Savvy players in a Casablanca scenario

No flying today. Three days in a row is enough before we need a break, Arthur and I agree. "A break" means a couple of hours of sight-seeing with the rest of the day spent on trip-related work and things like laundry. I write and file stories and photos. Arthur works up flight plans and finds out as much as he can about the weather along our route - often from the CNN Web site, when local meteorological offices are inadequate.

Today we spend a lot of time in the "Euronet" cybercafe, which provides pretty decent access speed - until the time zones behind us wake up and log on. We wander through the medina, or old market. It features everything from produce to live chickens to huge mounds of dates and nuts. Also clothing and shop after shop of gold jewelry.

Up ahead, I see a pile of books on a blanket. "Oh," I think, "Moroccan art and history." No. Computer-software manuals.

As we walk along, a young man sidles up alongside and starts a conversation. I see it coming: He's a student (studying English and geology), recently injured when he wrecked his motorbike. He doesn't come right out and ask if he can be our guide, but gently launches into Moroccan history, leads us toward an old Spanish church and fort, stops by his house down a narrow alley, and introduces us to his brother.

He says his name is Gio Gino (part of his family were Italian immigrants), and he writes out his address so I can send him a snapshot. I know he'll expect a gratuity, but I don't mind. This handsome young man could be my son, who's the same age. It's been worth the 200 dirham (about $20) I give him.

As we head out of the medina, a well-dressed man asks the time (establishing that we're American), then tells us about his favorite cities in the United States, particularly Columbus, Ohio, where he was an exchange student years ago. We stroll along with him for 100 yards or so when - What a coincidence! - we're standing in front of his family's clothing shop, the Afric Bazar. His uncle and several cousins are there.

They pull chairs together, offer us mint tea, explain that they're Berber (the first people to settle Morocco). Then they show us robes and capes made of cotton, linen, and camel's hair. They point out the hand-stitching, tell me I look like Ali Baba when I try one on. Arthur is looking at his watch. These garments do seem to be of very good quality, and the prices (starting at about $30, without bargaining) seem quite reasonable.

But I'm thinking, "When would I possibly wear one of these things at home, and where would it fit in our packed Cessna?" So we make our excuses - we're here on business and have work to do, we'll try to get back later in the day - and leave.

Later, I'm a bit sorry that I didn't buy one. I could have chucked something off the Cessna and made room. Besides, I'm told I look good in long robes. Like Ali Baba.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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