January 2, 2011

Pretty Faces

As the year turns into another I find myself under par. I’m pretty upbeat as a rule, so under par is still OK, but it feels kind of like wearing wet socks and I’m not used to it. Wet socks are as hard to put on as they are to take off, and my solution is usually to simply wear them around for a few days and then find them dry all of a sudden...and then the sun comes out.  I think it was all wrapped up in the close of a solid vacation, and the comfort of our own bed, and the search to re-establish a daily pattern.
Blogging helps, a bit of introspection and overdue synthesis.
Instead of our annual trip home to The States for Christmas, we took a cruise.
9 days on the Louis Majesty, out of Marseilles, through Morocco and Spain and finishing up in Genova, Italy. It was a very nice ship with a very mediocre itinerary. 

Our port calls were too short and the weather was too cold. This temperate corner of the Mediterranean was victim to the same weather that shut down London and Paris over the holidays, before continuing onto New York and the Eastern sea board. My shorts stayed packed and every shirt I brought was layered up into my standard uniform when we ventured out, and this was Africa!?
However, the cities were wonderful to visit, Tangier and Casablanca in Morocco and then Malaga and Barcelona in Spain. The two pairs are so different, it was like an essay exam: “compare and contrast the African and European continents”.  One cannot claim to have seen either continent from visiting any two cities, and those two African cities are perhaps the most european there are, but the contrast was stark. Morocco seems to have had it’s day, I shy from talking about an entire country this way, but we’re just making flash card observations here. There was fabulous architecture in every direction, and at every scale, but it was wanting a makeover. Like pretty faces, with smeared makeup. The beauty was easy to see, but the impoverished condition of the roads, sidewalks, and buildings were too obvious by their contradiction. Similarly most of it’s better half were concealed under their ħijābs, obscuring the beauty there was. Similar to to the inner beauty of the mosques and courtyards which turn a discrete or tired, face to the street, the glimpses of the pale olive skin and the happy faces flashing through the alley’s of the old towns were of a happy people.
A short sail across the Straits of Gibraltar, and the beauty was european, that is the make up was impeccable, even if the underlying facades were less sublime. Europe is clean, smooth, highly functional, mature. Morocco is dirty, contradictory, coarse, exotic, expecting.  Both have pretty faces, responding to different tastes and sensibilities.
I understand I am comparing December in a Muslim nation to Christmas in the christmas light capital of europe (4,000,000 lights this year).
 And I’m comparing the gargantuan Mosque Hassan II to the recently completed interior of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, so the comparison continues to be unfair, but it’s where I was and what we had on hand. It was our first view into the northern face of Africa, and it deserves a view deeper into the heart, into the deserts and plains, into the countries that don’t live in the shadow of Europe. We’ll make that a New Years resolution, not to judge a continent by it’s pretty face.
After 48 hours, we are Europeans again, or at least Americans pretending to be Europeans. 

 There is such beauty in Spain, the mountains and the beaches, the verdant parks and the innovative architecture. It was Christmas eve, but I think they know how to have a good time any afternoon of the week. We tried hard to absorb the local colors, eat the local foods and drink the vernacular beverages. Turron in Malaga, gelato in Genova (despite the cold), strong ristretto expresso, Basil drenched pizza, Iberian Ham, mint tea and powdered biscuits, tagines of lamb, strange sausages and bottled water everywhere.
Back home in our swiftly adopted Bordeaux, the streets continue to teem with beautiful people and familiar patterns. We are left wondering if this pace will ever slow, will the shoppers ebb? will the weather ever get bad enough to keep people home. It’s this intense level of activity and people that has dried my socks. We live at what we imagine to be the crossroads of the world, and is in fact the crossroads of Bordeaux. If you google “Bordeaux, France”, the push pin is 2 blocks from our home, but I’d argue it should be even closer.
 We live mostly sheltered from these teeming masses yearning to stroll, behind a solid door, two flights of stone stairs and double glazed windows, but when we step outside, they are there, pretty faces, smiling at this moment in time, and cheering me up.
Happy New Year


Meghan Adkins said...

Your writing is so gorgeous, I'm always so transported by your blogs, thanks for sharing your vacation and your thoughts. Seriously, have you considered becoming a writer? I'd read your book.
I'm glad you all are still adventuring and whether or not you guys ever come back, we still love you! Have fun for the rest of us!

Faye Bird said...

I wish I could have gone on that cruise!

Anonymous said...

Yea.... very very nice....-jw