Summer Life in Marrakesh (or should I say 45 min outside of Marrakesh)

Summer is here…not many words today…in the whirlwind of preparations…we are traveling to the US for a long overdue visit…so here is some color therapy for you all…enjoy your summer…


My newest discovery

Regarding photography…obviously one needs a good camera, the bulky three dimensional unwieldly kind, not so much the flat kind that comes in pink and fits discreetly in your purse.  Mine is a Nikon D3000 , the most basic of all DSLR’s, the baby of the bunch.  By the way, I highly recommend Amazon for this camera, they are underselling the Nikon website, so they can’t even display the price until you add the camera to your cart.

Then, most photos need a little, um, plastic surgery, by an amazing doctor called Photoshop!  Just as I am telling myself most emphatically that I am NOT the kind of person who has 4 hours a day to spend tweeking photos…my words came back to bite me.

Here are some before and afters.

Before:  nice photo, but doesn’t quite have that pop to it.

After: much better, dontcha think?

Or remember this picture from the El Jadida beach?  I was pretty excited about it, before:

After: high drama!

So, next time you see photos that look too good, chances are they’ve had a little work done.

El Jadida: the mo’rockin beach

Eight years ago, give or take a few days, was the most amazing, painful, spiritual, mind blowing experience of my life.  It was the day, or night, that my daughter, Karima was born.  She was born at home, in our house in Marrakesh, after 38 or so hours of back labor.  If you know what that means, then you know.  If not, then ignorance is bliss.  I’d like to say I had an amazing, natural, birth, with lots of candles and self-empowerment…But the home birth was actually pretty old school.  My 70 year old Swiss midwife, arrived with, I’m not kidding, a small black leather bag full of medical equipment, a la 1800’s doctor making house visits.  She settled in the next room with her knitting and said to call when I needed her…

But really this is not the story I’m telling now.  That whole story was amazing and deserves its own post, perhaps.

What I’m trying to set the scene for here is…it’s Karima’s birthday!  And how do you celebrate an 8 year old girl’s birthday?  Do birthdays simply get more and more elaborate?  More goodies in the goodie bags, more complicated games, fancier canapes (junky enough for kids, yet still appealing to adults), more expensive presents?  It’s hard not to play the game of up the ante.  It’s all pretty overwhelming, for the parents, and especially for the birthday kid.

That’s why I pre-emptively suggested the following to Karima right after her 7 year old birthday party: “hey, next year, what do you think, instead of a party, you could pick one or two special friends and have a really cool experience?”.  She was into it…and so, this year, I’m happy to say, we had the best ever, beach weekend birthday celebration.

We packed our kids in, along with a couple more that we borrowed from neighbors and friends, and drove two/three hours towards the coast, from Marrakesh to El Jadida.  Some friends of ours have a cottage right on the beach, and while it’s rented during the summer season, it’s empty now.  Score!  How lucky is that?

El Jadida beach, or Sidi Bouzid, was still quiet at this time of year.  Somehow, it’s not a touristy beach, we saw only Moroccans there.

The kids braved the pounding surf, dug holes in the sand to see the water come up.  Then there were the kites.  When you have five kids, who are maybe a little cranky from a long day, trying to fly a kite is an impossibly stressful activity.  So much expectation, such unsatisfactory flying experiences.  Nevermind.  There was still the sunset over the Atlantic, the excited joy the kids had in sharing everything together, the rocks and shells they reported back with periodically, the pleasure of eating together out of one big plate (lunch was a veggie platter, a giant omelette and a fruit platter), the showers and hopeless battle against sand everywhere, the sheer craziness of spending 3 hours in the car together.

As a parent, so much of your own happiness derives from your children’s happiness.  For me, it’s seeing my kids being kind to each other, spending time outdoors, finding creativity, sharing willingly, engaging the world and being engaged by it.

And once again, it’s my midnight blogging hour, rushing to post before postponement happens once again, and although I’m never quite as expressive or careful with my words as I could be during normal hours, I guess it’ll have to do.

Karima, still a little sleepy:

Pure beauty:

An overcast morning:

Some jewels:

The kite was in the air for a nanosecond, everyone was elated:

Snapshot: my ‘hood.

Any excuse to post a picture of amazing clouds (I know, clouds again).

This is a picture of the street I live on.  It’s so familiar to me, but let me see if I can look at it from an outsider’s perspective.

The palm trees: are kind of like cows in India, we just let them be, even in the middle of the road.

The houses:  all painted an earth hue, cause that’s the law around these parts.  That’s why they call Marrakesh the Red City.   The houses here tend to be three stories high, with the bottom floor sunken 2/3 of the way into the ground.  This basement is called “la cave” and it keeps a constant temperature all year round.  We live in a “cave”, our very own little hobbit’s grotto, and I like the moderate temperature, but miss sunlight flooding in the window.

Atop the houses, satellite dishes: these are the main players in the “information revolution” that has swept through Morocco since the late 90’s  (the other player being?  Yes, the internet).  These giant receptacles bring us news from all different perspectives, and of course, Turkish soap operas dubbed in Arabic.

The sidewalks: are coveted by the homeowners as a little extension of their property, so they are possessively filled  with shrubbery, leaving a narrow 2 feet of sidewalk for pedestrians.  This is why going for a walk with my kids is a battle for life or death, as I’m always in fear that one of them will trip and tumble into the street.

I promise to get back to interesting topics very very soon.

Until then, I leave you with the very fascinating subject of my street, to ponder and analyze.   Peace to you my friends!

The green drink

Aaah, it looks like our short, mild winter is over.  I thought I’d never get through those two months of 70 degree weather.  Some nights were so almost cold we actually had to close the windows.  At one point, I was going through our storage, and I discovered a stash of dark-hued, itchy garments.  They were none other than our winter clothes, which I forgot we owned.  No sooner had I gotten them unpacked, when the weather turned on us, and now they are vying for valuable space in our closets with their light-hued, cottony counterparts.

Oh well, those days of suffering are over.  And now, we’re being sublimely rewarded for our patience.  Doesn’t it just feel like, everywhere you look, there is some small celebration of spring?

A reddish rosebush, not yet in bloom, laden with jewelly dew drops…

Pinks and purples, gathered by a young maiden fair…

Yes, greenery and new life is everywhere.

I’ve been celebrating spring with my favorite green smoothie.  The recipe and inspiration comes from a dear friend in Rabat.  It’s the best thing that’s happened to me, foodwise, in a long time.  Taking the time to make this drink feels like the pinnacle of self-pampering.  Would you like to pamper yourself with an amazingly healthy and invigorating green smoothie?

Then you will need:

-Fresh squeezed orange juice (that’s the most labor intensive part)

-A banana, or two

-Something green: spinach, celery, and parsley all work.  Lots of it.  (Washing the green stuff is the second most labor intensive part of this process, but it’s so worth it).

Throw it all in the blender.  You will figure out how much of each ingredient you want.  It should be smooth and frothy.  And although it won’t taste “sweet” in the classic sense, it will taste so fresh, zingy and energizing, that you too will soon be a green smoothie addict.  Why, you can almost feel the antioxidants binding with those bad guy free radicals, efficiently whisking them away.

So, here it is.  It’s so green it looks like a radioactive potion concocted by some evil scientist.    But the only transformative effects this drink will be positive, I assure you.  This drink will give you a little spring stamina, new energy and glowing skin.  Not to mention a little shove in the direction of weight loss, if that is the direction you are needing to go in (are you too a little, um, un-slim now, post-winter?).  Blend, drink and be healthy!

Desert journey

As alluded to in my previous post, I’ve been to the desert this past week.  For only the second time in my twenty some years living in Morocco.  What’s up with that.

I can’t even begin describing what an experience it was for me.   Looking through the photos is almost painful.  I can’t remember having such a deeply and effortlessly spiritual journey.  We left busy, crowded Marrakesh, full of spring break revelers.   Marrakesh, the city that is growing with no vision, trading its soul one bit at a time for luxury apartment blocks, hotels, and now, the biggest mall in all of north Africa.  Do you know that Joni Mitchell song “They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot”.  Well she wrote that about Marrakesh.  Almost.  What I’m saying is, I’m exhausted and I need to flee.

So, we fled to the east, over the Atlas mountains, or somehow through them, via the Tizintichka pass.  Along the switchbacks, past the desert outpost of Ouarzazate.  The landscape changes from lush and mountainous, to dry and plain.  The further I got from Marrakesh, the more layers I felt falling away.  My eyes rested from visual pollution, as only beautiful and natural things filled my gaze.  Eventually even that natural beauty became more raw, more plain.  In the vastness and emptiness of the desert, my mind finally ran out of endless thoughts and ceaseless chatter.  I chewed all my cud until there was nothing left.  Nothing, really? Well, you know, a very little trickling stream of thought, not the usual torrent.  I like to have “nothing” flowing through me, like the very essence of creation.  And this is what seems to happen when you align yourself with the natural world.  You become a resonance, along with everything else,  you live, for an instant, your full potential as a natural creation.

Yes, words are indeed inadequate, at least mine are.

So, without further ado, here are some pictures, which make for a condensed photojournal of our trip.

This little slice of paradise lies on the Marrakesh side of the Atlas mountains (ok, the west side).  You won’t believe it, but the desert is just beyond those mountains.

Now we’ve passed through the mountains, see them in the distance?  We’re on the east side.  This is the valley of Ait Ben Haddou.  It’s an old caravan trading outpost.  The RV’s add a touch of realism.

After that, you only have to drive 8 more hours (or according to my husband, 6 hours), to get to actual sand dunes.  We then rode 1.5 hours into the desert by camel.  If that sounds impressive, our guide actually walked it, leading his camels the whole way.

Then, way out there, in a sea of sand, a tiny patch of trees appeared.  An oasis!  Water is only 5 feet underground. We will camp here.  So will about 100 other people, much to our surprise.

My son forms bonds very freely with people he meets.  At the end of our trip, he told me that he loves our camel guide, Moha, more than his own brother!

Hello spring!

Sometimes, the sublime and the mundane live side by side.  Or one right above the other…

The Marrakesh sky has been resplendently cloudy.  It reminds me of bled rajli, my husband’s home in New Mexico. Clouds mean rain, and rain means life…

In this era of climate change, do April showers still bring May flowers?  That seems like such a quaint notion in this topsy turvy weather.  Is the weather wierdly unpredictable where you live?  Last week felt like winter, yesterday was springish, and today is hot as summer.  I’d better enjoy these while I can:

A life…examined…sort of

When it’s a day like this…and I am looking at this…

…I ask myself, seriously, why don’t I live here?…  Oh, of course, there are lots of rational responses, they have to do with troublesome details like…commute time…our family’s vastly different schedules…my dependence on town luxuries, like electricity…(my intense fear of change)…

…but in my heart of hearts (the fearless one), I sit on the patio of this blessed stone house…

…watching the olive trees dance with the wind…and my children (they’ve turned back into wood dwelling elves and no one has seen them since)…

…and someone appears with this…and I look up and say…thank you…