Thursday, November 30, 2017

lovely asilah

My third visit to Asilah ended in food poisoning and a bad cold— for all three of us. I've always prided myself on having a stomach of steel but Morocco has an uncanny ability to smash any notions of gastrointestinal strength that one might have. What was intended to be a long weekend of relaxation, grilled fish, sight-seeing and birding, turned into a hasty retreat back to Rabat with a poor baby wailing in the car, and two rattled parents.

And so, over the next couple of posts, I give you the few photos (and one sketch coming— can you believe it?) that I managed to take in this lovely seaside town of whitewashed alleys and colourful murals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

day at the museum

Back in Rabat, the beautiful Musée Mohammed VI Art Moderne & Contemporain is holding an exhibition of work by Spanish artists from the time of Goya until the present day. Here are some of my favourites, followed by Baby's:

We are grateful that the museum is so child-friendly— our nerves about taking an infant to see the work finally settled when the smiles kept coming from the gallery guards. Baby loved the bright colours and contrast of some pieces, and we hope that more experiences like this will build a future appreciation for art!

Francisco de Goya. Miguel Fernandez Durán, marquis de Tolosa. 1787. Oil on canvas. 
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. José Echegaray. 1905. Oil on canvas. 
Ignacio Zuloaga. Alejandro Fernández de Araoz. 1936. Charcoal and chalk on canvas. 
Rafael Canogar. Untitled. 1973. Silkscreen on paper. 
Rafael Canogar. Estudio para un monumento. 1972. Lithograph on paper. 
Equipo Crónica. El constructor. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. Guernica. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. La pincelada con Felipe. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. Interior de Las meninas. 1971-1972. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. Composición. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Ferrán García Sevilla. Poligon 32. 1988. Acrylic on canvas.
Ignasi Aballí. Serie Biografias. 2001. Oil, acrylic, tempera, and vinyl on canvas.

Monday, November 13, 2017

anchovy tajines and strawberry trees

One bright blue morning we drove off in search of the green of an Algerian Oak forest. The winding hilly roads twisted my stomach as I sat in the backseat attempting to entertain Baby with an owl puppet and renditions of Bowie songs. After passing through so many dry agricultural fields, we finally reached the forest— and my guts began to spin.

Pedro pulled over to the side of the road (which by now had become rather patchy), and took the opportunity to search for birds while I gathered my head and fed Baby. We were nearly surrounded by strawberry trees— their bright red fruit beautifully popping out from the green, so deliciously enticing. In fact, this was precisely what I needed: to get my legs moving and to eat something. I foraged a handful of ripe fruit that had been missed by the birds and Barbary macaques, and slowly crushed their thin spiky flesh between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, delighting in the sensation. Soon, the sugar did its magic, and I felt a little less green myself.

The oak forest was lush and expansive; a reminder of how there are so many Moroccos. We didn't stay too long though, as it was getting late and we had skipped lunch. On they way back to Chefchaouen we spied a troupe of macaques lurking in the trees off the side of the road, who vanished the second I pulled out my camera. We headed to the Uta el Hammam plaza, where we were certain to find food being served at such an odd hour.

I had heard that the goat cheese in the Rif is not to be missed, and I've had it on my mind ever since I saw the rounds of creamy goodness beautifully wrapped in palm fronds in Tangier. Though I'm not sure this is the same cheese, I enjoyed it on a fresh salad that came with olives and zaalouk, a cooked eggplant and tomato salad. This was followed by a tasty anchovy tajine, with a lemony tomato sauce.

Mid-meal, Baby scored us both a glass of tea from the neighbouring table. This sort of thing has been happening lately— the most unusual of which has been a gift of sole from the fishmonger on two separate occasions. In Morocco, men, women, and children run up to kiss a cheek or forehead— something that would horrify most Americans— a stranger kissing my baby?! I find it endearing (and cross my fingers that the kisser doesn't have a cold).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

a closer look

Have you ever seen anything so blue that wasn't the sky or the sea? Apart from an Yves Klein work of art or the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, I haven't experienced blues so blue— and it is an experience, rather than a sight. These are colours that swallow you.

The Rif town of Chefchaouen began to turn blue somewhere around the 1930s, and it is said that a Jewish population fleeing Nazi Europe began to paint the old medina blue for spiritual reasons. The various shades of blue, pigments mixed with lime, became a tradition that soon attracted tourists from all over the globe.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

the many blues of chefchaouen

a little moment

While finishing my coffee after breakfast this morning, I was given a moment to do a 7-minute-or-so sketch while my little bunting was entertained by the visiting buntings outside the window.

Friday, November 3, 2017

after the sky lifted

Ophelia had sucked the breath out of the Sahara and cast our skies a yellow-grey, coating everything in a fine dust. Just as I surrendered to the beads of sweat running down my skin, the clothing sticking to my body, the heavy nights, the trees began to softly move in a different direction. The sky lifted, and I could breathe again.

The sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood seems to have dulled the edges of my mind of late— I find my tongue stumbling over words, my thoughts dissipating in little bubbles. I feel like I am constantly running, but never getting anywhere. Still, Baby grows strong and proudly learns new tricks, and I am a mother completely enchanted— all the exhaustion and frustration is blown away with the tiniest of smiles or a giggle.

Throughout my pregnancy I was told that my life would soon be over, that Pedro and I would have to kiss our adventures goodbye— apparently having children is like having your wings clipped, or something less poetic. We were of the opinion back then that everything is a choice, and felt that becoming parents would be a beginning rather than an end. Despite the sleepless nights and occasional tantrums, we still maintain those beliefs, and so we took our teething five month old on a six-and-a-half hour roadtrip to Chefchaouen this weekend. After all, wouldn't our baby want parents who are still curious about the world?

So it took a few extra stops along the road and some gymnastic maneuvering while changing a diaper on the lid of a toilet in a dodgy restaurant bathroom— and I had to master the art of clandestine breastfeeding in public places. All fascinating learning experiences and adventures in their own right! I finally got to see the blue I had been waiting for, and though Baby won't remember it, we all had a wonderful time.

Friday, October 6, 2017

hello autumn

It's my favourite time of the year. Leaves turn colours, their dry scent carried on cool breezes. Except that I am in Rabat and it's in the high thirties, and I am a sweaty, stinky mess. Nevertheless, it's autumn, and there's the botanical garden with some leaves to crunch through— plus the streets near the Peace Corps building have nice, big piles of yellow. No sweaters, no scarves, no hygge— yet.

I wait for the weather to turn.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

part one: belly

I thought I'd share with you some of the drawings I drew during the last few months. Stay tuned—more on the way...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

the bilmawn

We spent Eid al-Adha in Imlil last year, where an old Amazigh tradition still carries on during the days following the Eid. Thunderous drumming echoes through the valleys of the Atlas, and high on a hill one morning, we spied a group of young men dressed in various masks (and some fake beards) preparing to rampage through the village below, led by a fellow dressed in goat skins. This is what I was hoping to find on our trip, the mysterious Bilmawn.

The Bilmawn (or Boujloud) appears to be something out of Pagan times, something ancient— not unlike the Krampus or Portugal's Caretos, who chase young women through the streets whilst wielding sticks and cow bells. With twisting horns and dark human eyes peering through the eye-holes of a flattened goat's head, the animal smell still strong on the fur, the Bilmawn thrills and terrorizes young children by chasing them with a stick, collecting the discarded skins of the sheep sacrificed during the Eid. I have read that the Bilmawn and his cohort also collect alms for the local mosque, though I wasn't able to get much information on the tradition whenever I asked about it, and people seemed genuinely amused that I would even want to know.

Hoping to grab a sketch with this wild character, we approached him with our clumsy French. The Bilmawn, who either did not understand us or was so into his role, stared at us blankly through puffs of smoke from his cigarette, which dangled grotesquely out from under his goat face. One of his companions, wearing shades and a powdered face with a fake beard haphazardly glued to his chin, did understand. Of course we could sketch and photograph everyone, but we needed to offer a donation. Normally I would balk over paying to draw, but this was such a great opportunity and one that might not come my way in some time, so I placed a few dirhams into his powdered palm. The goat man extinguished his cigarette, and struck a pose.

As we drove off down the hill, I looked up to where we had met the bizarre cast of characters and watched them begin their descent into the village. The pounding of drums echoed as I imagined a group of children scurrying away in that wonderful mix of delight and fright.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

eid mubarak

Friday was Eid al-Adha, one of the most important holy days for Muslim Moroccans. It is the feast of sacrifice, when families get together and slaughter a sheep in honour of Ibrahim (or Abraham) and his test of faith. When I was in Istanbul, I would occasionally see the sheep and sometimes cattle being taken outside the city where makeshift abbatoirs were set up for the holiday. Sheep would be carried on the backs of trucks and in car trunks, looking rather bewildered to say the least. I have a vivid memory of the gutters running red with blood in Cairo, the scent of animal and iron in the hot air, the rusty handprints of the devout dripping on the walls of houses.

Here in Rabat, the musty smell of livestock permeates the air a few days before the Eid, and the bleating of sheep echoes from basements and rooftops alike. Our neighbours had four on their roof, and though I am a meat eater and respect that people have their traditions and beliefs, I must admit that I felt unsettled by the sight of those sheep on that roof. A roof, like a basement, is no place for an animal, and I knew that within a couple of hours, their lives would end on that roof. The only comfort was that they would be eaten and appreciated by families who came together in celebration, the meat shared with neighbours, friends, and the less fortunate— there would be little waste. A far better fate than for those poor creatures of feedlots and mass manufacturing in the West.

Many of my students love this Eid— they tell me it's like Christmas, and look forward to spending precious time with their loved ones. Some admit that they feel bad for the sheep, but value the holiday, and their beliefs. A friend of mine in Turkey once divulged her childhood Eid memories (Eid al-Adha is called Kurban Bayram in Turkish), which typically involved her mother calling over the girls to help her wash out the entrails for making sausages. The smell haunted her into adulthood, but it was a happy and cherished time that she spent with her mother, sisters, and aunts. It reminds me of Thanksgiving with my mother— only far removed from the killing and processing of the turkey (though there was that one time my mum had to pluck one of the birds).

So Eid Mubarak to my Muslim friends! I hope you are having a wonderful time with your loved ones, and wish you many more dear memories with them.