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Linda-Marie Singer is The Live Wire

Linda-Marie Singer - Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge By Linda-Marie Singer

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Women working; smiling Moroccan children; Berber grandma
Women working; smiling Moroccan children; Berber grandma

Mohammed Lansar is only kidding. "In Morocco" he says, "Women work. Men think." No one in our party is laughing and Lansar looks worried. Did the guide slip up? It was all a joke he assures us. Yet after one day in this remote Berber town positioned in the High Atlas Mountains, we notice it's the women trudging with sacks of straw, sticks, and vegetables, while balancing babies on their backs. If they're lucky, a donkey plods along hauling whatever they cannot carry.

BERBER~2.jpg (37569 bytes) TWOGIR~1.jpg (41812 bytes)
Contrast this scene with the big romantic and exotic cities of Marrakesh, Casablanca, Fez, and Rabat, where the men wander the streets with one another, sit in cafes without women, and appear to run the country from behind their demitasse cups of tea and coffee.

"Mohammed, is it all right to take a picture?" someone inquires. The tour guide looks uncomfortable as people try to catch the workers toiling in the fields. Having mastered the art of dodging cameras, the women quickly turn their faces away. Not so with the children who run gleefully towards us. As soon as our shutters click, their spontaneity fades. "You have money?" they ask. "Un stylo?" A pen? Someone reaches for a ballpoint, and everywhere there are youngsters thrusting hands in our faces.

Women walking with child.
Women walking with child.
Berber souvenir stand.
Berber souvenir stand.
This signals the arrival of several townspeople with objects to sell. One has Moroccan daggers made of alabaster, inlayed mother-of-pearl, and multicolored marble. Five dollars is the incredibly low price for such craftsmanship. Another holds up classic Berber jewelry containing chunky amber stones diffused with real fossils and wood. The cost is thirty dollars, but he agreeably accepts half the amount. Unfortunately, it won't be as easy bartering for one of those coveted hand woven Berber carpets, so resilient that they are often used as blankets or even mattresses.

As we continue our tour through this typical Berber village or "douar," life seems routine if not backward. Outwardly the terrain appears isolated, yet inside is a network of families residing in simple homes made of flat log roofs and branches covered with earth. Whatever the design, in Berber-land women look as if they're doing the menial tasks, while men folk are negotiating the price for Morocco's distinctive souvenirs.

Good buys keep coming at unbelievable bargain rates and outstanding quality. Among the specialty items -- exquisite silver, pewter and copper teapots, genuine fossil paperweights, and engraved silver boxes imbedded with precious stones. But make no mistake: The country's #1 seller remains the Tajine pot - that large round ceramic casserole container in which meat, fish and vegetables are slowly simmered. Now just one question: "How much do you want to spend?" Answer: If you don't like what you hear, walk away. No one will chase after you unless it's to ask, "What's your last price?"

Welcome to Morocco with its pricey 2,200 miles of coastline that borders the Atlantic and Mediterranean, a land where the High Atlas is the highest mountain range in all of North Africa. That's right. North Africa. The location makes for the widest range of climates in the region, and within a day's travel the visitor can go from the snow-capped Atlas to the sun-streaked dunes of the Sahara. Surely this qualifies for a millennium spot, especially considering that from JFK, Royal Air Maroc flies to Casablanca's Mohammed V International Airport in less time than it takes to go from New York to San Francisco. Saharan desert camel ride.
Saharan desert camel ride.

Exotic and romantic, Morocco is a land untouched by modern madness. Take those squawking boom boxes. There aren't any. And you're not likely to be interrupted by jingling cell phones, or have your eyes diverted by menacing billboards. Nothing much clutters the landscape or competes with outside influences. For instance, Morocco is one of the few places in the world where you'll hardly see a pair of blue jeans. Instead, you're more likely to observe men in monochromatic colors and women clothed in traditional "selhams" - a garment that loosely covers their bodies and a veil to conceal their faces.

Tour guide Mohammed Lansar
Tour guide Mohammed Lansar
At first, a newcomer may feel a splash of danger in not being able to see a person's identity, but safety isn't really an issue unless you count a few roving pickpockets. Whether you travel solo or in a group, the key is to stay alert. Watch your backpack as it can be snatched or have its contents ripped open. That's why, for a modest fee, you can hire an English-speaking guide. The extra security will help as you wind through souks or marketplaces that gush with excitement.

Ultimately, having a guide also means gaining a driver. And a good one at that. Contrary to what you may have heard, there are very few speedsters on the road. Instead, motorists navigate calmy in between camels, horses, and donkeys, often vying for space on the same thoroughfare.

Talk to enough people and ask them why the country has a long line of stability and outward tranquility, and they'll mention King Hassan II who has ruled for thirty-eight years. Under his watch, the country seems to zig and zag at its own speed, unlike its neighbor Spain who wows foreigners with its tangy image. Morocco is at times so low-key that it's mistaken for other areas of the world. Take what happened when I told a friend I was headed there. "You're so lucky," he said. "You could run into Prince Rainier."

Tour Morocco and you'll run into a country that has been independent from France only since 1956. Such influence, though, has brought a dab of sophistication to the North African land, and has given it its modern priceless calling card. But don't discount the rich aura it possessed dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD when the Roman city of Volubilis flourished. In its heyday this was a veritable metropolis with a House of Dionysus, reception halls, private apartments, and courtyards decorated with mosaics. Today the ancient town is dotted with travelers eager to track down history. The Great Volubilis (ancient city)
The Great Volubilis (ancient city)
JNAN PALACE HOTEL - FEZ If it's antiquity you're after, journey to the "Holy City of Fez," the first capital of the kingdom and oldest Islamic town. Long considered the country's spiritual and cultural center, Fez is also pure romance to the tourist. The streets, French cafes, and sweet ambience will cater to the fanciful heart.

Among the places to tour is the Dar el Makhzen or Royal Palace that was once the sultan's residence. Across the street is the famed Mellah or Jewish quarter with its large Moorish-styled houses, carved wooden balconies, and neoclassical colonnades.

But Fez is not really Fez without a trip to the souk. Different from other marketplaces, this one is overrun with donkeys trudging up and down crooked streets hauling backloads of merchandise.

Only here are donkeys catered to and given the right of way!

DONKEY~1.jpg (31699 bytes)
Squiggle along the pathways for ornate silver teapots, decorative copper plates, and tin-glazed earthenware patterned with cobalt-blue designs. Still, the most memorable sight is the Chouara or tannery.

View it from the rooftops for its clusters of stone vats filled with vibrant yellows, reds, and brown dyes. Skins of sheep, goats and dromedaries hang everywhere drying in the sun.

MARRAKESH DRUMMERS Of course, if you want your sun blended with exotica, head for Marrakesh! With its Petra red-rose look, "The Imperial City" is the place that mighty kings fought for.

Framed by the snowy heights of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh brings you the rhythm and music of Moroccan life.

Hail a caleche or horse-drawn carriage for a relaxing half-hour jaunt, as you gaze at the pink marble tiled courtyards dotted with turquoise greens and white mosaic. Then watch the tranquil scene diminish with the approaching Djemaa el Fna, the notorious marketplace that shimmies with commotion. The sights are bizarre, addictive. Seductive. MEN WITH MONKEYS
Men with monkeys
Move from corner to corner to catch a spot of madness: Snake charmers coax their pets to wiggle and dance.

There are troupes of acrobats tumbling before you in mid-air, storytellers delivering Oscar winning performances amid monkeys being paraded around by their owners.

But of all the intriguing acts, you won't want to miss the "toothsayer."

He's the dentist who'll pull out your infected tooth for one dollar. Don't worry. First he'll use a dab of Old Spice to numb the pain. His calling card? A macabre pile of extracted teeth stockpiled in full view. TOOTHSAYER; PILE OF TEETH
Date Man Now go left or right until you hit the food stalls dripping with fresh figs, almonds, dates and olives, succulent escargots and kebabs.

Another spin and you'll arrive at pint-size cubicles showcasing an array of babouches or traditional Moroccan leather slippers, colorful tribal masks, Frankincense, lead-glazed pottery, mandolins, and handcrafted Berber dolls.

All this plus a Berber Pharmacy stocked with natural herbs to help fight depression, stress, or insomnia.

But all this good natured madness evaporates with Casablanca, the nation's largest city. Rambunctious and yet cosmopolitan, "Casa" is the leading port and modern business center. With over four million people, there seems to be action going on any time of the day or night. That includes the ubiquitous "watermen" or Guerrabs who tramp through town selling their cups of water from copper or brass bowls. The jing-a-ling of their brass bells will capture your attention almost as much as their fanciful, vibrant costumes and oversized hats looking like leftovers from a long ago Halloween party.
Brass Pots Another spectacle is the Hassan II Mosque accommodating 25,000 devotees with an added space for 80,000 pilgrims praying on the esplanade. Meanwhile, if you have a call to shopping, you won't want to pass up the Quartier Habbous. This district showcases a collection of copper teapots, candlesticks, vases, and hanging lamps. But if it's only window shopping, Casablanca tops them all with its millions of art deco adornments. Stroll along the Boulevard Mohammed V for facades richly decorated with cupolas, belvederes, pillars, cedarwood balconies, and skylights.
Still, there's no denying what gave the nation its lasting prominence. It all happened back in 1942 with the hit film "Casablanca." Humphrey Bogart had just mumbled "Play it again, Sam," when Bergman walked in and soon they were locked in each other's arms. Never mind that the motion picture was filmed in Hollywood. Suddenly, Casablanca became synonymous with amour and old-fashioned romance. CASABLANCA - Bogart & Bergman
CASABLANCA - Bogart & Bergman

That's why if you want a whiff of nostalgia, try the piano bar called "Casablanca" at the Hyatt Regency.

Nice to know a kiss is still a kiss.

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LA MAMOUNIA. Say the name and lovers sigh. One of the Leading Hotels of the world and what Winston Churchill called "the most lovely spot in the whole world," La Mamounia spells five-star in any language. Be sure to try the lavish banquet at Le Marocain. What an Arabian night!

La Mamounia
Avenue Bab Jdid
40,000 Marrakesh

Melia Tichka Salam Hotel: Located in the heart of the Palmeraie district, this venue commands true Moroccan charm and at a remarkably moderate price.

Melia Tichka Salam
Quartier Semlalia B.P. 849 Route de Casablanca
Telephone: 44.87.10 Fax: 44.86.91

CHEZ ALI: Berber horsemen! Singing! Dancing! Tented dining! And then the show! A virtual fantasy with fireworks, flying carpets, and men on horseback galloping and performing skillful if not unusual stunts. No trick pony. Just plenty of fun for the entire family.
Chez Ali. Telephone: (212.4) 30.77.30

HERBAL PHARMACY IN THE SOUK: A little dash will do you and good-bye headaches, heartaches, overweight, insomnia…

73 bis Derb N'Khel Raba Kedima
Telephone for directions: 42-69-10

IDOU ANFA HOTEL. This establishment caters not only to the tourist but also to the business traveler. The suites overlook a typical "Casa" street scene that puts you right in the center of it all. The food is tops!

Hotel Idou Anfa
85 boulevard d'Anfa
Casablanca 20000
Telephone: (212-2) 20.02.35 Fax: (212-2) 20.00.29

HYATT REGENCY. Opulent. What more to say about this five-star property conveniently situated in the midst of markets. The "Casablanca" piano bar is a good place to reminisce about the famous movie, while L'Olivier's Restaurant is highly recommended.

Hyatt Regency Hotel
Place Mohamed V 20000
Telephone: (212 -2) 26.12.34 Fax: (212-2) 22.01.80

AU PETIT ROCHER RESTAURANT. Casablanca's oldest dining establishment with a delicious locale along the water. Not surprisingly, you'll find some of the best seafood specialties in town. But what of the music? Vintage 1950s. Be Bop A Lula all night long.

Au Petit Rocher
Phare d'el Hank La Corniche

NEAR CASABLANCA AND WORTH THE TRAVEL -EL JADIDA ROYAL GOLF HOTEL. First let's examine El Jadida, a town by the Atlantic and built by the Portuguese. You can take rampart walks and view the town and the Porte de la Mer. But the best view is the El Jadida Royal Golf Hotel. Underline the word royal as this aptly describes the golf club, gardens, and villas. Lounge by the elaborate outdoor pool, taste fresh, zesty food, work out at the fitness center, and then play 18 holes of golf on beautifully manicured greens. Only 90 minutes by shuttle from the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca. What a way to unwind from your journey as you sip some sweet Moroccan mint tea. Quelle vie!

El Jadida Royal Golf Hotel
Km. 7 Route de Casablanca BP: 116
El Jadida
Telephone: (03) 35.41.41 Fax: (03) 35.34.73

JNAN PALACE. There's only one and it's a palace! The Juan Palace will play to your heartstrings with its dreamy appearance, savory cuisine, par excellence service, and oversized, luxurious rooms. The day we arrived, I thought we were at a petit palais. We were. Allah be praised!

Jnan Palace
Avenue Ahmed Chaouki
Telephone: (5) 65.39.65 Fax: (5) 65.19.17

COSMETICS STEAL: YVES ROCHER. This is the same Yves Rocher from Paris with high quality cosmetic merchandise only at half price. Ask the concierge at Jnan Palace to take you there! Telephone: (05) 65.26.20

RABAT HOTEL SAFIR. The word "near" best describes the Rabat Hotel Safir. It's near the Chellah Necropolis, near the Oudaya gardens and near the Hassan Tower. The food is agreeable but the suites are even better. Cozy. Try one overlooking the valley of Bou Regreg.

Rabat Hotel Safir
Place Sidi Makhlouf
Telephone: (212) 72.64.31 Fax: (212) 72.21.55

HOTEL BOUREGREG. Of all the economy hotels in town, you won't go wrong with this one. Splendid dining with suites beginning at only $55.

Hotel Bouregreg
Angle Avenue Hassan II
Telephone: (212) 72.41.10 Fax: (212) 73.40.02

HYATT REGENCY RABAT . Staying at the Hyatt Regency Rabat is worth a trip all by itself to the capital city. Set in the prestigious residential area of Souissi, this top notch spot is also close to the airport and the Dar Es Salam Royal Golf Course.

Hyatt Regency Rabat
B.P. 450 Souissi
Telephone: (212) 7.77.1234 Fax: (212) 7.77.2492

CHAUFFEUR WITH STYLE: "Monsieur Abdul" will take you from the High Atlas Mountains to the Sahara in his well-maintained Land Rover. Here's someone who'll lead you through the desert on camel, set up a tent in the Sahara, plus cook all meals. What a catch!

Toulous Abdellatif
Telephone: (04) 30.59.98 Fax: (04) 43.94.24
Cell phone:

MOROCCAN TOUR GUIDE: Need someone you can trust to weave you through the souks, get the best prices, see the colorful cities? All this plus a running dialogue of where you're going and where you've been.
Mohammed Lansar
Telephone: (04) 34.46.76
Cell phone:

ROYAL AIR MAROC. The national airline of the Kingdom of Morocco, you won't believe the tasty food and helpful staff on board. Serving international passengers on four continents, Royal Air Maroc has several flights weekly from JFK to Casablanca's Mohammed V International Airport.

1-800-344. 6726



MILLENNIUM PROSPECTS: Is there a Morocco in your millennium? Call the experts at Cameron Tours for all your 2000 travel plans.

Cameron Tours
6249 N. Kensington St.
McLean, Virginia 22101

By Linda-Marie Singer

Winston Churchill Suite, La Mamounia in Marrakesh
#1 - Winston Churchill Suite,
La Mamounia in Marrakesh
#2 - Chez Ali horsemen
#2 - Chez Ali horsemen
#3 - Chauffeur "Monsieur Abdul" sitting in his chair
#3 - Chauffeur "Monsieur Abdul"
sitting in his chair
#4 - Carpet Man flies!  Maison Touareg in Rissini
#4 - Carpet Man flies! Maison
Touareg in Rissini
#5 -  Farmer with donkey
#5 - Farmer with donkey
#6 -  Mandolin faces in the souk of Marrakesh
#6 - Mandolin faces in the
souk of Marrakesh
#7 -  Drumbeat in the souk of Marrakesh
#7 - Drumbeat in the souk
of Marrakesh
#8 -   Man in street pondering the moment
#8 - Man in street pondering
the moment
#9 -   Wooden mask in Casablanca
#9 - Wooden mask in Casablanca

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Linda-Marie Singer "The LIVEWIRE" for Travel Watch. Former President of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, and created the national writers conference, "The Days of Wine & Proses." She is a travel and entertainment reporter living in the San Francisco Bay Area. (More about this writer.)

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