Saturday, April 17, 2010

2933 Haunted?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"If you owe me money, every unnecessary thing you buy
from the time I lent you money to the time you pay me back, is mine.
If you don't have money to pay me, you don't have money for that."
-- HellHathNoFury --


Something is doing something in a wall, somewhere. It doesn't sound like chewing. It sounds sort of like claws scrabbling, or a wire being wiggled.

It's been going for two days, it's pretty constant, and it's driving me crazy. Scrabble scrabble scrabble. Scrabble. Scrabble scrabble. Scrabble scrabble scrabble.

I can't tell where it's coming from because when I move, it stops, and because ever since the rifle range in my teens, my left ear hears better than the right, so it's difficult to determine direction. Everything always sounds like it's louder to the left. All I know for sure is that it's somewhere in the southern part of the bedroom wing.

I worry about mice chewing through wires and setting the house on fire, although folks have told me that a mouse would be electrocuted before chewing off enough insulation to cause a fire.


Later - crawling around on hands and knees. I'm pretty certain it's in the wall between the den and the hall. If I hit the wall, it stops for a good half-hour. No wires in that wall (relief).

Friday, April 16, 2010

2932 Flowers

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tall people with tons of nose hair should not make fun of short people.


I forgot to mention the flowers in Morocco!

I was feeling a little bad because my daffodils were just starting to bloom when I left, and I knew they'd be past prime by the time I returned. But Morocco made up for it.

Of course there were planters and borders in the cities, and colorful vines spilling over the ancient walls, but the countryside was most spectacular. Fields and roadsides were a riot of wildflowers. Purple, blue, red, orange, yellow swaths. There were so many, and in such large clumps of single types, that it looked like they had been sown by passing trucks.*

At several roadside stops I wandered away from the rest areas to check out the flowers. Many of them were the same as we see along New York roads, but they were more dense. Those I didn't recognize tended to have much larger blossoms than the usual North American wildflower.

As we drove toward the Atlas mountains, I began to see more fields of beautiful red flowers - obviously not planted, obviously wild. They were poppies! I hadn't recognized them from the van because they were much smaller than poppies I'm used to. They were only about 6-8 inches tall, and the blossoms were at most two inches wide, but yeah, they were poppies. I kept thinking of Flanders Fields, and couldn't get the long ago memorized poem out of my head.

A few acres of red poppies, crowded in blossom, is pretty impressive.

* Actually, I suspect that the roadside flowers were sown by grazing flocks, deposited complete with natural fertilizer.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2931 The final straw

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life,
and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence,
is the proof of your moral integrity,
since it is the proof and the result
of your loyalty to the achievement of your values."

-- Ayn Rand --

[Not sure I agree, but it's worth thinking about.]

On the trip, my roommate and I wondered about the real price of the trip. We had made payments directly to the organizer, hereinafter "Her Royal Bitchess", who refused to give out her phone number, and who ignored any emails she didn't want to answer, and who had given us the wrong start date for the trip, and didn't divulge the name of the tour company until after all payments had been made. Keep all that in mind.

After I got home, now having the tour company name and actual dates, I did some research. Roomie had said she planned to do it, but, having no job to catch up on, I beat her to it. This is the email I subsequently sent her:


I don't know if you have checked yet, but if you go to
you'll find our tour. We took the 4-star hotels one starting on 4/3, so click on the red on the left to find the 4-star rates.

The price for the 4/03/10 tour (that's us) is listed as $2099, plus any airline taxes and fees.

We paid $2760, plus the insurance premium.

I sincerely doubt that the airline taxes were $661.


I learned something from this. On future trips, 1) make it clear that changes to itineraries are one thing, shortening of the trip or changes in start date will result in a full refund, and 2) all payments will be made to the tour company, not to the organizer. If the organizer expects to be paid for her efforts, that's ok, but it should be divulged up front.

I am debating whether or not to mention this to others on the tour. I very much want to, but I'm not sure of the social relationships among them and with Her Royal Bitchess, so I hesitate.

2930 Morocco, conclusion, sort of.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"We are fools whether or not we dance, so we might as well dance."
-- Chinese Proverb --


The full set of photos from Morocco is at, with description. Click on the thumbnails at the right to go through them. I apologize for the quality of some of them. I seem to neglect things like light, focus, holding the camera still, you know, those "minor details". Personally, I don't mind, because to me, the photos are not the end, they are just reminders of what's in my head, perfectly clear and in focus.


Before I left, TD&H2, who is from Pakistan, said that I was going to "a rich country", that "everyone there is rich". Actually, the king is rich, and a small part of the population is very wealthy, but the majority of the people are not. The 41% illiteracy rate is partly due to the fact that the children often have to help support the family. We did see a lot of beggars, and out in the agricultural areas, most of the homes are hovels. Of course, much of that may be due to a difference in what we think is necessary, but hey, when the roof or walls have fallen and you're still living there, I doubt that it's all lowered requirements.

There are herds of cows, sheep, and goats, and grazing donkeys and mules everywhere. They graze them wherever there's grass, including along the roads, in medians, in parks. Around here, pasture land is fenced, but not there. The beasties are loose! Sometimes there was a herder and/or dog in evidence, but equally often not. I wondered what kept the animals from wandering away, or into the road, or into neighboring crops.

I've often commented that I find American tourists embarrassing. I believe that when one visits another country, one should show respect for the culture. In most cases, our group was pretty good, but a few of our members did have me rolling my eyes. We had been advised that the Moroccans were very conservative, so we should keep our shoulders and knees covered, and no cleavage, ever. One of our ladies had a "rumpage" problem. Her pants waistline kept dropping in the back, and her T-shirt kept riding up, so she constantly flashed about an inch of rear cleavage. At least she didn't wear thongs. The organizer spent one full day in a strapless tube top dress. What upset me the most, however, was when we visited the Hassan II mosque, and the guide pointed to some carved chairs along the wall, saying that they were reserved for imams who were reading special passages, or teaching special lessons. Several of our ladies not only sat in the chairs for photos, but they were sexy and disrespectful poses - one leg over the chair arm, come-hither smiles, and whatever. I cringed.

I was amused that men greeted each other or said farewell by kissing both cheeks, but women shook each other's hands. I was also surprised at how often men, complete strangers, usually salesmen in the souqs, put their arm around my shoulders in a side hug, or rubbed or patted my back with one hand while showing me something. I don't allow that much touching in my normal American life - not until the second date, anyway!

In the narrow and crowded alleys of the medinas (medina = old section of city), souq stall salesmen would ask where we were from, hoping to strike up a conversation, draw our attention. Over half of our group of 12 was Black, so they'd ask, "English? French?" (apparently American tourists are rare). When we said "American", they'd beam, and shout "Obama! Obama!" with a thumb up. The shout would travel up the alley, with every souq owner giving us the thumbs-up and "Obama" cheer, seemingly forgetting all about selling us stuff.

We heard the five-times-daily calls to prayer from the minarets, and Edr3s(s) told us that Muslims were required to pray five times daily, times determined by the position of the sun in relation to the horizon. So I fully expected to see everything stop for prayers --- but it didn't. Everyone on the streets, the shops, it all went on normally, nobody even paused. One time we passed a mosque in the crowded medina at prayer time, and looked into the mosque, and there were only a few people in there. Odd.

I don't recall seeing a traffic light anywhere. There'd be a six lane street (three each way) meeting another six lane street, and no light. It worked, though. The rule seemed to be that if there was a stopped car anywhere to your left or right when you got up to the line, you stopped and let them through, and everyone took their individual turn, no riding someone else's bumper through. If there were no stopped cars, you kept going. Crossing a street on foot was easy, too, even in the densest traffic. You start crossing, and the cars all stop. It's all like magic. I can't see that system ever working in the "me first, I've got mine" American society.

Back to the rich/poor thing - it seems like either you have everything, or you have nothing. Those who have everything all drive BMWs or Mercedes, I saw very few of any other makes. Everyone else rides a bus, a motorbike, a bicycle, or a donkey. Wide divide.

I'd like to go back to Marrakesh on a shopping trip. Just Marrakesh. Just shopping.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

2929 Back from the trip

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"If two men agree on everything, you may be sure that
one of them is doing the thinking."
-- Lyndon B. Johnson --


I'm back. The Royal Air Maroc plane landed at JFK at about 4:30 pm yesterday, I managed to get out of the airport at 6:30, and got home about 9 pm.

It was an interesting trip. Morocco is such a mix of old and new. Beautiful modern cities with lots of cars, scooters, motor bikes, ... and donkeys! People riding donkeys and driving donkey carts right there in the middle of the traffic.

Most of the Moroccan women we saw were covered, wearing jelabas and head coverings. There were a lot of outdoor cafes, and only once did we see a woman at a table. The linked article says the younger women don't always wear the jelaba and scarf, but about the only women we saw uncovered were tourists. Oh, another thing, North American tourists are rare. Most were Dutch, German, French, or Spanish.

Things are relatively cheap. I ended up buying a lot more stuff than I had planned. The unit of currency is the dirham, about eight dirham per dollar. When shopping, the other women kept asking me "How much is xxx dirham in dollars?" I'd answer, "Divide by 8", and then I'd do the division for them. I finally taught most of them how to do it easily: "Divide by 2, three times, so 1000 dirham is equal to (half once = $500, half twice = $250, half the third time = $125) $125." We got breakfast and dinner with the tour, but had to pay for our own lunch, which usually ran from as low as 25 for a veggie salad (which always included tuna and egg) to 100 dirham for a tagine, which is like a pot roast. Ok, quick now, how much is that in dollars?

Our guide was Edr3s Imam1, a Moroccan of Arab extraction, with fluent english and much patience. (I have replaced an "e" with "3", and an "i" with "1" in his name to make it a little more difficult for others on the trip to find this blog.) Edr3s and me, at the brass doors of a walled royal residence:

Edr3s said that the unemployment rate in Morocco averages about 29%, higher in the rural areas. The king takes care of his subjects, so no one starves. Even though education is free through university, and technically compulsory through 15, the illiteracy rate is 41%. Children often don't go to school because they are needed to help on the farm or in the family business, especially the girls. The language is arabic, but french is a required class in the schools, so most people also are fluent in french, and where there was no english, we used french.

As expected, the woman who organized the trip and I butted heads. She didn't wear a watch (in her words, nobody has ever died because she was late...), and every time! that Edr3s said to be back at the bus by such-and-such a time, she and one or two of her buddies were fifteen minutes to a half hour late. It bugged the hell out of the rest of us and Edr3s ("...the same ones again...") because we didn't have the extra photo or shopping time she blithely took, and over the course of the day, time we could have spent sight-seeing was spent sitting on the bus waiting for her.

It didn't bother her at all, and others hesitated to say anything because many of them work with her or are in other Meetup groups she runs that they want to stay in. I've never in my life met anyone as self-centered as her. Everything was always about her. (BTW, I and several of the others on the trip suspect that we paid for her trip, and shopping. Another woman is going to contact the tour company and find out what the actual cost of the trip was.)

By the end of the week, we were frankly sniping at each other. She cut me out entirely. She and her buddies didn't listen when I spoke, looked away, started talking to each other in the middle of my sentence. Also, I am shy and quiet, soft-voiced, often went off on my own (because my interests are often different and I didn't want to hold other people up, and also because I often didn't feel welcome), and sometimes people see that as standoffishness (is that a word?) and arrogance. One of the other women told me that the others were talking about me and had actually made racial comments about me. Wow. I'm not sure what she meant by that, I asked if they thought I was racist, and she said no. I didn't pursue it, because, as my mother always said, sometimes certain people's opinions of you are worthless. So it doesn't bother me. By the end of the trip, the group of 12 had split into two camps. There were usually 6 at each table at meals, and it became obvious who was "in" with who, and who was kissing whose tail.

Everyone else thought the food was good, but the hotel breakfasts and dinners were buffets, and they always had exactly the same things every time, no matter where we were. I didn't much care for the spices used in everything. However, if you ever have the chance, get the beef with dates, the carrots, the olives, and the yogurt (any flavor). They were all excellent.

The best part of the trip was the souks (shopping areas, a.k.a. souqs) in the medinas (the oldest, often walled, parts of the city). The streets are narrow, lined with shops where you are expected to bargain.

Food sellers-

A street of metal workers -

A residential street in the medina -

The hotel and restaurant bathrooms are modern, but at a roadside stop you might be faced with a squat toilet - a hole in the floor with raised "footprints" on either side to stand on, and a faucet to fill a bucket to flush with. I hate them. You find them in the rural areas of southern France, too. The first time I was faced with one, the hem of my skirt slipped to the sopping floor and stank to high heaven for the next few hours, until I could change. The second time, I managed to keep everything gathered up, but was in such a stressed position I couldn't aim. When I came out, I told Edr3s I hated those things. He said "When in Maroc, do as the Marocans do." I asked if Marocans also piddle on their shoes. (I often cracked him up.) From then on, whenever there was a rest stop, I asked him, "Sit or squat?" If he said squat, I held it.

Leaving from JFK, we had the usual TSA hurdles. Leaving from Casablanca we had Moroccan security. Our carry-on baggage was hand searched something like three or four times, once at each stage - at entering the airport, at passport check, at entering the gate area, and before getting on the plane, they actually took things out and examined them - and we had to go into a curtained booth where we got a pretty thorough pat-down, including a crotch grab (same-sex agent). And yet, it was still faster than at JFK. Many more agents doing it.

Itinerary and some photos tomorrow.


We all had decided to share photos with each other in them, by trading email addresses. The organizer kept putting it off, and then decided that we didn't have to, because we already had the email addresses on notes she had sent us before the trip. I said, "Only if we saved the emails." Her response? "*I* always save all *my* emails."

That's an example of the self-centeredness. *She* always saves all emails, therefore *everyone* does. (In her mind, that's everyone who matters, anyway.) She would not acknowledge that others may have valid reasons for not saving everything that floats by.

(Another woman went around on her own and gathered them. I copied her list, because depending on who distributes it, I might not otherwise get it.)