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Finger Exercise 1

From the Photoshop Artistry course, this is a finger exercise, which is supposed to be a warm-up activity to get the creative juices flowing. These short exercises shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes, and the outcome isn’t all that important. They’re kind of like doing stretching exercises before a jogging session. However, I’m still learning, and this took quite a while to do, longer than it might take other folks.

This is a photo I took near Azrou, Morocco way back when. I used a sketch technique that I learned in the course and added some texture layers, also from the course. (Not so) short and sweet.

Viewpoint near Azrou, Morocco.

Used a sketch technique in Photoshop to create this version of a nice viewpoint near the Moroccan town of Azrou.

Old Cars in Vientiane

I’ve spotted quite a number of old cars in Vientiane recently. Usually I see them while I’m riding my motorbike and they’re moving along a block or so from where I’m at, so I don’t get a good look at them to see what make and model they are. However, I have seen quite a few old VW “Beetles,” the originals from what I guess would be the 1960s. Most of their exteriors looked quite aged, but they were still running.

Over the past few weeks, though, I saw these two old-timers, one parked on the side of the street and the other passing close by a few days later. I didn’t have a camera with me, so I’ve taken these photos from the Internet. While not exactly the same color, both of the old autos resembled the photos.

First was a cream-colored Studebaker Lark convertible with a black top. While not in “classic car” condition, it still looked like it was being carefully kept in good shape. Perhaps it belongs to an expat, maybe an embassy employee. My former boss in Morocco, John, the Regional English Language Officer at the American embassy, had his car shipped over, a 4-wheel drive Subaru, which he believed was the only one in Morocco. He told me that embassy personnel get a shipping allowance of 20 TONS! Small wonder that he’d brought the car with him.

John and 4-wheel drive Subaru.

Here’s John and his 4-wheel drive Subaru, the only one in Morocco, as far as he knew.

Here’s the Internet photo of the Studebaker. It’s a bit lighter colored than the one I saw, but it’s still a good resemblance.

Studebaker Lark Convertible

The other oldster that I saw was a Pontiac Tempest, sporting a faded and chipped pale blue exterior. It didn’t look nearly as well kept as the Studebaker, but it was still running. I’ll definitely keep my eyes peeled for other old timers now that I know there are at least a few on the roads in the capital. I wonder where they get the parts to keep them running? Here’s the Internet photo.

1966_pontiac_tempest_side_view

CPR Student Photos

Here are the photos I took today of my students at the CPR–our final regular class together. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Students, click here to view the photos. Click on the small photo to see a larger one, then click on the larger one to see another, larger photo.

Here’s another photo from my Sunday morning bike ride.

Red_Flowers1

Yanks-Sox

How the Yankees are maintaining their pace with many of their top-flight players being injured at one time or another or being out for the season is beyond me. I guess we Yankee fans can thank the “Baby Bombers” for coming of age at the right time. Like in last night’s 13-5 shellacking of Boston. Sweeeeeeet!

I took a short bike ride Sunday morning, when it’s quieter than usual. I felt in a “colorful” mood and took a few photos, some of which follow. More later.

Here is some detail of a lime-colored nursery school I thought was interesting.

Lime_Bldg

And then there is this pink apartment building.

Pink_Apt

It’s a bit past spring, but there are still many blooming flowers on bushes and trees. (Actually, this is true pretty much year round.) Here are a few examples.

Blue_Tree

Here’s one of the areas I go jogging. The building in the background is going to be the new city library, I’m told, when it’s finished.

Meknes_Trees-01

Strike!

At least I think it was a strike. There was a BIG march today in Meknes, right in front of my apartment–people chanting, carrying banners, and escorted by police, with all vehicle traffic closed off. The apartment concierge told me that it was a strike of government offices, schools, etc. nation-wide, though I couldn’t understand the reason. I’ll have to check the newspapers to see what was going on. It was very peaceful, if noisy. Here’s one photo of it.

March_1

Now, look carefully at this second photo. Notice the yellow arrow in the middle on the extreme right hand side? What’s it pointing at? Yes, a Yankee logo on a baseball cap! Though it’s not an official-looking Yankee hat, it does have the MLB logo on it also. Again, another Yankee hat, and I didn’t see any other baseball team represented on any hat. Truly, the World’s Baseball Team!

March_2

So, what will I be doing tonight? Since my students, who were probably out there marching today, are out on practicum for two weeks, I’m going to stay up to watch the first game of the Red Sox-Yankee series. It doesn’t get started until 7:05 p.m. Eastern Time, which means 11:05 p.m. in Morocco at MLB.com. I’ll be interested to see the reaction Johnny Damon gets from his old team’s fans.

I’ve been busy today sending out applications for jobs in Korea. I sent out 4, with more to come as the month goes by. Most of the major universities will post their job needs on Dave’s ESL Cafe beginning the middle of May on toward the end of the month and into June. I should be able to find something, and the ones I applied to today look pretty good. More later (including the Luang Prabang photos).

Summer

It sure seemed like it today, anyway, though I’m sure the high temperature was probably only a tad over 70. So, I thought I’d get out and let the bicycle take me for a ride, and I was sweating quite a bit and may have gotten a small sunburn. Love it! I wasn’t sure where my trusty transport would take me, but we ended up riding around the medina, across the wadi from my side of town. This is the first occasion that I’ve spent any amount of time there, and I ended up in places I haven’t been before.

What’s behind the door?

Doorway_1

Sunday is great for riding around, as the traffic is usually very light, compared to weekdays. Many of the pedestrians are tourists, mostly French from the conversations I overheard. I think sightseeing in the medina is more properly done by walking. There are a lot of things to see, and stopping every 5 minutes on the bike to take a photo gets old. It’s not that far from my apartment, though a complete walk around the old city would take a while. I want to get some souvenir shopping done before I leave for Thailand and Laos, so I’m sure I’ll make that walk soon.

Now, I’ve been in the upper reaches of the atmosphere while backpacking in the mountains of Montana, where the sky can be as blue as imaginable, but I have to admit the skies here can be as deeply azure as those in Big Sky Country. The color lends a good contrast to the beige of the old walls found in the medina. Below is one of the old gates (“bab” in Arabic) leading into or out of the medina. I didn’t have my guide book with me, so I don’t know its name, but there are many more, some of which are very impressive; I’ll get photos of them eventually.

Gate_1

One of the favorite resting spots in Meknes is a small, man-made lake. It’s lined with benches and quite a few people (I’m told) pass the time here, though it was very quiet today. Joggers, mothers with baby strollers and older children in tow, and couples talking in the shade populate this quiet area. Ducks and golden fish inhabit the lake. At one end is this crenellated wall, part of the old fortifications built by Moulay Ismail dating back to the 17th century.

Wall_1

All in all, it was an enjoyable couple of hours under the Moroccan sun. Montanans, with your low temperatures dipping into the teens today, are you envious? 😎 More later.

Bike Ride to Boufekrane

Since tomorrow’s forecast calls for a bit of rain, I thought I’d take a bike ride today. I didn’t really have a particular destination in mind, so I meandered out to Boufekrane, famed throughout Morocco for its quality beef. I’ve been through the small village a number of times as an automobile passenger, but I’ve never biked there. It’s about 10 miles out through rolling hills, and I’ve always thought doing a bike ride might be a bit tough. Actually, it wasn’t that bad; the most difficult stretch is just getting out of Meknes. It’s a pretty country, very green right now, dotted with vineyards (not yet in bloom) and fields devoted to growing onions and potatoes. Many of the farmers sell their produce along the road; on the way back I stopped and bought a couple of oranges from a couple of guys selling them out of their car. Very juicy and tart!

Flower_Field_2

I’ve had a few people ask why I don’t feature more people in my photos. Today’s ride provides a good portion of the answer. I stopped along the way to take a photo and there was a fellow sitting well out of the shot I took. He was sitting under a tree and I didn’t even see him until he came wandering over. Then he demanded money. I asked why. He said because I took his photo. (We’re talking in French, of course.) I told him he wasn’t in my photo. He still wanted money. I refused. He was a bit of a rough looking character, so maybe I just should have given him a few dirham and let it go. However, I get tired of people asking for money whenever I take a photo of something that has nothing to do with them. If I want to take a shot with someone featured as the subject, I always ask first and give them a little money afterwards if they ask for it. Not much money, the equivalent of 10-20 cents. But I get more than a few people who figure they own the landscape or the sunset or whatever. I always refuse. This guy finally got the message that he wasn’t getting anything out of me, so he wandered away to go back to sitting under his tree. I should have snapped a quick shot of him and taken off on the bike. 😀

Small_Bridge

Anyway, it was still a pleasant ride, but the round trip total of 20 miles has me a tad tired–makes it easy to daydream about the upcoming trip to Thailand. Bwahahahahahah! 😎 More later.

Bike Ride, High Speed Chase and Explosion

There, now that I’ve got your attention . . .

Sorry, I haven’t posted in a while. Busy? Lazy? A combination of both, I suppose.

I took a nice bike ride last Sunday into the countryside, pedaling about 6 or 7 miles outside of town. It was a gorgeous day, warm (hot, going uphill), with blue skies dotted by cumulus clouds. It was more like a late spring day than the middle of February. A lot different than Montana weather right now. I see that they’re “enjoying” sub-zero temperatures, at times reaching -25F (that’s -31C). I don’t miss it a bit.

Here are a few shots from the trip.

So, I rode around for several hours, stopping to take numerous photos of the interesting cloud formations that sailed across the deep blue skies. I probably had a total ride of 20-25 miles and was getting pooped when I started to return to Meknes. I decided, however, to take a short journey down one of the back roads to Rabat. It’s a two-lane highway with wide, paved shoulders, so it’s not a problem to ride a bicycle–lots of traffic, though. I had gone about 3 miles down the road when I decided to turn back because of an approaching storm.

I got about half way to the outskirts of Meknes when I heard a police siren ahead of me at the top of a hill. It looked like he had pulled someone over, perhaps for speeding. All of a sudden a farm truck peeled off the pavement and started barreling down a dirt track to the right of the main road, heading right toward me. I was on the pavement and in no danger. Right behind him came the cop car, siren wailing, lights flashing. I caught a brief glimpse of the truck driver’s face and he looked frightened, but determined, as they raced passed me. I watched them speed down the hill a ways, then the truck zoomed onto the pavement hell bent for leather and sped away in the distance, the squad car right behind him. Then, two police motorcycles joined the chase, zooming past me. Off the high-speed chase went over the top of the hill behind me, disappearing from view. Crazy.

I resumed my ride to the top of the next hill. All of a sudden, one of the motorcycles sped past me, heading for town, probably to get reinforcements, I thought. Then, I heard the police car siren again, and I got off the bike and turned around to see the farm truck careening up the road with the cop right on his tail and the other motorcycle not far behind. Away they raced toward Meknes and I thought it’s going to get pretty hectic trying to maneuver through the busy streets of the city. I never did see them again, though. What was the guy trying to hide? Smuggling, perhaps? A wanted criminal? I suppose I’ll never know, but it was a strange experience, like a Moroccan version of the Key Stone Cops. With all the traffic it would have been difficult to block him, but I still wonder how the guy ever got the truck turned around. Since it all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to take my camera out of my pack and snap some shots. Maybe the fellow will end up in the prison I stumbled upon earlier in the day.

You’re not supposed to take photos of this kind of subject, but I was at a distance and used my telephoto lens. Yes, there were guards in the towers, but I didn’t see any barbed wire surrounding the place as I rode past. I assume it’s a prison. Maybe it’s one used by the CIA for “rendition” purposes? (That should get a few page views from the NSA!)

Explosion? My water heater kind of blew up, gushing water all over the bathroom. It made a loud pop when it blew, sort of like a champagne cork. I couldn’t find the main shut-off valve and I was getting kind of frantic. I ran downstairs and got Brahim, the building super, to come help me, and eventually we found the valve. I’m lucky I was home when it happened. It hasn’t been fixed yet, but the nephew of the lady who owns the apartment (she lives in the Netherlands) is coming over sometime this morning to see what’s up with it. A fellow already came by and said that I need a new tank (obvious); now the only question is who’s going to pay for it. It should be the apartment owner, but I hope I don’t have to get into a hassle about it. In the meantime, my Peace Corps experience is coming in handy–I heat water on the stove for doing dishes and taking “bucket showers.” Not an undue burden, but a nuisance nonetheless. More later.

Fes, Bike Ride and Cartoons

Yes, I did go to Fes last Thursday to do the workshop with the Peace Corps volunteers. There were 10 participants, all sharp and eager, as most PC volunteers are. I do enjoy working with them whenever I can. It was my first journey in a Moroccan taxi, and it reminded me quite a bit of my bush taxi adventures in Benin during my time in the Peace Corps. Six passengers were crammed in, 2 in front (plus the driver) and 4 in the back, but it wasn’t bad since it’s only about a 45 minute drive from Meknes to Fes, and it only cost about $2. It was a beautiful day and I would have liked to stay in Fes for a few hours after the workshop, but I was lugging around 40 pounds of books and I had to get back to Meknes, since I was expecting a fax from the Embassy in Rabat concerning reimbursement for my trip to Marrakech some time ago to do a similar workshop. Below are a few pictures of the volunteers, and if any volunteers or friends and family want to see more, click HERE.

After a couple of days of cold and rain, yesterday was gorgeous–mild temperature (about 55) and fluffy clouds cruising across the blue sky. For some reason, when it rains and I stay inside, I find that my pants start shrinking. Perhaps it’s something in the water when I wash them (or in the pastries 😉 ). At any rate, I decided to get some exercise and take a bike ride into the countryside. With all the rain, the vegetation is greening up very nicely. I got kind of a late start, leaving around 2:30 p.m., so I didn’t go a long way out, perhaps 3 miles beyond the edge of the city. That’s not counting the 5 or 6 miles from my apartment to the edge of the city. I brought along my small, somewhat crappy digital camera, not my good Canon, so if the photos are not up to snuff, that’s my excuse. Here’s a few and there are a couple more on the Photo Gallery. This week’s weather is forecasting sunny skies and temperatures approaching 70 degrees, so I plan to make a more extended ride soon.

This young man is watching over his family’s flock of sheep. He looks pretty serious. There are quite a few people here who don’t like getting their picture taken. This kid was ok with it, but I gave him a couple of dirhams anyway.

According to an Indian newspaper, 4,000 Moroccans demonstrated in Rabat over the “cartoon crisis.” I’ve also read that one of the Rabat papers printed an editorial that slammed the French and called for boycotting their products, but another one actually published one of the cartoons and is now under investigation. I also saw this quote on the BBC News website:

“They want to test our feelings,” protester Mawli Abdul Qahar Abu Israra told the BBC. “They want to know whether Muslims are extremists or not. Death to them and to their newspapers,” he said.

No comment necessary. Meknes, though, has been quiet, as far as I know. There has probably been as much outrage over the football team’s early exit from the Africa Cup. More later.

Football Match

The Africa Cup is currently being contested for in Cairo, with 16 teams making the cut, 4 in each division. Today I watched the match between Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) on my somewhat fuzzy TV, reception being what it is with only a pair of rabbit ears. I opened up my window, despite the slight chill in the air, because I wanted to listen to the neighborhood’s reaction when (and if) the Moroccan team scored. About the middle of the second half, down 1-0, it appeared that they had finally put the ball in the net. Yup, people in all the surrounding cafes erupted with shouts and cries of joy. I dare say most of Meknes and, indeed, most of Morocco, were tuned to the match. Alas, the camera angle only made it look like a goal; the ball actually went wide, hitting a supporting pole and bouncing into the back outside of the net. Morocco went on to lose by the same margin, 1-0. I’m sure the whole country is disappointed. But, they play again on Tuesday against Egypt and then a few days later against Libya. If they can come back to win those two games, there is a good likelihood that they will move on to the quarterfinals.

Saif left a comment on the “Feast Day . . ” entry asking why I didn’t post the photo he took of me with the sheep. Well, even though I love taking photos, I’m a bit camera shy myself, but, if you’re interested,click here.