Category Archives: Tourism

I don’t like to think of myself as a tourist, but that’s part of what I am, here in Morocco. Tourism is one of the anchors of the Moroccan economy. There’s also a new academic field called tourism studies, one strand of which focuses on how to make tourism more ethical and effective, both for the tourist and for the host group or nation. How can tourism become a productive cultural encounter?


Si and Dorrie were our first visitors, back at the end of October.
Then Meg came for a long weekend in January, but somehow we seem not to have taken any photographs of her visit.  Hshouma!

Mid February,  Martin, Sophie, Alice, Joel, and Gabriel dropped in for just shy of a week. Jeremy was predictably thrilled to have visitors!
They walked for miles to get to the giant pinecones of Michlifen, because it had rained and the car couldn’t get over the muddy pass.  Then we loaned them our car and they went off for a couple of nights in the desert before traveling on to Fès.  Snow, sand dunes, spectacle: Morocco has it all.

Then visitor season really ramped up.  Sarah PJ came for a week, and patiently shared her visit not only with Milla and Paul but also with Jim, Lilly, and Ruby.
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Bananagram skills evolved to a very high level.
The Minnesota Boltons enjoyed Michlifen…_DSC0631

and Fès, especially getting to know the carpet-knotters.
SONY DSCAnd then there was the desert–but that requires its own post.

A couple of days after the Minnesota Boltons flew on to Paris, James left for a conference in Detroit.  The day he returned, Anne, Martin, and William arrived for a few days visit.  They too went to see the giant pinecones at Michlifen
and enjoyed the Ben Smim valley
and they were here for Palm Sunday and the traditional donkey ride at Tarmilat.
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The day after they left, Rachel arrived for just under a week.  She treated me to an overnight at a very nice riad in Fès (Riad Rcif),

and we wandered the medina, even going so far as to visit a leather shop with an overview of the tanneries.IMG_2282IMG_2286

When I had to catch up on work, James and Jeremy and Rachel went and climbed a volcano near Michlifen on a very very windy afternoon:
After some careful persuading, Zoë agreed to skip a day of school and guide us around Walïlï; then we got seriously lost on the way to the old medina of Meknes.  Eventually, a kind taxi-driver led us practically to the gate, after which we managed to follow our noses to a restaurant.
Rachel is a more adventurous eater than anyone in my family.
SONY DSCIt was nice to get back to the Meknes Bou Inania: we like getting up onto the roof.

And one of those days, perhaps the last day of the visit, Rachel and I went to meet with Hassan the rug-seller in Azrou, where we each bought a rug. (Actually, I bought two, antiques I couldn’t resist.  Who knows where we’ll put them?)

At my request, Hassan dug out the old photo of his father posing with the American military unit he joined during World War II.IMG_1882Such a lot of history in every fold and tear, in every knotted thread.

In the fall, we had worried that no one would ever take us up on the invitation to visit.  But now, our Moroccan friends proclaim us nice people because of all our visitors.  This is Morocco: hospitality is key.  Visitors are a necessary part of street cred.  Thanks to all who have come!

Erg Chebbi and Drumming

Jim, Lilly, and Ruby arrived for a week’s visit at the end of March.  Standard fare: Michlifen, Fès, Walïlï, Azrou–and then we took off for a couple of days down by Erg Chebbi.  We left Ifrane in the snow…

and a few hours later, we were on the edge of the Tafilalt oasis. (I was the only one cold-blooded enough to need a coat!)_DSC0872

Jim got to have a wild experience driving across the hamada on the “Berber highway” (no photos, alas), and then it was the traditional tea before we got on the camels.
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To try to deepen the experience a little, I had booked two drumming lessons with Bakkar: one for the afternoon we arrived, one for the next day, when we rode out of the desert.

We rode into the “deep desert camp” in order to have our first lesson there.
IMG_2079 IMG_2075I think it was the first time I saw rain in the desert._DSC1020We were so into the drumming we evidently missed a beautiful sunset.  So many precious things; so little time.  Still, we enjoyed a nice candlelit dinner in the tent, out of the wind and the rain.
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The day before we arrived, there was an immense sandstorm that built up a massive new dune.  Luckily for us, we had a quiet night, and a quiet dawn.
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The girls were pretty happy out there.
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They also invented a new sport–skipping down the dunes–that they eventually called “donkeying.”  Zoë’s most dramatic moment was the face plant.
_DSC1135 _DSC1137Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get on a camel again…

After riding back to the edge of the dunes, we spent another hour or so concentrating on those drumming rhythms.
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Bakkar was very patient; Ruby was especially focused.  In the end, he presented her with a drum to take with her.  A very generous gesture: Morocco at its best.
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Then we drove a few hundred meters to the Dunes d’Or to rest and recuperate.  This gave us time to luxuriate in the extravagant beauty of the sand (warning: Zoë does not fully share my fascination–and perhaps you won’t either…)

its patternsIMG_2153 IMG_2128and its inhabitants.IMG_2140We also had one more opportunity to watch the sun rise over the dunes.

And to finetune donkeying skills.

Zoë insisted I would love it, so I tried to follow the girls’ lead, but the sand was a little too hard and too level.
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So instead, we tried barreling over the top of a dune into the softer sand below:
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OK, I confess: that was pretty fun.

Wandering through “the happy valley”

The gite was beautiful,
as were the surroundings,
P1020954 P1020961and we were a little slow to get started the next morning.

Ahmed arrived with a mule for Jeremy to ride,
and we set off,
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past irrigation gates, sheep grazing around an oven built into the ground,

shepherds with their sheep,
P1020985 P1020987or riding off into the far distance,
houses with fruit trees blooming like a puff of smoke from an invisible chimney,
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children playing, women washing clothes,
chicken on rooftops that look like fields,
baby burros and bee boxes,
spring blooms,
and who knows what all else?

James asked if he could photograph a bunch of boys we met along the road, and then he showed them the photo and a video as well.  When we saw that they had an old board with Qur’anic verses written on both sides–just as we had seen in the Nejjarine fondouq in Fès–we asked if they would read it to us, and they did!

Here’s the link to the video on Vimeo:
Boys reciting the Qur’an

Brahim and Ahmed wanted to stop for lunch at about 11:30, but we had just had breakfast at 9, so we wanted to push on.  Later, when we stopped for lunch, we understood the timing better: they had brought the ubiquitous pressure-cooker and tea kettle and proceeded to make first tea and then a bit of a feast while we lay about.
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All very imperial luxury: we didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves.  Then Ahmed needed to go off to the souq across the river,
so we set off with Brahim to climb up to one of the ribats on the mountain-tops through the valley. But first there was quite a lengthy walk back along the valley floor, over the creek, past the sheep, the drying laundry, the stork…
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The ribat was still occupied by a single elderly guardian, set up as a quasi-museum as to how life there used to be lived.
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The central living space included a gas stove with the necessary kettle, a kerosene lamp, food basket, an old couscousier…
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plus a hand mill, with a water-bag and some long underwear hanging from the wall.P1030048 P1030051
The “rooms” were a little claustrophobic, to say the least, but the corridor seemed to wind around forever, and you could climb this “ladder”

and find yourself on the roof looking over the amazing valley.P1030061



Brahim took a picture for us, then Jeremy wanted to take a photo of Brahim…P1030063P1030071SONY DSC

On the way out, Jeremy experimented with what it would feel like to be on guard duty, sleeping by the door.

Then we climbed back down the mountain to meet up with Ahmed and the mule
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and take the long walk back along the valley floor to the gite.

It’s a little hard to see in the photos, but these depressions in the rock are dinosaur footprints (Jeremy’s crouching in one footprint).SONY DSC P1030096I like the way the dinosaurs seem to have stepped off the rock into thin air.

We also passed some women spinning, using something like a drop spindle without the drop–a spindle spun on the ground.
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When they saw how fascinated I was (and we tried to explain that I spin with a wheel but can’t work a drop spindle), they let me take a video of the process (screenshot above).

The evening light was quite magical, even if we were tired.SONY DSC SONY DSCJeremy was drooping, so I got up on the mule and he fell asleep leaning back against me, but he woke up in time for a triumphal return to the gite, leading the mule himself.

And after all this, Brahim fixed us tea and supper and a warm fire.  Such an extravagant experience, all around.
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We got to Marrakesh in time to take in the Djemma el Fnaa by night, with the Koutoubia presiding in the background.
This time, we let Jeremy stay up late so we could all wander by the food stalls, looking (on my behalf) for a halqa, a story circle.
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When we spotted something hopeful–a group of men standing close around a man with arcane objects–we sent James over for a closer look.
Of course it was impossible to grasp the meaning of what was being said…

The next morning, we had breakfast at the Café des Épices, overlooking the Rabia Qdima: a great spot for people-watching.
Little clusters of people, washing up against carts or stalls, deep in conversation:
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People moving through, on pressing business.
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People hard at work.  The henna station was particularly fascinating:
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And then there was the fashion shoot taking place in the midst of everything:
But no one seemed to take much notice:
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After breakfast, we tried to take in some of the Marrakesh Biennale.  A few of the exhibits were particularly interesting from a human geography / storytelling perspective.  “Shadow of the Smokeless Fire” combined a series of paintings with “soundscape” of voices murmuring story fragments (also posted on the wall in three languages):

Still more ambitious: a project that bussed participants from Marrakesh into surrounding mountain villages to make art with the residents of those villages.  Children painting rocks; groups gathering rubbish such as plastic bags (rubbish) to sew into blankets and clothing.  This project had already finished by the time we reached Marrakesh: photos of the project were posted.  It looked fabulous: I would have loved a chance to participate.   SONY DSC

When the children’s eyes started to glaze over, we went to visit our friend Hassan the woodcarver, with a shop around the corner from the Qubba.

He gave us all some tea (teapot, glasses, and stools all summoned up from multiple surrounding shops), and then he and a friend? neighbor? brother? dressed Jeremy up ready for the Sahara:

We had a late lunch on the run, and then headed out of the medina to find the spanking new Café Clock Marrakesh.  They were still painting!  In the afternoon Zoë had an oud lesson, in which she learned an Andalusian scale, an Arabic scale (with quarter tones beyond half-point of the Western sharp/flat), and two songs.  She thought she wanted me learning as well, but she left me in the dust within about 15 minutes.


Then, just before supper: storytelling, alternating between a traditional storyteller (haqayat, I think the term is) working in Darija and his young apprentices, telling traditional stories in English.  I loved both, even though I only caught a fraction of the Darija: the performance element was such fun to watch.

Jeremy got restless, so James took him off for a wander, and they discovered an argan oil shop where Jeremy was allowed to grind his own argan nuts!  What fun!
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Then, after the storytelling, and during dinner (with our friend Ellen from Amsterdam), Jeremy chatted up Sara, one of the storytellers, at the bar.
And before she left, Sara came and brought Jeremy her Skype address!  If this is Jem’s life at seven years old, how are we ever going to survive adolescence?

Ait Benhaddou and the Tizi n Tischka pass

The view from the road in Morocco is almost always fascinating.
  But famous filming sites are often the places one finds tour busses lined up, and the simulacrum of the place seems to turn tourists and Moroccans alike into simulacra of themselves.

This is not to say we didn’t enjoy Ait Benhaddou, just that what we enjoyed most were the little surprises.
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Jeremy loved crossing the river on the sandbags serving as stepping stones.
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Rugs drying on a rooftop are not exactly surprising in Morocco, but they’re a sign that real life still goes on underneath the tourist spectacle.  And I like storks in any context.
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We went up the cliff instead of the path, pretending to be invaders attacking the fortress–at least until Jeremy got too hot and bothered.
I swear this man’s single-stringed instrument sounded unbelievably like a jazz trumpet. He didn’t seem to have a large repertoire, but the one song he kept playing was really compelling.
P1020747 P1020741HFM: happy family moment.

Jeremy made friends with this puppy, who then liked us so much–and wanted attention so much–that he leapt at me repeatedly and ripped a hole in my trousers with his teeth.  So I chucked a stone at him (in his general direction, being careful not to hit him), and a group of young German-looking tourists promptly surrounded him with love to compensate for the ugly American.  I was tempted to wait and watch what happened when they tried to leave.

The view from the agadir or granary on the top of the hill really is quite spectacular.

But then so was the Tizi n’ Tischka pass.  Just past Ait Benhaddou, the earth itself turned the most amazing colors,
then coming over the pass, the climate changed and the landscape turned a stunning green.
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On to Marrakesh…


Tamnougalt overnight

We enjoyed many things about Chez Yacob–talking to Yacob, wandering the palmerie, eating the yummy supper–but probably the best part of the evening was the nightly jam session the men held after dinner.  The music was enjoyable, but even better than the music was the enjoyment of the musicians.  Yacob tried to get Jeremy to play, but an attack of unexpected shyness interfered.  Here’s just one clip of many:

Jam session Chez Yacob

The next morning, Jeremy and I went out to wander the palmerie some more.  Jeremy made friends with a couple of local dogs.
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We watched the sun come up through the palms.
We mused together over the magical weave of the palm bark…

and the pattern of the spider’s web in the spaces of the wall:
We watched the water run through channels that lay quiet and almost dry the previous afternoon…
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…and we watched the women working in the early morning fields.
Then, after breakfast and a bout of storytelling (see Moroccan storytelling, Chez Yacob), IMG_1995
we took to the road again, picking up an elderly hitchhiker along the way.
On the road to another ancient kasbah-cum-movie-set: Ait Benhaddou.

Tamnougalt; or, The road to Marrakesh


People kept telling us that the southern route from Erfoud to Ouarzazate or Marrakesh was much slower than the northern route (don’t trust Googlemap times in Morocco!), but we’d been on that stretch from Tinghir through Kelaâ M’Gouna and Skoura too many times, so we decided to test out the alternative for ourselves.
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The road was fine to start with, lulling us into a false sense of speed.  Then we hit kilometer upon kilometer of potholes.  But the landscape was so stark and compelling, we almost didn’t mind.
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Ruined ksour on a cliff above a palmerie; solitary figures walking or riding through a barren landscape–almost too stereotypically Moroccan–but very striking.
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We had decided to break the journey in Tamnougalt, just shy of Agdz, at Chez Yacob.  Yacob himself turned out to be a major highlight of the journey (see next post): fluent in English, a long-ago collector of traditional tales (back in 1992), a superb and delightful host, and a key figure in a nightly jam session of traditional music.

We arrived mid-afternoon and started with a tour of the still-inhabited mellah of Tamnagoult.  Texture, texture, texture: surfaces were rich and evocative everywhere we turned.  From the carefully detailed brick mantel over the entryway…
SONY DSCto the stark simplicity of corridor walls, the nearly crumbling pisé construction of an inner courtyard or the arch of that entry…
to the eloquent surfaces of daily objects,
or the architectural imagination that turns a brief glance into a (re)framing of the sky.
IMG_1538 IMG_1519Because the mellah is still inhabited, there were signs of daily life: water bottles, mouths covered with lace to keep with water clean, and people working on the roof.
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One courtyard seemed to feature more Andalusian style arches; another had lower arches and presumably ceilings:
At the chef’s room, where local court cases would be heard, the walls were tadelakt, burnished with egg whites, and the ceiling was in Berber style:
J was intrigued by the traditional lock, all made from wood:
P1020618 P1020621 There was a small museum, with examples of a pisé construction frame (with tampers),SONY DSC
and other items, like wooden supports for donkey saddlebags, a large-scale mortar and pestle,  a “treasure chest” that delighted Jeremy, and a rather gruesome goat-skin used for making butter (someone would swing it back and forth to churn the cream into butter).

Many of the hallways were dark, but that made them feel all the more atmospheric, at least in the short term:

And the detailing of the windows at and near the exit was quite extraordinary.    If you look closely, you can see a little hand at the top of the window on the right.

Our guide had his own collection of historical items: grindstones, oil lamps, sandals, platters, and so on–plus photos of the old community and of films that were made here:

After our tour of the mellah, we went wandering in the lovely palmerie.
I was struck by the wealth (a wealth of water, coming from the river visible in the top half of the photo) that meant pomegranates could be left unharvested, P1020636 P1020638with the result that songbirds were feasting, and filling the air with their song.

Spring crops seemed to include peas and wild asparagus.
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Fields of forage were also full of wildflowers, the air was scented with fruit blossoms, and the fresh leaves, especially of the fig, were incredibly green.
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In the hour before dinner, I stayed with the children while James wandered up to the old kasbah, passing women and children and donkeys all carrying food and supplies back home.
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As promised, the kasbah was an empty shell, but impressive nonetheless.
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The palm-tree lintels seem to have been dug out for re-use, except in the long hallway where they’re still doing important structural work.
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Overall, an interesting, but slightly spooky place, in which to watch the night come on.P1020690 P1020697

Fossilizing around Rissani

I realize the word “fossilizing” refers to the process of becoming a fossil, but a day of fossil-hunting left us feeling (almost) desiccated and condensed enough to qualify.

We started out at Brahim Tahiri’s fossil museum where we met Abdelali, our guide for the day. “Today, you’re going into the Devonian and Ordovician,” Brahim told us.  Zoë and I grinned at each other, enjoying the thought of traveling into geologic time periods.   I had hoped for an English-speaking guide who could drill us in the differences between Ordovician and Devonian (for instance), but Abdelali had hardly any English or even much French, and he preferred to speak to James, often not hearing when I tried to ask a question in Darija.  So here’s what I’ve dug up since our trip:

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The Ordovician period precedes the Devonian.  According to this USC website, the Ordovician period lasted from about 510 million years BCE until about 439 million years BCE; it was marked by a huge increase in biological diversity, during a time when all life remained in the oceans.  Life flourished and developed in a warm climate, with reefs providing niche conditions favoring diversity.  The end of the period is marked by a mass extinction in which over 100 families went extinct, probably due to earth cooling beyond the comfort range of organisms that preferred warmth.

One of the most remarkable things about the Ordovidian period is that North Africa was located over the south pole at this time:
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Wacky.  Whose idea was that?  Points to them for thinking outside the box.

The Devonian
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The Devonian was the beginning of the world we know: the first seeds, first land vertebrates, the first time life emerged from the oceans. But there was still a lot of life in the ocean–life that registers now in the fossils remaining in this section of Morocco.  Note the mass extinction defining the end of the Devonian, like the mass extinction defining the end of the Ordovician.  We’re in the middle of a mass extinction today as well.  What new period is coming our way?

After loading up Abdelali’s 4×4 with some water, bread, and oranges, and La vache qui rit (packaged cheese), we drove out into the hammada, also known as the “black desert.”  We turned off the road out of Rissani along this long line of peaks, a place where the earth looks like a breaking wave.SONY DSC

Along that piste through the hammada, there are two distinct veins of fossils, running parallel to one another.  In the first, fossil miners have dug cave after cave in order to excavate plates of fossils from a layer of sediment some 10-20 feet under the surface.

Once the plates of fossils have been identified and chipped out of the substrate, they are assembled, a little like a jigsaw puzzle, on the surface near the mining pit.

These fossil plates seem to feature  crinoids: creatures that in a fossilized state look vaguely like octopi.  Or, as Zoë noted, trees.
IMG_1492 IMG_1491 (photo Zoë)
According to the Bonnachere Natural History Museum,

“The Crinoids’ soft body was protected by several hard plates which formed in a bowl-like shape.  From this came tentacle-like arms, which were used to gather food.  It was fixed to the sea floor by a long flexible stem consisting of many discs.  Once the crinoid died, the discs were scattered over the sea floor.”

There are also lots of little pieces of something that might be cephalopods?  SONY DSC
Abdelali kept using darija words that seemed to mean tentacles or branches, and every time I started talking with one of the miners (most of them had some English), Abdelali wanted to hustle us away, probably for monetary reasons…

The work is daunting.  In the deeper pits, or those with stronger sides, miners dig ladders into the side of the pit.  Elsewhere, they seem to rely on a rope held by a colleague.  Notice the miner’s feet and back tucked into the passage on the right.  Talk about claustrophobia!
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Earth is removed from the pit by means of a pulley system, in some cases run off a solar panel.

Down in the mine: all the comforts of home?

We went down into one of the mines: one with a collapsing set of steps down the side instead of a vertical ladder.
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Hard to imagine working down here with any kind of precision.  Imagine the endurance, the psychological strength, required to crouch here, chipping away in solitude day after day.
You have to look past Zoë’s hat to see me, down at the rock face.  And the light comes from a camera flash, so imagine the normal conditions.  We were glad to come out again.P1020509

But the miners themselves don’t have any such quick and easy exit.  It’s cooler beneath the surface during the heat of the day, but it’s parched out there.  Workers bicycle along the rough piste; some seem to live next to the mines, in a couple of rough huts, perhaps as  night guards?  No one seems to mind us scrabbling around in the slag heaps, looking for fossils…
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We walk over to the second vein of fossils–featuring orthoceras!–where we pick through more slag heaps left by what looked like earth moving equipment.  Instead of carefully constructed pits or caves, there seemed to be large scoops dug out of the earth, and piled alongside the worked vein.

Orthceras were a little like the squid of the Ordovician world.  We find both (nearly) complete creatures, and little cross-sections.
SONY DSC IMG_1497In the black or grey stone, they make me think of shooting stars, as if the residue of this little squid were a path through the stone, light through the darkness.

Jeremy found a lock, which he enjoyed flinging through the desert air; his parents loaded up with fossil finds…

It was hot out there, even though spring is still a week away.  After a few oranges (too many seeds!  we’ve been spoiled by tangerine season!), some water and a few hunks of bread, we drive to a different fossil site.  This is on the scree slope just under the crest of a small mountain.  We’re looking for trilobites, one dominant species of the ancient ancient world.

Let’s face it: we’re wimps.  Jeremy was wanting to go back to the hotel, even before he fell and scraped both knee and elbow.  James fell also and scraped his arm, though he didn’t notice the damage till a few days later.  And the trilobites were harder to find: tiny points of evidence suggesting a larger creature buried in a rock.  James eventually got enthused, finding possible trilobite geodes just under the rocky outcropping capping the hill, and Abdelali clearly knew what he was doing, but I went back to the car with the children for another drink and nibble and a look at the Erg Chebbi dunes not too far away.
We persuaded a reluctant Jeremy to hang on for one more site: this involved driving past what appeared to be a local garbage dump, complete with goats and birds.  We think the goats must know better than to eat plastic–or else they have very strong constitutions and the plastic doesn’t bother them.
Past the goats and the garbage, we climbed a slight elevation with the desert stretching out below in both directions.
Jeremy perked up when he got to hold a hammer.  Finally, a real paleontologist’s tool!
J looked like he was having fun, too:

But then we were pretty well done for the day.  We went back to the Tahiri museum, where we took another look at the process of preparing the fossils for museums and private collectors.  The reconstruction of a large plate of fossils:
The first pass at chipping away the stone surrounding a trilobite:P1020548 P1020550
Closer detail work:
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The finished product:

Trilobites were amazing!  Such a range of forms, improvisations on a single basic shape.  Eyes made out of something like shale.  Impossible curvatures, impossible protuberances.  And the world they came from is almost unimaginable to me–though the world we’re heading into may be almost as unfamiliar.

Still, the thing I learned most clearly today was how hard it is to be a fossil miner.  What I may remember most vividly (other than the heat, the thirst, the isolation) is the extent of the desert as seen from our little elevation–or the way the hills we drove along at the start of the day seemed to remember the waves of the ocean that once covered them.


From M’Soura, we drove to Lixus: a Roman ruin built on what was once the Atlantic coast.  (Now the coast lies some 3 kilometers to the west–but for how long?)
aerial photo from Tetouan archeology museum

If you like the story that M’Soura is the grave of Antaeus, you might be willing to consider Lixus the site of the famous Garden of Hesperides.  After all, Hercules was on his way to steal the golden apples of the sun (tangerines, from Tangier?) when he met up with Antaeus.  (According to Eric Ross, though, the golden apples of the sun are more likely to be quince, which is a popular addition to tagines when it’s in season, in the fall.)  We were sad not to find either tangerines or quince trees at Lixus.

The guards at Lixus like you to wander up the hillside, past the enormous pools where the prized fish paste was made and stored:
All that’s really left now are  empty stone caverns and these classically beautiful arches.

A little way up the hill, you come to the baths and the amphitheatre.  We had a picnic in the shade of the trees, looking out at the slow meander of the river, and then we rambled around both the baths (on the right) and the theatre (on the left).
The amphitheater itself:
P1020116The baths:P1020117P1020108
Jeremy and I made up a story about a boy from Roman days who was trying to escape his mother’s insistence that he go to the baths.  He snuck out of the baths and went to sit in the theatre to watch the evening performance.  (OK, it was probably more a ritual performance than dinner theatre in those days, but it kept Jeremy happy.)P1020113

The amphitheatre was simply amazing: down on the stage area, you could speak in a normal voice and your words would carry throughout the theatre as a whole–despite a breeze that would have obscured sound in the Scott Amphitheatre, for instance.  And what a view the audience would have had!
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We didn’t want to leave this golden spot–remember, it’s January 5th and we’re heading back into snow–but eventually we continued up the hill, past the temple to the city proper.

The soldiers would have been quartered on the highest point of the hill, for the vantage point out over the bay.
Wealthy people had their own baths:
P1020134 P1020136Jeremy thought he could get used to that.

We loved the views out over the estuary toward the sea.  If the soldiers hadn’t already nabbed this spot for the armory, we would have built our house right here.


The armoury itself (partially reconstructed) was also very evocative, however:
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And in fact, the views are fabulous in just about every direction.P1020137

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They’ve tried to create a partial reconstruction of the Forum on the site.
P1020148We skirted around things like an altar with a stone where animals were sacrificed.  Overall, we found a nice balance between wandering around delighted with our own reimaginings of what life might have been like and learning important details from the guard who had to keep an eye on us as we wandered around (even after we declined his services as a guide).  He was lovely, leaving us space while also offering information when we seemed open to it. And when we gave him a little money at the end, he was startled rather than eager.  He was the one who pointed out the difference between Roman building, with cement, and the Phoenician building, minus cement.

In fact, there were Phoenicians and Carthaginians here before the Romans, and one can see the levels of the city, with the Romans building above the Carthaginian/Phoenician remains.  So much history.  So how and why did the city ever come to be abandoned?


Cap Spartel and M’Soura

Perhaps the saddest part of leaving Tangier was having to say goodbye to our neighbor across the street.  He had  a barber shop on the ground floor of his house, and he let Jeremy come over and sit in the barber’s chair and spin in circles and watch television with him.  Jeremy even got to see a man shaved.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

We drove out to the coast, to Cap Spartel, partly in honor of grandpa Loftus: an important maritime landmark!

Just south of the lighthouse, we had a grand time scrambling over the rocks and watching the fisherman.
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Then we went off in search of M’soura: really, a remarkable challenge.  Off the motorway, then taking a midlevel road to an unmarked tiny road–paved, but not much more than a piste.  We had to ask directions to get onto that road.  Then we drove right past the site.  We would have driven past it again, except that some kindly Moroccans led us to it–at which point, we almost didn’t believe them.

Some say that M’soura is the tomb of Antaeus, who wrestled with every comer until he was finally defeated by Hercules;  every time Antaeus touched his mother, Earth, strength flowed into him.  (His wife or consort was Tingis, the old name for Tangier.) According to Wikipedia, citing Plutarch, “when the Roman commander Quintus Sertorius  crossed from Hispania to North Africa, he was told by the residents of Tangier […] that the gigantic remains of Antaeus would be found within a certain tumulus; digging it open, his men found giant bones; closing the site, Sertorius made propitiatory offerings and ‘helped to magnify the tomb’s reputation’.”  This aerial view (from the museum in Tetouan) shows the tumulus, collapsed in the center, perhaps from the Roman excavation.P1010982

Even in that older photo, you can see the dwellings on the edge of the site.  There’s quite a little village now, backing up onto the stone circle.
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Zoë almost walked off into history. See her ghost figure separating out from her body?P1020082 P1020072

That’s the big stone behind us, l’kbir, with the collapsed cromlech in between.  And the men (including a rather intrusive, or just overly helpful guardien) posed directly in front of l’kbir.
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Can you say, “phallic”?

We couldn’t quite puzzle out this design on one of the stones.
And the “bab” or door to the collapsed tumulus seemed more of a wish than a door.P1020094

But I liked thinking of Antaeus here: still drawing strength from mother Earth, still springing back, ready for anything.
The spring flowers (in early January) and the lichen will surely keep Antaeus alive at least another year.
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