Bouleversé- Looking Back
Some events since my return from France have been all too poignant a reminder of how quickly life can change. Bouleversé is a word in French that basically means turned upside-down, disoriented and shattered. Just like our Little Prince learns in Saint Exupéry’s classic ‘Le Petit Prince,’ “le fleur est ephemère”— the flower, and all represented by it, is ephemeral. When the beautiful things in life are so easily bouleversé’d, it’s even more important to take note of them while they happen. Having this blog has allowed me a tangible way to go back and remember what were undoubtedly five of the best months of my life.
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Paris below me… Paris behind me.
The Final Epiphany: A Semester Abroad
One day back in August, atop the largest sand dune in Europe, my friend Kevin remarked that we seemed to be in a separate world. “It feels like we were just dropped here, like out of an airplane, into this alternate universe,” he said. True, he was talking about the awe-inspiring scenery surrounding us, but his comment was also poignant in expressing the concept of study abroad as I encountered it in the months that followed.
Everyone on this enormous planet experiences personally just a sliver of the collective goings-on of mankind. But to each person, that sliver effectively comprises their world. The daily experiences we have, the sights we see, the people we meet, the places we go regularly, the tasks we accomplish or don’t accomplish; these are the things that make up our own universes. We subsist in our worlds without spending too much time worrying about the other ones- even as we read the news, we consider how events might effect strangers in a rather general, two-dimensional way. We rarely recognize the ethnocentric nature of our own bubbles, let alone consider that each person around us is living in one of their own.
While walking home from class one day during orientation in Bordeaux, I found myself moved by the sight of a woman working inside an unassuming store along Rue Turenne, where my apartment was. The store was called Tapissieur Laurent Forniaux, and it is where people bring their furniture to be reupholstered or fixed. The function of the store is not what caught my attention, though. There, up on the walls inside, I could see photos of family, certificates of studies, and maps of travels. In those few glimpses I got of the Tapissieur, I was momentarily given a peek into the strange woman’s bubble. And another moment of clarity began brewing like the tea my Parisian host dad drinks. It has taken my five month journey for this clarity to fully steep.
Nice, France: My host sister Marion from summer 2006 keeps this photo of 15-y-o Hannah on her wall even though we’ve seen each other twice since then.
Living with a host family is inhabiting, temporarily, someone else’s world. At first, it is witnessing daily trials and tribulations, victories and interests. And then, in time, it is becoming part of them. Bubbles merge, worlds collide. “I’m confused,” my host brother Benjamin said at dinner one night in November, as we discussed my family’s December Paris plans. And then, dramatically, “What do you mean your ‘family’ is coming? We’re right here.”
Paris, France: Time flies. My American family arrives and meets my Parisian host family.
Paris, France: Les Roomies… Monsieur le Roi Ben and his Parisian sister Hannah.
When my passport was stamped at CDG nearly five months ago, I was granted more than just access to the country. It was the opportunity to become part of this Parisian family’s life- to enter into their world, no longer as a tourist snapping photos or watching passively, but as a real participant; a member of the family. I was unbelievably lucky to have ended up with these incredible people in their beautiful St. Germain des Près apartment. The luckiest part of the whole situation was to have them open their arms wide and welcome this 20-year-old (19 when I arrived!) into their bubble, replete with all the wonders of Paris. As I’ve found this semester, it is easy enough to voyage to different cities or countries. The trips that will change your life, and have undoubtedly changed my own, are those that bring you inside the Tapissieur and show you the lives up for display on the walls.
Evanston, IL: 87 “Journalism Cherubs” comprised my family over my 6-week stay at Northwestern in 2007.
I realize that a lot of my life has been like this. Each summer I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to spend time with truly special people, entering worlds as comfortable as Fernwood (Poland, ME) and Cherubs (Evanston, IL) or as exciting and interesting as the Cappello/Laurent family (Nice, France) and the Berkman/Mooney family (Washington, DC.) It is strange to think of all the bubbles I have become a part of; sometimes I wonder about the viability of forming my own bubble as I play nomad from world to world.
Poland, ME: Home for 7 summers with some of the best people I’ve ever known.
Back in October, standing in the Grand Palais at the Monet exhibit with my host dad, it all clicked. There I was, surrounded by paintings, all by the same great artist, but from collections around the world. I saw for a second time art that I had seen at different stages of my life, this painting in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, this one in the Met in New York, and this one at a small museum in Wadsworth, Connecticut. Walking from painting to painting, I witnessed firsthand the art of combining beauty painted by one man collected from major cities around the world to form a singular, magnificent display. I might not be the product of a famous Frenchman’s palette, and I certainly didn’t help inspire the impressionism movement. But I saw something of myself reflected in that collection in the Grand Palais.
Washington, DC: One of these things is not like the other. Can you tell which was the summer adoptee?
The essence of my bubble, I realized, is the incredible experiences I’ve had, people I’ve met and loved, and things I’ve learned in each of the worlds I’ve inhabited. Rather than casting doubt on the viability of my own bubble, these travels serve to enrich it. I carry memories of my experiences with me no matter where I go, and am forever changed thanks to the incredible worlds I’ve been a part of in the past. Tuesday afternoon, as I check-in for what will be my 17th flight since I left New York August 20, I will still be the same Hannah Berkman marked in my passport. I will still have the same name, the home address, and the same date of birth. The only noticeable difference in that little blue book of identification will be a few nondescript stamps. But the girl represented by those pages, the one who left five months ago? She will never be the same.
“I reckon that it is. All along, you have known about these folk here and I’ve had no inkling. I read the Geographics, but you can’t think of the people in those stories as having life and breath, and knowing things you don’t. But that sounds silly too.” “No, I think most people are the same. Until they’ve gone somewhere.” ” I thank my lucky stars, Mr. Shepherd, and I thank you. I do. That I’m a person who went somewhere.” -The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Guest Blogger: Poppa Berks
A message from Hannah’s Father:
Hello. True story: We were newlyweds, give-or-take, and sojourning to Paris. We did what all Americans do in Paris, we got lost. Not lost in a bad way of course, we let ourselves wander and discover. I won’t wax poetic, that’s Hannah’s job. But I digress. So twenty-odd years ago, we stumbled upon the Sorbonne. Now I was less than ten years away from graduating from NYU so I understood all about an urban campus. But of course this was way different. The buildings were fairy tale pretty and the kids were all so Jean-Paul Belmondo cool. We sat and watched them rush to and fro coming and going - late for classes or cafes, one couldn’t tell. They seemed to have the same intensity no matter which. But I digress again. So I had this fantasy. That when it came time for us to have children, that one of them would come here and study in this amazing city. That our child would be Jean-Paul Belmondo cool. Maybe without all the smoking and existentialism. So I pictured our child twenty years in the future studying in the City of Light and us coming back to visit him/her in this magical city.
FADE IN. Exterior. Paris. 2010. I’m an old man now. (At least I feel that way) My child, my daughter, my Hannah greets me at the airport. All smiles and talking a hundred miles an hour. She keeps laughing at the rustiness of her English having spent the semester speaking nothing but French.
We met the two families that served as her hosts here in France. Watching her speak to them in a lilting sing song of a foreign language filled me with intense pride and of course the fulfillment of a fantasy. How odd, to watch her rattling off stories first in English to us and then in French to her hosts. I keep wondering if I have a goofy grin on my face because I can’t really suppress the thrill that I get from seeing her so completely fluent in another language and culture. As the days unfold I also revel in seeing her take charge with directions, restaurant and bar suggestions - becoming our guide. I look at her sometimes as if seeing a stranger. Who is this french kid? She has become confident, energetic upbeat and totally, unashamedly fallen unbridled love with Paris. It’s an affirmation of that promise made so many years ago. I look at her in the cheese shop asking questions and I see my daughter being Jean-Paul Belmondo cool.
snippets of berkman fam vacation in france thus far.
Berkman Family Takes France
Wheels screaming, babies crying, take off starting. When the airplane begins to lift off the ground, my vision through the windows is slanted. Everything that was once horizontal is now vertical. Runway markers, airport terminals, and puffed clouds simultaneously transform to create a fleeting split-screen world where there is no up or down.
But as the back wheels follow their more adventurous counterparts and the airplane is propelled into the air, I find the orientation of my field of vision restored. As my ears pop, images fly by. I sit watching them from my pressurized cabin.
Sunlight illuminates the hustle and bustle below me. From my elevated perspective, civilization is as simple as a series of roads filled with cars that follow rules to create order. Houses are in rows; vegetation is pre-meditated and playgrounds are set just so. Traffic lights and stop signs alter the actions of the people on the ground. We continue to climb higher into the sky.
My window is suffocated by thin white cotton, and the sight of the city below me fades away. Leaning on my shoulder, my sister squeezes her eyes shut and breathes out fatigue. I can hear the engine roar, and cannot avoid the stale airplane scent.
I wake up with a slight jolt of my seat. My eyelids involuntarily fly open, and I am awake for good it seems. It takes me a minute to remember where I am. The inside of the cabin is mostly dark now, save the glow from the in-flight movie and the occasional reading light scattered throughout the rows and rows of strangers.
Through my window, the sky is clear in the moonlight. Expanses of clouds stretch to the horizon, and the deep blue of the night is humble and unobtrusive. I am sure that I can see anything there is to be seen from my seat at 32A. The sky is so simple from my reclined position. I can see it all, I can feel it all, I can understand it all.
My stomach begins to drop and I recognize the downward-falling feeling as we approach our destination. Back down through the clouds we go, from the full clarity of the night sky to a world of opaqueness. My sister wakes up as we emerge from the bottom end of the clouds, and I point to show her the lights we are approaching.
Underneath our plane, the world is illuminated. The light box below reminds us of what we have been missing during our temporary trip in the sky. As the pressure shifts in the cabin and I feel my ears pop again, I am in between two worlds. Beneath me, scores of people spend their whole lives looking up. They believe that if they could only stay up here, close to whatever they believe to be holy, they will be complete. There are wonders up in the sky, they are always preaching. At the same time, though, there is beauty in what is below me. Order out of chaos. Rules that govern but do not overly restrict.
I argue back and forth with myself about the merits of both worlds. In the sky, everything is clear, and on the ground, everything is a declaration of man’s triumph. Torn between two worlds, I feel my plane get closer and closer to the runway. And then clarity comes, through the lights and clouds of the atmosphere of our descent. What is below me and what is above me is irrelevant. Here, in this 757, I am with my family. This is where I am living, in the here and the now. Beauty is above me, beauty is below me, but life is here with me.
The wheels touch down, and I smile at my sister. I have had quite a journey.
Thankfully I still have two and a half weeks left in France. But my experience abroad has hardly been based solely in Paris (this should be obvious if you’ve kept up at all with the cafe au lait-inspired posts here), and as a final roundup of all my travels I’d like to dedicate the following scoreboard to my wonderful Grandma Blanche without whom none of these trips would have been possible. Ich hub dear zaya zaya zaya leeb!
Food. (This category should actually start at runner-up because Paris has undoubtedly monopolized the favor of all of my taste buds.) WINNER: Florence. The best balsamic steak, pizza, and gelato of my life. A close runner-up would be Marrakech, but the unfriendly way in which that food became acquainted with my travel companions’ stomachs leads to a disqualification for foul play. Extra points awarded to Tony’s restaurant in Rome for the special treatment à la Steve Antenucci.
LOSER: Amsterdam. Though the food was roughly as bad as that of Prague and Berlin, it didn’t boast the same low prices or broad range in ethnic cuisines.
Maybe my worst food photo to date. But the Balsamic Steak from Florence’s Aqua al Due as per Julie’s recommendation was the best I’ve ever tasted.
People. WINNER: Berlin, surprisingly. The Germans were eager to help us out whenever we looked even slightly lost (this was never, we always looked EXTREMELY lost), and our reception to this hospitality was definitely heightened by the way reality contrasted with our expectations.
LOSER: Prague. I know your country is dark and cold. But so are Sweden and Denmark and the people there manage to not look miserable all the time. Lock it up, Czech folk.
Another poor photographic display, but proof at Prague Castle: The Czech’ll beat you down with a club if the opportunity presents itself.
Architecture. WINNER: Amsterdam. I especially loved the teetering brick-and-glass canal houses that serve as an architectural reminder of this city’s generally overlooked big-brother relationship with the wonderful city of New Amsterdam. Anything you can do, New York can do better… Honorable mention for this category goes to Marrakech, just because the medina was so entirely different from anything I’ve ever seen before.
LOSER: Berlin. The excuse of communism and world wars makes this ugliness justified, but I really hope that architectural renewal will follow shortly after the current artistic revolution going on in this city that’s starting over for the umpteenth time.
Transportation. WINNER: Amsterdam. The trams seemed to go nearly everywhere, were clean, fast, and not crowded. Plus, it was always entertaining to hear the automated voices correctly pronouncing the names of stops that we would butcher, (ex: Keizersgracht, Spuistraat, and Kloveniersburgwal.) And who can argue with bikes and canals as alternatives to public transport? Runner up goes to Marrakech, where the lack of public transportation in our neighborhood was a non-issue due to the absurdly cheap “petit cab” rides. Points to Florence which proved itself 100% walkable.
LOSERS: Rome, where there are only two subway lines and the buses come roughly once every hour, if you’re lucky. Berlin, where half the Underground lines were closed for construction, and where bus and tram signs were less than tourist-friendly. Prague, which found the 3 non-ticketholders who had actually tried to buy tickets and gave them 700 kroner fines, in contrast to Noot’s nonchalant instructions about tickets being a non-issue. Damnit. Also, those metro escalators are treacherous.
Amsterdam tram, we love you. Just don’t ask us to pronounce the name of the next stop.
Language: WINNER: Rome & Florence. Italian is undeniably the most beautiful language in existence, and it’s even better when it’s being spoken as you’re handed the best slice of pizza in the world. Plus it’s cool when you realize that you can actually understand what’s being said. Points to Marrakech for surprising me with the beauty of Arabic, especially that of Yasmin and her mother.
LOSER: Prague. Czech, you are not a beautiful language. Tough second worst is Amsterdam. Sorry, Dutch, you ain’t too fine yourself. I’m shocked as I type this that I was able to find languages uglier than German, but alas, lessons abroad can be surprising all over the proverbial map.
Special appendage for those of my friends/family who will be studying in Europe next semester.
What Not to Miss (that you might not otherwise hear about)
-Pancake Bakery for dinner one night. Relatively cheap sampling of Amsterdam’s delicious pancake tradition in an unassuming canal-side basement. Find it at Prinsengracht 191-A.
-Van Gogh museum. Especially go if you don’t get to see any of his work in the Musée d’Orsay.
-Anne Frank Huis: a dramatic experience that’s well-laid out and worth the line. Bring tissues.
-All the Roman ruins. Coliseum, Forum, Capitoline hill… Make sure you have a guide book or map with you so you can figure out what was what in case you don’t have a Mr. Scott-style knowledge ingrained in your head.
-LODGING: I can’t recommend enough the hotel we happened upon in Prague. It was a total of 45 euros over three nights, and we had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen (with a stocked fridge) and a living room. The location was perfect and there was free wifi. Plan your stay- http://www.platantour.cz/
-Free Tour: meets at Old Town Square and really is free. Lasts about three hours and is a great way to get a historical backdrop at the beginning of a weekend in Prague.
-John Lennon Wall, just on the other side of the Charles Bridge. Don’t ask the locals where it is because they’ll have no idea what you’re asking. Check out the history online before you go looking.
-LODGING: We found a centrally-located and relatively cheap hostel that fulfilled all our needs. St. Christopher’s Berlin location is clean, friendly, and has free wifi. We had our own room and it was big and comfortable and well within our budget. Check it out- http://www.st-christophers.co.uk/berlin-hostels
-Vintage shopping in Mitte. It’s only appropriate that the up-and-coming hipster capital of the world would excel in this category. See for yourself.
-Free Tour Berlin is longer than the one in Prague because there really is so much to see. Make sure you plan your trek over to the meeting spot ahead of time or you could spend all morning riding around Berlin’s public transportation system. (If you stay at St. Christopher’s, a tour guide will pick you up directly from the hostel bar.)
-Dinner at Aqua Al Due isn’t nearly as expensive as it should be. Try their to-die-for balsamic steak or one of their massive salads.
-Pizza from Gusta Pizzaat 46 Via Maggio. Even if you’re a New York pizza snob, this is place is a real (inexpensive) treat. Do not miss it.
-Gelato covered in hot chocolate at Grom. The hot chocolate is the real deal, no milked-out watered-down excuses. Choose two nutty flavors and add the warm melted chocolate. Thank me later.
-The David at the Academia. It’s worth the steep entry price because the statue truly is breath-taking. Check out the unbelievable detail on the dude’s right hand.
-LODGING: Riad Cala Medina is without a doubt the most perfect hotel experience I’ve had over the past four months. The owners are warm and welcoming, the rooms are true Moroccan-style and clean, the mint tea is scrumptious, and the prices aren’t awful. Plus, being in the heart of the medina really makes you feel like you’re on a different planet. Rooftop breakfasts in the African sun are a bonus.
-Le Tanjia restaurant next to the Palace Bahia for the best couscous of your life.
-The Majorelle Garden to fulfill all your tropical desires. The air legitimately smells better here than almost anywhere I’ve ever been (Maine, you still have my heart).
Number 1 Travel Lesson: Maximize travel day sleeptime. Benches in airports and window seats on airplanes are beds, and newspapers, particularly the good-guy type, are blankets. (Conservative papers tend to be too cold-hearted to keep you warm. Trust me, I’m an expert.)
Obviously, I love traveling and I love talking about it, so if you have any destination questions shoot me an email at email@example.com (that means you, Molly, Nicole, Chelsea…) Special thanks to my parents for their travel advice and to my Aunt Carolyn for her travel inspiration. I hope someday I can cover at least a fraction of the territory she’s traveled to, Pucci scarves and bathing suits in tote. Je t’aime ma tante!
Love from an American with very little time left in Paris,
Everyday I grow closer to leaving, I grow fonder of this magnificent city. I can’t wait to share it with my family when they arrive on Wednesday!
Sometimes I forget Paris is part of France…
Me: Scuse me, we had a great time tonight but I’m pretty sure I saw a mouse running around the floor just now.
Owner at chic St Germain des Près bar: Yes, we know, we have a mouse problem.
Me: Uhm, wow, ok. Just assumed you must not know about it…
Owner: Yeah yeah, we’ve tried mousetraps and poison but not much has worked yet. See you next time!
I see this bar crowded night after night down my street. Paris bars, especially in the St Germain des Près area, are consistently hip and chic. One night last week a few friends and I went to a prohibition-style spot, with no name on the outside and heavy velvet curtains covering the windows, called “Prescription Cocktail Club.” (Sister bar to our other recent accomplishment— Experimental Cocktail Club, ranked 13th best bar in the world.) At establishments like these, where cocktails cost upwards of 12 euros, it’s always a rude awakening when something, furry with a tail or not, reminds you that Paris, as fancy as it feels, is still a European city. (But at least the mice probably have refined taste in cheese and maybe even are good chefs— Ratatouille anyone?)
Spring break 2008: After leaving Wesfest, the fam drove up to VT and stopped at Middlebury… A sign of what was to come?
CONGRATULATIONS TO MY BRILLIANT DRIVEN TALENTED BEAUTIFUL LOVELY SISTER MADELINE ROSE BERKMAN: Middlebury Class of 2015! (seriously Mad, be younger…)
“Oh beautiful, nice tits.”… ”Fish and chips, how many camels for you to stay in Morocco?” … “You are a shit girl, shit on you.”
Golden Hour (thanks Dad): Place Jamaa al Fna
Before last weekend, such phrases would have been surprising and appalling to me. Sure, Rome was vulgar and full of men who seemed unable to keep the harassment from escaping their lips, but at least there was a sense of taboo associated with the heckling there. In Marrakech, we came to realize quickly, the men showed no sense of embarrassment over what they were saying. Quite the opposite, actually: they would look us up and down as we walked by, shout obscenities at us, and then stare dumbfounded at our lack of response or interest. This was the first and most obvious indication that the airplane that had taken us away from Paris had in fact transported us to another planet. But it certainly wasn’t the last, and it wasn’t what ultimately marked my long-anticipated amazing journey (yes, a Who allusion) to the Kingdom of Morocco.
Mint tea for the first of a zillion times during our stay.
When we first landed at RAK (Carolyn loved saying this), we had our first real experience with passport control since we began our travels back in August. Disappointing, I must admit, that I only got my passport stamped on one out of my seven trips this semester, but after the stress of waiting to get our “Moroccan number” upon our arrival, I’ve come to feel thankful that the EU doesn’t require such bureaucratic endeavors. We exited the airport and spoke in French to a cab driver who asked us where we were going— all we could do was point to the address the hotel had given us. (No point in trying to sound out 39 Derb Lahbib Lemagni Zitoun Jdid.) We were shocked when the driver told us the ride would cost us a mere 5 euros; especially compared to Paris, life in Marrakech was delightfully inexpensive.
Our hotel was perfect. The hotel owners and their family came to greet us with mint tea and fruit and almond cakes, and spoke to us extensively about the neighborhood and the best things to see and do in Marrakech. Carolyn and I sat out in the warmth of the African (!) sun on the hotel terrace while waiting for three other friends joining us from Madrid and Paris, and we marveled over the accessibility of Africa for Europeans. That first day was one of the last times we thought of Marrakech as African.
Breakfast on the roof at the Riad Cala Medina.
Our hotel owner showed us to the central Place Jamaa al Fna as soon as we were joined by other other friends. Without him, it’s unclear if we ever would have emerged from the labyrinth that constitutes the medina, or old city. At first, Carolyn berated the fact that we hadn’t picked up a map at the airport… but after one click glance, we realized a map wouldn’t do us any good. Not only were the words unpronounceable to our untrained tongues, but they were also written in Arabic, rendering them just about as legible as Rebecca Litt’s handwriting (love you litter!). Mitzta’eret… By the end of the trip, I’m proud to say even I was able to navigate us safely to the Riad Cala Medina, with help from landmarks such as ‘that guy who always calls us flowers’ or the donkey that always seemed to be ‘parked’ just before we were supposed to make a right turn.
That’ll do Donkey; that’ll do.
Jamaa al Fna and the souk that was buried deep behind it were the most overwhelming places I’ve visited in my life. Even though the language barrier subsided at this point, as nothing was written out and practically all the locals speak French, walking into the square felt like getting trapped in the middle of a whirlwind of foreign sounds, smells, and sights. Snake charmers coaxed their (disgusting, terrifying) scaly friends out of their hiding places, and monkeys performed stunts off their owners’ shoulders. Figures walked by in floor-length burqas, a sliver of their eyes serving as the only clue of life beneath the cloth. Hands covered in orange henna gestured towards bright orange hues of juicy grapefruits and dried apricots. Cars and vespas whirred by on a road that seemed to visible only to those driving on it, and donkey-drawn carts nearly ran us over each time we saw an opening between horse-drawn carriages. Though we often got frustrated at these challenges, they ultimately proved a hilarious manifestation of the energy we came to love in Marrakech. (See video three posts below.)
To get to the souk, we had to push through the throngs of merchants and essentially get ourselves lost among the winding stands smelling like a mix of mint tea and uncured leather. It was in this maze of tea pots, scarves, clay bowls, and silver jewelry, where we heard the most jarring appellations. The vendors would sling everything at us from “nice ass” to “I love you” to asking how many camels we were worth. It was truly eye-opening to witness such a blatant demonstration of that society’s lack of respect for women, in a practice that’s generally not publicized. And when the men saw that we weren’t reacting or entering their stores, they would grow angry or even more persistent. Simple calls of “That is not correct!” became “You look like chicken!” or “Shit on you! You’re a shit girl!” At the end of our first day, I told my mom I couldn’t believe she allowed me to come to Marrakech, 22 years after she traveled to the city herself. “Are you kidding? I’m the one who told you to go there in the first place,” she told me. “You’ll see.” And soon enough, I really did.
Once we grew deaf to the verbal spitballs, it was easier to observe the true warmth of the culture around us. Berber pharmacists would beckon us into their shops to teach us everything about every odd-colored powder in the jars lining their shelves, and even occasionally gifted us with Berber lipstick (apparently my mom got the same gift 22 years ago) or hand-made wooden necklaces. When they weren’t trying to get a rise out of us, the locals showed a deep sense of pride for their traditions and culture. It was particularly interesting, after studying the Moroccan government last semester at Wes, to hear the ways in which the vendors talked about King Mohammed VI after I pointed out their photos of the constitutionally-protected monarch hanging in their stalls.
Majorelle Blue at the source.
Apart from the souk, we saw our fair share of Marrakech tourist sights including the stunning Majorelle gardens, the Bahia temple, Chez Ali, some of Gueliz, and the mellah and old Jewish synagogue. Getting to the mellah our last morning was a challenge in itself— while pointing us along the right road, a Moroccan woman warned us that it was dangerous “in there.” Luckily we were whisked away almost immediately by our Arab-in-shining armor who requested, rather than monetary payment for his tour guide skills, that we thank him in Arabic upon our arrival at the synagogue. I was certainly skeptical, as no one in the city seemed to be well-off enough to refuse money, but he stuck to his word and refused our offer of a few dirham at the end of our expedition. He brought us safely and soundly to the beautiful old Jewish synagogue in the mellah, although of course we couldn’t escape without him imparting some of his wisdom about how “all the Arabs are poor in the mellah because no one wants to mix their money with the Jews.” Regardless, we were thankful to arrive without much trouble at the synagogue, where the seemingly senile Rabbi toured us around the beautiful grounds. According to him, there are only about 200 Jews left in Marrakech. Most of the other ones, he said, have migrated to France and Israel.
According to the Rabbi, roughly 60 people come to this temple every morning to pray.
Of course, I can’t finish this post without a reference to the unbelievable food we treated ourselves to in Marrakech. Armed with the excuse of avoiding uncooked and probably less-than-hygienic meals, we splurged for 100 dirham meals (the term splurged used very loosely here— conversion rate is a little more than 10 dirham to the euro) at some of Marrakech’s nicer restaurants and had the best couscous dishes and tangines of our lives. It was a significant departure from the tasteless Carrefour couscous I’ve come to enjoy here in France. That plus the fresh-squeezed orange juice, “banana milk,” mint tea…. just a few of the million reasons I’m already counting down till my return to Marrakech someday.
Couscous and kababs at le Tanjia, miam miam.
Now my trips are all done and I have two weeks left in Paris before my parents and sister arrive. I can’t believe how time has flown by so quickly, but when I think of all that I’ve experienced over the past four months, I realize that it really has been a significant chunk of time. It’s easy to lose track of the time when you spend it sleeping on airplanes as you jet from one country to the next… What a way to pass my four months! I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am. Especially with this past trip— thank you, mom and dad, for encouraging to make this journey. I’ll never forget it.
Finally seeing Harry Potter tonight!