It’s raining again this morning , after a truly beautiful day yesterday. Alas. At least it’s not SNOWMAGEDDON, or snowpocalypse, or snowbliteration, like I’m hearing from my Facebook friends on the East Coast.

Since it was a beautiful day here yesterday, I went truly crazy and actually left the house. Twice. And for once, everything went smoothly, with not a foul change-eating stamp machine nor an evil train track to besmirch the beauty of this faux spring day. Hooray.

Excursion #1: gym and bookstore. Wherein I managed to complete my workout without falling off the machine or getting reprimanded for not complying with their obscure small print. Excellent.

I then decided to push my luck by continuing on to the bookstore. Going shopping post-work out and pre-meal is always an iffy prospect for this queen of low blood sugar, but the day was sunny and almost warm — if you walked briskly uphill in the full sun while wearing a sweater and jacket — and I couldn’t bear going back to the hobbit hole just yet. So I staved off my hunger with an apple and a much-hoarded Luna bar, and ventured into the wilds of the Chiado shopping center near our flat. Once there, I took the escalator into the depths of FNAC, a giant chain music/electronics/mobile phones/books/everything you could possibly want store, in search of an English guide book to Morocco.

Quick interjection here: I have spent much of the past few days immersed in everything Morocco. We are planning a week-long trip there in the end of March, and to tell you the truth, I am scared stiff a little nervous. I am easily over-stimulated and overwhelmed by crowds, and so far almost all the descriptions I’ve read of Morocco have included the words “overwhelming” and “sensory overload.” Great. How much Xanax do I have here again?!

So I have resorted to my favorite defense: learning. When I am nervous about something, I build up my defenses by reading and planning, thinking and sorting, as if by doing so I can more easily deal with reality when confronted by it. Usually this technique only meets with limited success, as words on a page are far different than boisterous, loud, all-consuming reality — which is the reason I resort to them in the first place. Ah, the Catch-22.

As a side effect though, this coping technique does teach me an awful lot, and sometimes my fear gets caught up in my curiosity to learn more. As I have read about Morocco in an attempt to prepare myself for our trip, I have found myself becoming fascinated by its history and people, and hungry to discover more about them. How can I resist the former pirate kingdom of Rabat, built on the river Bou Regreg? Or the pictures of the most unlikely modern objects being transported through the medina via donkey? Quite simply, I can’t.

While I’m still nervous, I am also looking forward to the challenges of this trip, to testing the limits of my newly-expanded comfort zone. If we had gone there before living in Lisbon, I think I would have been much less able to deal with such a trip. Hell, even what dirt and disorder there is here made me cry on the day we arrived! But after living with the mad and shambolic beauty of this place for nearly six months now, I have grown more comfortable with it, or at least better accustomed to feeling overwhelmed and out of control. True, I still have days where I need to hide in the hobbit hole — which is precisely why I am putting a lot of effort into finding a nice, calm, beautiful place for us to stay in Fez so that I will have a place of retreat when it gets to be too much for me. After about five minutes. Sigh.

To that end, I went to FNAC in search of a guidebook. All I found in English was a Rough Guide for 28 euros… nearly $40! No thanks. They can’t tell me that much that I can’t find out online. Undaunted, I tried the next weapon in my arsenal: the nearby independent bookstore, which I had secretly been wanting to support instead of the monster chain anyway.

This bookstore, which has been in existence since before our country was a country, is truly wonderful. From the looks of it, over the centuries they’ve expanded into one store after another, knocking the dividing walls down to create a long, skinny, multi-chambered store that runs along half a block in the upscale Chiado shopping district. Each room is dedicated to certain types of books, and you have to walk through at least four of them before getting to the tourism and foreign language section.

I gladly walked that gauntlet, taking in the smell of new books and old walls — even though I love my Kindle, I still miss the physicality of books, the possession of them, as my French friend would say. I soon honed in on the relevant section, where I found a pocket guide to Fez for only 10 euros. Perfect, in size, subject, and price.

I traipsed back up to the register with my prize, trying not to get sucked in by all the Portuguese translations of books I recognized. The nice clerk (such an oxymoron here!) rang me up and helpfully translated the price into English, since the guidebook I was buying was after all written in that language. I thanked her, and told her in my version of Portuguese that numbers were the hardest to learn.

I then built on my triumph by asking her if they would be getting any bigger guidebooks to Morocco any time soon. Even though I think half the sentence was in French, she still understood me, and replied that they would be getting more travel books in now that it’s spring, so I should check back in a month or so. That’s too late to help with planning our trip, but so what — I managed to ask a question and get a friendly, intelligible reply in Portuguese! Yessssss. I now heart independent bookstores even more than before.

Much satisfied with my progress, I walked home through the increasingly warm early afternoon, and proceeded to devour both my lunch and the small guidebook when I got home. I soon had to tear myself away from looking at the panoply of amazing riads and dars in the Fez medina so that I could go to my Portuguese lesson — which made for excursion #2 of the day.

To my intense relief, we quickly moved on from the imperative to discuss more important things, such as when the Lisboan gay pride parade happens (June 19!) and which type of prostitute frequents which area. The imperative, alas, still makes no sense to me whatsoever, so I guess I won’t be bossing anyone around any time soon — at least not using proper grammar.

Speaking of fabulous parades: on my way home, I stopped in a costume store that I’d spotted along the way. Since Carnaval is next week (or this week and next week, if you’re in Rio), the place was jam packed, looking a lot like the party goods stores at home during the last week of October. Madness! There was a line of about ten people, all buying elaborate costumes or just simple masks — couples, parents, kids, the whole lot. Even though I left empty-handed, I was vastly entertained by these frenetic and enthusiastic preparations for what is clearly a major holiday here. I have a feeling that whole new level of over-stimulation awaits me next Tuesday…!

So there you go: a day with two excursions, one purchase, and zero cultural or linguistic mishaps. Rapid progress indeed!

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