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You Talk About Your Politics and I Wonder if You Could be One of Them

MOROCCO | Saturday, 12 July 2014 | Views [206]

 On Wednesday, we had about half an hour to eat lunch because at 1:00 we needed to go visit the Moroccan parliament as a field trip for poli sci. I've clearly gotten accustomed to my longer lunches, because despite half an hour being plenty of time to eat, I felt robbed of my chance to go to the library and/or read quietly outside. (After the first week or two, lunches became relatively quiet, with most people using that as an opportunity to catch up on Internet and last-minute poli sci homework.) 

For a bit, the route we were taking matched the route I used to get to school every day. So I was a little surprised when people were going “Oh! What's that building over there? A church? Really?” (My host father had pointed it out the second day, saying “église” and pointing to the cross at the top.) I also spent some time trying to convince Nathan that this was a valid route to get back to our house. Natasha and Cynthia live such that to get from the center to their homes, you take a right, walk for a while, then take a left and walk for a while before turning into the street that their houses are on. Nathan, Erika, and I live further from them, so when they turn itno the Mdina, we take another left and walk for a long time. Right, left, left. It seems like there should be a better way to do that. (I'm actually not sure if it's better. It's probably faster, but more confusing.)

Depending on your perspective, the Moroccan parliament had either poor security or really really good security. There was a metal detector that we didn't need to go through, and even when someone did, it would start beeping as they walked away. They asked if we had cameras, but didn't seem interested in smart phones as a photographic tool. So that part was a little underwhelming. On the other hand, we were in easy sight of a security guard carrying an assault rifle.

We had a guide come, and he led us through a fairly European hallway. The tiles were black and white and laid out like knitter's graph paper (the width isn't quite equal to the height) with four smaller squares per large one. The rugs they did have were a vibrant red, but those were restricted to the side, underneath a table and surrounded by low red couches. The entire parliament was supposed to be a blend of European, Berber, and Arab influences, and this room was particularly inspired by Rococo.

We left the hallway to go stand outside and pose for a picture. (Like I said, they only cared about whether or not you had cameras, not whether or not you could take pictures.) From here, we could see the Hotel Balima where we'd stayed the first day. I'm not going to claim to be an expert by any sense of the term, but it is heartening to remember how confused I was my first day in Morocco and how much more easily everything is going.

Our parliamentary guide was the one to take the picture. He must have taken about twenty, taking three at a time and then taking another step closer to snap some more. He stopped before he started taking portraits, though. (Natasha would later say that she'd gotten bored and decided she shouldn't be smiling in all the pictures, so in about a fifth of them she was making a funny face.)

We went back inside, and posed in front of the coat of arms of Morocco.

 The Moroccan Coat of Arms

The one in the parliament looks a lot like this, only gentler. The gold, red , and green that appear in the standard image were replaced by pink and lilac. I must preferred that version, though I'm not sure why an image that includes two lions with claws extended would be going for “gentle.”

With pictures taken, we went up a flight of stairs, pausing in the middle for a description of a poster hanging near the ceiling. The upstairs was, as Megan phrased it, “painfully French.” There were red curtains, more red rugs (some of them plain, so they don't even have the Moroccan touch there) and mirrored sides of the stairs. We needed to step closer to the heart of the building to see the non-European influence.

Here I saw the first mosaics of the building. It was on the floor, so it almost didn't count. They also had Moroccan art on the walls, all of it abstract. Which makes sense if you consider why so many buildings have mosaics as the primary mode of decoration. They've relaxed the “no images of anything” considerably, but more of the art has been abstract than realistic.

Through that room, there were photographs of the presidents of the parliament from its start in 1963 to 2014. We got a bit of a history lesson, including biographical information about some of them. The rest of the information was more like “look how many of them only served in this capacity for 2 years. This period (roughly 1963-1977) was a period of considerable political unrest.”

We kept walking, and then we were in the major chamber. It was stunning. I could finally appreciate what the Medersa in Fez or the mosque in Meknes must have looked like when they were newly built. The parliament had the same mosaic designs, and carved stone with Koranic verses, and wooden floral patterns that are so common. Only everything was new and fresh and shiny.

The first two rows had seats that were a dark orange. These were reserved for ministers, while everyone else had to sit in yellowish chairs. We didn't test the yellow chairs, but the orange ones were pretty comfortable.

In front of each chair was a small table-ish area with a microphone. The only word with Roman characters was “Bosh,” and everything else was defendant on images. There was a speak button, a volume up, down, and probably mute. Then there was what looked like an old, non-cell phone and an outline of the bus t of someone. It seems like one of those should be “phone a friend,” except that that's not a terribly useful feature in parliament.

In front of me was a two-dimensional braid made out of wood. It looked like a boxier version of a Celtic braid. The only splash of color was the Moroccan flag in the middle of the braid.

It was about that point that it hit me that I was sitting in a seat in the Moroccan parliament.Add that to the list of things I never expected to do but did anyway.

Overall, the room was decorated with straight lines. There were the mosaics. There were the boxy braids. There was the wood and stone engravings. There was a domed ceiling which looked like it had circular curves until you examined it closely and realized it was just a polygon.

The biggest exception to this came with the clocks. (A building that looks like a new version of a five-hundred year old building, and I notice the clocks. Go figure.) They were circular, with LEDs lighting up along the edge to show the hour, minute and seconds. If you could tear your eyes away from everything else in the room, you could get mesmerized by the second hand in the clock. But, in case you just wanted to check the time quickly and not count the seconds that the speaker was talking, the center did display the time in Arabic numerals.

Another sign of modernity, though not curves, were the two large flat screen TVs to either side of the podium area. (The podium area looked a bit like my city hall, if those dozen or so seats were raised to be several meters above the ground, another chair and microphone were added in the layer underneath that, and on the layer underneath that there was a podium where someone would stand to give a speech, separated from the ground by a couple of steps.)

Decently above the ground (there must be a flight of stairs somewhere leading up to it) was a box with a wooden lattice around it. If this were an old school or house, that is where the women would be, so that they could look down at the men below without themselves being seen. Since this is a modern-day parliament, that's where reporters can sit for the same purpose. It is dreadfully important to protect the modesty of reporters.

When we'd looked around for a bit, and asked some question, we had a few more pictures taken of us sitting in the seats, then we went up one by one to take pictures of us at the podium. We took two, one with a smiling, pleasant, face, and the other angrily proving our point. When our politics professor got up there for his pictures, he kept a steady stream of conversation going, getting more vehement about his point after the first picture was shot. These, along with the other pictures from the day, would be put on “the group Facebook page,” despite such a page not seeming to exist. (We found out that meant that these pictures would be sent to IES, which would decide which one of them they wanted to put on the page they'd create.)

After that, it was time for us to leave Parliament, because it was time for them to close up. (Ramadan. Everything ends early then. Also, really happens during Ramadan. I've had multiple Moroccans express dismay that we were seeing the country during Ramadan as opposed to the rest of the year.) We got back with plenty of quiet reading/Internet browsing time before Arabic class. Even if we hadn't, it would have been worth it.

Tags: clocks, mosaics, parliament, pictures

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