Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A quick Christmas update

Three of our writer friends sent us long-distance Christmas gifts this year. With no good shipping address for us, they all paypal’d us a little numeric present, instructing us to use it on something fun.

The three fun things we used them on were all very Moroccan, so we are sharing them here.

In Zagora, there’s an awesome shop owned by a friend of Riad Dar Zaouia, where we were working, full of handcrafted local items. This style of shop is all over Morocco, but the price you get depends on whether or not you are perceived as a tourist, and the quality depends on the shop’s sources. A Moroccan fellow staying at the riad, commented that he was often treated as a tourist himself just for being northern, unless he went with one of the guys from the riad.

He had wanted a silver ring in the Amazigh (Berber) style, which are produced down here and much more expensive where he lives, but it took a personal introduction from the guys who owned the riad to get the fair “local” price. We got the same personal introduction (because we were working long term) when we were buying this shush:

Shush being the turban, not the little clay camel.

There were absolutely gorgeous carpets and huge veils, handmade by the shop owner’s mother. When we said we couldn’t carry such things, he offered to ship them, and when we explained that we are full-time travellers, he laughed and said “Ah, you are nomad too. No wonder you need shush!”

So the final result of our gift from Erin Merill was these earrings:

Thanks Erin!

On the way back up north, we had stopovers in Marrakech and Rabat. (It’s 8 hours from Zagora to Marrakech by bus, 5 hours by train to Rabat, and then another 3.5 hours by train to Asilah, just outside Tangier, where we are now.)

In Marrakech, our beloved Hotel Tachfine was full, so we stayed at their sister hotel, Amalay. It, too, has a comically faded, kitschy charm, but clean where it counts, with the sweetest staff.

There was a rotary phone over the bed.

It’s just around the corner from Tachfine, in a very pleasant part of the new city, close to the train station and airport. In between the two, right on the corner, is the VERY posh Hotel La Renaissance. With our present from Catherine De Mornay, we treated ourselves to a proper night out, starting with dinner at their Brasserie.

"Look at how French we are," says the decor.

By Moroccan laws, they cannot sell wine in the restaurant. Our server was impeccably trained in Western standards, however, handling our bottle of sparkling water as formally as if he had been doing wine service, crumbing and marking silver afresh between courses, appearing out of nowhere if we had so much as a thought cross our faces. NO ONE does that anywhere we’ve eaten in Morocco. I think the last time I saw service that correct was… the last time I worked at L20.  

The real kicker? Deciding to be very French and have a cigarette at the table over our espressos and crème brulee… the waiter MATERILIZED OUT OF NOWHERE AND LIT THE CIGARETTE.


Eat there. For realz. The food is decent, not amazing, but HOLY SHIT THE SERVICE. If you work in fine dining and appreciate the whole rigamarole, and especially if you smoke… eat there at the Brasserie La Renaissance. Even if you don’t smoke, you  might need to have a one-off cigarette over the espresso.

We then went upstairs to their Skybar. It’s just like an urban rooftop bar anywhere in the States. The Wit or the Dana in Chicago are two I can think of offhand. Super-luxury in an almost tacky way. Lots of white leather and metal and dark wood and glass. Very trendy, chunky glassware and contemporary brushed silver. Gigantic fireplaces, taut white triangular canopies, coloured lights and cheesy club music playing at an inoffensively low level. But it’s all slightly behind the vouge and so generic it's almost a mockery, like a movie set that's supposed to be "that ubiquitous flashy-trashy overpriced rooftop bar."

What makes this all so Moroccan is that we've noticed this entire country has a passion for imitating foriegn luxury... inaccurately. People love sparkling white trainers and over-sized faux leather handbags plastered with knockoff Coach and Gucci and D&G logos. Men DRENCH themselves in cheap cologne, and 1 in 5 hijabs are imitation Burberry. We spent all of dinner feeling like we were in a theatrical recreation of a Parisian brasserie in the 1940s and all of our evening after in a theatrical recration of the hottest rooftop in NYC in the late 2000s.

But anyway, we had scotch in very awesome glassware with giant proper cubes on a rooftop with a great view of Marrakech. (We only got individuals, but had we been with a party of four... bottle service with single malt scotch is like ninety bucks US, guys.  Ell. Oh. Ell. If we ever want to be the fakest VIPs ever, let’s do it in Marrakech.)

Thank you, Catherine!!

Our final gift was from Rebecca Carter, which we used on a hamam trip. In Rabat, our friend Houda suggested we try “the best hamam in the city.” If you are not familiar, a hamam is a public bath/sauna. In a basic one, which is about 10dh ($1 US) for entry, it is simply a wet sauna with a fountain in the centre. You scrub yourself and your friends with a mitt and traditional soap, and alternate between the hot and cool rooms at will. You can pay about 20 dh to have someone scrub you.

The basic ones are all over. Usually they are open to women until 6pm and men after.

At Hamam Moving, which is 220dh (about $22 US) all inclusive, it is an utterly different experience. You are slathered in henna (which is apparently a sort of self-tanner) and hang out in the steam sauna awhile, then you are called to a massage-height table where you are VERY thoroughly scrubbed and massaged with about five different products (I’m pretty sure one was a shower gel, one was an oil, and one was a clay mask) and given a facial. They wash your hair as well. The whole thing takes about two hours, after which you are wrapped in a plushy robe and taken to a lounge to relax and sip orange juice as you dry. I don’t think I’ve ever been so clean. The scrubby mitt things are our new favourite possessions as well.

This is more like the one we went to. Thanks Rebecca!

Thanks to all of our Ubergroup friends for the amazing Christmas gifts!


  1. Glad you two had fun! You deserved it!!! ;-)

  2. Seconded. I'm so glad you enjoyed yourselves. It all sounds fantastic :) xx

  3. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays you two :D

  4. I feel like I just took a trip to Morocco! Merry Christmas!

  5. What a blast you two are having. Everyone should take at least three months out of their lives and go on an adventure. Bills be damned! :)

    1. The trick is to spend about nine months before you leave EXTRACTING yourself from all bills in your former location. You don't pay rent and utilities on your old apartment when you move to a new one, right?

      People forget that moving to another country is just as much moving and within their own country, and bizzarely insist on paying for two houses at once, which of course makes things impossible :)

    2. Why yes, I am trying to convince you to sell your house and go on every adventure you've ever dreamed of. Why yes, I am acting like it's perfectly plausible, if not overnight, within about a year :P