Friday, March 31, 2006

Morocco observation #17

Italian spaghetti ordered from a Mexican restaurant in southern Morocco is slightly above average.

Moroccan encounter #11

Morocco has these swell little rides called petit taxis (briefly mentioned in Marrakesh post), which are small Fiat Punto/Uno-like cabs that roam around the cities hunting for passengers. Charmingly, their colour varies from city to city: in Agadir they're a pale sun-dried rouge, in Marrakesh a sandy beige, in Fes a bright sports car red.

A Fes petit taxi

Me and Sarah are sitting in the back of a Fes petit taxi, on our way to the Ville Nouvelle part of the city to get a pizza (we're both sick of couscous and tajines, delicious as they are).

"Centre ville?" says the driver as we head out of the old Medina.
"Yes!" we say.
"In Spanish it is 'centro'!" he says, with much flair.
"Ah!" we exclaim, in French accents.
"How you say in English?" he asks, turning round in the seat, and swerving a little.
"'Centre of town'," we tell him. He really isn't looking at the road now.
"How you spell 'town'?" he babbles. I wonder if he is, perhaps, drunk. We tell him how to spell it. Alarmingly, while overtaking a slower car, he starts wildly writing the word in the air in with his finger.

I start to wonder whether it'll be the authorities or the scavengers who'll be the first to peel the passport from my bloody carcrashed corpse.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Days 4 - 7: Marrakesh

In my previous post I was vaguely complimentary about Agadir. Excuse the crudity, but compared to Marrakesh it's shite.

Woman walking down alley, Marrakesh

It's hard to describe Marrakesh without resorting to a range of cliches, waxing on about the "maze of mysterious alleyways", the "droves of wily hustlers", the "hypnotic music of the snake charmers". But there's a reason they're cliches: having arrived in the city's Medina (the old bit), we quickly became lost in the maze of mysterious alleyways, only to be fished out by a hustler, who showed us to our hotel in a wily attempt earn a commission. Luckily it was full.

We eventually parked next door, the Hotel Zitoun, a place - gasp! - not mentioned in the Rough Guide. Those who know me well will be shocked at such rash anti-Rough behaviour; it would be wrong to say I consult the good book religiously - I'm more like a zealous lunatic. But such daredevilry paid off: the room was cheap, clean enough and allowed us to foil the aforementioned wily hustler.

The Zitoun, and our subsequent guesthouse, the ace Mogador Hotel-Riad, was just around the corner from the famous Djemma el Fna, a huge open space filled with crowds of people, gathered round an array of performers, including, yes, snake charmers.

Djemma el Fna at dusk, Marrakesh

Wandering round the djemma you see all sorts: a man with a live chicken on his head dances and plays his two-string ginbris to a manic Moroccan beat; hunched old men in long robes slowly cross the square; juice vendors seated behind rows of oranges desperately invite you closer when you glance their way; lonely herbalists sit looking gloomily at their spices; tourist couples wander hand in hand, cameras swinging; bicycles, motorbikes and petit taxis haphazardly weave through the sparser areas of crowd, displacing people on all sides.

When it gets to dusk, even more people arrive and smoke fills the square as the cooks light up the fires. Soon the constant drum beats will be accompanied by mad yodelling as the call to prayer screeches out from the loudspeakers of the surrounding minarets. You really don't get that in Agadir.

Djemma el Fna, Marrakesh

Days 1-3: Agadir

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Morocco observation #7

You know how on MTV and the like, you get a tickertape at the bottom of the screen with mindless text messages like "Dave I luv u, Sandra x" scrolling from left to right? Well on Moroccan MTV, because the messages are mostly in Arabic which is read right to left, the mindless text messages scroll in the opposite direction (right to left). It's quite strange to see; even more so as you get the occasional one in English or French, and the tickertape has to change direction for a moment to accomodate it. When you see this happen, it's like a small earthquake inside your head.

An early example of an Arabic text message

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Morocco encounter #4

Yesterday, Sarah saw a ring she liked in the window of one of the touristy craft shops opposite our hotel and got persuaded inside to try it on. It turned out her fingers were too thin for it.
"You need to eat more," says the Moroccan shopkeeper. "When you are older, you will be fat."
"No I won't," says Sarah.
"You will be fat like your mother," says the man, with no apparent trace of malice.

Days 1-3: Agadir

The new and different thing about this holiday is that we got a package tour, something which every bone in my body rebelled against. Except for my financial bone. So we get a hotel, for two weeks in south Moroccan beach resort Agadir, included in the price; we plan to cruelly ditch it tomorrow, and head north to Marrakesh. Our hotel, the ominously-named Tagadirt - is brilliantly eccentric, all blue and white art deco stripes, a maze of Whitereadesque white boxes, with swings and a mini-golf course bizarrely shoehorned into the middle.

Tagadirt hotel, Agadir
Tagadirt art deco

As part of the package, we also got a ridiculous in-flight video, which I was hoping would tell us a bit about Morocco. In fact it began something like, "Going to a different country can be just that - different. Different weather, different people, different food, different places. That's fine - but sometimes that difference can be dangerous." It then went on to warn that we could perish by falling over next to the pool, get confused by the different types of ovens that we may encounter and, my favourite, put our children's lives at risk by entering "lifts with no interior doors".

Agadir being package central, there's a huge number of white tourists around town - initially, it seemed, far more than actual Moroccans. Most are older and fatter than us, and more inclined to wear tiny speedos below their large bronzed/very pale bellies.

Despite this, and despite the sudden stretches of scrub land (a result of the disastrous 1960 earthquake?), Agadir does have a certain charm - tree-lined avenues and a seaside town atmosphere, as well as an array of smiling waiters and scrawny chats with piercing yellow eyes.

The beach at Agadir

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Morocco 'n' roll

Off on holiday to Morocco today, which is pretty exciting. Haven't decided whether to blog while I'm there or not. There'll probably be loads of interesting and colourful things to write about, and I'm not sure that fits in with the general tone of this blog.

Anyway, lots to read...

Books

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Sun says... Phwoar!

I picked up a copy of The Sun newspaper on the tube yesterday. For any non-British readers out there, The Sun is Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, and despite its increasing interest in celebrity tittle-tattle and free DVD giveaways, it’s still hugely influential. But the best-known thing about the paper is its page 3, which always features a full-page shot of a pretty young female baring her breasts.

Rather wonderfully, the accompanying article often attributes the day’s Page 3 Girl with an unlikely comment on a topical news story, and coincidentally, this is always reflective of the paper’s editorial line. Yesterday’s was truly exceptional. The paper took their lead from the death last week of one-time War Minister John Profumo, whose scandalous affair with call girl Christine Keeler nearly brought down the Tory government back in 1963. Following the scandal, Keeler was famously photographed naked straddling a chair; The Sun managed to find a buxom blonde, called – yep – Keeley, and photographed her adopting a similar, though less modest, pose.

Bizarre stuff. But it was the final paragraph of the piece, with Keeley’s quote and subsequent devastating pun, that was truly brilliant:
Keeley, 19, said: “I’ve always been fascinated by the Profumo scandal – all that intrigue, sex and Cold War paranoia.”
Cold War? Cold Phwoar, more like!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Jack joke

Q: Why did Jack Bauer visit the herbalist?
A: Because HE'S RUNNING OUT OF THYME.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Things we read today

The Guardian's new Comment is Free site is live. Rubbish title, but looks interesting.

Simon Clarke's geographically accurate London tube map. Bendy!

Google, bless them, have mapped Mars. No signs of life, but I'm sure there'll be a Starbucks there soon.

And finally, Laura Barton on the disgrace that is the new Marmite.

Turbulent

Battleships sails sea of blood
Created in Artrage

Monday, March 13, 2006

Celebrity encounter #94

One of the most troubling issues in modern life is how to approach a celebrity. What's your opening line? It obviously can't be too personal - that'll make you look like a stalker - but you have to show that you're familiar with their work in a non-gushing, playing-it-cool kind of way.

I had to tackle this problem on Friday night, when I wandered into the West End's Phoenix bar for Darren's birthday. The first person I saw when I walked in was Romeo Stodart, lead singer of The Magic Numbers. Luckily I'd had a few strong lagers beforehand, so had no trouble leaning over and casually spewing the immortal opening gambit, "That's a good band you're in there."

Anyway, a short conversation ensued, none of which is interesting enough to relate here (yes, that bad) and he seemed like a pleasant guy. But my mind kept returning to that opening line. I thought it was quite a good one, but when I told Sarah about it, she visibly cringed, screwing up her face in pain. Back to square one.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Great house party moments #24

It's summer 2005, I'm sober and at Chris's house party. The theme is M, meaning you have to dress as something beginning with the letter "m". In attendance are a monk, a Maverick (from Top Gun), a pair of Minnie Mouses, a Buddhist monk, the obligatory Mafioso and so on. Chris has dressed up as a Marxist: he's dyed his hair black, donned sandals and glued bits of wig hair to his face.

A few hours in, I start talking to a drunken guy who has a large toy monkey tied round his head.

"So what do you do?" I say.
"I work for the foreign office," he replies. My eyes wander up towards the monkey strapped to his head, a creeping alarm beginning to register.
"Which department?" I ask.
"Counter proliferation of nuclear weapons," he slurs.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

We'll always hate Paris

My flatmate Jamie is a total bastard. He came home from work the other night and asked me how my day at work had been. I grunted in a vaguely French accent and asked him how his was.
"Shit - but also brilliant," he said.
"How so?"
"Well, I went through the usual crap; but just before I left, a few of us got invited for a booze-up and posh meal, all paid for by the company. Guess where."
"The Ivy." Celeb dining haven. That would be pretty cool.
"Nope."
"Fifteen." Jamie Oliver's place, run by homeless kids come good.
"Nope, better."
"Er, Gordon Ramsey's restaurant?" Couldn't remember what it's called.
"Nope."
"Tell me. Where?"
"Paris."

He wasn't talking some shitty eaterie in Stockwell called Paris. He meant Paris. As I said, total bastard.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cutlery

The poet, singer, songwriter and all-round eccentric Ivor Cutler died yesterday, aged 83. Ironically, following the announcement that he was retiring in the summer of last year, Cutler went through a bit of a revival. There was an interesting article at the time by Alex Kapranos, lead singer of the art-rock band Franz Ferdinand, beginning with a telling of the story behind opening lines of their song Jacqueline. It inevitably involves Cutler, and a girl called Jacqueline:
A friend of mine - a girl called Jacqueline - worked in a poetry library in London that Ivor Cutler used to visit. She became good friends with him, and went round to his house for tea a few times. She was pretty young, and pretty attractive as well. I think she was a little gauche, thoroughly charmed by the literary excitement of it all, and didn't realise he was maybe a little more amorous than she gave him credit for.

She described the scene to me of how she rejected him outright because he was just an old man. She said: "Why would I possibly be romantically interested in you?" And he replied: "You see me just as an old man, but I'm looking at you with the same eyes that I had as a young man." That was the inspiration for our song, Jacqueline, looking out through one set of eyes and seeing yourself reflected as you actually are in the gaze that comes back at you."

Interesting, no? To finish off, here's one of Cutler's snippets that I particularly like:
If your breasts are too big, you will fall over.
Unless you wear a rucksack.

Quasi quitique


My review of When the Going Gets Dark, the seventh album by Quasi (who?) is here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bittersweet Bundle of Truancy

Television is one hell of a deceptive medium. Yeah, I’ve been in an edit suite and had them mash stuff together, or cut stuff out. But last night I was in the audience, and that felt different. My friend Birdy had tickets for the filming of The Album Show, a new Channel 4 music programme which features bands performing album tracks live.

"We got dealt a bad hand," said this passer-by who collared me. She was right though: Will Young, The Like, Sean Paul, The Automatic. I wouldn’t have minded – The Like were cool (but too small for this venue), Young had the star factor (despite being effortlessly effortless live), Sean Paul got the crowd going ("What is he saying?" asked a guy next to me. "I have no idea," replied his companion).

But when the announcer shouted, "Ladies and gentlemen, GRAHAM COXON," I rushed forward to see the great ex-Blur guitarist (and my old best friend). The crowd applauded rapturously. He didn’t appear. Then the presenter did it again: "Yes, it’s GRAHAM COXON!" No Coxon.

Why? The man had played the previous week, but hadn’t garnered the necessary applause; so they needed some footage of the crowd going crazy for Coxon, despite the fact that he wasn’t even in the building. Ever feel like you're being used?

Me, Dan and Birdy left before the final band could come on. They were still doing endless, "Clap your hands for GRAHAM COXON!" takes. We went to the pub and ordered some Thai noodles. My evening was hugely brightened when I came back from the cigarette shop to find Dan having a long conversation with the waitress in what seemed to me like fluent Thai. "That’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in two years," I told him when she’d gone. He’d probably be hugely flattered if he knew that the previous coolest thing was the time when I found out that one of my friends had once smoked crack with some homeless people in Central Park.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The death of Mishima / the birth of new Hula Hoops

I was reading an interview in an old magazine with a forensics expert the other day and he was asked to name the strangest fact that he'd found out in his job. His answer was quite unexpected, nothing grizzly at all: it was that most suicides remove their shoes before killing themselves.

Today I was reminded of the extraordinary way in which Japanese writer Yukio Mishima ended his life. Having finished the the final book in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy, he dropped the completed manuscript off at his publishers and went to the Tokyo headquarters of Japan's Self-Defense Force where he read a manifesto, and committed seppuku, ritual suicide, disembowelling himself with a sword, after which a colleague cut his head off.

***

Hula Hoops have brought out a new flavour of crisps, called Sheriff's Saucy Ribs. The packet is an unlikely mauve pink colour, but it's the crisps themselves that really shock in the colour department. It's insane: they look almost radioactive. The taste? Saucy, with hints of bacon, reminiscent of a long summer day spent with a new lover lying on an empty green expanse of grass.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The chord works in mysterious ways

I love working where I work. Actually, I’m talking more geographically than anything. Came out of work on Monday night and on my way to the pub, stopped by at HMV Oxford Street, where The Mystery Jets were playing a five-song set. "It's a bit weird playing a gig in a record shop," said the lead singer. It certainly is: they looked strange twisting around beneath the static indoor lights; we felt strange standing in the aisles, CD racks on each side. I was in the rock and pop aisle, next to the Cs, The Cribs and Culture Club.

I wasn’t very impressed with the Jets; they seem like a poor man’s Futureheads to me. What I was impressed by was the number of screaming teenage girls, well, screaming. You expect that at a Westlife gig, but not for four scruffy and odd-looking indie-types playing jittery rhapsodic guitar rock. That they're listening to obscure, trying-to-be-inventive indie that's actually a bit mediocre while they lust after their boy heroes, well, that's surely preferable to the usual saccharine pop balladry that they have to put up with.

Listen to The Mystery Jets here, if you must.