Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekend Trip to Andalucia

So after much fretting (and false alarms), I've latched onto my fellow student Justin's plans to explore the south of Spain this weekend. It's a four-day weekend in Morocco to celebrate its independence from France in the 1950s, so naturally traveling to Europe makes total sense. Right? Anyway, I definitely plan to take pictures of Granada, Malaga and/or anywhere else we end up this weekend. Expect more news on Tuesday or Wednesday (inshaa' Allah).

Interested in seeing what Morocco looks like so far? Check the new Flickr set.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I think I have found the Moroccan counterpart to the Japanese ramen subculture. It's called besara (بسرة), a simple greenish soup made from fava beans and served with half a round of flatbread and a steaming cup of mint tea. It's cheap, typically only 5 or 6 dirhams, and is enjoyed by all classes of Moroccan working men during the day. A visit to a besara shop is usually a grungy affair, and upon visiting one will notice that the clientele is strictly 100% male. The shop owner greets you and sits you down across from a stranger, and by the time you've grunted something along the lines of "salaamuh lekm" (enunciation is a no-no here), he's brought you your soup, bread and steaming hot sweet mint tea. The bread, of course, being your primary utensil, is placed directly on the table for you to tear apart at your leisure. A single shaker of hot pepper is shared among the customers, who stay rather silent while they watch the people walking by in their business suits and Jedi robes, sipping tea and contemplating. As you tear off pieces of bread and run them through the thick soup, you try to avoid eye contact with neighboring besara shop owners, who might shoot you a glare for not trying their nearly identical shop next door. The soup itself tastes something like pea soup, and to be honest I'm not quite sure what's in it. When the bowl is empty and you've sipped the last of your mint tea, it's time to get up and walk to the plainclothed man seated near the door next to a wooden box full of money. The price of the soup is negotiable, and it somewhat dependent on how much bread you eat and how stubborn you are with bargaining.

So how is this similar to the ramen shops of Tokyo?
  • They are a dime a dozen in the city, although quality may vary dramatically. Often whole blocks are lined with them side by side.
  • They are among the cheapest lunches in the city, appealing to working men on the move
  • Communication in the shops is minimal, often reduced to grunted abbreviations of greetings and customs
  • Pepper is provided to make it as spicy as you want
  • Tea is an appropriate (and often complimentary) beverage
  • Nonstandard utensils are used to consume the soups
Overall, I find the similarities of this "working man's soup culture" striking, given the numerous other cultural differences between Morocco and Japan. Besara shops attract men of all ages and classes, from poor old men in traditional Islamic robes to young, upbeat entrepreneurs in sharp business suits. In Japan the divide is more clear, with the businessmen clearly the clients of the poorer, sweatier, bandana'd ramen chefs. I wonder if things like this exist in other cultures as well. It would be quite an interesting anthropological study.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Finally, Some Photos!

You probably thought I wouldn't update this anymore, but until today, I didn't have much to report. Before today, I hadn't thought much of Fez. It just seemed like kind of a grungy city that was, apart from the noticeable differences in culture, not that interesting. But this weekend, I finally made my way over to the Fez medina, the old medieval walled city. Fez was once the capital of medieval Morocco, and is still known today as the intellectual, religious and spiritual (if not de jure) capital of the country. Its walled city is held by many to be second to none, and today I finally got to see it for myself. What an interesting experience. Time seems to have crawled at a slow pace here, only reaching into the future to grasp what it absolutely needs. It's quite odd to see a pack mule lumbering through the narrow, winding streets with several plastic crates of Coca-Cola, or to see cell phone shops peeking out of 900-year-old buildings. Or even to walk by what I know to be the oldest operating university in the world. Even now as I type this, I can still smell the dyes of the leather tanneries, where there has been little technological innovation in the last few centuries. Much of the main street resembles a chaotic bazaar, with deserted nooks and crannies inviting you to explore its secrets. Some of our companions sought out carpets, traditional bath soaps, or centuries-old copies of the Qur'an. I was just looking for experiences (and photo opportunities). I didn't get much of the latter, but what I did get will be posted on Flickr in due time.

In the meantime, let me mention what I actually came here to say, which was that I posted another set of Turkey photos on my Flickr account, this time of the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


So you thought Turkey was cheap? This morning for breakfast I stopped at a café and ordered a petit déjeuner marocaine, which included:
  • Omelette au fromage
  • A small salad
  • Fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • Café au lait
  • A full basket of bread
All this for 22 Moroccan dirhams. I dare you to see how cheap that is.

At the cafe I was also exposed to Arabic pop music videos, albeit without sound. And, well, anyone who thought that Arab culture was conservative should watch some videos and think again. Nevertheless, I generally like the sound of Arabic pop music better than most other foreign pop music (*cough* Japan).

Answering Questions

Dad: I'm not sure why I'm the only student. My guess is that it's the middle of October and not the summer season when there might be a lot more people. Nevertheless, though, the school's Residence is almost full. We'll see how it goes tomorrow. Morocco's pretty cool, although there is definitely a lot of poverty here (and trash). I was surprised to see how stylish the people in Casablanca were, even the women wearing headscarves.

Tim: Yeah, after our two-week excursion in Turkey, I'm doing a three-week Arabic language study in Fez, Morocco. The class I'm taking is Introduction to the Arabic Newspaper, and it's slightly above the level that I left off at in school, so I'm a little worried. On the way here I had to overnight in Spain, which is why I spent a day wandering around Madrid. I should be back from Morocco by the end of November.

Is there anything else you'd like me to clear up?

Monday, October 27, 2008


I know many of you have been clamoring for photos of our trip to Turkey (and beyond). Well, clamor no more, for I have just set up my very own Flickr account. Gradually I will upload all of my halfway decent pictures to organized sets for your enjoyment. In the meantime, please enjoy the photos we took of the Hagia Sophia and our first days in Istanbul.

And oh yeah. I'm safely in Fez, Morocco, in what will be my room for the next 3-4 weeks. Classes start on Wednesday. And I'm afraid I may be the only student in the class...

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Hello once again, dear readers. Hannah is back in the ol' US of A by now, but I am continuing my journey. I'm writing currently from Madrid, Spain. I woke up at 3:30 this morning in Istanbul to catch a shuttle to the airport, even though my flight wasn't until 6:55. Needless to say, I've been drifting in and out of sleep all day, but I did manage to do some walkaround sightseeing here in Madrid. Of note were the Palacio Real, the Catedral de la Almudena, and the spectacular Basilica de San Francisco el Grande (sorry, no great sites for that one). There is also an abundance of parks full of trendy couples and an interesting array of street performers in every plaza. Tomorrow I sleep in Casablanca, so wish me luck! Hopefully one of these places will have WiFi so I can post some pictures.