Monday, March 29, 2010

In another city

After one and a half (wait, two and a half) pees in her pants, one sort-of-late train, one bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and numerous other crumbly and lip-smacking snacks, four interesting fellow train-travelers (two French, two Moroccan) and a couple of hours of interesting conversations (more on this later), some contented silence, plus the undulating greens and distant peaks, the flashing striated silt-brown and deep marine-blue of the white-capped Atlantic, the mauve blush of row upon row of tiny fruit trees in gentle bloom, the rush of river beneath the moving train, and before all that the carpets of orange and scattered-yellow and poppy-red of the lush-lush green hills between Marrakech and Casablanca—it was a dramatic sun-splashed green plunge of a trip all the way into twilit Fez.

And today was another day—from Fez to Volubilis and its Roman ruins, briefly to Moulay Idriss (we drove through, that’s all), lunch in Meknès, home to the riad in Fez. We met a Canadian couple at the table beside ours at lunch that said (eye-brows raised congenially but a little doubtfully at Hazel), “How old is she?” and then, “How has it been traveling with her?” They’d left behind three boys, all under age 8, first time ever. Then, a little while later, Hazel peed in her pants. Our room at the riad is festooned with small socks and small undies, now clean and drying. The tagine was extraordinary (tenderest chicken, potatoes, and little half-moon’d carrots swimming together in richly-flavored juice)—especially delicious after a morning spent dustily climbing around Volubilis and following Hazel’s lead here and there among the yellow jackets and the roped-off mosaics, up the steeply-pitched stone steps and down the two thousand year-old cobbled ways. (The size of the city, its scale—the distance from one side of the road to another, the width of a doorway, the size of a room—felt intimate, human.)

It feels like we slip easily, in some ways, into the role we (Westerners) are meant to play here—or most often do. A guide drove us through our day. There was a moment (when we pulled over for the first time and Hazel headed straight up the flower-strewn hillside and I looked back down to Imad smoking and looking at the map and waiting for us to finish our moment) where in a flash I recalled the scene out of A Room With a View: the insouciantly innocent Miss Lucy Honeychurch goes back to ask the strapping Florentine guide if he might direct her to where, on the vast verdant hillside, the gentlemen might be picnicking. She finds him drawing deeply and sensually on his hand-rolled cigarette, supine in the sun. Today there was none of the sexual undertow of a Merchant-Ivory production, just the weird feeling of being guided. We’ve never done this before. I catch myself watching myself (watching us) navigate.

It’s a little ways into tomorrow—the day we are set to follow the Lonely Planet’s exhortation to just get lost in the Fez Medina. The guide we’d scheduled for the morning (who receives extraordinarily high billing from every corner) called to push back our rendez-vous into the afternoon. (We speculate, over chocolate and cookies and bourbon—Hazel asleep, that he must have had a higher-paying gig that wasn’t the doing-a-favor-for-a-friend variety, as in our case.) So first we get lost and then we get guided. The night sounds drifting in the window have quieted—earlier there’d been drum-beating and people smoking and talking beneath our single window; then the occasional passers-by, their footsteps on the cobbles keeping time to conversation; later a hand-cart rumbling on. Now nothing—darkness and real silence. Time for sleep to happen.

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