Ink Dribblers

The meaning of Rape

An interesting comment from Dan Hewins on my recent post Raped in Paris, Paris is a Whore.
In his comment Dan said

Please read this and maybe rethink the way you use the word “rape.”–_but_our_culture_has_stripped_the_word_of_its_power/

It’s a good point. Reading the article certainly made me consider all of the horrors that rape is associated with. Certainly, my banks taking away access to my money and leaving me penniless in a foreign country doesn’t have the same impact as being sexually violated.
I never said it did though. My first language is English and unlike the French, there is no institution that polices the english language with fascist intensity such as l’academie de francais.
English is a constantly growing and expanding language. The words fag, armageddon, and even rape are constantly growing and changing in English. And in English, when a word is needed, we find one. I would point to the term sexual assault or the phrase sexually violated, or a thousand others that actually are more specific and appropriate than the word rape.
In point of fact the original definitions were more akin to my usage:

4. an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation: the rape of the countryside.
5. Archaic. the act of seizing and carrying off by force.

Or there are other usages:

a plant, Brassica napus, of the mustard family, whose leaves are used for food for hogs, sheep, etc., and whose seeds yield rape oil.
the residue of grapes, after the juice has been extracted, used as a filter in making vinegar.

The original origins are this:

[Middle English, from rapen, to rape, from Old French raper, to abduct, from Latin rapere, to seize; see rep- in Indo-European roots.]

And never mind that broom rape, rape cake, rape root, and summer rape have nothing to do with sexual assault.
So again, I may be a Philistine but I stand by my usage. Thanks Dan.


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Being the Fool… The Zero card in Tarot

Recently I was couchsurfing with my friend Rafael in Brussels and we had a great conversation about Tarot cards. One of the reasons we hit it off, I think, is because of a mutual appreciation for the zero card in the deck. In France it is called Le Mat, in some decks it is called The Vagabond, but in most decks I’ve used it’s been called The Fool.
I’m glad that we were able to have the conversation as it makes life much easier for me to comprehend right at this moment. I’ll explain why in a second, but first I have to tell you why this card has always resonated with me.

The tarot deck, to me, is the story of a journey and that journey is life. All of the cards represent different situations, feelings, or people we encounter along that journey and when they are presented in a certain way, they can bring great insight into what it is that our lives need or don’t need at any given time.
The Fool is the person setting out on the journey. It represents taking a step into the unknown. The first deck I ever used showed a young guy taking a walk and lifting his foot for the next step while he gazed up at the clouds above. Because he is so intent on the beauty above, he doesn’t notice that his next step will take him off a cliff. Slightly below the cliff is a cloud that obscures what will happen when he takes the fateful step. I’ve always seen this as being multiple possibilities. Maybe he steps off the cliff and dies, maybe the cloud actually supports his weight and he goes on a journey to the sky he is looking at, maybe the cliff is only a small fall, maybe there is water underneath that takes him to another land…the possibilities are endless.
The point of all of this is that if you don’t take a childlike view of the world, ignore the dangers, and take that first fateful step, you will never know. And sometimes, like the beauty of the sky above, we have to be tricked into taking that fateful step and we have to go for it.

Why am I glad to have this inspiration right now? Easy. I’m a fool.

A friend told me about a job that sounded dreamlike. It was urgent that I act quickly. I took the step. I spent my tiny reserves of cash to bring myself to the job. Or as close to the job as my cash would get me.
And today I found out that there is no job and hasn’t been for several weeks.
So what do I do now? Do I cry and moan and bitch and blame my friend? Do I simply ignore the tickets, write off the money, and try to find something here in Morocco?
I take the step that’s what. I’m a fool and I have no idea what lies ahead of me on this journey, but I’ve already lifted my proverbial foot and even though I see the cliff, I’m definitely going to step off of it.
So…things are only starting to get interesting.


10 Ways to Ruin your Blog

There are a billion or so blogs that are dedicated to affiliate marketing, niche oriented content, whoring themselves to search engines, and filling the internet with ever so much crap. For the past couple of hours, I’ve been looking at ways to increase my traffic, increase revenues, increase visibility, and find success as a blogger.
My conclusion is that all of the things listed above are the reason that I hate the internet. If all of those sites disappeared, I don’t think anyone would miss them. Or maybe I’m just a misanthrope.
Here are the things I hate to see when I find a blog and keep in mind, these are all the things that are most highly recommended to make your blog successful in all the crap I’ve been reading today. So without further ado, here are the 10 things you won’t see me doing at
1) Place tons of adsense or other ads all over the site. Especially ads that ‘blend in’ and trick you away from what you came to see.
2) Use highly thought out titles designed to increase visibility to search engines
3) Become a top commentator on a popular blog like ‘shoemoney’ and spend more time there to get people to your site than you spend on your own content
4) Find a specific niche and stick to it, don’t let your interests wander as they naturally should if you are a human being
5) ‘Pimp your blog’ with a catchy theme
6) Write your content for the possibility of your Google Pagerank increasing instead of for your readers
7) Use long tailed keywords
8) Detail your site for search engine optimization
9) Pay people to comment on your blog
10) Get so focused on making your blog good that it stops being about you.
As I said, you won’t see me doing these things. I spent several hours looking at all the possibilities and my conclusion is that I don’t know why my blog doesn’t get more attention since it is filled with interesting things and great photos, but that’s just the way it goes. Probably the reason I rank so low is because I am not a blog whore. A part of me wants to be, but I just don’t have it in me.
As always, your comments and assistance in promoting this blog or improving it are welcomed.


Update: Italy. Bergamo better than Milano. Ryan Air sucks.

I left Belgium on Ryan Air from “Brussels South” airport. It was my first time flying Ryan Air and as an airline, it is by far the worst I have flown. I booked the tickets through a promotion they had where the flight from “Brussels” to “Milano” was 10 Euros and the flight from “Milano” to Fes was 24 Euros.

Classic bait and switch. The taxes and fees (10 Euros for checked bag, 5 Euros for online check in, etc etc) and by the end, the cost was 200 Euros for both tickets. Plus, it turns out “Brussels South” is actually more than an hour from Brussels by bus so that is another 13 Euros, plus they never bother to say that the airport is this far from actual Brussels. Same thing with flying to Milano, it is about an hour train trip to Milano. On board the flights, they try to sell you everything…nothing is free on Ryan Air. No in flight entertainment, no magazine (unless you pay for it), no free snacks (not even water or peanuts), and if you simply try to get into a book, the flight attendants are hawking make-up, lottery tickets, and other things every five minutes during the flight.

Sure, overall pretty cheap and efficient even with the fees, but not what they are advertising and as for the feeling of flying being special, it is less special and less comfortable with Ryan Air than it is on good old Greyhound.

Okay, the view of the Alps as we flew over beat anything from a Greyhound…

With that rant out of the way, I had been unable to find a couch in Milano because there was a convention of interior designers there during the period I was going. I figured, I would find something when I arrived, but I figured all the hostels and hotels would be full too. So when I realized I was right next to Bergamo, which I had never heard of, I decided it was better to go there. The bus was a couple of Euro, Ryan Air had been selling tickets for 10 Euro. Shysters.

Anyway, I used the internet in the Italian airport and found that e-fascism is alive and well in Italy. You have to register with your passport if you use a computer in the airport or in an internet cafe. Not only that, it is expensive. Anyway, I paid a Euro for five minutes, found a hostel address in Bergamo and set out.

Bergamo was incredibly nice. Beautiful in fact. The hostel was full, I was referred to the tourist office who told me everything was full because of the interior design thing, the lady at the Bergamo tourist office called a second hostel that was 3 km outside of town. They had one bed left and she reserved it for me. I literally got the last bed in town.

She gave me directions to get there and finally I arrived by bus. Absolutely beautiful hostel and setting. Again, expensive internet, but I wasn’t complaining. A hostel in Milano would have been 45 Euros and probably not very good, here it was 18 Euros per night. They managed to do some juggling and booked me for 3 nights, each night in a different room. No problem for me.

I asked the clerk to suggest a walk to me and she told me to walk to the Cialto Alta, the high city. It is a world heritage site. Very very nice place.

I noticed something in Italy that surprised me. The sky is different there. It really looks like all the paintings of the old masters. I always thought it was a style, but no, the sky is a little different color, the clouds are different. It’s really really amazingly beautiful.

So that was the first day. In the morning I woke up and trying to avoid all the interior design students the place was packed with, I sat on the Terrace while they sat inside and enjoyed a very nice breakfast looking across the valley at the Cialto Alta.

Then I walked to the train station and took a train to Milano (Milan). It cost about 4 Euros each way. I spent the day walking around Milan and to be honest, I was not impressed a bit. Milan has some decent but not spectacular architecture, in terms of the other places I’ve been, it was really a fairly flat, boring, not very interesting place. The main thing in Milan is the fashion houses and I could give a rats ass about them. I did buy a dress for Hanane while I was there and some scarves for her sisters, but that was all I had to do with fashion.

I visited the interior design expo for about 5 minutes and decided to leave. Some very snooty people all dressed to impress each other and really not looking all that great. Maybe I’m snooty too.

Milano is filled with men in suits that look too small for them.

I wandered into a down and out outlying area and found a pizza shop where they spoke no english and got a nice slice of pizza. Okay, it was amazing. Not as good as Lily’s Pizza in Raleigh, North Carolina, but better than Chicago or New York pizza.

Then I caught the train back to Bergamo, stopped and had the best ice cream I have ever had. Italian Gelatto is the best in the world…at least in my experience.

My last day I was happy to wander around Bergamo reading a bad science fiction novel I had picked up in Brussels, sitting in parks, going to an archeology and natural history museum,

going inside one of the most beautifully painted cathedrals I’ve seen anywhere,

and doing a lot of people watching. There was a jazz festival I was thinking of checking out, but by the time I got back to the hostel, I had done a lot of walking and decided to simply do my laundry, shower, finish my book, and then walk to the nearest pasta place to get some Italian pasta.

Where is the water? we both asked. (Me and the monk in the picture)

This was one more strange experience. For some reason, nearly everything was closed but I finally found a pasta place that was open. I was surprised when I went in, it looked like a very nice place but all the waitstaff were Japanese girls that spoke no Japanese, only Italian and Spanish. They weren’t sisters, not related. I had gnocci and shrimp with pesto, a nice glass of wine, and sadly, they were out of Tiramisu so I ordered something from the dessert menu I had never seen.
I swear it was deep fried Mochi filled with peanut butter. Delicious, but I seriously doubt it is a real Italian dessert, Japanese maybe…anyway, real Italian pasta will have to happen another time.
Back to the hostel, a shower, packing, went to bed, and in the morning, woke up and took a bus to the airport where I caught a flight back to Fes (yes another Ryan Air flight, just as bad). Arriving in Fes I was met by Hanane and our friend Yassine. I made it through customs first since I was apparently the only passenger with his own pen, and here I am….it’s nice to be home….


Update: Vago's Paris

Paris is good for families!

Paris is like a whore you are in love with, you know that she will take your money and cheat you, her promises will be broke, but you still think she is beautiful and know that you will be back.

I saw much of the tourist Paris without going to the Louvre, taking a trip up the Eiffel Tower, visiting museums, or going to a burlesque show. No tours, no museums, and no cafes with overpriced food. I’m not complaining though, actually, I’m glad I was able to see Paris the way that I have seen her.

I don’t think Paris is as exquisite a city as Barcelona. Granada has better graffiti. Since I’ve spent time in Morocco first, sometimes it’s hard not to think that Paris cafes are strange versions of Moroccan ones where the women join the men smoking cigarrettes in crowded rows of chairs looking only one direction: outward.

I arrived in Montparnasse station with a few hours before I could check in at the hostel, so I decided to drag my bags around and see if I could get lost for a while and in the process find my way to where I was going. Of course as mentioned before, my debit cards were shut off and the euros in my pocket were to pay for my hostel at the Caulaincourt Square Hostel in Montmartre. So a taxi or the metro weren’t really options anyway.

I’ve dragged my bags around a lot of cities and never run over anyone’s toes with them but in Paris somehow I managed to run over a dozen people’s toes in a single afternoon. This didn’t happen in New York, Chicago, Boston, Barcelona, Fez, Marrakech, or anywhere else. I have no idea why, perhaps French people have a unique ability to jam their feet underneath my bags. In any event, I expected to be assaulted in uptight French each time it happened because of the many stories about hostile Parisians I’ve heard in the past from foreigners and French alike, but no. Instead, each time I would look back and say excuse me and instead I would be greeted by hurt, droopy sad eyes as if they were saying to me “Why would you run over my toes like that?” In one situation I ran over a very large thuggish looking man’s toes and he simply looked at me pointed at his eyes and then at the ground, I was relieved as I really thought I might be done when I saw whose toes I had run over.

Parisians like New Yorkers have a totally undeserved bad rap. I don’t think the character of a people can change so completely and rapidly that this is a new thing. Nowhere in Paris did I find a person that wasn’t willing to help me, polite, or gracious. My poor French was accepted and even complimented. There are many things one can love about Paris, but I think her people may be at the top of the list.

Cleaning up toxic American assets?

To be honest, dragging bags around isn’t really the best way to see anyplace but still, crossing the Seine, getting my first look at the Eiffel Tower, wandering into Concorde, and just feeling this incredible sort of chaotic energy that exists was a nice introduction to a city that I’ve known existed for as long as I’ve lived. I think perhaps the first movie I remember seeing was Lady and the Tramp and as I recall, it takes place in Paris. Not to mention George Orwell, Tom and Jerry Cartoons, and every other cultural tic that gave a nod towards the city of lights. Actually, I might have seen Herbie the Love Bug before Lady and the Tramp but I don’t think that has anything to do with Paris…

Finally I made it to the Hostel, moved my bags to my room, used the free wi-fi to tgry to unravel my financial nightmare and then went to a grocery store where I bought the essentials with most of the rest of my money. Bread, cheese, salami, cigarettes, and wine.

I took a short walk out to see the Paris night but I was exhausted after dragging those bags around all day and so I went back to the hostel ate a salami sandwich, had a glass of wine, and crawled into my bunk before any of the other three occupants of the room had made themselves apparent. I put in my earplugs and slept like the dead until morning.

The hostel itself was somewhere in the middle. 25 Euro a night and included free breakfast. Had free wifi and only four people per dorm room. Cool funky place, nice location, and friendly staff. On the negative side, I was on the 4th floor (which is really the 5th floor in Europe since the ground floor is zero here) and there is no elevator. Not really a problem but a bit of a pain in the ass if you forget something in the room. The other downside was that the common area and kitchen are incredibly small and allow for perhaps two people at a time to prepare food.

She has the world on her shoulders

Breakfast was stellar and included juice, cereal, bread, jam, honey, croissant, petit baguette, coffee, and chocolate. Each day I ate two bowls of cereal and kept my breadgoods and condiments for later in the day.

My first full day in Paris, I decided to take a long walk and see what I could see. I walked through Montmartre.

Next I snapped photos of Madellaine.

I strolled through Concorde and down the Champs Elysees.

The Arc de Triumph was much larger than I expected. And it had less traffic than I expected from National Lampoon’s European Vacation.

Incidentally, Europe is filled with many ancient wonders but most of the major sights (except those that are of Arabic origin or leftovers of the dark ages) aren’t much older than the things you find in North America. In fact, lots of them are more recent. So I think it is time that Europeans who like to say that America has no sense of history or ancient origins should shut the fuck up. The Pueblos are as impressive as stonehenge and the famous landmarks of Europe mostly date from far to recently for anyone to have their nose raised into the air in such a manner. So for those of you who like to use this argument, I’d like you to shove it. However, I think the Arab world is completely justified in the same argument since they effectively ushered in the enlightenment and rescued Europe from the dark ages. Honestly, the most beautiful things I’ve seen in Europe have come from the Moors.

Now that my small rant is done, I can tell you I continued on and reached the Eiffel tower overlook next to the Museum of Man, which is probably an excellent museum of anthropology but which had an admission I couldn’t pay. I found a protest calling for something from someone at the overlook.

Then I did my best to capture photos that would be unique of one of the most photographed objects in the world.

I walked along the Seine’s banks.

I visited Invalides but was unable to visit the tomb of Napolean because of an admission fee. Like I would pay to visit a dead man.

I strolled along the left bank and found the interesting used book dealers who have small lockers there which they open up and then when the rain starts or the day is done close with a padlock.

To be fair, there are free museums in Paris, but I have seen enough museums in these past months and I didn’t care to visit them.

I walked around the Notre Dame Cathedral and avoided the gypsy women with twigs of rosemary by pretending to speak only Hawaiian.

I entered a free museum, but only to use the toilet.

I walked in a circle around the Bastille monument. The Bastille was the prison which the French destroyed on July 14, 1789 before declaring independence like their siblings across the water had done 13 years before. I don’t know that either country would be happy to hear it, but France and America are two sides of the same coin. Both arrogant, slutty, and beautiful. Both evil and high minded at the same time.

Oscar Wildes tomb is covered with lipstick kisses and sadly, someone broke the dick off his monument.

I visited the Pere Lachaise Cemetary. Not to visit Jim Morrison’s grave but to visit the grave of Oscar Wilde. I made a salami sandwich and sat in a part of the graveyard that wasn’t filled with guidebook wielding tourists. I have mixed feelings about tourism in general but tourism centered on the dead and buried strikes me as even stranger. There were many, many tourists. I was one of them, after all, even as I sat and arrogantly contemplated them.

It hit me that the voices of the living are the voices of the dead. We just don’t know we are dead yet, but we are. Everyone is. I found the cemetary to be the best part of Paris I had seen yet. the tourists sometimes carried colorful brochures advertising where the famous dead lay, incredibly strange and fascinating.

A long walk back to the hostel took me through Bellemont where a weekly souk that looked like it came straight from Morocco was going on. I’m glad that Paris reminds me of Morocco and not the other way around.

For dinner, another salami sandwich and a small salad of lettuce and tomatoes I picked up in the market. Several hours of internet use, the earplugs in again, but this time I met the other residents of the dorm room before going to sleep. A Russian, a Chilean, and a Mexican. Young guys, but nice.

The next day, as mentioned before I was raped by the money changers and then panhandled a bit and visited the Montmartre Cemetary.

I took a walk down side streets after dark and found an incredible little jazz club where six guys were creating some of the grooviest jazz I’ve ever heard. I don’t know the name of the place or the name of the group, but I opted to spend three and a half of my last Euros to buy a beer and sit there until they finished for the night. I nursed that beer. I know, I’m not the best Muslim, but if Allah didn’t exist between those notes then I’ve no idea where else he might be.

What is she telling these boys?

Incidentally, I think that the prohibition on alcohol is a good rule that is misunderstood. The point of not drinking is that when you drink too much you lose the ability to tell right from wrong and thus are unable to fathom the will of God. To my mind, there is no doubt that the will of God was for me to sit for hours in that little cafe, nurse that beer, and soak up that jazz.And as a Muslim, I am someone that willingly submits themselves to the will of God.

Back to the hostel where the dorm room was vacant and I sat writing while looking out the balcony window at the lights of Paris below. Sitting in that cafe and then looking at those lights are what made me see the true beauty of the whore that is Paris.

I woke the next day, emailed my friend Laila in Rotterdam that I was on my way and was overjoyed to find that my bank accounts were unfrozen. I took the Metro to the bus station and then it started to rain, just as I was leaving. This was a nice change from the rain beginning when I arrived and hearing all about the sunny day before.

So this is Vago’s Paris.

For those interested in seeing more photos you can go here.


Hillary Clinton laughing about Piracy

Here is a bizarre video of Hillary Clinton talking about Piracy, but she also goes on to mention a little known historical fact, that it was the nation of Morocco which was the first in the world to recognize the fledgling United States as a nation independent of England. I find this historical fact (which is totally accurate) slightly bizarre only because the United States has not reciprocated by allowing Moroccans to travel to the U.S. without a cumbersome visa policy today.


Morocco Therapy – Smart and Funny

Morocco has become very smart about using this crisis to promote itself as a tourist destination. As an example, have a look at this amazingly entertaining website. Perhaps this wil make clearer why I am not homesick for Hawaii but am for Morocco…of course, I have other reasons to miss my home.
Also I finally found a list of countries that Moroccan passport holders can visit without a visa. Here they are:
Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Libya, Turkey, Maldives, Senegal, Syria, Chad, Mali, Niger, Indonesia, Malaysia, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, South Korea, Hong-Kong, Seychelles, Singapore, Erythrea, Bolivia, Brazil, ….


In Thouars, France visiting the Interzone

This picture is from the interzone galleries and is called “Channel Interzone – watching you” by Paul O’Donovan.

I am in Thouars, France, a small town south of Paris visiting my friend Isabelle Aubert-Baudron, who was a friend of William S. Burroughs and facilitates and coordinates an organization called the interzone. Since I am not writing much at the moment, I suggest you explore the interzone here.
Izzy has calculated that if you were to visit all the pages of the interzone it would take you 15 days and nights with no sleep…so enjoy until I have the chance for more detailed updates.

Anthropology Travel

The Changing Face of Hostels

Last night was a very different hosteling experience for me than I’ve had. Read this description of this hostel and you might get the idea:

Living Lounge, Lisbon’s newest hostel, takes hostel art and traveling life to a whole new level.
Each double, single and dorm room at the hostel is aunique work of art, having been individually designed by local artists to reflect different elements of Lisbon’s rich culture.

Although every room is different, they have all been crafted with the same goal in mind:
providing our guests with supreme comfort, security and style during their stay.

Our hostel features a luxurious and spacious downstairs lounge area, providing the perfect place to sip a drink, listen to music and meet people from around the world. Upstairs we have a peaceful indoor garden room, a lovely place to bring a book and relax. Our guests are welcome to use our free WiFi internet, and our friendly staff can provide you with free maps and any tourist info you might need.
Living Lounge, opened in July 2008, is the newest project from the same group who own and operate the Lisbon Lounge Hostel, recently named the world’s best boutique hostel in The Times. With Living Lounge, we bring you the same high standards of quality and design but with an exciting new artistic concept.

While the luxury and comfort of the hostel are certainly nice, I’m not entirely sure that it works for me. Tonight I will be staying in this hostel:

Combining the charm of a historical building with the confort of modernity, we are located in the heart of the city, between the castle and Bairro Alto – the nightlife quarter – and a next to all the major transport networks.
This means you don´t have to waste your time and money to move around – the major historical and fun areas of Lisbon are all walking distance from the Home Hostel.
As our main concern is that you spend a perfect time with us, we have refurbished everything – new bathrooms with many showers so you don´t have to wait for your turn, a big kitchen were you can cook your own meals, a big living room to party and meet your fellow guests and most importantly, great beds in spacious rooms, all with balconies or big windows to the city.
OH and we can’t forget the Playstation 2, the Huge DVD collection and the FREE laundry service.
If all this wasn’t enough, we actually bake the bread for breakfast ourselves!

And then hopefully I can get back to some couchsurfing…I know this sounds odd, but if you create a fancy pants sort of atmosphere then you end up sitting in a hostel with french opera singers that drink too much and spoiled rich kids that are here because it is chic rather than because it is cheap. Last night this place turned into a sort of chic club where I didn’t really have the desire to get to know most of the people sitting around me…
It was hip and it was cool and as clubs and bars go, it was a very cool place, only problem is that all the coolness sort of got in the way of what I like about hostels in the first place….

Forget all about five star luxury hotels. Given the current economic situation they are bad taste right now. Instead you should rather find a charming hostel full of personality.
Hostels are no longer reserved the youth and backpackers as lots of them have smartened up with funky design and individual bathrooms. They have become a serious alternative to the more expensive hotels, and while the rest of the hotel business is complaining about missing guests, the worlds’ hostels have just had their best year ever, according to the membership organisation Hostelling International.
But where are those charming spots with clean rooms, a friendly owner and a central location? Lissabon seems to be the place to go. According to hostelworld, who just have rated the hottest hostels in the world by asking its 800,000 users, three out of the seven best hostels are located in the Portuguese capital.