Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cocktails with Mohammed

The sun is slowly sinking on Cat in Rabat's dominion and within eight weeks, this blog will sadly be no more; Mr. CinR and I will be leaving Morocco for greener pastures. And by greener, I mean spirited. And by spirited, I mean a place with an enlightened view of alcohol. Not that that's the sole reason we're leaving - but the ability to enjoy a reasonably priced gin & tonic - out of doors where people can not only see you but are unlikely to tut-tut in disapproval - is certainly an added bonus.

Which brings me to today's posting. Last week I was part of a slightly raucous discussion in which my colleagues posited various theories on how Islam could best be improved upon - a fatwa-inducing discussion if there ever were one. Suggestions included a more concerted effort in the promotion of women's rights (or in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its initiation), the throwing off Islam's self-righteous cloak of judgmentalism, and a loosening of its dogmatic approach to the Qu'ran. My two cents was that Islam would remain in the Dark Ages until it developed a healthy attitude towards alcohol.

A healthy attitude that is made manifest in two ways: the first being the ultimate devilification of alcohol (i.e., its overall acceptance, for weal or woe, as part of the world's fabric); the second, being the nature or expression of its acceptance. Many many many Moroccans have already embraced Step One and drink regularly: a trip to the cave of Label Vie, for instance, will bear this out. Now I am not suggesting that Muslims have to drink alcohol to improve the quality of their lives or to promulgate a more positive perception of Islam around the world (although it might help). But if they are going to abstain from drinking, then they also have to abstain from castigating those that do.

The hypocrisy just has to stop. My memory is readily drawn to one particular acquaintance who polished off a bottle of anise in one sitting and then claimed, in his booze-sodden breath, that he is a good Muslim and follows the Qu'ran to the letter. Days later, I saw him sober and watched in a mixture of horror and amusement as he announced that all Muslims who drank were no better than apostates, bound for hell.

Morocco - just in case you didn't know - is an Islamic country and not only has a successful wine industry but produces one or two passable beers (Tangier's Beaufort jumps to mind). Contradiction? Inconsistency? Incongruity? Possibly. And should the PJD (the Justice and Development Party) - an Islamic/Islamicist party that favours the covering of women, the separation of thieving hands from thieving thieves, and the total ban of alcohol - sweep the upcoming elections (as predicted), Morocco will have to look deep within its own somewhat hypocritical soul and come to terms with what it brews, distils, ferments - and drinks.

Now, in a typical booze run, I am the only Westerner scurrying about this subterranean rat's warren in search of distilled sustenance; at any one time I am jostled about by young men who are, for all intents and purposes, still children (under 15), winos replete with gin blossoms (or more accurately, anise blossoms), and an assortment of men. I probably need not draw your attention to the fact that the only Moroccan women found in the cave will be the check-out clerks (except that I just did). It is not uncommon for some of these men to be in various stages of inebriation - pie-eyed on an assortment of beverages that include anything with anise, Moroccan beer, inexpensive local wines, and suspiciously cheap vodkas. In two years, I have never seen a check-out clerk or a bag-boy or a manager refuse service to a teenager or a drunk.

This rather longwinded prologue brings me to Step Two: the expression of the acceptance. In my experience, many many many Moroccans drink to get drunk. There is no sense of moderation. There is no sense of drinking for social reasons. There is no sense of savouring the tipple. Quite simply, it is anathema to these individuals to not empty a bottle; once opened it must be finished off. Another dead soldier, as it were. This is true of wine, hard spirits, and liqueurs, regardless of the size, be they dwarf-sized bottles of beer, cough syrup containers of liquorice-flavoured fire water, or litre bottles of anything cheap. Ironically, these are the very people whom the Prophet Mohammed (the PM) railed against. If Moroccans are going to drink - and I think that they should - they have to abandon their adolescent attitude towards liquor and learn how to appreciate their glass of Chardonnay rather than seeing it as an end-to-a-means. Have the French taught them nothing?

As an aside, I often wonder what a sit-down with the founders of the world's great religions would be like. Picture a round table set deep within a gracious patio of stylized arches, shaded by trellises of grapevines, fruit-laden orange and lemon trees, fragrant myrtle and oleander, a small system of waterways and fountains gurgling gently and cooling the air. It is midsummer and the Patriarchs of the Old Testament are sharing a bottle of Manischewitz with Jesus, and Buddha (I'd have already pressed a drink or two upon him) is quaffing back an Indian Pale Ale.

And the PM? I'd like to think that, as in all things, hindsight is 20-20 and he just might be able to see that his sometimes ambiguous and highly contextualized interdictions on alcohol (for example) may have been made in haste. Perhaps he should have worked in a litle number on Freedom of Choice? Informed Consent? Maybe he should have foreseen the greater health threat of tobacco and cigarettes? Yes, perhaps as the bumble bees buzz overhead polinating those grapevines, the P.M. himself might enjoy a sloe gin fizz with the author.

What a different world this might be if I - or anyone for that matter - could have cocktails with Mohammed.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Big Brother is Blocking

The other night I made one of my rare visits to YouTube to verify for myself that a particular clip that had been recommended to me was as incomprehensibly vile as my colleague had portended it to be. Unfortunately, I couldn't make a connection but I was hardly nonplussed for such are the vagaries of internet connections in Morocco. Then this morning I received an e-mail from Youssef The Brave at Maghrebism who, with righteous indignation, took it upon himself to enlighten the Blogoma (the community of Moroccan bloggers) that Maroc Telecom had just blocked YouTube and to encourage us to sign an online petition he's established in protest.

Maroc Telecom - the Phone Company That Cares - has already blocked LiveJournal and GoogleEarth, preventing me from perusing my niece's blog as well as playing voyeur on the streets of Tiznit. How am I supposed to watch annoyingly cute little kittens frolic on laptops trying to catch on-screen cursors or Japanese hotties building up a sweat on their exercise bikes? Not that I'm taking it personally. But somebody is...

It would appear that inappropriate videos were circulating on YouTube that cast the King in an unflattering light. And since the state is a major shareholder of The Phone Company That Cares, Maroc Telecom has no compunction about ceding to governmental pressure. Morocco's other internet providers, Wana and Meditel, seem to have retained their backbones and are still offering access to YouTube.

Jeezus ... I thought this was Morocco not Iran. Not China. Not Egypt. Are our blogs next? Allah knows that I have made my fair share of disparaging comments about M6 - his meteoric weight gain not being the least of them. Will there be a flurry of activity as blogger after blogger - fearful of reprisal - pens his or her farewell post as did The Rantings of a Sandmonkey last month in Cairo?

One of Maroc Telecom's syrupy little slogans is "un monde comme vous l'imagine", "the world as you imagine it." Perhaps it would be more fitting to change its motto to "a world which we imagine for you."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Lesson from the Ouroboros

When the individual with whom I was involved before Mr. Cat in Rabat entered my life - let's call him Satan - dumped me for another woman and I parted company, I sought closure in fairly conventional girly ways: I burned his photographs, I cut my hair short, and I got a tattoo (see crappy photo, left). My jaunty little fuck you ouroboros - a symbol of rebirth, growth, ying & yang, and the continuity of life - was my version of washing that man right out of my hair. Then I got on with my life which, as we all know, is the best revenge of all.

This has been a week of closures in Morocco. According to an e-mail sent to our entrepid blogger at The Morocco Report, it would appear that the US Embassy - specifically its Consulate Office in Casablanca - has closed its doors indefinitely in the wake of last month's suicide bombings which occurred some 60 metres from their premises. In light of the long standing relationship between the US and Morocco, this is a rather cowardly turn of events. Hitherto the closure was deemed as temporary - here we go again with more scuttlebutt - which was predicated on finding a resolution to a pissing match stand-off between both governments over security issues. Word was that the US government wanted Boulevard Moulay Youssef closed off from vehicular traffic in an effort to safeguard itself against other self-incendiary enthusiasts, which the Moroccan government flatly rejected.

To be fair, the official website asserts that the closure is temporary although it is advising visa-seekers to apply for their US visas in other American consulates in Europe. Then again, the site hasn't been updated for three weeks. Of course, flying off to Madrid might prove problematic if you don't have a Spanish entry visa.

Perhaps more distressing, the
United Nations Refugee Office has just closed its doors in Rabat after African migrants stormed the office on Saturday. They were demanding financial assistance for accomodation and food, as well as residency papers, access to healthcare, and the right to work.

Dozens of migrants from countries including
Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria were camping outside the Rabat offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to show their desperation at being trapped in poverty in Morocco.

There are some 10,000 illegal immigrants in Morocco all hoping to peel back the wrappers of their Willy Wonka Wonka Bars and find a gold ticket to Europe. The unsuccessful ones - a.k.a pretty much all of them - can be found on Morocco's city streets, now reduced to begging to survive and to earn enough money to buy passage in the hull of a ship bound for Spain or other European ports of call, or return fare home.

Over the new year, Moroccan police violently rounded up more than 430 sub-Saharan migrants including pregnant women and small children and tried to force them over the Algerian border, rights campaigners said.

Morocco has denied any wrong-doing.

Life was much simpler when a tattoo solved everyone's problems.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On Rabbits & Frogs

A few weeks ago I made reference to the fact that asking my students to suspend belief for the unbelievably interminable period of 15 minutes and actually use their imaginations in an 'outside the Moroccan/Muslim box' (yes, I know that the expression is both loathsome and passé) activity was a lesson in futility and frustration of Biblical proportions. Equally annoying is preparing a lesson with full knowledge that it'll go nowhere fast, that it's guaranteed to fail, that it's going to bomb. Most times I don't go ahead with these lessons and scrap them. But in those rare moments of boundless optimism, when I hold out hope that there will be one student who can see beyond the borders of his/her country and religion - not to agree necessarily but just to acknowledge that other points of view exist and are valid - I go ahead with them.

Last week it was animal rights.

I asked my adult students to list what rights people should have. I filled a white board with their responses - although eerily, no one raised the issue of children's rights. Then I asked them what rights animals should have. They wrote down nothing. Teacher, why should animals have rights?

Undaunted, I had them consider a short passage on animal testing. Now for the most part, I could've scripted the entire class before I walked through the door; in fact, I did. Nor was I disappointed. Except I was actually. I was disappointed not in the predictability of their responses (it says in the Qu'ran that animals serve mankind) but in the fact that there wasn't one voice of dissension. Well, that's not entirely true: one student said that the Chinese shouldn't eat dogs (our discussion had meandered slightly) because she has two shitzus at home. I told her that China is increasing its testing on non-human primates because it's cheap and because regulations governing the welfare of
animals are non-existent are lax there. This is now attracting Western companies who are tired of squirming under the pressure exerted by animal-rights groups. Nonplussed, my student responded that primates should definitely be used for animal testing. How high up the evolutionary chain? Old World or New World? All of them. Gorillas too. How long should they be subjected to the drugs injected into them? Until they are dead.

Undaunted, I passed around a photo of a line of rabbits restrained in a holding device as a technician dropped their daily - or hourly, who knows - dosage of poison into their eyes. Fifty percent of these rabbits will break their necks in an effort to escape their pain, I tell them - somewhat skewing the results of the tests. What do you see when you look at this photo? I asked. My most hip and urbane student shook his head and said, Nothing. I feel nothing.

Undaunted, I asked, what if I told you that some of the testing can be replicated with computers, and that in some cases old science can be used for new science? That many test animals are far from accurate models of the human body? I mention the green light given to Thalidomide. If given the opportunity to buy 2 comparable products at the same price, knowing that one was tested on animals and one wasn't, would you buy the animal-friendly one? Would you take the time to read the label? The answer was unanimous: the product tested on animals is better because it's safer. How can you trust a shampoo that hasn't blinded a vertebrate?

At this point in the discussion, a glimmer of hope, a ray of sunshine penetrated the bunny-bloodlust of the class. Teacher, said one student, I couldn't dissect my frog in biology class. Finally! The class sniggered at her cowardice. My ape-hating dog-lover thumped her desk with her hand and announced, I won the prize that year! What prize? I asked - not too certain that I wanted to know t
he answer. I brought in 2 frogs! The class murmurred and nodded in acknowledgement of her accomplishment. What do you mean you brought in 2 frogs? My class went on to tell me that high school students were obliged to bring in their own frogs for dissection and that a prize was given to the student who brought in the most frogs or the best specimen. I tried to envision hoards of students descending to Rabat's rivers and ponds, empty Nutella jars in hand.

My student, now in her mid-30's beamed with pride as I was further enlightened on the process. So they were alive when you peeled back their skin, poked and prodd
ed? They looked at me with complete disdain, as if my idea of science was conversing with my husband using two tin cans and a length of string. How else can you test its nervous system? Alright, so you use anaesthetic? Yes teacher (more disdain). So how do they die? We cut their spinal nerves.

Wanting to leave the frogs where they were (primarily in
Rabat's rivers and ponds), I wrote on the board a little scribbling attributed to the Prophet Mohammed (the PM), If you must kill, kill without torture. I added that the PM also forbade his followers from caging animals, branding, beating and mistreating them, capturing baby birds, and burning ant hills. Teacher, my students tried to reason with me (in a tone that clearly indicated that they thought I was a retard), they're just animals! How I love selective religiosity.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Find Madeleine

Most of us have seen the headlines: four-year old Madeleine McCann was abducted from her bed on May 3rd in Portugal while holidaying with her family. It's not often (well, never) that I am asked to provide a public service of any sort but Madeleine has recently been spotted in Morocco, and her family has asked Moroccan bloggers to sound the alarm, to raise awareness among Moroccans, ex-pats and travellers alike. The McCann's have created 2 websites (here and here) in an effort to bring their little girl home - please take a moment to take a look.

Please help return Madeleine - safe & sound - to her parents.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Little Afternoon Whine Wine

A week or two ago, I received a phone call from our friend and fellow gin & tonic poker-aficionado Mr. N who was bursting with good news. He saw, on a rather grotty side street (Dayat Aoua to be precise) in lower Agdal, just past Dirty Label Vie (as opposed to Clean Label Vie in Souissi), a brand-spanking new, yet-to-be open Nicolas wine shop. Its location on this particular street ... in this particular neighbourhood of Agdal ... in Rabat ... in Morocco for that matter ... was about as incongruous as a Carmelite nun at an Al Qaeda bootcamp in the foothills of Afghanistan, but there it was. A spiritual oasis - an oasis of spirits - in this otherwise dull little city. Not to be thwarted by a locked door, Mr. N had knocked on the plateglass and was told that the store would be open soon. His confidante was true to her word.

Mr. Cat in Rabat and I have a personal connection with this wine shop - a handful of years ago when we had eloped to Paris, we would pass the Nicolas shop located near the École Militaire métro stop every day as we set out to explore the city. So today, we decided to make the onerous trek to pay our respects, to pay homage, and to pay for a bottle or two of wine at Rabat's own Nicolas.

The walk through lower Agdal will never be featured in "A Walking Guide to Rabat", nor should it be. As readers of my blog are well aware, the sidewalks of the city are fraught with urban landmines that ensnare walker's ankles and feet in their nefarious maws. If one were to look hard enough, I suspect that the entrance to Hell might be found lurking among the city's ubiquitous gaping holes. Nonetheless, off we went, winding and wending our way, with virtually no incident. Yes virtually. Although we would amazingly not have to jump into the bushes to avoid becoming road paste (that would be on the return trip), we would have to watch as a 12-year old girl repeatedly rolled a large rubber ball at a cat - at the cat's head to be exact - while it was eating its lunch. A local hanoot owner had kindly set out a dish of chopped meat for the cat and the girl, who by all rights should have been cut up and fed to the cat, stood a few paces away. And rolled her ball, aiming squarely at the cat's head. And hitting the cat's head. Then repeated the process.

Poor puss. Vile child.

As we approached, the child's mother was standing a few metres aside shouting something to her, presumably reprimanding the girl - or possibly telling her to lob the ball overhand - who knows? When she did it again - again hitting the cat - I asked her what in God's name she was doing. I would have to check with Mr. CinR but I may have raised my voice. I'm not certain. For good measure, I added a hand gesture known the world over to indicate that I thought she was fucking insane. She stared at me blankly (perhaps my suspicions were well founded) and her mother glowered at me as we passed by. Yes, I know that it's one thing to censure your own child and another thing for a stranger to do it. It's also yet another thing to hit an animal repeatedly in the head.

We continued on our way. The Devil Seed Child continued rolling her ball. The cat continued having its meal interrupted.

We arrived at Nicolas. It was as exciting - and woefully empty - as we had anticipated. It is a veritable candy store of wine and spirits, and although today we could only afford its more modest offerings, we walked out blissfully content with two bottles from their Les Petites Recoltés collection: a rosé and a white, sun-kissed summery wines of pink and chartreuse from the Languedoc. For 30 dirhams each. Can life get any better? Undoubtedly, but not in Agdal.

Thanks to Mr. N. for his excellent eyesight.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Island

(Not a film with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson)

Generally, I am loath to ask my students to suspend belief for even the briefest of moments because their responses tend to be as unimaginative as humanly possible for individuals not raised in cardboard boxes in basements or bombshelters deep underground. Expecting an answer of childlike whimsy has become my Brick Wall, and I long learned to stop hitting my head against it. Nonetheless, in a moment of rare fickleness, I asked several of my adult classes this week to imagine that they had been marooned - alone & bereft of any media - on a desert island for 30 years before being rescued. I didn't ask them to imagine that they were Tom Hanks cast adrift on an island with a half dozen Fedex parcels because that would have been cruel. No one should have to defile their thoughts with images of Mr. Spanks in various stages of undress. Their assignment - predicated on the already onerous task of using their imaginations - was to tell me what 3 questions they would first pose to their rescuers.

The top 3 responses (or rather questions), in order, were:

1) Has Palestine become an independent sovereign nation?
2) Is Nicolas Sarkozy dead?
3) Has Morocco joined the European Union?

The first response (or question) placed first among every group in every class. I was gobsmacked. It's not that the question is without merit - because it is - but in the two years that I've been working in Morocco, not one student of mine has ever raised the "Palestinian problem". Quite simply - if I may trot my ignorance out on parade - I hadn't realized that it was such a hot button issue for Moroccans. And if it is - which according to my highly scientific survey it clearly is - why is it that in all of the discussions I've had with adults and teens during this time, it has never once been raised? Did they think I'd be unsympathetic? I doubt it; my own cultural sensitivities have seldom been spared in class. After all, I've been told that I'm going to Hell unless I convert to Islam, the true and living faith. How much more prickly would it be to discuss Palestine?

The second response (or question) shouldn't have surprised me but nevertheless it did. I asked why the death of another country's leader (elect) was of such tantamount importance to them. I mean, I don't want to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dead* but I do want to see him ousted from power and run out of town like the mud-sucking dog that he is. So why the bloodlust? "He hates Muslims," I was told. Oh. I suppose I should have seen that one coming. After all, it was Sarkozy who, as Interior Minister, insisted that scarved women remove said-scarves for their identity pictures - a move which was likened by some Muslim leaders to the yellow stars worn by Jews in Nazi Germany. But after Sarkozy's election, M6 called to offer his congratulations. Was he just being polite? Collegial? Or does he too harbour nefarious thoughts about Sarkozy being ousted from power and run out of town like the mud-sucking dog that he may (or may not) be? Whatever the case, he certainly showed better manners than my students.

The final response (or question) - a.k.a. hope springs eternal - narrowly edged out "Did Morocco get the World Cup?"(i.e., not qualify for it win it, just host it). Apparently losing the World Cup venue to South Africa still rankles deeply in the Moroccan subconscious, but not deeply enough to surplant wanting to be "European". It's been 20 years since Morocco (a country in Africa) applied for membership to join the European Union (which is made up of countries not in Africa) and was rejected. In fact, the application was denied because Morocco "was not considered a European country" which is a pretty accurate observation since it isn't. Nonetheless, with the ascension of M6 to the throne, the deepening of economic ties with Europe, and the announcement that rail tunnels (à la Chunnel) will be constructed beneath the Straits of Gibraltar (joining Spain & Morocco), rumours are yet again flying about that accession can't be that far off. With a projected start date of next year and a completion date of 2025, it may not pave the way to accession to the EU, but it will make immigration a whole lot easier. And by immigration, I mean from Morocco to Spain.

So there you have it. No questions about the King (like, is he still alive?), nothing about the implementation of further democratic reforms in Morocco, zip curiosity expressed about the "West Sahara issue" (i.e., the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination). I might add that a follow-up question to this exercise was "Which 3 books would you bring with you?" but perhaps that's for another post. Or maybe I already blogged about it.

* (lying)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Lobster's Tale

(A Story of Absolutely No Merit Save That Writing It Gave Me Something to Do While I Was Defrosting my Fridge)

The particularly fetching lobster that you see to the left is Larry. He has been so named because of the obvious alliteration produced when “Larry” is coupled with his surname. Which, in case your lobotomy stitches are still fresh, is "Lobster". Not very original but there it is. Larry the Lobster – who is not only a particularly fetching lobster but, unlike most invertebrates, is attached to a thermometer – was purchased at a scrofulous discount store in Nova Scotia (Canada) as a going-away gift for my mother who was about to embark on her first solo trip overseas. It seemed impossible to us that she could spend 7 months in
Spain without a reminder from home. What says Atlantic Canada better than pot-holed roads, high unemployment, high sales tax lobsters?

So Larry flew to Spain – not in an airline approved carry-on container for perishable commodities – but in Mom’s suitcase. Larry's meteorological counterparts in Spain claim that Málaga and its environs enjoy (≥) 320 days of sunshine a year, so it seemed a logical choice to install Larry on Mom’s terrace. There he could bask in the Andalucían sun while Mom’s friends and family back home froze their asses off in yet another bleak Canadian winter.

Larry not only wholly acquitted himself of his climactic responsibilities but was a very brave lobster. Although he survived the Costa de Sol’s (≤) 45 days of rain, his cherry-red exoskeleton (i.e. his paint) blistered and eventually peeled away under the searing rays of the Mediterranean sun. Indeed, his shell never grew back and he is now a very vulnerable peachy-colour with just a hint of red (see photo). Everytime I look at him I make a mental note to pick up a tube of sunblock SPF60 the next time I'm at Label Vie .

Eventually Mom returned to Canada, but the following winter she rented a different apartment in the same complex. When we visited her over the Christmas holidays, Mr. Cat in Rabat and I were a bit perplexed; Larry was conspicuously absent from her balcony. Where was Larry? She feigned ignorance. Larry? Skilled interrogators, we subjected her to a particularly heated grilling, whereupon she confessed. My mother - the woman who had given me life - had callously left Larry behind on the terrace at her previous apartment. Her excuse: she claimed that adding this diminutive sylphlike ceramic lobster to one of her suitcases would have sent her already hefty overage costs spiralling through the roof. We were outraged – not least of all because we had spent $2.99 on him – but because he was a ready reminder of all the poor sods shovelling snow at that very moment. And he could tell the temperature.

Mr. CinR and I stormed out and looped around to her previous apartment. Peering over the wall of the terrace, we saw a faded, forlorn and very much forsaken Larry perched on a dusty outdoor window sill. Our hearts melted. Then and there we made a pact to rescue Larry! Later we checked the newspaper and rejoiced that there would be no moon that night. Surely this was a sign. Much to my mother's horror, after midnight and concealed under the cover of darkness - with flashlights in hand - we retraced our steps to the walled terrace. Mr. CinR slipped over the wall (committing at least one felony in the process) and grabbed Larry. Turning around, he raised Larry triumphantly on high and cried “I have him!” Well, not exactly but close enough.

My mother remained unimpressed when we returned with Larry and, with one eye on the lookout for the Policía Nacional, reiterated that she would not be taking him back to Halifax. With self righteousness coursing through our veins, we announced that we were just fine with that. Clearly she had shown nothing but depraved indifference to the welfare of her lobster and was not a fit guardian for him. We shouldn't have been so appalled - she has even been known to eat lobsters. Larry would come to Morocco, where he has been since January.

It is now May and summer has just begun to exert itself in Rabat. The spring rains are a thing of the past, daytime temperatures are climbing to the very high 20’s, Mr. CinR is perspiring like a Grand National racehorse, and my students are begging me to turn on the air conditioning (which I won’t). In acknowledgement of the fine weather, and with not a little excitement, Larry was given a place of honour outside on our living room window sill this morning. An hour ago, I took a peek at our heat-seeking homarus and noted with horror that at 10:30 a.m., it was already 50° Celsius. And when I say “I looked in horror” I of course meant “I looked in horror at Larry’s inability to accurately gauge the temperature". I was crushed.

Perhaps this is really why my mother refused to take Larry back with her to Canada – he’s a crap crustacean, a lemon of a lobster. Nonetheless, I’m confident that if I keep an eye on his scratched ‘brass’ dial over the next few days & take careful notes of his temperature readings, I should be able to arrive at a mathematical equation which will prove to be accurate. What’s it like out today, Mr CinR asks. To which the answer might be just check out Larry, then subtract 24 degrees Celsius from his reading, then given the initial conditions y(0) = 1 and y′(0), calculate & multiply by your weight divided by the square root of pi.

Of course, maybe he’s not broken at all – maybe, like me, he’s just a little thin-skinned. After all, his exoskeleton never did grow back. Poor Larry … Morocco can be an awfully tough place to be when you have no shell.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Pair of Vehicular Vignettes

The other day it occurred to me that over the past seventeen months of blogging, I may not have said enough about Moroccan drivers; in fact, I've probably only scratched the surface of Morocco's road-borne iceberg. Although I'm unable of rectifying that gross oversight today (as I'm still under the weather), I do want to share with you, dear reader, two separate and unrelated incidents which I recently witnessed. Incidents, I might add, that although were unrelated by time and space, nonetheless both involved cars. So perhaps they were related after all.

The other day, Mr. Cat in Rabat and I were in a taxi speeding recklessly driving merrily from Hassan to Agdal when our driver began to slow down. As the road was not yet clogged with traffic, my mind raced between the two possible reasons for our diminished speed: either there had been an accident or our driver was being waved to the side of the road by a police officer in need of a new television set or braces for his kid's teeth. It was the former. Fortunately - if there can be a 'fortunately' in such a tale - the accident had already transpired and we were spared the horror of witnessing it. At one of Rabat's bizarre intersections where - traffic lights be damned - everyone believes that they have the right of way, where one merging turn lane magically transmogrifies into four, where u-turns are made as casually as one adjusts the volume of a car stereo, a car had hit a woman on a scooter.

Presumably the accident had just happened as the only official on the scene was the traffic island's not terribly effective traffic cop. If an ambulance had been dispatched, there was no visual or audible indication that it was on the way; instead, the cop was directing bystanders to lift the body of the woman and carry her to the grassy traffic island. Her body was twisted like a sourdough pretzel and her limbs were eerily bent and stiff as if she were still aboard her scooter. If she were still alive and if she hadn't sustained serious spinal injuries from the impact of the car or from her body hitting the pavement, she would probably be permanently crippled by having been so roughly hoisted by the (understandably) eager hands of her rescuers. I made a note to Mr. CinR that we should start wearing placards around our necks indicating that, in the event of an accident, only paramedics, trained health care professionals, or undertakers could touch our bodies.

We would have to wait a few hours for our second vehicular vignette and although thankfully no one was injured - indeed, this was no accident - it upset me far more than watching the aftermath of that morning's collision. As is our habit when we go to work, we turned up a side street - a narrow one-way street that, because delivery trucks routinely idle in the middle of the street and cars park along both sides, feebly and rather unsuccessfully tries to accommodate cars that race down it at breakneck speeds. Because this is a residential area, there are also pedestrians trying to cross the street, but this is not such an inconvenient thing for cars, as pedestrians apparently have no rights here and can expect no leeway from Morocco's drivers.

As we crossed the street we watched in disgust as yet another large Mercedes came barrelling down the street, hell-bent on getting to the corner as fast as the law of physics would allow. What a burden it must be to be just so busy and so important. But before the car would reach us, it would have to wait for another pair of pedestrians to clear its path. An ancient Methuselah of a man, crooked and bent over, was shuffling across the street, supported by both his daughter and a cane. The car bore down on the pair, and although the woman tried to hasten her father's steps, he couldn't hobble any faster. The driver's reaction? - he leaned on his horn. Honk honk honk - he wouldn't let up until the pair had yielded just enough room for him to squeeze by. Mr. CinR and I stopped and stared in disbelief. We stood our ground and made eye contact with the driver and, as he passed, I may have shouted something a little salty and gesticulated in a not very wholesome manner. His wife and kids just stared ahead; he met my stare with an equally withering gaze that clearly said fuck you.

The moral to the story? There isn't one. That's the joy of the vignette. Because it's a literary or visual description that illustrates the briefest of moments in time, its author doesn't have to be terribly insightful. Or in my case, lazy. Which suits me fine.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

How to Become a Millionaire

Having been on death's door for the better part of the last 5 days (and with so many bizarre symptoms, I might add, that I can only surmise that I've been the unwitting victim of some heinous chemical warfare campaign), I have spent my time doing the utterly useless things that sick people on death's door do. Sleep. Read. Sleep. Drink tea. Pee. Sleep. Read. Drink tea. Pee. Watch TV. Except not so much the last as our 'cable provider' - a.k.a. our satellite dish - was jerry-rigged (which in this context has a decidedly illegal connotation) to tap into a satellite package that has only 4 English channels. Far be it from me to complain that we're receiving so few English channels illegally for free, but when you're sick, you want Columbo reruns or Murder She Wrote, not The Tyra Banks Show. I stayed in bed and read.

Last night, with much fanfare, I finally exited the bedroom to deposit myself (with pillows, designated stuffed animals, and Kleenex) on the living room banquette to watch TV. I had had enough of the sick room especially after Mr. CinR, up until this point a veritable Florence Nightingale, announced that both the bedroom and I stank. Humpff. So, with remote in hand, I channel surfed. I started at channel 1836 (Third Rock from the Sun - no one is ever that sick) and came to an abrupt stop at 1951 where I chanced upon the frenetic world of Arabic music videos. I was gobsmacked. Never in my life had I witnessed such visually stunning, groundbreaking works of art, each video a bare-souled musical labyrinth of complex subtleties, subtle complexities, and raw human emotion that explored the human condition as no other
genre had previously attempted. Was Peter Gabriel somehow behind these?

God, I couldn't even keep a straight face typing that.

So, you want to become a millionaire? Make an Arabic music video. These videos - the Bollywood Stinkers of the musical world - are so formulaic that success is guaranteed. I know that I've spouted such promises before (the Maghreb Maxi-Slipper Company and Moroccan's answer to Viagra), but this is a sure thing. I have even gone to the trouble of isolating the requisite components to your success. Fortunately, Arabic music videos are nothing if not mindnumbingly formulaic.

The Female si
nger: this is probably the most problemaic element of your video shoot. Unfortunately all female Arabic singers must look exactly alike and there just isn't much leeway on this point This, I believe, is sanctioned in the Q'uran and governed by Sharia law. She must be exceptionally fair, blue-, green- or honey-eyed, have long flowing hair, a standard nose, and collagen lips. Her skin must appear to be flawless and the use of excessive makeup is mandatory; indeed, pancake foundation should be applied liberally with a trowel and no fewer than seven coats of mascara should ever be applied. There are no restrictions regarding eyeshadow; no colour combination can ever be too garish. Rumour has it that cosmetic surgery is running amok among Arabic chanteuses creating a Stepford Wife standard of perceived perfection (see superstar Nancy Ajram's "after" likeness to the left, her "before" to the right). Unlike Western videos, weight is not an issue but the overall appearance is. Also, be prepared to allow for at least 17 costume changes during the course of the video, one of which should be a tarted-up traditional oriental costume. If possible, include one scene - regardless how irrelevant it is to the storyline - with your female singer performing a belly-dance; if she is not so inclined, a back-up dancer will work in a pinch.

The Male Singer: fortunately shooting a male singer is easy-peasy - all you need are a few props. Unlike their female counterparts, the level of attractiveness, weight, and age of the male singer is unimportant. If you are making a video with the butt ugliest singer, ensure that he acquires the mien of a hearthrob. The fact that most women would recoil from him on the streets of Beirut is inconsequential: on the television screen he is a god. To help ensure this status, it is advisable that he be imbued with a plethora of skills and talents; for example, he should be portrayed as a fleet-footed soccer player, a basketball star dunking hoops, or a virtuoso on any and all instruments. Credibility is completely irrelevant and should not be aimed for. Because most Arabic-language songs display a
tiresome dizzying display of vocal gymnastics, it is important that your male singer especially maintain a constant expression on his face that telegraphs sincere soulfulness but which really looks like someone off-camera is shoving a broom handle up his backside at regular intervals.

The Background Singers/Dancers/Musicians: again, there are no hard & fast rules here so you're safe to do whatever you want. It's common for individual background dancers to be wearing whatever is on hand, preferably left over from the last video shoot - skimpy outfits or full caftans - as long as they don't draw attention away from the lead female singer. Their ensembles need not match each others. It's usually a good rule of thumb to toss in one belly dancer for good measure. To give your video an authentic look - during a musical bridge or interlude for instance - you may wish to insert 1 of 2 scenes showing a
fish-out-of-water group of somewhat aged men dressed in galabiyyas and turbans half-heartedly plucking and slapping away at their traditional musical instruments and looking decided uncomfortable. They may chant if you wish. This will give even the sleaziest video a patina of respectability and Mus-cred.

The Songs: as most songs sound suspiciously alike, the only thing to remember is to include the words 'ya habibi/habiba' and that they must be repeated at least 48 times.

The Storyline: fortunately, there are 3 basic plotlines in any Arabic music video.
1) Boy meets girl (no sex), boy loses girl, (no sex), boy finds girl (no sex). At some point, either the girl or boy should be seen riding a horse through the desert.
2) A family 'storyline' of unrelated events but must include scenes in which the lead male singer looks lovingly at his mother or a photograph of his mother, as are images of the female singer frolicking with little children. Isn't he a dutiful son? Won't she make a terrific wife?
At some point, either the girl or boy should be seen riding a horse through the desert.
3) No story at all. This video, a.k.a, 'the video which makes no sense', is admittedly the easiest to shoot. In fact, it is common to come away from one of these videos with the feeling that even the director was at a loss to explain what was happening. Usually the singer is filmed in front of a series of completely random images, live or blue screened. At some point, either the girl or boy should be seen riding a horse through the desert.

Editing & Technical Stuff: Again, there isn't much wiggle room on this point as all Arabic music videos must be produced using 80's editing techniques. God-awful computer graphics - including superimposing singers into video game graphics - will give your video that authentic look. Accuracy in lipsyncing is not a goal worth aiming for. It is also recommended that editors remove a fixed number of frames to give the video that annoying underwater pseudo-slow motion effect.

Budget: financing a video should not prove difficult as it appears that most videos are produced on a budget of $12.

Credits: be prepared to spend a few bucks here. All videos must conclude by rolling a list of credits that include the casting agent, the caterer and the smoke artist.

Now put this all together and poof! you have a music video. Not only is your meteoric rise to stardom assured, but you'll be laughing all the way to the bank. And unlike my other business ventures, you won't have to dirty yourself with camel's milk and feminine hygiene products. Instead you'll be surrounded by dozens of houris - totally identical bodacious babes - singing and writhing in ecstasy. For an Unbeliever, it'll be the closest thing to actually dying and going to Muslim paradise.