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Published: December 18th 2017
Okay, so we’ve made it to Tangier and we’re in the taxi collective
. One interesting aspect of the journey was a police road block where they stopped our cab, asked to see the ID of the other passengers (didn’t care about our blue-eye’d-ID) and… arrested an old man! The passenger next to Steve whispered the word, “hashish,” with breath that itself should be a felony. We still don’t know why they chose him or how they knew to arrest him save his resembling the guy from ZigZag packs.
Once in Chefchhueuen, we were dropped at the curb and, of course, scoped out by locals. Our French had been coming in very handy since the first petit taxi at the ferry dock, and it didn’t hurt here either. With surprisingly non-invasive help from locals, we found a taxi and headed up the long hill into the increasingly blue city.
Once dropped off from that
cab, we were at the gate of the medina – our first medina – and to our delight, it was funky… and cold! Another local (who expected a small tip), walked us to our riad. Now we are in the medina of
the blue city, so named for it being completely fucking blue! Once again we are in an environment where Mr. Marriott and Hilton have thought better of investing, so the selection of accommodations is what they is. The guy who popped us for a buck (or ten of the local currency; dirhams – you’ve got to love an idiot-proof exchange rate) for navigating us to the door of the hotel, assures us that our place, Casa Perleta, is the nicest place in town. Because the hippy movement during the last century in the USA borrowed so much of its aesthetic from Moroccan culture (hanging tapestries from walls, sitting on pillows on the floor… hash), the place could be Ojai. The room is smallish, the bathroom has a bit of the Flintstones in the plumbing fixtures (when you turn off the faucet, it takes to camera and says, “It’s a living.”), but it will suffice. We have traveled long and food is desperately needed. So, with luggage dropped, off we go into the thin blue lines of the medina’s alleys and lanes.
The city itself is nestled into a hillside in the foothills of the Rif Mountains. Chefchaouen actually translates
to, “Okay, you can do graffiti, but it has to be the whole city and it has to be blue.” Actually, it means, “Look at the horns,” in tribute to a message sent to a local orchestra conductor who was intimidated by the brass section. Okay, it’s actually ‘Look at the Horns,’ but because the peak of the mountain above the city reminded some hash-totaled, whack-a-doo of horns. Like all cities with medinas, there’s a city and a medina. The “city” part is an open streets, traffic, etc. just as we ‘Mericans might picture and the medina is a congested, labyrinthine, spaghetti plate of winding alleys and lanes with only a few skinny service vehicles occasionally pressing pedestrians to the walls. It is inside the medina of Chefchaouen that we find the ubiquitous blue. And against this Lewis Carol meets Dr. Seuss, plaster-blasted acid trip of community pride, the shops and residents, both human and feline in almost equal number, pop in color contrast.
This first meal will be kind of pivotal to this trip. We had to face a rather uneasy reality on that subject before leaving Spain, and now the devil must get his due. See, we
have both been (virtually for Julie and totally for Steve, with the exception of a plate of a dear friend’s Moroccan chicken about half a year ago) completely meat free for about six years. We agreed before the trip that, because the meat here is quite literally farm to market to table with nary a fridge betwixt ‘em, and because there would be a scarcity of non-meat nutrition, and because we’ve just come from eating so many of what our friend David calls, “sea bugs,” in Spain, that we would get all carnal with some carne. So, we followed the innkeeper’s recommendation and went to a local tajinery and both ordered lamb. The fork’s trip from sizzling plate to mouth played out in slo mo like the pod in the film 2001 re-mooring. When it finally cleared the vapor lock, it was soft, maybe a bit fatty, and very flavorful. Our stomachs answered the door politely and suggested to the meat that it may be at the wrong address, but it was ultimately admitted. It wasn’t Thomas Keller lamb and it wasn’t irresistible, but it was nice enough. And it fueled us for exploration. Side note; the waiter, who spoke
a couple of languages well enough to take orders and chat a bit, adores California and Cat Stevens (or Islam Jusef as he is now known). Outside note: during our meal, we hear some men approaching singing in Arabic and when we look out the door, pallbearers carting a casket pass up the alley. We hope he didn’t have the lamb.
As we ascend the winding streets we are smiled at, bonjour’d to… and offered hash. This city is the closest to the epicenter of cannabis farming and as production and we receive only pleasant, unobtrusive offers – including one to the visit the farm and check out how it all goes down. Even this hawker is polite when we explain that we’d really love to but we’re in a foreign country and can’t take chances. Every “no” to a hash offer we respond to earns Steve a sympathetic pat on the back.
It’s chilly here as we’re in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, so everyone is dressed warmly. A black man wearing a skull cap and jalaba – basically, a Snuggy with an attached wizard hood, says something friendly to us in English too good to
Steve caught a cold but...
he's feeling better with some mint tea, a warm fire and a local kitty on his lap!
resist. It turns out, he’s Mohammed, from Wouzet, a Moroccan, and Moorish. He’s a tour guide and he’s on the job. His clients are dining or something and he just can’t keep all in great info inside long enough for them to get back, so he spouts off all manner of info that will dot the coming entries. He’s not looking for a tip of any kind; he just enjoys interested people and he’s found them.
The meanders along as we hike up and down and into new alleys. The “real” shopping, meaning groceries and goods for the locals, takes place on market day around the entrance gates to the medina, so we’re just seeing crafts and snacks and stuff. The locals are, almost to a person, welcoming and sweet. It is hard to explain just how against the absurd, government-issue, rich-fuck-servicing hype about Muslim people’s dispositions, they really are. In short, this is a safer, friendlier and far more stable society than the one that produced Trump. Period.
We head back to the same restaurant, Lallas Massouda, where we had lunch for some soup for dinner then pause (paws?) in front of the hotel for a long cuddle session with a nameless cat, then settle in for our first sleep in Africa. As we understand it, in the village, the peaceful village, a few hundred miles south of us, a lion does the same.
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