Morocco Retreat Summer 2021

Your heart knows the way. Run in that Direction.–Rumi

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Write what should not be forgotten.–Isabel Allende

Travel to have more to remember.–Cindy McCain

Have you vowed that writing will be a priority in the new year? Do you have travel tales you would like to tell? Are you ready to make new memories and create the ultimate souvenir–remembrance–of a time and place you never want to forget?

Whether you are just starting to write or a pro honing your craft…wanting to journal your journey in a an exotic land or transport others with a travel narrative piece… this writing retreat is for you. 

Though I’ve journeyed across 27 countries, nowhere like magical Morocco provides me with as much rest, adventure, and inspiration. While living there 2014-16, I fell in love with diverse landscapes, rich cultural experiences, and wonderful people. I returned Summer 2018 to some of my favorite writing spaces to prepare this retreat for 2020 when I can share them with you. I hope you’ll join me for a Beauty Break for the Soul.

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Imagine yourself with journal or laptop perched on the ramparts of the Atlantic coastal town, Essaouira  , formerly known as the Port of Timbuktu. Anything’s possible here, where goats (not pigs) fly.

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Imagine wide, open spaces where you write on the mountain terrace of a Berber village overlooking Toubkal, highest peak of the Atlas Mountains and northern Africa.

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Here Martin Scorsese filmed Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt.

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See your inner child (creative unconscious)  freed to play in pools and secret gardens. Or learning to cook from local ladies.

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Enjoy sharing over dinner with new friends.

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Taking a photo walk. Volunteering.

Journaling beside mosaic courtyard fountains, writing in the salon and outdoor terraces of a private riad, and reading your work on the rooftop overlooking the medina.   

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Truly, Morocco has been a creative hub for generations of artists, each meeting his or her respective Muse there. Edith Wharton, Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles… Josephine BakerJimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens … Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas.  Here Laurence of ArabiaIndiana JonesGladiator, and Game of Thrones came to life. Teaching, writing, and wandering there, my life felt epic, too.  

Join me in Morocco for my favorite local experiences from the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh to the African coast. Choose what your soul needs:

  • yoga
  • photo walks with a community of explorers
  • prompts for journaling your journey
  • beautiful spaces to recharge, relax, reflect, create on your own
  • study of the craft of travel writing, analyzing works of master storytellers inspired by Morocco who infused elements of journalism, personal essay, narrative, and poetic prose.
  • Workshop and instructor feedback
  • a rooftop/salon reading

Package Includes:

  • 5 Sessions: Craft/Prompts/Workshop with Feedback
  • One-On-One Session with Instructor
  • Rooftop or Salon Reading of Your Work on Final Night of Retreat
  • 7 Nights in Private Suites (5 in Marrakech in Private Riad and 2 in Essaouira
  • Seaside Villa)
  • Airport Transfers
  • Private Transportation to Essaouira and Berber home near Toubkal, largest mountain in northern Africa, for mule trek, class, and lunch on terrace
  • Medina Guided Tour and Entrance to Bahia Palace, El Badhi Palace, and Jardin Majorelle
  • Free Time to Write and Wander
  • Luxury Resort Pool Day
  • 7 Breakfasts
  • 4 Lunches
  • 4 Dinners (one in the  former palace of “Lord of the Atlas,” Pasha of Marrakech from 1912-1956)

Spots are limited. Contact me at cindylmccain1@gmail.com to reserve a place or ask questions. 

Not Included in Package/Paid by Participant:

  • Airfare
  • Proof of Travel Insurance
  • 4 Lunches, 4 Dinners, Tours/Activities during Free Time
  • Alcohol
  • Tips/Gratuities
  • Local hotel tourist tax collected by riad and villa

Itinerary

*Signifies lunches and dinners not included in package price

Day 1

  • Arrive in Marrakech by Noon
  • Transport to Private Riad/Welcome with Moroccan Tea and Pastries
  • Lunch together at Amal Women’s Center
  • Neighborhood walk (We are located near some of the best spas, shops, and restaurants in the Medina.)
  • Dinner Together at Riad

Day 2

  • Breakfast at Riad
  • Class Session
  • Guided Medina Tour/Photo Walk
  • Lunch Together at my Favorite Rooftop Lunch Spot near Koutoubia Mosque and Jemma el Fna Square
  • Ensemble Artisanal
  • Writing/Free Time
  • Dinner in the Former Palace of the “Lord of the Atlas”

Day 3

  • Breakfast
  • Class Session
  • Resort Pool Day with Lunch—Palais Namaskar or La Maison Arabe Cooking School/Country Club
  • *Dinner on own (May be ordered at our riad for 20 Euros. Many other options including fresh produce, local bakeries, groceries, mall food court, and restaurants/cafes at all price points. Next to our riad is the iconic La Maison Arabe and its jazz bar.)

Day 4

  • Breakfast
  • Private transfer to Berber Village near Toubkal, highest point in Atlas Mountains and Northern Africa. We’ll mule trek to a Berber home where lunch and class will be held on the terrace.
  • Stop on way back to Marrakech at Sir Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot https://www.virginlimitededition.com/en/kasbah-tamadot for a *drink
  • *Dinner on own

Day 5

  • Breakfast
  • Private transfer to Essaouira
  • Check into sea villa
  • Medina and ramparts walk (*Lunch on your own—many cafes and fresh seafood served at port stalls)
  • Dinner on Rooftop above the Sea

Day 6

  • Breakfast
  • Class Session
  • Free time/Writing
  • *Lunch and *Dinner on Own

Day 7

  • Breakfast
  • Return to Marrakesh
  • Free day to write or explore/*Lunch on Own
  • Suggestions: Shopping, Yoga, Hammam/massage, Pool Day (resort or near riad near Medina), Jardin Marjorelle. Contact me prior to trip if interested in volunteer opportunities in Marrakesh, such as Project SOAR or  Mule and Donkey Rescue .
  • Dinner together at Riad—Salon or Rooftop Readings of Your Work

Day 8

  • Breakfast
  • Transfer to Airport

About Your Instructor:

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I live in Nashville, Tennessee where I’m a writer and have taught university writing and literature courses for thirteen years. I’ve led educational trips abroad for over two decades, and my Travel Tales course at The Porch, an independent writing center for adults, has been a best-seller. Please see my portfolio for links to freelance publications and Southern Girl Gone Global collaborations with travel brands and tourism boards. Southern Girl Gone Global was named a Top 50 Travel Blog of 2016 in the UK and has been featured by US News and World Report, Expedia and Orbitz.

When not on the road or in the classroom, I’m spending time with my grown kids, the loves of my life; dancing salsa with friends; storytelling about my travels  ; and writing my No-Mom-Left-Behind memoir, Roses in the Desert. More of my story here.

Know someone who may be interested in joining? Please share this post and brochure below.

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Moments and Memories of International Teaching

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Jen, Emily, Bethany, Julie, Rachel, Eliza, Ali, Audrey

“What will be your moment this summer?” asked Jodie as eighteen coworkers sat Indian style on our apartment complex rooftop under a full moon.

A packed school year had ended with high energy and emotion— Moroccan Heritage Day, ASM’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, Graduation, our final faculty meeting sending some of us off for summer…others for good. Tears, hugs, and kisses had given way to a mellow mood. I’d sat in circles with colleagues over the last two years not only discussing work but life. Good times gathered around turkeys at our annual Thanksgiving dinners, birthday cakes, desert camp fires, and pools…challenging times around family members sick at home or a loved one in a hospital bed in Marrakesh after an emergency appendectomy…confusing times as we wondered what was going on with sad world events and the US Presidential race.  The next day we’d disperse all over the globe—many traveling for ten weeks and some going home for summer. I couldn’t imagine not seeing these people again in August at our annual Welcome Back rooftop cookout.

“So…your moment? What will be that thing you can’t wait to do?”

“Hang gliding over the fjords,” said Sylvie. We’d hiked in the mountains together and she biked to school—a trek that took our bus 30 minutes to make. She’d been to Nepal last Christmas, hosted our annual Thanksgiving meal in her apartment, and shown me an amazing French cheese store and bakery in our neighborhood.

“What about you, Jodie?”

“Driving a scooter on the coast of Crete,” she beamed. “You know, I can’t believe we are living this life. We’re going to Greece! I always thought if I did do something like that it would be the trip of a lifetime. Now we take school breaks and say, ‘Want to go to Paris? Tickets are $20.’” She sat beside her husband, Jordan, as she did daily on the bus. They had raised four children and now the empty nesters were loving their first year of freedom abroad. Their summer plans also included doing the Camino de Santiago alone. Both witty, she’d sit on the outside on the bus each morning energetically singing, laughing, and proposing we contact the show, “Pimp my Ride” to enter our bus for a makeover. By afternoon his soft –spoken zingers, naturally timed with hers, made them a comedy duo. Both have huge hearts and when they’d kiss each other bye as she turned down the kindergarten wing and he headed to the middle school to start their days, I smiled. Jodie and I had bonded as moms and bloggers. She’d recorded my southern accent reading a children’s book for her students and we’d held babies together at the orphanage.

“Jordan?” We looked at the other half of the Dynamic Duo.

“I’m excited about the history in Greece and I also look forward to just reading books on the beach.”

“Mike?” He’d taught in Ecuador last year and we all loved his one-of-a-kind laugh.

“Having a beer made at a monastery that has produced it since 1050.” He was meeting his dad in Germany and then would continue onto several other countries.

“Jason?” We turned to half of another kind couple.

“Seeing my new nephew who is now six months old,” he grinned. Jason had taught middle school in our English department, would be upper school principal next year, and headed a writing workshop at the beach last spring. I’d taken yoga from his Irish fiancé from Belfast, Siobhan, a doctor, blogger, and all-around Renaissance woman. They’d met in Costa Rica where he was teaching and both have hearts of gold.

“Thelma?” Thelma and Laurance, also empty nesters, had been in my yoga class and writing workshop. They’d owned a café in Nicaragua where she was from and had given me valuable tips on The Dominican Republic where they vacationed. Their daughter, pretty and sweet like her mother, was studying close by in Nice. Both dedicated teachers, Laurance was a talented screenwriter and made us laugh. Both helped me lighten up by encouraging me to sell my house as they had done to allow for travel and expat life in this new season.

“Seeing a national park Laurance and I have always wanted to visit in Croatia.”

“Rachel?” The age of my daughter, she sat beside me as she did most mornings on the bus. Eliza was sleeping strapped to her chest. She’d taught me how to do a bun I now call “The Rachel” because it saved me from heat and bad hair days. Her husband, Jon, had tutored me in photography and painting. He’d led the Marrakesh Photo Walk last fall and was an amazing artist who first came to Morocco to do commissioned work. I’d seen Eliza grow from a month old infant to a toddler in dog ears. We’d laughed and prayed together and I’ll miss them so much. They are moving to Casa.

“Seeing my mom again who has been sick. It will also be special for Jon’s grandmother to meet Eliza for the first time.”

Other destinations included Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, and Korea. We traveled every school break during the year and traded stories to plan future trips.  My coworkers were from ten countries I can think of—probably more: Canada, Russia, Scotland, England, the Philippines, Australia, Portugal, France, Morocco, and the US. Fellow Americans were from Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Texas. They’d attended schools like Berkeley and taught previously from Alaska to Las Vegas to Harvard. Overseas they’d taught in the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Europe, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, the Middle East….

I hope Tennyson was right when he said, “I am a part of all I’ve met.” Though we are from different places, backgrounds, and religions and teach students aged three to eighteen, we are all committed to being part of something bigger than ourselves. Together we worked hard and tried to love each other and our kids well. We respected each other.  We collaborated.  We listened.  We lived out hope before our students.  To be part of the solution rather than shout and shame others over the problems. To mute voices that promote negativity, fear, hate.  To believe in and fight for a world of peace and understanding.   I’ll miss these guys and am forever grateful for the community.

“I’m glad I met you Cindy McCain.  What’s your moment?” Jodie asked before I hugged her bye and headed down to my packed apartment.  “Hanging out with your kids–a movie night in perhaps?”

“Exactly,” I smiled.

That was just over a week ago.  As I post this I see on Facebook Ritchie thrilled to be with her aunt in Milan, Emily having a big time in Germany thanks to the kindness of strangers, Todd and Jose on the beach in Portugal, Jodie surrounded by statues in Crete with hands in the air giving Julie a shout out for her signature pose.  Moments in Morocco and beyond.  We’ll remember.

1st Year…

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2nd Year…

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Hope to see Ali again in Nova Scotia one day

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Hope to see Ymane when she visits Texas and makes a stop in the Dominican

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Hanane offered her home should I return to Marrakesh.

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Julie from VA, Jodie from Colorado, Siobhan from Belfast and Andrena from Glasgow do Girl Power classic, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

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Jon’s Art Class

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I will miss Ritchie, my dear friend, and my sweet neighbors across the hall, Christopher,  who kept my Mac running and provided karaoke for everyone, Bevs who fed me Filipino cuisine, and their three little ones who grew so fast and made me laugh.

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Jasna, my ASM bestie on one of the few occasions she allowed herself to be photographed.

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Writing workshop at Sidi Kaouki. Photo by Siobhan Graham.

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Photo of bus buddies, Rachel and me, by Julie Tumasz

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Just before our 7:15 AM commute, teachers  dashed to the hanut (mini market) next to our apartment complex for egg sandwiches, clementines, or whatever else we needed for the day.  Likewise, when we dragged off the bus at 5 PM  needing water, gas for our stoves, vegetables for dinner, or fresh mint for tea, this young man welcomed us in with a smile and asked about our day.  He and his brothers work seven days a week until 10 PM–always friendly no matter how high the temperature or how many locals stormed the counter.

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Ismail was our go-to driver for excursions around the country (like our trips to the Atlas Mountains and Ouzoud Falls; social events; and airport drop offs and pick ups.  He also transported our families and friends who came to visit including a last-minute cameral ride for my niece, her boyfriend, and me.   If you’re ever in Marrakesh, contact him at Morocco Desert Adventures.

Mary (below) and her husband own Les Jardins de Bala–my favourite Sunday lunch spot where Anu, another teacher, celebrated her birthdays and my guest including my kids loved.  We taught Mary’s sweet son, and I enjoyed her French flair for fashion. On the right is a chic dress she designed for 200 DH/$20 USD which included the cost of fabric and a tailor.  She is beautiful inside and out.

How I miss Sayida.  She kept the Woods and me organized and was nanny to their three children.  Coming home to a spotless apartment, clothes and sheets washed, and dinner ready and mint tea brewed was a treat I’ll never forget.     Just before I left, she surprised me with this beautiful gift. She was a Godsend and a great friend.

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Nick, Anu, and Steve at our going away pool party

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Bringing in 2016 in Venice with Jasna and Anu

88 Kisses and 44 Smiles: Sweet Success of Project SOAR

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To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Growing up southern, I’d hear my Mama Sargeant and Grandaddy say when they greeted the grandkids : “Give me some sugar.” A couple of weeks ago, I exchanged eighty-eight kisses  Moroccan- style, one on each cheek, with forty-four sweet girls as they excitedly entered the Project SOAR gates as they do every Sunday during the school year. My students and other volunteers were all smiles and laughs, too.

Last week the last session ended the season for summer break, but sadly, for me, it was another marker of the end of my season in Morocco.   Lord willing, or as Moroccans say, Inshallah,  I will be teaching students in the Caribbean when Project SOAR resumes in the fall.  I will miss the girls, my students who love working with them, and the wonderful people who started and sustain Project SOAR.  I am forever grateful for the hospitality shown to me by Maryam and Chris and the opportunities to teach their son, Tristan, and to serve Douar Ladaam girls.  I believe in Project SOAR’s mission to “empower underserved Moroccan girls through art, sports, and health education…(and to) help keep girls in school, breaking the cycle of girl marriages and early motherhood, and preparing girls to have productive and fulfilled futures.”

From afar I will continue to invite others to get involved in person or through financial support.  Though it is time to be nearer my family and leave Morocco, a country I have come to love the last two years, I will carry this place, these people forever with me in my heart.

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Sports instructor, Alice Elliot explains circuit training to ASM girls, Zineb and Rania, who will lead sports for the day.

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My former student visiting from the US, Jessica Markwood, will being interning in Mozambique this fall.  Four years ago we had just returned from a service trip where we worked with children in Ecuador.

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After sports at Peacock Pavilions we walk to the Project Soar Center in the village.

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Bochra Laghssais leads art class with an empowering project to make leaves for a tree that lists their personal goals and pursuits.

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Last winter students Abla, Najma, and Kenza also volunteered with me.  Project SOAR was chosen to pilot the Be Girl program in Morocco–the first Muslim country that is keeping girls in school by providing them with a hygienic, eco-friendly, vital product.

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Both beloved by the girls are Warda Belkass and Brenda Garcia Jaramillo.

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Volunteering with the girls of Project Soar has been good for students of The American School of Marrakesh as well.  They love laughing and playing with the girls.  Below, they demonstrated ballet moves and then asked the girls to strike a pose.  I am so thankful for their beauty, innocence, and enthusiasm.

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Memories Made at Project SOAR:

In Marrakesh Girls SOAR

Painting Party at Project SOAR

International Women’s Day

 

 

Jazzed about Josephine Baker and Riad Star

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Riad Star, Marrakech Medina
Photo Courtesy of Riad Star

When people ask How? Why? I moved to Morocco sight unseen, I think to myself, I didn’t.  Though I’d never been to Africa, my soul brimmed with vivid images from exotic Arabian tales my grandmother read to me from my dad’s childhood book.IMG_8289

I was lured by sultry desert tents, regal riads, and secret gardens where princes and princesses lounged in plush, cushioned comfort.  In my imagination birds sang- by- day and lanterns glowed- by- night in arched Andalusian courtyards of fabulous fountains, mosaic tile, and intricately carved woodwork.  I was meant to come here–a place where so many desires of my heart have been fulfilled for which I am forever grateful.

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Photo Courtesy of Riad Star

Likewise, for some time I felt drawn to Riad Star, former home of Josephine Baker, Queen of the Jazz Age.  I was first attracted by the place and a moment in time–the blending of beautiful Marrakesh design with an era I’ve loved since I was a little girl dressing up in my grandmother’s  drop waist dresses and pumps.  As an adult obsessed with Post- World War I Paris expats and Harlem Renaissance artists, I teach The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, and Jazz, and when living in the US had students play dress up, too, for annual ’20s Day events.

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Recently I finally stayed at Riad Star and met  “Jazz Cleopatra,” the legend for whom the boutique hotel is named.

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I now realize that what drew me there was more than one period of history.  It was a Renaissance Woman who before and beyond Harlem and the 20s never stopped changing, growing, giving, and overcoming.  A woman of tenacity and tenderness.

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Josephine’s photos smile at guests throughout the house, and in the dining area her costumes invite us to try on her life.

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More shocking than flapper dresses in 20s America was Josephine’s skirt of artificial bananas which she wore in Paris for her performance in Danse Sauvage.  In France she was an overnight sensation.

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When Aziz greeted me at the taxi, walked me to the riad, and placed my bag in her very suite, The Josephine Room, I was in awe.   There, under a photograph of her close friend, Grace Kelly, my favorite American Hollywood actress since I was a teen…

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I devoured Josephine’s biographies found in my room and the library downstairs.

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In the afternoon sun on the rooftop

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near the cool courtyard,

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and under the covers at night,

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like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris I was transported  to another time.

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There  I discovered a new treasure in Marrakesh..the “Black Pearl”…the “Bronze Venus” who Ernest Hemingway, her fellow expat in Paris, called “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”

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Before Beyonce…

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Or Rihanna

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Or Angelina Jolie…

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A dancer, singer, movie star, and mom energetically entertained crowds for fifty years and raised her “Rainbow Tribe.”

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Josephine:  “We must change the system of education and instruction.  Unfortunately, history has shown that brotherhood must be learned, when it should be natural.”

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Josephine said when called “beautiful”:  “Beautiful?  It’s all a question of luck.  I was born with good legs.  As for the rest…beautiful, no.  Amusing…yes.”

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Baker was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture,  Zouzou (1934) and to become a world-famous entertainer.  A superstar before Marilyn or Madonna, Josephine was named in 2012  Time magazine in the Top 100 Fashion Icons of All Time.

Likewise she was muse for artists and intellectuals of the 1930s such as  Picasso, Pirandello, Georges Roualt, Le Corbusier, and e.e. cummings.  Dance Magazine explained the allure of  Josephine –the “geometry” of her oval head and lithe body–during the Cubist and Art Deco movements, both influenced by  African art and sculpture.IMG_1738

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A World War II spy for the French Resistance, Josephine Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur by General Charles de Gaulle and the Rosette of the Résistance. At her death she was mourned in Paris by 20,000 people including Princess Grace who gathered for her funeral procession. She was buried with military honors in Monaco, a place she and her family visited often as guests of the royal family.

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A civil rights activist, she was the only woman who spoke  at the 1963 March on Washington alongside Martin Luther, King.  She told the crowd that day:
You are on the eve of a complete victory. You can’t go wrong. The world is behind you.  

Later she said of her personal victory:

Until the March on Washington, I always had this little feeling in my stomach. I was always afraid. I couldn’t meet white American people. I didn’t want to be around them. But now that little gnawing feeling is gone. For the first time in my life I feel free. I know that everything is right now. 

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Josephine in Washington with Lena Horne

And for a time, she lived in Marrakesh in a room I just stayed in.

Mike and Lucie Wood, British owners of Marrakech Riad, added Riad Star in 2010 to their collection of boutique hotels in the medina.  Mike explained their mission:

We bought our first riad (Riad Cinnamon)  in 2005 after I was introduced to Marrakech by a Moroccan friend.  We are passionate about introducing our guests to Moroccan culture, especially first time visitors.     As well as the riads we are very involved in a charity which we founded with another English couple.   It’s called Henna Cafe and has an active programme of education.  

The Pasha Thami el Glaoui formerly owned what is now Riad Star,  a guest annex to the palace which is now the Marrakech museum.  Mike says  he learned Josephine Baker stayed there when talking to a neighbor.  The people of Derb Alilich still remember her warmth and  she appreciated theirs.  In the Josephine Room  there’s a window looking onto the street–nonexistent in most riads where windows, doors, and balconies face inward toward private courtyards. It is believed the Pasha of Marrakech paid children to sit outside Josephine’s window and read for her while she was convalescing after a nineteen-month stay at a hospital in Casablanca  in 1941-42.

Mike Wood says of the purchase:

The restoration was extensive and took two years with a team of highly skilled local craftsmen.  We did not really change much except adding the rolling roof which is very practical and putting in more bathrooms.  

Ah, but the details the Woods added are symbolic of a spirit whose beauty, sensitivity and toughness transcended adversity.  There are nine rooms at Riad Star, each named for a part of Josephine’s life, such as the Jazz room, Paris room, Chiquita room, and Rainbow room.  Though historically themed, each room has modern conveniences, such as refrigerators, WiFi, and flatscreen televisions.

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Josephine was  born in 1906 in St. Louis to Carrie McDonald, daughter of former slaves, and vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson who carried her onstage when she was a toddler but left the family soon after. She cleaned houses and tended children for white families who told her not to kiss the babies.  One mistress burned her hands for using too much soap when washing clothes.  At age twelve she began a waitressing job at The Old Chauffeur’s Club which led to being married off unsuccessfully at thirteen.   At fifteen she was noticed for her street dancing and recruited for vaudeville. After witnessing the St. Louis race riots and experiencing abusive treatment which led to a time she lived on the streets and ate from trash bins, she moved to New York City during the Harlem Renaissance and performed at the Plantation Club.  As the last girl in the chorus line, her role was to make the audience laugh–something she loved doing her entire life.  But in 1925 Paris she moved from last to superstardom overnight when she opened in  La Revue Nègre at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees.  Continuing to amaze crowds with her sensual dances, costumes, and charisma, by 1927 she earned more than any entertainer in Europe.  And then she took on another continent…

In Josephine: The Hungry Heart,  Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase wrote of Josephine’s “Arabian Nights” when “she came to Northern Africa with twenty-eight pieces of luggage and her animals.”  Before she adopted twelve children from various countries (she suffered miscarriages and “many surgeries” trying to have her own and a complication that confined her to the Casablanca hospital ), she had a menagerie consisting of Chiquita, her famous leopard she walked on a leash;  Ethel, a chimpanzee; Albert, a pig; Kiki, a snake, and a goat, parrot, parakeets, fish three cats and seven dogs.  In Morocco her monkeys played in the orange trees.

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Baker records accounts of his mother’s time at Riad Star :

Every morning, as soon as the birds started singing, Josephine was up and running around  in the buff going to the kitchen to help the servants cook… The house had four bedrooms—one which had her big brass bed from France… She adopted Arab customs. She liked eating with her hands, wearing the loose djelleba, going with her maids to the hammam, the Turkish baths, once a week.

….And wasn’t it queer that Josephine, who had spent her childhood dreaming of kings in golden slippers, should find herself there? In a place where, even more amazingly, racial discrimination did not exist? Thami el Glaousi, pasha of Marrakesh and the most powerful tribal chieftain in French Morocco at that time, was himself black.

From northern Africa Josephine was safe from Nazi racism.  Langston Hughes wrote she “was as much a victim of Hitler as the soldiers who fall in Africa today fighting his armies.  The Aryans drove Josephine away from her beloved Paris.” Nonetheless, while in Africa as she’d done throughout Europe, Josephine continued entertaining troops for Charles de Gaulle and carrying information for the Allied forces from Spain.  Among dignitaries who visited her while in the hospital in Casa was Jacques Abtrey, Head of Intelligence against the Germans.  Outside as a military parade with American, French, and Moroccan troops marched by, he and Josephine toasted with champagne.  He recalls: “We raised our glasses to America, to England, and to our eternal France.”

Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Director of the African and African-American Studies Research Center at the University of California – San Diego and author of Josephine Baker in Art and Life: The Icon and the Image wrote of Josephine making Paris her home and learning not only French but Italian and Russian:

As a black woman, had she stayed in the United States, she could not have accomplished what she did….She never made a Hollywood film.  But at the same time she was recording in France, you had the likes of Hattie McDaniel playing maids in Gone with the Wind…[She] was among the early path-breakers to use performance celebrity for political ends.

When in the US she refused to perform in venues that did not admit minorities.  Says Jules-Rosette: “She was the first person to desegregate the Las Vegas casinos, not Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.”

Still, in 1951 she was refused admittance to some hotels and restaurants, and when she charged the Stork Club in New York City of racism when the owner would not serve her, she was placed on the  FBI watch list and lost her US citizenship rights for over a decade. In 1963 she returned with the help of Attorney General Robert Kennedy to speak at the March on Washington.  She told the crowd:

You know I have always taken the rocky path…I never took the easy one, but as I get older, and as I knew I had the power and the strength, I took that rocky path and I tried to smooth it out a little. I wanted to make it easier for you. I want you to have a chance at what I had. 

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Summing up her journey, Josephine said:  “I did take the blows [of life], but I took them with my chin up, in dignity, because I so profoundly love and respect humanity…I believe in prayer. It’s the best way we have to draw strength from heaven.”

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When not reading at Riad Star, I chatted over dinner with a lovely group of ladies on holiday from England.  All moms, they had decided to treat themselves to a girls’ getaway. For information on package deals including a Girls Getaway and other specialty escapes, go here.   I spent breakfast with a little bird by the pool, then took off with Aziz to see two other properties owned by the Woods.

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Though all guests are provided a downloadable App and cell phone to navigate the medina, after two years here and still taking wrong turns at times in the medina, I was thrilled Aziz was happy to walk me to and from the taxi as well as show me two other riads.

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Riad Cinnamon has five suites, each named for a city in Morocco: Fez, Essaouira, Chefchaouen, Casablanca, and Meknes.  Since I’ve been to all but Meknes, four of the rooms transported me to fine Morocco Moments across the country.

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After raiding my grandmother’s trunk for dress up clothes, I’d wear them out into her garden to watch butterflies playing in the flowers.   At Riad Papillon (Riad Butterly), imagination takes flight in rooms named for blooms, such as Bougainvillea, Jasmine, and Rose known to attract those feathery-winged wonders.  The riad is just off Dar El Bacha, one of my favorite shopping streets in the souks, while Star and Cinnamon are just around corners from Merdersa Ben Youseff, a medina must-see. All are also near the Spice Square and Henna Cafe.

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I enjoyed the morning and my Midnight in Marrakesh experience.  HBO’s 1991 movie, The Jordan Baker Story, winner of five Emmys and a Golden Globe now tops my list of Must-see films.  In “My Josephine Baker” her son explains in The New York Times how and why he had to write a biography of her: “When she died, something was taken from me. I suffered a loss and I wanted to know who she was, that woman I had seen in so many ways, sometimes a criminal, sometimes a saint.”

When she passed away in 1975, no doubt there were mixed opinions of her because she was– and her critics are– after all, human.  Her legacy lives on in Riad Star in the Red City where others find rest and shelter and at the Henna Cafe that promotes appreciation of diversity, cross-cultural communication, and understanding.  Though Josephine left school to work as a child, she later learned French, Russian, and Italian, an inspiration to language learners everywhere.

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Thank you to Riad Star for the hospitality.  As always, the opinions here are my own.

Roaming Romantic Rome: Literary Landscapes

There’s a power struggle going on across Europe these days. A few cities are competing against each other to see who shall emerge as the great 21st century European metropolis. Will it be London? Paris? Berlin? Zurich? Maybe Brussels, center of the young union? They all strive to outdo one another culturally, architecturally, politically, fiscally. But Rome, it should be said, has not bothered to join the race for status. Rome doesn’t compete. Rome just watches all the fussing and striving, completely unfazed. I am inspired by the regal self-assurance of this city, so grounded and rounded, so amused and monumental, knowing she is held securely in the palm of history. I would like to be like Rome when I am an old lady. 

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

‘I sometimes fancy,’ said Hilda, on whose susceptibility the scene always made a strong impression, ‘that Rome–mere Rome–will crowd everything else out of my heart.’

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance

I first met her in the movies in the ’60s when my family spent Easter week watching Ben-Hur and The Robe.  Later I sighed at her heroes in Gladiator and King Arthur, and still turn to Roman Holiday and Three Coins in the Fountain for escape, classic style, and fun frocks.  And though recently I giggled at Brit wits, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy based on their pilgrimage to places Shelley and Byron lived, I do love teaching literary legends–particularly The Romantics–who moved to Rome.  Long before the Left Bank of Paris brimmed with expat genius, Rome was muse to so many who for centuries have transported readers to the The Eternal City via  memoir, fiction, and poetry.   Still, nothing is like being in Rome for real.  I was there last week on a detour; but as with many of life’s detours, I realized Plan B was To Be.

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Since moving to Morocco in 2014, I began planning my Dream Week for Spring Break 2016. I didn’t know if I’d stay abroad after my initial two-year work contract, so I saved the best for last.  I’d fallen in love with Italy in 2000 and have since returned eight times; but in 2004 I was swept away by the Amalfi Coast and hoped this year to perch on a Positano terrace across from Capri, the island that enchanted me more than a decade ago. A Mermaid in Marrakesh, I felt I’d find my muse staying between the Path of the Gods and the ocean below. Nothing moves me like the sea, and I couldn’t wait to live like a local and go no farther than a boat ride to a restaurant I’d read about.  I’d write in the sun.  I’d breathe.

I had booked the perfect villa last August beside the iconic Le Sirenuse, the set for Only You, a 1994 film my sister and I love . The plan was to join friends from the US in Tuscany the first week of the break, then travel alone by train to the coast. Sadly, an unforeseen circumstance that has caused much stress forced me to cancel that second week, but a colleague offered a Plan B. She suggested I stay with her in Rome and catch the Ryan Air flight on Tuesday for $26. My flight and stay at a hotel inspired by my favorite painter, Modigliani, cost less than changing my original ticket.

Lately I’ve been faced with huge decisions and it seemed all roads were, indeed, leading to Rome.  I’m passionate about several paths–family, travel, writing, education–and have been praying for a way they can all convene.  Birthdays are when I pull over to reevaluate the map of my life journey.  While in Tuscany I celebrated the one that was my father’s last.  He died at work. So young. So missed.

Roaming, resting, relaxing in Rome in my favorite neighborhoods (near Piazzas of Spagna and Barberini) proved to be poignant. I loved seeing friends in Tuscany (many pictures to come), but I’d spent the week fighting the flu.   Being in Rome on Easter and finally visiting The Keats-Shelley House—where Keats, too, came to Rome seeking a kinder climate for his health—moved me. I’d always loved Keats’ “When I Have Fears I Will Cease to Be” where he confesses concern that he’ll die before writing all he felt placed on earth to write or before marrying his beloved Fanny Brawne.  I thought, too, about Lord Byron who said “If I don’t write to empty my mind I go mad” and Henry David Thoreau, an American Romantic, who said, “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” I’ve never wanted to be one of that mass.  Keats died after just three months in Rome beside the Spanish Steps at twenty-five; Shelley was living in Tuscany when he drowned off the coast of Italy at twenty-nine.  Byron died from exhaustion in Greece at thirty-six.  All so young. So much more to write. To live.  I returned to Marrakesh with a renewed gratitude for my health and the warm climate I enjoy daily.  And I continue to seek the best way to live what’s left of my life.

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The bed in which Keats spent the last two months of his life looking out of the two  windows below.  He had only one month to enjoy the city before bed-ridden.

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Loved this “Romantic Beatles” T-shirt in the gift shop–appropriate since the revolutionaries/flower children of the 1960s were legacies of the Romantic Era.  My fascination with these four started in college and was piqued by the 1988 film Haunted Summer and Veronica Bennett’s novel, Angelmonster, focusing on the obsessions, dysfunctions, heartaches and genius that led to Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein.

Second generation Romantics Percy and Mary Shelley, Byron, and Keats followed fathers of the movement, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Blake, in philosophically  opposing tenets of the previous period, The Enlightenment– institutions, tradition, conformity, science and reason.  Romantics were (and are) the Carpe Diem Crowd, idealists who value individualism, democracy, experimentation, emotion, imagination, social reform, change, and nature.  Other European Romantic artists were Pushkin, Hugo, Turner, Beethoven, Schubert and Berlioz–all influenced by the philosophies of Goethe (who lived in Rome for a time), Locke, and Rousseau whose tabula rasa (man is a blank slate made by society that writes his story) meant respecting the “noble savage” be he a Native American or Mary Shelley’s creature in Frankenstein who became a monster  by the doctor who recklessly created and abandoned him and  villagers who feared and abused him, and the social contract (fair play between the governing and governed which fueled the French and American Revolutions).

I thought about how the tension between Reason VS Emotion, Duty VS Passion, Fact VS Feeling VS Faith affects decisions.  Just as I lived the questions while wandering Venice three months ago, I roamed Rome believing I’ll live into the answers.  Meanwhile I’m learning to wait in passionate patience.

I brought back writing inspiration from the vibrant literary landscape that is Rome.  I walked the streets off Via Condotti where writers gathered around wine at restaurants and coffee at Antico Caffè Greco.  In the area around The Spanish Steps known in the 19th century as the “English Quarter” lived not only the Shelleys, Byron and Keats  but also Sir Walter Scott, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and William Thackeray, Henry James, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne, the subject of my Master’s Thesis, wrote The Marble Faun based on the Faun of Praxiteles displayed in Capitoline Museum.  I returned and read Wharton’s “Roman Fever” and plan to read Dickens’ Pictures from Italy and Henry James’ Italian Hours.

I loved studying filmmaker Federico Fellini in grad school who said:

Rome does not need to make culture.  It is culture.  Prehistoric, classical, Etruscan, Renaissance, Baroque, modern.  Every corner of the city is a chapter in an imaginary universal history of culture.  Culture in Rome is not an academic concept.  It’s not even a museum culture, even though the city is one enormous museum.  It is a human culture free from cultural faddishness, or neurotic trendiness.

Maybe…

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One thing is for sure. From the bizarre to the sublime, Rome is human history.  I’d enjoyed seeing the Forum, Pantheon, Colosseum, Catacombs, and Vatican City on two prevous trips, but this time it was nice to do what Romantics do best.  Feel.  Truly  Rome is an Ode to Joy, a Sonnet called La Bella Vita.

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Piazza Barberini

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Up the street on the hill is Hotel Modigliani. Perfect location–5 minutes from Spagna and within 3 km of all main sites. In Barberini I was also just around the corner from Borghese Park.

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Before visiting Paris or Rome see the 2004 film, Modigliani.

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I was upgraded to the top floor suite at no charge. An unexpected blessing.

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View from my terrace

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Near here in Palazzo Barberini was the home of William Wetmore Story, an American sculptor, poet, and art critic, where expats gathered from 1819-1895.

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Borghese Park

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Easter lunch at Piazza della Rotonda across from Pantheon

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My favorite store

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Wine Bar atop Spanish Steps

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Trevi Fountain–always my first stop so it isn’t my last.

I’m grateful for roaming Rome which confirmed two things.  I’ve been missing my children since December and want to travel and do life with them again more than anything. In Positano a gorgeous villa awaits, but I hope to go when they or my sis can  join me one day.  And, like it or not, the only constant is change. The Romantics knew this and thus seized the day knowing too soon the day ceases.  I’ve experienced adventure, beauty and new relationships aplenty.   So much in my life has changed in the last two years. Places. People. Paths. My comfort is knowing the One who holds this gorgeous globe, my family, and me.  He has already picked our next path. It’s good to be at peace with peace.

Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages: Part IV

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”—St. Augustine

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Photo by Alba Plana of www.costabrava.org

No history text or virtual tour can compare to cycling through Medieval hill towns in a land where BC structures and prehistoric cave paintings remain. Nor can a classroom feel like wind tangling my hair, smell like lavender abuzz with bees,  or taste like fresh bread in an olive grove. Such was my escape to Emporda, Spain.

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Each time I leave the classroom to travel–to breathe history, literature, life–I return a better teacher.

I”ll never forget finally touching the wall William the Conqueror built in 1066, commencing the Medieval age of castles, chivalry, and courtly love.  Homer and Sophocles were beside me when I climbed a hill in Athens to the Parthenon and roamed the Coliseum in Rome. As a teen I’d studied about partygod Bacchus and Christian Paul.  But blushing at pornographic paintings in Pompeii VS standing in an amphitheater in Ephesus where the latter preached faith over religion made what I know to be true feel even more real.

Last month while in Catalonian countryside, I saw a wall older than all but one of the ancient edifices I’ve experienced. Built only one century after Delphi’s Temple of Apollo, Ullastret was the first Iberian establishment raised in 6th century BC in Girona.

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In the following centuries, as Romans, Visogoths, and Muslims invaded,  more walls, castles and towers would be raised for protection from attack.

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Sentries watched for pirates, but even when the coast was clear, in the wetlands below marshes bred malaria which claimed lives.  Today, Costa Brava still isn’t tame though locals no longer fight to survive.  It is a place of adventure and natural beauty. Here one can thrive and feel alive.

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Rather than a trusty steed, I powered through stone villages and past poppy fields on a  burricleta, an electric bicycle named for its burro-like benefit of providing horsepower to handle high altitudes.

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We began our journey (see our route here) in Gualta.

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First stop was a famous bridge, rutted from wagon wheels.

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We pedaled our way through Fontclara, Sant Feliu de Boada, Peratallada, and other towns. Five hours later we parked for lunch in Pals.

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Cycling Through Costa Brava’s Medieval Villages

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The plowed fields reminded me of Kentucky farms where I grew up.

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The town well

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Chef Jordi, of Hotel Mas Lazul met us in the grove after rising early to bake loaves for the tasting and for us to tote home. The master baker formerly worked alongside Santi Santamaria, chef of 3-star Michelin restaurant, Can Fabes.  We sampled six types. My favorite was the dessert bread with pumpkin and raisin. He said children are given bread with wine and sugar as a treat.  Each recipe takes 24 hours counting the rest and rise times. While he taught, our hosts made fresh aioli. The bread and spread…delicious.

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Riding buddies, Heidi and Patti, above, Rachel and Betsy below.

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Lunch time in Pals

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Painting Party at Project SOAR

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Artist Maggie O’Neill

Surrounded by olive trees, lavender bushes, and mustard-colored blooms, we painted, stretched like yogis across the tent panels of the Project SOAR art area. Too cold to fan their plumes, the namesakes of Peacock Pavilions perched, watching us work to Dave Matthews with a rooster crowing as backup.  Maggie requested a Lionel Ritchie encore.

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Maggie O’Neill, American artist whose prolific portfolio includes designing the Washington, DC Twitter headquarters, flew in with friends from the Hill to volunteer in the grove. Meeting her was even better than I imagined. Not only because when I asked her about meeting President Obama for the first time she said he was so easy to talk to, so humble, so real, but also because she is, too. Energetic, funny, and friendly, she  made our work play.

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She said she had talked to the President surprisingly easily until asked to show him the portrait she’d painted of him. Then she became emotional. With tears in her eyes (which triggered tears in mine), she extended her arms to show how she had presented her work to him as an offering. All she had been able to say was, “I made this for you.”

On Sundays the girls now see our offering to them–  newly painted walls of blues and greens on their sports court and walls left for them to finish in their art tent. Project SOAR is a beautiful space for beautiful girls.  It’s a community of volunteers who cultivate confidence and nurture creativity through arts and sports.

Over lunch Maryam Montague, always the perfect hostess and founder of Project SOAR with her husband, Chris Redecke, shared stories of life in Marrakesh and needs for the girls and the village. The Be Girl program, a success in South America and South Africa, will roll out soon with Project SOAR chosen as pilot for Muslim countries. Health initiatives such as dental care and designs for trash pickup and a hamam for the village were discussed.  If you’d like to volunteer or donate, please see how you can help here.

I left with new friends, like my painting partner, designer Adrienne Chinn, visiting from London.  As her Twitter page reads, “Life isn’t about finding yourself.  It’s about creating yourself.” And bringing together creative people who care.

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Artist Jonathan Wommack http://www.jonathanwommack.com/

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Saturday American Artists To SOAR

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Project SOAR

I can hardly wait for Saturday to return to Project SOAR, this time to paint alongside master American artists like Maggie O’Neill of Swatchroom.

www.maggieoneillfineart.com
http://www.maggieoneillfineart.com

She and other creatives are flying in to decorate welcoming spaces at Peacock Pavilions and the non-profit’s new Dourar Ladaam village center.  There girls and their moms will take classes in health, sports, and yoga.  Also coming in 2015 is a Big Sis program and a Be Girl pads launch.  Learn more about how you can help.

DC-based fine artist Maggie O’Neill paints works inspired by fashion, travel, and music.  She also specializes in interesting Washington places and folks from Uncle Sam to Honest Abe, Teddy Roosevelt to President Obama.  Partnering again with Maggie are the girls of Gypsy Mint, a Minnesota-based company donating stencils for the weeklong mission.  Committed to giving back and eco-friendly best practices, painters and designers, Alicia Danzig, Kelly Fee, and Peg Malanaphy worked with O’Neill at Project SOAR in December 2013.   You can be a part of ongoing support provided by Maggie O’Neill Fine Art and Gypsy Mint.

On the Gypsy Mint website is this inspiration:

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http://www.gypsymint.com

Showing girls how to discover their own passions means also modeling pursuits of our own.   I’m thankful that since moving to Africa to do a couple of things I love– teach and travel–other passion paths have aligned.  Writing, serving, finding community, even painting again. For all of us, taking the road less traveled does make all the difference.

In Marrakesh Girls SOAR

IMG_4075Like many who come to Morocco, I have stepped off a camel onto sand soft as powdered sugar. I have stepped onto a balcony overlooking nothing but ramparts and sea. I have stepped around a corner in the mountains knowing that more blue alleys await. All marvels and memories under the Moroccan sun. But one of my best Marrakesh moments was stepping into a circle of girls who show up Sundays at Peacock Pavilions ready to SOAR.

Since before moving to Morocco I’d been following the award-winning lifestyle blog, My Marrakesh.  I loved the author’s story of moving to Morocco and building a beautiful oasis for guests and girls. Maryam Montague, a writer, interior designer, and international humanitarian aide specialist, founded Project SOAR with her husband, architect Chris Redecke.   I hoped to meet them one day when I moved to Africa but had no idea it would happen so soon.  They are parents of one of my students and this fall the American School of Marrakesh began volunteering with the nonprofit organization, Project Soar, whose mission includes working with girls from the village Dourar Ladaam. From that first Sunday when I caravanned through gates where girls gathered excitedly, I saw all the good growing in an olive grove, hugged girls SOAR serves, and met students and adults of all ages volunteering.  From near or far there are ways we can all help here. IMG_4021 Led by a college mentor (her interview below), they filed in, took their name tags from the board, and joined hands with volunteers from Chicago to Texas, New Zealand to Austria. We all introduced ourselves and then, through wide smiles, the girls said their mantra: “I am strong. I am smart. I am capable. I am worthy.” IMG_4025

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Maryam Montague and a volunteer show the girls America, the home country of  their teaching artist, Designer Amy Butler.
Maryam Montague and a volunteer show the girls America, the home country of their teaching artist, Designer Amy Butler.

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IMG_4103 Half of the girls were led to the arts tent where internationally known artist and designer, Amy Butler, taught them teamwork in making textile necklaces. IMG_4130

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