Friday, March 26, 2010


Two weeks ago I went to Morocco, specifically the cities Tetuan, Tangier, and Chefchaouen. I went with a trip program over here because I thought it might be dangerous to be an American in a Muslim country who doesn't know Arabic, but the whole trip ended up being completely safe, if not involving a lot of tourist traps. Just to keep everyone on the same page, Morocco is on the Northwest corner of Africa just across from Spain.

We crossed the Straights of Gibraltar in a ferry that really wasn't much for views due to the fog...

and then took a short drive to Tetuan, where we spent the first night. I was surprised to find out that the countryside of rolling, rocky hills interspersed with largely white towns and villages was not so different from southern Spain.

Although I will say that everything being in Arabic makes things a bit different...

After about 7 total hours of travel, it was nice to retire to my hotel room, which I had to myself, and must say was really really nice.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but beforehand I thought the whole Muslim-law thing would really make Morocco a foreign world of sorts, but as you can see from the view from my balcony, it at least appears pretty normal...

Our dinner the first night was curry chicken, much spicier than I'm used to, but it was really good. Since this was the first trip I'd taken without my buddy Mark, I was a little out of whack trying to fit in socially. I made friends with two girls from Canada who were really cool, and also with some girls from Appalachian State who although can't be as cool since they're not "foreign" were still great company. But I spent the first dinner talking with our spanish guide Maria, who is 33 and looks 23, and is incredibly nice. Although she may have chosen to talk with me out of pity, I'd like to think she knew that I'm down to talk in spanish, which we did, and I must say I felt pretty cool being the only American making an effort.

After dinner, I watched some news in Arabic, and went to bed. I must say, I think we're way more conditioned than we think because even though you know you're just watching normal news, when that ticker starts scrolling right to left and Arabic music fades in from the background, it's hard not to at least feel a little uncomfortable like you're watching a terrorist internet leak.

The next morning, we headed out to see Tetuan, which is a city of around 320,000 inhabitants. I can't say the city is beautiful, but it's definately not dirty like my preconceived notions had me believing. There are Moroccan flags literally everywhere because while we were there, they were preparing to host the Moroccan king for a week or so.

Though Tetuan is certainly modern, we visited the old Jewish quarter (I swear the Jews have literally been forced out of every place they've ever tried to live), and it revealed the old market style living where there are specialty vendors for everything.

We first visited a spice market where they let us sample all their herbs and spices which are used equally for cooking and health. For example, ginseng is a popular spice, but they also believe (not that we don't have the same ideas) that it will clear your blood and give you energy. Smelling all their samples was great, but it did turn into a sale by the end where they were flat out asking you what you wanted to buy. Needless to say, I bought some saffron (which is the royal spice of Morocco and is about 10 times more expensive in the States), and also some magic lipstick which turns from green to red when you put it on. This was for my sister, of course.

The spice market:

Here's a stand for dried fruits and nuts:

And lastly, a silk store with any color you could imagine:

Our guide, Mohammed, had a woman dress one of the girls in the traditional Berber attire, but sadly there wasn't ever a display of the men's dress.

Next we went to a house of tapestry, which is a luxury good in Morocco. Although there are women who weave the tapestries inside, most are done up in the mountains in the surrounding areas where women spend up to a couple months working on one carpet (carpet doesn't really do it justice).

The tapestries were very elaborate and the men who explained the process and revealed to us the hallowed rugs were very suave, but I just couldn't put down 40 euro on any of them.

After a full day of the markets, I was shopped out and ready for a nice sleep. Fortunately for me there was more to see and do, so we got on the bus and started the drive to Tangier, a city of 700,000 people.

Along the way we stopped at the Cave of Hercules, which I think is mostly a man-made tourist trap. However, in the very back there is a beautiful and natural view over the ocean, where waves crash in a mist your camera if you're not cafeful.

At the next stop, I got to ride a camel with my friend Mary. It was a strange ride because camels just lumber very awkwardly. It feels like your sitting in an old fashioned ice cream maker that churns really slowly so you never get knocked around but just bounced around randomly.

After the ride I wandered off to look over the sea and get contemplative...

...and then we met up with the ocean again at the next rest stop, where there were more vendors with cheap goods to show us. (Honestly it's not that bad, just that I have a tendency to be really interested in cheap crap that I usually lose on the way home.)

At our hotel in Tangier, I found another hotel room all to myself, though not quite as luxurious as the hotel of the night before. Nonetheless it had a small balcony, where I sat for an hour or so reading and listening to the rain. It's another strange thing that I expect things like sun and rain to be different in different places around the world, but it's very unifying to directly see that they're the same everywhere. Though the smells of the markets were not always pleasant, the smell of the rain and right after it stopped was fresh and made me think of sitting on my front porch at home, watching it rain and just letting my mind wander.

The room, night 2:

Saturday night I got to experience a Moroccan supermarket with Maria, who didn't want to walk there alone. The supermarket was...just like a Wal-Mart. I mean even down to the organization it was exactly the same. The only difference was very loud techno music that was playing everywhere, which made a nice contrast with the relatively old crowd.

Later that night Maria took us to the discoteca, which was adjacent to our hotel. It took me around 10 seconds to see that it was the oddest nightclub I'd ever been to; live Arabic style music mixed with hip hop type beats and a crowd of men all wearing 70's style suits that mixed John Travolta with Al Pacino. Saw a lot of chest-hair that night, that's for sure.

The next morning, we took a bus through the mountains to the small city of Chefchaouen. The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and quickly shattered any stereotype I had of Muslim countries being deserts.

An important side-note taken from a rest-stop bathroom: this should never be considered a toilet...

Chefchaouen is a small city up in the mountains that's absolutely beautiful and known as the "city of blue" because it's blue. They paint the walls blue instead of white because it's easier on the eyes when the summer sun beats down on them. We had the funniest little guide who kept snorting pepper off his thumb (seriously, pepper), and saying it was for his sinuses. It's not a stretch for me to believe that would clear 'em out but there's gotta be an easier way, in my opinion.

After seeing the city that made me think of CandyLand, we headed to the coast, caught a ferry, rode a bus back to Sevilla, and about 10pm I walked into the apartment to greetings of "Dolores! Dolores! He came home! The Moors haven't taken him!" Apparently older generations of Spaniards think Morocco is a little dangerous.

All in all, great trip. Would not want to live in the cities there but the countryside is beautiful and all the people were incredibly nice to us. We didn't come across anyone who didn't have a good command of English, and I was surprised at how normal everything was. The one thing I will say is that from the workers in the market to the loiterers everywhere we went, it was apparent that men have a much more social role in the community. I'm sure there's an intricate social web behind closed doors, but it is definately behind closed doors.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Weekly Update

This past week I had my first mid-term on Wednesday, so most of Sunday through Tuesday was spent studying, despite the beautiful weather outside. But late Tuesday afternoon I was burnt out and had to take a walk outside, ending up at the river, of course, to find hundreds of people hanging out in the warm air and fading sun.

Tuesday night Mark, myself, and a few other Americans headed to the Nervion neighborhood to watch Sevilla FC play Moscow in a champions league game, which I don't fully understand, but know to be a very very big deal. Such was evident the moment I stepped onto the metro...

We had a beer in a bar by the stadium beforehand, and I can't even explain how many people, all in red, were walking the streets and chanting "Sevilla". However, we were a little surprised when we got into the stadium that it was pretty empty even 20 minutes to game-time, but it filled quickly, proving that even with their soccer, Spaniards tend to be a little late.

I can't say that the atmosphere was intimidating, but still very impressive. The fans sang probably 4 or 5 songs before and during the game, which was not what I expected. I don't remember much chanting during the game, but there certainly was singing, and we were probably the only people in there that didn't know the songs.

Another interesting note is that the stadium concessions were drastically sub par, and at halftime, everybody, and I mean everybody, pulled out their "bocadillos", or sub sandwiches, that they brought from home. It was as if over the loud speaker the announcer had said, "Okay, it's bocadillo time now".

I loved playing soccer but sometimes get bored with watching it, but I will say that although we were very high up, and behind a goal, it was never boring, and much more intense than I thought it would be.

The game was a good one, although Moscow ended up with the victory, 2-1, and the feeling after the game was overall dreary. Nonetheless, I had a great time, went home and straight to bed.

Wednesday I took my first mid-term, Creative writing and critical thinking, which went really well, and then read a little for my lit class in Parque de Maria Luisa. It was St. Patty's day, so that night, Mark and I went out to a couple bars, one of which we found has a 1 euro special on little sandwiches and mugs of beer every Wednesday, which is nice, and I called it a night early to catch up on some sleep. Yesterday I had my morning Anthropology of Andalucia class and then spent the afternoon studying and walking through parks.

I booked a ferry ride from London to Normandy later in April, which I'm really looking forward to, and I'm trying to plan a trip to Ireland as well.

Lately I've been doing a lot of bonding with Antonio, my senor, and I think he really enjoys talking to me, mostly because I just sit there and listen, and ask a few questions now and then.

The other night we had fish for dinner and Antonio ate 4 fish heads. I asked him about it, trying to explain that we Americans tend not to eat the heads and he said very seriously, "Oh what a shame. I enjoy heads very much. Big ones, the wider the better in my opinion."

And if I want to really get him going I'll just ask about Semana Santa, the holy Easter week here, and he will tell me literally every detail. He's told me the schedule of the processions from each neighborhood (big parades of robed men carrying religious imagery, which march from their neighborhood to the great cathedral in the middle of Sevilla, and then go through other neighborhoods before returning), and he's told me his favorite parts; the great white horses, la esperanza de Triana (a procession that honors Triana's virgin), etc. He also told me a lot about what it was like when he used to take part in that procession; how he played a bass drum (he makes the sounds for me), and sometimes carried a big cross.

In short, he's a really animated story-teller with a lot of life experience to draw from, so I really like listening to him. My favorite thing he does is count things on his fingers. For example, I asked him which of his sons had been in the Semana Santa procession and he said, "All of them of course, we've got uno, Salvador; dos, Luis; tres, David; y the last one, Santiago." And when he's done he looks at me like "yeah I haven't lost all my marbles yet".

I know you're probably thinking it's weird to comment much more on Antonio, but because we talk about it a lot, I need to update you on his health. He's got a bad shoulder, a stomach that's upset if he eats a big dinner, drinks orange juice or coffee, "tension" problems which I think means high blood pressure, and he tells me that's why he eats a lot of fish and drinks wine frecuently, and he also takes medicine for his "nerves", which sounds to me a lot like some mysterious Victorian diagnosis of crazy people.

But I love the guy and hope he stays healthy well past my departure.

That's all I've got to update (other than three days of Paris), and I'm headed to Morocco to take my first steps on Africa. Right now, actually.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Last Saturday, Mark and I decided to go to Gibraltar, the tiny peninsula off southern Spain that is less than 50 miles from Africa. It's four hours by bus ride which meant we spent a lot more time driving than down there, but definately still worth it.

I think largely due to growing up in Missouri, I've always loved the ocean, and I started getting excited at this first glance of it (trust me, it's back there)...

After driving along the coast for a while, we finally saw what the people of Gibraltar call "The Rock", which pretty much is a big rock that makes up every bit of Gibraltar that hasn't been reclaimed from the sea.

In fact, in our tour given by Dave, an Englishman who was everything I dreamed an English tour-guide could be, told us that around 50 acres have been reclaimed from the sea, largely by Dutchmen, who are "jolly ingenious", and to our left we saw the old walls that used to protect the town from the sea, but now sit right in the middle of things.

Here's another interesting fact for you, all of Gibraltar's water comes from desalinating plants, and here's a waterfall that drains the very salty leftovers back to the sea.

Like I said, Gibraltar is basically a big rock, but historically it's been a fortress for the Moors, Spanish, Portuguese, and finally the British, and to hoist the cannons up high on "The Rock", there are these pulley-rings along every street...

There's definately a military feel around Gibraltar, which makes an interesting contrast to the people who live there who tend to be expatriate Brits or Moroccans or Italians, looking to get away. There's a giant 20-ton cannon on the top of the rock, which could easily shoot into Africa, but it's never been fired in anger. Also impressive but completely irrelevant is a 100-ton cannon we passed on our tour, which could fire farther than anyone could see when it was constructed, but takes a half-hour to load and an hour to maneuver. Thus, it didn't take long for the British to realize their prize-cannon was not very practical.

Later, we got to go into St. Michael's caves, which go down right into the heart of the rock, and are very cool, but for all you long-time readers, are absolutely dwarfed by those of Aracena.

Something very cool is that they have a small amphitheater in the caves where they hold concerts and speeches and such.

We then made our way out to a great lookout point with the lighthouse and a view of Africa.

That little piece of land is Africa, Morocco specifically.

Probably the highlight of the trip has to be the monkeys. Gibraltar has about 250 little monkeys living there that most likely came over as sailor's pets from somewhere in northern Africa. Winston Churchill declared once that the British would only leave Gibraltar when the monkeys did, and in the 1950's when the monkey population was dwindling, the British went to Africa and brought over more.

These monkeys are very much used to people always around and if you're not careful, they'll steal your hat/lunch/souvenir, etc.

This last picture also gives you a picture of Dave, our great tour-guide.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The past week or so

Here's a little update of the past week and what I've been doing. It wasn't too busy but it was great to have some time without travel to take in Sevilla and get to know some people here a little better.

Getting home from Paris last week, I was exhausted and spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday catching up on school and sleep.

But Thursday, despite more rain here, was great and I spent the late afternoon wandering around with Mark and our Brazilian and Italian friends, Enrica, Stephanie, and Roberta, who continue to surprise with their willingness to spend time with us. We wandered around the center of town through all (not even close) the narrow streets, had some coffee, and then a couple beers at a little pub, waiting for the rain to die down.

It feels odd in a way saying this with all the new experiences I've had in the last month and a half, but the time I spend with these friends, just talking about life, Sevilla, Italy and Brazil, has been some of the most valuable in terms of personal growth. It's hard to put into words but just learning through experience how to talk to people and what makes us all tick once you strip away the convenient conversation topics like sports, trivial news, etc. I feel like in the past there have been a lot of times where I've just felt bored talking to people, but here I'm constantly reminded of the value in just spending time with people, now that it's not quite as easy.

Later that night I met up with my "intercambia" or basically the one Spaniard my program sets you up with, for the first time. Her name is Paula Prieto Gil and she's a student at the teaching vocational school here preparing to teach english. I went out for tapas (appetizer dinner for all you who are just tuning in), and then to a bar afterwards with her, a friend Luis, and two other Spaniards with their American intercambios. From the Americans I learned that in fact, there are people who live in Rhode Island, and from the Spaniards I continued to be convinced that there's not a single mean-spirited student here. (I think non-students dealing with the "crisis" have a right to be a little cranky.)

It was a great time and Paula's low-cut shirt gave me a night-long exercise on eye-contact, which though painful at the time, makes me feel like a stronger man now.

Friday brought a day free of class perfect for getting a lot of studying done, but unfortunately I used the morning and a large part of the afternoon to play guitar. I'm going to have to limit myself because I'm getting a little better which makes playing more appealing, but once the rain stops I'll probably just bring my guitar out into the city with me, let my facial hair grow out, and play a lot of Cat Stevens (Before he became Yusuf, of course).

Friday night brought Mark and I to our favorite flamenco bar, Carboneria, where we enjoyed a show, and then headed out to the Alfalfa bar district.

The notable thing about Saturday was that I met up with my intercambia again, and went to see "The Men Who Stare At Goats" with her and some of her friends, which as some of you know is written and directed by the Coen brothers. For all of you who saw Big Lebowski and left feeling like somebody must've slipped you some acid, or maybe saw Burn After Reading and couldn't help but be a bit surprised that Brad Pitt was killed off in the first half of the movie, or that George Clooney turned out to be a raging sex addict...Let me just tell you that you have no idea how unbelievably weird a Coen brothers movie is until you see one in spanish with no subtitles. The entire time I could understand a lot of the dialogue, but had the ironic contrast of understanding zero of the plot. I couldn't even fake a conversation about it afterwards other than, "Man that was crazy when the hippie was in the military."

Either the best or the worst part of the experience was that I proved yet again to myself that I am a complete idiot, and in the thirty minutes between buying a ticket and going into the theatre, I managed to lose my ticket like a child. Thus, I paid to see the movie twice.

Sunday night was my "brother's" girlfriend's birthday, so we had a little celebration with a cake and their baby Noelia, of course, who didn't mind being the center of attention.

An interesting thing happened to me Sunday; I spent more than just 30 minutes at a time studying, and actually managed catch up a little bit. The interesting thing is that although I don't study a tremendous amount, the 3-4 hours a week I spend studying seems to dwarf every other American. In fact, in my history class Monday, the image of the US took a a drastic hit when one of my colleagues asked the professor, "What centuries are we talking about?". Considering that the name of the class is "Introduction to Modern Spanish History: 1492-1716", that's just ridiculous.

Tuesday brought a warm day of absolutely incredible sunshine...

And Mark and I spent the late afternoon relaxing at a little bar overlooking the river. The city came alive with people and I can't wait until the weather stays like that.

Earlier in the day, I had lunch with Paula and her friend Cristina, and then Paula and I walked around Parque Maria Luisa, which was very peaceful and even though it is nothing like my house, the sunshine and little ponds made me think about sitting by the lake at my house in late spring, and made me a little bit homesick. But the park was very beautiful and I can't tell you how great it is to have people to explore with.


Now Paula...

And some other sights...

Tuesday night, Mark and I wanted to take it easy so we just went to this little teteria for tea, which was not quite to the level of Granada, but still much better than western teas.

Wednesday night, Enrica (Italian) invited the group over to her apartment again for dinner. Last time: pasta. This time: pizza. We met their friend Henri from Finland, and Nate, a junior at U of Michigan. Nate's spanish was unreal and for the first part of the night, Mark and I felt like neanderthals speaking in grunts and burps in comparison. But like I mentioned earlier, to our astonishment, these girls still haven't realized how lame we are.

We had pizza and some sangria, and then headed out to the discoteca Caramelo. It was a fun time, but I'm honestly a little burnt out on the discoteca scene, though I haven't even been that often. I'm pretty steadfast in my position that trying to sway in a semi-rhythmic manner while dealing with complete and total confusion about what to do with my hands, is not the best way to spend a night. There are very very few guys who don't look like idiots when they are dancing in a discoteca, and those lucky few usually are wearing leather, which I don't have.

Here's a little side-note for you. Wednesday I needed to shave but our hot water here is currently not working. It wasn't a big deal for me to shave with cold water, but Antonio insisted that cold water would not do. So while dealing with the baby, he heated some water for me and although it wasn't necessarily the hardest thing to do, I felt like getting a picture of the hot water to give proof that I'm being very well cared-for.

Another side note, I love walking past this book store every day, in which it would be absolutely impossible to find anything, but is just so quaint. I've been in a couple times just to smell it.

Final side-note: I think the turtles can sense the warm weather coming because lately they've been doing a lot more climbing on each other in an effort to escape their porcelain prison.

Last night I saw yet more flamenco at Carboneria, my favorite spot, and it was an interesting night because a section of the crowd actually got called out by the guitarist for being too loud, ignorant of their art, and implicitly, for being American.

Afterwards, went to the Alfalfa district for a while with my good friends from Mizzou, which was interesting because although my spanish is sub-par by most standards, I know more than my friends, so I served as translator off and on. Ended up hanging out with a group of spanish guys that was really cool, one of whom has a small obsession with the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, which is strange in a region of Spain where snow is viewed with animosity at best, terror at worst.

Today, after breakfasting with Antonio as usual, I did some reading and podcasting in the park of princes near my apartment. It was absolutely beautiful and I couldn't begin to count how many people were out. It was warm, sunny, but with a great Mediterranean wind, and gave a really great taste of what's in store in the coming months.

After lunch, I met up with Mizzou friends and hung out by the river, like we sometimes do. But this time, I finally gave in to what I've been wanting to do for a while, and I brought my guitar. With the sun sinking down over the brightly colored buildings and the Guadalquiver river, surrounded by friends, and playing some music, I could not have been more content. It was a few hours getting in touch with my inner hippie, and though he's from a slightly different genre, I definately could understand the blissful simplicity that inspired John Denver in "Sunshine on my Shoulders".

Enrica met me down by the river just before Haley and Tricia and Nick were leaving, so I kept right on playing. After an afternoon of songs, it was nice to be playing for Enrica both because she is foreign and beautiful, speaking 3 romantic languages, and moreso for the fact that she doesn't know hardly any of the songs I played, and therefore, no clue when I start making up verses.

She wanted a good hang before her flight home to Italy tomorrow morning (for 10 days), so we went to a little bar near the grand cathedral, had a beer and a little tapa. I find myself wanting to say this over and over again, but it's great to both have people to spend time with and talk to, and also to realize the value behind doing so.

Walking home in the cool air, guitar in hand, thinking about the day that was coming to a close, I realized something that a lot of you probably have decided at one point: I want to be forever young. How many times (after this semester), will I get to play guitar by a river in a mediterranean city, with a setting sun, and beautiful, intelligent girls? I'm 21 and at the rare and precious time in my life where I want to be exactly the age that I am. I don't have terribly stylish clothes, six-pack abs, and frankly my hairstyle right now waivers in between marginally acceptable and atrocious, but I never want to lose that spring in my step when I leave my apartment and think, "Yeah, I can take on this world."...It's that idealistic confidence and the fresh eyes that can only come from facing the weight of how many incredible things are right in front of me, and when I was walking home tonight, I couldn't help but think that I could literally fly up into the stars if I felt like it. But like I said, I want to be exactly where I am, so I kept on going until I found Dolores and Antonio singing quietly and folding socks together on the couch. Life is incredible.