Thursday, April 27, 2006

dance rules and good deals...mennonite vs moroccan, I'm back in the western English-speaking world and L-O-V-E it! Really, I've absolutely LOVED my time in Spain and especially Morocco, but as the time for me to leave drew nearer I just knew that I was ready to transition back into the western world again. Actually when I read an email from my sister a couple weeks ago about her return to Vernon and Dad's steak and guacamole, I was like, "That's it! I'm ready to go home. If she's out of Guatamala and at home eating that stuff, I want in!!!" And now here I am in England and just chomping at the bit to linger over a clotted cream tea with scones and hit up a local pub for some good old fish n' chips. But I'll save my gastronomic exploits for later and instead back up a couple weeks and finish where I left off...with my mom's arrival in Spain I think...

After finishing up the last days of my internship at MMC, mom and I set of for a whirlwind tour of Morocco. We started off with an overnight stay in Rabat with the girls I'd lived with during my first trip into Morocco and their family graciously served up an amazing Moroccan meal. We then headed by train down to central Morocco to the city of Benguerir where we were meeting up with other friends of mine who'd invited us to a Moroccan wedding. I'd been praying the whole time that I'd get to attend a traditional Moroccan wedding, but had been told by many that the wedding season hadn't really begun yet and that my chances of attending one were highly unlikely. God, however, answered my prayers and upon arriving in Benguerir, we were driven out to a rural mud-brick village where the wedding was to take place. I really feel like there is no adequate way to describe what we experienced in words, but mom describes the experience as something akin to stepping into the pages of a National Geographic magazine. I couldn't agree with her more. For the better part of the day, men and women stayed separate for their own ceremonies and celebrations. I'm not quite sure what the men all did or even where they were, but the women spent most of the time dancing, singing, and eating under a large tent that had been erected in the corner of the mudbrick courtyard. Mint tea flowed and drums beat unceasingly while women, bejewelled and adorning embellished caftans, danced for hours. The bride, pale and exhausted from the festivites sat stoic and alone throughout the entire occasion. Tajines were slowly cooked over fires throughout the day, but rapidly consumed just as soon as they were set down in front of the shifts of women who left the tent to break for food; dozens of hennaed hands plundered the vast ceramic dishes, searching for the choicest morsels of unknown animal parts. Mom handled these very foreign eating practices well especially for being thrown right into the thick of things! While I'd been fairly used to the eating aspect of Moroccan culture, I was forced to show off my *ahem* Moroccan-dancing skills...not something I was terribly comfortable with seeing as how I'm white and Mennonite to my blood lacks natural rhythm and my body the coordination it takes to swivel my hips without throwing my entire pelvis out of joint. Let's just say me decked out in a lavendar caftan trying to shake what I DON'T GOT in front of a hundred Moroccan women is not a pretty picture...unfortunately there are many of me doing just that. Even worse, there is video footage... The evening ended (or maybe it had just begun, I don't know, because mom and I went to bed at 2 am and the party was still going strong) with the menfolk joining the celebrations, however, staying fairly separate from the female contingency, except for some group dancing in which a line of women and a line of men never got more than 2 feet close to each other. More singing, more dancing, more drums, more food. All the while the bride sat hidden by a cluster of women, unseen by most of the guests. Apparently the next day she would be brought to the home of the groom (we still don't even know who he was) where another party would be held. With more singing, dancing, drums, and food. But there's a limit to how much a westerner can take, and mom and I left early to get a bit of sleep. Amazingly, our sleep upon berber carpets and sheepskin rugs on the floor of a mudbrick hut, was the best sleep we had during our entire stay in Morocco!!! The next day, we continued our journey with the first of dozens of taxi rides around the desert.

In Canada, I would never DREAM of traveling long distance by taxi, but in Morocco, grand taxis are probably one of the most reliable ways to travel if personal space and your own schedule are high priorities, which they were for us. Both mom and I wanted the opportunity to stop whenever we wanted in order to take photos, so we consistently hired taxi drivers to shuttle us throughout the desert and along steep mountain passes. Berber villages, lush palmaeries, ancient kasbahs, and mountain farmers all caught our attention along the way. But travel by taxi was not without its hassles, and it seemed that each of the drivers was intent on both providing assistance and scamming us at the same time. My French had improved to the point where I could express my frustration with their sly deals and more than once I had to bite my tongue out of fear that we'd be left stranded by the side of some desert piste (off-road)...never mind the fact that I should have been motivated to exhibit a more patient, Christ-like's not an excuse for a bad attitude, but by the end of the journey I really was tired of having to fight for a fair deal and couldn't give a rip about the fact that I'd become a bit bitter towards Moroccan taxi drivers!

Okay...sorry to stop this here...but it's past midnight, I'm exhausted and still trying to get over a nasty cold, and I gotta get some sleep. More to come before leaving the enchanting countryside of Devon.

Sweet dreams...I know I'LL be dreaming of cream tea!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"Death in the Afternoon" and Mom on the 9:30 flight from Gatwick

Basically…I’m addicted. To bullfights. Yes, some of you are cringing in your seats, horrified that I could relish such a blood-thirsty sporting event, but then again others of you are smirking at the screen thinking, “Classic…typical Jaime”. To the first group, let me just take a moment to justify myself!!! The way we kill cattle in the west is not exactly pretty either, and they do eat these bulls after they are killed. Yes, a bullfight IS entertainment, but these beasts live like kings for their entire lives, and then experience 15 minutes of pain. Beef cattle don’t live NEARLY as well and still get eaten. So…excuse the pun, but…what’s your beef? Hee hee…sorry…don’t mean to be a smart alec! Anyway, to the second group…oh man…WHAT A RUSH! To see such a massive animal charge a man on foot…it’s not often that you get to witness something so primal yet artful at the same time. Anyway, I loved the entire experience. From the musical fanfare that accompanies the (mostly graceful) movements of the matador, to the daring bravado of the matadors and their banderielleros, to the various techniques and traditions used during the fight, to the crowd’s wild responses and the president’s presentation of ears and tail as trophies—definitely one of the highlights of the last three months!

One of the other highlights was a trip I took to the small white village (pueblo blanco) of Ronda, a beautiful city about the size of Vernon situated on a plateau and overlooks the surrounding mountain and hilly countryside. It’s reknowned for the incredible stone bridge that spans ‘El Tajo’, the plunging gorge below, and connects the 18th and medival sections of the city. I went with Beth, a friend and coworker of mine here in Spain, and we hiked down into the gorge one morning, visited the oldest bullring in Spain (made famous by Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon”) ate some amazing food, AND took in a flamenco show!!! Oh my goodness, it was so AWESOME!!!! The show actually took place in the basement of—get this—a museum featuring a visual history of the Spanish Inquisition…complete with a varied and explicit display of torture devices. On my way out of the washroom I got to find out exactly how instruments like the Maiden of Nuremberg and the Heretic’s Fork worked…magical. Thankfully, this ambient d├ęcor wasn’t visible from where we were seated and the outstanding show made up for the initial lack of appeal! Let me just say, however, that watching something like flamenco definitely reminds me how rhythmically challenged I really am! I have never seen dancers, musicians, and singers keep time like that! The experience was electrifying and it was truly evident that these artists were passionate about their craft and personally attached to flamenco as a means of expressing their love for their culture and heritage. The only other musicians I’ve ever witnessed pouring out such soul-baring vocal expression have been blues artists. While places like Starkville, MS and Fes totally blow my mind, places like Ronda put me at peace. I’ve never been so enchanted by location as I was by Ronda. It felt like a home away from home and I really didn’t want to leave!

And speaking of home…mom arrived in Malaga late on Tuesday night! I wasn’t exactly sure if I’d cry or just grin ear to ear or what, but I surprised myself and probably the other bystanders with a yelp or excitement when I saw her coming through the gates! It’s been great having her here and we’re both really looking forward to traveling throughout Morocco and Spain. She’s been really great about entertaining herself while I finish off my work here at the media centre…tomorrow’s my last day! I’m gonna miss it here, especially Rosie my roommate and Beth who shares my office space and a lot of laughs. I can’t believe it’s over!!! But don’t quit visiting the blog, because now that work is over, it’s just fun and games for the next month!!! Obviously I’ll still be shooting (film now rather than digital) and working mentally to round out my collection of images, but it’s now possible for me to come and go as I please!!

So anyway, the next time you hear from me I’ll most likely be down past the famous Ait Benhaddou, (watch Gladiator and Alexander for scenes shot here at this king of Kasbahs) into the desert and beyond…well…after the beyond…there will be no internet cafes found in the Sahara!!!

Outta here like a herd of turtles….