Friday, February 7, 2014

Where we "hang out"

When it was nice outside, the kids and I spent a lot of time outdoors. As small as this town is, there still happens to be a "down town" area where people gather, sit at coffee shops, sip Moroccan mint tea, dine and even dance. Yes! there is a pub/club in town and if you happen to live at the university downtown residence then you are up all hours of the night from the sounds coming from the adjacent facility. There is even a liquor store near the club (gasp!) and a few drunk Moroccans can be spotted outside on a Saturday evening.

A few banks have branches there, as does Maroc telecom. You can find the town's only un-wified cafe, a couple of barber shops and hairdressers, and small souvenirs shops. There is a pharmacy or two, and a couple convenience stores called "supĂ©rette". A couple of "Moroccan-style" hotels, and an expensive Western-style resort/spa, are located within a few meters from the center of town. There is a small open space consecrated for trade shows and presentations, and a handful of water fountains that run during the warm season, but which are fenced all around to prevent accidents.

To the people who live in Fes and Meknes, the two closest cities to us, Ifrane is the weekend destination. It is a mountain town with plenty of green spaces, water fountains, and a pedestrian enclosure where the kids can roam free, feed the pigeons and pick flowers. In the winter, they come here in droves to look and play with the snow and spend the day as local tourists.

To the international tourists, Ifrane is a stop on their way to Marrakesh on their scenic mountain-road drive. They stop for the day, having passed the royal palace on their way in, dine at one of the cafes, take photos in front of a famous lion stone sculpture, whose story and history are a cause for interest -  the popular story of its origins involves an Italian inmate who reportedly sculpted it out of limestone - and then continue on their way.

To us, it is another place to hang out when we are tired of our gated community, the campus and the road in between. We do not see ourselves as "tourists" and so we have not yet captured the moment in front of the statue. Some weekend days we walk there and enjoy breakfast outside, others we head over in the afternoon on the bus or by foot and let JR run around the water fountain and play with other kids. One time we even "dined out" on pizza at one of the restaurants, and while the outing itself was fun, sitting indoors surrounded with smokers was not much fun. We decided to stick with "eating-in" since then.

Only once did I attempt to head there with the kids during this winter season and that was the first and last time; the kids and I had to sit at the coffee shop all dressed in our winter gear. When I mentioned this to a friend, I understood that it is common practice for the cafes and restaurants to be unheated even in the coldest of weathers; it costs too much to heat these places up. The workers just bundle up and the clients are expected to do the same. If the sun is shining and the wind not blowing, which so far has proved to be a rarity, the customers sit outside, still all bundled up. The luxury of a warm indoors is reserved for the houses and you have a choice: the comfort of your home or the change in scenery coupled with the cold at the cafe. For me the choice was easy!

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