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Friday, February 21, 2014

Marrakech and life's contradictions

Who could ever describe Marrakech.

Historic: Once a fortified city The Medina (the old city) has surrounding walls dating back to the 12th century with thousands of holes which look like places to poke a rifle. In fact the holes are left by the scaffolding used during construction. Beautiful at any time of day, we found that both sunset and evening are quite spectacular with the light and shadow play.

Frantic: The absolute chaos of the Souk deserves its own chapter. Known as the busiest square in Africa, it is both beautiful and abrupt. We saw a true variety: from sellers of tires to scarves to ceramics. Men who pull teeth,  painlessly they say, without anesthetic or any particular disinfectant. The tannery, so huge it apparently requires a guide. Snake charmers who along with their snake held loosely in hand may brush up against you as you pass. Guys placing monkeys on your back. Literally. Like I need another monkey on my back.  Spices and nuts and dried fruit with tantalizing scents. Nearly toothless sellers of beautiful pashminas, (maybe they visited the tooth pullers?) willing to bargain with a smile. Everything seems to be negotiable.

Confused: Our visit did not start well, with a taxi driver who took us to the Souk and dropped us at the automotive supplies area for some strange reason. He then reappeared and drove us in the exact opposite direction. Then dropped us back at the automotive section when my friend threatened or perhaps attempted to leave the moving vehicle.

Calm: Our crazy visit to the Souk was followed by the utter peace of the hotel Mammounia. A palace. A casino. An oasis.

Average: Dinner Saturday was at Le grand Café de la Poste. Very cool atmosphere. Good service. The mostly French food looked very good, but our tagine was barely average; pretty sure it was never actually baked, just some fish and shrimp stirred into some tomatoes. I have to say the very good local Sauvignon was the best part of the meal.

Over the top beautiful: Les Jardins de Majorelle: oh my! Beautiful warm colors all the way to vibrant blues (oh the blues) yellows and reds.
More fun when shared

In what feels like a jungle
the beautiful cacti

Insulting the cactus
who refuses to be wounded

Inspiration for Yves Saint Laurent
Fascinating: Sunday after our visit to Les Jardins de Majorelle we re-entered The Medina, first passing a very poor cluster of dwellings each with a satellite dish, then walked a long way though the neighborhoods in all their diversity. Our second experience with the Souk was much more successful, and we wondered if it was actually different or if only we had changed. A very special walk around the Medina walls in the cold ended briefly at The Red House, a beautiful hotel and restaurant, worth seeing but not in line with our wants for the finale. We went back to The Hotel Mammounia for a delicious cocktail in a beautiful setting surrounded by beautiful people and warm smiles.

Unpredictable: All set against a backdrop of surprising weather: 20 and sunny on Saturday, and actually sunburn inducing. Cool and rainy on Sunday, requiring us to bundle up. Didn't see that coming.

Maddening: Just a mention that a step back in time may sound charming in a brochure but may not feel so good in reality. Skinny old donkeys hauling heavy loads. Men who would as soon walk over top of you as step aside. Men on motorcycles and women walking. And of course you know about the attire for women, no matter the weather.

Incomprehensible: A man taking a photo of his wife in full burqa. I wonder if either of them will recognize her in the picture. Perhaps he is delighted by her beauty as long as no other man looks upon her.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Criminal Element

I recently broke the law.

Although I have been known to bend a few rules, I do not typically run into the true criminal element. In Switzerland, known for its - shall we call it orderliness- it is apparently easy to break a law, especially if you do not know it exists.

My recent business trip to Zurich was the setting for this adventure. As is so often the case I was at the airport, going through security, which is sometimes problematic for me. See Bullies not Welcome Here. This time though I was feeling confident. My liquids were in their 1 litre see through zip lock bag. My laptop and iPad were exposed in their individual bins. Shoes and belt off. What could go wrong?

Something. That's what could go wrong.

My computer bag was shuffled off to THE OTHER BELT.
You know the one they reserve for BAGS WITH SUSPICIOUS ARTICLES INSIDE.

Security Person: Do you have a laser pointer in your bag?
Me: Yes
Security Person: Please open your bag.

From this point on things got weird. They took my laser pointer and pointed it  various things. Then a supervisor appeared and took my laser pointer away. He returned and asked for my passport, which he also took away. The next person to approach me was a police officer.

Officer: Is this your laser pointer?
Me: Yes I believe it is. Is there a problem?
Officer; Yes why did you want to carry it on the plane?
Me: No reason. It was in my computer bag. I was using it this week during some training sessions.
Officer: Do you know the level of this laser pointer?
Me: No
Officer: Laser pointers are illegal in Switzerland, so I must confiscate this.
Me: Or we could just put it in my checked luggage since it is not illegal in any other country.
Officer: Please come with me.

For the next hour at the police station I was challenged by a very unpleasant police officer who asked me questions about passport stamps, dates of arrival, and then told me if I was unable to speak German it was not his fault if I did not understand everything he asked. Okay, no argument at all coming from me, which seemed to infuriate him even more. He then said sarcastically that if I could not speak German perhaps I would prefer French. I answered him in French that that would be perfectly acceptable as a compromise.

Get this: he rolled down his jacket sleeves, turned and walked away, tossing a casual a casual "Let her go" over his shoulder to a colleague.

I was free.

What did I learn?
Stay calm. Know your rights. Try not to piss of the Swiss police by questioning their questions about a trainer carrying a laser pointer.
Or maybe in this case I learned nothing at all. But he turned me loose!