Archive for the ‘Vic in North Africa’ Category

HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS, Morocco

Climbing through the Atlas Mountains

Climbing through the Atlas Mountains

Somewhere between the dusty path under our wheel and Marrakesh at our backs we had lost ten degrees of Fahrenheit. Poof! Gone were these degrees, evaporating into the ether as unheard of as a Neverman punchline. Despite the westward road’s climb in elevation, the increased proximity to the African sun actually brought relief from the valley’s all-too-intimate heat. Such change was a welcome one. Weeks ago I had given up on the insistence on cleanliness in vogue of late, surrendering my thrice daily baths and becoming familiar with the smell on my skin of days-old sweat (mostly mine, but not always). I didn’t entirely betray hygiene; I had, after all, packed my toothbrush. I kept my wounds covered because Ebola, I overcooked my pigeon because E-coli and I didn’t fraternize with camels because MERS; but I stank. I smelled of Fes tanneries, of Meknes butcheries, of spoilt vinegar thanks to the puddles of cat piss throughout Marrakesh. Up here, though, in the thinning air of the High Atlas… the wind charmed the nostril with the scent of untainted dirt.

I held my head out the window as a dog, the desert goggles strapped to my head keeping the filthy specks of Africa out of my eyes. To my left, my brother of a Berber-Arab mother drove the latter-century Mercedes truck.

“I have a joke. It is like riddle.” Rafiq began. In the back were the Australians and a California photo-journalist chick with mythical tattoos and a watch she wore on the inside of her wrist like a Mossad agent (thus I considered her highly-likely of Mossad). Rafiq went on with his riddle, “How do you get the camel into the refrigerator in three movements?” Rafiq drove on in the silence. Someone asked if there was a blender involved. Rafiq shook his head, no. “It is romantic joke.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe journey continued. Rafiq begged us to “think” about the joke. The answer was clear, he insisted. What wasn’t clear was our intent in the High Atlas Mountains. It began as something of a dare over smuggled gin – me auld mate of the Australian Consulate, Digger McKenzie, and I were desperate to unearth Qatari spies, especially if they had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. While the MB presence in Morocco had decreased after the reactionary appeasement to the Arab Spring by King Hassan, there were rumors of the Muslim Brotherhood being rife within the Rif and the Atlas Mountain ranges. Where our quixotic caravan wandered was Bled el-Siba, the Berber tribal country translated as ‘the Lands of Dissidence’. These were the mountains of the one-eyed rogue, Bou Hamara (translated ‘the man with the she-ass’) and of the kidnapper of Americans* el Raisuni: both scoundrels a century dead (give or take a hanging). The High Atlas was bandit country, fertile ground for a brotherhood of Islamic radicals on the run.

*President Teddy Roosevelt once put a bounty on Raisuni if a kidnapped Greek-American businessman was not returned unharmed, “Perdacarus Alive or Raisuli Dead!” Gunboat Diplomacy was nothing if not direct.

Since World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood had been a power player in Egyptian culture and politics (note past tense had). With the coming of 2011’s Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood seized power in Cairo with a little propaganda help from al-Jazeera Network and funding from the Qatari Royal Family. This would be the MB’s greatest (though brief) achievement and ultimately their undoing. The American Military of Egypt (armed by America, trained by America, etc. by America) held themselves a fashionable coup d’état and tossed the Muslim Brotherhood out of the country. Not only that, the most recent state of Egypt called treason on several al-Jazeera journalists for their part played in bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power (read more in my Qatar expose –kangaroo courts convicted the journos, rather unfairly, even if al-Jazeera paychecks are signed by Qatari royals). Suddenly without a country, where would the Muslim Brotherhood run? To the war-torn streets of Damascus and Baghdad? Or here… the Land of Dissidence?

I should mention, my introduction to the Muslim Brotherhood was pre-Arab Spring thanks to the French Documentary OSS117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

Vic in Bled el-Siba, the land of dissidence

Vic in Bled el-Siba, the land of dissidence

We left Rafiq’s grandfather’s Mercedes in the village of Imlil and hiked our way up the mountain path to the village of Armed. Beyond Armed were valleys of river rock, thousand-years dried, and mountain peaks separating us from the Sahara. Both Imlil and Armed were villages prone to Berber territorialism, yet hardly breeding grounds for Islamic jihad. We still chatted and made tea with each passing villager, leaving my bladder a traffic warden ushering the minty, sugary stuff in as easily out.

At last, during a shade break well-beyond Armed, Rafiq answered his own joke, “How do you get a camel into a refrigerator in three movements? Open the refrigerator door, push the camel inside, close the door. Inshallah.” Ahh. Ahha. Arabic humor, you can’t mistake it. These are the same dudes who invented algebra, probably another of their jokes. The (Israeli-)American photo-journo asked, “How is this a romantic joke?” Digger, the Aussie, deadpanned, “Guess it depends on how you push the camel.”

Many thousands of miles away, in the disputed territories of Iraq and Syria, American drones are bombing jihadists who call themselves the Islam State of Iraq and Syria, or more commonly ISIS. These terrorists are the threat English-speaking governments & media insist have sleeper cells occupying the London Underground, digging beneath the Mexican Border and hiding under your bed. ISIS is ushering forth their own eugenics campaign – decapitating heathens is Natural Selection in favor of ‘the Faithful’, at least this would be their rationale should they be well-read on Darwin and Evolution. While misguided support of ISIS exists in the streets of Morocco, there does not seem to be any sort of organized threat here. Yet…

“There is reasoning why ISIS is only in two countries: ISIS is agent of America.” said the Frenchman wearing nothing but his very brief underwear and a curly red beard with beaded knots. It was a profound allegation that had us on our heels, but then we were leaning back as soon as this 6’+ Neanderthal emerged from the woods scratching his briefs and speaking French. I might, at this juncture, mention Rafiq is as allergic to Frenchmen as I am to Mayonnaise – which are related allergies. If you ask Rafiq about the period of the French Protectorate of Morocco, his kindly eyes will darken and he would spit on the ground if he weren’t so damned polite, incensed to the point of claiming, “Nothing was protected, only occupied.” Therefore French suck. Not that Rafiq ever shied from the occasional Parisian girlfriend, but these are details outside the realm of geopolitic.

Mister Giggle's nephews, Stink and Blink, with a mule train in the distance

Mister Giggle’s nephews, Stink and Blink, with a mule train in the distance

We didn’t happen by the Neanderthal, Francois, by accident. Our troupe had been hiking along when we encountered a mule-train recognized by Rafiq (these are the hills he grew up in). He connected with these Berber muleteers who invited us in for tea. All so bloody-fucking British, you would think, but the hospitality is nothing new to country folk – here or anywhere. Digger, his Australian companions, the Cali-Israeli chick Ly, and I enjoyed our tea as Rafiq rapped Berber with his people. He returned to us with another joke, “Lion is king of the jungle and so he plans a party. He invites everyone to party he is having and every animal attends except for one. Who is the animal and why is he not attending?”

It was while we were sipping our tea and pondering the party snub when the Neanderthal, Francois, emerged from the woodwork in his skivvies and a dead rabbit in hand. We asked Francois the Frank the same questions we had asked the village people and all of the muleteers in between – mostly, had you seen any Islamic radicals? Francois the Frank scratched his red beard, looked longingly at Ly, scratched his groin through the skivvies using the spare fingers of his rabbit hand and then spoke heavily-accented English directly to Digger McKenzie, who he assumed was the man in charge.

“ISIS exists, but not here. ISIS only exists in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Syria is where it exists because this is where America wish it exists. America does not like Syria regime, they are too friendly with Iran. America does not like Iraq regime, they are too friendly with China.”

Digger and Rafiq have tea with the muleteers

Digger and Rafiq have tea with the muleteers

Surprise, surprise… We had ourselves an educated Neanderthal. Apparently, that cyber café back in Armed came in handy. I couldn’t disagree with his premises. Syria’s dalliances with Iran didn’t make any friends in the Pentagon and it was true the previous Prime Minister of Iraq, al-Maliki, was cutting deals with China to give them oil once Iraqi oilfields were back in running order. All this and a free toaster, however, was hardly enough evidence to suggest the United States were behind the rampaging ISIS jihadists.

“Where come the money for ISIS? They have money, they have guns. Where this come? It come from Saudis, it come from Qataris, all by approval from Mother Liberty Miss America!” The Frenchman saluted as he ranted. The French had tendency towards douchebagginess. Digger McKenzie later diplomatically confirmed in his infinite wisdom: only the Dutch were worse.

Francois the Frank’s mumblings seemed absurd, yet absurdities worth considering… chaotic warfare in Syria and Iraq does benefit American aims to keep China and Russia off-balance. The be-headed Christians made an example of by ISIS were merely the sacrificed pawns of the Occidental War on the Orient. If you read behind the groin-scratching madness of the half-naked Neanderthal, you can start to see a conspiracy unfold. China is desperate for oil and the longer Iraq remains in chaos the longer China has to wait to quench its thirst. China is, ultimately, the power in the East (Orient) and the eventual Endgame opponent of America and the West (Occident).

Russia is even more susceptible to oil scarcity. Russia’s economy is dependent on a high oil price – the USSR even more so. In the 1980s, the United States managed to manipulate oil prices and the Soviet Union collapsed (#Reaganomics). To this day, the United States still manipulates the oil supply. The theory of “peak oil” is but myth meant to exaggerate supply & demand economics. There is no doubt plenty of oil exists and it is being held back by the United States. Canada wants a pipeline, fuck that. Iraq wants to rebuild their oil infrastructure and sell to the East, fuck that. The United States would rather keep oil underground than allow Russia or China to get their filthy mitts on the latest vintage.

As Russia encroaches on the Ukraine – just watch as surplus oil hits the market in a flood. The cost of oil will drop (though it will be hidden from the gas prices at your local petrol station) and this drop in price will drive Russia to economic ruin and/or nuclear agitation. Who drives this sudden surplus of oil? Us. US. US of A.

“If the Lion throws a party and every animal attends but one, who is it that does not attend and why?” Rafiq had asked back at the tents of the muleteers. After many guesses, the California girl surmised, “It is the camel.” Why did the camel not attend the party? “He is still in the fridge.” She was correct. The poor beast of burden was shivering his bones in the fridge as the lion party went on.

“Okay, an Aussie joke.” Digger interjected, not to be outdone. “Three Aussies enter the Medina and realize they forgot their watch. They ask a Moroccan sitting next to a bull what time it was. The Moroccan reaches out to the bull’s scrotum and weighs its bollocks with his hand before replying, ‘2:15’. Amazing, the Aussies think. The next day, they return with a watch and find the same man next to a bull. They ask him again what time it was. Again, the man cups the bull’s balls and estimates a time. The time matches with the Aussie’s watch. ‘How do you do that?’ the Aussies inquire. The man waves them forward… if you lift the balls of the bull up, behind them you can see the clock tower.”

Again – the answer is often clear, but blurred by our manic imagination.

It’s just a joke, but there is a pattern worth recognizing: Arabic tendency versus Western conviction. Westerners hear the same joke and expect different results. When the punchline comes, it is too late. Towers fall. I am no Arabist, but I read. I read about the English in Afghanistan in the 1840s and damn does it seem similar to the same tribal warfare we encounter now. I read about the Indian Mutiny of 1857 – incited when Muslim and Hindu troops under the employ of the English were led to belief their gun cartridges were greased by pig and cow fat. Western Diplomacy is short-sighted and long-barreled. Eastern-diplomacy is long-game and dagger-in-the-back. This shit is ongoing, eternal. After the atrocities of World War II, Western Powers bulldozed a path for permanent Israeli settlement in the Levant – the umpteenth Crusade, this time with a Hebrew King of Jerusalem instead of a leprous Frank. Has this crusade been any different than those of the last few millennia? Has the British cartographical dissections of Jordan and Iraq worked out? Ask the various tribes and ethnicities that make up the majority of those countries what they think of their chances at democracy.

Rafiq had a final joke, “How do you get an Elephant into the refrigerator in four movements?”

I was able to respond easily enough, “Open the door, remove the camel, push in the elephant and close the door.” Rafiq turned towards me and asked, innocently, if I had heard the joke before. I had not.

Advertisements
Neverman of Marrakesh

Neverman of Marrakesh

Howdy Pilgrim!

Welcome to Marrakesh. Just watch your step.

If you were on the southbound from Casa, your locomotive transit has in all likelihood left you disheveled and dehydrated: a frog gradually cooked south until arriving somewhat boiled, somewhere dead and somehow familiar with the ambitious mercury in your thermostat. Alternatively, if arrived by plane from anywhere further north than Africa, as you step off the plane you will find the sweet warm breath greeting your cheek as a backhanded slap less congenial than downright fucking rude. Take a sip of this – it will make you feel better…

Welcome to the Red City. Palm trees, cobras and scimitars with nothing separating you from the expanse of the Sahara but the snow-capped Atlas on the fuzzy eastern horizon. If you smell the smoke of barbeque dog, do not be alarmed, it is only the hair atop your scalp singeing in the Moroccan sun.

Allow me to introduce myself; I am a Victor Ulysses Neverman, your humble guide to this exotic city. The mangy cat beside me is Mister Giggles. Please do not pet him, do not even make eye contact. Mister Giggles is a walking petri dish: his fleas are bubonic, his eyes are pink, his saliva is rabid and he once buggered a monkey with Ebola. Put your Purell hand-sanitizer back in your satchel – your only hope of survival is a resilient immune system (also: don’t approach the camels, don’t drink the water and stay the hell away from the orange juice peddlers).

As we move from your plane/train, mind the bush league villains feigningly sipping their empty cappuccinos within the terminal/station café or sniffing the catsup on their fingers in the Moroccan McDonald’s; these are the talent scouts… the Red City wants your blood, your kidney or liver, your dollars or Euros, your innocence or your guilt. These motionless vultures will not pounce, but they will study. The jackals in the taxi queues, however, will pounce. Never accept the first offer; you should counteroffer a third of their asking price and walk away when they fake a stroke. This is good practice with any Marrakeshi vendor: if they spit at your feet and curse your family, the next vendor in line will gladly accept your offer.

And now you’ve dragged your luggage through mule shit. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I did. I said ‘watch your step’ which implies you should watch where you drag your fucking luggage too. As your guide, I will point the way, but I will not clean the shit off of your shoes – what have you done now!? You should realize there is more than one mule in Marrakesh! Just walk behind me. I will get you where you need to go, Inshallah. Just wipe off your shoes before we enter. Yallah! Yallah!

Marrakech is just what the guide books say… The whole town was buzzing with flies and conversation; cafes, restaurants and brothels had standing room only; the pickpockets were working to rota.

-Chapter 1 of ‘Horse Under Water’ by spymaster Len Deighton

Djemaa el-Fna by day

Djemaa el-Fna by day

They say Marrakesh is named ‘the Red City’ because of the ochre colored clay used to build the walls of the medina, a color that certainly surrounds us presently as the official chamber of commerce sanctioned hue, strategically chosen to better deflect the brutality of the tyrannical sun. Marrakesh should be called ‘Red’ because it is owned by the Chinese who have financed the African infrastructure in order to get the rights to the mineral deposits underneath Moroccan feet. The Qataris are everywhere too, of course. The Qataris are sponsoring youth soccer leagues and hiring manual labor to import home to build another new city before 2022. Turn on any television and you will be fronted with al Jazeera, the Qatari subliminal messaging system urging parents to sell their children into Doha summer-camps.

My friend Rafiq says I have spent too much time in the heat; my brain has too many flies. He is Marrakeshi, himself, and grew up trekking and skiing the Atlas Mountains to our right. Rafiq claims Rabat is the political capital of Morocco, Casa is the financial capital, Fes is the intellectual and spiritual capital and Marrakesh… his beloved City of the Sunset… is the capital of adventure and intrigue. Marrakesh is a tourism mecca and in tradition with tourism meccas, the food service sucks. Tip sparingly.

Per my advice, you should check-in to some gringo-friendly Nouvelle Ville hotel. I have spent the summer living in the “New City” outside the medieval medina at Hotel Incognito drinking 11oz bottles of Speciale Flag in the garden with the tortoises and whichever ex-pats stumble their way into paradise. Across the alley from Incognito is the five-star Hotel Caspian for the high-end feringhees: European aristocrats, American espiocrats, Qatari saboteurs, Russian oligarchs and Chinese speculators. I know the lounge singer at the Caspian, a NYC girl, and occasionally I will put on my best linen suit, strap on my desert goggles and sneak in the back door with her assistance to take in the grandeur of the mini-pool, the foie gras (which I spiritually despise) and draft beer (Speciale Flag, a gulp of which I once accidentally spat – at a table here in the Hotel Caspian restaurant – into the face of the English spy, Victoria, who wiped her startled brow clean and subtly antagonized, “Every so often, I forget you are American. And then you are so kind as to remind me.”).

At home in the gardens of Hotel Incognito

At home in the gardens of Hotel Incognito

The Medina, of course, is the heart of Marrakesh. You can stay in one of the umpteen thousand Riad guesthouses that litter this dark-aged part of the city, just know this: it is damn tricky finding a drink in the Old City… unless you have the right friends, which is why I recommend to friendless bastards such as yourselves to stay in the New City where you can find booze readily enough.

For those of you looking for friends, I can recommend some. Seek out my dear auld mate, Digger McKenzie, the Undersecretary of Cultural Affairs at the Australian Consulate in Rabat. He and his wife, Dame McKenzie, have themselves a Riad where they hold booze-induced brunches at their rooftop swimming pool. We ate pigeon-pastry bastellas and lamb tajines while overlooking the world, sipping at bottles of Casablanca (gorgeous lager), previously mentioned Speciale Flag and Stork. Keeping such a liquid inventory requires legwork, of course, which you cannot expect ‘the Faithful’ willing to perform. On one occasion, I assisted Digger and Dame stock-up on cases of beer by travelling with them by taxi cab to the New City shopping mall where the lower floor was a contemporary grocer establishment. We foreigners were actually detained by the Moroccan police for wheeling our luggage into a mall. Why? Because we three pale skins were terror suspects for carrying the oversized baggage into a public place. After convincing the police (with Dame’s broken French) the suitcases were there to help us carry beer back to our infidel den of heathenism and that we were not kamikaze martyrs for first world opulence, they allowed Digger and I to shop while Dame McKenzie waited outside the mall with the luggage.

Now, for you more intrepid travelers, there are more vices than just beer. Morocco is one of the world’s largest producers of hashish, known locally as ‘Kif’. When you enter the medina’s Djemaa el-Fna, dodgy characters will walk past you mumbling, whispering, inquiring, “hashish?” These are either zombified kif-junkies looking to stumble into a score or they are purveyors of hash looking to take you for a ride or they’re just hallucinatory assassins (FUN FACT: the word ‘assassin’ comes from ‘Hashashin’ which was a cult of hash-stoned jihadist killers organized by the Old Man of the Mountain to murder Crusaders and political enemies in the Arab world of some thousand years ago (#hash-tagged)). Follow them and see what happens. In the darker alleys you’ll find darker drink: Mahia is a liquor of distilled figs and aniseed drank by the Jewish populace before they left en masse for Israel (though a few have stayed behind to discreetly churn out the crescent moonshine for the unfaithful ‘Faithful’ who secretly imbibe), Chiba/Sheba is a Moroccan absinthe drank with mint tea and Majoun is a date jam preserved with cannabis, a treat spread on the toast of many artists who have come to Morocco like novelist Paul Bowles, poet Allen Ginsburg and guitar-deity Jimi Hendrix (who wintered in Essaouira, a few hours west of here).

a brief interlude into the absurdity of a self-consciousness when such awareness only brings proximity to the end, awareness of the end, fixation on this end and, inevitably, the end.

– Vic Neverman, writing about Marrakesh after smoking Shesha out of a Hookah.

Let’s see, where was I?

Ahh, yes, VICES. I have learned the hard way that a massage in the Muslim world and a massage in the Buddhist world are two entirely different things. The torture I experienced at the hands of ‘Hussein’ in the underground Turkish Bath in Istanbul’s old city was one of the most hellish experiences of my life; contrasted to the gentle, but firm, hands of ‘Dan’ (her name was pronounced ‘yung’) in Saigon’s ‘House of a Thousand Smiles’… yeah, no more massages from mustachioed Arabs or Persians for me. That being said, there are in Marrakesh ‘Hammams’ where massages are offered and I have heard some rave reviews from the lady-folk who have returned to the garden at Hotel Incognito amidst an absolute glow. I fed them bottles of Speciale Flag to learn more about their experience at the Hammam, but they were already quite loose-lipped. Wink, wink. Apparently, the lady masseurs of Marrakesh were all-in on the pleasuring. Nudge, nudge. Each of the women (except one dejected Kiwi) had a similar experience of initial shock simmering into nice surprise, before eventual guilt at providing further oral (or pelvic shifting) instruction on direction and intensity. Even the British spy, Victoria, looked as if she had an enormous weight taken off her shoulders. Me auld mate, Digger McKenzie of the Aussie Consulate, asked her, “Is this the first time you had sex with a woman? Or just first in Morocco?”

The Medina of Marrakesh is nowhere near as frightening as that of Fes, where there are 10,000 roads, each of which have multiple dead-ends. Still, one must be en garde here in the center of the Red City. Especially with the dastardly street urchins with their sweet brown-eyes: little, grimy, Arabic princesses cozying-up, singing Bonjour Mademoiselle! Bonjour M’sseur! All the while their grubby little fingers are in your fanny sack extracting passports and Dirham notes. Keep the local kids at arm’s length. Throw them lollies, if you must, just beware their affection. To quote the French Foreign Legion deserter who was out to steal my identity before I sold him out as an Algerian spy, “Marche ou Creve!” (“march or die”, unofficial motto of the Legion).

If the Medina is the heart of Marrakesh, Djemaa el-Fna is the heart of the ancient Medina. The name means ‘assembly of the dead’ as it was the arena of public executions some thousand years ago through last week when I watched a bicyclist mowed down by a scooter in the middle of a pedestrian walkway. I nearly saw another execution the next day when some douchebag from Casa drove his imported Corvette across a row of merchant’s wares. The damned Corvetteer really pissed on the hornet’s nest and was soon surrounded by a mob (fearless of being likewise run-over) until he paid his ransom in Euros to escape the wrath of the souqs.

Djemaa el-Fna, you see, exists as a cluster fuckage of activity. By day, we will encounter monkey-jugglers and snake charmers. Do not pay these charlatans any mind. They are animal pimps looking to whore out their creatures to tourists for photo opportunities. The monkeys are malnourished and the swaying cobras are stoned on the Kif. Whatever you agree to pay the pimps, they will insist on a greater sum. They assume you will be frightened by the venomous snakes they wield – just know you this: they milk the poison out of the slitherers to the point they are little more than a scaly sock of bones. I advise avoiding these sister-fucking bastard snake charmers and monkey jugglers.

Don't trust the bloody orange juice lotharios

Don’t trust the bloody orange juice lotharios

And avoid the damned orange juice mongers while you are at it. Cart after cart of orange juice trolley lines the city square, offering nothing different than the next cart over. The vendors are young Moroccan Lotharios, crying out their impassioned desires to squeeze oranges into your mouth. Resist the urge. They sell bright colors and a healthy aura, confusing the ensemble of heat-stroke tourists with their cacophony of romantic ballads, but their shitty orange juice is tainted, diseased and best avoided unless you are dying of scurvy. Even then scurvy is a kinder fate than what these assholes peddle.

Dinner and a movie for Mister Giggles as Charlie Chaplin plays in the Djemaa el-Fna below.

Dinner and a movie for Mister Giggles as Charlie Chaplin plays in the Djemaa el-Fna below.

At night, the daytime vendors are brushed away to be replaced by the food tents. At one end of the Djemaa el-Fna exists a movie screen where night time movies are projected. During the month long comedy fest, hundreds of Marrakeshi flock before the movie screen to watch the silver screen movies of Charlie Chaplin with French subtitles. By now, you’ve noticed quite the infatuation with Charlie Chaplin throughout Marrakesh, from the restaurant Le Tramp to the street murals, the locals love them some old school slapstick. At intermission, I would recommend visiting the food camp, have a bowl of hareera (a quite tasty Ramadan recipe for tomato soup with chickpeas, coriander, ginger, turmeric and black pepper) and then wander back into the mix of tourists and Marraekeshi as they watch, transfixed by Chaplin.

Tomorrow we return to the markets.

Navigating the souqs takes some practice. Within the fortress walls of the Medina, you will find beyond the Djemaa el-Fna there are acres of market: spice, leather, Damascene plates, metal sculptures, oddities, exotic animals, black market antiquities thieved from the ruins of Damascus and Baghdad, entire streets of olive picklers, avenues of honeyed pastries (swarming with bees, as my was my beard after eating a few of the sweets), lanes of carpet mongers, slipper salesmen, etc, etc, et al. The markets are all crafted out of the medieval mud brick with interwoven thatch ceilings blocking out most of the sun and some of the residual heat.

I have never seen a man lost on a straight path.

– Saadi of Shiraz

There are agents. Just as within Fes, there are agents to guide the way and there are agents to find the way. Guides will keep you on the straight and narrow; finders will take you down the catawampus paths towards the inexplicable. The further back into the spice market you go, the deeper into superstition you wade. For centuries, Moroccan caravanserais have brought in ginger from China, turmeric from India, black pepper from Bangladesh, locally cultivated coriander and cumin as the traditional spices; yet the deeper you wade into the spice souq the more tickled your nostrils become. Your finder will remind you the origins of Voodoo are Africa and the true spice-men of Morocco are more witch-doctor pharmacists practicing black & white magic than they are culinary exhibitionists. In these deeper alleys, you will find preserved bats, dried chameleon skins, leopard furs, live tortoises, clucking roosters, whole hedgehog corpses… all for various different alchemical recipes. Even the smell of sandlewood is thought to entice a male erection (which makes shopping in the wood carving souq a risky proposition). Above all stands Saffron, king of all spices. Don’t fuck with saffron.

Dusk is upon us in the Sunset City. Certainly there is no better time to be on the rooftops of Marrakesh than during twilight as the sparrows emerge from their hiding place to dance through the sky like the nutjob fucking birds they are. Hopefully, Pilgrim, you’ve found yourself a nice elixir to help you fade into sleep. In the very least, I hope you’ve found a bath. After a day in Marrakesh, the least you deserve is to scrape yourself clean of it.

Sunset over the Red City

Sunset over the Red City

GARE CASA VOYAGEURS, Morocco

On the morning in question, I woke to mildewed fumes of an air conditioning unit: a sad piece of antebellum machinery sputtering out dank coolness long after the hamster running its wheel had expired. It (the machine not the hamster) was a relic best left dead, yet there it churned in the wall above me, its recalcitrant stubbornness having wilted to electronic current, resuscitated like Frankenstein’s monster, expelling frigid breath in a stream of phlegmy coughs typical of latter century air-conditioning units. The miracle worker who brought the machine to life (despite my protest, I’d rather sweat than choke on carbon monoxide), a startlingly mechanically savvy Foreign Legion drop-out, croaked in his drunken slumber as the sunburnt blisters of his pinkened belly-flesh trembled in the artificial air. I moved with the quick subtly of the ghost of some dead ninja panther before my roommate could wake and ask for drinking money. Levitating out of bed, I recovered my passport from beneath the mattress, grabbed my desert goggles from around the shower-head, relieved my bladder while sitting down (a strange maneuver if I weren’t in stealth mode), snatched my trusty backpack and snuck out the door into the lukewarm nuke-warm hallway of the hotel.

At the foot of the stairs was the lobby. At the foot of the bill was my laundry charge. For fuck’s sake – I could have a camel decapitated in Meknes for $10, but it took the hotel proprietor’s mother-in-law more than a buck (10 Dirham) to spit-shine and fold a pair of my boxers? I paid the hotel bill and asked for messages. There was one message and it was obsolete. I told the manager to burn the memo, fully aware he would pass the note to the Moroccan Nationalist Party Istiqlal or the Muslim Brotherhood or the French Bastards along the Quar d’Islay, depending on Mustapha’s allegiance du jour (for Mustapha, intelligence paid well to spy on shifty-eyed Americans claiming Canadianship). “Oui, M’sseur” Mustapha acknowledged my incendiary request, carrying the message into the backroom as if his mother-in-law already had a fire going to dry other guest britches.

Leaving the hotel and travelling on foot, I entered the chaos of the medina for the sole purpose of throwing off my pursuers. Somewhere near a snake-charmer, I faked left and darted right: right into the leather handbag souq (medinas are not far different than wandering a Wal-Mart, just here in Casablanca probability of being pickpocketed, bitten by a cobra or contracting Ebola is increased–slightly). I arrived at Casa Voyageurs without spitting blood (spy-talk for being ‘tailed’, followed). The train was on time for Africa, delayed by Western standards. I boarded, following the migration of wildebeest into 2nd class to find standing room only. Before me, in their djellaba robes were a pair of mustachioed Arabs arguing about Allah-knows-what. Their eyes were venomous and veins were strained in their opposing foreheads. To my right, I heard a pair of sunburnt American missionaries ask each other louder than they should, “what do you think they are arguing about?” I turned to them and in an indescribable accent mentioned (lying entirely), “They are asking of each other’s wife’s well-being, wishing ‘well’ upon the other’s family.” The American missionaries, shocked to realize the bearded infidel to their left spoke English, mentioned how angry those fellars appeared while engaged in such congenial conversation and they asked if I was from Britain. Almost, I replied before lying I was Australian. The American Protestant Happy-Clappies (as they are known in Morocco) were thrilled with this knowledge and asked if I might place a figurative skewer of shrimp on some hypothetical barbeque. They further inquired what I was doing in Morocco. Knowing their trade by the patches sewn into their luggage and their sleeves, I mirrored them by admitting I was a missionary doing the religious gig. “Us too!” They spastically tremored at the celestial coincidence, guffawing amazement at how their deity of choice worked by mysterious means. They begged to know my denomination, so I said “Scientology! I would give you a brochure, but I’ve already made my quota for the month.” We didn’t speak much further than that. I winked at the wife and she naturally blushed (naturally).They were seemingly harmless. Although…

Reasons Not to Trust Stevie Joe and Mary Grace of Omaha

  1. They were American. They were missionaries. They were American missionaries.
  2. The CIA often employed missionaries to collect information in faraway corners of the world and the CIA shouldn’t be given a benefit of a doubt. Red-blooded, cornbread-fed, American spooks are a mixed lot: 1 in 8 would appreciate Vic Neverman, 3 in 8 would think me the devil and the other half would just set me up as a patsy to further their own agenda.
  3. The brainwashing Reds – Vlad’s neo-Soviet spies – were damned tricky and could have these two duped in no time. Self-described “patriots” are quick to believe anyone else self-describing themselves “patriots”. This happy-clappy couple could easily be spying for Mother Russia without ever knowing it. Stevie Joseph, did you remember to email our travel notes to Ivan, that nice carpenter from Wichita who was picking his teeth with a sickle?
  4. The Qatar Royal Family paid well and they already had it out for old Vic. Some Qatari dandy with a silk tie and manicured handshake could have approached SJ and MG at baggage claim with an opportunity to “truly do some good unto the world.”

I needed to be more careful of whom I took the piss out of.

I gazed through the cramped carriage and out the window as the suburban Casablanca landscape gave way to the barren olive fields, gum trees and eucalyptus beyond. As I stood there in the common class train car, I was approached by an Arab occupied with his cell phone. He was a lean, sinewy, dude, eyes darting everywhere but here. Once the train was in full tilt and hidden-face Moroccan ladies stopped considering my origins to re-engage gossiping amongst each other, the approaching Arab’s eyes rose above his phone and set a sight a thousand yards in the distance. He spoke, as if to himself, but he was speaking to me.

Bonjour.” He greeted me in French, changing to English. “You are travelling alone?”

If I didn’t already know this dude, I would think I was being setup for some sort of con. Instead, I did know this dude and responded appropriately, “My dog is in first class.”

“Have you yesterday’s football scores?” Rafiq asked, his eyes just briefly making contact with mine before jetting off like a flea trying to accumulate reward-miles.

“Oh sure.” I followed the script, lifting up my shoe. “They are in the heel of my boot.”

“Take this.” Rafiq handed me a folded-up French newspaper. “And keep your shoes on. Scores are on page 10.”

On page 10 was a first class ticket with an assigned seat. Message received.

First class was at the front of the train and I was many cars back. At the next stop, I got off the train and sped ahead as close as I could get to first class before the locomotive continued southward. Climbing back on the train, I fought through the common class caste with uncommon luggage strapped to my back. Eventually, I reached the first class cars where train agents eyed my beard suspiciously and asked to see my ticket. Eventually satisfied, they allowed my passage. My first class train compartment held three westerners (two of them further west than west).

“Victor Ulysses Neverman, have a seat me auld mate!” Digger McKenzie, Cultural Attaché for the Australian Consulate in Rabat, greeted me with something between a handshake and a head-butt. Beside him was his wife, Dame McKenzie. At the window was a Londoner acting as their cruise director, though, was just as likely to be their British MI spy-handler. The Brit’s nomme de plume was ‘Victoria’, which caused some antagonism between the two of us as we both went by ‘Vic’ for short. Between her yellow sunnies and my red goggles, we at the train car window were quite the pair.

He Vic and She Vic, the POME Spook

He Vic and She Vic, the POME Spook

Settling into the first class seat, I waited as Digger dealt with the Berber boy pushing the drink cart, exchanging Dirham for cans of lemonade. Take a sip of this, Love Digger begged of his wife after the Berber left. Once the can was lightened, Digger took out what appeared to be a plastic water bottle and emptied a few ounces of the clear liquid into his lemonade.

“Vodka?” I asked.

“Nah.” Digger cringed, “Gin. Cheap shit, really. Bruce is s’posed to be shipping a crate of Bundaberg on the morrow.”

Bundaberg was the rum portion of the Bundie & Coke ration every Australian citizen is allotted daily. Bruce and Digger were always fretting about the next shipment into the consulate at Rabat. There are only so many relatives and tourists one can bribe to smuggle rum into a country which follows Islam’s prohibition on booze. So the Bundie is locked away for special occasions and the ex-pats make the most out of the cheap, amphibian liquor imported from France.

“Did you receive the package?” I asked; referring to a flash drive of digital photos I took in Casa.

“Yeah mate, yous Yanks click sum bonza beaudy happy snaps!” Digger did away with the clandestine formality and took a slug of his ginned-up lemonade. It most definitely was not his first of the day. “Was going to run through the database, but the machine is tit’s-up. Bruce will run the film on Monday.”

“If it’s not still tit’s-up?”

“Damn skippy, mate.”

Dame McKenzie closed her paparazzi magazine and scrutinized me with eyes that rose above her downturned reading glasses. Digger’s wife spoke as if she was of higher breeding and education, though she was born and raised on a drover’s station out back beyond the Great Dividing Range (or ‘outback’ for short). She spoke of me as if I wasn’t in the train car, “He’s heaps of nervous intensity, Diggs. Are you certain he is trustworthy? He’s a Yank, after all; isn’t he?”

“Ahh, Vic’s alroight. You should hear his love stories. He once faked his own death to grab the attention of some bird in Sydney. Up in Airlie Beach he must’ve met my sis – he took some bridesmaid from Brisbane out dancing and spun her lazy-eye straight!”

Dame McKenzie tut-tutted her husband and looked to the window where Victoria nodded back, once. “Plenty of wait-and-see flags…” She Vic spoke of He Vic. “Nothing damning. In Northampton, 1999, we have him affiliating with Polish socialists.”

“I was in an international summer-school!” I objected. “And she was just a ballerina from Warsaw, studying law. We never got around to discussing politics.”

“Which…” The Prisoner of Mother England spook went on, “we believe you believe to be true. Let us just leave it at that.”

Damnitshit. I wasn’t going to let this POME drive a wedge between me and my first foreign love, Ewa Kubiak, best remembered knocking on my door wearing my leather jacket and naught else. Victor, I am really a good girl. And she was. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead…

“Victor.” Dame McKenzie suddenly became stern. “We’re en route to Marrakesh where we intend to stay. We stay if we’re given reason to stay. You exist as our rationalizing force, an idiot MacGuffin ploy. If Mumsy back in Canberra tells Bruce in Rabat that Australia’s best interests involve a presence in Marrakesh, then Diggs and I get to stay. You, my dear, are the rationale we offer to Mumsy.”

“I don’t follow.” I offered, though I slightly did follow, just unsure of the direction.

“Simple, mate, really.” Digger went on. “We’re after the Qataris. If we strike dirty oil in Marrakesh, we setup a diplomatic branch where we sort through intelligence affairs gathered by our agents on the ground, which is you, Vic.”

“Me Vic?” She Vic asked.

“No, he Vic.” Diggs countered, pointing at me, Vic.

“And if there are no Qataris?” I pondered.

“They’re bloody everywhere, mate.” Digger assured and referenced my blog post on the matter. “And you can’t profile them – there are only a three hundred thousand Qataris living in fucking Qatar. But their money, you can smell the stench of it everywhere. They have, we suspect, the largest intelligence gathering network outside of yous Yanks, fucking Putin, Her Majesty and the Israelis.”

“You’re leaving out the I-C-Triple-U.” I said.

“Yous been huffing my gin again, Vic? Seeing triple, are ya?”

The International Chinese Waiters Union. In the 1970’s, the ICWU was just a theory by conspiracy theorist Kyril Bonfiglioli, but I was able to prove the existence of the spy network earlier this year.”

Vic at the window with her yellow sunglasses cried havoc, “Are you implying every single waiter at every single Chinese restaurant around the world is a part of a grand conspiratorial espionage network organized by Communist China?”

“Yup, give or take a busboys.” I admitted. “Except this spy ring goes back before Mao and Marx.”

“Which is all fine and good.” Dame McKenzie put out an open-faced palm to calm the troops. “If we find Chinese restaurants in Marrakesh, we’ll have reason for concern. If we don’t, we still need to find our Qataris.”

“We’ll find ‘em.” Digger, who had settled himself into a lounging slump, was quite content. “Even if Vic has to invent ‘em.”

“When I was a girl…” Dame McKenzie began an antagonizing anecdote, harping back to her days on the drover station. “We weren’t allowed guns in the house. When we found a snake indoors, we couldn’t shoot it, so we boiled a large pot of water and scalded the beast until it slithered its way outside.”

I cleared my throat before inquiring, “Is this metaphor for finding Qataris in the High Atlas?”

“It is a metaphor, Victor.” Victoria told me from the window. “But it is a metaphor on how to rid oneself of unwanted guests.”

Victoria pulled down her yellow sunglasses just as Dame McKenzie removed her reading glasses to likewise leer at me. Digger was snoring away.

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh

FES, Morocco

I was on the payroll.

Whose payroll, it was uncertain.

Foolish is he who follows his heart into espionage. If you are going to dabble in espionage, you should only be swayed by financial gain, not ideologies which can be appealed to by any two-bit hack positioning himself as a “friend of the cause.” Sure, you might think you are playing for the right team, but just as you believe you are safely past Checkpoint Carlos, los Federales appear and Natasha, your anti-establishment, on-again/off-again intimate bunkmate unmasks herself to reveal her true identity as Stan from the IRS who is after your estranged uncle’s back taxes.

Why should you only get into espionage for the money, not for ideological nonsense? Because Stan.

Fortunately, the Australians (I assume they were them) paid well. My handler (boss, benefactor or spy-pimp, if you will; I often called him “mother” to which, in his chagrin, he’d suggest I’d be a might bit prettier if he had birthed me) could usually be found grilling saussies in the rock garden of his diplomatic villa in Rabat’s bubbling suburb of Sale. Bruce MacKenzie weighed dozens of stone and cast a shadow over the entirety of the local Kasbah. “I’ve got a new mission for ya, Vic.”Bruce informed me as he stuck his fork into a steaming sausage (actual pork frozen and flown from Brisbane to Morocco). “Heaps of gratitude if you choose to accept it. I need ya in Fes.” Here was when he appealed to my ideology: he was bringing the girls out on a holiday. He was emptying the Australian Embassy secretarial pool for the weekend and wanted to take them to “the Athens of Africa.” Would I be there to see the ladies through safely? The short answer, without the stammer, was yes. I had seen his secretarial pool. “Good on ya, Vic!” Bruce roared his appreciation. “And thanks for the new details on this Baroness bird.” Bruce MacKenzie then yelled over his shoulder at his fellow-countrymate, Digger McKenzie (no relation), “Say Digs, would you ring up the Qatari desk before you knuckle-down into that pigeon pie? I’ve a bone to pick with that dodgy bastard at the consulate.”

So began my sojourn to Fes with the greatest buddy a paranoid off-the-grid spy novice could have: Rafiq. Rafiq was much like me: tall, lean, punctual, deviously handsome, repetitive, punctual, dark & brooding, enigmatic, effortlessly flippant, wickedly cunning with an uncanny sense of direction. The chief difference was he was a mix of Arab and Berber while I was a mix of Slav, Turk, Spaniard, Cherokee, Prisoner of Mother England, Scot, Magyar and Pakistani Gypsy (there might be a drop of Irish whiskey in the mutt cocktail somewhere). Rafiq also spoke Arabic, Berber, English and the Romance languages while I was still humming my way through the Queen’s English. We were, however, both the same age (over-ripened though undercooked) and beholden only to our adored nieces. He did have this one shtick that sent the ladies swooning – he would shake hands with his right hand and then immediately move the escaped palm to his chest to ensure his passionate heart did not erupt from his breast plate. Brilliant, really.

Neither of us trusted the other, but we got along quite swimmingly.

Tariq and Vic, a pair of Nevermen

Rafiq and Vic, a pair of Nevermen

In Fes, I followed the footfalls of Rafiq and some tabby tomcat named Mister Giggles through the medieval corridors of the old medina. Mister Giggles was a striped bastard, feral and malicious, licking his maw after spare mice bits and hissing at the heathen sinners as they pass. Mister Giggles had thirty-four thousand half-brother bastards wandering this city and a few sisters and cousins after them, each one of them stink-eyed and crooked toothed, yet pleasant as punch when you dangled ostrich gizzards their way.

“There are 12,000 dead-ends in the medina of Fes.” Rafiq warned.

“Yesterday you told me there were only 10,000 streets in the medina.”

“Yes.” Rafiq confirmed; his brow billowing as a storm cloud billows. “And for every street there are many dead-ends. There is a story of the Englishman who buys a home in the Fes medina. He leaves for milk and never finds his home again. It is funny.”

“Indeed.” I agreed as did Mister Giggles, the spit-shined white stray that poked its head out of a cardboard box to see what the uproar was about.

I embraced Fes and the One Thousand and One scents of an Arabic night: cat piss and saffron, the recycled teeth peddled by street dentists, muleteers driving their mulleted mules, knife sharpeners scraping pigeon liver off of metal, tanneries dipping animal hides into guano to preserve the color, tagine stews and roasted lamb, couscous and mint tea, sacrilegious sex and Hammam sweat, the old clothes of the water-sellers with their jangling bells. All the way, Rafiq led and Mister Giggles would follow, one moment he was a black cat, the next a calico.

By the time I had lost all faith in my navigating skills, Bruce MacKenzie and the secretarial pool arrived.

Fes

Fes

I was there at the train station, gracious host, hoisting luggage from train to waiting van. This was when I first met Sheila, the Australian typist with hair of Celtic bronze knots tinged with rust, who hid behind aviator goggles and a semi-bemused smirk. Sheila’s waning enthusiasm barely qualified my existence, but it was just a façade, a false calm under-which her humble bosom betrayed her cool as lungs heaved deep-lunges for oxygen. I too, was unlike myself. I combatted her “Well, hello Vic” with a “Howdy, Pilgrim”, which is entirely unlike me to quote John Wayne, but I was on auto-pilot, especially after my bewildered greeting rescued a smile from beneath her guise, allowing it to escape and eviscerate the aortas that attempted to hold my heart into place. My knees turned to J-E-LL-O and Sheila was forced to drag me into the van like an exhausted fish struggling to breath out of water. Sheila might have been slight, but she was full of piss, vinegar and vegemite and easily hauled my carcass into our vessel.

Mister Giggles watched the ordeal with absolute condemnation, shaking his filthy whiskers the whole damn time. Laugh it up, Giggles…

Mister Giggles spying from afar

Mister Giggles spying from afar

Touring the medina of Fes, we entered one gate and when I lost the path, I led them out to another gate, assuring them we took the better, more scenic, route. Along the way, we found the foul tanneries with all that bird shit being tossed about. We lunched on vegetarian tagines and bottled water. We shopped for leather goods and Damascene plates from Meknes. At a pottery studio, I allowed Bruce and his hens to browse as I entered into the café where the resident potters break for French cigarettes and card games. It was here where Sheila was casually sipping hot tea like a tulip suckling a droplet of spring dew.

“Have you seen these before?” I asked, picking up a handful of playing cards off the ground. “They are like Moroccan tarot cards.”

“And what are you like, Vic?” Sheila asked behind the aviators that swallowed half of her face. “The conqueror or the escapist?” She dropped the cards on the table, stood up and walked away. Goddammit, if she didn’t already know my greatest weakness was woman-speak. What the hell did that all mean? I watched the departure of her blue jean gait as everything beneath my shoulders fell away into the abyss, flushed by some chick from Oceania along with the cigarette she was hiding from her boss, Bruce.

Later in the evening, after the swallows occupied twilight with their maniacal flight, the secretarial pool was exhausted and quick to bed. As they slept, I stayed out late with Rafiq, exploring the heathen dens of the new city with Mister Giggles, the mangy calico, the three of us smoking shisha and drinking terrible wine and terrific beer as I lamented my troubled love-life.

Camel Butcher Shop

Camel Butcher Shop

The next day I guided the troop back through the medina (though I mostly followed one Mister Giggles after another) and we visited the ancient university and the Koranic school. Sheila remained aloof and I remained flummoxed, though manufacturing the utter coolness of an orca napping in an igloo. Without fail, Mister Giggles brought us to the camel butcheries where I was able to find falafel for the secretarial pool to feast on as I waited for the butcher to grill my lunch. Casually gazing through the haze of smoke and heat off the camel barbeque, I spotted a blue-eyed brunette casually gazing back. Her eyes did not shy after meeting mine and her chin rose as it dripped with chickpea grease. Her dimples drew out a devious smile that ripped apart my ribcage and played spoons against the rivets of my spine. Her name was Caroline.

Hearing laughter, I looked down at my feet to see a calico rolling in refuse. Yeah, laugh it up, Giggles…

At the end of our second day, as the ladies of the Australian Embassy lumbered up the stairs towards their quiet chambers, Sheila stopped me. At last, her aviators were removed from her face and hung from the collar of her blouse between the slight – yet perky and beguiling – coils of hempen necklace. Sheila’s brown eyes were moist and earthy, a dampened sacred soil that buried me alive and my demise could not have come sooner or so sweet. “Will you join us for a beer tonight then, Vic?” Sheila asked, her upturned lips an invaluable commodity. I guffawed some unintellectual affirmative. She put my thoughts into better perspective, “You wouldn’t miss it for the world?” I gave an imbecilic nod and she disappeared into the elevator.

Not for the World.

When I heard Sheila ask if I would “join us” I assumed she was referring to herself in the plural as royals do (just like my saying, “we’d like to take us a piss as our bladder has filled over the rim”). Instead, she meant “us” as in a whole flock of wild geese of Australian women and passers-by. It ended up being a group of ten of us – the secretarial pool of the Aussie Embassy, a couple of Swiss women, a lady lounge singer from NYC and Bruce MacKenzie, the Under Secretary of the Australian Consulate in Morocco.

I took the gaggle back to my previous haunt L’etranger. It is difficult to describe the scene of our arrival to a westerner, unless you think of Vic Neverman as some sort of warlord, pimp or soccer hero. I was greeted with a strange oriental merriment bordering on sarcasm. The bouncer of the club, the host, the emcee all embraced me, crying “Ali Baba! Ali Baba returns! Put more beer on ice!” and then kissed either cheek of mine. This outrageous display of affection startled the throngs of ladies in my tow. I shrugged, humbly, and begged the women to follow me into the parlor of absurd notion. My servants quickly reassembled couches into a horseshoe so that my retinue might best crowd itself. I ordered beer, champagne, hookah, bottles of varying wine and the customary cucumbers and olives.

“Victor.” Caroline spoke of me as an Aussie accented songbird sighting spring beyond the crystalized flakes of winter. “What is it that brings you here, to Morocco?”

“Spice.” I spoke with intoxicated certainty, winked with a twitch and slurped my beer with minimal spillage into my Ali Baba beard. We casually chuckled merrily together, Caroline and I; the music was too loud for anything conversational. Beside Caroline sat Sheila, her shoulder chilling as it turned away from us.

A night out with Vic Neverman at L'etranger

A night out with Vic Neverman at L’etranger

Hours passed, revelry continued. Caroline had migrated across the horseshoe to speak with the Swiss when Sheila leaned across me and ignited my olfactory with scents alternating between her dollop of melted peach ice cream perfume and the rich au jous of the sweat that salted her skin. Sheila reached for the champagne with the delicacy and splendor of a fawn crawling out of her mother doe. I toasted the beauty that is life, Bisaha! Bahia! and dreamt of a life together, Sheila and I, at the Gagaju bush camp in Queensland with barefoot children running amuck as I washed cloth diapers downstream with the freshwater crocs… But, wait, no… that wasn’t a dream insomuch as a memory of a different Aussie girl and a younger, much younger, Neverman. My trance was terminated with the birdsong voice of Caroline, Victor! Please do tell us that story of the Costa Rican goatsucker again! Sheila, the other woman, looked at me dully, almost urging my departure, well go along, then, Vic. Tell them your bloody story.

“Well…” I, raconteur, stood and addressed my audience. “It is actually a Puerto Rican goatsucker.”

Midnight arrived like a thud, everything turning into pumpkin. I settled the bill – which is excruciatingly difficult to do in clubs where the abacus is the only cash register. Exiting into the street, I saw a black cat lick its scrotum and then smile.

“Hello, Mister Giggles.” I greeted my companion, certain tonight that I, Vic Neverman, would have the last laugh.

I led my caravan down the darkened street, my mind drawing a map of the sharp left ahead, the half mile beyond that which would return us to the main boulevard of Nouvelle Ville. I was an expert stranger, well in control of my path. Mister Giggles, walking beside me, coughed a hairball in mockery of my hubris.

Spanish cards, frequently played in the dens of Morocco

Spanish cards, frequently played in the dens of Morocco

Cursed with pattern recognition, my eyes spied something amiss on the dark pavement. I reached down and picked up a playing card, the same type I had found earlier. Sheila! I call to her attention, eager to ask her nearer. Holding the card in her hands, Sheila’s intuition prompted her to claim, solemnly, regrettably, “It’s the death card.”

Shriek! The crowd of lady that had assembled dispersed; Sheila held onto the card, looked up at me, asking what she should do. On my suggestion, she dropped it! The card fell onto the NYC lounge singer’s shoe and all girls screamed. I asked for calm, insisting the ill omen was just a warning and we should keep together and be careful. Somewhat assuaged, the ladies calmed and their inebriation assisted in quickly distracting them to other subjects. We continued and within moments all omens were forgotten.

“Victor, where would we be without you?” Caroline asked, admiring me as she walked along my western flank.

Attempting to remain humble, I responded, “You’d just have to hail a cab, I guess.” I turned to my opposite shoulder to see if Sheila might appreciate my modesty, but she was hidden deep under her aviators despite the after-midnight darkness of the street. Resigned, I returned to Caroline to make some casual quip about her having breakfast at my place (i.e. the continental spread at the hotel), only to find Caroline preoccupied with Mister Giggles who decided to cross the street here rather than wait for the crosswalk.

“Oh, kitty, no…” Caroline suggested plainly, with maternal insistence. Mister Giggles wasn’t registering. “Kitty, no!” Caroline was more impassioned, hurrying towards the curb. Mister Giggles snorted his contempt towards her, though did not advance further. “Kitty!” Caroline hollered, “No!” Mister Giggles, spooked by the raging Aussie, darted into the street until thwap and we were all left witnesses.

It seemed to be in slow motion, watching Caroline reach out for Mister Giggles… Mister Giggles darting into the street… the red cab thwap! The audible thump was Mister Giggles, you see, as he was interrogated by the front of the taxi cab – THWAP!

Mister Giggles was overtook by the front left wheel of the car, run-over, and then lurched up into the wheel-well to be spat out again and re-run-over. The car braked to a stop. Pause… Absolute silence from the spectators… The car sped forward, leaving the crime scene behind. The crime scene, it was a mound of giggles. I cringed, hoping the beast was dead, knowing that otherwise I would have to put Mister Giggles out of his misery with a coup de grâce stomp from the business end of my flip-flop. Fahck! Mister Giggles lives! The damned cat pulled himself to his feet and fueled by adrenaline in the last 260 seconds of his existence, Mister Giggles dashed down the alley to where he would surely collapse and expire.

I cannot even attempt to explain the disposition of Caroline. She pulled her collar up above her mouth in horror and was inconsolable even when Bruce MacKenzie wrapped his bear arms around her, insisting all was right with the world, there were too many bloody cats anyhow. It was a futile gesture, Caroline was in hysterics. I turned to Sheila and she stared back at me, aviators removed, her eyes widened at the realization… the death card she had drawn… Her eyes then tightened with bitter blame… the death card Vic Neverman had given her. For every mL of Caroline’s despondence was a Liter of Sheila’s hatred for the Neverman. Or perhaps vice versa – I am American and this metric shit is confusing.

I managed to corral the women and deliver them safely to the hotel. The dark omen had played out, but those under my watch were safe. After the women left by train the next day, I would never see them again. Sheila, at least, waved goodbye, or perhaps, she was fanning the flames of my dejection.

As for Mister Giggles, he was waiting for me outside the hotel, splotchy black and white, stink-eyed and surly, laughing his mangy ass off.

 

Read more of Vic’s travels in Morocco here.

Read more of Vic’s troubled paranoid romances here.

Greetings Wanderer,

This Brisbane bloke to my left and I have been sitting here admiring your disembarking of the train into this wilderness of Marrakesh. These nos-nos coffees may twerk our alertness, but nothing could perk our spirits as much as your grand entrance: baggage in the throes of mutiny, father already pickpocketed, step-sister having bled all over the seats now in search of toilette and nephews stolen away and sold into slavery at an Algerian anchovy cannery. Magnifique! Bienvenue a Maroc!

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh train station

Following Digger McKenzie into Marrakesh train station

While here, I recommend endearing yourself to the heat. There is no sense in fighting the inevitable – your hotel room ceiling fans can only account for so much conditioning of the air. Take this Aussie bloke to my left – he is used to sweating for twenty hours a day and for the other four he drinks. He often drinks with me as I adopted the same lifestyle years ago living in the former Spanish colony of La Florida. As for finding booze in a mostly dry country, this is a topic for another time…

In Morocco, you are lucky enough to encounter a local who speaks Napoleonic French, let alone the Queen’s English. Even Arabic speakers may be hard to find the further into the Atlas Mountains you wander. To prepare the wayward traveler, I have compiled a short compendium of relevant words and phrases:

Arabic Common Words Heard in the Streets of Morocco

Nos-Nos – “Half-half” relating to the proportion of coffee to cream

The Baroness, having survived her interrogation by the Moroccan secret police, walked up to me in the hotel restaurant, grabbed my cup of nos-nos and dumped its contents into my already humid lap.

Bisaha – Cheers

“Prost!” Conrad lifted his glass of smuggled schnapps and swallowed it down, unaware of the laxative bubbling away within. “Bisaha!” I toasted back with my Casablanca Lager.

Inshallah – God Willing

I’ve got to see a man about a mule, Inshallah. Tonight I will sleep, Inshallah.

Y’allah, Y’allah – Hurry up, let’s go

To the roof! Y’allah! Y’allah! The secret police are downstairs.

Balek – Get out of the way, spoken by muleteers as they prod their beasts of burden through the Medina.

Balek! Balek! Unless you want to meet the business end of a mule, Balek!

Bahr Adulumat – “Sea of Darkness”, the Atlantic Ocean

Do you know what they do with Kaffirine like you? They tie you into sacks and drown you in Bahr Adulumat like dogs.

Caravanserai – lodging place on the outskirts of town where travelling merchants hold business.

There isn’t a decent drop of whiskey to be found in the city. Try going out to the Caravanserai where, for a price, you can find anything; except, maybe, incest as your kin are notoriously slippery.

Kaffirine – heathen or savage, often pale skinned and drowned in a sack in the Bahr Adulumat.

Not all Kaffirine are Nazarene, but all Nazarene are Kaffirine.

Nazarene – Follower of Jesus of Nazareth; Christians in specific, white folk in general.

You can claim atheism, but until you adopt the Five Pillars of Islam and discover your parents are Moroccan, you will always be Nazarene.

 

Now for some Francais… (courtesy of Ghislain, a notorious rake living in Portland, Oregon)

– Hello = Bonjour
– Thank you = Merci
– Sorry = Pardon
– Restrooms = Toilettes
– That’s a nice camel you have here = Votre chameau est magnifique !
– Where is the …? = Où est le/la … ?
– How are you doing? = Comment ça va ?
– What time is it? = Quelle heure est-il ?
– How much does this cost? = Combien ça coûte ?
– I would like to marry your daughter = J’aimerais épouser votre fille

Neverman of Marrakesh

Neverman of Marrakesh


Some further Francais courtesy of the InterWeb translation machines

Let them eat cake

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche

Bring me more beer and whiskey, please

Apportez-moi plus de biere et de whisky s’il vous plait

How to make the camel stop?

Comment faire cesser un chameau?

Where can I urinate if there are no bushes in the desert?

Ou puis-je uriner si il n’u a pas de buissons dan le desert?

Show me to your dancing girls

Montrez-moi a vos filles de danse

I come in peace. Take me to your leader.

Je viens en paix prendre moi a votre chef

The American Embassy will pay you much for my release.

L’ambassade americaine va vous payer beaucoup pour ma liberation

I didn’t know she was your (sister, wife, mother, daughter)

Je ne savais pas qu’elle etait votre (soeur, femme, mere, fille)

Is there (a cell phone, an ATM, electricity) in your village?

Y at-il (un telephone portable, distributeur de billets, del’electricite) dans votre village.

Can you look at this rash? Is it normal?

Pouvez-vous regarder cette eruption? Est-ce normal?

Yes. Now that I think of it, your religion is superior. Where may I apply?

Oui. Je comprends maintenant votre religion est superieure. Ou puis-je postuler?

No really, I am Canadian.

Non, vraiment, je suis Canadien

No really, I am a Turk.

Non, vraiment, je suis un Turc

Is there anything on the menu without sand in it?

Y at-il quoi que ce soit sur le menu sans sable en elle?

Please, no mayonnaise.

S’il vous plait pas de mayonnaise

How far to the nearest shade?

A quelle distance a l’ombre le plus proche

No thank you. The price is too high.

Non merci le prix est trop eleve

Of course, all of us Canadians hate the French too.

Biens sur, nous tous, les Canadiens detestent les Francais trop

 

Rabat is an increasingly modern city with fancy shit yachts in the Bou Regreg River and jazz concerts in the Roman ruins of Sala Colonia. I arrived via hired car driven by a hired driver whose only CD was The Best of Cat Stevens. My contact, smarmy bastard he was, recognized me as soon as I set foot in the shadows of the Kasbah despite my disguise as a Norwegian ex-Marxist who suffered somnambulism.

“Ali Baba!” Mustapha greeted me with an unprovoked enthusiasm. “Each day you are more and more ugly!” Mustapha was Fassi and Fassis consider themselves exceedingly clever. Mustapha, in all his cleverness, fashioned himself an expert on American humor and believed the cornerstone of sarcasm was direct insult. Forget subtlety and nuance, Mustapha’s quips were more unfiltered hatred. “Greetings, oh itchy fellow! Oh leprous one! Welcome to the Capital of Morocco. May Allah give you fever without perspiration!”

“Likewise… Dick.” I spoke, forgetting to use my Scandinavian accent.

The Marrakeshi have a joke about their clever rivals from Fes. The first time a Fassi encountered a mirror, he immediately set out to deceive his “other” (there are donkeys involved, as is standard with all Marrakeshi stories). Long joke short, the Fassi is eventually carrying the city of Fes upon his shoulders as he attempts to outclass his reflection. When witnessing in the mirror the image of a city as beautiful as his own, he dies of heartbreak… it is funnier if you are from Marrakesh.

Mustapha in wizardly djellaba, gazing over Roman Ruins of Sala Colonia

Mustapha in wizardly djellaba, gazing over Roman Ruins of Sala Colonia

The intensity in Mustapha’s eyes as he wished boils upon my tongue was such that any semblance of sarcasm, if there ever was any, was lost in the exchange. And yet – he was my host and as my host, I was under his protection. There is an old guideline amongst the French Colonialists of lore when dealing with the Berber peoples of North Africa and this guideline plays upon the honor and hospitality of the Berber culture. Read any diary of European adventurers of the 19th Century and they will remark on how the local Moroccans may not drink, but they will thieve and lie and kill… unless you are under their protection. So the guideline is this: find yourself the most disreputable warlord of the region and invite yourself to dinner. Once the water for tea starts to boil, you are considered protected, just do not depart prior to slurping down at least three glasses of sweet, minty, substance. Do not sit with your legs crossed (as I am prone to do) as this is considered to be the habit of dogs. Do not pace or mention Christians or Jews in the company of Believers. Do belch as much as possible when eating and do not fret over your tablemates using their dirty paws to dig into the couscous on the public plate before you. Do not make eye-contact with the ladies of the house; in fact, just ignore them (or risk their being banished by their fathers or husbands). Follow these rules of etiquette and you are protected as an honored guest.

This hospitality custom brings us to Mustapha – the nastiest scoundrel Africa could conjure this side of the Atlas Mountains. He spoke almost as many languages as he had girlfriends, which made him increasingly valuable to a simple-lingual adventurer, such as me. If I was to stay in Morocco for any length of time, I was going to need friends like Mustapha. I had already crossed a Teutonic madman in Casa: a liar, thief and cut-throat convinced I cheated him out of a taxi fare, even after I paid him to quit his screaming outside my hotel window. Mustapha’s associates eventually took Conrad to a cabaret where they filled him with enough drink to subdue him.

After I arrived in Rabat, Mustapha led me into the Kasbah of the Udayas, within the blue and white alleys (painted the two colors to honor both Andalusian and Berber influence) towards an agreed upon rendezvous point. Mustapha reached behind his head to the white wizard hood of his djellaba where it rested between his shoulder blades and withdrew a packet of Marlborough cigarettes, offering me one and suggesting, “Once your business is done, I can show you where the Peace Corps girls can be found.”

Non merci.” I waved off the offering. “I’ve long since learned to avoid them. And I don’t smoke.”

“Avoid?” Mustapha stopped in his tracks, nearly tripping out of his slippers. The look on his face was perplexed. “Avoid women? Yes, yes, it is known by boys in Fes, ‘Share a meal with a Jew, but not a bed. Share a bed with a Christian, but not a meal.’ You Nazarenes are known for particular appetite, no?”

“No!” I insisted. “It is only Peace Corps women I’ve learned are best avoided. As for Nazarene appetites, these I do not share.”

Mustapha nodded, smiling knowingly. “Your hands are too soft for Peace Corps women. Very hard, these women are. Like mule driver. They are very quick to lie down, like wife of mule driver.” His eyebrows peaked excitedly at the wicked notion. Mustapha eventually paused his commentary and his trot, placed his cigarettes back into his wizard hood (“Berber suitcase” he grinned) and withdrew an ancient cell phone. After umpteen seconds of pumping the relic with his thumb, Mustapha announced, “It is time.”

In the Kasbah with Mustapha

In the Kasbah with Mustapha

We entered a blue & white striped building to find a dark room with a darker-still corridor to traverse. It was quiet and the air thick with dust as if sunburnt tourists and molting snakes had a firm shake within these walls. Down a hall decorated with Berber rugs dyed with henna, saffron and clove, we traveled until we came upon a backroom with, seemingly, no other exit. Tea had been prepared and an assortment of almond cookies lain out. I was told to take a seat and five minutes later a hidden door materialized and two well-tanned Western gentlemen entered wearing shorts, collared shirts and trainers. Both men were both built for rugby, though they were of an age where most of their scrums were behind them. These were diplomats from the Australian Embassy.

“You’re Neverman, then?” The bigger one inquired with a half-sneer, his voice filling every crevice of the room. “I’m Bruce MacKenzie, this here’s Digger McKenzie, no relation!” At this, the two Aussies broke into laughter, which I matched in volume. Nothing earns an Australian’s trust sooner than to laugh heartily along with their laughter.

Mint Tea, served with gusto

Mint Tea, served with gusto

Everyone took seats and Mustapha served tea in the traditional fashion, pouring the liquid out of the silver vessel from a great height to honor the guests. Once served, I thanked Mustapha and excused him to play video games on the handheld Nintendo hiding inside his wizard hood.

“I suppose we are free to speak here?” I asked the Aussies.

“Say what you want, just know the Yanks have everything bugged.” The younger Digger McKenzie noted. “And the Chinese have the Yanks bugged, but at least the Qatari can’t hear us here.”

“Bloody Qatar. Fucking everywhere, mate.” The elder and larger Bruce MacKenzie admitted. “Why’s it you come to us and not your Yanks?”

“I am not looking for American friends. Besides, I figured you’d tell them soon enough.”

“Too right, Vic. They rang us up before your Mustapha fellow did.” Digger said candidly.

“Oi, but we got our own file on you, mate.” Bruce said, proud of his own independent intelligence network. “Canberra gave you political sanctuary some years ago. Clean record it seems, other than some fuss in Sydney.”

Faked your own death and then forgot about it the next day.” Digger was impressed, or in the least, entertained. “Brilliant, really. You must have been quite pissed.”

“What’s it you want with us, then?” Bruce MacKenzie, Under Secretary of the Australian Consulate in Morocco, cut to the chase as his sausage fingers powdered the almond cookies before they could be tossed into his great mawl.

“Friendship for a favor.” I suggested. “I can provide intel on shady characters here in Morocco.”

Bruce and Digger glanced at each other, sharing the same thought.

“Not sure we’re looking for any friends, Vic.” Digger admitted, almost saddened by my hapless cause.

“Future consideration, then? I’ll give you some intel, maybe later we grab some pints and who knows?”

“What’s your business here in Africa?” Bruce asked, leaning forward as chief inquisitor. “Not the tequila rubbish, Maroc Spirits, LTD founded by Victor Neverman. We’ve seen your permits. What are you really here for?”

“You don’t go into liquor business in a Muslim Country, do ya Vic?” Digger asked patronizingly. “Next you’ll have a hotdog cart in the streets.”

“It would be mostly exports. Maybe deal in a little spice, some saffron.” I suggested. “Look, do you want to bust my balls about my business acumen or talk shop?”

Bruce and Digger shared another look, this one a bit more solemn. They nodded for me to continue, sitting on their bench like a pair of footballers looking to knock some heads. Their combined ribcages could have fit 18 of me. Their good humor was waning…

“There is a guy back in Casa I can deliver to you. He’s an Algerian spy. His name is Conrad and he claims to be a deserter from the Foreign Legion. He’s mostly full of shit, but I know he is working for the Algerians.”

They were unimpressed. Digger McKenzie, Cultural Attaché for the Australian Consulate explained, “We’re not in the border dispute business, Vic.”

“Now if you make him a Qatari spy we’re interested.” Bruce MacKenzie suggested in a quiet boom.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” I spoke excitedly. I then mentioned the mysterious Baroness. She was playing every fiddle in the European Union, she drank vodka like a Bolshevik and she was rather stunningly beautiful, I mean, if you could get past the, umm, cold sores.

“Imagine that’s what your Ali Baba beard is for.” Digger suggested with a wink. “First line of defense against the herp.”

“How is it you said she is passing information to Qatar?” Bruce queeried.

“She picks up French newspapers, sometimes days old.” I mentioned. They waited, their opened palms expressing a desire for more. “She doesn’t read French, you see, she is hopeless with a menu. Newspaper transmission is old spy craft – the agent in the field takes a pin and pokes holes into certain letters to spell out a message. She drops the used paper in a garbage bin; her handler picks it up and later holds it in front of a light and writes down the message.”

“Fucking Qataris!” Bruce groaned and shook his head. “It’s got their stink all over it.”

“First offer of advice, Vic.” Digger leaned in. “Drop this Mustapha fellow. He’s a bad sort. We’ve got a Marrakshi bloke who’s tops.”

“Rafiq?” Bruce raised an eyebrow at Digger.

“Too right, Rafiq.” Digger confirmed and then patted me on the shoulder. “Tops.”

Which is how I found my Moroccan partner-in-crime, Rafiq.

First though, I had to end my relationship with Mustapha. I gave him the news before we parted ways outside the Tower of Hassan in Rabat. I wasn’t sure if his reaction was elated or angered. I hoped he understood I was moving on from Casablanca and would be living in Marrakesh, where his influence was nullified.

“I understand, M’sseur Neverman. I understand Allah in his wrath gave Nazarenes the heart of dogs.”

I laughed, assuming he was trying to be sarcastic. I said something about God being with him, as is custom if you can enunciate the Arabic in a non-offensive manner.

“May God let you finish out your miserable life.” Mustapha responded.

“Yep, so… Adios!”

the lads in marrakesh: Digger McKenzie, Tariq and Vic Neverman

the lads in marrakesh: Digger McKenzie, Rafiq and Vic Neverman

Sleep with the remembrance of death and rise with the thought you will not live long.

– Ulwais el-Qarni

CASABLANCA, Morocco

The sun rose over the Atlas Mountains and concentrated its vengeful gaze upon the African coastline, setting ablaze the Atlantic waves as they crashed against the defeated sand. Somewhere, directly under the sun’s thickest oppression, in a hotel room overlooking the cacti jungle and the beaches beyond, rested the weary head of your narrator. Nay! – “rested” is too kind of a verb.  Instead: within this hotel room overlooking prickly flora, fauna, et al, was a bucket carrying the decapitated head of your narrator. Figuratively, of course, or such narration would be downright inconceivable. Your narrator pulled his decapitated head out of the bucket and rose from bed if only to escape the boredom of being both sleepless and immobile. Outside the door would be coffee, and perchance, redemption. Vic Neverman, your humble narrator, stepped over the carcasses of the stoned cockroaches he destroyed through the night with the whips of his bathroom towel. They were slow North African roaches, nothing in comparison to the baby-thieving exopterygota of Florida he was used to. Too slow, as evidenced by their scattered limbs across the foyer of his hotel room. It had been a long night.

Beach of Casablanca

Beach of Casablanca

Within moments of setting down with his continental breakfast spoils at a restaurant table on a terrace looking west over the water, our narrator turned to barbaric butchery. Coffee overfloweth, puddling the saucer and staining the white table cloth. Fruit was devoured with its rinds and pits littered in his wake. Buttery and kind-hearted croissants were cheated out of their destiny when they were torn apart like… well, torn apart like buttery and kind-hearted croissants mounting a charge at Gallipoli. Indeed, the beard and shirted torso of your narrator was rife with evidence of their ill-fate, flakes of their once warm bodies settling catawampus over each other across a 2 meter radius from his great, churning, mawl.

Out of the shadows approached a man, features full of well-defined angles, geometrically French, who rattled off an inquiry too fast and too… well, Francais, for your narrator to comprehend. Left without an alternative retort, Vic Neverman shrugged, “No comprendo, Chief.”

The Frenchman nodded, smarmily, as if confirming the validity of his argument and went along his merry way.

Your narrator, ever-curious fellow he was, waved over the young waiter to ask what the douchebag in the ascot had said. The waiter apologized, “Pardon, M’sseur, was not listening.” The waiter then saw the materialization of a 100 Dirham note which he grabbed like a Miami exopterygota thieving a baby. Morocco, you should know, dear reader, operates on a bribe economy. Baksheesh, they call it. Nothing is done without monetary reinforcement. Aptly prodded, the waiter began his interpretation of the Frenchman’s words, “He asks, ‘Have you found your treasure? Perhaps a truffle?’”

Fucking French, I grumbled under my croissant-flaked beard. “Merci, garcon.”

From the hotel pool deck below the breakfast terrace climbed a character even more haphazardly put together than myself, as if God sneezed amidst construction of this Teutonic scoundrel. At his arrival, the French and Italian tourists gorging themselves on pastries were suddenly aghast at the sight and scent of the newcomer. I winced through the sun and realized I recognized the bastard. He approached and took a seat at my table.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I asked him, recalling vague details from the night prior.

“Slept by the pool, in the garden.” Conrad motioned behind him and picked up a menu.

“No one sleeps in Casablanca.”

Conrad grabbed a boiled egg off a neighboring table and having plucked it into his mouth he smiled like a mangy chipmunk with rabies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had met Conrad the previous evening in a parlor of utmost indecency. I humored him over beers until I realized he had no money to pay for his own. I humored him because his stories were fantastic. Oh! – to join the French Foreign Legion at the age of 17 because the expectations of his Rothschild kin back home were too overbearing! He wasn’t French, but he was Francais par le sang verse, or “French by spilt blood” after his latest secret mission to Syria. Thank heavens he deserted the Legion in time to deflower Kate Middleton before she married into the incestuous tribe of Windsors. Conrad had lived with the Toureg Nomads in the Sahara until his skin turned blue and had come to Casa to find peace of mind smoking kif, which was what he was selling when he first approached me in the loo of the parlor of utmost indecency whispering, “some hashish?” Conrad’s next adventure, apparently, will be to return to Iraq as one of Obama’s “advisors”. He explained Middle Eastern politics quite candidly, “Monsters need to be ruled by monsters. If you cut the balls off of Assad, if you hang Hussein, the monsters roam free. Only answer, mein herr, is to bring bigger monsters to the party. If the oil companies create private army to police the Middle East, then and only then, will there be peace.”

Fucking fascist. Right or wrong, a fascist rose by any other name is still a damn fascist.

French Urinal Poster "Les Soviets Partout!"

French Urinal Poster “Les Soviets Partout!”

MOULAY IDRISS, Morocco

A train journey in the Maghreb one must approach with some wherewithal and cunning, or at least dexterity and a strong aftershave. One must always be weary of one’s neighbor: the indigenous Berbers eye their Arab cousins with distrust, the Arabs sneer at the pale-skinned Nazarene heathens, the train police inspect papers to ensure none are Algerian spies, the Algerian spies pretend to be Nazarenes and the Nazarenes themselves… well, we just sweat. Once the train breaks down, as it inevitably will, all hope should be abandoned and fetal positions assumed. The windows, in a triumph of French engineered misery, are sealed in attempt to capture the air-conditioned breeze when the last working air conditioning system left with the French in the 1950s.

La chaleur complique la vie, Paul Bowles wrote and ours were lives already complicated enough.

Conrad, a fascist from north of the Mediterranean, suggested the three of us leave the bloated, stinking carcass of this beached whale of a locomotive and hike up the hill to the road where we can hitchhike to Meknes. The Baroness was prone to agree, which irked me as it was the same Baroness who suggested earlier in the day Conrad was attempting to poison me in order to have her to his self. I was feeling stubborn, perhaps lazy, and wanted to stick to the plan, which happened to be my plan. Conrad, damned fascist contrarian he was, picked up his gear and left the train. The Baroness, assuming I would follow her anywhere, followed the fascist. I dug my heels in and watched from within the sweat box train car as the twosome climbed the hill towards the road.

Moulay Idriss had been my idea.

Personal cartographical notes on how to find my way back to Petit Poucet

Personal cartographical notes on how to find my way back to Petit Poucet

I had taken the Baroness to a delightful hideaway, the Petit Poucet, a closet of a restaurant hidden in the art deco district of downtown Casablanca. The bow tie and vested old men behind the bar had the kindest of smiles and were quick to sling drafts of the extraordinarily decent local beer while sliding a bowl of olives, a second of cucumbers and a third of popcorn. The Petit Poucet was a relic of the French Occupation, perhaps the closest thing to an establishment Humphrey Bogart would hang out in during the Second World War and it was here where literary heroes like Albert Camus actually did smoke and sit and smoke and drink and smoke and write and smoke. It was here where I romanticized about the Islamic sacred city of Moulay Idriss, wooing the imagination of the Baroness over the yawns of Conrad, who, after following us discreetly from the hostel elbowed his way beside us at the bar.

By the time we had arrived at the Casa Voyages train station, I could already gauge the Baroness’s sense of romance had deteriorated along with her deodorant, or lack thereof. When it came time to board our doomed vessel, I assisted a trio of tiny Japanese girls haul their outlandish luggage into the first class train car and in an amazing feat of strength, lifted their trunks over my head to stow them for the journey. The Japanese girls giggled and clapped, hopping up and down with school-girl enthusiasm so unbridled I half-doubted it as facetious. Domo arigato! they insisted and I bowed in return, swiveling my head to see if the Baroness had witnessed this hero worship. She certainly may have, but kept to her European ennui, discarding my physical triumphs in favor of her favorite electric cigarette as she waited for me to escort her to the second class rail cars.

Once the three of us had secured seats in relative proximity to each other, I, being in good spirits, brought three beer bottles out of my backpack and used my belt buckle to pluck their caps off.

“Are you mad?” the Baroness inquired in a condemning prattle, which I paraphrase here. She gazed around at the Muslim commuters that surrounded us, who glared back with their own disgruntled scowls at my lukewarm refreshments. The Baroness had previously become sensitized to the local temperament during a trip to the Casa medina where she was hissed at – literally hisssssssed in her face – by a woman in a shawl carrying pair of strangled fowl who disapproved of the Baroness wearing a skirt short enough to show her most exquisite knees (it was the shawled woman who disapproved of the skirt, mind, not the dead birds). The Baroness quipped angrily, “Next will you offer them pieces of your ham sandwich?”

I can admit when I am wrong. I shouldn’t have taken out a trio of beers in the very public confines of the train car. Still… as an American dude, I resented being told I was wrong. When the train later broke down and we cooked in its rusty confines for a solid 75 minutes, leading Conrad to contrive his plan of escape, I resented my plan being wrong even more. I was so full of fucking resentment, I watched my two companions trudge uphill to the highway without me. Then, miraculously, as if Allah willed me to no longer be wrong, the wheels of the locomotive started to churn. All of those who abandoned the train for the road turned and fled back downhill. I tried to pick out which of the scurrying ants were my Nazarene cohorts, but could not identify them. I settled back into my seat with the faintest of circulating air chilling my cheeks. I slept at 90 second clips with vibrant flashes of diseased dreams as the Rapid Eye Movement set in. I woke uncertain if my beard was moistened with sweat or drool. Likely both. What sleep came was needed as no one sleeps in Casablanca.

Vic Neverman overlooking Moulay Idriss by day...

Vic Neverman overlooking Moulay Idriss by day…

A 2.5 hour train journey took 4.5 hours and my companions were naught to be found at destination Meknes. I was undeterred. I hailed a taxi for Moulay Idriss, another 40 minutes of a drive away. There were three men already in the backseat, so I choose the front seat as the cab began spinning its way through Meknes traffic en route to the outskirts of town. We slowed for another passenger and I eyeballed the cab driver with disbelief, his taxi is already sluggish, humid and with as much static electric shock as two squirrels fucking in a wool sock. Fortunately, the fifth passenger squeezed into the backseat. Two blocks later, we stopped for another passenger. For fuck’s sake, I cried out as the latest crawled into the front door and forced my asshole to ride the gearshift for the next thirty minutes as my feet were propped against the dashboard as the two Fassi – the taxi driver and the most recent hop-aboard – conversed in angry Arabic about the well-being of each other’s families back in Fes.

Moulay Idriss was splendid, a conglomeration of adobe buildings stuck onto a mountain as if hanging on for dear life. Mules met the taxi, “Berber bellboy” a French-Moroccan hotel proprietor quipped. He offered to take my bag, but I insisted on carrying my own weight. The French-Moroccan patted his favorite mule on the head, “Everyone calls him Diablo; I call Sarkozy.” I climbed the hill to my resting spot and setup shop. Eager to explore, I continued my climb towards the mosque where the region sends its young boys to be circumcised by the resident barber. I climbed further to a vantage point that overlooked the entirety of the city. For a moment, I wished the Baroness was there with me. With superior intellectual oversight, I squandered the thought and thought of fairer dames back west in America, where I might never return.

Dawn over Moulay Idriss: dogs barking, roosters crooning, donkeys braying...

Dawn over Moulay Idriss: dogs barking, roosters crooning, donkeys braying…

Moulay Idriss is a sacred city amongst the Moroccans, where six pilgrimage visits equal one Hajj to Mecca in Saudi Arabia (which is the Fifth Pillar of Islam, BTW for you ignorant Nazarenes out there), though I suspect this rule may just be something cooked up by the local Chamber of Commerce. The city was founded by Idriss, who was on the run from the Caliphates of Baghdad during the 8th Century Common Era and he kept running until Africa ran out. Idriss married a Berber Chief’s daughter and they bore a son, ironically also named Idriss, a birth which is today thought of as the origin of the state of Morocco. Unfortunately, those damned pesky Baghdad Caliphates sent their assassins so far and wide, one eventually found Idriss and poisoned him dead.

Another BTW – “Nazarene” is what the Moroccans call pale Westerners, most of whom tend to follow the Prophet from Nazareth.

Night-cap over Moulay Idriss

Night-cap over Moulay Idriss

When Idriss took Islam west to the Maghreb, he brought along many Arabic and Persian superstitions, such as the belief in Djinn – also known as “the changed ones” or “genies”. Summarizing from the Koran, when Allah created man from clay, he fashioned a second form of life from smokeless fire. All around us, in inanimate objects, exists Djinn, most of who are wicked little shits who like to fuck with train schedules and meddle with love affairs. Fortunately, in the sacred city of Moulay Idriss, these nasty bastards had little impact… except on the local canine population.

In all of my wandering of Moulay Idriss, I never encountered a dog. As soon as I attempted to sleep through the night, however, the canines began absolute ruckus. Remaining outside in the night, I caught my first chill in weeks as I watched the stars above and listened to the incessant barking of the mongrels below. The next morning, the French-Moroccan hotelier explained, “The unnamed ones cannot possess the sacred people of Moulay Idriss, so instead, they possess the dogs and these dogs bark forever.” Closer to dawn, the dogs had competition with the roosters and braying donkeys, not to mention the exasperated orgasms voiced by the actress in the room neighboring mine.

As I watched the morning sun creep over the valley, I tried to ignore the door opening behind me and the contents that spilled out, but once the Baroness mentioned my name with mock startle, my ignorance was for naught and my innards sank like a U-boat overburdened with too much sauerkraut.

I fucking hate fascists.

ORLANDO, Fla

I suggest remaining calm.

Trust me, I am a scientist.

But I am not the boss of you, freak-out if you feel so damned inclined.

Two healthcare professionals have been diagnosed with MERS in Orlando, making Central Florida the epicenter of the MERS epidemic in the Americas. I don’t believe in irony, I believe in absurdist causality. If I did believe in irony, I would probably have a mustache. Nevertheless, I, Vic Neverman, Orlando’s most-renowned paranoiac, have been studying MERS entire weeks before its unexpected arrival here. Was this uncanny foresight on behalf of your narrator, who anticipated the arrival of the Camel Flu? Yes. In FACT: I am the only scientist calling MERS “camel flu” evidencing how far ahead of the rest of the pack I am.

Give it weeks and you will find my name cited in scientific journals and CDC pamphlets, perhaps even speaking on CNN with Sanjay Gupta or, fingers-crossed!, on News Night being interviewed by Sloan Sabbith over a couple casual cocktails and indecent foot rubs.

"Oh Sloan, don't be silly!  Of course I know my way around a camel!"

“Oh Sloan, don’t be silly! Of course I know my way around a camel!”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT mers (BY VICTOR ULYSSES NEVERMAN):

MERS Rule#1: keep camels out of your workplace, even on Wednesdays

MERS Rule#1: keep camels out of your workplace, even on Wednesdays

MERS is the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome and symptoms include flu like symptoms. 30% of those diagnosed with MERS have died of pneumonia or other respiratory failure. Of course, mild cases would never be reported, so this thirty percent is quite a bit exaggerated. Still, MERS’ Asian cousin SARS only has an 11% mortality rate in comparison.

We are uncertain how MERS is transmitted, but it seems to be in relation to camels in some way. 75% of camels in Saudi Arabia either have or have had MERS at some point. Possible ways camels may have passed MERS to the first human: patient zero drank unpasteurized camel milk, patient zero ate cheese made of unpasteurized camel milk, patient zero ate camel meat, patient zero exchanged saliva with beast of burden of choice, patient zero exchanged other bodily fluids with camel by buggering the beast of burden consensually or by force, patient zero drank urine of a camel – which is a medicinal tradition in parts of the Middle East because superstition is weird. Once patient zero(es) contracted MERS, the coronavirus likely was transmitted to other humans via coughing in people’s face.

A bat has also been known to have MERS. It is possible cats and baboons have flung MERS around by shitting it everywhere as they are prone to do. Keep this in mind Orlando: keep your cats and baboons in check!

The biggest concern for the spread of MERS will be this summer’s Hajj season as pilgrims from throughout the Muslim World (everywhere, but most concentrated between Morocco and Malaysia) go on their pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The pilgrimage is considered to be one of the Pillars of Islam every devout Muslim is to partake in once in their lifetime. The journey back from the MERS minefield of Saudi Arabia is what is most disconcerting.

My journey of discovery began innocently enough a couple weeks ago. Being something of a swashbuckling adventure capitalist en route to Northern Africa, I had reason to be curious about coughing camels.

MERS Rule #2: don't get fresh

MERS Rule #2: don’t get fresh

My longtime associate, Doc Kelly, has a clinic in Central Florida where he hires various nurses of an assortment of qualities to work after-hour shifts providing inoculations to paranoids. If you are skeptical of government healthcare and being on their radar, you can pay cash at Doc Kelly’s. If you don’t want to get your flu shot or shingles cure from BigPharma, trust Doc’s homemade remedies. I had arrived for inoculations against Typhoid and the entire Hepatitis Family. While there, I inquired about MERS. At that time, the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome was but a blip on the Center for Disease Control’s radar and in-truth, I was asking questions just to prolong conversation with my nurse, a certain Miss M. Her blue eyes melted my ice cream as she recommended taking vitamin C and not becoming a camel jockey. Simple enough. I then asked her about Ebola, the nasty plague resurfacing in Western Africa. Nurse M told me I should wash my hands and be careful around raw chicken.

I was pretty sure raw chicken was not spreading Ebola. Nurse M’s confusion would be natural for anyone who wasn’t a nurse. But beautiful people deserve second chances, do they not? Shouldn’t I have left well enough alone and rewarded her with an invitation to dinner, “Say, I know this great Korean Taco truck”? But, the thing is I abhor a knowledge vacuum and sought to fill it. My lone regret is not having more couth when correcting Nurse M, “Yes, well, I believe you are thinking of e-coli…” A more culturally/socially refined Neverman wouldn’t have had to end the conversation with, “so the food trucks are out, then?”

Hours later, over a couple of pints at The Copper Rocket, Doc Kelly himself tossed me a pillbox. “This will help you as much as anything if you are afraid of Ebola.” The pillbox was a clear plastic container of Tic-Tac’s. “If you want extra advice: when you are in Africa, make sure you don’t get cut by anything at all and if you do get cut, amputate. Make sure you don’t rub your eyes, or cry for that matter because your tears will probably suck the bubonic dust particles from off your eyelashes. If you are going to keep your beard, do not lick your chomps. Do not pick your nose! Picking your nose is the surest way to send particles of camel feces straight to your brain. Don’t touch any water and certainly don’t drink it. Have a beer with every meal, even breakfast. If your hosts don’t have beer because of the Quran, drink a shot of Listerine for Allah’s sake.”