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How Do You Become A LIST Whore?

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Hello my name is Larry and I’m a List-aholic”

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Follow me here…

Every day, I check the Huffington Post, or Zite, or Flipboard or The Globe and Mail on my iPad or Kobo and there are lists.

10 WAYS YOU CAN BECOME… 5 REASONS YOU SHOULD… 8 TOP SECRETS OF…

Every time I stand waiting in a supermarket line, I sheepishly – is anyone watching? – glance over the covers of magazines like People and Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health filled with rules and Top 10 lists.

  • 30 Rules For Boyfriends From Two Wise Little Girls (Huffington Post)
  • 17 Things Women Think During Anal Sex (Cosmopolitan)
  • 13 Ways To Prevent Excessive Gas (Huffington Post)
  • 73+ Pivotal Blogging Shortcuts and Tips (Blog Tyrant)
  • We Shit Glitter: The 9 Unsexiest Secrets Of Being A Burlesque Dancer (Sabotage Times)

A lot of it is pure BS, but I can’t pull myself away from the lure of the car crash scenario. I don’t want to be drawn to them, but the curious irresistibility factor suckers me in. “Read me, read me!”

One more list and then another, just one more list will make me a better lover, or athlete, or father, or pickle maker. You name your interest and there’s a list to help you become a better (fill-in-the-blank).

It’s an addiction that I need to feed, and there are idea nutrients spread everywhere like a military carpet bombing. Lists are mind candy – the succinct conduit for delivery of ideas and inspiration.

Honestly, I crave lists and rules like I hunger for creamy sweet chocolate, french fries, and oxygen.

Lists play into my insecurities.

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It’s no secret to me that the success of all these lists is that people, myself included, are feeling a veiled dissatisfaction with some area(s) of their lives.

At its root lies the question, “What is my life about?

That might sound bad, but it’s really not. Let me explain, OK?

A couple of times over the past year or so, I’ve shown you the picture of actor Sally Field clutching her Oscar “Best Actress” trophy in delirious victory. I love that picture and the honesty that poured out from her throat.

People made fun of old Flying Nun/Momma Gump Sally when she stood on the Oscar stage in 1984 and emotionally declared, “… you like me, right now, you like me!”.

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…of course I like you Sally…

Sally blurted out the hidden but truthfully obvious fact that 95% of the actors, directors, camera operators and the general public in the audience just want to be liked, whether on stage acting, or in the everyday trenches of real life.

We want others to like us and to recognize that we are good at something. And a great way to show us that we are lovable and worthwhile is to give us a gold statuette and clap at us while we stand on a stage basking in glory.

It’s no different than when we were little kids and we badgered our Mommies and Daddies to watch us jump into the swimming pool: “Mommy, watch this… Mooooommmmy, WATCH THIS!”

These needs to be loved and admired within most of us are what lead us to push harder and try to be better at something, which feeds into our sense of self-esteem.

Most of the wonderful advances and improvements in our world and society (yeah, a lot of the bad stuff too) came from those who wanted to be recognized as achieving excellence, and hence, received love and admiration from their peers, friends and family, and the world at large. So what’s wrong with that?

The great innovator Steve Jobs loved to wander back and forth on a stage in his black turtleneck sweater, basking in the glory of the spotlights and hordes of admirers before he would utter those famous words, ” Oh, and one more thing…” , just before making a huge i-whatever product announcement.

That was just a grown man standing by the edge of the kiddie pool, yelling, Mommy, watch this…”.

When I crossed the finish line of an Ironman race many many years ago now, would I have experienced the same joy if there was no one there watching? Of course not.

I craved the adoring gush of the throngs of people and my family acknowledging what a wonderful achievement I had accomplished. Mommy would have approved of me and I would have smiled inside.

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This is one of MY Sally Field moments …

 

There are very few of us who don’t have underlying insecurities, little voices in our head telling us that we need to be better.

Lists and rules offer up handy – and often, admittedly, too facile – solutions to our insecurities.

But they CAN help to give us tools and innovative ways we hadn’t considered to become new and improved.

CREATIVITY CAN BE FOUND IN A LIST

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I choose to look at lists positively. I’m seeking the bravery to push outside my comfort zone, to subdue my insecurity if you will.

If it takes a list of ideas and suggestions from outside, I’ll happily look at it and decide if my choice to create something new for me – within me – is worthwhile.

Creativity doesn’t always have to be newly invented from within. Epiphanies come in lots of costumes. Let’s make like Bonnie and Clyde, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, like Bernie Madoff, and make off with as many ideas that are offered freely from others as we can.

The choice is ours, steal what looks useful and leave the rest of the dreck behind, like yucky canned peas on a plate of hot, fragrant fish and chips.

Finally, let me offer you one little list I’ve come across. It’s a list for cynics and for those List Haters that I know exist out there who smirk and scowl at us dreamers aka List-Lovers.

FIVE RULES TO REMEMBER IN LIFE

  1. Money cannot buy happiness, but it’s more comfortable to cry in a Range Rover than on a bicycle.
  2. Forgive your enemy, but remember the ass-hole’s name.
  3. If you help someone when they’re in trouble, they will remember you when they’re in trouble again.
  4. Many people are alive only because it’s illegal to shoot them.
  5. Alcohol does not solve any problems, but then neither does milk.

 

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The First Time Ever I Called You Queer …

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In the Elementary School System there are two separate,

Yet equally important groups.

The little boys who pull pony tails and trip girls in the playground at recess

And the little girls who giggle and skip rope.

THESE ARE THEIR STORIES

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Almost like the kids’ game RED ROVER, there were inviolable, uncrossable lines at Glen Echo School in Hamilton where I spent my formative Kindergarten to Grade 5 school years.

Truly, SCHOOL laws and BOY laws existed that were unwritten but well heeded until about Grade 6.

These KGB-like regulations secretly stated that boys and girls would never display any obvious signs of admiration, crushes, or lust upon their opposite numbers. Come to think of it, this may have been my earliest encounter with political correctness. Talk about blurred lines.

I was teased – and I teased others –  if I was seen to be currying favour – you know, pulling a pony tail or chasing a girl in the playground, the glaringly obvious signs of pre-pubertal true love.

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It just goes to show that we conform to rules, written and unwritten, at an early age. It was clear to us boys that – at least publically – we hated girls because they were YUCKY. ‘Nuff said!

The sadly remarkable yet funny thing is, I knew inside myself that I was attracted to these little cuties in pleated skirts and white knee socks. I just wasn’t sure why.

There were no swelling or developed breasts that shifted my gaze from eye level. There were no curvaceous hips that wiggled seductively as they shuffled in little girl packs ahead of me down the linoleum hallway that, because some Grade 3 kid just puked up a hot dog from last night’s supper, smelled of pungent Dustbane.

It was and is a mystery.

I didn’t really understand these feelings I felt inside.

I just knew that it gave me a warm, pleasant feeling, and had a really strange, stiffening effect on that wee little dangly thing below the belt that I peed from. What was with that?

Louise C. was my first official public crush in Grade 6 – I dished out an extra 10 cents to hold her hand and take her to the Glen Brae Middle School sock hop – but as far back as Grade 1, I was covertly madly and deeply in love with Dale C.

She was that deadly combination of both pretty AND smart. I couldn’t take my eyes off her when she’d come in from recess –  a little whisper of apple flesh clinging delicately to the corner of her lip – and tug her white tights up higher around her waist. I was hypnotized by her strange girly magic.

In Grade 2, she must have gotten pregnant (I always suspected Billy or Jerome of schoolyard lust) or something because her family moved away and I never saw her again. Took me 4 years and a crush on Miss Taylor, my Grade 5 teacher to get over her.

Larry Grade 1 Glen Echo 2

My first crush Dale C is in this picture, but I’ll leave it to you to guess who she is by the “S” we’re holding together…

Things probably haven’t changed a lot on the infatuation front for today’s youngsters, but now I’m casting my sight in a slightly different direction.

Now that I’m an adult (sort of), and the world’s scope of understanding has expanded for me, I find myself wondering.

I was (am) a sexually-straight little guy. We all assumed in my childhood years – again, at least publically – that everyone around us was straight.

My question: When do little gay boy kids start crushing on other little boys, and lesbian girl kids on other little girls? 

The early unwritten rules I’ve just described about not expressing desire or lust must have killed the gay kids.

Why?

Well, for me, Grade 6 came along and suddenly the dam walls that prevented public lust came tumbling down. The classrooms and schoolyards were filled with little conclaves of tender couplings and busy matchmakers.

Billy and Sarah, Blake and Miranda, Frank and Cathy, Nicole and Keith.

Some of the romances lasted for minutes, others hours, the occasional one might stick for a week or two, just like today in Hollywood.

The prison doors were flung open wide, and public yearning was instantly de rigeur. Suddenly, I could drool all over Cathy and Adele and Carol. No questions. No ridicule.

But the dam – the prison walls – never collapsed for the gay kids. I assume there had to be a fair number of homosexual youngsters given what I see in today’s world. But in the real world playground there were no couples walking hand-in-hand like:

John and George, Britney and Madonna, Elton and David, Ellen and Portia.

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If anything, the walls of the dam grew stronger and more forceful for these kids. The level of ridicule and derision for queer youth became more heightened as the volume of sexual hormones rose.

By the time I passed through the front door of Glendale High School, the feelings of anger and mockery for homosexuality were at absurdly elevated levels. I can only imagine the frustration and self-hatred experienced by my LGBT classmates.

I’m living today with questions, and no small amount of guilt, for the way I must have treated my schoolmates who were attracted to their same-gender friends.

For the reality is, there were three, not two equally important groups in the system who had their stories, but we weren’t ready to listen.

Yet.

Are We Now?

 

EXTRA EXTRA … Don’t Quit Your Day Job! Blog Post #102

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Some days we can’t avoid looking at the face, the impostor that pretends it’s us in the mirror, which means that today’s blog will be one of personal reflection.

I’m a bit of an incurable dreamer.

But even I can’t dream of ever eking out a living as a writer, or a songwriter, or a singer.

“Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job”, you could say to me.

Yes, not a single penny has touched the creases of my sweaty palms, or my bank account, from setting words down here.

My only “artistic” payment was received years ago, when, occasionally, a couple of friends and I sweetly harmonized Simon and Garfunkle and James Taylor folk songs in Yellowknife bars and received “payment” in drinks … which is really the currency of choice for 20-somethings anyway.

Larry Nancy Jim YK Bar 1978 copy

Larry (me), Nancy and Jim make beautiful harmony in Yellowknife’s Hoist Room in 1978…

But for me at least, writing’s not about the money … writing has swept a veil away from my eyes and made my life more LIVABLE.

Just over a year and a half ago, I began writing these weekly messages with the goal of reaching 100 posts and then perhaps moving on to other things. Starting the blog was a nervous leap for me because I knew I would expose my messy insides to you and I worried about what you would think.

Two weeks ago while meandering, listening, observing and soaking up the cultural uniqueness of Morocco and Spain, I quietly passed through the 100 blog post mark.

There I was, living the Hemingway-esque life of Spanish cafes and cold cervezas and observing people chattering in the crowded, narrow streets. Travelling takes my mind in a slew of fresh, new directions just like the Santa Maria carried Columbus to discover new worlds.

And now, I’m stamping my childish feet, and in a fit of personal selfishness, I’ve decided to carry on writing this blog a bit longer, sharing with you my foibles and insights. How long? … how many more posts? … who knows? … But who can resist the pay?

It’s no great secret – as you’ve likely figured out by now – I don’t have any magical thoughts or special gifts or amazing intelligence (feel free to shake your head in disagreement here). Blog writing has been a challenge I put forward to myself to generate and mix together that idea sex that might connect with others in a small way.

And sort of like what I find when I’m running, I get a little “endorphin-like” high in sharing my ideas, my personal thoughts, and developing word pictures in my writing. You might get this feeling when you’re knitting, playing piano, fixing a bike, or cooking. I think it comes down to our personal passions.

I have the internet and YOU to thank for making this all possible. And for that, I’ll be happy to share ALL of my revenues with you equally!

……………………

Paying attention ...

Paying attention …

Writing makes me pay attention.

Our lives, yours and mine I’ve learned, are full of outward observation and self-discovery if we just pay attention.

I’ve realized that before I began writing these weekly blurbs, I wasn’t paying attention.

Now, when I step outside my house on a bright spring morning, I see the deep, snaking wrinkles in the orangy bark of the Ponderosa Pine trees more precisely and hear the “dee dee dee”  call of chickadees more consciously.

To write – a book, a blog, a song –  you must observe.

When I’m speaking with someone, I’m more aware of the tight smiles or hidden joy in facial expressions and tone of voice. There’s a whole lot that you and I say to others that the blind would never hear.

It’s like there’s this alternate universe that I never knew existed. How many other universes are out there that I’m not noticing?

………………………

Love Me or Hate Me … Your Choice

It’s easy to get people to hate you when you write a blog. Newspapers (usually) deal in facts, along the line of what the satirical The Onion states:

World Mortality Rate Holds Steady At 100%”

world mortality 100%

But a blog post is opinion and attitude, and not everyone shares the same opinions. I read somewhere that when you write an opinion piece, 1/3 will love you, 1/3 will hate you, and 1/3 won’t care.

I’d love it if 100% of the people who read my blog loved me and agreed with me 100% of the time. Fat chance. That’s a dream world beyond this galaxy, and would also be a bland upshot if nothing I said challenged or rubbed you in a slightly disagreeable way.

I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else with my views, but I also don’t want, like the editor of my small-town local newspaper, to write a page-full of words and end up saying nothing for fear of alienating anyone.

Most of the comments I receive back about my posts are from friends who are wonderfully positive and supportive.

When I hear the little computer “ting” of a new comment coming in, I excitedly read and absorb the message. Then I sit back and bask in the glow when the responder agrees or gives me a pat on the back. “They obviously have wonderful powers of judgment.”, I say to myself.

But when people get angry at me I get angry back – “jerk, what does he know about anything? “. Then I hold my breath for a few seconds, breathe deeply again and try to decide if their message has a positive take-away for me. Hopefully, I’ll find a nugget of sage wisdom that will become a part of my future thinking.

If not, then I try to forget it. Just doesn’t matter. Then I envision them having sex and the stupid look on their face. Breaks me up every time.

I choose to write this blog, and so I have to accept the consequences of how my message will be interpreted, right?

So whether I tell you how much I love women in high heels, or how I loath “Man Boys” –  young men that spend their lives playing video games in their parent’s basements, or how deeply I admire Steve Carell, I’ll live with the fallout if that gets under your skin.

Bottom line … I’m staying with you here for a while longer. And the fact that you are willing to take 5 or 10 minutes from your incredibly busy lives each week to read something I write, is INCREDIBLY gratifying to me.

Love Me or Hate Me … I’m The Man On The Fringe!

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…or Hate Me, your Choice!

What’s Cooking in the Baths of Marrakech?

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I’m loathe to admit it, but I must be only moderately attractive because he obviously wasn’t aroused when he showed me his … you know … stuff.

OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself sitting naked except for your Hanes’ boxer underwear on a hot, wet, polished cement floor, surrounded by men, young and old, who speak only Arabic.

Then one well-proportioned young fellow looks directly at you, right at YOU, and discretely lowers the band of his shorts displaying his junk with a come hither look.

But seriously, this was the admittedly surreal vision in front of me as I sat in a traditional Moroccan “Hammam” (Public Bath) within the Souk of Marrakech.

Let’s move on, we can come back to this later.

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A Day’s Journey

Our day began bright and clear, the temperature sitting at perhaps 6C or 7C in Fez as we headed out with an early start.

The full-day driving journey from Fez to Marrakech took our group of 5 Canadians, Moroccan guide Redouane, and driver, Fouad, over the Middle Atlas Mountains through a schizophrenic set of agricultural fields and orchards. Our trek morphed from huge lush green fields of hay and orange orchards, to dry scrub land with prickly pear cactus in abundance.

As we climbed the grey morning hills, the air grew cooler and cooler, and then … surprise, we were in snowy terrain.

Maureen looked out the van windows and pointed out to us the spray of almond blooms hanging pretty pink, like delicate earrings in the trees, with white snow clinging to the branches and as a backdrop. Well constructed, rocky fences surrounded fields almost as if we were in the highlands of Scotland.

We stopped for a short break of cafe con leche in a white-enshrouded alpine town called Ifrane. Some of us frolicked, and froze our unprotected hands in a cold and wet impromptu snowball fight and then participated in the classic Canadian winter ritual of pushing a powerless car down a hill for a jump start.

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Not a scene we had anticipated in Morocco …

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Moroccan guide Redouane and I get our morning workout!

Within 15 minutes of leaving Ifrane, we were back into the green, sumptuous farm land we were more accustomed to – and had expected– in Morocco.

Sometimes small, often enormous flocks of sheep, scattered either side of the road, always, always, always accompanied by a solitary shepherd. One flock, one shepherd.

Concave, concrete water flumes, like the ones used years ago in our Okanagan Valley here in Canada, lined the fields for irrigation.

We were surprised to encounter our one and only visit to squat toilets at a fueling station along the day’s journey. My expectation in travelling to Morocco had been that the “western” porcelain toilets would be the exception, not the rule. And I admit to you, porcelain was a pleasant surprise for this comfort-seeking westerner, especially so for the women!


It was a full day of driving in the Mercedes van over good quality, but mostly winding two-lane roads that brought us into the early evening sunset and heavy traffic of Marrakech, the hometown of our eager young driver, Fouad.

Warm, Moroccan sun beamed bright orange through the front window of the van as we pulled up to the elegant entry doors of the hotel in the central modern core of this city.

Across the street was the impressive Gare, the train station. Far off in the western distance there was a hazy view of the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains, looking very Rocky Mountain’ish.

Pleasant, dry windy gusts blew warmly as we edged stiffly from the van after the long day’s drive. Tall, friendly palms waved as the sounds of busy traffic motored past on the spacious boulevard at front. I fondly remembered how special and exotic palm trees looked to me when I flipped through travel or National Geographic magazines as a kid (see, I noticed more than the naked Black women!).

As in each of our nightly stops in Morocco, the hotel was large and modern, like any 4-star European hotel. Even though they all lacked some small’ish detail such as functioning heat and air control systems, or occasional leaking bathroom fixtures, the beds were good, and the rooms were clean and well-appointed.

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Marrakech in the early evening sun with High Atlas Mountains in the distance…

Now We’re Cookin’!

The temperature when we awoke the following morning was warmer than we had experienced so far in Morocco. It was a delight to feel the sun and the low 20C temperatures, rather than the low- to mid-teens.

Maureen and I stood in front of the Cafe de France in Marrakech’s spacious main Jemaa el-Fnaa Square as carts of supplies and local trucks and vendors whisked in all directions to set up the small stalls for the day.

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Congestion in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square…

We waited, taking in our surroundings for a few moments, then a young woman approached and introduced herself.

Karina, dressed in jeans and blouse, jacket and knit scarf, was to be our Moroccan shopping and cooking instructor, charged with imparting the techniques of tagine cuisine to just us Canadians. On some occasions, she has conducted a class grouping of 18 people, but today, it was a private tagine session.

Oh, sorry, if you didn’t know already, tagine is an historically Berber dish from North Africa that is named after the type of earthenware pot in which it is cooked.

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Tagine cooking pots in Marrakech souk …

After our introductions, we walked out of the main open square and entered the souk, or marketplace. Much like the crowded and buzzing Fez Medina, but not so claustrophobic and tight, we zigged and zagged along the huge avenues of stalls and little foundries of metal workers pounding silver and tin over anvils and smoking coal fires.

Shortly we entered the “food” section of the souk. The first small stall we approached had a high glass-fronted counter – in behind were cages filled with live, clucking chickens.

Karina spoke to the small man behind the counter in Arabic. The fellow nodded, opened a cage door and grabbed one of the squawking birds and retrieved it and placed it onto the white surfaced weigh scale sitting just in front of us. Karina shook her head NO … too big!

He put the bird back in its cage and pulled out another, laid it on the scale where it sat pathetically and limply resigned. This time Karina was satisfied, and gave him the go ahead nod of her head. She turned to us and explained in English that a 1 kilogram bird was all we needed.

“We can go get vegetables and come back and it will be ready in a few minutes.”

Within eye-shot we spotted a vegetable “stall”, a patch of open ground on the side of the pathway where a selection of fresh produce was laid out.

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Karina grabbed a plastic basket from the shopkeeper man and asked us to begin selecting good tomatoes, onions, green peppers, lemons, oranges, coriander, and parsley. Rubbing elbows with a few elderly ladies, we chose a selection of produce, paid for it with just a few Moroccan dirhams, then returned to the meat stall for our now freshly killed, eviscerated and plucked chicken friend.

The butcher tossed the fowl into a plastic bag and we continued onwards for a couple more stops where we purchased some typical Moroccan flat breads, fresh mint, olives, bottled water, saffron, and olive oil.

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Paying for the just-selected live chicken …

Now, fully loaded with everything needed to make a chicken lemon tagine, we walked 2 or 3 minutes more to a riad (traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard) on the edge of the souk.

Along the souk’s passageway we came to a beautifully-carved wooden door- the entrance to the riad.

We crossed the threshold into a bright hallway lined with framed photos of typical Moroccan scenes that led to a terra-cotta tiled courtyard. The inner courtyard was open in the centre to the sun and blue sky above.

Around the edges of the main patio radiated a large dining section, some stairs leading to upper floors, a smaller dining area with a square table and bench seating, with a small galley-style kitchen to its left. At one other side of the courtyard was a small, deep pool, like a fishpond, but empty of water and filled with potted plants for the winter months.

Karina led us into the kitchen with our fresh supplies where she had us cover up with pressed and pristine white aprons, and then set each of us up at a small workstation with a cutting surface and a short, sharp knife.

Karina chatted happily away in well-honed English about her single Moroccan woman’s life and a young man she was corresponding with in England whom she hoped would become a more serious connection someday soon.

But before we got down to serious cooking work, we returned to the dining table where Karina showed us the preparation of sweet mint tea. We had seen many small cafes in our Moroccan travels where tables filled with men (yes, never women) sat, facing the street, and sipped mint tea as the drink of choice.

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Karina prepares the mint tea …

We went through the multi-step process of making the traditional tea using loose green tea, a large handful of fresh mint and two sizable chunks of white sugar. Soon, Karina began pouring the steaming hot liquid into small glass cups from-on-high style. We sipped the final result and enjoyed the sweet, hot, spearmint flavour.

Tea time over … back to the kitchen.

The orange-clay tagine pots sat before us and we began chopping vegetables and piling the chicken and vegetables into the flat centre of the container. With each ingredient we chopped – just as she had in the souk – Karina had us learn the Arabic word:

Tomato- matisha, onion – basla, chicken – djaj, saffron – zaafron, olives – zitoun, lemon – hamed.

What probably surprised us most in making the tagine dish was the sheer volume of spice added. For each of our small, one person tagine dishes, a full teaspoon each of pepper, coriander, cumin, ginger, and salt were ladled into the mix. Finally a 1/4 teaspoon of saffron, a handful of olives, fresh and preserved lemon, a few tablespoons of pungent olive oil and then a careful turning and mixing of the entire blend completed the dish.

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A work of pre-cooked art …

It surprised me further when we placed the tagine pots directly over the stove’s propane flame for the dishes’ 1 hour cooking.

While the tagine heated, we moved on to the prep of a Moroccan salad.

Each noon meal we’d had on our Moroccan journey consisted of a collection of extremely-fine chopped salads. Today’s salad would be no exception.

Karina had us mince garlic and red onion and tomato so that it appeared almost like a Mexican salsa in consistency. After charring a couple of green peppers directly over the stove’s flame burner, we removed the blackened skins and minced the soft inner flesh as well. The spice blend was lemon and garlic and mint.

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Our salad creation…

In my own personal cooking style, I have a tendency to freelance and use a recipe only as a general guideline. A splash of this, a dash of that.

But today I was in a room of pragmatists, and as I added my spices just a bit haphazardly, Karina sweetly and playfully reminded me that, “You must respect the recipe”.

“You Must Respect The Recipe.”

When the words came from her mouth it sounded like a much deeper life lesson somehow. I’ll have to ponder that over a glass or two of wine someday.

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Karina and Larry “Respecting the Recipe” !

We laughed and joked in English, sometimes in broken French, but always sharing in the fun of a cross-cultural experience with a woman who lived in a Muslim world that bridged a historic past and a western-influenced future.

The scent of the cooking tagine enveloped the riad and the mix began burbling over the clay lip of the pot so Karina tilted the lids to allow steam to escape as if we were boiling potatoes on the stove.

Finally, she declared the tagine meal fully-cooked and sent us off to wait at the dining table that she had set with placemats, a flower, and a small plate filled with the round flatbread that we had bought earlier in the day.

Moments later, she carefully placed our individual tagine pots in front of us, steaming and smelling exotically fragrant. We raised a glass of water to toast (alcohol wouldn’t have been appropriate in this Muslim culture) our creation and then settled in for the tasting.

I could describe the character and quality and the impressions of the dishes, but instead I’ll just let you use your own imagination to absorb and enjoy the complex blend of flavours of our wonderful tagines.

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…………………..

A Visit to the Hammam

Alright, it’s time we returned to the Hammam, the Moroccan public bath, I mentioned at the beginning of this story.

The hammam is found deep within the enclaves of the souk marketplace, and could be easily missed if you didn’t know what to look for.

Redouane, my Moroccan guide, showed me the small, open hole-in-the-wall where I would enter. He came inside the front entrance with me to negotiate with an old man in Arabic, the terms of my visit. I paid about $8 Canadian and was assigned a young “assistant” (I’ll call him Akeem) who spoke no English and only the tiniest bit of French.  From there on, it was just me and the Hammam.

As instructed earlier by Redouane, I took off all of my clothes except for my jockey shorts, hung them on hooks on the side walls of an open room and then was led forward by Akeem.

The hammam was old and steamy. We passed through two tiled rooms with domed ceilings, filled with nearly-naked bodies of Muslim men, young and old. In the third and final room we found some floor space, and Akeem gestured with hand signals for me to sit on the floor.

I gazed around, feeling the warm and wet polished concrete floors, looking up to the grey-white plastered ceilings arched 20 ft above, stained with brown rivulets of who-knows-what.

Lining the walls were long blue and red painted pipes, insistently dripping with piping hot or cool water from which he filled a bucket from the cool pipe and placed it in front of me.

Hammam Fez

It kinda looks like this inside the Marrakech Hammam…

He looked at me, said “dix minutes” (10 minutes), turned and left the room.

I sat there, trying hard and failing miserably to look inconspicuous as the only obviously white westerner. I was growing warm quickly so I started to slosh bits of the cool water from the bucket over myself, much like some others were doing.  I took a few yoga-type breaths and relaxed, feeling the humid heat, letting it penetrate my pores for what seemed like a long, long time.

It was during this heating period that my young friend mentioned at the beginning of this story showed me his private parts.

I had been aware in my peripheral vision that he had been sitting about 6 feet away from me, washing and scrubbing a little and glancing over frequently. Finally, when I turned to look directly at him, he extended his personal invite.

OMG! I instantly shook my head in refusal.

It’s funny, but it took a few minutes for me to absorb the nature of the little interaction. Initially, I thought he was just a friendly, slightly horny young fellow who found me attractive in a sexual way.

But quickly I came around to the more probable truth that meant a single westerner in a hammam might just be seeking out male prostitutes to have some exotic and inexpensive fun. DUH!

My little naive mind grew up quickly.

He wasn’t persistent, but I was casting a closer eye on all of my fellow sweaty roommates now, even the ancient, elderly guy with the torn, old underwear and the sadly sagging scrotum that protruded through the rips.  And now I was getting a tad nervous about the next stage in the hammam experience.

Ten minutes and more had passed before Akeem returned in his tiny, tight little shorts to do the hard part of exfoliating my skin.  He led me into a slightly cooler second room and then gestured that I should lie flat on my back, and he prepared to start with my arms.  I closed my eyes, trying to pretend there was no one else in the room, and determined to enjoy being washed and scraped, only to have them fly open again in shock when the scrubbing began.

This little guy put on the Kessa abrasive glove and started in – it felt as though he was rubbing me down with coarse sandpaper!  After a long few minutes I got used to the pressure and pain, and actually started enjoying it. I was a little mortified at how much dead skin he was stripping from me as he scrubbed every single inch of my flesh outside of my protected shorts area till it was red raw. But he didn’t seem surprised or bothered, so I tried to stop worrying and just enjoy. Plus I figured with all of that skin gone, I had discovered a tried-and-true way to rapid weight loss!

Once my front was done from top to toe, he had me flip over and repeated the process for my back and sides, using black olive-based hammam soap.  He even scoured my face and almost ripped out my eyes, and I was certainly radiating pink all over by the end. At one point he leaned his knee into my lower back and lifted my arms into a painful stretch as a bit of a massage.

Finally, with wads of skin on the floor and lots still clinging to me, he took me to one last room where he scooped little ladles of cool water all over as a final wash.

I exited the hammam with a tingling all over, mostly from the scrubbing.

But maybe, just maybe, a little bit of nervous tingling too, came from the unexpected encounter with a young man who had hoped to make a few extra dirhams in the hammam that day.

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Our Moroccan/Canadian group playing in the snow…Redouane (guide), Fouad (driver), Larry, Sydney (Toronto), Maureen, John (Half Moon Bay, BC), and John (Toronto)