Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spontaneous Combustion

We knew before we came that it would be hot here, but nothing prepared me for how it would actually feel. We’ve made mental maps of places to buy water, and we consistently take the bus for distances we might walk in cooler weather. Still, the heat is draining and leaves me dazed. As we walk past amazing historic sites, look at medieval manuscripts, and listen to hypnotic drum beats, a little voice in the back of my head keeps screaming “It’s SO HOT here!”

After we left Fes, we stopped to see the ancient Roman ruins in Volubilis. Since I teach about the Roman Empire, I had been particularly looking forward to seeing this site. Yet there I was, alternating between admiring the mosaic floors and scouting out patches of shade. For a time, we huddled under the central victory arch to avoid the sun. While we did then have a discussion of the function of the keystone in architecture, I couldn’t help feeling like a baby – how could I be in this amazing place and whine about how I was sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat?

Then Youness told us that it was at least 40 C (104F).

As we headed south and into the desert, it only got hotter. Here there was sand to combat, too. I’d thought Azeb was exaggerating when she’d told us during orientation that the fine sand would work its way into everything on down to the chapstick in our purses. Yet, lo and behold, there it was, seeping through cracks and into all of our belongings. We rode over the dunes on dromedaries – I’d called them camels at first, but the guides corrected me – and saw the most breathtaking sunset. After dinner, my roommate and I got ready for bed and started to find the sand everywhere: between the postcards that had been inside my (closed) purse, on her computer keyboard, and yes – even in the chapstick. As I started to fold the pants I’d been wearing, a river of sand poured out onto the floor. I could even taste it in my mouth, kind of like the feeling you have after going to the dentist for a cleaning.

Youness said it was closer to 110F here.

Today, we explored the Martian vistas of the desert in 4x4s and visited small villages. One of our stops was to hear the most amazing, hypnotic music – I’m not sure if the Pigeons du Sable CD will sound as good as the music did in real life, but I’m hoping that my students will be able to enjoy it all the same. We then returned to the hotel, where the towering statues of camels by the front entrance reminded me of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s study of Las Vegas. With the afternoon free, members of the group scheduled massages and visits to the hammam. I couldn’t imagine wanting to go into a sauna, but my muscles were sore after being curled up in a bus seat for our 7-hour drive down to Merzouga. As I stretched out, I discovered that the table was – what else – heated. The massage also featured both a jaunty pair of paper underwear and an ample supply of argan oil, which the bottles in the lobby said was good for treating a variety of issues ranging from asthma to insomnia to erectile dysfunction.

At the end of the day, I retreated back to the room. I thought about my organs cooking from the inside out and about how good it was that I’d made a spontaneous purchase of the most ridiculously huge hat for the trip. Stylish it is not, but it’s been a lifesaver. And as for spontaneous combustion, well, it could happen tomorrow.


  1. Getting used to the heat is always difficult, and one can easily see why many cultures who developed in such heat also spend the hottest part of the day napping or at least resting in the shade.

    The sand is another issue entirely. I can see how even living near the beach in Southern California wouldn't prepare you for the invasiveness of the grit you are experiencing. I shutter to think of all of the sensitive little knick knacks that I use on a day to day basis here in the US, and how they would fare in such an environment...

  2. I shouldn't comment about how it's been unusually cool here in Colorado this week due to the rain. That would be mean. However you have bragged about how wonderfully hot California is when I've been freezing so yeah... heat isn't so wonderful now, is it? ^_^

  3. Jaime! It's funny that we were just discussing how the sand gets everywhere in your neighborhood, but this is even worse since it's so fine. Some people's cameras even stopped working.

    AM: I know, I know -- I love warm weather, but there's a difference between warm and suffocating. :P