Moments and Memories of International Teaching

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
Gyrations of a Girly Girl: Palais Namaskar for Everywoman

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.

Branson, Beldi, and a Birthday

Branson, Beldi, and a Birthday

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Before moving abroad, my friend, Dana, told me how important–how vital–my expat community would be.  She and I were part of the same school family  in the US, and she had a network of close friends at church.  Still, having already taught in Morocco and having lived in France, she said the way friends live together, work together, do life together when family and old friends are so very far away is one of the blessings of living abroad. She was right.

I met Kate, my Australian friend and riad manager, a couple of months after moving to Marrakesh.  She later moved to the apartment complex where I live with other teachers and locals.  Moroccan sorority sisters, we have done meals on rooftops and by pools; walked the souks snapping photos and shopping; relaxed in riads and even a luxury tent.  Baby Boomer moms, we have talked about leaving our empty nests to fly to Africa.  About  wanting and finding more.  We talk about our greatest gifts–our children–and recently I met Amy, her youngest who visited Marrakesh a couple of weeks ago.   They graciously invited me to join them on the Imlil trip and to celebrate Amy’s birthday at Beldi Country Club.  Seeing the two of them together made me more excited than ever about the adventure ahead on the other side of the Atlantic for my daughter, Taylor, and me.  More on that later.

On the way back from our lunch and mule tour in the Atlas Mountains, we stopped at Kasbah Tamadot, the luxury resort owned by British billionaire and philanthropist of the Virgin empire, Sir Richard Branson.  Two days ago he gave Sylvia Jeffreys of The Today Show a tour of Makepeace Island, his newest property called “the most beautiful spot in Australia.” Many would say his place here is the most stunning retreat in Morocco.

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A champagne cocktail to toast an amazing day.

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The next day we were off to Beldi Country Club–a place I’d wanted to see since my former British colleagues, Louise and Richard, recommended it before moving to Abu Dhabi.  They had celebrated a birthday there last year and said the bucolic setting was beautiful and relaxing.  Indeed it was!  IMG_2137IMG_2138

Fields of poppies I saw last year in Spain…strawberry fields forever I heard about from the Beatles (natives of Louise’s hometown, Liverpool)…but seeing at Beldi fields of roses was breathtaking.

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There was also an abundance of Bougenvilla, my favorite native flower here which grows as wild as foxglove in England or as lavender in France.

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The spring rolls were fresh and delicious.
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The grilled lamb was great, too.

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These girls reminded me of my daughter and nieces once upon a time.

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French owner Jean-Dominique Leymarie bought these fifteen acres in 2005 for a farm.  After hosting a wedding party for his daughter, Géraldine, he received so many requests to use the property for weddings and events that he made it into a haven of several pools and gorgeous gardens where expats and tourists gather.  Beldi means “traditional” in Arabic.  A southern girl who grew up on big family dinners and visiting relatives in the country on lazy afternoons, I felt at home and happy until late afternoon shadows signalled the end of the weekend and time to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Seasons Marrakech: Pool Days for Tourists and Expats

Four Seasons Marrakech: Pool Days for Tourists and Expats

Last Monday the temperature in Marrakech reached 108 Fahrenheit/42 Celsius making it the hottest day so far this year. Here pools can be enjoyed year round, but in May when temps typically range in the 80s and low 90s, the burning question expats and tourists are asking is where to find a cool pool. In my Southern -Girl -Gone- Global Guide to Marrakesh I will feature the best pools and, of course, hospitality in town.  A Mermaid in Marrakesh, I love doing this kind of research.

At the end of March I returned to Morocco from spring break spent in Italy, packed away the down jacket I’d been wearing, and grabbed my bathing suit.  I was treated to a pool and spa day at Four Seasons Marrakech.  Truly, the name of the world- revered brand couldn’t be truer than in the Red City.  Here spring, summer, fall, and even most of winter, there’s nothing but blue skies, green gardens, and birdsongs.  I relaxed by the Quiet Pool…a peaceful place for adults.

Four Seasons Marrakech offers a safe haven and the best of all worlds… a place to gather with friends and family…a romantic retreat…a space of one’s own. The 5-star luxury resort is designed with the serene, palatial gardens of the Palmeraie yet is only minutes from the magical medina, Marrakech landmarks, and New City of Gueliz.  Here  tourists– especially solo travellers– concerned about navigating a new city will feel secure and experience exceptional service for which the brand is known.  Expats living in Marrakech seeking a way to spend a birthday or simply self-care day can choose from many services the spa offers.

A single mom for twenty years, I decided to fly to Morocco when my children left the nest.  Such a move two years ago could only happen after learning self-care in increments.   It began, when single again, I went to movies alone, then restaurants, then a B and B annually in the Tennessee mountains.  It progressed as I went to Ireland and Italy with people I’d never met, then culminated when I went to Costa Rica alone and later landed here.  Four Seasons is not only for weddings, honeymoons, or anniversaries.  It offers a way to celebrate the sacred relationship we have with ourselves.  Currently the  pool day package for guests not staying in the hotel includes lunch–a starter, entree, and dessert ordered à la carte–and pool use for 800 Dirhams/$80 USD.  For further information contact Concierge.MRK@fourseasons.com.

Years ago I began taking the advice found in Veronica Shoffstall’s poem, “Comes the Dawn” (printed below).   I wanted–and would still like–to be be married again, but until that person comes along I don’t wait for a honeymoon or husband to enjoy beautiful escapes, to live the life I’ve been given.  Shoffstall writes, “Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.”  In Nashville I once had a garden of fifty roses.   Here, I enjoy them, too.

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“Comes the Dawn”

After a while you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn
that love doesn’t mean leaning
and company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn
that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises
and you begin to accept your defeats
with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child
and you learn
to build all your roads on today
because tomorrow’s ground is
too uncertain for plans
and futures have a way of falling down
in mid-flight.

After a while you learn
that even sunshine burns
if you get too much
so you plant your own garden
and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone
to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure
you really are strong
you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn
with every goodbye, you learn…

© 1971 Veronica A. Shoffstall

Thank you to Four Seasons Marrakech for a wonderful pool and spa day.  As always, the opinions here are my own.

Jazzed about Josephine Baker and Riad Star

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.

A Typical Saturday in Marrakesh

A Typical Saturday in Marrakesh

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My Saturdays in Marrakesh are spent hunting and gathering, hanging out and sometimes haggling.  Though I may have errands to run,  there’s no yard to keep, house to clean, or car to wash.  Shopping in stores, on the street, and in the market followed by lunch in the mix or above it is a time to stock up, catch up with friends, relax.

Grabbing Grub in Gueliz

Moving to Morocco meant giving up a car and Kroger to fill my trunk with food for the week.  It also meant leaving my deck grill–which I used for most meals come rain, snow, or sunshine.  In the suburbs of Nashville we drove everywhere for everything. Though Target was the distance of about a city block  away, it never occurred to me (or anyone I knew) to walk there and lug groceries home.

I’d always romanticized the way Meg Ryan in movies set in New York City built her dinner bag-by-bag as she strolled home from work. I thought it would be fun to live in the Big Apple, no worries over car insurance or repairs and fresh produce on every street corner.  I never dreamed I’d get a version of that in Africa.

In my neighborhood of Gueliz, “the New City,” I can do a Meg Morning–picking vegetables from sidewalk carts (though here they are pulled by donkeys), choosing meat from the butcher’s display case, grabbing a loaf of bread from the bakery, and buying roses at flower stalls (a dozen for $2 ).  For birthday treats or holiday feasts, there are French-style specialty shops selling cheeses and desserts.   To save time, I still  default to a weekly one-stop-shop, either Carrefour (a French chain that carries imported prosciutto/other pork and wine) or Acima whose citron (lemon) tarts are amazing.  Though I know to buy only what I can carry in my backpack and bag for several blocks, I optimistically  overstuff both.  Harnessing a too-heavy backpack too many times has led to a torn shoulder over the last two years, but I’m stronger for the walking and enjoy the fresh air.

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“But my favorite remained the basic roast chicken. What a deceptively simple dish. I had come to believe that one can judge the quality of a cook by his or her roast chicken. Above all, it should taste like chicken: it should be so good that even a perfectly simple, buttery roast should be a delight.” —Julia Child, My Life in France

For a dinner with friends, I bought a whole, herb-roasted chicken with potatoes from La Maison du Poulet.  The owner proudly said his birds are free range and organic.  The taste would make Julia Child shrilly shriek with pleasure.

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On a Saturday morning Sylvia showed the two Mikes and me the French bakery above and the cheese shop below.  We happened upon the chickens; the samples were so good we all took one home.

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With no rent, utilities, or transportation to work to pay, my weekly budget is $100 which covers  groceries (I cook a dutch oven of beef stew, shrimp chowder, chili, or coq au vin on Sunday that is dinner until Thursday and make salads or pasta for lunches), a restaurant with friends or takeout on weekends, a pool day here and there, weekly yoga (or my first year, Moroccan dance lessons) and having the apartment cleaned twice a month.  Some coworkers have ladies who clean, cook, or provide childcare multiple times weekly, but my one bedroom only requires cleaning/clothes washed every other Friday for 200 Dirhams per month ($20).  When I want Moroccan food, for an additional 50 dirhams ($5) and 70-80 dirhams ($7-8 for groceries), Saida, an amazing lady, cooks so much chicken couscous  and vegetables that I have enough for 8 meals so must freeze some.   Lack of preservatives in meats, breads, vegetables, and fruits means I have to use what I buy faster and shop more often, but I’m healthier for that.

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Sometimes I eat from the hanut next door–fresh strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, and lemon year round.
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Carrefour Supermarket located on bottom floor of Carrie Eden Mall in Gueliz
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Fresh Atlantic seafood at Acima located near Jardin Marjorelle often includes sharks and stingrays.

 

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The central flower market is a couple of blocks up the street from my apartment.
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I love when friends  in my complex (coworkers and Kate) join me on the balcony for mojitos (a variation of the fresh mint tea Moroccans drink daily), wine, or Tai takeout.
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When we get a Friday off, we can take advantage of couscous  (made fresh in Moroccan homes and restaurants as the traditional Friday family meal)  at The Amal Women’s Center which is open for lunches and by appointment only.  Ritchie and I went there on a 3-day weekend in February.

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I can always count on Kate for finding (and cooking) the best desserts in town.  Though she manages a riad in the Medina, she is always ready to meet for a treat like Cassanova’s chocolate mousse below.

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Jasna and I at our go-to rooftop, Chez Joel, for a Saturday sweet tooth.

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Chez Joel’s Caesar Salad

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On walks to and from the mall I passed this cute cat…till recently.  My favorite boutique for inspiration recently closed.

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Haggling and Hanging Out in the Old City

Sometimes I saunter through the souqs in search of great shots.  Below are guys I was thrilled to find.   Pillow cases and poufs are ubiquitous but it took me a year to find someone who sells stuffing.  Some coworkers paid their maids to have it done, but I was determined to find the place myself and with Kate’s help finally did.

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A picture of the king as a child, youth, or adult appears in every business and building.
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Jemma Fna Square is a place I’ll never forget.

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Loved this spring green purse but passed.

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My shoe guy had my favorite sandal design in a new color for spring.  Morocco is hard on shoes; at best sidewalks are uneven and dusty and at worst they are under constant repair or don’t exist. It was time for a new pair.

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The first place a colleague took me to eat in the medina after moving to Marrakesh was Cafe des Epices.  Since then I go there almost every trip to the souks.  When my children visited they loved it, too.  Located on Rahba Lakdima, the Spice Square, it is a place to people watch, hang out with friends, and eat great food.  The salads and mint tea are the best.

 

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Since I moved here in 2014 it has been expanded to double the size to accommodate all the customers.

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My wedding carpet guys located two doors down from Cafe des Epices.

 

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After seeing Nomad across the square for almost two years, Jasna and I decided to give it a go. I’m glad we did.

 

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Nomad has good food, too, and three levels with amazing views.  The music and couches make it a great place to lounge.

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The gift shop is cool,too.

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By one o’clock the place was packed.

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My favorite feature of Marrakesh is the rooftop bars and restaurants.  Gorgeous at sunset and perfect for Saturdays, they offer an escape to to exhale the week before and breathe in a new perspective.

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Gallery in the Sky: MB6 Street Art in Marrakesh

Gallery in the Sky: MB6 Street Art in Marrakesh

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My favorite mural by Dotmaster of the MB6 :Street Art exhibit representing to me roses in the desert, something I’m thankful everyday in Marrakech, and the power of art to create community and love. Photo by Cindy McCain

Some use walls to keep people out. Others use them to invite people in.

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The Dotmaster started painting on the streets of Brighton in the early 90s. His work has since been featured in Oscar nominated Exit Through the Gift Shop and in Martin Scorsese’s Tomorrow. Photo by Ian Cox
Dotmasters working on his mural MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016 (1)
Work in progress Photo by Ian Cox

 

“Inclusion rather than exclusion is the driving force behind the festival,” says MB6: Street Art Curator Vestalia Chilton of ATTOLLO.  Responsible for a myriad of murals in the medina created for the Marrakesh Biennale Edition 6, Chilton said the global collaboration began at the Marrakech TED Talks a year ago.  There she asked Vanessa Branson, founder of the Marrakech Biennale in 2004,  if she’d be interested in adding street art to the event ranked in the top 20 Biennales worldwide.  The answer was yes, launching another first for Morocco.

Already a big year for the country, 2016 began with Morocco opening the world’s largest solar farm in the Sahara, and in Essaouira, unveiling North Africa’s largest mural (6400 square meters) painted by Italian street artist, Giacomo Bufarini aka RUN.

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RUN’s Essaouira mural, largest in Africa, illustrates two people on opposite sides of the stream–one playing music, which the city is known for, and the other listening.  Courtesy of Vestalia Chilton

The 6th edition Marrakech Biennale–Not New Now– running until May 8 with free admission  celebrates the city’s artistic and cultural leadership in building bridges between the Islamic world, the Pan-African diaspora and the West.   The event is overseen by Reem Fada, Curator for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, who believes the multi-disciplinarian approach connects local and international audiences to “new ideas and artistic visions from Morocco and abroad.”

 On display for MB6: Street Art in the Marrkaech Medina, the “Galery in the Sky,” are murals by Mad C (Germany), Dotmaster (UK), Giacomo RUN (Italy), Dag Insky (France), Kalamour (Morocco), Alexey Luka (Russia), LX.ONE (France), Lucy McLauchlan (UK), Remi Rough (UK), Sickboy (UK) and Yesbee (UK).

On a press tour led by Vestalia and a lunch interview at Kosybar following (video below), I saw the gifts left to the city and learned more about the genre.

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Creative contrast Photo by Cindy McCain

A study in contrasts, the works convey not only innovation and change but also universal, timeless values.  They juxtapose human diversity with commonalities.

“Street art has no ego. If people like it, it stays. If not, if goes. One mural is already gone,”Chilton explained.

Once  graffiti artists on the run, painting where they weren’t allowed, this new generation of contemporary urban artists are critically acclaimed agents of restoration rather than rebels.  The independent spirit and creativity of the underground scene which produced works accessible to the general public in urban environments has risen to become the biggest art movement since Impressionism.

Alexey Luka MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016

The work of Alexey Luka, progressive Russian artist, can be enjoyed in the square of Café des Epices. His work have been exhibited in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Amsterdam, Lyon, Paris, Portland, Rotterdam, and San Francisco, and Rome. Alexey is a member of the creative association ‘Artmossphere’ which organized the 1st Moscow Biennale of Street Art in 2014, supporting Russian street artists and graffiti writers. Photo by Ian Cox

Worldwide acceptance has led to commissioned  public works and inclusion in high profile galleries and art festivals.    Mainstream culture and media has created demand for the sale of  originals and multiples, which allowed street artists to break into the art world with access to galleries, museums and auction houses such as Christies and Sotheby’s.

Morocco’s Renaissance Man and the Biennale’s Native Son, Kalamour, has been passionate since childhood about drawing, photography, painting, and music. His paintings and sculptures have been exhibited in Canada and his home country. Also an award-winning video artist, Kalamour’s releases have been featured at festivals in Morocco and Portugal.

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Kalamour at work Photo by Ian Cox
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Kalamour’s work on Cafe de Epices Photo by Cindy McCain
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Gallery work by Kalamour Photo by Cindy McCain

British born artist Lucy McLauchlan (below) has work in galleries and museums and on multi-story buildings throughout Europe, gigantic billboards in China, on walls outside Moscow’s Red Square, and on New York subway tunnels. She deeply respects nature and uses etches of leaves and other elements of her environment in her paintings.

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Lucy McLauchan Medina Mural Photo by Ian Cox
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Lucy McLauchan originals Photo by Cindy McCain

 

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Mad C Photo by Cindy McCain

Just outside the gate of Dar El Bacha is the work of the most famous participant in the project, MadC. Despite being booked five years out, Claudia Walde enthusiastically joined the Marrakesh project and created a fan frenzy on social media. Her mural was created with seventy cans of colors. Born in Bautzen, GDR and currently based in Germany, she holds degrees in Graphic Design from the University of Art and Design, Halle, and Central Saint Martins College, London. Her two books on sticker art and street fonts published in 2007 and 2011 are praised for their anthropological insight into the graffiti art movement. Her name, derived from her childhood nickname, “Crazy Claudia” encourages all to live their creative dreams.

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Giacomo Bufarini, RUN Photo by Ian Cox

 RUN, Italian-born Giacomo Bufarini, is a beloved muralist of international street art. His Marrakesh mural is outside Palace Bahia. A lover of travel, the London resident’s epic-sized murals distinguished by detail and complexity, colorful faces and interlocking hands, stretch from here to China and attest to his playfulness and commitment to communication. His characters speak languages of diverse audiences, and while painting in Essaouira and Marrakesh, the artist impressed Moroccans with his willingness to take time for friendly chats. His measure of success? He says if a child likes his work, he is happy.

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Photo by Ian Cox
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RUN Photo by Cindy McCain
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Another Favorite by RUN Photo by Cindy McCain
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Photo by Cindy McCain

One of the most dramatic moments of the tour was turning a corner off frenetic Mohammed V into an alley car park and seeing the works of LX.ONE and Remi Rough canopied above.

LX.one working on his mural MB6 Street Art photo ©_Ian_Cox_2016.
Photo by Ian Cox
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Mural by Surrealist Sickboy Photo by Cindy McCain

 In one week eleven painters completed the MB6 Street Art exhibition, but their contribution to the city and the world that enjoys it will be appreciated long after.  Below Vestalia, joined by a member of her team, Elena Ivanova,  speaks warmly of Moroccan hospitality, kindness, and the human spirit inherent in this city and this global collaboration.

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Map of MB6 Street Art

 

 

 

 

Dream Riad in Marrakech for Weddings, Writing, Wellness

Dream Riad in Marrakech for Weddings, Writing, Wellness

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Making a grand entrance must have originated in Marrakech. Crossing that first threshold from the manic Medina into a roofless riad respite– blue skies or stars above—is a moment no one ever forgets. I am still thrilled every time I follow surreptitious streets snaking through the medieval city… duck archways and dodge motorbikes, donkey carts, and darting cats… then knock on a heavy wooden door that slowly swings open into a secret, peaceful place.

But for me, entering the world of Riad Emberiza Sahari was epic.

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One of those surreal experiences when so much of what my heart loves to see, hear, taste, and touch materialized like magic. Here classic French Elegance, Hollywood’s Golden Age Glamour, and Desert Dreams meet…a rhapsody in blue.

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Welcomed warmly by owner Alexandra Richards, I could hear past the streaming foyer fountain Mancini crooning “Moon River” to a chirping courtyard chorus. Named for the Emberiza family of birds indigenous to South Morocco and considered sacred in Marrakesh, the boutique hotel that took two years to renovate was guarded by these feathered friends. They had comforted Alexandra who moved from Melbourne and found the process, like other expats building a new home in a foreign country, fraught with frustrations. A Barrister of Queen’s Counsel, the highest appointment and level of professional recognition in Australia, the Human and Civil Rights attorney is, no surprise, a strong, smart Leading Lady of her new life. But she is also a woman of beauty, style, wit and grace and reminds me of Big Screen legends like Lauren Bacall and Faye Dunaway.

When I asked what moving to Morocco taught her, she replied:

“One thing I have learned here is to ‘never say never and never say always.’ I believe Talleyrand said this of politics and war. I would say it of everything here.”

 

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To a musical mix of Moroccan, French, and Frank (Sinatra), I wandered the riad as slowly as the turtles who live there, delighting in the details—gorgeous artwork, antiques, bedding, and baths. As I climbed the stairs to tiered terraces, then the rooftop, I could imagine Truman Capote working or Holly Golightly playing here. Riad Emberiza Sahari is a venue for artists’ retreats, weddings and social gatherings, solo or romantic escapes, and the ultimate girls’ getaway. Offerings include excursions, cooking classes, massages, yoga, or meditation.

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Alexandra and Kate, a friend who lived near her in Melbourne though they never met until each moved to Marrakech.

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As darkness descended the riad became even more magical–the pool and fountains dancing, flickering,  reflecting lights and candle flames to classical music.  We talked at table under orange and lime trees about our love for our children and for this strange, irresistible city.

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I would return months later for Kate’s birthday and always look forward to seeing Alexandra. She inspires me as a woman of reinvention, as one who followed her dream and created an oasis where others can rediscover theirs.   Riad Emberiza Sahari is the manifestation of who she is and what is right with the world– a dramatically beautiful, comfortable, and peaceful place.

Alexandra: “I agree with Winston Churchill that ‘Marrakech is the most beautiful place in the world.’ But a place of great beauty AND great ugliness, a place of contrasts and contradictions. Therefore it never lets you alone and you always know you are alive.”

 

 

Amazing Animal Sanctuary outside Marrakesh

Amazing Animal Sanctuary outside Marrakesh

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Since meeting Charles Hantom and Susan Machin, Directors and Founders of Jarjeer Mules, last year at Café du Livre, I have wanted to see their sanctuary– a retirement home and nursery for aged, abandoned, and disabled equines and a learning center for visitors of all ages.  See their story below of how stray dogs changed their mission from building a guest house to sheltering and rehabilitating donkeys and mules.

With a history of helping people–Charles, a retired solicitor honored by the Community Trade Union for his service to iron and steel workers and Susan, a practicing barrister, representing vulnerable adults in the UK– they now rescue animals, sharing the love by teaching empathy to children who ride the older donkeys and providing adults opportunities to be involved from near or far.

My coworker Fiona organized a van for us to travel 24 kilometers out of Marrakech toward the Atlas Mountains–a gorgeous ride.  When we arrived, ten dogs, barking and tales wagging, met us at the gate. Inside twenty donkeys and four mules were having breakfast.  Curious to see what we brought them for dessert, they nuzzled in to eat carrots, apples, and sugar cubes.

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Above is Jerry who arrived as a tiny orphan, was attacked by a dog, but with extensive surgery and constant care survived and now thrives.  Read his story and that of Alan, Sally, Tommy and the the whole herd here.

Before the ride back, we enjoyed mint tea and biscuits from a peaceful, pretty patio as puppies rolled in the grass.  I have always loved the country–as a kid in Kentucky visiting family on weekends and as a newlywed living on a thoroughbred farm.  I was out of practice and more skittish than the mules for fear of being kicked, but I’m really glad I went.  Yet another reason to love Morocco.

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January in Marrakesh

January in Marrakesh

 

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

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It’s January, and my Facebook feed is a flurry.  A snowstorm has hit the US–including my home in the south– leaving all covered in white.  Here temps have been in the 70s and climbed to the 80s this weekend.  The Atlas Mountains that were covered in snow all last winter are bare.  But on the rooftop of The Pearl, aptly named, all is winter white.   At the perfect place for lunch and a panoramic view, roses, bougainvillea, and snowball bushes bloom.

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Namazake, the Japanese restaurant on the top floor, serves on the terrace.

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I had been here once before with my friend, Synnove, who chose the rooftop for dinner last spring. The sushi is delicious, but in this beautiful hotel just having a drink provides a feast for the eyes.

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Today was a good day.  On the walk home, Kate pulled me into Dino for a treat.  We may not have snow, but we have ice cream.

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IMG_0595IMG_0597IMG_0581Happy January!