Friday, April 18, 2014

Honeymoon in Morocco: the Train to Marrakesh

I'm finally recapping the 3-week honeymoon we took to Morocco over Christmas and New Years. Expect many pictures and many, many words about Morocco in the next few weeks. You can find part one herepart two here, and more about eating and drinking here.

The second stop on our Moroccan honeymoon was the city of Marrakesh, which has a reputation for being a busy, bustling, glamorous destination for wealthy vacationing Europeans. It’s very popular with the French, and several French movie stars have homes there. Marrakesh also has one of the biggest, most famous medinas (markets) packed with vendors selling anything you could imagine. We were very excited about visiting Marrakesh.

But first we had to get there.  

For some reason that we never quite figured out, you can’t buy train tickets until you’re in Morocco. Which is to say you can’t go online from America, punch in your credit card number, buy a train ticket, and be guaranteed a seat. You have to wait until you’re on the ground in Morocco, physically go to the train station, navigate either talking to a ticket agent (in French or Arabic), or use the only slightly less confusing ticket machines in order to get a ticket (again in either French or Arabic). Every time we navigated buying tickets it was rather baffling as there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how you had to pay and why (either with cash or credit card), although we did seem get slightly better at it with experience.  

The train from Rabat to Marrakesh was supposed to take a little over four hours, but as we learned it can take much longer. Apparently there are only two or three tracks, total, that run across the mostly empty stretch between the two cities, so when trains want to pass each other they have to slow down and carefully navigate the tracks so there aren’t accidents. I’m all for avoiding train accidents across barren north Africa so that was fine with me. At some points we would stop completely, and a few people would jump off the train and walk around outside a bit. There was really nothing out there, only train tracks and a few desert shrubs, but no streets, or fences, or any other signs of civilization. Then the train would slowly chug back to life, they’d grab ahold and swing back onboard through the open doors, and we’d be off.

We bought first class tickets (which were still pretty inexpensive, I think around $20 total), which guaranteed us a cushioned seat in a dedicated first class compartment that had a little door that closed it off from the very cramped, hot corridor. The corridor was so narrow that only one person could fit through, and if you came upon someone going the opposite way one of you had to step into a nearby compartment to let the other pass. It was interesting trying to navigate it with huge backpacks on our shoulders when we first boarded the train. Every once in a while a man in a uniform would come around with a little cart that had cold drinks and snacks for purchase. The restroom on the train, in case you’re wondering, was a toilet that just emptied onto the tracks. If you looked down (which I don’t recommend doing), you could see the ground below.

After a five-hour journey, we finally arrived in Marrakesh. The gare (train station) in Marrakesh is very chic and modern, and absolutely huge. Another thing we finally noticed was that all the train stations we saw had a little prayer room in case you were waiting for your train when the call to prayer was broadcast. We stumbled outside with our heavy backpacks and found a cab, whose driver promised us he knew where we were going (we didn’t have an address, only the name of the riad and the name of the main gate it was supposedly near), and took off. And then stopped again, about a block away, to pick up a very stylishly dressed Moroccan woman who sat in the front seat, rode about two blocks, deposited a few coins in the driver’s hand, and then got out again. We later learned this is quite common.

The scene inside the medina walls in Marrakesh. Not much room for a car.
We opted once again to stay in a riad, in the old city instead of the ville nouvelle (the newer, usually more expensive part of town), so when the cab driver pulled up to the old city walls, which were designed way before cars, we thought he would deposit us there and we’d be on our own like we were in Rabat. But instead he plowed right on through the very narrow gate entrance, which did not look like it was possible, and laid on his horn to clear the donkeys and motorbike riders out of his way. Alarmed, we assured him that we were good to go on our own, on foot, from there. He gave us a shrug, took our money, and roared into reverse. We had arrived in Marrakesh.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: The Last Original Wife

Now that I’m married, I find that I read books or watch movies about marriage with a different perspective, especially if these stories are about an unhappy or failed marriage. Don’t even get me started on infidelity--I haven’t ever liked to hear about it and now the thought makes me almost sick to my stomach. I always think to myself “How did you get here? Did you ever really love each other?” The book The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank is a good example of both how this happens to couples and a lesson in what not to do.

Leslie Anne Greene Carter is The Last Original Wife among her husband Wesley’s wildly successful Atlanta social set. But if losing her friends to tanned and toned young Barbie brides isn’t painful enough, a series of setbacks shake Les’s world and push her to the edge. She’s had enough of playing the good wife to a husband who thinks he’s doing her a favor by keeping her around. She’s going to take some time for herself—in the familiar comforts and stunning beauty of Charleston, her beloved hometown. And she’s going to reclaim the carefree girl who spent lazy summers with her first love on Sullivans Island. Daring to listen to her inner voice, she will realize what she wants . . . and find the life of which she’s always dreamed.

This book starts out in the middle of the story, with Leslie and her husband Wes going to therapy to try to save their marriage.  It jumps back and forth between their two points of view to give the reader background and insight into how they got to the point where they needed therapy in the first place.  Another consequence, probably unintended, is that it makes both of them seem like pretty unlikeable characters from the very beginning of the book.  The reader does get a lot of insight into how each of them thinks and feels, but at least for me this didn’t do a whole lot to help me identify with them.

Toward the middle of the book, when the narrative jumps back in time, I started to sympathize with Leslie a bit more, and actually felt pretty sorry for her.  She seemed like one of those people who always cared more for other people than she did for herself, with sad consequences. It also didn’t seem to make her family members and loved ones happier or more appreciative of her, which made it all the more sad.

The book tried to redeem itself and the characters in the end, but it felt a little flat. I finished the book feeling both sad for the (fictional, I realize) characters and very glad that I wasn’t in the same boat. I also realize that I might not be the best reading audience for this book since I’m younger than the "replacement" wives and thus had a hard time identifying with Leslie, the 58-year old original wife. If you don’t mind infidelity and are looking for a book that feels like the literary equivalent of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, pick this book up. If not, this one might not be your bag.
Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: Driving Lessons

It's no secret to those who know me well that I don't like to drive. Actually, I loathe it. I would much rather ride a crowded bus with my earbuds firmly in my ears and my gaze fixed somewhere out the window in the hazy distance, not focusing on the road but rather spacing out until I arrive at my destination. When I read the description of Driving Lessons by Zoe Fishman, I knew the main character and I definitely had something in common.

An executive at a New York cosmetics firm, Sarah has had her fill of the interminable hustle of the big city. When her husband, Josh, is offered a new job in suburban Virginia, it feels like the perfect chance to shift gears.

While Josh quickly adapts to their new life, Sarah discovers that having time on her hands is a mixed blessing. Without her everyday urban struggles, who is she? And how can she explain to Josh, who assumes they are on the same page, her ambivalence about starting a family?

It doesn’t help that the idea of getting behind the wheel—an absolute necessity of her new life—makes it hard for Sarah to breathe. It’s been almost twenty years since she’s driven, and just the thought of merging is enough to make her teeth chatter with anxiety. When she signs up for lessons, she begins to feel a bit more like her old self again, but she’s still unsure of where she wants to go.

Then a crisis involving her best friend lands Sarah back in New York—a trip to the past filled with unexpected truths about herself, her dear friend, and her seemingly perfect sister-in-law . . . and an astonishing surprise that will help her see the way ahead.

Although I take the bus to work every day, I still drive about once a week so I'm not quite as hopeless at driving as Sarah is, but I still identified with her as she learns to drive again. I also think I would feel every bit as confused and lost as she did when she first arrived in suburban Virginia, way out in the middle of nowhere. I must admit Sarah made the transition more smoothly than I would though, because I am just not a suburban kind of gal.

I also completely identified with being ambivalent about the idea of having kids. Sarah, the main character, struggles with feeling like she's "ready" to start a family, even as she knows intellectually that she's getting older and at least on paper, she's at the perfect place in her life to do so, not to mention her husband is really excited about the idea. I think this is a struggle that a lot of women feel. It's a huge leap to take, and who is ever actually ready? The writing around that subject would probably really resonate with someone who was in a similar position (I'm in the no-kids camp, but I still found it really interesting).

The book is definitely a light read, even with the slight curveball in the middle of the story, and the resolution sure came together in a quick and tidy way, but it was a cute, easy read that would be perfect for tucking into your tote bag for a day at the beach.

Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.