Thursday, March 11, 2010

Notes from the Iberian Coasts (part quatro): Rock the Kasbah

After our absolutely amazing day in Barcelona, we docked in Alicante for the morning before hightailing it to North Africa. And after feeling downright almost kind of maybe proficient in Spanish while haggling with a painter on the streets of Barcelona, I was pumped and looking for any excuse to use my Spanish again in Alicante.

As we walked around, I read every sign aloud. "For rent," "caution wet paint," "If you lived here in Alicante, the beach would be your playground," "HALF OFF ALL SHOES!" while wondering how atrocious my accent actually was. Was I perhaps comparable to my Slovakian brother-in-law (that's a story for another day), who speaks perfect English, with a somewhat strong trace of an accent? Or did I more closely resemble the Russian kids who work on the boardwalk down the shore who say things like, "for you to like an sprinkle on your ice cream?" I was betting on the Ruskies.
Anyway. Amidst all the castle exploring and street walking and sign reading, what I really wanted to do was order a cerveza one last time while I could still use the word cerveza inside a bar and not sound like a total douche bag.

Me: B, let's get some beers.

B: It's nine o'clock in the morning.

Me: We're on vacation! Plus, it's raining, and what else do you do on vacation when it's raining?

B: In Europe? Oh, I don't know, explore an ancient castle? Visit centuries-old cathedrals? Check out a city park?

Me: But it's my last chance to not sound like an asshole!

B: I don't know what you're talking about, but I'm pretty sure you left that station a loooong time ago.

Touche, husband, touche.


The next morning, the clouds were gone, the sun was streaming through our cabin window, AND WE WERE IN AFRICA. I think you know where I'm going next ...

It's hard to describe Tangiers without using mundane words like incredible, breathtaking, and at times mindblowing. But, um, like, it was. Tangiers was an assault to the senses, emphasis on ASSAULT.
As we wound our way through the dizzying streets of the city's kasbah, men and young boys would pop out from dark doorways and around corners, pressing leather belts, tin trinkets, and Chicklets in front of your face. Five euro, one euro, for you good price, ten euro. Naturally, my blond hair and our white skin was a magnet for hawkers of every sort of ware, who don't take no for an answer, hoping their insistence would finally put a few euros in their pocket. It was exciting and eye-opening and, at times, exhausting. Aaaand I just can't help myself ...

Our time in the kasbah was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. The sites, sounds, and smells of the outdoor markets, the streets so narrow it would have been a squeeze for three people to walk down side by side, the colorful doors leading into unimaginable homes, the communal water spigots for washing dishes and clothes, the poverty, the color, the desperation, the beauty, the sweat.

We spent most of the day with our group who had hired a local guide for the day, which turned out to be an invaluable history lesson. With our guide, we were given the best of the streets and a sense of relative security, despite essentially walking around with a flashing neon TOURIST sign around our necks. And without him, we'd probably still be walking up and down the labyrinth of the kasbah streets, lost, dirty, and doing horrible, unspeakable things for a scrap or food or a few euros.

In the markets, olives came in every color and flavor, and skinned chickens hung from hooks above our heads, which firmly cemented my vegetarianism in my head.

With a little free time to walk around the old city ourselves, B and I decided to test our bargaining skills and bring something home uniquely Moroccan. Should we get a vase? Maybe a handmade ceramic bowl? A candle holder? A small child and baby donkey? I was pushing for the small child baby donkey thing, but that could have been such a hassle in customs. So thanks a lot, America.

As we browsed one shop's selections, we were quickly ushered up the back stairs where it was possible we would either be

a) swindled into buying something cheap for a lot of money (gah forbid)
b) bound, gagged, and sold into the sex slave industry (meh, could be worse)
c) invited for mint tea (orgasmic)

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending) it was d) none of the above. The shop owner wanted to show us how he made their rugs. Upstairs was a giant wooden loom with a half finished rug. And then it dawned on us. How AWESOME would it be to bring home a rug? Oh you like that? We got it in Morocco. NO BIG DEAL. Oh you just spilled wine on my rug? THAT'S FROM MOROCCO, YOU ASSHOLE.

And this is where the fun began. We haggled and haggled and refused his prices, and even went so far as to walk down the steps and out of the shop when the shopkeeper chased us down and finally offered the rug for 300 euros less than what he said he refused to go below. THAT'S WHAT I CALL A HAGGLE, BIATCH.

So B and I walked back to the bus with a giant carpet under B's arm and a sense of triumph clouding our heads. We. were. awesome. It was exhilarating. I wanted to haggle like that every day!

On our way out of the kasbah, a young boy spotted B out of the crowd and latched on for dear life, trying his damnedest to sell him a small wooden camel. And for a good 20 minutes, this is all we heard: one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro come on man one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro one euro.

He never even stopped for breath. It was impressive. Tugging on B's arms, thrusting the camel into his face. I'm still surprised all that effort didn't work, 'cause that's usually exactly how I get B to do something too. Pick up your dirty socks pick up your dirty socks pick up your dirty socks pick up your dirty socks pick up your dirty socks pick up your dirty socks GAHDAMNIT PICK UP YOUR DIRTY SOCKS BEFORE I STAB YOU IN THE JUGULAR. That's what the kid was missing: the stabbiness. Gotta step it up, kid.

And when we finally made it back to the bus, we dropped into our seats, put our bags down, and let out a long contented sigh, when B turned to me, face pale, eyes gaunt, gripping my arm and was all, "that boy will haunt my dreams. I see him whenever I close my eyes. I hear him. My dreams. My dreams."

So yeah. I got an authentic, hand-made silk and cashmere rug and B got a new Freddy Krueger. It was an awesome day.


Becky Mochaface said...

Yeah, the "I got that rug from BED, BATH AND BEYOND ASSHOLE" response to someone spilling wine on it just doesn't have quite the same ring.

Deidre said...

picture of the rug please?

amalavita1 said...

OK, I'm reading your post to the awesome background music of Toto (VERY nice touch BTW). Too funny! I laughed so loudly at the end (nightmare analogy) I actually quickly looked around before I realized I was alone, wearing my bathrobe at my own computer....

Nose in a book said...

Yup, sounds amazing as expected. Morocco has been on my list of places to visit for YEARS. Must work harder on getting TT to agree to it. Glad you had a good time.


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