Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 24

 Sinks, Penises and Chickens

I last left you hanging in the main plaza in Marrakesh, Morocco where the scary guy had just removed the snake from around Mr. Big’s neck.  After that traumatic ordeal, Mr. Big needed a drink.  Getting a beer in a Muslim country is an adventure in and of itself.  You just don’t saunter up to a restaurant and order a wine.

For all of you who are saying that it surely cannot be that difficult, let me just say that, yes, it is.  You’ve got 3 choices.  You either:

a)      are savvy enough to know that you should have cleaned out the Duty Free shop in the airport when you landed,
b)      are staying in a hotel/riad that is not owned by a Muslim and therefore will find you some alcohol if you DIDN’T stock up at the duty free


c)        understand the secret code.  The secret code is Bar versus Restaurant.  If you are out and about and you are seeing signs for restaurants/cafes/bistros, etc., keep in mind that none, I repeat, none of these establishments will serve alcohol.  You must search high and low for a sign that specifically says “bar”.  If you are in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen and many others, you will have to keep searching for that bar sign until you cross a border into a more civilized country.  Get it?

Marrakesh has a fabulous bar, called the Kosybar, and, please note, that I said “a” bar.  It was the only place in the city that I saw in 3 days that served alcohol, but who really needs more than one bar when the one ticks all the boxes, hmm?  Even if you don’t drink, you should really visit just because it is an oasis of calm after a day of chaos in the medina.  That, plus, it is filled with Westerners who all looked shell-shocked, (just like you will), after haggling in the souks and having random reptiles slung around their necks.

The Kosybar sits on the second floor above a wonderful plaza filled with ironmongers.  The middle of the plaza is filled with ladies in burkas selling everything from jewelry to hot cross buns.  Fascinating.  Plus, it is directly adjacent to one of the king’s many, many palaces.  Along his palace walls perch the royal storks inside their royal stork nests which are the size of an 18-wheeler’s tires.  Major picture opportunities.

The first day, we needed this respite after the snake incident.  The second day, we sought out this homing beacon of normality because we had had all we could take of “otherness”.  We spent all day in the souks with a guide, (yes, we resorted to a guide because Mr. Big swore he was not riding on any more scooters with any more Berbers), and we were tired of being bombarded with the sight of animal penises.

I just don’t know what the story is, but the Moroccans leave extraneous parts dangling from their offerings in the butcher shops.  Everything, including fowl, still has its’ genitalia intact.  Or its’ spine.  Or its’ brain.  Say you wanted two turkey legs to cook for dinner.  You go to your local butcher in Marrakech and, voila, there’s your dinner hanging from a hook.  There will be a long, skinny spinal column with no meat attached because Mrs. Achmed from down the street beat you to the breasts.  At the end of the spine are the turkey legs, the turkey butt and the turkey penis.  Yum, I say.  Nothin’ says down-home cookin’ like turkey penis.

While you are in Morocco, you will be constantly bombarded by the fact that you are, indeed, in Africa.  Despite their efforts at westernizing, despite their efforts at cleaning up for the tourists, the locals still have not got the memo.  For example, the movie theater, (the ONE movie theater), will send your westernized brain awhirl.  While I was taking a picture of the crazy juxtaposition of modern movie posters plastered on the side of what can only be called an outbuilding, along comes an older guy into my view finder just a-swingin’ two live chickens upside-down in his skinny fist.  I’m like, dude, really, did you plan this?  Did the Ministry of Tourism send you into my photo frame?  Because this is just too good to be true.

Day Number Three, we visited the Kosybar just because we were having dinner three doors down at  Le Tanjia.  This restaurant is delicious and I highly recommend.  (It’s a very touristy kind of place with belly dancers so Mr. Big was, of course, delighted).  

We ordered the salad for two as an appetizer.  They proceeded to bring out 83 bowls of delectable salads and cold veggies and piles of homemade nan bread.  I was full before the entrĂ©e arrived.  (Really, all of the food that we had in Morocco was outstanding.  In Switzerland, the veggies are very limited, so I was in heaven in a country that can actually grow fresh veg.)

We had some time to kill before North Africa Guy came to pick us to take us to the airport on Day Four.  The only thing I had left on my must-see list was a Moroccan Co-op type of store that I had heard about.  Apparently, they carried everything one find in the souks BUT there is no haggling.  Everything, supposedly, had price tags on them.  Well, you can imagine that by Day Four I was looking forward to a little stress-free shopping, so off we went.

You know what’s coming, don’t you?  This place was more than a shop.  It was a charming outdoor mall.  The prices were about half, yes, half, of what I had managed to barter down to out in the wild.  Did I let that depress me and hamper my shopping experience?  Don’t be ridiculous.  I mean, really, when you already have five rugs crammed in your luggage, what is one or two more in the grand scheme of things?  The best thing I found was a silk-weaver who was making these fabulous tassels.  I really had no place to put any tassels, (hey, hey now, get your mind out of the gutter), but I knew I would think of something.  Give me four, please.  (I eventually used them to tie up the towels in the guest bathroom at the chalet).

Just as we were leaving the co-op, I spied a tiny little shop at the very end.  It was a stone mason’s studio.  This little old Morrocan guy got his stone out of the Atlas mountains and he carved it into any number of things, but his specialty was vessel sinks.  The kind of sinks that sit up on top of a vanity in the bathroom.  You know the kind that I mean.  Coincidentally, Mr. Big and I were in the market for two vessel sinks but we had been shopping for them in Switzerland where they cost as much as a Smart car.  A new Smart car, not a used one.

Now, Old Mr. Mason did not speak a lick of either French or English—he was old school Arabic.  Luckily, Mr. Mason had a son whom he summoned after much pointing at sinks and general mayhem that always ensues with these language difficulties.  The son spoke some God-forsaken amalgamation of French and Arabic, but I was finally able to glean the fact that the sinks cost around the equivalent of 125 USD.  Literally, I made him repeat it 20 times because I could not believe that these beautiful sinks cost what I routinely pay for a pork tenderloin.    But now the fun begins, right?  Because these sinks are located on another continent in a third world country and I live one sea and three countries away from these sinks.  Does this stop me from buying these sinks?  Of course not.  I have bought crazier things than these sinks, let me assure you.

In some madman’s version of French-Arabic, the son and I arrange to have my sinks driven by A Guy in A Truck on a ferry across the Mediterranean to Spain.  He will then drive to Lyon, France where he will stop because he is scared to come to Switzerland.  France, yes.  Switzerland, no.  To this day I still do not know the reason, but, whatever.  Lyon, France it is.  At some point in the future, on some given day, some Guy in A Truck is going to call me on my cell phone and tell me when and where to meet him in Lyon for the Great Sink Hand-Off.  We pay Mr. Mason and his son 200 euros  for our two sinks.  The shipping cost of 100 euros will be paid directly to The Guy in The Truck at the time of the Hand-Off.

Do Mr. Big and I think that we will ever see these sinks?  We think our odds are approximately 3 out of 10 AGAINST, but we figure, hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Fast forward two months.  Mr. Big and I are in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, attending the birth of a new granddaughter, when my cell phone rings and it is, of course, The Guy in The Truck.  He would like to meet me on the freeway in Lyon IN ONE HOUR.  Yes.  One hour.  And did I mention that The Stupid Guy in The Stupid Truck with my Stupid Sinks speaks very, very, very little French.  It’s not looking good for my sinks, is it?

This is when Mr. Big starts calling in favors all over Europe to procure these two sinks.  To make a long story short, it involved 9 employees of The Company in four countries and two continents, multiple hand-offs, one house, one garage, multiple car trunks, and one HOTEL! before my sinks arrived in Lausanne.  It was a comedy of errors.  At one point, my sinks even went to Belgium.  They spent one weekend snowed in Alsace-Lorraine.  They drove down through Germany.  My sinks had it goin’ on.

To summarize, I would go back to Morocco again in a heartbeat.  This time I would not bring any white clothing, I would buy more wine at the Duty Free and I would definitely go to the Co-op first.  I would stay in a fancy hotel outside the Medina like everyone told us to do in the first place.  Oh, and I would think twice before buying any more bathroom fixtures.  And to the Company employee to whom I still owe 100 euros, thanks buddy, and I know I owe you some cash and I’m sorry that the packaging smelled like rotten spices and made your whole garage stink like Marrakesh.  My bad.