L’Observateur : More Occo Edition

As you may have heard, there are protests going on throughout the Arab world in the wake of the latest Israeli bombardment of Palestine. These photos were taken out of a bus window in Marrakech as the protesters beat on the side of the bus. The next day, I saw a similar protest in a small town called Skoura. As in America, it is the youth who are taking the lead in the peace movement. Go peace.

The first time I heard the Islamic call to prayer, I was on a rooftop in Essaouira watching the sun set over the harbor. As the call went out from the dozen or so minarets around the city, the sound built to a harmonic cacophony, and I was stunned. Imagine an air-raid siren with a beautiful and ancient melody.

My first reaction to Marrakech was that it reminded me of Bangkok or Mexico City. Street markets, hordes of people, trash, and the stench of carbon monoxide really take you to that special, post-apocalyptic place.

That being said, the specific similarities between Mexico and Morocco are myriad, as their respective development from ancient, native cultures toward modernity is strikingly analogous. Both lie just south of major economic powers who employ them as an affordable default tourist playground. The transport: buses, taxis, and donkeys. The food: beef, chicken, lamb, goat, spices, and fresh fruit. The topography: beaches, mountains, springs, desert, and palm trees. The people: friendly but always looking to fleece you for whatever loose change you might have jangling in your pocket. If it were a foot race to the first world, it would be neck and neck.

Trying to avoid people riding bicycles and mopeds inside the pedestrian section of a medina can be a difficult and harrowing experience, and repeatedly eating mouthfuls of exhaust sucks. In Marrakech, I saw a male tourist get barreled by two teenagers on a bicycle, which carried him about 15 feet after impact before he finally fell backward off the front wheel, which he had involuntarily straddled. It was comical in a violent, “Three Stooges” kind of way.

The Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech is an amazing place with a lot of strange energy. This is the gigantic plaza you see on the tee-vee where they charm snakes and all that. Every evening, a labyrinth of food stalls appears and you can cheaply eat just about anything Moroccan. The best thing I tasted was at the Sheep Head Stand, and it was described to me as “cow tit” if mammary serves.

The orange juice stands are a godsend when you’re eating tons of meat. And it costs a quarter.

It is nearly impossible to find alcohol in Morocco, and when you do find it, you either feel like you’re at a speakeasy or you just feel ashamed of your white-devil, infidel self for drinking it.

Berbers are called Berbers because the Romans called them “Barbars,” because they thought them barbarous. Personally, I prefer to call them “Boo Bears.” No matter, they call themselves Imazighen or “the free people.” Against all odds, I have taken to their food and their music. They are a genuinely kind-hearted, peaceful people and I quite like them. In a nod to the modern world, I saw a Berber in a jellaba talking on a cell phone with a headset hidden under his pointed hood.

My broken French is getting a workout, as it is the second language of Morocco, although some Moroccans speak a bit of English. It’s exactly like in Lawrence of Arabia when the natives say to him, “English! Welcome!” Except after that they say, “New York?” “Chicago?” And I say “Texas,” and thankfully, I think that they’re not sure where that is.

On a completely unrelated note, how many times a year does “the oldest person in the world” die, anyway? It seems like this is at least the fifth time I’ve seen this headline in the past year.


  1. in a word, Therouxian. Therouxean? great stuff, L'Observateur.

  2. And the word barbarous, i.e., barbarians, comes from the Romans thinking everyone that didn't speak their language (so, include the Gauls, the Germans, the Monghuls, and what have you) just sounds like they were saying "bar, bar, bar," which is sort of like our "blah, blah, blah." So, basically, they are blahblahians. Seriously. -- KVS