10 Must Dos When Going Solo To a Caribbean Resort

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1) LET YOURSELF GO…

Long before Pinterest prodded us to create virtual vision boards, Instagram insisted we share in-the-moment bliss, and Facebook fostered travel posts of happy places far, far away, I cut out and saved a magazine photo of a couple walking in the surf of the Caribbean Sea. I was single again, sad, but looked forward to a day I’d be that girl, her cocktail dress blowing in the breeze, as she laughed and leaned into her guy’s shoulder, one arm wrapped around his, the other hand holding a champagne flute.   I longed to share such a celebratory moment in paradise… one day (sigh)… with The One who was meant to be—whoever, wherever he was.

Though I still wait in hope to meet him, I have learned to cherish the many people with whom THE One, God, has blessed my life. And over the last twenty years, I stopped waiting to be in a romantic relationship to see the world or show it to my children. Money I have spent on traveling with my family, friends, and students strengthened relationships, made priceless memories, and taught us all something.  Likewise, I’ve learned to appreciate solo travel which has given me confidence, courage, and peace I never thought possible. A mentor told me years ago that giving ourselves what we need models self-care to our children and is healthier than waiting for someone else to fulfill us.   Travel rejuvenates and like a class taken to improve mind, body, or spirit, it’s  an investment in personal growth which positively impacts us and those around us.  Yet, though I’d traveled from Moscow to Morocco to Malibu and now live in the Caribbean in Santo Domingo, something inside kept saving the fantasy island resort experience for a hoped-for honeymoon. Until recently…

I gave myself permission.  I let myself go…solo…to Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort.

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Though Punta Cana is known for love connections– the 2014 season of The Bachelorette was filmed here– and this 5-star mega-complex in The Dominican Republic is popular for weddings, family vacations,

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This family reminded me of Florida vacations with Taylor and Cole.  I long for those days but in the words of Disney’s Dori, a family favorite, we have to keep swimming.

and bachelorette/bachelor getaways,

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the Caribbean haven cradles single women travellers with comfort. For those of us with grown children on their own journeys, going solo can provide rejuvenation and even reinvention as we navigate this new season of life.

I was impressed by the 85-year history of the  Barcelo Group, a family  company founded by Simón Barceló in Felanitx (Mallorca, Spain) and later expanded internationally.   After scanning The Dominican Republic by helicopter, owners chose Punta Cana–a then deserted stretch of beautiful jungle and beach.   Because they bought wide rather than deep as many property owners have since, this resort stretches two kilometres along Bavaro Beach rather than behind a small oceanfront area.  The company’s hotel division now has over 100 hotels in 19 countries and its travel division has 685 travel agencies in 22 countries. These figures position it as the third largest hotel chain in Spain, and the forty-second largest in the world.

2)  REST AND REVIVE.

Choosing an all-inclusive resort is the best way to rest before and during your stay since everything–where to eat, drink, swim, sunbathe, shop, be entertained, be active, and find transport–is provided.   While I enjoy researching and plotting my own travel adventures from restaurants to excursions, planning takes energy and time.  For those worn out from home/work responsibilities and constantly making grown up decisions, going with the flow of resorts that offer everything from a bowling alley to a soccer field

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to a casino

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to live entertainment can be freeing.   For those flying into the Punta Cana airport, transfer service to the resort can be arranged as can car rental.  Currency exchange is available and stores carry items you may have forgotten, like sunscreen.   Upon arrival at reception, get a map to see the lay of the land, and if not interested in the buffet, make reservations for some restaurants which require them and any special services–such as spa or tee times (though you can call from your room to set these up later).  I traveled less than three hours from Santo Domingo but was tired and upon checkin rested awhile, then showered before dinner.

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Relaxing shower and pampering products provided

Realize as the New Kid at Camp (seriously, the Barcelo complex feels like an amusement park/pleasure palace for adults), it’s normal to feel excited but also strange not having friends or family there to share the experience.  A trip to the spa and Wellness Center with use of the private pool outside thanks to Premium Level (this upgrade also provides free internet and personal service in the Premium Level Lounge which serves food and champagne and early and late check-in/check-out when available),

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Photos of me by Patirica Fuentes, Community Manager, Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort

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a dip in one of the oceanfront pools,

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or room service, minibar, (courtesy of the Premium Club Suites)

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In my room were local rums.  Mamajuana is a spicy, peppery legend in the area.

and a movie –whatever you need to unwind–will help you relax, recharge and relish your evening and stay ahead.

3)  BREATHE AND DWELL IN POSSIBILITY.

Before dinner at the seafood restaurant where I had lobster on the terrace (the Sante Fe Steak House also has seaside dining), I walked barefoot on sugar sand inhaling the sea air.  I breathed…exhaled… under a full harvest moon.  What would I reap on this trip?  As always, I felt warm knowing those I loved to the moon and back were looking up, too.  I thought of Van Morrison, Emily Dickinson, and the Creator of the most gorgeous clouds I’d ever seen.  Truly, it was a soothing, surreal, “marvellous night for a moon dance,” a time to “dwell in possibility…the spreading wide (of) my narrow Hands To gather Paradise.”

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Though the property is so huge shuttles connect its vast offerings, a solo woman traveler can feel safe walking alone at night.

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4) EAT, DRINK, AND BE MERRY.

An all-inclusive (see under “Other Important Services”) vacation is NOT where we count calories.  Healthy choices are always available, but dieting?  No way.  And since we first eat with our eyes… the ambience of open air tables set amidst lagoons, lakes, and gardens makes every meal a feast.

I slept later than usual thanks to the blackout curtains, had coffee on my patio where I was visited by a Moorhen, nicknamed the Chicken-foot Coot because its feet aren’t webbed and it steps high like a hen. Rested, I was ready to step out, too, so I headed to the nearest restaurant just around the corner for something I rarely get–a Southern-sized breakfast.   The night before PGA golfers (The Dominican Republic is known for the best golfing in the Caribbean) gathered in the foyer bar –champagne, cocktails, beer and bachata music flowing.  Now hushed except for the tin, hollow sound of clubs hitting golf balls, the course and sky met as a blue-and-green canvas for a new day.

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From Dominican fare to all-you-can-eat buffets to a Buffett-worthy Cheeseburger in Paradise, culinary and beverage choices abound.  My finest meal was at the French restaurant recommended by the concierge upon my arrival.  I had to book for my second night because it was booked the night I arrived.

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Warm Salad with Breaded Camembert and caviar (a first for me).
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Snails A’La Bourguignonne
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The Chateaubriand was rich and tender. Other choices included Beef Wellington, Pork Loin, Chicken Cordon Blue, and Duck Breast a l’Orange.
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Chocolate Fondant
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Berries and cream

5)  LET YOUR INNER CHILD PLAY.  

Remember when you were little and you weren’t afraid to explore, concerned about “getting it right” or impressing others?  An all-inclusive where you don’t know a soul allows you to follow Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice: “Do  one thing everyday that scares you.”  Of course, do what you   love.  For me, this was dancing bachata on the beach (Romeo Santos had recently done a concert in Punta Cana).  Golf, tennis, volleyball, soccer, walking, swimming –do what makes you happy– but leave room to discover a new passion.

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Zumba

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Maybe learning to like alone time is what you need.  Or maybe starting a conversation to make new friends and not just because paddle boats take teamwork.

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I loved meeting Patricia who gave me a tour of the property on Saturday and took me out to sea on Sunday.  She assists travel bloggers/media influencers, she’s from Spain, loves promoting community and all the Barcelo brand has to offer, and I liked her instantly.

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And I finally tried kayaking.  It was fun.

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So was meeting Harry Lee and Livvy Turner, Brits below who had just arrived.  They were in the Caribbean for the first time and were looking forward to ten days of bliss.  Harry said they weren’t leaving the property, that he was exhausted by city life.  “I am a broken man,” he quipped, “but will return to London with more energy.”

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6)  LET YOUR INNER CHILD NAP.

Count ships, not sheep, under rustling palm leaves shading you from the sun.  And if you can’t sleep, as my mother used to say, rest your eyes and your mind.

In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

“Il bel far niente means ‘the beauty of doing nothing’… [it] has always been a cherished Italian ideal. The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement. ”

 Last spring break I’d planned to practice this skill on The Amalfi Coast.  Of course, I planned to write and photograph Positano, but that isn’t work to me.  Circumstances prevented that trip, but I’m trying to learn the same lesson in the DR.  This weekend was a wonderful teacher.

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My favorite–pink and blaring bachata.

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 7)  LOOK BACK IN GRATITUDE.

Recall happy times in the past with thanksgiving.  If I’ve learned one thing from many Dominicans it is to laugh and sing more.

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Too often we’re too tired to remember what day it is, much less yesterday or yesteryear.  As has happened a lot over the last two years of living abroad memories of family flood me.   In Punta Cana I remembered other beach vacations with women who have strongly influenced my life.  The summer in Hawaii with my mom, sister, cousin, and aunt.  Another summer in Florida with Mom and her mother, Mama Sargeant–single women for many years like me.  I toasted to them with a Pina Colada, the drink my grandmother enjoyed when she became ill and mom moved in with her until she passed.  I thought of a month earlier when my daughter, Taylor, and I enjoyed another DR beach together.

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8) LOOK FORWARD IN HOPE.

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As gentle waves lap the shore the clear, calm waters of the Caribbean invite reflection.   Remembering happy times, even hard times, reminds us of all we’ve overcome to get to this place which strengthens us to face, even greet what lies ahead.

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Scan the horizon knowing that good is coming.  In studying Spanish I realized this week the roots for esperanza, hope, and esperar, to wait or to expect, are the same.  Faith says to wait, to expect with hope.

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On this lake is the Barcelo chapel where some couples marry.

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And on this pier, a group of friends waited for the bride and groom.

What are you waiting for?  Some things we can make happen.  Others we can’t, so we must trust, wait, and watch.  Traveling solo helps us figure out what we want and how, if in our power, to get it. What to hold onto.  What to let go of.  The beauty of this gorgeous globe  gives us peace in knowing the One who created it can work  all things together for good.

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9)  SEIZE THE DAY AS THE BEST SOUVENIR.

We must live in the moment.   I agree we can take so many photos trying to capture special times that they truly escape us.  Too much staging can kill just being, breathing the experience.  And yes, people may laugh at your selfies, but deep down most of us want to remember times we recognize as special pieces of eternity.   Even if you don’t typically like to have your photo taken, you will  want to remember that you were once in a beautiful place and felt more beautiful for it.  I promise.  Just as a mom says if the house were on fire and all people and pets were out safely she’d grab baby photos first, one day you’ll want to see yourself in a Caribbean paradise where you grew, changed–even use the photos as your screen saver–so you don’t forget how important it was–it is–to get away and enjoy gifts of beauty and adventure you’ve been given.

While in Punta Cana I read an article in More magazine called, When Looks Fade: An Exercise in Perspective by  Christine Lennon who interviewed “The Professionally Beautiful,” asking them how to age with grace.  Molly Sims, author of The Everyday Supermodel said:

“It’s funny how I used to look at a picture when it was taken and think, Ugh, I look awful.  You look at that same picture five years later, and you think, Dang.  I looked pretty good.”

A friend in her 40s recently had professional photos taken to remember this time in her life.  My mom did the same in her mid-30s.  I get it.  Even if you shy from the camera, the best souvenirs of any vacation are photos which capture living -in- the- now forever.  At a Caribbean resort photo opps are everywhere and you’ll see many taking advantage of it.  Don’t be shy.  Help a solo traveling sister out.  Ask if she’d like you to take her picture and ask her to take yours.  Hotel staff will kindly oblige as well.

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Whatever your age or style–girly girl, Bohemian Babe, or mermaid, wear something–maybe a new frock found in shops on the complex– that makes you  smile.  Though I brought a tropical dress with me–a TJMAXX special–I was thrilled to see new styles of two brands I fell in love with in Spain (Mele Beach in Tarife and Desigual in Vigo) sold at the Barcelo Punta Cana complex.

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Mele Beach

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My inner flower child loves this.

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This brand colors my world.
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Desigual

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The beach is your runway.  Get creative.  Take the plunge.  You’ll be glad you did.

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10)  TAKE A PEACE OF PARADISE HOME WITH YOU.

Peace.  Going solo to a Caribbean resort will convince you of what research shows.  Though too few people take enough time off, those who do vacation return rejuvenated and more productive.  No matter the age.  For some of us, the prime time to go solo seems to be when we are trying to survive, even thrive after the nest empties.  We are “tweeners”and if we can’t take a gap year, a gap week works, too.  Soon–assuming we stay in good health–we may be needed to care for parents and grandchildren. Doing all we can to stay fit–physically, mentally, spiritually–is vital for the ones we love.

We are as young as we feel.  I loved seeing women my mom’s age doing Zumba in their bathing suits on the beach.  And about those photos and the freedom on your face they will reflect…

Christie Brinkley, 62 year-old author  of Timeless Beauty and former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model said, “Aging needs a huge rebranding campaign.  People still think of 60 and picture a granny with a shawl and bun.  We need to stop lying about our ages.  Go ahead and say your number; then you’ll reshape other people’s images of that number.”

Likewise, when people ask in disbelief, You traveled to the Caribbean alone? say, Yes and smile.  They may need to be freed, too.

Special thanks to Barceló Bávaro Grand Resort for an amazing experience.  As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

 

 

 

Gyrations of a Girly Girl: Palais Namaskar for Everywoman

                                          A thing of beauty is a joy forever. –John Keats

                                 The only lasting beauty is beauty of the heart. –Rumi

                        If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all…For me the only things of interest are those linked to the heart. –Audrey Hepburn

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I’ve never been anywhere that provided more beauty breaks than Marrakesh.  I don’t mean all the lavish spa treatments and signature Moroccan hammams here.  I instead refer to respites for the soul and playgrounds for the imagination.  In the “country”or Palmeraie, many hotels and villas stimulate the senses, quiet the mind, and move the heart. Friends who have lived in Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas agree that there is no city offering more sumptuous masterpieces of architecture, landscape, and design to eat, sip, sleep, or swim than does Marrakesh.

When I moved to Morocco, one of my first outings was to the Taj Palace (now Sahara Palace) hotel where the movie, Sex and the City 2, was filmed. I’d vowed to walk in Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes, and as I crossed that splendid threshold I echoed her sigh,”Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Last week I had the same surreal experience as I did a pool day on the recommendation of my friend, Julie, at sprawling, stunning  Palais Namaskar.

Though the entrance was as long and mysterious as the Yellow Brick Road and stopped at a door worthy of The Emerald City, after two years here I walked the resort more comfortable than ever in my own shoes and my own story.  In fact, even before I waded into the pool I felt transported to the Orient, the ancient Arabia of my dreams on another adventure, so I kicked off my sandals and felt the sweeping lawn under my feet.

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Since opening in 2012, the property has garnered numerous accolades, the most recent being named by Prix Villegiature as the 2015″Best Hotel in Africa.”  The pool, grounds, and rooftop form a fluid sanctuary where the only sounds are lapping lakes, chirping birds in flight, and waiters scooping crushed ice from shiny silver buckets.

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The four acres of Oriental arches and epic waterways serve  not only as backdrops for blushing brides or runways for models but also welcome every woman–even those there just for the day– to  gyrate like a girly girl, to dream, to fly where her fantasies take her, and to thank God for this big, beautiful world.  Since two I’ve loved twirling in tutus. Here with bare feet and  a big smile I sashayed across waterway walks, swung in a hammock, played in the pool with friends, and made memories caught on camera, souvenirs of once upon a time when I lived in magical Morocco.

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Thanks to Ali for the photos of me.  Jasna, hiding from the camera as always, was thrilled to get a break.  Love you Canadian girls!

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We climbed to the rooftop for sunset and had dinner lit by moonlight.  It was a good day.

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The moon doth with delight /Look round her when the heavens are bare; /Waters on a starry night/Are beautiful and fair.–William Wordsworth

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I leave Morocco knowing that beauty comes from where we choose to look– not into a mirror probing for wrinkles or blemishes nor through a magnifying glass scanning for defects in others.  Wherever we are, we can find beauty, whether  looking up at sunsets, down at cool waters, or around at new or familiar faces. Gazing on beauty makes us happy, and happiness makes us beautiful.  Audrey Hepburn said, “Happy girls are the prettiest.” Truly we smile brightest when we see ourselves and others as incredible, radiant creations.

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For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others.  For beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge you are never alone.–Audrey Hepburn

Joy is the best makeup.–Anne Lamott

 

Getting there: A night in this 5-Star resort averages 500 Euros this time of year, but most hotels in Marrakesh offer pool day specials which they seldom advertise.  We paid at the time of this post $60 USD which included pool use for the day and dinner with the choice of a starter and entree or entree and dessert.  Pools in more modest hotels can start as low as 100 Dirhams ($10 for the day) which does not include food/drinks.

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.

Sofitel Agadir Offers Solo Travelers Beauty and Bliss

 

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Recently  I stayed at 5-star Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea & Spa,  just named continental winner of  “Luxury Wedding Destination in Africa” by the 2015 Luxury Hotel Awards.  My time there was perfection.  Though I endorse travel for all, I especially encourage single women waiting for a prince to live happily-after-after to find your bliss now at places that will make your dreams come true.  At the premier hotel on beautiful Agadir Bay you don’t have to be on a honeymoon to be pampered like a new bride.  In fact, any lady here will be given princess treatment.

When I moved to Marrakech to write, teach English, and travel,  I began asking students where their families stay when vacationing.  The answer was always the same.

In Paris? Sofitel. London? Sofitel. Rome? Sofitel. Morocco? Sofitel.

Such big brand loyalty (120 hotels on five continents in 40 countries) in the age of hip default to indie companies got my attention.  But then again, I’ve always appreciated timeless, classic quality.

The French company committed to total well-being first opened its doors in Strasbourg in 1964.  Dedicated to superior service infused with the celebration of art de vivre, each hotel provides  cultural experiences from not only France but also each host country in which it is located.   Showcasing  the best artwork, literature, music, fashion, architecture, gardens, fitness, wines and foods, the hotel beckons guests to experience the sweet life layer by delicious layer. Like bees burrowing gently into the rose— velvet petal by velvet petal—drinking nectar that will become honey in the hive, guests enter space after space of palpable beauty in interactions that feed the soul. Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea & Spa stimulates every sense—from plush decor to soothing sounds of fountains and sea to a signature scent, Jatamansi, found only in the Himalayas.  Jatamansi, also known as “nard” smells of citrus, ylang ylang and mountains and has so many medicinal powers it is considered sacred in some countries. I left filled, relaxed, energized, healed.

But beyond all these offerings, what makes the Sofitel the Sofitel is the people who work here.   From the moment I walked through the doors everyone–from doorman to gardener to manager — greeted me by name.  I arrived feeling ill–a situation that could have been a nightmare when traveling alone–but I quickly learned I couldn’t have been in better hands.  The staff  offered to get me medicine and kindly brought me treats to feel better–Chamomile tea, sweets and fruit, two dozen roses.  I am forever grateful for their professional, superior service.  Rightfully called, the So Staff is the best in the  business.

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The new Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea & Spa  greets guests with a 100 meter long Andalusian pond and 2,000 rose bushes.

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Maison Arabe (Lobby) - Sofitel Agadir Thalassa sea & spa (5)

Photo by Sofitel

I was welcomed at the door of  La Maison Arabe, the reception area in a traditional riad with contemporary black and white design,  and served mint tea and Moroccan cookies while the staff checked me in.

 

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Photo by Sofitel

 

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Designer Didier Rey said of the collaboration of building this modern classic, “We had some great interaction with Moroccan artisans.  Here I find the pleasure of working in simplicity as it was 20 years ago in France.”

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In the gallery on display were thirty works by Younes Fizazi in a collection called “Moroccans Landscapes, Richness and Diversity.” Shots of the Atlas Mountains and  Merzouga  desert allowed me to relive great trips taken last  fall and spring, but having just arrived from the surf town of Taghazout , I especially loved this photograph.

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I was excited to see the pool and beach areas next.  So Gorgeous.

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The spacious suite was sumptuous, and I was especially thrilled with my three favorite elements — the terrace, bed, and bathtub (something I miss most in my Marrakech apartment).  This one offered the best of both worlds–a soak with a view–so first on my agenda was a bubble bath followed by a massage.

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Prestige Suite Photo by Sofitel

 

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View of pool and ocean from outdoor lounge

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Prestige Suite - Sofitel Agadir Thalassa sea & spa (11)
Photo by Sofitel

 

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My only complaint was the Sofitel MyBed which abducted me –a custom made mattress, featherbed, down duvet, and sleek, soft sheets.   After my massage, I took a nap and slept for hours. 🙂

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Hind has magic hands. I swear.
Sofitel Agadir Thalassa sea & spa (Institute) (1)
“Evasion et beaute Berbere” (Berber Escape and Beauty) treats the skin to Argan, prickly pear cactus, orange blossom water, rose water and honey.  After treatments one can lounge overlooking Agadir Bay and sip herb or fruit drinks. Photo by Sofitel

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Palais du Jardin (Moroccan Restaurant) SOFITEL AGADIR THALASSA SEA&SPA (5)
Les Palais du Jardin, the gourmet restaurant where Chef Fatima cooks  Moroccan cuisine fusing traditional and modern flavors. Photo by Sofitel
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At L’Amane Bar fresh fruit smoothies, classic cocktails, and a jazz duo can be enjoyed every night from 7:30 PM.

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Day 2 I rose early feeling great and ready for breakfast on the terrace of L’Atlantique.

 

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IMG_9392After breakfast I went to play in the next door neighbor’s backyard–Sofitel Agadir Royal Bay, recipient of “Luxury Beach Resort in Morocco” by the 2015 Luxury Hotel Awards.  Of its many distinctions, Sofitel Morocco was selected to  host the first Kids’ Villa offering educational programs, pastry classes, belly dance, gardening workshops, swimming, aerobics, and a library for children.  The honor was bestowed because The Little Prince was born in the imagination of  Antoine de Saint Exupery in Morocco.

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Opened in 2004, the Sofitel Agadir Royal Bay Resort was the first hotel brand in Agadir.  A contemporary Kasbah, its colors are warm copper, wood, and orange, the emblem of the Souss Valley symbolic of fire representing Berber hospitality.

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Six duplex villas with infinity pools overlook the ocean.

 

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The So Lounge is the center of nightlife in Agadir and a great place for the Birthday Girl.

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A winter holiday destination that offers sun- by- day and fire- by- night, Sofitel invites reflecting on the past year and dreaming of the one to come.  Photo by Sofitel

Agadir, “Pearl of the South,”  is a three-hour flight from major European cities.  It’s where Europe migrates in winter to enjoy 300 days of sunshine each year and the Sofitel experience– timeless as Coco Chanel, delicious as Crème brûlée, and exotic as only Morocco.

Special thanks to Sofitel and Soukaina Ghallab for an unforgettable experience.  As always, the opinions are my own.

Spring Fling with Andalusia

There are so many precious moments we take for granted or don’t appreciate until later. Then there are those that while IN the moment, we realize we are happy and THIS time we will never forget. I knew on April 3, 2015 I was in one of those moments.

Since reading Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist–an inspiration for my move abroad– I’ve wanted to see Andalusia–the land of the book’s hero. I always understood why Santiago wanted to see the pyramids. But after seeing the shepherd’s home with Ale and Moni (who live in Vigo, Spain and met me in Tarifa), I marvel that he ever left.

I’ve loved singing in the car with the windows down since I was a kid. We sang with our taxi driver–a warm southerner full of fun and music–who even played one song dedicated to me, a fellow Southerner.  So if you are in Tarifa and need a ride to Bolonia Beach, Taxi 21, at the Tarifa Bus Station or 695 080 841 is the way to go.  The fee is 25 Euro.  Later in the season, a public bus will also be an option, but bet it won’t be as much fun as we had.

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I had a spring fling. I fell in love.  With Andalusia.

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Exhausted, I’d returned to Marrakech the day before from a 12-day, 7-city European tour/ Model United Nations conference with teens. Needing a vacation from that “vacation,” in less than 24 hours I’d washed clothes, repacked, and flew Ryan Air to Spain. In an hour, I was in Seville.

I wanted to relax in the sun after the snow in Russia. I needed time alone, then time with friends, Monica, who had suggested the southernmost tip of her country, and her husband, Ale. I needed to write, drink sangria, eat grilled meat, and wear summer clothes without harassment. I needed to be in a country that celebrates Easter. I needed to feel free again.

Though the distance between Southern Spain and Morocco is merely 35 kilometers and the two cultures share Moorish roots, in many ways they are worlds apart. Those wanting to experience both can fly from Marrakesh to Seville, then take the bus or rent a car to Tarifa. (Details found here.) Or from Marrakech, they can take the train or car, then ferry across. Likewise, some travel from Tarifa to Tangier by ferry for day trips or extended stays. And for those wanting to experience a third culture, they can hop a bus or taxi to British territory, Gibraltar, just 45 kilometers down the beach from Tarifa. The bus ride from Seville began at 8 PM—just in time for creamsicle sunsets and Irish green fields and olive groves.

I arrived at the bus station from Seville near midnight and was so happy to see, as promised, Juan Jose there to drive me to the condo I’d booked. He not only showed me how the kitchen appliances worked, but the pantry and fridge which he’d stocked with coffee, bread, butter, milk, and local olive oil. He showed me the lights of Tangier from the balcony. From The Beatles to the Beat Poets, the likes of The Rolling Stones, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg sought the city’s inspiration. But this trip, I needed distance. I was grateful to be on Spanish soil again—not only because I’d been to Barcelona, but because the country is what a friend calls “the Mothership of Hispanic culture “ which I love and feels even more like home. I fell into bed and slept deeply.

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Refreshed, I wrote again while drinking coffee before green grass, sand, and sea. Though I didn’t see whales common to the area April-October, I felt another force of nature creating waves. Here winds created from air pressure where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic range from 45-80 kilometers per hour, making this coast a kite-surfer’s paradise. (The next night I’d be blown so hard walking back to the condo from the Old Town that a new earring I bought that first afternoon would be swept from my ear and lost.)

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This is the land of Don Quixote.  It was too windy to ride one of the gorgeous Andalusian horses on the beach as I’d hoped, so I wandered into the Old Town, named from the Moorish invader, Tarif Ibn Malik, in the first century.   Castillo de Guzman was a walled fortress where long after African rule, the Spanish and British together defended the tower from Napoleon.

My first lunch was at Bar El Frances suggested by Juan Jose as well as Restaurante el Caseron.

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Cafe Babel became my wifi/sangria spot, and the next day where I had a Texas-sized plate of local beef.  (Everyone in Morocco thinks my accent is Texan, so it seemed fitting.)

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Guitarists playing, people laughing, beautiful boutiques with breezy beachwear calling.  By the time I left, the saleswomen at Butterfly Tarifa and Natural Chic Tarifa knew my name.  And I knew a new name, too.  I love MELÉ BEACH resort wear.

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http://www.belledusud.com/
Brought this blushing Barcelona baby home http://www.belledusud.com

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https://www.facebook.com/cafe10tarifa/timeline
Cafe 10 Tarifa https://www.facebook.com/cafe10tarifa/timeline

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Confiteria la Tarifena

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Cafe de la Lux

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That Diane Lane moment in Under the Tuscan Sun when you want to just go for it.

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Moni and Ale arrived on my second night in Tarifa.  We caught up on the balcony over good wine, then headed to the Old Town for the Easter procession and fresh catch.

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amovetomorocco.com likes matsuwines
Happened upon these guys–El Pícaro, El Recio and El Viejo– whose faces tell the age of the wine. Enjoy @matsuwines
Seville
After arriving in Seville I noticed many men dressed like this.

During Holy Week, Semana Santa, crowds–Catholic, Protestant (like me), or neither– come to see the processions of decorated floats carrying images Mary and Jesus.  In Tarifa the processions begin on two different streets but converge in the city square.  In churches floats of Mary and Jesus are cared for by members of cofradías.  We saw the Holy Thursday procession with Mary where black-robed “Nazarenos,” or the penitent ones, are in front of the float with a band behind.  Monica said Antonio Banderas carries a float annually in Malaga (another coastal city 160 kilometers east of Tarifa.)

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On our last day we headed to Bolonia Beach where we explored Roman ruins and ate on the sea. The next day we boarded different busses and hugged goodbye…till June.

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On Bolonia Beach, west of Tarifa, is the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia. Here Emperor Claudius controlled trade routes in the first century AD.

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Classic Coup World Tour

One answer to “What did you do on your summer vacation?” will be tracking my shirts abroad (below) and preparing to hit the road with Classic Coup myself in August. Angela and I are working on new designs for POOLTRADESHOW, the largest indie apparel market in the US, where domestic and international buyers and brands meet to do business. Last year I went to learn; this year we applied to exhibit and made the cut. Classic Coup is now in the Gulch at Nashville Clothing Company. Here’s to hoping that “What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas” as the shirts go nationwide this fall.

Finding an Old Love in New Venue…Italian Lights

Last weekend was full. Saturday at lunch I caught up with Andrew, a former student who graduated almost a decade ago and wants me to read Replay by Ken Grimwood. That night I danced with friends at Jonathan and Pablo’s, the guys who invited Kim and me into the salsa world in March of 2008. Sunday night I ended the weekend with the usual suspects at Las Cazuela’s. But that was after I rekindled an old love…

In 2000 and again in 2004 I fell in lust with Italy–the food, the beauty, the romance and history of Venice, Rome, Pompeii. But when I taught English in the summer of 2005 to adults from Torino and Milan, I fell in love with people who would become life long friends. At Le Due Cascine I was taught the meaning of La Dolce Vita by Italian pals. I’ve sustained it not only in their homes on return visits but also in Italian classes and events in Nashville, often thanks to Patti Franklin Nelson of Italian for Fun. Last Sunday was such an event.

My friend April invited me to Nashville’s first Italian Lights Festival where we listened to live music, checked out the bocce court, and found jewelry that spoke to and from my heart. Apparently designer Shelbi Lavendar shares my determination to “Live, Laugh, Love…and never forget what made you smile.” And then there was a new adventure… Ernesto, former owner of the The Italian Market, insisted I enter the grape-stomping contest. I did. As I stepped into the tub I romantically remembered the wine-making scene from A Walk in the Clouds though I’ll admit fellow Examiner Kathryn Darden was closer to the truth when she wrote: “In a scene straight out of “I Love Lucy,” there was also a grape stomping competition with fresh grapes and bare feet..”

In my head…

So Long Summer…

It has been a great weekend. And a great summer. Saturday I made a video for Classic Coup and saw Buckwheat Zydeco at the Franklin Jazz Festival with friends, April, Carole (her children Emily and Ewin), Emily, and Cheryl. I danced salsa at Mad Donna’s for the first time in much too long. Sunday I celebrated Bionic Woman/Best Bud Kim’s cycling 100 miles…and wished Happy Birthday to four of my favorite virgos on Sunday…Greg, Tonya, Sherry, and Beth. Today I lunched at Taco Mamacitas with friends, including Mayuresh who after cycling 62 miles Saturday helped me plan on Labor Day Classic Coup’s new website. Cole and I watched Star Wars and Big Daddy again. Still love that Scuba Steve.

Before the new week starts, here’s the remains of the day…
Favorite stores I discovered in Vegas at the trade shows for my Christmas wish list …and memories of a final summer trip to Kansas City.

In Blissful Company

Cara Lyndon Creations

Sora Designs

Ornamental Things

Hazel

This one is for my daughter, Taylor:
Alter Ego

Kansas City was full of surprises…the Country Club Plaza might have been the biggest. Designed after Seville, Spain and built in 1922, it was the nation’s first outdoor shopping center. Lights twinkling below the balcony of Brio Tuscan Grill reminded me of warm nights in Spain or Italy. KC even had great gelato at Balsano’s and… gondolas. I had my first experience at Fogo de Chao. Amazing. The Saturday Market and Middle Eastern lunch with Angela, Matt, and Haz was fun. I loved the live music, seeing Angela’s home, and planning the next phases of Classic Coup.

Check out the quilt Angela made and the place where the Magic happens…her studio…used for not only designing tees and sewing purses but also for “the dress.” No doubt Baby Muir will be the best-dressed boy or girl in the Midwest.

Magic in Vegas…Fashion Meets Education

Do You Believe in Magic? After last week I do. And I learned what happens in Vegas does NOT stay in Vegas. That’s the point when WWDMAGIC is in town.

The August extravaganza is the largest fashion trade event in the world. Whether selling to the Big Boy/ Dynasty chains or to barely blooming boutiques, 1,100 exhibitors built booths and banked bucks as they sold to buyers under the showroom lights of the Las Vegas Convention Center and those of Mandalay Bay. Closing shop at 7, vendors courted clans of corporate officers and buyers, placing them on club lists. No doubt the private party held at XS would have made even Carrie Bradshaw squeal.

My quest was to take Classic Coup, my tee shirt company, to the next level. We’d had a good first year, but I still had questions about the fashion industry as the medium for our message: classic books stir critical thinking and compassionate living. Conversations that lead to understanding and action.

As a writer and teacher I’ve learned to be a good student—one who believes knowledge is power, who admits I have much to learn, who knows it’s all about where to go for the right answers. So on the advice of two friends in the biz, my designer and a buyer, I followed the yellow brick road… from Nashville to Vegas… to consult the Wiz…the Big M. Flying home through Kansas (where else would my designer live outside of Oz?), I delivered the ruby slippers…jewels I’d discovered, and in Angela’s living room we expanded our plans. Mission accomplished.

And oh so fun.

Though a Vegas virgin and a Europe enthusiast, this Nashville girl underestimated how much I’d enjoy Nevada’s town of gargantuan glitz and glam. Not since I’d driven into Paris the first time had I seen so many lights. And though I’ve never thought anywhere in the world compares to Venice, the massive Venetian comes close. Also towering above me were pro athletes checking out Spring 2011 collections. I was swept along in a rapper entourage when I bumped into (literally) Juelz Santana and Lloyd Bands at the Street show. Later that night they were the show at Billionaire Mafia’s after-party at Eve Nightclub. And while I didn’t see the other Paris, I was allowed to photograph Jessica Simpson’s “booth.” Beautiful. Epic.

Business meant pleasure in finding a new company for our blanks… discovering the most feasible way to sell at Magic next year… savoring seminars on fashion forecasts, trade tips for new businesses, advanced social networking and building brands. Most importantly, I networked with nice people willing to help a girl out…like Jill of another newcomer tee company, ATX Mafia from Austin, Texas and Industry Guru and creator of afingo.com Liza Deyrmenjian.

On our free limo ride that shuttled us from the city center to the bay, I shared what I’d learned with a pretty girl about my daughter’s age who came to Magic hoping to start her own line. It felt good to give back. As one who has always depended on the kindness of strangers (yes, we’re releasing our Streetcar Named Desire shirt this fall), I discovered a place to get the goods on spring and the rewards of goodwill hunting, never out of season.

*Below are some of my favorite booths and store names. Upcoming posts: links to my favorite finds, fun in Kansas City, the spring fashion forecast.

Staycation Stop #4: Shopping In Style


Dr. Leah M. Heyman aka Miranda

Justine (Charlotte), Sonya (Carrie), Me (Samantha)

Another sign of summer is having time to see Sex and the City 2( X 3), to turn on the television, and to savor serendipity.

Two days ago I switched on Oprah and caught Rita Wilson giving fashion consultation to women of all ages. The day before I had met a new friend for lunch, Dr. Leah M. Heyman, “The Shopping Doc,” and decided to write a post on her services as wardrobe consultant and personal buyer. Staycation stops are ways to treat yourself right here in Music City. For those wanting a fashion update or too busy to shop for bargains for family and friends, help is here. And for a lot less than you’d pay Mrs. Tom Hanks…

I met Leah through a mutual friend, photographer/model, Sonya Stanley. We were to walk the Pink Carpet at Sexy for the Cure as the SATC crew for a good cause and in celebration of Sonya’s birthday. Our entourage consisted of the Birthday Girl as Carrie, her boyfriend, Jason, as Mr. Big, Justine as Charlotte, Milton as Stanford, Leah as Miranda (who had changed her hair color for the part), and me as Samantha. Everyone was pumped–especially Leah who had been suffering with chronic illness and was ready for a night out with friends.

Sadly Leah didn’t make the event. Hospitalized again, she was disappointed to miss Sonya’s party. She also said she missed seeing the movie…that she had looked forward to seeing the fashion.

No doubt many with a passion for fashion flocked to see the Manhattan Mavens strut their stuff. While critics scoffed at stilletoes sinking in the desert sand, Leah loves a parade of shoes wherever she finds one. At last count she has 200 pairs in her closet. While this may seem extravagant to some, Leah’s a bargain shopper—for herself and her clients.

“Before I meet someone for a wardrobe consult I choose several fashion magazines and ask them to circle everything they like. If they hire me as a buyer, I ask them to list the items they need. We are clear on their budget. I shop for sales so they get the best bang for their buck.”

When I asked where she begins, she said, “Macy’s clearance racks. They also have coupons for additional savings and a great return policy.”

I asked how a PhD in Nutrition and an ND in Naturopathy became a personal shopper. She said it started years ago when she was in France with the Sister Cities program. When fellow travelers couldn’t shop because they didn’t speak French, she was the go-to girl. She still is for clients across Nashville.

Her busiest time is Steeplechase when she dresses women and calls on her designer friend, Justine Sylvie, to make them hats, as the one Sonya wears below. Though Leah says Sonya needs no help with knowing what she likes, just yesterday Leah showed the professional photographer new places to shop to fit her personal style.

So if you need a second opinion on what not to wear but none of your girls are as candid as Miranda, Leah can tell you what the doctor orders.

For more information contact “The Shopping Doc” at heyman.leah@gmail.com.


Sonya and Jason at Steeplechase 2010.