Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Last full day
Finding a beach like this at the northern city limits on our last day was a little bittersweet. Besides 150 ft high dunes, there was a rock formation with caves which slowly filled with water as the tide came in.
Not wishing a repeat of yesterday's Diabat debacle, I scouted the beach out on an early-morning run. We made the 2 km trip from the north gate of the medina in two taxis, as usual. We took a horse-drawn caleche back, not a tourist conveyance but a practical vehicle that cost about the same as the two taxis and allowed us to ride together.
We ate lunch at Ferdaouss, a restaurant that gets positive reviews. The cool, dim interior and tasteful decor was welcome, but I found it to be unimpressive, with Muzak that could have been at a Chinese restaurant in the US suburbs. Highlight was a braised eggplant appetizer -- how come mine never ends up that tender? Chevreau (OK, goat) with onions, chickpeas and raisins was good, though with a scorched taste in the sauce that wasn't pleasing. I had had goat before at a California parking lot taco stand, I like it more than lamb. Couscous was an uninteresting slurry, I kept on spooning the gravy or sauce over it, but there was no magic. I suppose it was the real thing, texture-wise, so that was instructive. When I make it, it is more like polenta. Pastilla, the sweet and savoury Moroccan pigeon pie, was not on the menu, so that will have to wait until next time.
A henna artist took advantage of me as I was standing on the boardwalk with baby in sling, waiting for wife and other kid to come back from the souq. Before I could say merci non, blobs of semi-permanent ink had been applied to my forearm in the shape of a scorpion with a suspicious Arabic inscription. I'm glad it's long-sleeves weather in Stockholm; it's going to take more than a couple saunas before it wears off.
This extortive experience got me fired up for my own last-minute trip to the souq, where the very first spice dealer I passed tried to railroad me into a purchase of stale premixed spice. I insisted I was only looking for argan oil and merguez (sausage), which was true. But some spice dealers are businessmen, not just specialists. He disappeared, leaving me in the back room of his stall with his child of about 5, who was doing her English homework, and duly came back with a bottle of argan oil, at the premium tourist price of about 10 euros for 250 mL. (All the guidebooks say to buy argan oil with a label on it, and this one did, but who doesn't have access to a colour printer these days?) I couldn't get him down in price, as it was his friends' oil. I walked out, buying a minuscule amount of spices as my ticket out; as just walking out would be interpreted as a countermove in a bargaining session.
The next stall had a bottle of argan oil with an even more minimalistic label. I asked what cooperative it was made at, and he said it was made by one woman, which is a story I had never heard before. The single-woman "I don't need no cooperative" method had produced a liquid that was suspiciously transparent, like light olive oil. This bottle was a single exemplar, said the salesman. It could not be opened for tasting. It also cost 10 euros though I could get him down to about 7. He could, however, let me taste another bottle and fetched it. It was the same as the first salesman's bottle. This indeed proved to be good argan oil (which I can't yet differentiate from roasted hazelnut oil, but the latter would probably be worth as much). If it's identical, I said, I'll take this one, but I'm not paying more than 6 euros. I walked away again, but he called me back, saying I definitely wanted the oil made by the lone woman, as she was a legend in her village.
After some more back-and-forth, he said he would let me taste the oil. It turned out to probably be sunflower oil, it had no nuttiness. Too bad -- I didn't want to "defeat" the salesman, and call his bluff; I just wanted to buy the good oil for cheap. I said I would go walk around, smoke a cigarette (I don't smoke, but it seemed like after a tense battle, it would be something you would do). "What kind of cigarette," said the salesman, and he was off on everybody's favourite Moroccan sideline. Seems to be an unwritten rule: when all else fails, offer the hash.
I bought 500 ml of bulk argan oil from an olive seller for about 10 euros.
Finally, a photograph from the wife's Olympus -- replace the Mercedes grand taxi with a Russian sedan and one citadel with another and you could have a picture of Tallinn, at least the aesthetics and colours are like one of Priit Vesilind's photographs from ca 1980.
Posted by Kristopher at 12:40 PM