With James away at another conference in the States, the children and I decided to take advantage of the long weekend to visit Rabat (the beach!) and do a plaster workshop in Fès.
Jeremy spent long hours conducting the orchestra of the ocean. He and I also worked hard on several major sandcastle developments.
Prime real estate, except for that pesky sea rise issue.
We had meant to stop by the Oudayas on the way to the beach, but my unerring instinct for getting lost in Rabat did not fail me. So we settled for a visit to the Roman/Islamic ruins of Chellah instead.
Zoë was unenthused about the number of people and guards: in comparison with Lixus and Volubilis, Chellah really feels like the extension of a capital city.
Abid, whom I’d met at the day of storytelling, met us and brought us to the garden of a small sanctuary, just off the Talaa Kbira. We started with a glass of tea, and then settled into working with our little “Fas” plaques.
The plaster is dug out of the ground here, and there are still the lumps to prove it. We had a little discussion about the difference between “plaster of Paris” and “natural plaster,” which ended with a little demonstration of how the plaster is mixed.
Once it’s been mixed, it can be spread between two boards on a sheet of plastic: that strip of plaster is then cut into smaller plaques.
Once the plaques have been cut, they’re powdered with gray cement, wrapped in a little piece of cloth. Then you trace a design onto that gray surface, wiping away the gray to leave a contrasting white pattern.
Once the design has been drawn, it needs to be outlined with a chisel (marbouh). Then we begin to chip ever so gently away at all the remaining gray-coated plaster.
The chisel or marbouh is an extension of the hand and the arm and the mind. The marbouh is held with the back of the handle cupped in the middle of the palm, the fingers wrapping forward around the handle. The wrist is bent, like the neck of a stork. The pressure exerted on the plaster is very gentle; the marbouh is to be kept level.
Unless you’re Jeremy, in which case anything goes…
Once a certain amount of plaster has been chipped away, you can either leave it in a “raw” state (one particular aesthetic), or you can use some water and a paintbrush to smooth away any roughness on the surface.