Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Libraries, Librarians, Frustration

I just returned to Rabat from a trip to Tetouan, where I attempted to get some still-incomplete field research done. I planned on going to the city's public library and archives to continue working on a seventeenth-century manuscript that's there (that I've managed to read, oh, a couple of pages of and I don't actually know if it will be useful for my dissertation), and to look up some references, and generally bother the librarian for the things that I want (that, say, I've found in the library catalog) but that don't actually exist at the library (altogether too often the case in Tetouan.)

The library, however, was closed. Indefinitely.

Last time I had been in Tetouan, the library had just closed for emergency water main repairs. That was in mid-2006.

The sign that announced the library's closed-ness this time was from October of 2006, though, so not only was it re-closed after having been open, presumably, for a short amount of time between when I went before and this visit, but it's already been closed for a while.

The doors looked very open, though; the door attendant told me that the library was closed to the public, but that I could return to talk to the archivist the next morning, which I did.

I was allowed into the library to speak to the archivist.

It turns out that all of the employees are still working: the circulation desk staff is manning a dust-covered desk, the main reading room desk attendant is there. There are just no patrons! And many of the books aren't there! And everything's covered with dust! And the lights are off. Weird.

Anyhow, the archivist was nice and, while I wasn't able to find anything else for my project other than the one manuscript I'm already working on (which, apparently, is being digitized), he seemed excited by Josie's project, and I ended up with a list of manuscript references for her.

Then today, I had another negative library experience. This one was at the Hassaniyya (the Royal library in Rabat.) I had taken my notes from last year, so that I could ask for the manuscripts that I had, at some point in my catalog browsing, decided had something to do with Rabat, Tetouan, the seventeenth century, and possibly moriscos.

I asked for the manuscript number that I had noted, and eventually got the requested manuscript. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what on earth it had to do with the what I was expecting to receive, and eventually decided that I should go back to the catalog. In the catalog, I didn't find the title, and I didn't find the reference number in the catalog (I had used an older catalog.) So I asked the librarian.

He came up with a reference number for the mss. that I wanted, but refused to explain where or how he had gotten that number. I really wanted to know so that I could replicate the results. He wouldn't give up the knowledge, though, even when the front desk staff asked him (after I had asked him and he wouldn't tell me.)

Aren't librarians supposed to be enablers? Isn't that why librarianism is (along with city planning) the current chosen hipster profession par excellence? Isn't the beauty of enabling people to do research well without actually doing the research the joy of librarianship? Not for the guy at the Hassaniyya it's not, apparently.

Coincidentally, there's an article about academic librarians in the Chronicle of Higher Education today; it's really written with academic librarians as an audience, but as an active user of the reference desk, I was interested.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Maqouda: It's complicated

Maqouda (I would put an 'ayn' in there, but it messes up the html, and it won't let me superscript. Those of you who speak Arabic don't need it, and it makes no difference to those of you who don't, so onward ...) is probably my favorite Rabati streetfood. It is a spiced mashed potato mixture that is then battered and fried. The texture of the potato reminds me very much of the knishes at the knish truck near Washington Square Park, but instead of being sliced open and filled with mustard, maqouda are themselves put into something.

The maqouda stands (this picture was taken at my favorite medina maqouda spot, right by where Consuls turns into Ouqassa/runs into Souiqa, for those of you in Rabat) make sandwiches out of quarter, half, or whole loaves of Moroccan round bread. The available fillings (depending on where you go) are maqouda, fried fish, fried egg, roasted bell pepper, fried eggplant, and garnishes of chopped onion and sauces.

What gets me about the enterprise is that to make the maqouda sandwiches, they go to the trouble of making the maqouda, and then when they serve it, they squish the maqouda up in the sandwiches, to spread them out evenly.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bab al-Had, Rabat

The recently-restored Bab al-Had in Rabat.

I take issue with the finishes that they're using to restore all of the walls (making them look like pisé instead of leaving the masonry exposed.) The plaza in front was previously where all of the buses stopped and was a traffic nightmare. They've moved the bus stops. Given how lush the greenery in Rabat can be, I wish that they'd incorporating more shade trees and shrubberies into the landscaping. There are all too many shadeless plazas that are new and under construction. Apparently, the interior of the bab is going the way of other medina babs: they've made an art gallery of it. One of my favorite things about this bab (pre-restoration) was that in the interior was a cadre of men, most with Arabic-language typewriters but a couple with French, just sat there waiting at your (my) beck and call to type out a document. I don't know if they've re-located to another part of the medina.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Running, sort of, near Rabat

I went running with the Hash House Harriers here today. Well, there were a few short running bits thrown in, and a lot of planning, standing around, and drinking (I didn't do much of the drinking. Beer is okay. But just. And the beer was warm, which makes it much less okay.) The running bits were done one what I consider inhospitable terrain; there were lots of gravelly downward slopes that I don't consider pleasant for hiking/walking/whathaveyou.

The running/walking/general attempts to not tumble to my death down a slippery hillside took about an hour and a half, including the mid-run beer/water break. The preparation for going and the hanging-around afterwards took much longer.

Plans for going on a run with the Harriers started about a week ago; Josie mentioned wanting to go, and so we Googled them but the website was down. Somewhere else it was posted that they had a happy hour on Wednesdays at the American Club, so we went. Now, to get into the American club you have to be affiliated with something American, and having a U.S. passport just doesn't cut it. So we loitered at the front door until a nice Irish(?) lady who was on the appropriate list signed us in as her guests.

It was pretty empty when we got there, though, so we contented ourselves with the food from an Americana-heavy menu (mushroom swiss burger, anyone?) and speculated as to who might be a Harrier. There was a big group of early-twenties Americans. Josie figured that they were too young. Then there was this one guy who walked in who was muscular and was wearing a visor at a bizarre angle. Josie pegged him as a Harrier.

It turns out that he was the hare.

And so, we ended up waiting for him in front of the American Club today at eleven. It was past eleven thirty when he showed up. We drove to a supermarket, and he bought the drinks for the run. His friend commented that we should probably go acquire some food, since the run itself wouldn't start until three.

And so Josie and I left, not wanting to spend four hours doing nothing before the run.

I ended up finding a ride, Josie didn't want to waste the entire day on another Port Said Soccer Trip, and so I went by myself.

My hair still smells like beer.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sights, Sounds, Smells

So, Semana Santa was, what? A month ago?
I got really sick, and missed a bunch of the few processions that happened, but on the last two days I rallied, and it didn't rain, and I saw processions. And at some point, I not-so-dutifully posted some imaged from said processions to flickr.

Anyhoo, I'm in Morocco for now, where today I had delicious delicious couscous for lunch, and I tried to read some handwritten seventeenth-century stuff, and yesterday I walked around the old neighborhood, and I had an avocado juice.

There is one smell that I smelled, though, that I would always go out of my way to avoid when I lived here, and that caught me off guard last night: the snail soup cart. Blech. I had escargot in France once, and then we had them in Spain not that long ago, and I'm sure I've had them on another occasion, but the snails that the cart sells are, as far as I can tell, maybe sea snails? And then they're just boiled and boiled and peppered and people drink them out of bowls; they don't just eat the snails, they drink the broth that the snails make, and to me it smells not unlike wet dog mixed with mildewy bathroom.