A series of anecdotes with or without any connection to the running of a restaurant.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Magical Marrakesh...

I went to Marrakesh with an open mind and came back with it totally blown!!!
I often visit Maryam's Blog and was a little puzzled why she has decided to, not only settle in Marrakesh but to build a guesthouse in an olive grove.

As I reported a while ago, my cousin got the job of looking after the completion of the conversion of an old Ryad (Moorish villa) into a six-bedroom boutique hotel. He rang me last week and suggested I should visit because, in his words "you'll be pleasantly surprised!"

He is very persuasive and I am easily led astray. Permission was sought and given.

Thursday night at around 8 o'clock I got out of the plane into a giant hairdryer... The temperature was 48 degrees Centigrade!! For a second I thought about getting back inside the plane and home...
Couz as I call him and he calls me, was waiting for me.

We dropped my suitcase and walked to Djemaa El F'na, the Medina's (Old town) main square.

It was full of food stalls selling from snails to skewered meats, tagines to fried sardines, sheep's heads to freshly squeezed orange juice... Lots of singing troupes, magicians, snake charmers, charming storytellers, etc...

We had some food, mint tea and headed back to the new town and to a palacial night club (Jad Mahal) where a multinational, multi-talented band played from Dire Straits to Algerian Rai, Gypsy Kings to Salsa music...

Click to enlarge...

Click to enlarge.

More photos later... (I took over 400)

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Pottering fever...

What is it about this Harry Potter fever?

I know I haven't caught it but my son has. At midnight last Saturday, he joined a 200m queue outside Asda to get the latest-no idea what it's called- of JK Rowling's books.
In Pakistan a car bomb was defused outside a bookshop where the book went on sale. Do not panic, I have a watertight alibi. At no time did I leave the country in the last seven days.
How do you say Harry Potter in Urdu?

Don't get me wrong but I say good luck to Ms Rowling for coming up with such a "brilliant?" idea to become a multi-millionaire.

It's just that from Day One I did not get carried away by Harry’s wizardry. I remember going to the pictures to see the first film but I also remember falling asleep half way through it.

I personally prefer to be “Far from the madding crowd.”

Do I sound like a rebel?
I'm off for a few days to see if Harry Potter has reached Marrakesh...

Cartoon courtesy of tabtoons@telus / Cagle Cartoons

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Tiny miracles...

What is it that makes us want to cage birds?

For a time Papa kept budgies, bred them and often gifted them to friends and relatives. The birds were his pride and joy. Their cages were like Arabian palaces with the latest in birdbaths, feeders and perches. If you saw this hardened war veteran on his knees, poking his finger between the bars to be gently pecked, cooing like a baby to his feathered progeniture, awaiting a response and imagining one...

At night he brought them off the balcony into the warmth of the bathroom.
Every morning before work he wedged fresh lettuce leaves between the rails, changed the water and delicately blew away the empty husks from the seed trays.

One morning, Papa walked into the bathroom and awoke us with a heartbreaking wail.
All his beloved budgies lay dead at the bottom of the cages.
The cause, we later found out, was a bottle of antiseptic that had fallen out of the medicine cabinet during the night and smashed on the tiled floor, unleashing its deadly fumes on the helpless creatures.

Papa cleaned out the cages and gave them away. He never kept budgies again.

When I went to see him last year, Papa had acquired a couple of canaries which he knew by name.
Every evening he let them out their cage to fly freely around the room. They soared and fluttered until their tiny wings could no longer keep them up and then they came to land on this shoulder or outstretched hand.
Papa looked at me and winked, meaning:
"Son, you've just witnessed a "miracle".


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Monday, July 16, 2007

The Rainbow Garden...

Last week a school governor phoned me to ask if I could open a school garden.

I was about to suggest she should contact a locksmith when she explained that the head of her local infants school had this marvellous idea of turning part of the school field into a garden. She enrolled the help of pupils' parents, grandparents and local firms to create it.

The school governor, a regular in our restaurants, explained that the idea of the garden was to promote healthy eating through direct student participation.

"If the children see how vegetables are grown, they may try them. We even sold a few radishes at last week's assembly." She announced proudly.

The young head welcomed me with a cup of tea and a tour of the school.

Once the children were lined up in front of the garden, alongside two dozen or so parents and grandparents and the mayor, the head welcomed everyone and then introduced me, suggesting I say a few words.
I am not one for speeches, unless I am talking about food or wine but on this occasion it all came easily.

"I am honoured that you have invited me to open your beautiful garden. You should all be proud to have come up with this fantastic idea. Now that you can see how vegetables are grown I am certain that you will enjoy eating them. "Yeah, right! It took my son 18 years before he tried a tiny bit of broccoli..."
When I was 5 or 6 my mother grew radishes from a bag of seeds. They were delicious. Nowadays, whenever I buy radishes from Asda, I remember our farm and the great times I had growing up there.

I am sure some of you think that chips come out of the freezer but you'll be surprised to know that they come from potatoes similar to the ones you are growing.

Once your garden is producing lots of vegetables you may even end up supplying my restaurants, you know! "They'll have to compete on quality and price!"

A couple of years ago I opened a cake shop for a friend and my reward was a few cream cakes. I'm wondering how many pounds of potatoes I should charge you!"
The kids laughed but I could see their brains working out my fee in radishes.

I cut the ribbon, the pupils sang a hymn and the priest from the adjoining church named and blessed the Rainbow Garden. We posed for the local paper's photographer.
Another cup of tea, a scone then I drove home with a smile...

Fame at last!!!


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Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Lately I have not had much time to doodle as I have been so engrossed in these books.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini whose first book, The Kite Runner, I enjoyed so much. Then I read Burned Alive the true story of a Palestinian woman rejected by her family. Very gripping and eye-opening.
Now I am just finishing Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom set during the Spanish Civil War.
Very enjoyable book on the lines of The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

I often go through phases like this when I tend to read several books on a similar theme.

I have found a little bit of time to practice my doodles. I painted one ball and thought it could be very interesting to balls the painting up and hence the result.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Wild life...

A few years ago, Papa was driving me to the airport in his old Citroën to catch a plane to Algiers and then England.
At 75 he still drove very adeptly, having spent most of his working life on the road as an ambulance driver. He was doing around 100 km per hour on a familiar road, listening to an imam reciting Koranic verses and nonchalantly giving me a wink each time he expertly avoided a head-on collision with an oncoming juggernaut.
The road to the airport is full of twists and turns, dips and humps but Papa kept pointing out the scenery.
“Have you got pine forests like this in England?”
“Wild flowers like these?”
“Can you smell the wild spearmint, eh? Do you have spearmint in England?”

All of a sudden a black shape jumped in front of the car. Papa slammed the brakes. Screech...Too late... Thump!!!

Bismillah! In the name of God! Why? Why?”
I asked Papa what it was.
“A pig? I haven’t seen a pig since the French left Algeria in 1962!”
“A wild pig, I mean! A boar!”

We got out of the car and in front of it lay a baby wild boar. No sign of life or blood.
Papa checked his dented front bumper and cursed Satan.
“This must be a bad omen. I’m not sure you should get on that plane!”
I dismissed the episode as a simple accident but he went on mumbling.

Qu’est-ce qui c'est passé?” A voice enquired. I turned round and recognised a French lecturer who taught at the local college. He had parked his car behind Papa’s and got out to see what happened.

Papa a tué un marcassin!” Papa has killed a baby boar.
“I did not!” Papa shouted. “The bloody thing jumped in front of me!”

A second teacher got out of the car. The two picked up the animal, placed it in their car boot and drove off with the broadest of smiles.

My brother came to pick me up at Algiers airport. When I recounted the accident, he smiled and said: “Those French guys will probably be having a feast this evening!”

Any funny accidents or supersititions?

Photo: TrekEarth Laurent Vidalin.


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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July weather in London...

I went down to London to escape the rain...
Actually it was to wish my cousin "Bon Voyage" to Marrakesh where he is moving to look after the building and then the management of a 6 bedroom luxury Ryad (Boutique hotel) when it opens later this year...

Little Venice with it beautifully decorated barges...

The famous Carnaby street where famous people get all their designer clothes.

Apple Computers showcasing their latest products. Visitors could browse the internet at will...

Smoking in the rain...outside a pub... No smoking allowed indoors from 1st July! Yeah!!!

Hamleys, toyshop in Regent's Street.

Momo's tearoom. Momo's is the most famous North African restaurant in London. Great atmosphere and great food.

Gloomy skies over London...

Another rainy photo. Is this bus going to Wimbledon?

Despite the sporadic rain, London is still a great city to visit. It is like an amalgamation of little villages, each with its own varied communities, lifestyles, generous offerings of cafés, restaurants, art galleries, etc...

I used to think that I could not live in London. "Visit, yes... but live there? No way!" This latest visit has made me think I could very easily adapt to London life.

But I am happy where I am...

And with a cousin in Marrakesh, my next trip is being planned as I speak...

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