Monthly Archives: April 2014


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!

Temara, Chellah, and guebbs

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. P1030257 P1030270 P1030269 P1030271He and I also worked hard on several major sandcastle developments.
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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.

Still, the Islamic elements were beautiful.
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both the shrine and the baths.

And for a stork-fancier like myself, there was a lot to like.  I think there are 70 pairs of resident storks!
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Jeremy was enthralled by the movie being filmed on the grounds.

Zoë and I struggled to be patient in the heat.

Another sunset…
a sand burial…
and we were off to Fès to learn about plaster carving.

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.
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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…
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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.

Et voila!  Wala!

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.