Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Banned in Bahrain?

The Parliament in Bahrain is asking the government to BAN the upcoming performance of Lebanese Diva Haifa Wehbe, according to this article in the BBC today.

Wehbe, the only Arabic artist to open for 50 Cent, is apparently too sexy for the fundamentalist-dominated Bahraini legislature. Good thing we're not talking Madonna here. Though Wehbe has a lot of fans in the Gulf country, and has promised modest dress, Bahraini MPs are not satisfied. Now this is just exactly why I could never live in a theocracy, or fundamentalist-dominated democracy for that matter. I confess to having problems with the overly pious. Want to see for yourself what the row is all about? Check out this video to see the scandalous performance!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Barcelona's Boqueria Market

Dating to the 1200's, Barcelona's Mercat de la Boqueria is another fine, old market for foodies and digital camera buffs. Off of the city's most famous Avenida, La Rambla, La Boqueria is filled with the best looking produce, seafood, dairy, poultry and meat you can imagine. There are even a few bars and food stalls inside for those who want to linger. And you'll want to linger. The place is eye-candy for foodies. In a city that worships the bizarre and unusual architecture of Gaudi and boasts of the ultra-modern co-existing with the historic, La Boqueria is an anchor in the real world. A place where the fruits of the earth and sea trump the edifices of man. Check it out.

Morocco's Mother of all Marketplaces

The Medina in Marrakech is surely the mother of all marketplaces. A 1500 year old market, the Medina has today over 4500 vendor stalls (Souks) that populate a maze of outside and covered alleyways that require familiarity or a guide to navigate. We opted for a guide, and got one of the very best. Mustapha Karroum, national guide #831, can usually be found at La Mamounia Hotel. Right now, that Marrakech landmark is in its second year of rennovation and thus Mustapha is temporarily without a home base. No matter. He is so well known that our own hotel, the Ville d' Orangers, knew to call him when we inquired for a guide.

I was first in Marrakech over 30 years ago, during the "hippie" years when Americans discovered Morocco. Mustapha was a kid at the time, who hung around the souks looking for hippies willing to provide a few coins for directions. We reminisced about that era and marveled at the changes that come with the passage of time. He took us through the leather workers street, the metal workers alley, past stalls of spices and fabric to hidden antiquities stores and newly commissioned small hotels - right in the middle of the old Medina. We were treated to a lecture, massage and demonstration in a Berber homeopathic pharmacy and capably led through one of the city's finest historic sites the old Maderasa ( image below) where religious students gathered among the arches and ancient architecture to study the Koran.

The Medina is fronted by an enormous square where snake charmers with Cobras ply their trade and colorful Berber water carriers wait for tourists with cameras to take their pictures and provide a coin. The square is the site of the outside food vendors and the famous "lamb alley," where all parts of the animal are available for consumption, and yes, I mean every part. I've included a lot of images from this memorable visit in a slideshow featured in a previous post.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Boycott China

It has been hard during this working holiday to avoid the news of continuing turmoil around the upcoming Bejing Olympics. Now, we read, the Chinese people have had their feelings hurt and are responding with a boycott of French companies and CNN. Yea, uh-huh. So let me get this straight. China floods the worlds with cheap goods, many of them toxic from news reports, and subjects its Tibetan and Muslim masses to repression and imprisonment and *they* have their feelings hurt?

How about the poison toys that Chinese companies have been providing our children? Or the Heparin and other tainted drugs Chinese companies have been providing our sick and infirm? Or the contaminated seafood? Then, to top matters off, the Chinese government labels the Dalai Lama a terrorist and proceeds with its ruthless clamp-down on the freedom of speech, religion and assembly. Not a pretty picture. Can you say Tienamin Square? So The Author believes that what is good for the Goose is also good for the Gander. Try turning down Chinese goods for a month or two to let the authorities in Beijing know that OUR feelings are hurt, and our sensibilities offended. It is the least we can do.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Road Diary - Spain 08

The Seville Spring Fair was memorable. First for the amount of rain that fell; and second, for the intensity of the partying when the clouds cleared and the sun shone through. The city was awash in polka dots, the preferred pattern for this season's Flamenco dress. And at least half of the women in town, it seemed, were in full Flamenco finery. Ruffles, embroidered scarves, tiaras and artificial flowers for the hair. Though such costumes could be seen all over town, the nexus of color, form-fitting gowns and excitement was concentrated at the site of the fair. I will have lots of images and slideshows of the fair and its revelers, horsemen and dancers in a future post. Most of the hotel Internet services don't provide card-readers or USB ports so I'm not uploading the majority of my images. Be patient. The rewards will be considerable.

Of special note in Seville is the Alcazar Real. Home to Spanish royalty, including the current royal family when in Seville, the Alcazar is a grand and stunning campus. The gardens are simply extraordinary. On par with the Huntington in Southern California, Montreal's botanical gardens and (on a smaller scale) the gardens at Versailles, the Alcazar's very old and formal grounds are spectacular. While in Seville, we visited the Museum of Flamenco and attended a wonderful performance of traditional style artists at the Casa de la Memoria. Much more on those events in later posts.

Following Seville, we took the bus to Granada. There, we joined the throngs of visitors touring the fabulous Alhambra. The last Moorish outpost in Spain during the "re-conquista," Granada is still the most "Arab" of all Spanish cities. Again, pics and links to follow.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Road Diary - April 08

After three days exploring the souks in the Medina at Marrakech, we´ve arrived in Seville for the Spring Fair. Arrived to buckets of extraordinary Spring rain as well. I´ll have many, many pics soon - so prepare to be dazzled and delighted.

Marrakech´s Casbah, the Medina souks, is the mother of all marketplaces. Over 1,500 years old in parts, the Medina is comprised of a seemingly endless maze of small alleyways and 4,500 hundred shops. That´s right. There is a street of metal workers crafting ornate Arabic-style wrought iron; a street of leather workers hawking raw skins, making luggage and pointed Moroccan slippers; a section of spice sellers, herbalists and parfumeries; and of course, Lamb Alley where a hungry visitor can purchase and consume freshly roasted lamb of any variety including lamb´s head and eyeballs. Snake charmers with Cobras; monkey masters with furry, sometimes threatening creatures on chains, black African dancers and Berber women offering Henna tats are set up in the square in front of the entrance to the souks. Violently visual, intensely engaging and sensual.

We stayed in Marrakech at the fabulous Ville d´Orangers. Much more on that, with images, in a later post. And more on Seville in the Spring Fair in the next post.