Posts Tagged With: El Jadida

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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Categories: fulbright, media, Morocco, Ponderings | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Waš femtini? Get me?

Waš femtini? – Darija question meaning, do you understand?

Every morning I wake up hoping  today will be the day that I understand full sentences in Darija or French. My chambre is cavelike when the external blinds are drawn, so for a few minutes I lie in my bed trying to construct a full sentence out of the darkness. Outside, on the streets of El Jadida, I have maybe five minutes before I stumble over a word or phrase I already know, and the rapid tongue of the Jadidiyat continues to elude me. But, every day it gets a little easier. This week I laughed at a joke. Everyone in the room, including myself, was surprised I understood. And, I met a couple of really great children this week – two little boys, 4 and 8, at the culinary institute where my friend teaches and where I had been invited for lunch — and the children of my new friend Meriem, who are 3 and 5. I love talking to children in any language, but in Arabic, it’s so much easier than talking to adults. Because I can almost have a conversation with the three year old. Still, over tea the 5 year old wanted to know why I said mezian so much. Mezian means good, or well, or sometimes great. I told him it’s one of the only words I knew how to say.

Moroccans are very polite and pleased – I think – that I’m trying to speak their language. Yesterday, at the Moroccan equivalent of a thrift store, a woman put her purple Adidas stretch pants in my bag. I told her in Arabic that I thought she had the wrong bag and she spent the next few minutes complimenting my on my admittedly bad Darija. Positive reinforcement is a great way to learn anything.

But talking can be equally frustrating. I understand Arabic numbers very slowly, and I’ve got no French numbers over 10. In fact, I don’t understand that much French at all. So when I decided I wanted to play tennis at the beautiful courts I found in the center of town, I thought it would be an easy, safe environment where I could maybe make some friends and work on my language skills. Because I already know how to play tennis. However, what I didn’t realize was that I’d made a appointment for a tennis lesson. And I hadn’t understood the annual membership fee, partially because I can’t understand numbers, and partially because the coach can’t write them down. So, when I showed up to play, I was shocked to find out that I’d sent myself back to high school, freshman year: Coach McCoy’s tennis drills. And though I quite enjoyed the work out, everything was laborious. I couldn’t understand the simplest directions in French – sit up, slide, backhand, forehand. And at the end of a vigorous hour, when this coach lined up tennis balls for this sprinting drill I’ve always hated – I started laughing. I realized that if I had understood what he was telling me to do, I would never have agreed to do it. And then, we spent another hour trying to figure out the price of a membership and haggling over the cost of a tennis racket. It was the hardest work out I’ve ever done, because it wore me out not only physically, but mentally too.

Anyway, here’s a walking tour. First, you’ll see a few shots from my neighborhood, then my school, then the old Portuguese City of El Jadida. The medina was built in the mid-1500s. I haven’t gone into the cistern yet – El Jadida’s pièce de résistance — I’m saving that for my first visitors next week.

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Categories: fulbright, Morocco, Ponderings, wanderings | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Categories: fulbright, media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Excuse me, I forgot about everything.

NSIT KULCHI SEMEHLI: Darija phrase meaning “Excuse me, I forgot about everything.”

While perusing the internet for some clever Darija word I might use to bring this here blog back to life, I came across this phrase. It was listed among other “Useful Phrases in Moroccan Arabic,” and it made me chuckle. While I’ve had the occasion to tell folks that I’ve forgotten something – birthdays, names, faces, some lost memory from childhood – I can’t recall one instance where knowing how to say “excuse me, I forgot about everything” might come in handy. While I’m not in any linguistic shape to confirm the veracity of the words above, let alone their etymology, I am ready to start writing to you again.

For those of you that don’t know, I’m moving to El Jadida, a seaside town just south of Casablanca, where I’ll be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant for the next 10 months. And so I’m changing the rules of this blog ever-so-slightly: I’ll still be learning lots of new words in English, of course, but also in French and Darija (Moroccan Arabic). And I intend to write about my travels and my experience with language right here.

Curious about where I’m going? Here’s a great little video I found about El Jadida. Watch out for the castle jumping — it boggled my mind.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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