Friday, February 25, 2000

Casablanca, Morocco

Each morning, a thick blue-gray pall rises above the jammed streets and a stupendous din of car horns, diesel engines and whiny two-stroke moped builds into one continuous celebration of unmuffled internal combustion. While trucks and buses clog the streets, taxis, scooters and bikes all weave through the maze. Pedestrians cross at random and are clearly at the bottom of the food chain. It takes only a little while to figure out all the people on crutches.

Morocco has long hosted travelers and tourists. After the French were sent packing after independence, Paul Bowles and fellow Beat Generation writers descended on Tangier, and were duly followed by hippies stumbling though Marakesh in a pot-induced haze. Thirty years of package tourists in bad shorts and worse haircuts have followed, leaving a landscape littered with carpet shops, Coke signs and legions of sharp-eyed touts in pirated Nike wear. But oddly enough for such a tourist destination, just about everyone hates cameras. Both religious and cultural traditions frown upon recording a human likeness, though hospitality also remains one of Morocco's most distinctive national traits. You just never quite know which one will be encountered in any given situation.

After a few days, I feel like a jittery rodent in some sadistic Skinner Box experiment. The rat raises his camera…and he's embraced as a brother, invited home for dinner and offered full liberties with the family livestock. The rat raises his camera again and…. BWAAAAAAA!!!!! 8500 volts of righteous Arabic fury, with even the sheep baring teeth and hurling epithets.

No wonder my hair is falling out.

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