le trajet (trah jay)
: trip, journey
Le trajet à Marrakesh était un veritable parcours du combattant!
The ride to Marrakesh was a real obstacle course!
A Day in a French Moroccan Life... by Kristin Espinasse
The Motorway to Marrakesh
When Jean-Marc was asked to be témoin, or best man, in the marriage of a childhood friend, he could not refuse the honor--never mind the delicate timing (during our busy wine harvest!) or the not-so-convenient location: Afrique!
No sooner had our plane arrived in Morocco's "Red City" than I began to suspect that the town's colorful synonym had something to do with blood, for the ride from the airport to the hotel was nothing short of a death march.
I stared out the shuttle window at fellow travelers along a chaotic chemin (was it a highway or an expressway?). It couldn't be an autoroute... or why would 5 lanes of traffic include both man and animal? By 'man', I mean homo pedestrian, and, by animal... well, there were camels and donkeys and dogs... and monkeys walking along the expressway, too!
There on the outskirts of the airport, we were one great procession, weaving, wobbling, crawling (were those toddlers teetering on the curb of the express way? Mon Dieu!) ...zipping, shrieking, and honking our way forward, toward the setting sun.
As the sky darkened, the fragile human and animal pèlerinage began to fade into the background, where streetlights ...when alight... cast a faint lumière on the surreal atmosphere.
Our bus lurched forward, yanked to and fro by the whim of its heavy-handed operator, who seemed faintly amused by his passengers' terror.
Between gasps, puffs, and more sharp intakes of air, I evacuated my fear, to the amusement of those more experienced passengers. The man in the front seat, on hearing me, began a game with the driver, so that each time a member of pedestrian traffic was spared, he shouted: râté! ("damn, missed that one!"). His macabre sense of humor only goaded the driver, who homed in a little closer, each time, to the living, breathing "obstacles".
From my unsecured seat (no ceintures, or seat belts!) facing the menacing windshield, I watched as entire families were transported on a single moped: father (in a protective helmet) at the helm of the rickety scooter, followed by baby, then wife. (The babies--for this wasn't the first family aboard a moped!--were sandwiched in between the driver and the veiled mother--neither of which wore safety headgear!)
Criss-crossing the swaying flow of traffic, were the elderly and the disabled... who seemed to have wandered onto the highway from a hospital bed somewhere.... I watched a blind man (he would have had to have been aveugle to have ventured into this death trap) navigate across the traffic lanes, with the help of his cane!
Arriving at a roundabout the traffic lanes narrowed and I heard scraping... I turned to see the metal bite of a donkey rubbing against our bus's window as the fellow travelers (our bus and the donkey) squeezed together when the lanes merged, or bottle-necked.
Wait! No! But! Ahhhh! Gosh! Eek! Oh!.... I gasped.
"Raté!" the sadistic copilot shouted, in mock disappointment, and I saw that the donkey's hooves were spared from the bus tires. But I could take no more. I closed my eyes and thought about my childhood in Arizona, where drivers stayed to the very center of the wide traffic lanes. If a driver needed to change lanes, he first made his intentions known by deploying what, in America, we call a "turn signal" or "blinker" (a bright light that flashes a clear-as-day warning to surrounding motorists). As for fellow motorists ("motor" being key), in America we classify as "traffic" the collective presence of vehicles (mobile machines with four--or sometimes two--wheels and an engine) on a given road. And people are not normally considered vehicles, indeed, walking anywhere near a motorway meant that you would be committing a crime punishable by law (JAYWALKING!).
Speaking of crime, where were the traffic police? Who were the powers that be that were supposed to be watching over this swaying, scraping, uncontained menagerie? What about safety?
I leaned forward to inquire about traffic statistics, specifically incidents of death: "Just how many accidents mortels happen each year?" I asked the driver.
"No accidents!" he insisted.
"No accidents?" Just then I watched another near-miss, when a scooter slipped sideways between a donkey-drawn carriage and a truck... were those feathers flying out of the truck bed? Was that a squawk? And what about the poor souls hidden from view--the casualties who were on their way to becoming casualties (or the chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse?) Didn't they count, too?!
"No accidents!" the driver insisted, and I noticed his conviction, which was backed up by his own testimony. Looking out over the streaming sea of innocents, some old, some young, some furry, some bent, he announced.
"God is protecting us."
Well, I couldn't argue with that. Whispering "amen", I stared, with awe, out the window, at the fragile-yet-confident travelers, who advanced toward the hazy horizon, beyond which the mysterious universe traveled on and on.
le témoin = best man, witness
Afrique = Africa
le chemin = road
l'autoroute (f) = motorway, expressway
le pèlerinage = pilgrimmage
râté! = missed (target)
la ceinture = seat belt
aveugle = blind
accident mortel = deadly accident
Sara Midda's South of France is a place of ripening lemons and worn espadrilles, ochre walls and olive groves, and everything born of the sun. It lies between the Mediterranean and the Maritime Alps, and most of all in the artist's eye and passion. Read the glowing reviews, click here.
In film: Paris Je T'aime Paris I love You.
The shop sign reads "drivers school". Do you have a minute to read another story... about learning to drive in France? I'll never forget the smug feeling of driving to my driving school class... only to feel humbled, when I had to sit beside the 17-year-old students (at 38, I had been driving for almost 20 years! Yet... it was necessary to pass the French drivers exam. Read the story "Conduire" here.
THANKS, to those of you who wrote in, in response to my story about the search for a good "skin doctor"! I am moved by your caring words, as former patients and as friends and family of those who have had an experience with skin carcinoma. Thanks also to the doctors who took the time to write in with encouragement and helpful information. Update: this picture was taken 6 months after my surgery. More about that scar on my forehead, here.
Thank you for the time you've spent reading my column. If you have learned more than a little vocabulary here and find yourself looking forward to the next story, please know that ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue doing what I love most: sharing these missives from France. Your support is vivement apprécié! Donating via PayPal is fast and easy when you use the links below. Merci infiniment! Kristi