One of the things that has always been a bit daunting here is taking a taxi. Many of them refuse to use the meter, and as soon as they see you are foreign try to price gouge, charging exorbitant rates. But as I have become more comfortable getting around Marrakech, and having a better idea of how much things should cost, I have had less trouble with them. Now if they refuse to use the meter, I just get out and pay what I know the rate should be, plus a little extra. Usually no one says a word, but on the occasions where someone wants to argue I just walk away, and it always works. You can never ask the rate in advance, or it will be insane. Today for example I got in a taxi and gave the name of my hotel, and the guy starts driving and then says, “You know what the rate is?”, and I said “Yes.”, because I knew that the rate is always about 15 dirham from the place I work to my hotel. And he says “60″. And I said “goodbye” and got out. Then he tries to follow me with offers of 50, then 40, then 30. Another cab came by and I got in, he took me to my hotel, I gave him 20 and he was all smiles and thank yous because it would normally be 15. But without some local knowledge, this kind of exchange is vey difficult, so I am feeling pretty good that I can finally take cabs in Marrakech with confidence.
The above phrase is salam alaikum, the traditional greeting in Arabic which means “peace be upon you”. I am back in Morocco for work once again, and it struck me yesterday that I should really be learning some Arabic phrases and words to use while here. I realize that I fell into a little bit of a mind trap by assuming that because I was already speaking a language that was not native to me (French), I was already making the appropriate effort. But that is not a good way to really engage with a culture, especially since the fact that French is so widely spoken here is a result of colonialism. That said, I suppose you could consider modern standard Arabic somewhat of an import as well, since in Morocco they speak an Arab dialect known as Darija. I am told that the dialect is not especially intelligible to people from, say, Egypt, although everyone that speaks the dialect can easily understand the standard version spoken in other parts of the Arab world. In any event, I am going to set a goal for myself of a few, well-pronounced phrases before I leave.
The title of this post refers to several things actually.
I’m off my diet, at least the strictest part of it. And to celebrate, last night we treated ourselves to an amazing meal at Del Posto. Five-course tasting menu, amazing cocktail and bottle of wine. Everything was so tasty and rich. The bread, the pastas, the mains, the desserts and various amuse-bouches. And that leads me to…
I’m feeling off. Especially after my healthy eating of the past month, I think re-introducing all of the above at one time was too much. I felt bloated and queasy much of the night, and didn’t sleep very well, alas. I was hoping to be better rested today because, finally…
I am off to Morocco for work again. I leave tonight from Newark, fly through Geneva and connect an hour after I land to a flight for Marrakech. I will be there for about 8 days, followed by a few days stopover in Geneva to visit my old friend Jonathan who I haven’t seen in a few years.
I’m off to pack, catch you later.
While reading an article in this morning’s NY Times, I was reminded of an old Woody Allen stand up routine that ends with the following joke:
The upshot of the story is, that day I called my parents, my father was fired. He was technologically unemployed. My father had worked for the same firm for twelve years. They fired him. They replaced him with a tiny gadget, this big, that does everything my father does, only it does it much better. The depressing thing is, my mother ran out and bought one.
The article examines the accelerating phenomenon of having all kinds of tasks go away due to automation, including higher “white-collar” ones that previously seemed beyond the reach of computer or machine intelligence. It posits that in the past the speed at which human tasks were replaced was slow enough for people to find ever newer (and higher) tasks, but that today we as a global population are having a harder time adjusting.
I often think about the very occupation I have today (mostly web design and programming) and wonder how long it will be before my own work will be automated. People like to think that areas like this that require a high amount of human creativity are immune from automation, but I have watched as it has become easier and easier for people to buy some very nicely designed (if not entirely custom) web sites, and I expect that the ease and options for creating one will only grow with time, to the point where for the vast majority of people, what I do today will simply not be needed. Web sites themselves will evolve and will probably not resemble much of what we think of today. Information will be free-floating everywhere (it is already happening) and the idea of even looking at a screen will become quaint at some point.
This does not actually concern me overmuch. The job I have today did not exist even 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago my work was very different, and I have benefitted immensely from new technologies and automations that have made my work easier to do, more lucrative, and more possible. I don’t have any real expectation that what I do will even exist (in something resembling its present form) in 10 years. I will have to acquire new skills and evolve, as I have over the past 10. At some point, I may do something completely different, not at all related to what I do today. I think that this notion can be highly destabilizing for some people, but it is increasingly the norm. We can put our heads in the sand or try to adapt and enjoy the ride. I have no idea what the future brings, but (at least in the area of automation) I don’t particularly fear it for myself.
I do have great concerns, however, for the growing income disparities that this changing world represents. We must find a way to change our social/economic model to account for these changes. We need to invest heavily in education at all levels, and assure people a decent minimum level of subsistence (and I don’t mean poverty). We can’t continue on our greedy social path, we need a more equitable society that everyone can feel a part of. Imagine if that vast new area that opens up in the wake of this automation led to new occupations concerned with the well being of those around us. I have no doubt there are plenty of opportunities there, the question is, at what point will society place a high enough value on it to collectively fund it?
This morning while perusing The Times, I came across an article entitled “A Third Party Names Their Split“, ostensibly about Gwyneth Paltrow’s somewhat goofy use of the term “conscious uncoupling” to describe her divorce from Chris Martin. Since I had been enjoying watching the internet make fun of it for the last few days, I clicked through to read the article. It ended up being about the psychotherapist who had invented the term, which was interesting, but the description of how the news got back to her had me laughing:
At the time, the person who coined the phrase, Katherine Woodward Thomas, had no idea what was happening. Off at a spa and yoga retreat overlooking Costa Rica’s central valley, Ms. Thomas was safely removed from Twitter and TMZ as the expression was lighting up social media (and garnering plenty of eye rolls in the process).
“I came to the remotest part of Costa Rica that I could find to completely withdraw from the world,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon.
That did not work.
Ms. Thomas recounted that, dressed in her yoga clothes, she wandered outside on a balmy and breezy evening, opened her laptop and found several emails alerting her to the news.
There is nothing remote about a spa and yoga retreat where one can open one’s laptop and check emails. The idea is laughable, but tells us something about how the wealthy and pampered conceive of being remote or cutoff from the world. Namely, that it follows a certain aesthetic for them, not a reality. Because at any moment, one could suddenly not be remote, checking emails in between deluxe spa treatments.
For the whole of this month, I have been following a version of a Paleolithic diet called The Whole 30. I initially started it because the guy I am seeing was starting it, and it looked interesting to me so I thought I would give it a try along with him. The diet is set up as a kind of 30-day reset for your body, and it serves as a kind of neat science experiment in how your body responds to various foods that can be considered problematic. Strictly speaking, the diet is over for me in a few days, but I have been really happy with the results and will continue parts of it (with less rigidity) going forward.
Roughly speaking, all I was allowed to eat over the past month was meat (beef, chicken, pork, seafood, lamb, etc), veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds, and a few healthy oils. That’s it. And although coffee was allowed, everything else that gives my life joy was out. No alcohol. No dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt,…ice cream!). No legumes (meaning any kind of bean, chickpea, even peanuts). No grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye, etc, etc). Basically nothing that was a product of civilization. This was one of the hardest things I have had to do with my diet, ever. Mostly this is because a very large portion of my regular diet involved dairy and grains. I can honestly say I have never gone more than a few days my entire life without some kind of milk product.
The first few days were total hell as my body experienced terrible cravings. But then, I started to feel better. I started to notice much more even and higher energy levels. My workouts were more productive (I increased what I could lift significantly this month), and I lost fat weight – 10 pounds of it.
I also became hyper aware (as I needed to be) of how much industrialized, processed crap is in our everyday food supply. By eating so simply, I naturally cut out most of the preservatives and processing that goes into what we eat. It was fascinating perusing the ingredients lists of various foods I would previously buy and noticing how many non-recognizable-as-food things were in them (mostly thickeners, preservatives, flavor “enhancers”, and coloring). Eating in the Whole30 way was definitely more work, but it also put me in touch with what I was consuming in a much more conscious way.
Roughly, here were the pros and cons:
- Higher energy levels
- Lost fat weight
- Gained muscle
- Much better sleep
- Greater awareness of how processed our normal food environment is
- Feeling better, fewer aches and pains all around
- Lower blood pressure (not that I needed it much)
- Total disappearance of acid reflux
- Annoying to friends and waiters (asking in detail about every little ingredient)
- Cravings (mostly for whiskey and ice cream)
- More work to prepare food
- More work to procure food (being extra careful looking at ingredients)
- Some boredom with food choices
So there you have it. Going forward, I will slowly reintroduce some things like dairy, grains, and alcohol, all in small amounts. I will then see how they affect me. I don’t think I need to be so extreme, life is meant to be enjoyed after all. But I do like how my body feels right now and would like to keep feeling that way, even while indulging a little from time to time. One thing I will really try to keep though is the simplicity. If I can at all help it, I am only going to eat things whose entire ingredient list can be recognized as food.
Today turned out to be pretty Jewy in Amsterdam. First we went to the Portuguese Synagogue, a beautiful old building and (according to what they told us) the oldest functioning synagogue in all of Europe, built in 1639. It has a pretty fascinating history, especially in that it was founded by Marranos more than 100 years after their families had been forcibly converted to Catholicism. After that we went to the Hollondesche Schouwburg Museum, which was an old theater that had been used as the central place for collecting and deporting the thousands upon thousands of Jews to the concentration camps. Not content with the heavy heart that one left us with, we went to take in the immensely detailed exhibits of the Resistance Museum, a fascinating but exhausting place. I suppose if it had not been rather cold and rainy today, we might have enjoyed a coffee on a lovely sun drenched terrace. Instead, we looked directly into dark and disturbing corners of humanity.
From AMS 14 deux
Due to the vagaries of price and scheduling, Josh and I have stopped back in AMS for a couple of days before our return to NYC. Amsterdam, though always lovely, greeted us with some 30 less degrees than we left in Marrakech, and a driving rain. But we were very much warmed by the wonderful welcome of Xavier and Huw, who we are staying with, and the fantastic Indonesian meal we enjoyed last night not far from their place. And after dinner, we met up with a very fun friend of theirs named Erin, and all went to sample some Dutch spirits at a pub across the street. I am no fan of gin, but the Dutch variety we tried last night (called Jenever) was delicious.
This morning Josh and I went to see a few things in the Medina I had not yet visited on my previous trips here. First we went to go see the Saadian Tombs, which were ok as far as they went, but one fact about them was just fascinating to me. They were sealed up for centuries, and only rediscovered in 1917 and subsequently restored. How does a large, above ground complex “disappear” and get “rediscovered”? Wouldn’t people have wondered what that building was behind there?
After that we went to the El Badi Palace, which must have been an impressive place in its day, and still is, even as a haunting ruin. Like seemingly everything else we have seen on this trip (Volubilis among others), much of its original marble and riches were plundered by Moulay Ismail for his own pleasure palaces. If you ask me, Moulay Ismail seems to have been a real asshole.
Following up our palace visit, we decided to take a walk in the nearby Mellah, which was the old Jewish ghetto here in the Medina. Many medina towns in Morocco have such ghettos, which were variously places to protect and imprison the Jewish population, depending on their usefulness to those in power at the time. Although at one time this area was quite prosperous, at the moment it is among the poorest and most run down in the Medina, and quite an eye opening experience. It was also interesting that the streets of the Mellah were all quite straight and parallel to each other compared to other parts of the Medina, and this made getting around quite easy.
Finally, we ended our excursion with a trip to the 19th century Bahia Palace, an incredibly beautiful and well crafted place with a level of detail that boggles the mind. We then had a quite delicious meal at the creatively named El Restaurant Bahia next door.
I have been working non stop for the past few days, but got quite a lot accomplished. With that out of the way, we will do a little sight-seeing tomorrow before heading back to Amsterdam and NYC. This evening I even had a little time before sunset so we took a walk from our hotel to the Jemaa el Fnaa, the main square of the medina, filled with chaos and light hearted energy. We then circled into the Medina itself for a bit to have a coffee perched atop one of the buildings, which was a great way to get a little bit of a view over the medina, and really beautiful at sunset. We finished up our little tour with a stop for some pastilla and merguez.