Living with a Kitten

‘No, no, NO!

She needs to explore – I get that, but just not there or there. I try to be reasonable. She’s everywhere I don’t want her to be.

Is it better to have a perfect couch and drapes without rips or a crazy, energized creature that purrs and cuddles? I’m still deciding that. That sounds slightly embarrassing – material possessions over a living animal – could I be that shallow? I hope not.

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Sleeping Kitty

When she’s sleeping, all is well.

Awake, a terror.

Asleep, boring.

Awake, exciting.

Which is better?

Fishing line with dangling feather birdie makes her chirp and leap as if she were doing the high-jump in the Olympics. I try to hide it, but she knows where it’s hidden – and scratches the closet door to get it out. Can’t keep anything from her. She watches.

Please sleep – I’ll pay you, give you extra food?

‘Don’t go in the toilet!’ Her paws are wet – no pee in bowl, whew!

But Zinga is so cute – that overrides her annoyances. A muted calico – even her description is lovely. I only knew of a ‘calico cat’ from the musical Cats. I never met one in person – only black, tabby and Persian. She is unique (as all cat owners would say).

It’s a psychological adjustment that I’m struggling through.

The difficulty is keeping her awake in the early evening, so she’ll sleep through the night.

At around 8:47pm, she becomes the devil. The wall is her enemy. She flings herself against the invisible threat that surrounds her. She sideswipes the shoes by the bookshelf as she races down the hall. Then slides into the heating fixture with a crash. Her frantic energy makes me want to grab her by the scruff and massage her into quiet, calmness.

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Lounging

It works – I hold her, she purrs into my shoulder – we are at peace – she is almost dozing.

She lurches out of my grasp.

AAGH, come here Zinga!

After another 20 minutes of psycho cat – she sits on her perch, pretending like nothing has happened.

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Windsor Castle – Twenty Minutes from Heathrow

‘It is closed for cleaning.’

We are greeted by a woman in a red cape and blue hat – who takes care of what exactly? Proper and friendly – after 14 years of working at Windsor Castle, she gets a Christmas present from the Queen (as she mentioned to us). She seems to manage the visitor section of the Castle.

‘Oh, no. Really?’

Bad timing – we don’t seem to have luck with interiors of fortresses.

‘It is the yearly cleaning of the chandeliers.’

Of course.

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Wall of Windsor Castle

So, we examine the outside wall – our conclusion? It’s thick.

What’s the difference between a castle and a palace? The thickness of the walls? Yes. Built to withstand battles while a palace (thinner walls) is the elegant home of royals.

The weighty castle dominates the top of the hill, but if you follow the street along the wall (away from downtown), you’ll come upon a park. The grand path through its centre makes it feel as if you have wandered into the magical world of Narnia where a quiet beauty surrounds you.

I guess that is the theme of Windsor – calm, serene and a bit boring. A perfect weekend retreat for the royals. But what does everyone else do here? Take in the scenery.

Narrow, winding roadways lined with ornate storefronts, cafes and pubs…

But there is another revered institution to visit – the elite boys’ school of Eton College, founded in 1440 by King Henry VI, and where William and Harry attended.

Another walking journey – at least it’s downhill. We reach the Thames where boats for tours are available and many swans swim – can the scene be more picturesque?

Nearing the school, we notice two guys across the street hurrying along in formal attire – odd for a Monday afternoon. Then we pass another young pimple-faced boy, wearing a black waistcoat with tails, carrying a shoulder bag emblazoned with an ‘Iron Maiden’ logo.

Gargoyles (the friendly kind) look down from the heavy stone walls of Eton as if to say: welcome, we’re not so serious.

Dramatic history contrasts the banal daily life in the town of Windsor, England.

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Maât House in Marrakech

When the taxi driver finally figured out where our riad was located, we drive along Avenue Mohammed VI towards the massive Atlas Mountains rising dramatically in the hazy distance.

And what else do we see? The walls of yet another palace (the 3rd royal city). As the road veers, we pass by the modern palace: Hotel La Mamounia – expensive, exclusive elegant – we keep going to the rustic, shabby medina (old part of town).

Contrasts.

The taxi drops us at the end of the line for car traffic. We hike to our Maât House through the crowded street teeming with people and produce and motorbikes.

We enter our riad through a small, wooden door that opens to the grand courtyard – look up and up – to the plastic roof covering. All three floors to ourselves!

Beautiful design elements – embossed Arabic writing on the adobe-coloured wall catches our attention. Our host gives us a rough translation in English and French: something about the man behind the clothing – don’t judge him, we are all equal… I think that’s what he meant.

The small rooms surrounding the courtyard are cozy and warm, but step out to the toilet and ahhh, it’s freezing! It’s like camping in an antique tent in winter.

Living amidst a bustling market isn’t for everyone. We walk down our quiet cobblestoned alley past the kids playing with rocks at our front door, making us feel as if we are intruders in their neighbourhood. It’s an odd feeling trying to fit in. But as soon as we go food shopping and carry back our yogurt, bread, eggs – we feel like one of the locals.

At the end of our alley a man sells oranges and mint, the donkey and cart turn the corner in front of us and scooters whizz by – we pull back to brace ourselves for the onslaught of merchants and crowds. Not the most relaxing entry into the Jemaa el-Fnaa market. Once we reach the open plaza, there is room to breath – it’s still early – the crowds haven’t come yet.

*

A reprieve at the Marjorelle Garden (designed by artist Jacques Marjorelle) – an elegant cactus oasis – Yves St. Laurent and his friend, Peirre Bergé brought it back from ruin when they purchased it in 1980. People come to see it for the name of Yves St Laurent – would it otherwise attract as many tourists? Probably not.

Calm and serene – a place for contemplation and slowing down. A place that oozes wealth. Vivid deep blue highlights add a striking backdrop to the cacti. I feel special walking, no… strolling through a meticulously laid out pathway.

The vivid contrast of the garden to the medina makes me appreciate both. Wealth versus hustling and surviving – the medina suits me better even if it’s slightly unsettling.

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Henna Hand

Back to the market – harassed by a henna girl – never let someone take your hand and squirt henna goop on it before negotiating a price!

A non-aggressive shoe shine guy carries a box complete with Kiwi brand shoe polish (as he points out with pride), and does a meticulous job. He lives in a town just outside the city and commutes for work. A friendly energy that comes from unassuming small-town people. My shoes look new again.

Contrasts make a city unforgettable, solidifying the place in my mind.

*

London is calling.

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Meknes to Volubilis

Another of the 4 royal cities of Morocco – Meknes.

Since it has a ‘royal’ status, a grand palace sits in the centre of downtown. Horses and carriages line-up near the gated entrance eager for tourists. We negotiate a fare with the friendly-tout and climb into the carriage while the driver and horse wait patiently. Riding through spotless surroundings, we admire the home of the former Sultan, Moulay Ismail (1672-1727).

Outside the walls is the open plaza that starts to fill with vendors and entertainers and…

A roof deck high above the market plaza calls to us. Sipping mint tea, we watch the crazy activity below. A woman holds the neck of an ostrich trying to wrestle it into cooperating for photos; children drive small remote-controlled cars, a man plays a horrible sounding flute to ‘charm’ the bored snake wrapped around his neck – the commotion before our eyes is like a weird movie.

We venture down as the mayhem builds and browse through the rows of colourful pottery glinting in the afternoon sun.

The rest of the city is ‘normal’ – full of typical restaurants, shops, lines of smelly traffic… but there is an added reason to come to Meknes – proximity to the Roman city of Volubilis.

*

A taxi ride along a quiet, olive tree-lined road – blue sacks of recently picked olives wait to be taken for processing at the factory. The smell of olive oil overwhelms us as we drive by.

Formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Mauritania, Volubilis’s Roman ruins (from the 1st century), lie 40 minutes outside of Meknes

I had forgotten how much of Northern Africa the Romans conquered. With the formation of Islam (beginning around 600 AD), the Roman descendants had converted to become Muslim.

The sun warms us as we walk through the remains of a once stunning place. Those smart Romans chose an ideal setting on a hillside – a perfect spot to see rampaging invaders from a distance, and to admire a spectacular view of the lush countryside. But there couldn’t be a city without a source of water and fertile land for growing crops – they had it all.

Appreciating the history of partial walls and foundations, makes it a magical place – I can almost see toga-wearing people strolling along the stone streets. A successful city, not only for its impressive columned edifices (I overhear discussions by governmental officials), and mosaic-filled houses but for its 16 bakeries!

Next stop: Marrakech, a 6 ½ hour train ride away.

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Fes, Morocco – winding streets, elegant riad and leatherworks

Yellow and red pieces of goat hide dry in the afternoon sun high on the hillside near Bab El Guissa – the gate above the city of Fes. I think that is the image that will stick with me as quintessential Morocco.

We climb down the hill and find ourselves on the outskirts of the medina. How to enter again without walking all the way around? A young guy appears to show us the way.

‘Ici, ici.’ He points to a narrow opening. We hesitate, then go through – angling our bodies sideways, feeling as if we are entering a secret passageway that will lead to the unknown – instead we follow the narrow tunnel out to the main stone walkway that will take us back to our riad, almost feeling like real adventurers for a moment…

Sitting on the roof deck of the riad – Fes, Fes, Fes – a chant in my head – or is it the call to prayer? Two competing mosques send out a wail of voices– just before sunset– eerie but romantic. There’s that word again. I feel the romance of the setting – a mysterious, exciting energy that takes me away from daily life. Intimate – that’s the word I’ve been looking for to describe my recently ruined vision of Casablanca, and now I’ve found it in Fes. The only flaw in the setting – satellite dishes outnumber mosques!

Roaming through the medina – piles of dates, candy nugget, olives and oranges wait to be devoured. Mmmm, but only an orange – ‘peel it, boil it or leave it’ (only way to avoid stomach issues).

The convoluted streets make for confusing (and cold) walks through the medina. From the 11th century Fes has been one of the four imperial cities and its ancient design works for protection against the heat, wind and invaders – you can imagine people for hundreds of years working and living in the stone structures.

Leather, leather and more leather – tanneries abound. Views of the cement pots of dye – the tanning process involves many steps –including soaking in pigeon poo for 3 days (softens the skin). Tannery Chwara – small, crowded work area – pounding, gluing and sewing bags and shoes, bundles of leather in piles on the floor but the beautiful results defy the mess.

Back at the riad, our lovely room makes us seem special, transported to an opulent time. The stained-glass door looks out over the inner courtyard, the curving light fixture, the steel canopied bed, the stone work – gives us a taste of life in another era.

Gita works in the dark kitchen. We wait for our breakfast in the cold courtyard, sitting next to the heat lamp. Strong coffee, fresh omelette and hard bread – merci, shukran Gita.

Heading to Meknes and Volubilis

 

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Casablanca Steps Out from My Past Vision of the City

My romantic vision of Casablanca is dead. The loud, traffic-filled city isn’t what I was hoping to see.

I wanted to be transported to a magical, make-believe place – like in the movie. I shake my head. How can I expect to step into that exotic small town – or take off from that remote airfield into the foggy night (check YouTube for reference) when it’s been over 70 years since the movie was made?

My fantasy is further ruined – the original movie set built in Burbank, California has long been dismantled. But Rick’s Café (supposedly, authentically recreated on Blvd. Sour Jdid) still lives on for travelers who haven’t given up on the allure of the past. (I kind of regret not going).

I’m mad at myself for judging a place based on a superficial image and not being able to see the city for what it is – a matter-of-fact-metropolis with a new tram system – and a combination modern/traditional atmosphere. So, it’s not as elegant and glamourous as I imagined…

Look! There’s the minaret of the Hassan II Mosque looming in the distance over by the Atlantic coast. During Ramadan – (the Islamic holy month of fasting) – 80,000 worshipers can prey in the huge plaza while another 25,000 prey inside. Part of the mosque juts out over the sea with a glass floor overlooking the water below – but since we aren’t allowed inside to view it, we study the outside walls instead. This seems to be a theme for us – couldn’t enter Alhambra either – oh well, a walk around the grounds looking up at the minaret is just as satisfying.

A final taxi ride through the busy streets to an ornate restaurant where a superb lamb, prune and lemon tajine is served by a friendly, eager-to-please waiter/owner. I see a new picture of Casablanca in my mind – a realistic one.

The city of Fes awaits…

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Ferry Across the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangier-Med, Morocco

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View of Rock of Gibraltar from Algeciras

Looking out the window of our hotel in Algeciras, the Rock of Gibraltar impedes our view of Africa (46.6 kilometres away). We cross the street to the ferry terminal where we end-up waiting an extra five hours for the wind-delayed ship to arrive.

Stepping over legs and packs to find a seat on the crowded ferry, we wait again for it to leave. A leisurely 2-hour trip in the afternoon light has become a long, queasy-causing crossing in the evening blackness. Only the most desperate smokers brave the deck – the wind gusts in like a canon as the door opens. The darkness spoils our experience of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar.

Relieved, the boat finally docks – we climb down the stairs to get our luggage (stored in a narrow dingy room). But the door is locked. People gather hoping to be the first to escape. We wait. The crowd builds. No word from the crew. We wait and wait – finally the door opens – rush for luggage and get off the boat! Our awkward exit, down the empty car ramp, explains the delay – we had waited for the cars to disembark while we were trapped on board. Welcome to Tangier-Med, Morocco!

It’s dark and we’re tired. Coming into a new city at night goes against our rules for traveling, especially a 40-minute taxi ride on poorly lit roads. With no choice, we share a taxi with the Moroccan family we met on the ferry. The bumpy ride gets us safely to the centre of Tangier.

We arrive at the MacDonald’s to meet our Airbnb host – who waited for hours then left when we didn’t arrive. The security guard let’s us use his phone. After a few back and forth exchanges, he walks us to our apartment. Helpful, friendly people all around us.

Is that a camel on the beach?

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Camel ride in Downtown Tangier

“Hold on to back strap, don’t be nervous.” The camel keeper has been working on the beach for 30 years helping tourists ride the exotic animal.

I lurch forward as it rises to its feet unfolding its legs like a giant spider with its legs seeming too skinny to hold up its body and me – I hold on trusting it wouldn’t collapse with each step. Compared to a horse, a camel feels prehistoric. Behind us the tall modern buildings lining Avenue Mohammed VI watch us as we lumber along the shore on our camel expedition.

Up on the hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea sits the Kasbah (built in 1334). Medieval cities usually sat on hills to see the invaders coming from the sea below. Now, the invaders are us.

 

‘Rock the Kasbah’ a song The Clash made famous after staying here (Kasbah – maze-like residential streets filled with Riads (medieval houses). Our spontaneous guide (we met him as we got out of our taxi), Abdullah, shows us the highlights when the Kasbah was a base for beatnik writers in the ‘50s, a hub for hippies/musicians in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Today, it’s a new generation that wants to live vicariously with the past – by staying in a Riad that Jim Morrison or Jack Kerouac may have visited.

 

Abdullah escorts us to a restaurant for a traditional lunch. Sometimes the best travel moments are from the unplanned impromptu decisions. Tangier came alive because of Abdullah.

Next stop? Casablanca.

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