Friday, February 12, 2010

He can make beggars wave

posted Sun, 31 Jul 2005

So what is Rabat like?

Well, for one thing, the weather is perfect. So far, it has been in about the mid-70s every day, and then cool in the evening. It is dry and sunny. The city is clean. It does have a tiny bit of that generic third-world look, with some cinder-block construction, but is saved by the fact that the Phoenicians and I think the Romans (I don’t have the guide book with me) had settlements here hundreds of years ago. And, of course, the Berbers, who are not to be confused with those upstarts, the Arabs.

This is one of the old forts around the city. I think it’s the one we saw yesterday.

There is an old city, Salé, which is where some Andalusian pirates had a settlement for a while. They would set sail in their corsairs and make their raids. They would also lure merchant ships into the bay and trap them on the sandbar. That sandbar later proved to be the demise of Rabat as a commercial center. The big ships couldn’t come in here, so Marrakech became the big port.

Rabat is described as Washington, DC, Marrakech as New York. That’s a nice way of saying that Rabat can be boring, I suppose, although I lived in Washington DC. I never thought it was boring and you couldn’t pay me enough to live in New York.

In the souk, you will see spice vendors selling spices out of open bags like this. The fragrance is divine.

Some of the women cover their heads with a scarf, some wear see-through blouses. Some men wear the traditional gowns, some wear khaki shorts. You see the men sitting outside at the cafés – women sit inside. Apparently, the call to prayer is broadcast, but we are not near enough to a mosque to hear it. You can buy beer at the Marchan (the hypermarché), but it costs an arm and a leg – which is why Megan and Steve get theirs at the Embassy commissary. I haven’t seen any movie theaters or video stores, although satellite dishes seem to be pretty common.

Megan was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya; Steve was a volunteer in Chad. They look at Rabat and tell me, “This is not Africa.” The phones work here. You can flush the toilet paper. You can drink the water. There are roads. It is clean.

On most neighborhood streets, you can find a small greengrocer. The produce is delicious. Not as pretty as the produce in the US, but it tastes really good.

The king is a direct descendent of Mohammed (or so he claims). His family has been ruling the country for centuries. When he leaves the palace, he travels in a modest entourage – only one or two motorcycles. Steve said that in Uzbekistan, the president would pretty much shut down the entire city when he wanted to travel. He would have several limousines and entire motorcade. We decided that it was difference between old money and new money.

My favorite – the hand of Fatima, the daughter of the prophet. You see these all over Spain and Italy as well.

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