Monthly Archives: January 2014


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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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!