (or people in lab coats). There are modern hospitals (notably in Rabat & Casa) and there are less than modern ones - last week, a premature infant died in a hospital in Fez because there were not enough incubators.

What I have seen of one of Rabat's hospitals confirms in my mind that when that Petite Taxi With My Name On It finally finds me, I want to be killed instantly. After I sliced open my head last month (made completely worthwhile by a lovely Frankensteinesque scar), I was asked why I hadn't called an ambulance. Well, I've asked a dozen or so Moroccans how long the average waiting time is for an ambulance, and have been unanimously told that if one has not arrived by the next day and I am still alive, I should grab a petite taxi. Enough said.

But until that Petite Taxi With My Name On It finds me, I'll do as most Moroccans do and stick with my neighbourhood pharmacist (or person in a lab coat) and hope that my voice comes back before I have to return to work tomorrow. Hmmmm, I've been unable to talk now for a day and a half but some 8 paragraphs later, perhaps Cat in Rabat is not speechless after all.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

A Moroccan Adjustment

Here in Agdal, on Follow the Leader, there is a club-cum-billiards hall that always grabs my attention whenever I walk by because of the larger-than-life silver statue of Elvis Presley which graces its doorway. This creation is a thing of wonder; in fact, it's just how I imagined what the love child of The King and the bizarro towering statue of Michael Jackson (see cover of History Volume 1) would look like if they mated. And this got me to thinking about pool. But not the innocuous game of billiards one finds indoors. Rather ...

Pocket Pool (or pocket billiards).

It is my belief that many many many Moroccan men are obsessed with realligning the contents of their crotches (i.e., the billiards which Allah gave them) in public and on an hourly basis. The first few times I noticed this jiggling of the netherparts, I gasped in shock and modestly averted my eyes. I soon realised that if I were to react in this manner all the time, I'd be walking into traffic, getting hit by cars, or falling into the ubiquitous speluncular gaps in Rabat's sidewalks.

Why? Why do they do it? I am at a disadvantage here: women are not plagued with this problem - in fact, it's one of the few physical inconveniences that Allah did not give us (apparently, menstrual cramps, the agonies of childbirth, menopause and the accumumation of sweat under our underwire bras were deemed sufficient). I consulted my Magic 8 Ball and it told me to "try again". Not helpful. I turned to the Internet. It appears that men generally engage in pocket pool for different reasons. Sometimes (or so I've read), it is so that they can be the chief & sole architects of their own sexual gratification. Do men really move things about for this reason? - who knows? Men become more mysterious to me daily (I mean, isn't it messy?). So I asked a real live possessor of said billiards, who wishes to remain anonymous (husbands! yeesh!), about the need to adjust, and he swears that the act is performed soley to de-squish and reposition. Okay, I'll buy that. At least, I want to buy that. But my girls don't need to be constantly manipulated when I walk the streets - perhaps women just have more efficient and technologically advanced undergarments than men.

This leads me to my next observation (ahhhh, the things I ponder on the way to the grocery store) and that is: who exactly is engaging in this sexual sleight of hand? All men? Not exactly ... then which segment of male society? It appears that the worst testicular offenders are Moroccans wearing suits. Jellaba'd men might have a hand in it too but, for the most part, I haven't noticed it. Perhaps their loose flowy garment and whatever they wear beneath minimise or negate the need to play with the fire down below. Yes, pants are definitely the common denominator - be they suits or jeans. In my mind that suggests that the problem lies either with tailors (and an injudicious measuring of the inseam) or the quality of male underthings. I know, I know - it's hard to believe that the problem might lie in the gazillion knockoffs of Tommy PullMyFinger briefs available in the medina ... but just maybe ...

I confess that I don't know if the average Moroccan male engages in a little game of pocket pool as an act of aggression (sexual or otherwise), or if they're even aware that they're doing it. Maybe it's unconscious - who knows? It certainly transcends age and class barriers: young and old and the haves and have-nots are all equally obsessed with their pool cues. Perhaps it's a little bit of everything but, truth be told, I don't even need to know the reason. Men: just stop touching yourselves or, if you have to, try a little discretion. Or try closing a door behind you.

The bottom line is: I don't much like it. Is there a solution to this manipulation madness? Better cut suits, more comfortable undies? Perhaps the liberal use of talcum powder down below? Or how about a generation of mothers who tell their sons to just give it a rest, of wives who tell their husband that it's not appropriate to touch their testicles in public? Resort to a few time-honoured Old Wives Tales: tell them that they'll go blind, grow hair on their palms or, better yet, that it'll fall off completely. All I know is that it's a little disconcerting to be standing directly in front of someone, engaged deep in conversation, only to see that hand move down lower & lower ... knowing that he's moments away from putting the right ball in the corner pocket. Enough already!