The Scene in Rabat

Trip Start Apr 14, 2006
Trip End May 14, 2006

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Thursday, April 20, 2006

As I linger in the hotel mezzanine (why is breakfast in Europe-influenced hotels almost always above the ground floor?), this is what I reflect:

* Rabat is a highly sophisticated, western-influenced city
* Judging from the folks on my 3 hours flight from Paris yesterday, many of the well-to-do pop over to Paris to shop
* Traffic here is heavy. Not so bad as, say, Paris - or Bangkok - unless you're a pedestrian trying to cross the street. Sans working crossing lights and traffic cops, the traffic approaches mythic proportions for pedestrians.
* Most of the cars here are Asian: Nissan, Toyota, Honda. The only European cars are Peugeot (once the French arrive in a country, they never really leave) and Mercedes. A Benz here is a workhorse, as in much of Europe: a taxi, or the car your driver uses for errands and deliveries.

As to the people? Well, here is where Morocco becomes the exotic and foreign that I travel for.

I did well in a career dependent upon my ability to "read" people and circumstances, and behave accordingly. In other words, observing appearances mattered, a lot. But I don't have a clue what appearances are telling me in Rabat.

The women's attire is all over the map. Some are covered head to toe (but never the face) in luxury fabrics, often jeweled or sequined, and always colorful. Some wear a filmy head scarf but normal street clothes, usually well-fitted pants. Some are not covered at all, and wear clothing at home in any major city in the world. But no jeans; apparently women do not wear jeans in Rabat, ever. 'Lucky I left my denim at home.

Men's attire runs the gamut, too. There are business suits, European cut. There are uniforms, lots of uniforms, often military, and some I don't recognize. Some men wear polo shirts, untucked; some wear dress shirts and ties, sharply tailored. Some men wear djellabas, with hoods or with fez; some men wear fez with their casual clothes, but no men wear head gear with business attire.

Young men wear jeans with athletic shoes; everyone else wears fashionable, even if impractical, shoes.

And today's paper, Aujourd'hui Le Maroc, announces in screaming and appalled headlines (in French, of course): The Moroccan town of Zouerate is becoming an underground base for Ben Laden's organization: Al Qaida Recruits Mercenaries From The Police. The text goes on to explain where the town is, and how desperately poor its inhabitants, presumably to say that's the only reason they would consider such a despicable association.

Reporting in wonderment, and not yet deciphering it all,

P.S. When the maid cleaned my room this morning, she folded the bath mat into a fan and left a red rose petal tucked in each crease, and a hot pink geranium in the sink.

P.P.S. This is a one-time disclaimer for all the inscrutable keyboards and missing symbols that influence my spelling on this trip. Figure it out; YOU're the ones who can look at a keyboard and see something you recognize.
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