Saturday, August 12, 2017

the red earth



The drive from Rabat to the nearest Saharan dunes in Merzouga is about eight and a half hours— if there aren't any slow trucks, accidents, or anything else that can pop up unexpectedly. Moroccan highways are smooth and quick, but the winding roads through the Middle Atlas can take quite some time, and it's always best to expect to add a minimum of two extra hours to your roadtrip.

Last October, Pedro and I were lucky to have one of our dear students from Nepal visit us. Tsewang was studying abroad on a scholarship to finish up high school and his hosts kindly offered to send him our way for a holiday. We had a week to show him his first glimpse of an ocean, a desert, and of course, as much of Morocco as possible. We plotted our route to the Sahara through the mountains of Ifrane, the high plateau of Zaïda and the oasis of Tafilalt.

The rain fell on the red earth of Zaïda, forming pools of pale blue sky. We spied our first houbara hiding among the clumps of thirsty vegetation, an ancient-looking bird that seemed just as surprised to see us as we were to see her.

leaving fès



And now we leave the twisted alleys and sun-bleached rooftops of Fès for the most beautiful orange. Let's run our fingers through the finest sand and watch the sun rise over the Sahara...

Thursday, August 10, 2017

mint and leather



With a bouquet of fresh mint under my nose, I squinted my eyes at the vats of dye below, the sun reflecting off the quicklime and pigeon guano used in making soft leather out of tough hides. The scent of the guano, bovine urine, and other assorted nasties was overwhelming— even more so for the pregnant olfactory system— however, having been told how wretched it would be, I was expecting worse.

The drying hides below are getting ready to be transformed into the traditional babouche, a pointed leather slipper, typically in a brilliant yellow for men. Tourists are told that all the dyes are natural— the yellow is from saffron, green from mint, red from poppies... Though I know little about leather dyes, I am sceptical of this as I have never seen mint dye anything, and saffron is quite expensive. In any case, the rainbow of colours that the tanners are able to create is gorgeous.



The 11th century Chouara Tannery is hidden among the clustered geometric buildings of Fès' medina, its levels of stinking vats in various shades of celadon, red and brown. The tanners who wade through the noxious pools in the blinding sun to work the hides wear anything from wellies to flip-flops on their feet, some with nothing at all. I can only imagine how hard their days are, how their muscles and heads must feel at the end of the day— it certainly gives me a deeper appreciation of the work behind my leather bags and babouches, which though bought in different parts of Morocco, all trace back to Fès.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

threads



While wandering the alleys of Fès' medina, I began to notice nails wrapped in coloured thread jutting out from the old stone walls— some nails entirely cocooned into soft balls. I remembered climbing the hill to an orthodox church on Büyükada shortly after Easter once, where the devout had tied threads from the top to the bottom of the hill in prayer, wishing for the things we often wish for— good health, fortune, love... My mind then travelled to the Fates, weaving our lives into a vast tapestry, then to the many knotted bracelets my students in Nepal tied around my wrists.



Though I suspected the reason for these pretty bursts of colour was more banal, I still hoped to find something special at the end of the threads that extended beyond their cocoons. Stretched across buildings and down the alleys, a multitude of colours were being twisted into threads which were wound around spools by quick and elegant fingers.



To think of what these threads would someday make— someone's favourite scarf, or the embroidery on a well-worn djellaba— a gift of a blanket, to be wrapped around a loved one...