Tables of the World


From the Book, “What the World Eats” by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluision. This family represents Mexico.

In Casablanca, I tutored a Coca-Cola executive. He told me they’d run an experiment to see how people of different economic classes spend their lunch money. They gave 20 dhs, roughly $2.30, to a few people with the goal of buying lunch for their family. The wealthiest participant balked: what would 20dhs buy – hardly even a sandwich! The middling participant managed to do just that – to find a satisfying lunch for himself only at 20dhs. The poorest of the three went to the souk. From the vegetable stand, she asked the purveyor to give her 5 dirhams of mixed vegetables appropriate for couscous. She bought 10 dirhams of chicken and with the remaining 5 dihrams, she bought semolina, spices and a little leben (buttermilk). For 20 dhs, the poorest woman fed her whole family lunch.

The Coke executive told me that one of the people watching the experiment was from Atlanta. He said the woman started crying when she saw how much fresh, healthy food 20 dhs could buy, compared to what low-income folks in Atlanta had at their disposal.

I think of this story often, particularly when we come home from our weekend shopping trip the local farmer’s market. I’ve been obsessed with these photos for a few days now. The photos come from the book ‘Hungry Planet: What the World Eats’ by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluision. Time has two series from the book, which also includes how much the families spend: What the World Eats, Part 1 and Part 2

I’m lucky to live in a place where whole, fresh foods are cheap, local, and seasonal. Sometimes I groan about lack of variety (Mushrooms, please! Asparagus!), but after looking at these photos, I’m so grateful the  packaged items on my table are few.

My wish for the world is what I’m already lucky to have: cheap fresh vegetables, meats and bread that goes stale quickly.

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Go out and cry mutiny!

During my freshman year of college, I developed an overwhelming and unrealistic crush on young Orson Welles. He’d died in 1985 at the age of 70 (I was four), but that didn’t matter. At 18, I lusted after his long takes, swooned over his severe angles, and eagerly awaited his shadow play and deep focus shots. He was a genius confident and cocky enough to appreciate his own genius. And he had a nice radio voice, which he used to play a prank on the good people of the United States with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. I spent so much time in the Music and Media Library watching Welles movies, they hired me to work there.

I was particularly interested in Welles’ Othello, which represented the Wellesian trait I admired most: he was so intent on making his art, that he would do just about anything to realize his visions. And Othello was doomed from the beginning. The producer ran out of money. The scenes were fragmented. The filming locations weren’t always consistent. In some cases, he couldn’t afford actors that spoke English. Indeed, the film is flawed and ego-centric; it’s not my favorite version of Othello, mostly because in it Welles does what Welles does best – focus on himself rather than the narrative. Race is almost a non-issue in this version and the writing is certainly not Shakespeare’s. But, Welles finished the film. He redubbed a good chunk of the movie himself. He filmed scenes where and when he could over the course of three years and several countries. And then it won the Palm d’Or in 1952.

The opening scene still gives me chills:

I spent a large chunk of last spring thinking about Othello. I saw the Peter Sellars’ version of the play at the Skirball Center at NYU and while I appreciated Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s villainy, I found the conception of the play confusing and distorted when compared with the original. And, like Welles, Sellars’ basically ignored race. Last summer, I taught the play to my literature students at Medgar Evers, which was really fun and prompted me to watch just about every version of the film that exists. In the middle of studying the Moor of Africa with my students, Fulbright called and invited me to move to Morocco. You know, the original home of the Moors?

El Jadida, my new hometown, is where Welles’ filmed most of Othello. That opening scene up there? Those are the walls of our fair Portuguese city. From the jetty, you can see the spot where the imprisoned Iago gets dropped into the bay.

Perhaps El Jadida’s most famous landmark – the old cistern – is the setting for a very intense chase scene in the film:

Indeed, visiting the cistern today is a magical experience, from the soft lighting, to the ancient arches, to the thin layer of water that covers most of the brick floor. When I go in there, my imagination spins into hyperdrive. I think about the past – it was constructed in the 1650s after all – and I think about what happens next: how will future generations use this place? Will there come a time when there’s so little fresh water that the inhabitants of Jadida will use the cistern for its original purpose again? Will they laugh about the years that movies were filmed inside its walls and tourists came simply to look at the well?

But mostly when I’m inside the cistern, I think about how happy accidents can add up in one person’s life: an 18 year-old-girl sits on wooden chair in Atlanta watching the walls of a city where she will live ten years later on a tiny television.

People often ask me how I chose Morocco. I tell them I didn’t. Morocco picked me.

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Horsin’ around El Jadida

The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears – Arabian proverb

We walked along the beach toward El Jadida, hopping from one flat rock to the next and wading around the jagged edges where it was shallow. There are often horses on the pubic part of the beach in town, so I wasn’t surprised to see hoof prints in the sand.  My friend and I spied a few horses tied up near a building, and a little later, a man giving quiet commands to a beautiful brown horse in the soft part of the sand usually untouched by the surf. Suddenly, the horse knelt down, then turned over on his back like a dog rolling over. I’d never seen anything like it. The horse agilely took to his feet again and shook the grains from his muscular back. I was in awe. I didn’t know horses could do such a maneuver. What we were seeing was a special backstage preview for that night’s spectacle at the annual Salon du Cheval.

El Jadida and the surrounding Doukkala-Abda region are well known for their horses. There are something like 15,000 horses in the region, most of which are Arabian race horses. Lots of these are used locally in a very famous fantasia, or Tbourida, every August. The Salon du Cheval began in El Jadida three years ago, likely to boost tourism in the area. The King is a prominent supporter of the festival, and because of this, he came to El Jadida last Monday to kick off the fanfare. The King’s visit and the onslaught of tourists explained why I’d been watching the town get a fresh coat of paint over the last few weeks. Despite my questioning everyone I could, I didn’t find out the details of the King’s arrival until about 20 minutes before the event began. I heard later that there were special invitations and tickets, but I’m not sure.

There are two must see elements of the Salon du Cheval: the spectacle and the Tbourida. Admittedly, due to my continued inability to comprehend French and Arabic, I figured out what a Tbourida was a little too late to see it. I’ve made a personal vow to see one of these live some day.

This is not the first time I’ve lived in a town celebrated for its horse festival, which is a funny coincidence considering I only moderately enjoyed riding horses as a kid. A pathetic excuse: a fairly big horse stepped on my foot at camp the same summer my friend got bucked off and sent to the hospital. While I probably won’t be galloping around on one any time soon, I can admit that I have a lot of admiration for the animals. Siena’s Palio is – at least to my knowledge – a more popular spectacle for western tourists, and I’m here to tell you, El Jadida is a fair competitor for the attention of any horse festival fanatics (ahem: George Clooney, I’m talking to you).

While my friends and I missed the Tbourida, we did manage to catch the spectacle. And what a show it was! We got to the arena when the exhibition hall was closed, which was unfortunate due to the location – just far away from town to make finding a time-waster impossible. But that didn’t stop us. I needed to use the bathroom and thanks to a poorly guarded exhibition exit, we accidentally snuck into the exhibit hall. We wandered the stalls of resting show horses, and stumbled upon a great food court, which unlike any American event, had reasonably priced and pretty tasty food. The show itself was impressive, with everything from horse burlesque, to dressage, to trick riding, wherein folks flipped upside down, turned summersaults, and a variety of other movements I can assure you I’ll never attempt in my life. The photo quality isn’t all that great, but I think you’ll get the hint:

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And, for added entertainment, there was a great performance by a Gnaoua group from Essaouria. Again, my camera isn’t really built for video, but the sounds not bad and you can make out the horse dancing. And this horse has soul.

Categories: Activities, fulbright, media, Morocco, wanderings | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

EAndi partama zwina u sghirra

EAndi partama zwina u sghirra: meaning, I have a beautiful and small apartment.

On Patios:

On Sunday morning, my courtyard smelled of sardines, a local specialty. I heard them sautéing from at least 3 nearby windows. Still, I’m not a convert. Here, it seems people don’t use their patios like we do in the States, though I’m not totally convinced of my own generalization. I am one of the few people in the building with their own terrace, and certainly the only one who uses the patio like an extra room. My first attempt at air-drying laundry on my newly hung lines was an epic failure. After a day and a half, my clothes were not quite dry so I left them on the line. This morning, I awoke to the sound of rain.

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On neighbors and friends:

I have been in El Jadida for a week. It’s a charming small city of about 250,000. I live downtown, 2 blocks from the beach, 1 block from a park, and approximately 5 minutes on foot to the Centreville markets. I am starting to recognize a few people on the streets, mostly waiters from cafés where I’ve ordered a café nus nus. I have enough Arabic so that I could knock on the door of my neighbors’ apartment and feel comfortable introducing myself to the pair of women in repose on the couches. When one told me that the older was her mother, I said I missed my own mom who is far away in America. “Don’t worry,” the older said, now you have a mother down the hall. My super, Aziz, told me that if I needed anything, I should ask him because I was his sister. And my new friend Naima, who is responsible for me finding an apartment, has told me 15 times last week that I am family now.

I met Naima in a bike shop where I was considering negotiating with a man named Abdullah over a yellow bike that I knew would cost me more than it was worth. Naima tried to help me negotiate even though I wasn’t quite ready to buy the bike. She is a teacher at a local culinary school, where they train people to cook for the hospitality industry. She travels and collects friends from all over the world. She took me home that afternoon, served me coffee and croissants and introduced me to her 3 lovely daughters and her niece. Since then, she has helped me to accomplish almost everything I needed to accomplish my first week as a resident of this little seaside town, from finding an apartment to applying for my carte du sojuour (residence card). Though Naima’s English is far superior to my French and Arabic, we often struggle to communicate fluidly. This meant that I couldn’t always express what I really meant while looking for an apartment. Once I wanted to say that a dark apartment would make me feel sad in the winter; I could only offer that I thought the place was beautiful, but too large for me alone. And, negotiating the price of the apartment was an incredible affair with lots of nonsensical scribbles on my notebook. While our get-to-know you conversations are still quite limited in scope, I am so grateful for this woman who housed me, fed me cous couse and introduced me to the hammam. It’s true what they say about Moroccan hospitality.

And, school started today. I guess it’s about time to rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed.

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Surd is the word

Surd: adjective, meaning senseless or meaningless; a voiceless consonant; an irrational number.

Ever get a word stuck in your head? I’ve been delightfully repeating Surd since I heard it on Monday afternoon. It was instant lingo-love — seriously, say it aloud — it’s wonderful. Plus, as much as I love absurdity, it never occurred to me that the root of that word was surd. But, there are new developments!

I’d like to outright dismiss the irrational number element (the definition I found said “specially one expressed using the √ symbol”), since I don’t really understand mathematics. But part of what’s so cool is that this is one of those rare places where math vocabulary and language vocabulary intersect – Surd also means a voiceless consonant, which is a linguistics term for consonants like p, t, k, s, sh, ch, th (as in thing), that are percussive in nature and don’t require the skills of your larynx. Now, to get super technical, there are a few voiceless consonants that become voiced in certain words. Take skills from two sentences back, which sounds like skillz. S becomes a voiced consonant.

Now, this is exciting for you loyal readers because a while back we learned one of the best words ever, Susurrus. Get this – the etymology of Surd says that though it arrived on the scene around 1571 from the latin word surdus meaning unheard, silent or dull, it’s also possibly related to our onomatopoeic vocab word susurrus.

But that’s not all! Surd also has a regular old meaning, too: senseless or irrational. And there are tons of contexts in which to use to use it in. I can’t quite figure out how absurd could also mean inconsistent with reason or logic or common sense, but I guess the ab- (meaning away from) means absurd isn’t quite nonsense.

Now for an absurd treat (long, but really hilarious):

Categories: etymology, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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