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?


Faced with another day of rain in Tangier, we decided to head over to Tetouan.  James had been reluctant to wrestle our way through city traffic, and in fact we got lost and found ourselves accidentally driving through the high-rent neighborhoods of Tangier, which was interesting in and of itself.

But Tetouan was (relatively) sunny, despite being surrounded by dark clouds on all sides!  We were quite taken by the mingling of practical equipment and tourism, even outside of the medina.

The city seemed small but purposeful, thriving in many ways.

As we entered the medina, a man named Abdelmalik struck up a conversation with James.  He was a teacher, he said, and wanted to practice his English.  In exchange for the opportunity to speak English, he’d be glad to show us around the medina.  James hesitated, then said yes, much to Zoë’s dismay.  She has a much more finely tuned sense of a scam than her father does.

But Abdelmalik did indeed show us many highlights of the Tetouan medina, albeit at a faster pace than we might have set for ourselves.
P1010942 P1010939I wonder why Moroccans always assume foreigners will want to visit the Jewish cemetery?  It’s picturesque, but we never know quite what to do there.

We liked the white and green of the medina: the color scheme Chefchaouen used to have before it turned blue…
And James liked watching the men paint the door to the mosque: a sign of daily life.

The charcoal produced by slow-burning the wood in forests outside the city was packed in bags closed up with vines.

Abdelmalik led us up through a carpet shop to look at the view over the rooftop.  We only had to spend 15 minutes looking at carpets in exchange, and we warned young Youssef that we wouldn’t buy anything.  He didn’t seem too upset about this.P1010960 P1010964

Down the stairs into the medina again, and Abdelmalik suddenly turned a corner to present us with Tetouan’s small tannery.  This was James and the children’s first experience of  a tannery and it seemed a smaller, gentler place than the Chouwara tannery in Fez.

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In a side room, men use the half-moon knives to strip the hair from hides.P1010951

In a pool near the exit, this man did the same with a skin under water.  It’s amazing to see the hair peel right off.
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I was interested to see the sand and lime used in traditional building for sale in the medina, just past the carpenter’s souq.  The white stones inside the doorway are blocks of lime.
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As we wandered through the medina, Abdelmalik had begun saying things like, “Allah will repay me for my time,” and mentioning the desirability of a glass of tea.  We decided we needed to feed the children, so we left the medina, leaving Abdelmalik with a little money for tea.  Finding a place with vegetarian food to eat was a bit of a challenge: Zoë was tired and nauseous.  We ended up walking quite a distance and then eating bad pizza, much to Jeremy’s delight.  He spent half the lunch time wandering down to the kitchen area and chatting and smiling at people.  Some Brits sat at the table behind us: they had retired to the shore near Tetouan some six years ago, and were very happy living in Morocco, despite the fact that they had little language for navigating the country.  I find this baffling.

After lunch, we took a brief look at the weekly souq, but we were put off by another, more insistent “teacher wanting to practice his English” who wouldn’t leave us alone, so we…

went to the archeology museum, with its collection of mosaics from Lixus.
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I was struck by how different these mosaics were to zellij–human versus geometric forms, carefully cut geometric shapes versus a broader range of building blocks–despite the fact that they share so many principles.
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Jeremy was particularly interested in the skull with the spike in it.  Warfare was rough in those days…

Then, when you went to your beloved’s funeral, there were special containers to catch and preserve your tears.  Lacrimatoires: talk about emotional exhibitionism.P1010980

For his part, James was fascinated by this model of M’Soura, a stone age burial site.  We decided we’d have to check it out on our way down the coast.  Roman Morocco.P1010972 IMG_1920

We were all amazed by the cave drawing by the front door.  It doesn’t belong here.  But this was the first museum in Morocco, and so when a Spanish general went driving around the south, in French Morocco, and he saw this carving, he picked it up and brought it back to Tetouan, presumably for the greater glory of Spain.

Finally, gelato all around made the drive back to Tangier all the sweeter.IMG_1924



We knew it was going to be hard to tear ourselves away from moving house and recovering from our longer travels, but we wanted to get north to see Tangier for a couple of days.  Driving north through the rain underscored the extent of our fatigue: arriving around 5 p.m. in rush-hour traffic in the chaos of Tangier was still more difficult: some of the roads we had thought were drivable (and were, in the end) look a lot like pedestrian-only walk-ways.  We had rented a little house in the old medina; finally, we called our contact person, and handed the phone to the Moroccan we had stopped to ask for directions.  He then ran ahead of us through the narrow streets and gates of the old Kasbah, where we would never have had the courage to drive on our own.
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The house was sweet, with no rooms on the ground floor, and two rooms on every floor above (2, 3, 4) and a rooftop terrace at the top.  Lots of stairs!  And a nice view of the sunrise and sunset.
Who would have thought early January would be raspberry season?

We went out for breakfast the first day, with hot chocolate that was really melted chocolate.  We were all excited by the thought of this drink, but it ended up  being too rich to enjoy fully.
Then we went wandering, past classic Beat haunts, like the Café de Paris and the Librairie des Colonnes.
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We loved that bookstore!  Then we visited the American Legation building together, checking out James Bey’s famous “Moroccan Mona Lisa” painting of his servant Zahra, and some of the many photos of Paul Bowles and the Beats (first, a young Bowles, left, with his wife Jane and Truman Capote, then the older Bowles below).
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I returned to look at the library collection while the rest of the family went to the Kasbah museum.

Sun shone on us briefly, passing the Continental, where scenes from Sheltering Sky were filmed,
but in general, the day was a bit drizzly and grizzly,
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even if we were wandering from the Gran Socco to the Petit Socco and back again.
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Our spirits were low.  We needed a change.



The coast road to Agadir, then Taroudannt, and home

Jeremy couldn’t stand being so near the sea without actually getting wet, so the morning we left Essaouira, he and I spent an hour or so paddling in the waves.  Of course he made friends with some older boys who were doing pretty much the same, and they held his hands and took him deeper than I was willing to go.
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Meanwhile, James and Zoe wandered back through Essaouira.  For a man who hates fish, J takes a lot of photos of fishermen.
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On the road out of town, we spotted some of the famous goats-in-argan-trees, but Nancy and Jeff, driving toward Marrakesh, had the full treatment.  “I swear,” said Nancy, those men must take the goats to the roadside every morning and lay in wait for tourists.  No sooner had we stopped the car than one of the men grabbed a kid and plunked it in my arms.  Then they ushered us over for a photo.  It’s quite the operation!”
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More seriously, driving south, we were worried by what looked like the effects of many years of drought.
Still, overall, the coast was gorgeous.
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We stopped for a PJ-style picnic, sheltering in the non-existent shade of a prickly tree, while Jeremy pleaded for an opportunity to clamber down to the sea.

Agadir itself was not our kind of place.

Rebuilt after an earthquake, it’s mostly concrete.  We stopped at the Marjane to get J a replacement pair of trousers, and between the slow road to Marjane and the excruciatingly slow road between Agadir and Taroudannt, we were all pretty stir-crazy by the time we arrived in Taroudannt.

We must have driven past this fountain three or four times, having made the mistake of asking the gendarme at the main roundabout for directions.  (Note to self: never expect local gendarmes to know where anything is.  Why is that?)

Eventually, we found our way to the “English house” where we spent the night.  Despite the fact that it served as a kind of early capital both for the Almoravids and for the Saadians before they moved their capital to Marrakesh, the town is more a busy industrial/ mercantile center than a tourist center, though the famous walls were indeed beautiful in the evening light.
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From the top of the walls, we could look down on the local pick-up soccer game happening just inside the main gates:
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We splurged on a calèche ride through the gathering dark, down to the square known as the mini Djemma el Fna.  Here it was easier than in Marrakesh to see three storytellers, with their wares spread out in front of them: feathers, ostrich eggs, and so on.  We couldn’t get close enough to hear the stories well, and the audiences (the halqa, or the story circle) were all male.  If we’d had more energy, I would have sent J back after dinner to try to record some of the stories for us to listen to later.

Women standing in the back of a pick-up truck flirted with Jeremy as James negotiated another calèche ride back to the guesthouse.  Starting price: 50d.  Ending price: 12 d.

I really wanted to drive north through the mountains to see the Tin Mal mosque, but poor Zoe finally succumbed to a stomach bug; she spent most of the night being sick, so we spent the day driving north on the motorways, most of the way through the rain.  Outside Rabat, we became one of the statistics making Morocco home of the second-highest number of traffic accidents in the world (according to Wiki-travel): we were rear-ended by a woman driving too quickly as traffic slowed for a previous accident.  Her car suffered more than ours.
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(While we exchanged details with the woman who hit us, another fender-bender took place in the middle of the three lanes of traffic: those two drivers just left their cars in the middle lane and negotiated things in the midst of traffic.)

We arrived home in time to enjoy (the next day) a light snowfall in the Ras el Ma (headwater) outside Ifrane.
New Years Eve we went into Fez to spend the evening with Jeff and Nancy, touring the Jewish cemetery (with its story of a young woman killed for refusing the advances of the governor of Tangier)
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the temple, with its Torah scroll, its ritual bathing pool,
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its subtly different zellij and plasterwork.

We ate pizza with Jeff and Nancy at the Riad Larroussa, meeting the French proprietor Fred (of whom more later) and his American wife Kathy and their posse of children (Jeremy dragged me off into their private quarters, and Kathy and the children were all charming to us).  We spent the night in the separate riad used by Jeff and Nancy during their visit, then bid them a fond farewell.

May the coming year teach us as much and as pleasantly as the past year.  We have been very very fortunate: Hamdulillah!


It’s all about the ramparts.  The waves breaking on the rocks just beyond, the rows of sombre cannons facing the sea
P1010476(even if the only thing left to aim at is a stray seagull).
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The fabled isle of Mogador lies just offshore, amid the crashing waves, on the far side of the smaller Iles purpuraires (the purple islands): this one with the fort is Dzira Sghira; it was disarmed by the French when they bombarded the town in 1844.
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The Phoenicians established some trading posts on Mogador, or the iles purpuraires, back in 1100 BCE (Amazigh tribes had been fishing in the bay for a couple of thousand years before that).  In about 600 BCE, the Phoenicians established the settlement of Migdal, or watchtower, on the island now known as Mogador.  Then, in 500 BCE, Hanno the Carthaginian visited Mogador and established the trading post of Arambys.

Starting in 25 BCE and lasting until about 300 CE/AD, Juba II established a Tyrian purple factory, processing murex and purpurae shells found in the intertidal pools between Mogador and the mainland
into precious purple dyes used to color imperial Roman senatorial togas.  (Tyre is a city in Lebanon where these dyes were also produced.)  Tyrian purple was valued in part because the color was supposed to improve rather than fading with age.

Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans: oh my!

I want to go find a tidal pool, but this seems challenging.  In the meantime, James chooses a cannon, ready to repel an attack from the sea,

and we encounter our Ifrani friends, the Dye family.
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Jeremy, Zoe, and I climb the tower to peer down on things from above.  Beware incoming seagull!P1010600

The town was known as Mogador until Mohamed III had it rebuilt by French and Genoese architects and builders and renamed it Essaouira (little fortress souira, or well-drawn picture souera).  The name Mogador may come from Migdal, or from the saint Sidi Mogdoul whose shrine is here (he was reputedly a Scot–MacDougal–shipwrecked on the coast, and endowed with baraka).  The French changed the name back to Mogador, but independence brought a return to Essaouira.

Baraka Mohamed: maybe some of it will rub off on us.

Jem and Zoe pose in the circle close to the entry to the ramparts.P1010606 P1010608

But it looks a little different from the other side, in the evening light.

That’s one of the interesting things about Essaouira: it’s both a tourist center and (still) a fishing village, even though the fishing industry has suffered in recent years.

As tourists, we enjoy the wandering musicians (whose music Zoë hopes to share),
P1010614 P1010613and we go horseback riding on the beach in the afternoon.

I like talking with our guide, Brahim.  He sits on his horse so comfortably, kicking a leg over now and again: half the time, it looks  little like he’s lounging on a sofa.P1010621

“Were you a jockey?” I ask.  He’s got the physique and the professional comfort level.  Brahim nods.
“Did you get hurt?”  He nods again.  It’s a stupid question.  All jockeys get hurt.
“Break some bones?” Nod.  Enough already, Betsy.  It’s like picking at a scab–I can’t quite stop–but at least I can stop with the personal questions.Brahim
photo Zouina cheval

“Where is there racing in Morocco?”
Marrakesh, Rabat, Casablanca, Tangia: all the major cities.  The responsibility for organizing the year’s racing rotates among the cities, so each one takes a turn.  Ibrahim rode for an owner with a large stable–nine jockeys.  But then the owner married a French woman, moved to France, and sold all his horses.  Ibrahim was a little unsure what to do next.  He came to Essaouira to meet a friend at the Gnawa music festival–he’s also a musician, in his spare time–and he discovered Zouina Cheval was in need of a manager.  He and the boy leading Jeremy run the stable, just the two of them.  Ibrahim likes it better than being a jockey–likes talking with the tourists, meeting people from all over the world.  He has a wonderful face, with wise eyes.
brahim photo Zouina cheval
Brahim only worries when the riders are a mixed group, like us.  “Your son is doing well, but sometimes the children cry.  I worry they won’t be happy.”

We too were worried that Jeremy would be unhappy–but now I only worry for the young man leading Jeremy.  Jeremy is as happy as can be–and demanding as well.  “Vite! Vite!  Ma mère a dit wakha, c’est bon.”  Jeremy mingles French and Darija like a Moroccan.  “Fast, fast!  My mom said it’s ok, it’s good.”  The young trainer gets his boots splashed by a sudden wave, and runs up the sand.  Jeremy laughs and laughs: “Encore! Dans la mer! Encore!”  Again! In the sea! Again!
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Nancy and Jeff look very professional–Nancy says it’s her first time “running” a horse.  She did beautifully.

J and Zoë and I splash through the surf with Mogador in the background.  Visible on the island are the mosque and a women’s prison, now defunct, originally built by Moulay Abdelaziz in 1897 to lock up rebellious member of the Rhamnna tribe.

Here are two photos of the prison from (a great resource): first, “Berber prisoners” sent to this prison by Moulay Abdelaziz, 

and then a view of the four gates constituting the only way in or out of the prison.  island_prison_2_h300
The structure had no roof.  Prisoners evidently had to take the rain or sun as it came.

By contrast, this sunny, breezy afternoon on the beach feels like such a luxury–as indeed it is.  It turns out that we’re in Essaouira during the non-windy time: the wind blows constantly from April through September.  Brahim tells tall tales, of the village down the coast where every house has two doors.  All summer, the wind blows from the north and villagers use the southern door.  All winter, the wind blows from the south, and villagers use their northern doors.  (The town now hosts a wind farm, so there’s definitely an abundance of  wind.)

After our ride, we head back to Essaouira, which is gleaming in the evening light.  The juice sellers here decorate their stands with what strike me as orange “scalps” (sorry):
And the fishermen are hard at work, preparing their sun-bronzed boats for the next day or week or month:


À vendre: for sale.  Fishing boat, anyone?  Or shall we settle for supper in a bag on a bike?

At evening, the seafront is full of hidden corners,P1010709

And the sunset heightens the magic of the iles purpuraires:
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Christmas in Imlil and the mountains

Despite Jeremy’s worries, Santa managed to find his way to Imlil on Christmas eve.  Jeremy woke and was sad not to see any presents, but when he went back to the foot of his bed, he felt something that rustled! Like wrapping paper!  (Wrapping paper is not exactly prevalent in Morocco. Thanks, Jeff.)  And the definition of Christmas morning delight was that the whole bed was covered in wrapping paper–which we then popped into the fire at breakfast.  Best of all was the fact that Santa had brought Jeremy things his parents had refused to get him: a “magic” lipstick that starts out green and turns red, a toy that shoots up into the sky on a rubber band, and a variety of scarves.
Jeremy went to town with that magic lipstick.  Luckily, Zoe reminded us in the nick of time that the magic lipstick worked because it included henna, which might last significantly longer than 24 hours–we scrubbed his face, but his arms remained pink for several days.

The room came with some djellabas, presumably on loan against the cold (and it was cold!): we dressed up for a family Christmas photo:
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Zoë looked the best in her get-up, though:

After breakfast, we packed up, and then went out to the road, where a mule and muleteer were waiting for us.  Jeremy was very nervous about getting on the mule to start with, but soon he was having a blast:

And when Zoë’s asthma started to kick in up the steepest ascent, she caught a little ride too.  Think about Mary on that road to Jerusalem.  Or maybe not.  Peekaboo!

Family Christmas portrait number 2:
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The mountains were beautiful, and the mule meant that we were all having a great time on this hike.  Jeremy got to feel very independent and strong…
and we all enjoyed the cloud-scapes
P1010370the patchwork hills
P1010389the clever terracing of the hills and towns (OK, maybe that was just me enjoying it for all of us).

We had hoped to find deep snow here, to answer Zoë’s longings, but this was the closest we came, really.

The second half of the path led through a “forest” full of fruit and nut trees and carefully dug irrigation channels (I’ll spare you the details just this once).  I want to come back and see it all in blossom in the springtime (insh’allah).
We were sad when we reached the end of our trail, but at the same time, we were ready to get on the road to Essaouira, to meet up again with Jeff and Nancy.

Bonus point if you can find the goat below in less than five seconds:
They’re everywhere, really.  As are vibrant colors and designs.


James took a brave back road to Essaouira, taking us past another massive dam and reservoir
and along the side of this carefully cultivated wash, or dry river bed.  Farmers must have to brace themselves against the likelihood of disaster if the rains ever come in earnest.
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Ironically, the worst of the road was not the part marked as a possible piste through the mountains, but the heavily traveled road not quite wide enough for two cars.  Too many games of chicken were played that sunny afternoon.  At least the road was swept for us.


Marrakesh: a few architectural landmarks

The Almoravids founded Marrakesh in 1062 (four years before the Normans landed in Hastings, England), but the only architectural remains are this small shrine or Koubba (qubba), half hidden by the streets of the city rising up around it:

The shape of the crenellations can be found throughout the middle east and North Africa; their origins are lost in time.  Along with the keyhole arches, the dome, the decoration over the dome, these architectural details will carry forward into Andalucian architecture.

The Almohads, who succeeded the Almoravids, destroyed most of the city, including the mosque, the foundations of which were not properly aligned with Mecca.  But they rebuilt the Koutoubia mosque, with its fabulous minaret:

Towering above the medina, the Koutoubia minaret glows from dawn to dusk, orienting the entire city.

The Marinids were major builders in Marrakesh, looking back to the Almohads with their Medrasa Ben Youssef, a Quranic school attached to the Ben Youssef mosque.  P1010257
But the Saadians embellished on the Marinid work, both in redoing the Ben Youssef Medrasa and in creating the famous Saadian tombs.

We loved the Ben Youssef Medrasa.  I liked the way the zellij played with slightly different patterns than the ones we had seen in Fez and Meknes.
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The plasterwork also stood out, both for its coloration (reflecting the colors surrounding and defining the “Red City”) and for its more severely geometric patterns (at least in some parts).P1010281

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We wondered about the source of this cedar in Marrakesh:  was it brought all the way down from the cedar forests around Ifrane, or was there a closer source, in the High Atlas?

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The courtyard was peaceful, empty at certain moments, filled with quiet tourists pushing strollers at other moments.

But what we liked best were the student quarters, with all their corridors and quiet nooks.  P1010278 P1010272

The rooms were arranged around a number of separate courtyards, each with its own access to the sky, each with its own collection of resting birds (?) if you look closely enough…
P1010277 P1010263As with the Meknes Bou Inania, you could see that students would have been tightly packed into these rooms.
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But the living quarters were a little less dilapidated than those of the Bou Inania, and James with his public school (boarding school) background, said that he could feel the spirits of the boys who had lived here, looking on in bemusement as we (and thousands of other tourists) wandered through their haunts.

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At the other end of the medina, the Saadian Tombs, built by Ahmed Al-Mansur,  were famously walled up by Moulay Ismail.  Even now the entry is through a narrow corridor that Jeremy found a little spooky.  The gloomy grandeur of the Chamber of the three Niches is hard to capture in a photograph,P1010322

but I could have spent hours gazing at the ceiling alone:

The mausoleum for Al-Mansur’s mother is drenched in light and thus easier to grasp, somehow.
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My favorite detail: the carved wooden khatems high above one side entrance, almost lost in the honeycomb pattern defining the arch…
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It’s as if they’re floating in space.

Jump forward in time several hundred years to 1860, when the grand vizier Si Moussa began the Bahia Palace, further embellished by his son Abu “Bou” Ahmed.  Bou or Ba Ahmed was born to a slave woman, and he himself was dark-skinned, but he rose to become vizier or chamberlain to Hasan I, who succeeded in reunifying much of Morocco after years of disruption.  After Hasan’s death, Ba Ahmed arranged for his younger son Abd el-Aziz to become sultan; Ba Ahmed ruled for six years as regent until his death in 1900 (he’s believed to have been poisoned).  Various stories told in the Djemma el Fna tell of a black slave becoming sultan, presumably with the story of Ba Ahmed in mind.  During the Protectorate, Thamis el Glaoui occupied the Bahia palace.

The zellij at the Bahia palace is still interesting and intricate, as is the plaster…

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but the artwork I found most compelling was the zouaq, or the wood painting.  Some of this remains in older styles and colors, but the influence of European aesthetics begins to be seen in different color palettes:

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The ceilings in particular were mind-boggling in their detail and precision:

But the palace overall was defined by its age: an age of complex negotiations with European powers, as seen in this Europeanized aesthetic:

Marrakesh overload and the Rabia qdima

Marrakesh was predictably a little overwhelming for us–one result of which is a shortage of photographs.  But this one kind of captures our range of responses to the endless call to buy something:
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Zoë: I’m not even looking.
Betsy: Nice try.  I like the patter.
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Nancy: Did he just say what I thought he did?!
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The famous snakes of the Djema elFna made Jeremy nervous (and their handlers, demanding high payment for a 20-second pause while strolling) made his parents nervous.

We took refuge for a while in a café above the Rabia qdima, where the shops selling herbs and spices (and tourist trinkets) are complemented by stands of hats and gloves (and tourist trinkets) in the center of the square:

People-watching is always our favorite thing, anyway.
 P1010235Nancy bravely bought some things at one of the herb shops: was it the “Moroccan Chanel #5” (musk) or “Moroccan mothballs” or something else altogether?

But it took Jeffrey’s arrival to make us understand that Marrakesh is indeed a city for shoppers, and it embraces those who understand and embrace the delights of the urban market.

Driving south by the Cascades d’Ouzoud

My friend Nancy came to see us for the midwinter holiday, and after learning to make a traditional Moroccan bean soup (secrets: buckets of garlic plus paprika to keep the beans from clogging the pressure cooker),

we drove six or seven hours south to Demnate, stopping at the Cascades d’Ouzoud on the way.
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We were amazed by the massive water pipe snaking down the mountains near Beni Mellal,
by the fertile plains it irrigated,

and by the river and dam that fed it:
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I want to be a bee-keeper right here:

We were weary by the time we got to the Cascades d’Ouzoud.  It was cold and the insistence of the guides wanting to give us a tour made us a little cranky.  But the falls were beautiful.  We thought the rainbow appeared specially for us, but it’s actually a reliable feature of the cascade.P1010030

The intrepid father-son team went all the way to the bottom of the falls and we met them coming up on the other, calmer, less touristy side.
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Then James climbed out into the middle of the falls to take this kind of photo from “a perfectly safe place.”  All I can say is, it didn’t look that safe from where we were standing.

Then we jumped back into the car to drive another hour to our eco-farm hotel in the hills above Demnate.  The rolling hills were beautiful in the early evening.

After we dropped our bags in our rooms, as Zoe and Nancy settled themselves in, Jeremy and I went to explore the farm and James came along to play with his new camera.
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I love my boys, both big and small.
One of the many facets of happiness.

Dropping into the Fez medina

One of the wonderful things about living in Ifrane is how easy it is to drop into Fez for the day.  The road down the mountain is often slow and crowded, but on our way we like to pass the stored onions
and the drying olives of early December.
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Roughly an hour later, we’ve arrived.  One of these days, I’m going to go around the city and visit each one of the many many gates.  But today, we’re just starting off at Bab Boujeloud:

Yes, that’s close to the camel meat souk.  Friends tell me camel meat is really quite tasty.
But I’d rather ride a camel than eat one, personally.

Someday, I’d like to learn more about how the waterclock by the Bou Inania was supposed to work, but today, we drift on past, focused on colors and scents (and grabbing a bag of pricey almonds to nibble as we go).

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Today’s great treat is the honey souq, with over a dozen varieties of honey: some of our favorites were lavendar, rosemary, and thyme.  Carob honey is supposed to lower cholesterol, forb honey (from the cactus that looks like little fingers) is supposed to be good for the lungs.  There’s jasmine, date, fig, cedar, even cumin honey.
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Our chosen honeys are weighed and packaged for us.  Note all the different colors of honey.

Our (new) friend is named Nouredine or “the light of faith;” he has a family tree stretching from Adam to Mohammed above the door to the honey storeroom. SONY DSC
(Special figures appear as green rounds on a date palm: Adam, Idriss (?), Noah, Abraham (with offshoots of Isaac, Israel, etc.), up to Mohammed.  Nouredine is a wholesaler: he works with a number of other men who purchase honey from different sources around the country.  Mostly, he sells to bakers who might use the honey to create a particular kind of wedding cake or other sweet treat.  His honey is carefully monitored by the state: he has to have it tested to confirm the purity, in contrast to the sugar water sold as honey by the roadsides on the way to Ifrane and elsewhere.

Powered by a massive honey buzz, we continue down the Talaa Kbira, the main street of the old medina.  James particularly likes this view of the Qaraouyine minaret:


I think it’s the combination of the soaring minaret, the building supports below, and the donkeys on the ground.
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We also like the fact that so many of the Fez mosques are still such active spaces, so much a part of the community:


Nearby, a woman carries bread to be baked at a public bakery:

And djellaba makers are busy braiding trim:

In his workshop, a little off the beaten track, a man is painting a door in the time-honored traditions of zouaq, but with bright modern paints:
P1000968 P1000969In Morocco, of course, a teapot is never very far away.

In the Seffarine square, brassmakers are polishing their wares
while another man peddles poultry.  Chicken for dinner, anyone?

After lunch at a small family restaurant, we visit the Nejjarine fundouq, with its fabulous collection of craft artifacts (no photos permitted), and we climb to the rooftop café for a view down into the street,

across the domed roof of a local bakery/hammam (the two neighborhood institutions are usually built together to share their heating),

over the populated rooftops,

and finally over the hills to the Merenid tombs:

And then it’s time to be on our way home to the Ifrani sunset.

Gouffre de Friouata

On the way back to Ifrane, we spent a night in the National Park of Tazekka, near Taza, northeast of Fez.  In the morning, we drove up and down the mountain in slippery snow (turning to rain) in order to reach the mouth of the Friouata cave.

The cave extends for about 3 kilometers underground: here is a map from the National Park’s website.

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We straggled through the rain into the welcome center, donned hard hats with head lamps, and followed our guide into the cave.  (I’m going to call the guide Abdelrachman for his kindness until I can remember his real name.) My favorite part was the opening, the massive sinkhole of this karst topography.


At the bottom of the sinkhole, we squeeze through a smaller opening into the cave itself:
Tempting to pet the bat as we go by:

The hike was like a dark, underground muddy rock scramble, with the occasional bridge over streams or standing water, and ladders to simplify the climb to higher or lower levels.
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There was an abundance of stalactites, stalagmites, and interesting formations of all kinds.  These formations grow at a rate of roughly 100 years per centimeter.  The cave counsels patience.
And impermanence: some of the stalactites have been broken by earthquakes and tremors.
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At the end of the cave system, Abdelrachman played the rock formation like a cross between a drum and an organ.  I’ll try to post a link to the video on vimeo.P1000669

But, as is often the case here, the most amazing display (in my eyes) was the kindness and care Jeremy received.  He was carried bodily through most of the cave by Abdelrachman and by our West Point friend, James.
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For my part, I was happy to have faced down my claustrophobia, and to have received this muddy badge of honor from Abdelrachman:
Indeed, a good time was had by all: