A little bit of Massachusetts and a bigger bit of (scary) Morocco on tap for today
A brief session with the folks representing Massachusetts Tourism on Thursday. The state's been on a role roll for quite a while, what with all the movies featuring the state: The Fighter, The Town, Social Network, and more.
The Fighter apparently has helped turn Lowell, Mass. from an industral town in something of a tourist centre. Boston was doing fine without The Town and we suspect Cambridge does okay, even with The Social Network, but it doesn't hurt to have an aggressive state government pitching their product and reeling in Hollywood movies. Don't forget The Perfect Storm was based out of a Massachusetts fishing village, as well.
I've been to Cape Cod, Nantucket (a great place, see photo) and Boston, which I sometimes prefer to New York because it seemed more manageable in size. But it's been quite a while.
Ron D'Amico from the Connelly Partners was telling me about all the wineries (30-odd), foodie spots, fishing villages and, yes, ski hills his state has to offer. I didn't know, but apparently some of the Berkshires (which I only know about from James Taylor's song Sweet Baby James) are as high as 6,000 feet. Pretty impressive.
D'Amico said the state tourism folks are big into social media (fitting, with The Social Network, I guess) and that the Mass Insider page on Facebook has all sorts of deals, but you have to go in and say you "like" the site. They also have a Twitter handle, @visitma, and there's lots on their website, massvacation.com (nice name).
D'Amico said the Boston Film Festival goes in early May, while there's one in Provincetown in summer and on Martha's Vineyard in September.
On a more exotic front, here's a file from Morocco from Star Travel columnist Bert Archer....
Dakhla, Morocco – We were far away from most things, in the part of Morocco referred to on many maps as Western Sahara out of respect for the separatist feelings among many of its residents. We were there for the Dakhla Festival, a cool combo of music and surfing, with a camel race tossed in for good measure.
It was the second last day of the fest. Ivorian reggae star Alpha Blondy was in the house, which in this case meant one of the tents set up for participants along the beach on this peninsula of sand jutting out from the very bottom of Morocco. So were any number of surfers – kite, wind and regular – taking time off from the regular circuit to take in a bit of Africa.
We were at the Hotel Doumss [http://fr-fr.facebook.com/hoteldoumss] in downtown Dakhla [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakhla,_Western_Sahara] -- a newly developing city, the beneficiary of King Mohammed VI’s nation-wide investments in tourism and culture -- and had asked organizers if we could spend a night with the big boys in Tent City. They said we could. But when our driver showed up about an hour later, she was in a panic. “Are you ready?” she asked quickly when she saw me in the lobby. I was in the middle of tweeting something or other about the city or the helicopter ride I’d just taken, and I told her I would be in a second. A second was no good. “No. Now!”
We were hustled into her car and driven, fast, out of town. Apparently, there were riots. And with every café’s TV screen turned to Al Jazeera’s coverage of what was happening in Libya, playing and replaying the few bloody close-ups they had, every one was a little nervous. Was Morocco rising against its king? Was this happening all over the country, or just in wee little Dakhla, population a little under 100,000?
She didn’t know. And now that I’d lost my hotel’s WiFi connection, I couldn’t find out.
When we got to the WiFi-less camp, the surfers were huddled around various energy drink kiosks mumbling and speculating. Our driver, a PR person for the festival, said it was probably just kids on drugs. When someone with a smartphone came up with pictures of a car on fire, it became obvious it was something more than that. But that turned out to be one of the only posts on the subject. News dried up, and even those with smartphones were in the dark.
As afternoon turned to night, I heard that all the journalists in town for the festival had been rounded up and brought to the camp. I was told it was for my own safety, but when I asked to go into town that evening to see for myself what was going on and offered to absolve them of their responsibility for my well being, they refused. The same thing happened the next day, when, after a few hours of peace (during which I made it briefly into town [http://twitter.com/#!/bertarcher/status/41968352997933056], the military barricaded part of the city, ostensibly to prevent any more violence. I went to the gate of the tent city to hop a ride into town, and was asked if I was a journalist. I said yes, and they refused to let me pass.
Now, there are worse places to be stuck. There was a tea tent, and the place was lousy with wet surfers. But the camp was on edge, the officials already formulating their defenses of the king and attacks on whomever the rioters might turn out to be in scattered conversations with surfers and journalists. Over the course of the two days, the rioters transformed from kids on drugs to the Sahrawi [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahrawi_people] to foreign agitators back to kids on drugs. Spontaneous outpourings of support for the king were frequent. Still not completely clear on what was happening, the director cancelled the last day of his festival. People hung out, Blondy played to his captive audience that evening as I watched the big stage erected for the week’s concerts being dismantled in town (I’d finally managed to hitch a ride when the military had begun withdrawing that evening).
As it turned out, it was – probably – a fight between people in different neighbourhoods, possibly started by a slap in the face and fuelled by internecine disdain between Moroccans and the Sahrawi people, whom one Arab Moroccan cab driver described to me as “dark and unemployed.” It had been brewing for two days, and apparently only became a real problem when the already tense police and military intervened.
The violence turned out to be isolated, and though there remained rumours of a death and a rape, things went back to normal, and some journalists who’d been expecting to file stories on the re-birth of windsurfing as a possible sign that 90s nostalgia had truly taken hold ended up with a little personal insight into just how nervous people in Morocco are these days.