Volubilis: The Roman City



 “Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye” *


They are hysterical with laughter.  When I say “Goodbye” they are hysterical with laughter.

Just moments before, they were angry.

The town of Moulay Idriss (pop 12,600) clings to rocky outcrops high above an agricultural plain in the north of Morocco.  After having visited the big cities, I decided, “This is the real Morocco.”  The bright white town and its inhabitants seem so exotic.

The town is perfect for a photo shoot.  Yet somehow, I sense that the local folks would object to being photographed, even if I ask permission.

When I arrive at the town square I decide to shoot the city hall.  But several women are seated nearby and in my field of vision.   I adjust my position and my camera lens.  But as soon as the shutter clicks, one of the women starts scolding me.

I indicate with my body language that I am surely apologetic and that I did not take their picture.  I decide to approach the group. 

“Shoof” I say.  Arabic for “take a look.”  They are impressed. This guy knows an Arabic word (one of about four).  The angry lady is mollified when I show her the recent photos on the LCD monitor.  I even sense that one or two in the group hint at a smile.

Then comes the inevitable barrage of questions:  What is your name?  Where do you come from?  How old are you?  How many children do you have?  Where is your wife?

I answer all the questions.  The smiles broaden.

Then comes the inevitable “proposal.” 

A mature woman in the group points to a younger woman and declares, “She is single.  She is beautiful, yes? She will be happy to marry you.”

Then it’s my turn to smile.  I ask my "fiancée" a question, “Can you cook?”

The group becomes excited.  We all agree that the girl is beautiful and must certainly be a great cook.  

“But,” I protest, “There is one problem.”

 “What problem?”  The ladies are puzzled 

I point to my grey hair.  And with one brief, subtle, but emphatic movement, I close my fist, move my arm up and down (the universally understood signal for male-female intimacy) and quietly and sincerely admit, “Maybe I cannot do too much.”   

That’s when the hysterics began.  And that’s when I made my ever so respectful departure. Leaving them laughing.

What am I doing in the town square of Moulay Idriss?  I am taking a slow walk after a huge lunch.  Salad, several kabobs of minced lamb, potatoes, vegetables, olives, bread.

Why lunch in Moulay Idriss?  The town beckons from high above the highway near Volubilis. 

What’s Volubilis?  Volubilis boasts grand ruins of a two thousand year old Roman town, not far from the city of Meknes.  As always, the grounds are littered with forlorn detritus. The mosaics are well preserved and informative.  A pair of storks put on a show for me in their nest at the top of an ancient marble column.  I count three chicks.

As I recall my stroll around the Roman ruins, I realize that I am not quite a decaying antique. My “international” physiognomy belies my years.  My wit, for what it’s worth, has not deteriorated. And I am improving my skill at identifying the nationality of other travelers.

At the rocky and irregular ruins, two tall women are wearing inappropriate shoes in a vaguely familiar style.  I smile, say hello  Sure enough, they are Russian. 

Later, two young women say hello and in an instant I correctly guess London.

Finally, a group of Asian girls are listening intently to their guide.  I have a notion about them – stride, posture, dress, hats.  My feeling is confirmed.  The guide says something impressive.  The girls respond as a combined chorus with that delightful, uninhibited and unique Japanese sing-song exclamation, “ooooooh.”

That leaves ME laughing.

Hey, the ruins and the location are dramatic.   

But for me, today? … Today was a day for a healthy laugh.

And … I’m still single. 



May 2, 2013

*Always Leave Them laughing When You say Goodbye.  Song by George M. Cohan. 1903.

The song is way before my time.   Even before my parents’ time.   But somehow I recalled the phrase.

Always Leave Them Laughing.  Film starring Milton Berle. 1949.

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