Tuesday, January 17, 2006

La vie au Maroc

We took the 30-minute ferry ride across the strait from Algericas in Spain to Ceuta...also in Spain. It's a little Spanish enclave in Morocco that people use to avoid having to arrive in Tangier. And that's what we did. Avoided Tangier. After waiting in the passport check line for several hours behind a bunch of truly cracked out French hippies, we managed to get a grand taxi to take us the two hours south to Chefchaouen, a little town in the Rif mountains.

Riley sat in the front seat, and made friends with the driver, who pretty much ignored the existence of the women...me and Bianca. It got dark pretty fast, and then started raining hard. The taxi, it turned out, did not have windshield wipers. The driver stopped at a gas station, and bought some mint tea for himself and Riley. He then started smoking some kif, which he also offered only to Riley. Basically, this is how it went down: Stoned taxi driver driving too fast on dark mountain roads, blinded by a wet windshield, drinking mint tea and taking his eyes off the road for minutes at a time to look for some cassette that he wanted to play for Riley. I'm still vaguely surprised we made it to Chefchaouen alive.

Chefchaouen is striking. When you first get there, it feels like you've been transported into a real-life George Lucas set. All the buildings are made out of this white plaster. You see almost no women in the streets, and most of the men wear long woolen robes with tall pointy hoods. There are mules being led through the streets, and chickens and stray cats everywhere. It's low season, cold and rainy, so there were almost no tourists in town. Being the only tourists is kind of cool, but I was thinking how great it would be there in the spring. When it's warmer, you can get a guide and do a couple days' trek in the mountains. It's beautiful open countryside, and you can get to isolated little Berber villages. And see the shit-throwing Barbary apes that we missed by skipping Gibraltar.

The first night we were there, we noticed the Moroccan flags everywhere. The next day, there were more flags. The day after, they were hanging portraits of King Muhammed VI all around the central square of the medina. Everyone seemed really excited. It turned out that the king was scheduled to make his first ever visit to the town, the day after we were planning on leaving. We decided to try to stay (the king is young and cute...and he's the king), but our hostel was closing. For security reasons the whole medina would be closed off for the king's visit.

So we had no choice but to leave our mountain paradise and take the bus four hours south to Fès. Which is where we are now. I hate it. You get to the medina, and people just swarm you, trying to get you to eat in their dirty restaurant, stay in their shitty hotel, buy their ugly knockoffs... And there's a real mean spirit to the hassling. It's like not only do they want your money, they also really don't like you much. You ignore them, and they call you racist. "Hitler is dead, you xenophobe." Fun fun. Riley and Bianca are both sick, so I spent the day touring by myself. I decided to check out the "new" (14th-century) medina, which is smaller and supposed to be less hassle. It's also where the mellah (Jewish ghetto) was. So I spent two hours getting lost with people calling at me, looking for the synagogue. I finally found it (through a coffee shop, down a dark alley). It was this little wooden doorway, with a man sitting smoking in the front, the caretaker I guess. It was mid-afternoon. I asked him politely for a tour. He looked me up and down, and just said "No. Closed." I asked when it would be open, and he said that he didn't know about later, just that it was closed now. I went back to the hostel and hired a guide for tomorrow. She'll take us around, and then we're hightailing it out of here. Next stop Meknès.

Traveling Spain

Since I haven't updated at all since leaving Milan, and since I type very slowly here (awful French keyboards!), the very abbreviated version of my two weeks in Spain.

Madrid: Awesome. Got to hang out with Christina. I love big cities, and Madrid is so liveable. There's not much in the way of tourist stuff, but there are great museums, and it's a fun city to just walk around and chill in. Great tapas and good clubs and lots of shopping. For New Year's everyone dresses up in wigs and body paint and green Santa hats, then gets drunk and hangs out in Plaza del Sol. After midnight, the crowd leaves the plaza to go run around the streets shouting and dancing and partying. Really good times.

Toledo: Got to see all the El Greco I could want. So also awesome.

Valencia: This is a horrible, disloyal thing to say, but Valencia is the cool kids' version of Bologna. Hip medieval college town. Lots of orange trees. Good paella. Good music. Nice people. Two thumbs up.

Grenada and Sevilla: I was horribly sick for both, so I basically didn't leave the hostel in either city. It pretty much really sucked. I did manage to drag myself to the Alhambra, which was gorgeous.

Conclusion: Spain is really really cool when you don't have the flu. I am going to learn Spanish when I get back to Cal.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Back from Berlin, Goodbye Bologna

So lack of posting aside, December has been a pretty insane month so far. I turned twenty, which is cool. Hopefully now I'll feel the need to lie about my age a little less often. Then the day after my birthday I took off for Berlin for a week. The trip was a last-minute decision, and I'm really glad I went. I don't know what I was expecting, but especially coming from Italy (which can, on days when I'm feeling frustrated, seem like a beautiful but static relic frozen in time) Berlin just seems so modern and full of life. My German was a complete bust, but I had a great time walking around the city, taking in the gray sky on gray concrete aesthetic. And at night, after your chosen wurst, you can walk along some deserted street until you hear a telltale rumbling under the sidewalk, enter some abandoned-looking building, and find a raging club playing some kind of undanceable music downstairs. It's just awesome.

Oh, and the other thing about Berlin...they are obsessed, yes obsessed with Christmas. Christmas markets, Christmas trees everywhere (even on top of Checkpoint Charlie!). But then I got back to Italy, and found that Christmas had hit Bologna too. They put up a two-story high tree in front of the Palazzo Comunale, and every store window (even the posh D&G window!) is filled with different kinds of panforte (Christmas fruitcake). On Sunday, they staged a huge nativity play on the steps of the city's main church, San Petronio. It was a big budget affair, complete with live donkeys, professional lighting, and hundreds of extras. Mary sang Jesus a lullaby in Yiddish. And at the end, when the main priest came to give the closing speech, a bunch students made the obligatory loud Marxist protest ("Drugs are bad for children!" Opium especially I guess?) I can see how all the Catholic stuff can feel overpowering at times, but seriously, I give the protesters five minutes against the evangelizing minions of Berkeley Campus Crusade for Christ. They wouldn't stand a chance.

And now I'm in Milan, for my very own Italian Christmas with my relatives. I am staying with my cousin's mother-in-law, who since I arrived last night has not left the kitchen. She is making four types of ravioli from scratch, and is busy on all the fillings. It makes me tired just watching her, but I predict good things, very good things, for Christmas dinner.

After Christmas, me and my backpack are hitting the road again. I'm meeting up with Christina in Madrid for New Year's, and then I'm going to meet two other friends and do southern Spain and MOROCCO. Ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar! Singing along with "Marrakesh Express"...on the train to Marrakesh! It's going to be sweet! I'll update along the way.

Buone feste everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It Turns Out I'm Not Dying

I was really sick last weekend. Really really sick. And I couldn't sleep. And so I was awake one night at about 5 in the morning and decided to go watch TV. And so I walked into the living room, and saw two surprising things.
1. CNN was on public TV.
2. My housemate was watching CNN on public TV.

This is surprising for two reasons.
1. It's Italy.
2. Said housemate speaks, by generous estimates, about five words of English.

1. Every morning from 4-6 a.m. Channel 7 airs CNN.
2. That morning CNN was airing a special on avian flu, and the language of men in space suits slaughtering chickens is universal.

My housemate thought that it would be really funny to try to convince me that I was dying from avian flu. And since I was under the influence of
1. cough syrup
2. flu medication
3. lack of sleep
I believed him.

But it turns out that he was wrong. Because I am now well on my way to being completely cured...just in time for TURKEY tomorrow.

Two other exciting tidbits.
1. It's SNOWING!!
2. An UNDUBBED version of "Goblet of Fire" will be playing ON MY BIRTHDAY at the Cinematheque!!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

As For Scalito

I sincerely regret my snarky comments about Harriet.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Viva lo sciopero!

For the last two weeks, my department, Lettere e Filosofia, has been occupata. There is a big nationwide university strike going on, and although everyone is enthusiatic, no one can seem to agree what it's over (choices include: budget laws being debated in parliament, changes being made to conform the Italian degree/credits system to EU standards, the war in Iraq, America and the bad things America does and the bad way Berlusconi is helping America do those bad things, the results of the recent leftist-coalition primaries, etc.)

Strikes here, unlike strikes in the US (or at least at Cal) are not supposed to be announced, and I found out about this one when I decided to go to class one day. I got to my department, saw the 15th-century palazzo covered with red spray paint (hammers and sickles, commie slogans, random obscenities, etc.), and beheld my professor standing on the steps, jacket collar dramatically turned up, delivering a passionate contro lo stato speech to my mesmerized classmates. At the end of his shouted manifesto he announced that he was cancelling class that week, in solidarity, and that next week class would be cancelled too because he would be decamping, for a much-needed break, to his country home outside of Parma.

My department, as well as being one of the largest in the university, is also one of the most centrally located with respect to the Zamboni bar scene. So if you pass it at around midnight or one, you will see a festa in the house. The doors are wide open and there are hundreds of students milling around, shouting, singing, playing the guitar, drinking, smoking all manner of things, writing on the walls, and generally just chilling and having a wholesome good time.

The jolliness of such absolute chaos was at first hard for my rigid Anglo mentality to accept, but the bottom line is...great parties and out of five weeks of class, at least two and a half are cancelled. When I get back, I'm calling for Dwinelle to be occupied at least once a semester.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

From Dallas City Council to the Supreme Court

I'm still suspicious of John Roberts, but Harriet Miers is just downright embarassing.

As BuffaloWings&Vodka says, "I'd rather just let Clarence Thomas vote twice."

Thursday, September 29, 2005


It's official, no cold nights on Zamboni for me! And DeLay indicted too! Two miracles in 24 hours! Some serious Ave Masantosomethings are in order.