Maroc le Kasbah, pt. 1

Whenever I am asked to describe my Spanish town, I do not hesitate to offset my praise of the incandescent physical beauty of Arcos de la Frontera, but always with the concession that life on this cliff of mine has a powerful isolating effect. It is not outlandish to equate this phenomenon with the “bubble” surrounding so many American university campuses. While not relatively sizable geographically nor in terms of population (33,000), Arcos offers its residents a completely self-sufficient infrastructure that somehow manages to render unnecessary almost any motivation to travel even 20 minutes to Jerez de la Frontera, the Cádiz province’s largest city. For a foreigner, especially one without a car or moto, the key to a balanced and happy life in a town like this depends heavily on their ability to appreciate the benefits of geographic isolation; as a perennial student of Spanish, I value immensely how much of the language I am required to speak on a daily basis. I feel absolutely integrated and comfortable here as well. In an Andalusian town where everybody knows each other there usually persists a strong culture of hospitality and camaraderie. Of course, the disadvantages of this town’s self-contained universe could be enumerated ad nauseam if one has not allowed themselves to slow down to the Arcos pace of life. If you are not the kind of person who is able to go to a café with a friend and, over a couple coffees or beers, sipped slowly and meaningfully while the sun stands still at the top of the sky, lackadaisically philosophize about the mischievous east wind that for days on end displaces minds and souls like litter and dust, this town is probably not where you would want to live. This is a self-referential culture, conservative for a good reason, weary of change because how can you improve on a life like this?

Nevertheless, having not been born into this lifestyle, and with a recent personal history of constant mobility, there is only so much time that I could remain in this slow-motion sequence before I felt it necessary for my own sanity to distance myself from my uneventful hilltop home. Had I been asked what were the chances that come the end of February I would not have left Spain once, I would have probably reiterated that Portugal is just an hour and half away, and France is right there. I mean, there are direct flights to Paris from Jerez every day, of course I would go there as soon as I got a chance Oh, and then there’s Morocco, literally within sight of Spain’s southernmost points. But I’ll get back to that in a second. It turns out that living in Arcos without a motor vehicle is somewhat akin to falling into a pit of quicksand: if you struggle and resist the way of life you will quickly find yourself buried in over your head with either boredom or frustration, but if you relax and don’t fight what is happening, you will find that the same sand that would swallow you whole actually keeps you buoyant. In either case, however, you’re pretty much stuck – it’s only a question of how happy you are with your little hole in the ground.

So if I have surprised myself by making it five full months within the borders of Spain, my time almost exclusively spent in Arcos de la Frontera, it is surely on account of the rewarding experience of full immersion and a cultural revelation. The infamous Spanish four-day weekend, however, would finally succeed in unhinging me from my Spain’s grip. I had grown restless in the way that is only satisfied by leaping out of your comfort zone. While the south of Spain celebrated Andalucía Day – for four days – my friend Miles celebrated our brief escape from Spain and the Western world amongst snake-charmers, lamb-brain soup stands, and Berber nomads in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh and a reality-check overnight trip to the Sahara Desert.

First meal in Marrakesh

Alley doorway, Marrakech

Earth-colored village en route to the Sahara Desert

Another village between Marrakech and the desert

Moroccan village

Moroccan village with Berber horsemen

Moroccon village seen through blue doors. I am told that this shade of blue is typical to much of north Africa.

Another American on the desert excursion handing out Pringles to Moroccan children

Lunch on the way to the Sahara –  lamb tagine with prunes and raisins

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~ by lincolnbrody on March 6, 2008.

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