Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas Stockings and more.

It’s the Holidays and that means it’s baking time!

I was thinking while making these cookies: growing up in a largely Hindu India, Christmas was just another day that we were off school. There was no special celebration going on anywhere so nothing felt particularly festive; we’d just come from our own big holiday season of Diwali; New Years eve was what was the next big thing. Christmas kind of just came and went.

And here I am now. I love the cheer of the season. I love decorating our little tree and stringing it with sparkly lights. I love picking out meaningful ornaments (a Yoda! a Spiderman! a White House commemorative!). I love the enthusiasm of our kids’ concerts with them dressed in little bowties and singing their hearts out. I love the goosepimply warmth of a holiday party where people genuinely thank each other for their friendships and their camaraderie. I love the idea of roasting chestnuts and a blazing fireplace (although I don’t quite like chestnuts and never have my fireplace on because there’s such a thing as too warm). I love caroling. It’s all so fairy tale-ish.

I also love the brightness of the red and white and green in an otherwise naturally dreary season. I love driving by lit up houses that have the kids exclaiming in wondrous tones. I love that you can tip the people who help make your life easier without having to worry if that’s going to become the new rate for their services. I love that there’s no scary costumes involved and that I don’t have to goad my kids into accepting favors from strangers (although I like Halloween I’m more and more conscious of having to let kids go by themselves at some point and how the whole premise of strangers etc is a bit disconcerting). I love that I have a present for V that I know he will love love love (there’s 2 presents for each boy but V’s one is especially meaningful).

In that spirit, these personalized class cookies are sure to hit the spot. I love that the kids will love these. Merry Christmas. 🙂

Morocco Itinerary – Part 1.

Since our return friends have been asking how our trip was. This time the hubby and I have different versions of the same experience. I expected the country to be more exotic than it really was, while for him it was. Morocco reminded me of India so much in some places that it was hard to remember it wasn’t. What really stood out in our trip for me was the friendliness and hospitality if the Moroccan people. They would go out of their way to help a tourist even though the only common language they had were gestures and basic introductory salutations.

Another absolutely stunning revelation for us was the reach of Bollywood, especially of icons Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, to even the most rural of kasbahs. As soon as we would roll down car windows (at police checkpoints) or step out of the car (at roadside handicraft set-ups), we would be greeted with an enthusiastic “Indian??!” A nod of our heads and chants of “Namaste!! Shah Rukh Khan!!” accompanied by million-watt smiles would envelop us in a guileless display of affection from strangers. It seemed to be a common feeling in Morocco that “India and Morocco…brothers!” Fine by me. 🙂

For reference, here is a tourist map of the country. Our initial driving loop was going to be: Marrakesh –> Todra Gorge area (Ouarzazate) –> Erfoud (Saharan desert area) –> Fes (including the ruins of Volubilis) –> Chefchouen (about 100km north of Fes; not shown) –> Marrakesh (for flight back).

Day 1: Marrakesh

Marrakesh is traditionally a city of stories, of fantastic tales woven around its famous Jemaa-al-fna, the old-town square where vendors, showmen, gawkers, tourists, hangers-about, apprentices, basically people from all around the city gather every sundown to conduct business, meet friends, eat out. Lined with numerous eating places — from shoddy food stalls to sit-down restaurants, the Jemaa is a great place to people watch. With kids in tow though we didn’t do much of that, but an evening at the square is a good introduction to the chaos of Morocco.

Marrakesh busy-ness.
Marrakesh busy-ness.

The next day our whole itinerary flipped on its head. Ouarzazate, nestled in the High Atlas mountains, was our next destination. This is the area where many of the adventure movie series such as Indiana Jones, The Mummy, etc. were shot so we were really excited to visit some of those studios. It was not to be. Due to torrential seasonal rains all roads out of Marrakesh to the mountains were closed. We literally reversed our route — now we were going to drive clockwise so that Ouarzazate would be at the end of our trip to give the roads time to recover. Little did we know that it wasn’t to be. More on that below.

Day 2: Rabat

Since Rabat was only a stopover on our way to Fes, we didn’t tour the city at all. Rabat is the financial as well as political capital of Morocco — and it shows. Lined with wide avenues, high-rise offices, trendy street restaurants, Rabat is as different from old-town Marrakesh as blonde from brunette. One discovery: taxis in Morocco can only legally seat 3 passengers so if you’re a party of 4 or over, two taxis it is. No concessions are made for kids.

Long drive, kids break.
Long drive, kids break.

Day 3: Chefchaouen

The blue city. Pictured in many Tourism Morocco brochures as well as promotional videos. A pretty little town nestled among the hills, Chefchaouen is about 3-hours drive away from its bigger cousin, Fes. Its medina is more manageable, less crowded, its labyrinthine passageways made charming by the blue paint on walls and doors.

IMG_9091Walking through its pedestrian-only passages is like walking through a time machine; it could be any century, any moment you could imagine making way for a royal procession or a busy merchant from eons ago. Yellowed walls and peeling paint interspersed with men smoking hookahs in their traditional jelabaa dress add to the ambiance. Duck into any of the small souvenir shops or art galleries lining the narrow streets for unbeatable deals on leather goods, wood carvings or traditional Moroccan clothes. The cobbled streets open into a town square with eateries and a centuries-old kasbah renovated as a tourist attraction.

Day 4: Volubilis

The Roman ruins of Volubilis were one of the hits with our kids. They got a chance to be amateur paleontologists and fossil hunters at this almost-forgotten site. Although a UNESCO World Heritage site, these ruins aren’t as well known as some others — indeed they looked as if there was still much left to discover here.

IMG_9268 Both boys grabbed sticks to pry out pieces of “prehistoric pottery”** from the fertile, loose-mud ground and “crystals”** left about by dynasties past. Papa became the default curator “judging” the authenticity of these discovered artifacts.

IMG_9273**The quotation marks indicate 5- and 8-yo opinions.

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Notes from Morocco

IMG_9161A country of mud-spired kasbahs, olive-tree infested countrysides, of rolling hills peppered with idly grazing sheep and mules, and warm, friendly people always enthusiastic to help, Morocco comes across like an Indian woman wearing an African jelabaa.

Passing through the Moroccan countryside, one could be anywhere in the world where a farmer is growing food to feed his family. The same broken mud huts house multiple family generations eating slightly different food cooked with local ingredients; the same weather beaten women wearing slightly different garb carry the burden of everyday life — hunched over with kilos of dry wood bundles tied to their backs or pails of well water precariously balanced on covered heads; the same shabbily clad children wandering unsupervised mud tracks in search of playmates with foraged sticks for toys; young girls barely more than children themselves hoisting babies on their hip while the adults around her work to live off the land.

IMG_8969  Get off the motorway and you pass through towns separated from their cohorts around the world only by GPS coordinates. With no official speed limits, mainly because foot and auto congestion allows for nothing over 40mph, these towns are their own little universes. With no need of the bigger world around them except for trade, the town lies around its main artery lined with shacks selling everything from dirt-cheap snacks to car tires, from fresh butchered meats to local pottery, from hot tea to heat balm.

IMG_8998Shopkeepers lounge on woven mats right outside their closet-sized stores chatting with a neighbour, packs of chickens nibbling at their feet, during the slow hours of the morning. A little out and the bustle gives way to rickety roads carrying tractors overflowing with harvested crop and mules bent under a load of cowdung for the stove or water for domestic use. Smoke billows out of these houses clustered close together at all times of day reminding men that no matter how hard life gets, no matter what a shitty day they’re having, home is never far away.

IMG_9421Where else but in a rural countryside where humanity lives off the bare minimum will you find hilarity in the absurd? A barely 4-passenger car carrying no less than 9 people of varying ages isn’t so uncommon. Why does a child need a full seat when she can hop onto a lap? Why, indeed. To a Western sensibility, it is unthinkable to spot a whole row of grown men peeing at the side of the road, but when there’s no bathroom for miles ahead there’s nothing else to do. A lone shepherdess clapping to get her sheep to graze is be funny sight for sure but it probably fulfills a purpose learned from experience. And anyway, that’s the fun of travel: to see in real life what your mind couldn’t conjure up in its dreams.

IMG_9527In that sense, Morocco might not be the most flashy destination to visit but it sure is an interesting one.