State Department Issues Travel Alert Over Potential Al-Qaeda Attack

State Department
U.S. Department of State

The State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert that Al-Qaeda is planning an attack in the Middle East or North Africa in the month of August.

The press release, which has not yet appeared on the State Department website [Update: Here’s the alert] but is reprinted by Business Insider in full, warns,

“The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.”It adds, “We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don’t have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.”

CNN is reporting that some U.S. embassies in the region, including those in Egypt and Israel, will close starting on Sunday for an unspecified length of time.

As of this writing, there is no detail about the nature of the threat.

Update: August 5, 10:07 a.m.
Nineteen U.S. diplomatic posts have also been closed, at least through this week.

Posts in 19 Countries to Remain Closed

Photo Gallery: Why Are These Moroccan Goats Climbing Trees?

goat in treeArgan oil has been a beauty buzzword for the last several years. Pressed from the nuts of the Moroccan argan tree, this light, golden oil has significant anti-inflammatory properties, and is found in countless hair and skin care products. Argan oil is also considered a specialty/health food product, due to its clean, nutty flavor and high levels of linoleic acid and nutrients (seriously, try it in your next vinaigrette or drizzled on soup).

What most people don’t realize is how the oil is harvested. For anyone who’s spent time traveling in rural northern Morocco, the sight of goats in argan trees, like so many magpies, isn’t uncommon. According to the Daily Mail, however, the native Tamri goats are actually part of what’s become a highly profitable cottage industry.

The animals feast upon the argan berries, and the fruit and pulp are absorbed into their digestive tracts. Berber women then collect their droppings, and remove the remaining nuts, from which the oil is then extracted. Think of it as the kopi luwak of the beauty industry.

Unfortunately, the global demand for argan oil is so great, the tree population is thought to be half of what it was 50 years ago, reports the Daily Mail. Conservationists are now pleading with herders to keep their goats out of the trees, so the berries can fall to the ground and reseed.

Despite the environmental complications, there’s just something about goats in trees that’s irresistible. Check out the gallery for a whimsical tour of Morocco’s acrobatic, aerial caprines.

[Photo credit: Flickr user greenzowie”>greenzowie]

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The American Legation In Tangier

American Legation in TangierTangier has some beautiful old buildings. Being inward-looking in the Moorish style, they don’t generally seem like much from the outside. Once you enter, though, you’ll find soothing tiled courtyards with bubbling fountains; elaborate latticework windows; and bright, open rooms.

The American Legation in Tangier is one of the most accessible of these buildings and has the distinction of being the first place designated a National Historic Landmark outside the United States.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States in December 1777, when the 13 colonies were still fighting the War of Independence against the British Empire. The present building started being used as a legation in 1821. It’s set in a narrow alley in the heart of the old city.

It stopped being used as a legation in 1956, when the offices moved to Rabat, and is now a center for Moroccan studies. Entrance to the legation is free.

The rooms are set around a quiet courtyard that feels miles away from the hectic markets and busy alleyways of Tangier’s medina. The legation displays memorabilia from Tangier’s lively art and literary scene. You’ll find paintings by Moroccan masters and etchings from early Western travelers showing life in Tangier before the age of the Internet cafe. Old maps put the region in a larger historic context.

The most popular section is the Paul Bowles Wing, dedicated to the famous American author who lived in Tangier from 1947 until his death in 1999. Here you’ll see drafts of some of his work, magazines he edited, his correspondence, and photos of his wide circle of famous expat and Moroccan friends.

Take time to study the details of this historic building, such as the intricately carved and painted doors and the fine symmetry of the building as a whole. It makes for a peaceful respite from the medina and a place of refuge from the hot Moroccan sun during the summer.

Don’t miss my other posts on Tangier. Coming up next: Ancient Tangier!

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

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Top ten cities to visit in 2011, according to Lonely Planet

Another decade is about to bite the dust, but the savvy travelers at Lonely Planet have given us a jump start on the hot list for 2011. They’ve just announced their picks for the world’s best cities to visit next year, and while you’ll find some of the usual suspects (New York, which will debut the National September 11 Memorial on the 10th anniversary of the attacks), there are also some surprises. The great news? About half of these places are easy on the budget once you get there. Some list-makers, below:

Tangier, Morocco
Once derided as dirty and dangerous, this port city at the crossroads of Europe and Africa has undergone a major renovation and clean-up. A thriving arts, food, and shopping scene are drawing visitors.

Iquitos
, Peru
A major Amazonian trading port formerly known for its raucous nightlife, general mayhem, riverside shanties, and rubber-boom barons, Iquitos has gotten a major upgrade. Accessible only by air or boat, the city still has a rocking after-hours scene, but it’s also a “cultural hub” providing a “sultry slice of Amazon life.”

Delhi, India
The 2010 Commonwealth Games got the city into shape, there’s a “futuristic” Metro (who knew?) and 2011 marks the city’s 100th anniversary. Be prepared for lots of celebrations.

Not as wallet-friendly, but absolutely stunning:

Wellington, New Zealand
Nicknamed the “coolest little capital in the world,” this laidback, far southern North Island city has it all: a hopping food and wine scene, boutiques and galleries featuring NZ’s hottest designers and artists, a serious arts and culture scene that includes the world-famous Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and accommodations ranging from high-end hotel and styley boutique sleeps, to funky hostels and guesthouses. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy miles of hiking trails, city parks, hilly streets, and golden beaches.

What cities are on your personal 2011 must-visit list?

[Photo credits:Tangier, Flickr user Lumumo; Wellington, Flickr user 111 Emergency]

Marseille’s Noailles quarter: a taste of Africa, in Provence

The Provencal port city of Marseille has historically been associated with bouillabaisse, and, to a lesser extent, whores, thieves, and the usual debauchery that goes with being a sea port. Things started to turn around about a decade ago, and today it’s a safe, vibrant, thoroughly charming city whose cuisine and culture reflect its past as a colonial trading port with North Africa.

When France acquired Algeria in 1830, Marseille, the second largest port in Europe, saw a major influx of immigrants from North and West Africa that continues to this day. You can even take a ferry to Tunisia, 550 nautical miles away.

I was in Marseille researching a bouillabaisse story when I serendipitously discovered the Noailles, the city’s Arab quarter. It’s located a short walk from the Vieux Port, Marseille’s bustling, bar-and-restaurant-lined waterfront, off of the main artery of La Canebiere. It was like stumbling upon a Moroccan souk: narrow, cobbled streets lead away from a central square that is home to a daily outdoor produce market. Small, dark, cluttered shops sell tea sets and spices; markets carry everything from meat and seafood to Middle Eastern pastries, dates, pistachios, glass-like, crystallized whole fruits, and tubs of olives and harissa, a fiery red North African chile paste. It’s the ideal place to pick up edible souvenirs or picnic fixings.

Men in djellabahs sit at outdoor cafes, talking loudly over bracingly strong demitasse’s of coffee, while women draped in sifsaris paw through bins of vegetables. The quarter is a kaleidoscopic mélange of colors, sounds, and smells: rotting produce, incense, sizzling kebabs of chicken and lamb, and the comforting aroma of baking flatbreads and sugary almond cookies. My favorite part of this untouristed neighorhood, however, are the tiny Egyptian, Tunisian, and Algerian food stalls and bake shops that specialize in mahjouba–giant, rectangular-folded crepes filled with sautéed tomato, red pepper, onion, and harissa.

The takeaway shop Le Soleil d’Egypte makes a particularly delicious version, as well as selling a variety of North African flatbreads that are baked fresh throughout the morning. Mahjouba are a satisfying, inexpensive (under two dollars) snack–I was so besotted, I even took a couple on the train to Cassis with me. But they’re also special in that they’re a nod to the Marseillaise love of street foods.

All over the city, particularly near the port, street food vendors sell everything from croque monsieur and pissaladiere, to panisses–delicate, fried chickpea flour cakes. I love them all, yet visiting the Noailles for mahjouba is my pick. They’re a quintessential–if little known–Marseillaise treat: a melding of sunny Mediterranean vegetables, classic French cuisine, and North African culture.

For a harissa recipe, click here.

[Photo credits: man shopping, Flickr user Trilli Bagus; buildings, Flickr user Marind is waiting for les tambours de la pluie; rooftops, Flickr user cercamon]