If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then, in my mind's eye, my feet are the Audrey Hepburn of extremities. So enamoured am I with my little piggies that I take great pains to protect them - and occasionally photograph them before sweeping backdrops of nature (say, the Mediterranean Sea), knowing that such vistas will not detract from the grandeur of my feet.
Just a handful of months before I moved to Rabat, both feet underwent rather intensive surgery which involved the breaking and realigning of several toes and the sawing off of the actual foot bone itself (both sides, both feet). After the anesthetic subsided, I woke up to the cruel daylight of ineffable pain and a scant week's worth of potent narcotics. After that and it was over-the-counter crap whose daily dosage I felt compelled to triple. Twice daily. I was unable to put weight on my heavily bandaged feet for 2 weeks (don't ask how I navigated my way to the bathroom), could not walk aided or unaided for 4 weeks, and could not walk without the use of a cane for another 3 weeks. But in the end, I got pretty feet (at least prettier than what I had) with 4 rather dainty scars . The fact that my feet would no longer bleed from the sides when I wore winter boots was a boon.
Yes, I am enamoured and I think, a little protective of them too. If they are tred upon or knocked against in any fashion, I still experience searing pain that runs from my feet to my eye sockets (a full recovery was estimated by my surgeon as being 1 year to never). North Africa is arguably an excellent location for one such as I because I can pad the earth in an assortment of flip-flops the year round as I'm still not quite ready for restrictive footwear. But Rabat isn't the best city in the world for a cat so highly protective of her paws. It is not a straight city. And by straight, I don't mean designed on a grid system. I mean that one can walk from Point A to Point B without great deviation of direction.
But if you've ever watched a cat then you know that it never walks in a straight line. It hugs the walls, it dips under cars, it (as one hockey commentator used to say) dipsy-doodles in its peregrinations. Rabat compels me to adopt the pedestrian behaviour of my namesake but I would be more amenable, more adaptable, if my feet weren't on their last life.
Why? you ask.
Sidewalks in Rabat are an obstacle course - it is a city in the constant state of feverish construction where sizeable bits of detritus from burgeoning apartment blocks litter the sidewalks - a steeplechase for humans in which the course always wins. It is nigh impossible to walk down a sidewalk in any of this city's neighbourhoods without risking a fractured ankle (or neck) from broken bits of pavement and sidewalk. It is surely impossible to walk down a sidewalk in any of this city's neighbourhoods without having to veer off the curb, circle the tropical plants installed in the centre of the sidewalk, repair to the street, step over a piece on concrete, circumvent the semi-submerged metal Redal manhole covers, duck under or around a tree, circumvent a parked car, play chicken with 5 Moroccans walking abreast (who will never yield to you), and avoid a gaping hole.
These nefarious maws in the sidewalk - out of which loom equally nefarious pieces of Rebar - lay in wait to swallow the unsuspecting pedestrian although, to be fair, not with the frequency and degree of menace as the sidewalk holes in Khartoum. But then again, this is Rabat not freaking Khartoum. You expect mortar holes in Sudan, not in Morocco's capital. The King lives here. But perhaps he never avails himself of the sidewalks. Perhaps he should.
Agdal has not been built on flat terrain: the sidewalks slope downwards as one travels north. Walking (physically) down or (geographically) up Follow the Leader is my personal Room 101, for the incline has been resolved by a rather schizophrenic decision to embed both ramps (worthy of a skateboarder) and short cockeyed steps (many of which are in a state of masonic disrepair) into the sidewalks. If ever there lived a crooked man who lived in a crooked house, then I can hazard a guess as to his street address.
Yes, no gentle descent on Follow the Leader - instead one walks for about 50 feet then takes 3 uneven steps down (or uses a steep ramp), walks for a bit, avoids a car, goes down a few steps, continues on, dashes out of the way of a parking car, manages a bit of sidewalk not usurped by an encroaching sidewalk café, continues on, crosses the street to avoid the exposed electrical bits protuding from an especially large hole at Place Abou Bakr Assadik only to find oneself in front of the mosque where one must go around the front step, avoid the beggars, continue on ... well, you get the picture. I live in terror of scraping my feet. This terror has a strong foothold in reality. Rabat is de-prettifying my feet.
My impediment of choice is the sidewalk pylon. No jaunty neon-orange cone this, but a fiendishly camouflaged chunk of squat concrete that may or may not have a faded red band but is usually the same colour as the sidewalk. I have yet to ascertain if they are to prevent cars from parking on the sidewalk (in which case they don't work) or to guide cars to available sidewalk parking. I trip over these and stub my feet on them frequently. This makes me cry and swear a great deal. (My mother will attest to an audible string of expletives which issued from my mouth when my foot knocked against a prayer kneeler in a church in Spain. So accute was the pain - and so profound was her guilt for dragging me into the church - that she disregarded my generous usage of the "F" word.) To compound the matter, many of these Pylons from Hell are moveable (and, not surprisingly, are frequently moved by the parking jockeys) so that I have no hope of memorising my trajectories.
One blissfully serene evening during Ramadan, Mr. Cat in Rabat commented that we could actually see to the end of our street without any obstruction (save one flowering shrub), and that was the next best thing to actually being able to walk a straight line. His standards have clearly dropped; either that or he shares the same foot fetish as me. That would put us on an even footing.