Thursday, August 30, 2007

I Don't See Influential Dead People

... or more accurately, I've been looking for Influential Dead People. Looking up Influential Dead People. Looking at Influential Dead People. But a preposition of some sort is absolutely required.

For the past week, Señor Gato Gringo and I have been rewriting about a dozen chapters for a forthcoming English language textbook whose target market is language schools in North Africa and the Middle East (NAME). Our template was a book with a similar cultural bend, but for Mexico - with logical cultural references to people like Shakira and Frida Kahlo. And because it was geared for the latin market, it had all sorts of bawdy allusions about adultery, fornication, bestial sex dating and romance. This would all have to go if it were to be approved by The Publisher's Kultural Editor; at that point it would be presented to school boards in the NAME.

If this weren't an already impossibly daunting formidable assignment, it seems that many language schools in the NAME (I suspect more ME than NA) have Religious Policemen on their book selection committees. Our editor felt that we were up to the challenge of producing academically rigourous and culturally sensitive lessons which Muslims wouldn't find offensive; apparently, he had never read my previous blog.

Out went even the most chaste boy-girl couplings. Out went the references to slattern Hollywood celebrities like Julia Roberts. Out went photos of diabolical divo Placido Domingo! Out went a whole unit on the zodiac - playthings of Satan - no matter that it was a logical vehicle to teach both personality traits & ordinal numbers! No matter that every one of my students in Morocco knew their sign. Out Sagittarius! Out Scorpio!

Out went all references to any character with an Old Testament name (Jeeeeeewish) - out Hannah! out David! Out went a reference to Bob Dylan (Jeeeeeewish) - no matter that the context was his appreciation of Egyptian songstress Umm Kulthum. Out went a mini biography of Kurt Cobain (suuuuuicide). Out went much abridged verses from that hack William Shakespeare. Out went all mention of dogs (
haram in Islam), and cats (which are not haram but who keeps cats in the house? How do you expect a Muslim kid to relate?).

Jesus Mary & Joseph.

As our friend Ms. K quipped, this was becoming English for Fundos. But as long as no Muslim will
find offence in the results of our Stalinistic language and cultural purges, then we can cash their cheques go to bed with a clear conscience. Besides, whoever said that English culture, history, and mores had to be an integral part of language acquisition? Probably an infidel dog.

So we sold our souls complied. This we did because a) such were our instructions and b) there is, in theory at least, a cheque waiting at the end of the not terribly pluralistic rainbow.

But eventually we would hit a brick wall. We were absolutely stymied when it came to revamping the lesson on the simple past tense which employs Dead People (easier to get permission for the use of their images) to drive the grammar point home. We had Princess Diana, Marilyn Munroe, John Lennon, Ayrton Senna, and Frida Kahlo. Our instructions: replace them with The Influential Dead from the NAME, but with an emphasis on the Gulf States. You know, people who young adults and kids can really relate to, we were told.

So out they went - although Princess Di, that tramp, managed to sneak back into the lesson. That's how desperate we were. For 48 hours we scoured our brains and the internet, lobbing names back and forth. In between that 48 hour period was a sleepless night of staring at the ceiling for inspiration. The ceiling was most disappointing: it offered me nothing. Nothing! The vast majority of the names we came up with were for the most part Egyptian and to a lesser degree Lebanese. Given the age and cultural wealth of these two cultures, this shouldn't be surprising. Gulf 'culture' -
the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf was established in 1981 - is young, a mere embryo in comparison to its North African & Mediterranean neighbours. Who's had time to do anything of value and die? (Of course, I may be asking the same question 50 years from now. Okay, maybe 100.)

Our desperation increased. We scoured our sources: Mr. N and Ms. K came up empty-handed. Every person who sparked the faintest glimmer of hope turned out to be still alive. "What about ---?" "Still Alive." "Damn!" We looked for dead athletes. Then we heard, with not a little gruesome thrill, that Spanish footballer Antonio Puerta had collapsed during a game and had to be taken to hospital. "Maybe he'll die!" cried Señor GG. Of course he did die and we both feel like heels. In fact, over the next few weeks, a significant number of very very famous people will be keeling over. All because of us.

In case you're dying of curiosity, in the end we chose Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz, Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, that Egyptian-dating tart Di, and Lebanese-born Khalil Gibran. And Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum? You know Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, don't you? He was the former Vice President & Prime Minister of the UAE and Emir of Dubai who dabbled in real estate and bred prize-winning thoroughbred racehorses. Fortunately for us, he died last year at the age of 63 and he is, without a doubt, someone young adults and kids can really absolutely definitely unquestionably relate to. YES!!! we screeched, jolted out of seats in pure electric joy, pumping our fists into the air, and high-fiving each other. We've found him!

But the book is done - or at least our contribution to it. Of course, it hasn't received final approval yet - the Kultural Editor has yet to come down from the mountain with a verdict. I suspect more rewrites. Ultimately it'll be too fundo for most countries in the NAME and not fundo enough for Saudi. And preliminary eyebrows have already been raised about a chapter in which a (male) university student is looking for a (male) roommate. The objection? Why would 2 men live together in an apartment when they can live at home until they get married?

Oi vey.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Many Fleas & Elroy Jetson's Dog

 id=Yesterday being a Sunday when most things in Madrid are closed (with the notable exceptions of bars and museums), Señor GG and I decided to head out to the Rastro* flea market. With over 3500 stalls, Rastro is purported to be a) the world's largest open-air flea market b) Europe's largest open-air flea market c) Spain's largest open-air flea market d) Madrid's open-air flea market or e) all of the above. My inability to judge distance and depth notwithstanding, it is awfully big. I am told that it stretches across the barrios of La Latina, Embajadores, and Puerta de Toledo but - like the science of spatial measurement - such niceties are pretty much lost on me: all I know is that it's 15 minutes from our apartment. All that Señor GG knows is that tavernas selling cañas of beer (for less than 1 € a pop) are strategically spaced at 10 meter increments throughout the market. He has a better grasp of the science of spatial measurement than I do.

Rastro apparently earned its sobriquet (el Rastro = the trail, i.e., as in trail of blood) from the custom of dragging slaughtered animals down the street - a seemingly common practice since an abattoir as well as several tanneries stood in the area some 400 years ago. I'm so happy that my budding relationship with Spain's butchered animals is beginning to taking root.

Since the market is naturally divided among various streets, over the years these areas have become associated, either by design or haphazardly, with particular goods and wares. There was or still is the calle de los Pajáros (where parrots and other exotic birds were sold) and the calle de los Pintores (where painters were not sold but rather sold their work). You'll find areas devoted to rare and collectible books; religious statuary with various degrees of decapitation and amputation; antiques, both genuine and questionable; bits of iron and brass and wooden hardware (which, if he were alive, my father would've spent hours sifting through); movie memorabilia; clothes fallen off the back of a truck new & second-hand; magazines, many quite lurid; trading cards and stamps; enough knitted Peruvian woollens to clothe the world for a glacial, an interglacial, and possibly a second glacial period; enough Indian brass Ganesha statuettes to fill an elephant graveyard; enough Tibetan incense to make it smell less like an elephant graveyard; and a lot of crap. A whole lot of crap.

This time, Señor GG and I decided to devote our morning to the magazines and trading cards dealers because we are both secret hoarders of trading cards and keen ruthless traders. It is fair to say that we have both made killings over the years with our Operation Desert Storm cards - Saddam Hussein alone financed our villa in Ibiza). Alright - everything I just said after the word 'because' is a lie but I did buy Operation Desert Storm cards at a flea market several years ago - I've just forgetten where I put them. Bet that Saddam Hussein one is worth something now. And Chemical Ali. Damn.

In any case, we just ended up there so we decided to see who could find the cheesiest trading card. Among the football clubs, tennis players, porn stars, famous parks (Hey Javier, I have Hyde Park - I'll trade you for the Bois du Boulogne!), we found Duran Duran, Samantha Fox, Simple Minds, and The Cure. Although it was initially determined (by me) that 80's television has-been actress Lori Singer (remember Fame?) was the hands-down sure-fire winner, Señor GG overruled me with his preference for the Swedish one-hit-wonder band Europe whose only gift to the world was disbanding Final Countdown - gloriously resurrected and elevated to its zenith of kitsch by the television series Arrested Development.

I might add that I found an old frilly well-thumbed prayer card for not so much my namesake as my nickname's namesake (Knarf, I'll kill you ...) but at 12 euros, I vacillated and decided to pray to her for guidance. The patron saint of gardeners and rape victims has yet to answer my prayers (she probably has her hands full with the latter) but then again, I have yet to pray to her. Perhaps it will be there next week.

* Note: if you are of a certain age & cultural bend, you must say Rastro as if you were George Jetson's dog Astro - Raaaaaastro)


Friday, August 24, 2007

Reincarnation Cat-Style

I am mortified at my own apparent inability to not blog. So for those masochists who want more ....

La Gatita Gringa

You've been warned.

Post the First: Ruminations on Matters Bovine

 id=Writer's note: I'm not happy with this title. I wanted to say "Ruminations on Matters Taurine" as taurine seemed a more apt adjective to discuss bull-ish things but as taurine is, in fact, a two-aminoethanesulfonic acid, bovine it is.*

A recap?

After a two-week hiatus Cat in Rabat has thus been transmogrified or better yet, reincarnated (this sets the feline clock back to Life #1) into an alter ego more sympathetic to her surroundings. Gone is the head scarf and in its place, an appropriately and equally terrifying (in my eyes) head scarf habit. It seems that Cat is not losing her religion but exchanging one for the other: although it's been two blessed weeks since I've been awoken by the neighbourhood muezzin's call to prayer, my slumbers have been jostled by nocturnal church bells. Between the two ... well, I'll just keep my comments to myself.

And as most habits are hard to break, I can make no promises on the quality or general level of snarkiness cultivated in this blog. Indeed, I was reluctant to continue blogging for a number of reasons, one of which was that I doubted Madrid would keep me an honest a snarky cat. How can I possibly be a snark in Madrid? I asked myself. Only time will tell.

But what's with the matador? you ask. Or wonder. Or perhaps didn't even notice at all. The killer of bulls whom you see above is (or was) Rafael Gómez Ortega - known as El Gallo, or the Rooster. The Rooster, who came from a fairly illustrious family of bull-killers, enjoyed his share of fame in the teens of the 20th century - he developed several unique moves including fighting a bull from a chair. Why he was never dubbed El Tonto (the Idiot), god only knows. He ultimately squandered his fortune and was supported into his dotage by fellow bull-slayer Juan Belmonte, arguably the greatest killer of unarmed ruminants in the world.

But what's with the matador? you ask. Or wonder. Or perhaps didn't even notice at all. It seems that the apartment in which Mr. Cat in Rabat Señor Gato Gringo and I now reside was once his home. There's a pretty little ceramic plaque outside our building advising us as much. Like many fin de siècle apartment buildings in Europe, each floor was once a private - and presumably sumptuous - dwelling and has since been subdivided into a warren of teeny-weeny flats. I like to think that our apartment was once his bathroom, the room where El Tonto The Rooster used to wash bits of bull gore and blood from his holey-er than thou body.

And on a not very somewhat related note, it was announced this week that Televisión Española had - without consulting the union of bull-killers - cravenly (according to the union of bull-killers) decided to pull its live coverage of bullfights, ending a 59 year old run of televised death. It seems likely that viewership is down or, to put it another way, bullfighting fans are aging. Now if you are an aficionado of the corrida, or you're just over 65 years old, fear not: there's still plenty of cable coverage to satisfy your bloodlust.

So there you have it. Two vegetarians living in the house of one of Spain's beloved bull-killers. Rather ironic, no? Undoubtedly a suitably skewy way to begin our next incarnation. Perhaps Madrid - like Barcelona did three years ago - will one day declare itself a bullfighting free city. Ahhh, I had to wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes as I typed that.

*I happily sit corrected. Kudos to Monsieur Mike for validating my gut-reaction in vocabulary. The title of this blog should therefore be Post the First: Ruminations on Matters Taurine.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

The 9 Lives of Cat in Rabat: Life the 9th

As The Walrus once prophesied, the time has finally come to talk of many things - perhaps not about shoes and ships and sealing wax but of matters close to my heart.

Frankly, I haven't relished the thought of being the one to stick the needle into the Cat's paw and so, not surprisingly, I've let this go to the last possible moment. The truth is that I've grown attached to this humble space in the blogosphere; I've enjoyed contributing to it. Of course, some posts were better than others while many were pure crap. But I've made a few friends along the way - few of whom I managed to put a face to - and a motley crew of antagonists who kept me honest and pissed me off from time to time. Greedy attention-seeking whore than I am, I always looked forwards to reading the comments - supportive, informative, challenging, and sometimes downright shitty - left by my readers with a salubrious mixture of delight and dread. That anyone should spare a few moments from his or her day to stop and read my addled ramblings and leave behind their thoughts never failed to tickle me enormously.

Nonetheless, as Mr. CinR and I are leaving for Madrid in a few hours, today must mark the end to the misadventures of Cat in Rabat. And although I've been repeatedly asked whether I'll continue blogging from Spain, I quite sincerely cannot decide. Few people appreciate how much work is involved in maintaining a blog. Readers can be fickle and short of patience; if you don't post for a few days, they're irrevocably gone. It's the nature of the blogging beast but consequently, the pressure to churn out interesting and creative bits of prose - especially when nothing much is happening in your world - can be taxing. Fortunately, being snarky has never been a challenge.

Having said that, the Cat may come back but not the very next day ... and if I do, I'll post the link on this blog.

For the record, I'd just like to say that I don't hate Morocco. Unfortunately and perhaps understandably, many of my readers have walked away from this blog with that impression. The fault is, of course, mine because I made a deliberate decision way-back-when not to create yet another insipid travel blog that detailed how wonderfully exotic life is in Morocco. There are enough of those out there. I wanted to offer readers - most of whom I erroneously assumed would be members of my family - a more balanced view of life in a North African Muslim country. It isn't always pretty and anyone who says otherwise is either deluded, constrained by the shackles of political correctness, or insulated from the exigencies of living in Morocco by wealth.

There, I've gone off on a ramble again. Problem is that this putting down of a not-very alter alter ego is much harder than I thought it would be. But really, what I have to say is quite simple and is offered sincerely:

Goodbye and thank you. Repeat many many times.

p.s. Be kind to stray animals.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Conference of the Immortals

"What?" roared Zeus setting the summit of Mount Olympus a-tremble with his oratory eruption. Pegasus, startled from his luncheon buffet, discreetly and judiciously stepped out of the god’s line of vision. "Did I just hear what I think I heard?"
"No, no ... it's impossible. She couldn't have!" gasped Apollo. His glorious sunbeams paled at the mere thought of it.
"She did! "Zeus thundered.

"What's going on?" purred a slovenly but nonetheless Golden Aphrodite, rubbing Hypnos-bearing grains of sand from her eyes. "Can't a girl get some beauty sleep in peace?"
"It's Cat in Rabat," tattled Apollo.
"Oh, her again," said Aphrodite, rolling her eyes. "What's she done this time?"
"On her blog," the Bright One whispered in not very hushed tones. "She and that husband of hers went to Chefchaouen this past weekend. And before they left she blogged about it and actually wrote 'what can possibly go wrong?’"
"She didn't!" shrieked the laughter-loving goddess, throwing back her head and dissolving in gales of derisive glee.
"She did!"
"Well no one reads her anyway." And with a wave of her pearly hand, She of the Beautiful Buttocks dismissed the subject.
"He does," whispered Apollo, pointing at the prestigious black thundercloud forming to his left.

"Oohhhhh!" bellowed Zeus, shaking his head like a maddened bull, scattering scores of tiny thunderbolts in its wake. "The hubris of it all! Has she learned nothing? She must be punished for once and for all! Bring me Swift-Footed Hermes. Summon Rosy-Fingered Dawn. Convene all the gods."

An hour later, the entire Olympian pantheon was seated before the Son of Chronos.

"I have given this much thought," announced Zeus. "Her punishment is to begin the day after tomorrow."
"Why then?" the Nereids asked, cowering a bit under his wrath (scores of thunderbolts were still flying haphazardly from his head).
"Traditionally, we have meted out our justice to Cat in Rabat during her return trips,” intoned the All Wise One.
"But it hasn't really worked, has it?" quipped Artemis of the Golden Distaff, a little too petulantly for Zeus’ taste.
"Has it?" repeated Echo.
"The day after tomorrow," repeated the Cloud-Gather with, if possible, even more authority. "Any suggestions?"

"Well, they've been given a lot of conflicting information about bus times so they really have no idea what times any of the buses leave Chaouen," began Hera, her ox-eyes widening in malicious delight. "So let there be a bus waiting for them, taking them to Tangier – not Fez like they’re hoping. Let them bask in the allusion of movement. But it mustn't be a CTM bus. And ..."

The gods and goddesses leaned forwards, craning their heads towards her as one.

"And," she continued, savouring their anticipation, "Let the bus break down."

"Bravo! Brilliant! Huzzah!" cried the gods, applauding raucously.

"But before it breaks down," suggested Odysseus, Raider of Cities, "I could place a mother behind directly her, along with her fretful seat-kicking child. The mother will have motion sickness and vomit the whole way there!"
"Way there!" repeated Echo.

"Bravo! Brilliant! Huzzah!" cried the gods, applauding raucously.

"Excellent! You are resourceful Odysseus!" said Zeus approvingly, nodding his head sagely. "The bus will break down. For one hour, let us say. What else?"
"In the middle of nowhere," added Bright-Eyed Athena.
"Nowhere," repeated Echo.
"Yes, yes,” said Zeus. "That goes without saying. Now what else?"

"When they arrive in Tangier, they will be unable to catch a taxi to the train station," chortled earth-shaking Poseidon, setting off a small seismic wave along the east coast of Japan. "No taxi driver will stop for them. They'll have to walk to the train station."
"The train station isn't that far away," objected Golden Aphrodite.
"True," conceded Poseidon, his giggles submerging a small island in the Pacific known for its batiks and excellent coffee, "but they don't know that. Have them follow the signs to the station, running along the streets, huffing and puffing and lugging their knapsacks the whole way – all the while still trying to flag a cab."
"And they'll get there with just fifteen minutes to spare. But―" Storm-Footed Iris mused half out loud, half to herself.
"But?" coaxed the gods and goddesses in unison.
"First class will be sold out! No! - the entire train! The entire train will be sold out!" the Rainbow Goddess squealed in delight. "They'll have to wait 3 ½ hours for the next train!"
"Next train," repeated Echo.

"Bravo! Brilliant! Huzzah!" cried the gods, applauding raucously.

"Ares," Zeus turned his steely gaze on the Man-Slayer. "Did you have ONCF remove all of the seats in its train stations as I instructed?"
"Yes," nodded the God of War. “Shortly after the security levels were raised. Now, no one can blow up a train station in Morocco with a handful of explosives and a bench. I confess that I still don't see the logic in this but it's been effective in annoying passengers."
"It needn't be logical. This is Morocco," sighed Zeus. "Anything else?"

"Perhaps they could try to arrange a grand taxi. He will try to overcharge them by 50%." suggested the god of the Silver Bow. “They know the right price – they’ve travelled from Rabat to Tangier before.”
"Hmmmm, not too over the top Apollo?" queried Zeus.
"I don't think so. Besides, you wanted to punish her."
"Yes," acknowledged Zeus. "But Mr. Cat in Rabat will be there and he isn't really to blame."
"He married her," Hera of the Golden Throne reminded him.
"True ..."
"True ..." repeated Echo.

"One last thing," the lame god Hephaestos suggested." Can we put them in a train compartment with four women and a smallish girl. The women will each possess cell phones possessing incredibly annoying ring tones. Some Tchaikovsky, some gangster rap, maybe some rai. At ear piercing decibels. And they should receive phone calls continually. Remember, it's a 5 hour train trip."
"Excellent!" nodded Zeus. "Will the child have her own seat?"
"No," laughed the famous craftsman who was clearly enjoying this. “By rights she should have her own seat because she's certainly old enough. But this way she can go from lap to lap and be uncomfortable and fuss and whine a great deal. Besides, it will be far more believable that her mother lies about the child’s age to secure a free seat."

"Excellent!" boomed Zeus, "Enough! I will leave the details to Ares of the Glinting Helmet, Curse of Men. He will give everyone their instructions. With a little good luck, what should take them 4 hours will take them 14 hours!" He clapped his hands to disperse the gods, scattering scores of tiny thunderbolts and finally compelling Pegasus to search for greener – and quieter – pastures.

Thus, did the President of the Immortals mete out justice to Cat in Rabat.

"Cat in Rabat," repeated Echo.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Primary Colours

If I were a third grader creating my own Morocco, it would be a country of primary colours whose cities, rivers, and borders - I would add - would be painstakingly coloured within the lines (much to the relief of Western Sahara and a handful of child psychiatrists). And this would be my colour palette of crayons (remember, I am only 8 years old):

* Marrakech is the red city.
* Meknès is the yellow city.
* Casablanca is the white city.
* Chefchaouen is the blue city.

The truth is, in spite of what guidebooks may say, Marrakech isn't particularly red, and Meknès (whose amber epithet I just made up) is only marginally yellow-ish. I did make that one up after all. Casablanca isn't so much white as the colour of snow in March, complete with dog turds peeking through the slush after a nice acid rain shower. And 'Chaouen? Only time will tell. And by time, I mean tomorrow.

The hotel has been reserved - albeit with a modicum of difficulty as few hoteliers here seem inclined to respond to e-mail enquiries. Which leaves me thinking that the 'contactez-nous' link on their reservation pages is more of a decorative whimsy than utilitarian in any way. Remarkably, the bus tickets were purchased without incident. The knapsacks are, if not packed at least in a state of hopeful anticipation.

Dare I say - as I take pause to consider those tortuously precipitous and often fatal hairpin turns which go up up up and down down down the Rif
Mountains - what can possibly go wrong?

Perhaps not.

So this, our last weekend in Morocco will be spent verifying the azure-ness of the country's fabled Blue City - a city which once, during its tenure as a hotbed for religious extremists, barred Christians from entering it. Not that Bilal Mr. CinR & I are Christians but we can still take one for the team. Even if it's not our team.

Until Monday. In sh'allah. If the fates allow.