During the 70’s I lived and taught in Morocco. I wanted to understand our history starting from the Moors, a story still never told. For nearly 4 years I traveled, photographed and connected with what seemed a past life experience. I embraced Morocco and it’s culture completely.
Now when I go back and I go every year or so I start with a lunch in a favorite restaurant’s terrace overlooking the sea and recuperating from some jet lag. The new Mosque in Casablanca is the largest on earth and the new king Hassan VI has done his country right but putting up one of the most spectacular buildings for the purpose of prayer. It is beautiful in the typical Moorish way with mosaic tiles that sparkle like gems and pools that cool the devotees. But then there are global touches that set it apart, chandeliers from Murano, Italy and titanium gates that look like lace from Russia. It is a must see on your way to other parts of the country.
I love Rabat and its small white medina and Fez with it’s incredible schools tucked behind elaborately carved doors and gates. Fez is deep in the sense that once you enter it’s Casbah you feel almost swallowed up into the 14th century. The shopping of course goes without saying…almost. Our aesthetic is so enhanced by that of the ancient worlds and Morocco stands alone with tiles, bowls and carpets in that part of the world. And on my recent trips I felt exceptionally safe.
The days of fear of getting lost in the old world has been replaced with an absolute security enforced by the ‘Kings Men’ who understand the importance of the tourist trade. But when I’m rested I head south and over the Middle Atlas moutains to Ourazazate. To know this part of the country is to love it for all its beauty. The land rises up, valleys emerge, gorges form and splash the waters between the cliffs of the mountains. Small rivers meander off and cliff dwellers have erected umbelieveable magical homes. The valleys are green and lush with palms and the air is clear. All the roads that carry you around this country are new and safe, drive carefully on the edges of mountains and all is well. This is the part of the country most are familiar with without knowing. So many movies have been made here from Lawrence of Arabia to the Mummy series and Bable. Now there is an official production area so that films are not only shot here but produced. The hotels here are fun since many of the props sit in the restaurants or foyers and restaurants. And speaking of restaurants, you haven’t eaten until you’ve had a traditional Moroccan meal. I think I really learned to appreciate food here in Morocco. Fresh vegatable, fish, cous-cous and delicious pasteries and breads. I love it here but Marrakkesh is always whispering in my ears, so I continue on my way, but a stop in the Berber village out on the desert comes first. I love the opportunity to ride a camel now and then, though the fantasy of taking a caravan to Timbuktu has waned, I still do a couple hours into the dunes and watch the sunset from the top of a mountain of sand you climb after the ride on the camels as far as they will go. It is an experience not to be missed or ever forgotten. (Did you know it was the camel, whose memory rivals that of elephants that lead the nomads across the deserts? Once they’ve done it, they never forget the way. And speaking of their memory they are a bit grumpy and will wreck havoc on anyone who hurts them, even accidentally. So be careful around them.)
The sunset is breathtaking in its luster but replaced soon after by the brilliance of millions of stars so close and bright that you think you could pluck one out of the sky to put in your pocket. Once we’re down from the dunes, a fire is blazing in the center of the tent city I stay in. The grounds, walls, floors and tops of the tents are all carpeted. A dozen candle lit lanterns guide you to your tent with cots and lamps.Dinner is served under the stars by candle light and the Berber men have brought out the their tomtoms, tamborines and guitars to serenade and entertain. Now it is really quiet and the stars seem to be twinkling loudly, demanding your attention to the universe. The wind picks up, spattering sand constantly and that tells you it’s time to sleep, happily there is a state of art bathing facility just near so now mishaps in the desert in that respect. You are guided throughout the village with lanterns lit to show the way. Peace.
Tomorrow Marrakkesh and Djemma el Fna, the shopping center set up during the Silk Road trade. Monkey’s dancing, Charmers with snakes, hawkers of incense and herbs, a dentist on a bike with loose teeth in an old cigar box attached to his bumper. It’s all here, leather goods, carpets, nuts, dates, fruit of all kind. At night it turns into the most spectacular center of activity with food vendors rolling their carts and tables to the center. I sit on a roof-top cafe and view it from up here. When in Marrakkesh, I stay at a friends Riad, a house with an enclosed yard deep in the Medina. First trip I had to photograph each turn and alleyway to find my way in and out but once you get there it is paradise with tangerine and lime trees in the garden, all hung with candle lit lanterns. Her library of books and music is impressive and one can lose oneself for longer periods of time than one might have thought.
The whole time you’re losing yourself, you are finding yourself in ways that may not have occurred to you before. There is a spa in Marrakkesh that takes you back to the days of harems and secret places. For men and women, it is the place to go to get a traditional Hammam experience. The public bath, a place to be pampered, though not men and women together. Decorated around a Riad with miles of orange and purple silk hanging from the floors above, red candles at the entrance of each room, a place to relax with tea and oranges. Did you know that Morocco is the land of the orange? Famously so. So many oranges in fact that they feed the extra to the cows and the milk and yogurt of this country is special. I can stay this way for days, but before going home I make my last foray into Oeurka Valley. I think this was Eden…or something like it. AAhhhhhhhh! Morocco. I love you.