Rising from Travel Trauma

IMG_6082 (1)
As Brene Brown says, “Soft front, strong back, wild heart.”

Last spring when my friend Caroline offered me her holiday home as my private writing retreat, I was thrilled. Though we’d never met in person, we’d been in contact since 2016 just before I left Morocco. After I moved to the Dominican Republic, she bought the house and sent me photos of each phase of its restoration. I was returning to Marrakech in June and couldn’t wait to finally step into the haven she had designed. She’d be working out of the country but would leave the key for me.

Months before the trip, I started envisioning myself wearing a kaftan again, journaling mornings on her rooftop couches and clicking afternoons on my laptop in her jade courtyard. The color she chose for the entrance tile and kitchen reminded me of the Emerald City. Appropriate, I thought, because Magical Marrakech had been Oz where I’d lived over the rainbow for two years. I  couldn’t wait to return.

I imagined scouting the souks in her neighborhood for wedding quilts–my most prized Moroccan treasure– and eating next door at the hotel she frequented. As I’d done before, perched on ramparts above the African Coast, balconies on the Mediterranean Sea, and atop other medina guest houses, I’d watch sunsets. And as the moon rose, though a female solo traveler, I’d feel safe so high in the dark. The panoramic views at sunrise and star-filled heavens at night– beauty breaks for the soul– would give me new perspective. I’d feel protected, closer to my creator, and thus more creative.

 

IMG_6153

An inspiring place to write is always top of my list when choosing accommodations. When traveling with children to Florida beaches, I’d book stays with pretty ocean or pool side patios where I could work before they woke up. Writing for me is a sacred space, and to do so in an Edenic location makes my heart sing.

But like Amanda Wingfield, despite all my  “plans and preparations,” things sometimes went awry. My 2013 trip to Costa Rica to write like Hemingway in a Caribbean jungle was rattled off course by an earthquake and ER visit. On the 2016 Girl’s Trip to Tuscany rather than writing in a vineyard villa the flu or pneumonia forced me to bed. I then finished the week like the walking dead. Spring Break 2017 in the Dominican Republic I was to write on a terrace by the sea. Instead, a man  hiding in the jungle in a mask marred my sense of safety for the two months I had left to teach in the country.  God protected me and I’m forever grateful, but I’d discover in Morocco over a year later that like Michael Myers in the Halloween film, fear had stowed away in my luggage to stalk me.

I felt him, faintly, in the distance when I met Moni in Madrid on my way to Marrakesh but thought I was just rundown  from a rough interim teaching gig or exhaustion from the last two years. Seeing her would be good medicine as would be seeing Kate and Jasna in Morocco where, before, I’d  felt so free. But while making my way one afternoon back to a hotel I was reviewing, I thought I was lost. Though I’d shopped and riad-hopped for two years in the medina, turning onto a deserted street–like the stretch of beach where the man grabbed me–I became terrified. I hurried on–as it turned out, on the right route–and turned down another deserted alley where I knew the hotel entrance would be. When a man on a motorbike turned down the same street, I began stabbing my key, hands shaking, to hit the hole. I stumbled over the threshold and pulled the bolt behind me. In  my room, I shook and cried. Was this what people call post traumatic stress?

The next trigger was when I went to Caroline’s. Kate said she’d see me settled  but couldn’t stay. We took a taxi to a part of the medina we weren’t familiar with, then were told by the driver we’d have to walk the rest of the way. A young man heard us talking about the hotel where we would get the key and pointed down a narrow street.  Though the hotel was there and the riad just around the corner, by the time we unlocked the door I was racked with anxiety.

IMG_8192

Two of Caroline’s friends from London stopped by to give us the tour. They said they were staying next door until the next day and while Marylynn, a flight attendant, chatted with Kate in the salon, Martina, a hair stylist, took me up three more floors. She unlocked each gorgeous bedroom and the stairway to the roof.

“Caroline said to choose the room you like best.”

“They’re all so pretty,” I managed to say. I tried not to start crying. And failed.

“I apologize. Something bad happened to me in the Dominican Republic. I love Morocco. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Caroline was so sweet to offer me her home. I wish you two were staying here. ” I was thinking, I AM VERY, VERY AFRAID. I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE. Somehow, she knew.

“Listen. We will be right next door. You can wave to us from the roof.” She kindly smiled and nodded, shaking her curls and, now animated, pointing to the neighboring restaurant.

IMG_6155 (2)

“We are going to dinner there and you will join us.  We leave tomorrow so I have to do a bit more shopping. My daughter’s getting married and I need to buy some things to take home. Relax and we’ll be back in a couple of hours. We’ll have some Prosecco on your rooftop and head over. Tell me what you’d like and I’ll make you a reservation. We’re having lamb. Do you know tapping? I’ll show you how to be free from those bad vibes.”

And with that the three women were gone. Caroline checked in by phone to be sure all was well, and I unpacked and shortly Martina and Marylynn returned. We talked children, travel, tapped, and toasted the sunset. Then laughed, a lot, over dinner. They were fun and so very sweet.

IMG_8167
Caroline’s Rooftop

IMG_8181

IMG_6140
Marylynn (left) and Martina (center)

IMG_6138

IMG_6142

IMG_6143

IMG_6144

They walked me back to the riad, and the next morning, before we met for breakfast, I took photos of the hotel to remember yet again time I’d been able to depend on the kindness of strangers. I hated hugging them goodbye, but we have stayed in touch and hope to meet again on one continent or another. I’d love to host them and Caroline in Nashville.

IMG_8179

IMG_8191

IMG_8189

IMG_8190

The remainder of my stay whenever I was afraid, I prayed. I wrote of how God had protected me–in the DR and throughout all of my life–and thanked Him for a place where He had again given me roses in the desert.

IMG_8182

I knew last summer my time for living in Morocco had passed, but I hope to return there often. Next June I hope to show others on a writing retreat this place that moves me and so many.

IMG_6130
In Caroline’s home lines from The Wizard of Oz.

And on the last night at Caroline’s, I climbed to the rooftop. I’d been saved from a predator on a faraway shore. I could have been harmed, even died, but he hadn’t taken me down, made me too afraid to be alone or to travel.  Fear had almost made me miss staying in Caroline’s lovely home and meeting her friends.  God was still protecting me and blessing me with people who make me feel less alone. I had fresh hope that one day  I may travel with not only amazing women friends but also someone else.

I felt him out there. Not the guy I’d dreaded, but the one I’ve been waiting  for. The one who waits for me.  And then I found the poem below by Hafiz Shirazi, a 13th Century Persian Poet.  I twirled and smiled.

IMG_6158

IMG_6116

IMG_6134 (1)

I SAW YOU DANCING

I saw you dancing last night on the roof
Of your house all alone.
I felt your heart longing for the
Friend.
I saw you whirling
Beneath the soft bright rose
That hung from the invisible stem in
The sky,
So I began to change into my best clothes
In hopes of joining you
Even though
I live a thousand miles away.
And if
You had spun like an immaculate sphere
Just two more times,
Then bowed again so sweetly to
The east,
You would have found God and me
Standing so near
And lifting you into our
Arms.
I saw you dancing last night near the roof
Of this world.
I feel your soul in mine
Calling for our
Beloved.

Riad Melhoun Makes Dreams Come True

IMG_6183

From the moment I walked into Riad Melhoun, I was treated as an honored guest and  friend. Maybe I loved the experience of this stay because the blend of Arabic- Andalusian architecture and music felt so familiar after living in Morocco and visiting southern Spain often.  Like Santiago who traveled from Andalusia to Tangier in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I’d journeyed to this mysterious country where dreams and destiny converged. As I was warmed by the traditional welcome, mint tea, I gazed into the shimmering pool which reflected a silver service, an exotic hookah, and a woman forever changed by two years in this place.

Maybe I loved Riad Melhoun because it, too, is a reflection of art and history– wood carvings, stucco, and design inspired by the Bahia Palace nearby and the Medersa Ben Youssef.

Maybe it was being shown to the superior Amessan suite, making any woman feel like a princess with the canopied bed and decorative doors opening exclusively  to the courtyard pool. On the second floor were seven other sumptuous rooms.

IMG_6235

IMG_6219

Maybe it was the attention to details–matching tile sinks, arched doorways and alcoves,  stain glass windows, bedding, lanterns, soft robe and slippers, and a spacious shower.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6188

IMG_6191

IMG_6211

Maybe I felt at home because  I wrote for hours under the arbor on the rooftop. Being outdoors is paradise to me despite insects that love lush gardens, too. If you enjoy  camping out as I do everywhere I go, repellent is a suggestion.

IMG_6241

Truly taking pride in the details, the staff plans excursions with guests. Though I stayed on the property,  Riad Melhoun delivered my Big 3–beauty, adventure, and new friends.

IMG_6204

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I met guests waiting for the sunset on the rooftop, like this gentleman from China who showed me how drones work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As the night grew dark and lanterns were lit, I went down to dinner and found my table set at the end of the pool. Thrilled, I took my seat. On the pristine cloth, to my delight, were red rose petals.  Again I thanked God for blessings as I’d done that afternoon in the memoir I am writing about moving to Morocco. It’s called Roses in the Desert.  As a solo traveler I am accustomed to eating alone. Here I felt  special and with attentive staff never felt alone.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_6252

IMG_6258

IMG_6267

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next morning I found my place on the rooftop. Local honey is loved here by Moroccans, tourists, and bees.

IMG_6286

IMG_6287 (1)

IMG_6288

Riad Melhoun has a spacious spa where massages and hammams can be booked. I had missed hammams, Morocco’s signature treat, so enjoyed one before leaving.   This ritual originated in public bathhouses separated by gender for those with no indoor plumbing to bathe weekly. Women socialized here. Recently on tour with a local guide in Tétouan, I learned  the three most important mainstays of the medina are the mosques, hammams, and bakeries.

I love private hammams performed by a lady who instructs clients to disrobe and lie on the hot stone bench in a marble room with dry heat like a sauna. She poured water over me from a silver bucket and smeared me on both sides with savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil). She left me ten minutes to relax allowing the heat and oil to soften my skin. When she returned, she scrubbed away the top  layer of  dead flesh (which peels off in rolls) with a kess (a mit akin to sandpaper). Next she covered me in argan oil by Sens of Marrakech (a local, organic, fragrant line of products), and left me again to “bake.” She returned, washed my hair and rinsed my body. Finally she massaged lotion into my then-baby-soft skin. She wrapped me in a robe and sat me down in a cooler room for mint tea.

IMG_6206

IMG_6207

IMG_6193

The only  problem was, I felt so relaxed after the experience I could barely walk downstairs. Thankfully, I was packed up so all I had to do was tumble into a tuk tuk to be whisked away to another adventure. so thankful Riad Melhoun was a dream come true.

IMG_8226.jpg

IMG_6290

Thank you to Manager Mr. Mohamed and his wonderful staff for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

Riad Dar Kleta: Marrakech Stay for Rest and Inspiration

Riad Dar Kleta

Stepping from a tunnel of the Medina into a passageway to a massive door… crossing the threshold into a lush courtyard garden flanked with singing birds… climbing the spiral staircase to three levels of heaven.  Exploring Riad Dar Kleta is a magical adventure.  Being inspired by the creativity of its owners, Julien and Francoise Gaumont, who treat guests like family, is unforgettable.

My friend, Kate, and I were greeted with mint tea when we arrived, asked to name whatever Moroccan dishes we wished to have for dinner, and told to relax. “You are home,” said Julien.

IMG_5798

IMG_5964

IMG_5807 (1)

So many choices… to sprawl on the lush, shaded couches of burnt orange and earth tones overlooking the courtyard, to nap on wine-colored sofas by a cacti garden, to wind up the second spiral staircase to  loungers for watching the sky change colors at sunset.

IMG_5829 (1)

IMG_5838

IMG_5839

IMG_5845

IMG_5846

IMG_5841

IMG_5817
Our room had a view of the garden and touches that made it welcoming.

IMG_7890

IMG_5823

IMG_5908

IMG_5914

The night was a little cool for dinner on the rooftop–unusual for June in Morocco–so we were served in the beautiful salon below. We sat down to a refreshing drink before dinner, wine, and a delicious meal prepared that afternoon from local, fresh ingredients.

IMG_5932

IMG_6812
Julien and Francoise unveiled the tagines with traditional French-Moroccan flair. Photo credit: Kate Woods of Moroccobespoke
IMG_5934 (1)
My Aussie friend Kate

The lamb and prune and vegetable tagines were wonderful, as was the fresh mango and cherries that followed. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard. Francoise had made the homemade orange and strawberry jams.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7948

IMG_5963

Francoise left her career as a nurse and Julien as a concierge on Oléron, an island off the west coast of France where they lived nine years. They fell in love with Marrakesh, as did their daughter, Lila, on holidays in Morocco.  Now fifteen, Lila told her parents when younger that Moroccan adults notice and speak first to children. Loving the attention, she turned down a trip to the beach in Essaouira with them, preferring instead to stay behind with the Moroccan ladies working at the hotel.  She now loves attending school in Marrakesh.

For Francoise, it was a natural move as well. Her parents were French expats who had moved  to Casablanca for her grandfather’s health and there she was born. She’d lived in Morocco until she was nine. The first trip back was with Julien nine years ago when she told him it felt like home. Now hotel owners, the couple rents two rooms of their home to guests, making an intimate experience –one reason John Brunton named Riad Dar Kleta in The Guardian as a Top Ten place to stay in Marrakech.  In Creuse, they still have a family home and visit their four older children and  nine grandchildren living in France.

The couple is following another dream. In addition to tag-teaming as managers of Riad Matham and Riad Dar Kleta, three years ago they  became designers.  Their chic French style and love for Moroccan vintage textiles led to their creating furniture, clothing, and handbags sold in their hip boutique, Bazarkech , located in the shops below medina landmark, Terrasse des épices. Kate and I visited their shop supported by tourists, the community, and fans afar.  They shipped locally made stools upholstered in their fabrics as far as to a restaurant in St. Barts in the Caribbean.

IMG_5953
When I told  Francoise she looks too young to be a grandmother, she shrugged, smiled, and said, “Age does not matter, right?”
IMG_5905
“We love this country. We love the Medina. For us, Marrakesh is the Medina,” says Julien of their new` home.
IMG_5801
Francoise’s hatpin collection
IMG_8019
Bazarkech

IMG_4439

IMG_5639

IMG_5929
Kate, who lives in Marrakesh, too, and Francoise talk local hair dressers.

IMG_5904

IMG_5823

IMG_7890

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was a great stay. I left inspired by new friends–Francoise and Julien who are beautiful examples of embracing new, exciting seasons of life–and their cool cats who know how to relax.

Thank you to Riad Dar Kleta for a peaceful haven. As always, the opinions here are my own.

 

88 Kisses and 44 Smiles: Sweet Success of Project SOAR

IMG_2310

To laugh often and much;

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

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

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

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

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

This is to have succeeded.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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

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

Version 2

IMG_2341

IMG_2305

IMG_2306IMG_2301

IMG_2291

IMG_2293
Sports instructor, Alice Elliot explains circuit training to ASM girls, Zineb and Rania, who will lead sports for the day.

IMG_2296IMG_2313

IMG_2322
My former student visiting from the US, Jessica Markwood, will being interning in Mozambique this fall.  Four years ago we had just returned from a service trip where we worked with children in Ecuador.

IMG_2329

IMG_2331

IMG_2334
After sports at Peacock Pavilions we walk to the Project Soar Center in the village.

IMG_2335

IMG_0906

IMG_0905

IMG_0902

IMG_2340
Bochra Laghssais leads art class with an empowering project to make leaves for a tree that lists their personal goals and pursuits.

IMG_2342

IMG_2343

IMG_2345

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

IMG_0927
Both beloved by the girls are Warda Belkass and Brenda Garcia Jaramillo.

IMG_0897

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

IMG_0922

IMG_0914

IMG_0920

Memories Made at Project SOAR:

In Marrakesh Girls SOAR

Painting Party at Project SOAR

International Women’s Day

 

 

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.

IMG_1369

IMG_1386

IMG_1385

IMG_1372

IMG_1373 (1)

IMG_1348

IMG_0932

IMG_1361

IMG_1350

IMG_1349

IMG_1360

IMG_1383

IMG_1362

IMG_0930

IMG_0402

“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.

Dream Riad in Marrakech for Weddings, Writing, Wellness

IMG_7313

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.

IMG_7333

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.”

 

IMG_7305

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.

IMG_7380
Alexandra and Kate, a friend who lived near her in Melbourne though they never met until each moved to Marrakech.

IMG_7318

IMG_7403

IMG_7321

IMG_8218

 

IMG_7338

IMG_7337

IMG_8223

IMG_7342

IMG_7368

IMG_7367

IMG_7346

IMG_7360IMG_8237

IMG_7352

IMG_7330

IMG_7327

IMG_7307

 

IMG_7303

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.

IMG_7410

IMG_9013

IMG_9019

IMG_7308

IMG_8212

IMG_8239

IMG_8276

IMG_7357

IMG_7383 - Version 2

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.”

 

 

In Marrakech Locals and Expats Gather at Kosybar

Kosybar Marrakesh

I spent a perfect Marrakesh afternoon recently with Brigitte, owner of Kosybar and Dar Beija, with Andrena, her longtime friend. Andrena and I were off from work for Moroccan Independence Day so we were thrilled to enjoy lunch in the sunshine. Later we walked it off through the  newly refurbished Jewish Quarter to Brigitte’s beautiful boutique hotel.

IMG_9708

IMG_9690 - Version 2
Brigitte
IMG_9714
Andrena (right)

Day or night the three-story restaurant is a gathering place.  I’d been to Kosybar before, a favorite Happy Hour hangout of coworkers and other locals and expats.  In a city where riad and restaurant rooftops are so close you can hopscotch your way across the skyline, Kosybar’s sunset view is one of the most unique places in town to sip and see the sky change colors. Perched in their gigantic nests just above patrons, the famous storks of El Badi Palace, began in 1578 by Arab Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, keep watch over dusk.  The tourist attraction is home now of the Marrakech Folklore Festival.

First trip to Kosybar in Spring 2015 with Annie and Lexi
First trip to Kosybar last spring with Annie and Lexi

IMG_8325

IMG_8327

IMG_8992
Through the gate below Kosybar is the El Badi Palace (below)

IMG_9794

IMG_9790 - Version 2

IMG_8990

IMG_8330

IMG_8335

IMG_8997

IMG_8996

IMG_9715

IMG_9719

IMG_9718

IMG_9720

IMG_9722

IMG_9705

IMG_9707

As we spoke over lunch, Spike, a talented and gregarious Canadian singer who fills the dance floor downstairs Thursday-Sunday nights, stopped by the table to say hi. Three other expat guests—one who had returned home but like so many others had been drawn back by the “Marrakesh spell”–did the same, giving Brigitte–a Moroccan kisses on both cheeks.  She has a sensitive, sweet spirit that friends and regular customers find soothing.

Our lunch prepared by Japanese Chef Nao Tamaki was delicious–a fusion of Asian, French, and Moroccan fare. Though not usually a dessert person, I LOVED the apple turnovers.  In addition to lunch, the restaurant serves a tapas menu afternoons and a dinner menu evenings.  They have a full range of cocktails including a good selection of wines.  The mojitos are the best I’ve tasted in town.

IMG_9685
Goat Cheese Ravioli
IMG_9692
Wonton Soup
IMG_9686
Chicken Cheese Bites
IMG_9698
Calamari
IMG_9704
Chocolate Brownie
IMG_9701
Apple Turnovers

It was a poignant day. Sad and shocked by the Paris bombing, Brigitte talked of the tragedy and her daughter’s decision that they keep their plans for an upcoming trip to the City of Lights. Brigitte said though it is safe in Morocco it had been quiet the last few days as it is every time such a tragedy happens.  She agreed with her daughter that we can’t be ruled by fear and they should go to Paris as planned rather than cancel.

Despite disturbing world events, we so enjoyed the day we’d been given.   As moms born on three continents (Andrena is Scottish), we spoke of our children.  Brigitte shared some of her family history. She and her husband, Nabil, started their journey as high school sweethearts 25 years ago in Meknes. Together they attended University of South Florida in Clearwater, Schiller University, and University of Nevada in Las Vegas where they received degrees in Hotel Administration, Hospitality, and International Business.   Their oldest child was born in Clearwater, the other three in Las Vegas.

They returned to Morocco and in 2005 opened Kosybar. Of her staff, she said, “We’re family.”

IMG_9713

On the square beneath, workmen continuing renovation.

She also shared local history.  The previous owner of the riad which is now Kosybar was a Jewish clockmaker.  Moroccan kings have always protected Jewish residents and many pilgrimages are made here to burial sites of their saints.  Many of the Jewish houses had tunnels under the city to the palace in case of attack.  One of the many things I appreciate about Morocco is its historic and present tolerance of the religions of foreigners. In the Marrakesh Mellah, one of several Jewish communities in Morocco, Jewish and Muslim merchants work alongside one another.  Brigitte said of her childhood: “My dad was French, and my mom was Moroccan. Her best friend was Jewish. We all grew up together.”

I remembered on the first tour I took of Marrakesh our guide began at the spice shop just across the street (below).  I couldn’t believe how bright and shiny the neighborhood was compared to when I first visited—dust, exhaust fumes, and years of use washed and refinished.

IMG_9725

IMG_9726

IMG_9727

IMG_9728IMG_9723IMG_9729IMG_9732IMG_9734

IMG_9738
Entrance to the Lazama Synogogue

IMG_9737

IMG_9736

IMG_9735

IMG_9740

IMG_9741
Dar Beija, a boutique bed and breakfast riad

IMG_9749

IMG_9745

IMG_9744

IMG_9748

IMG_9750

IMG_9754

IMG_9756

IMG_9757

IMG_9751

IMG_9747

IMG_9746

IMG_9779
Riad rooftop with a panoramic view of the Marrakesh Medina–palaces, sanctuaries, and the Atlas Mountains

IMG_9771

IMG_9772

IMG_9773

IMG_9759

IMG_9767

Thank you, lovely ladies, for the pleasure of good company and conversation.  Truly it was an afternoon of pure peace.

Jardin Majorelle…My Backyard Blooms

IMG_6473

The earth laughs in flowers.–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Flowers are restful to look at.  They have neither emotions nor conflicts.–Sigmund Freud

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.–Charles A. Miles

Had Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé not fallen in love with Jardin Majorelle on a visit to Marrkech in 1966, one of the most famous gardens in the world would have suffered the fate Joni Mitchell lamented in “Big Yellow Taxi”: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Slated to be a hotel complex, the property was saved by the Parisian clothing designer (whose ashes are scattered in the rose garden) and his partner.

IMG_6485

Memorial to Yves St. Laurent
Memorial to Yves Saint Laurent

The pair pledged to complete the vision of Jacques Majorelle, a fellow artist who created the space.  Mission accomplished, the urban renewal breathes life into city residents and tourists. I recently wrote of my love for gardens.  I’m so grateful for this one, located just down the street in my neighborhood in Gueliz, where I find shade, shelter, green space, in the midst of a frenetic city.

IMG_6487

IMG_6479

The painting studio of Majorelle was convereted into a Berber museum, educating expats on the natives of Morocco, and an irrigation system installed. A legacy of art and beauty, Jardin Marjorelle is the result of one who planted, two who watered, and God who grew a creation all now enjoy.

IMG_6493

IMG_6494

All gardening is landscape painting.–William Kent

In 1923 French painter, Jacques Majorelle, bought land in Marrakech. He had studied architecture and was an avid amateur botanist. He was also influenced by his father, Louis Majorelle, a famous furniture designer, and the Art Nouveau movement which took inspiration from nature.

A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.–Luis Barragan

The composition of his masterpiece includes indigenous plants and those he gathered from his travels across five continents—palms, agaves, cacti, weeping willows, jasmine, agaves, cypress, and my favorite, cascading bougainvilleas. A paradox of serene stimulation, bursting blooms against the buildings’ primary colors—yellow and ultramarine, now known as “Majorelle blue” –energizes while the green of fauna, ripples across ponds, and whispers of fountains calms the soul.

Though Majorelle’s art exhibitions were appreciated world wide, Jardin Majorelle is considered his greatest achievement. Sadly, however, his life did not end with the serenity he gave others.  An accident that took his leg and broken relationships led to financial burdens which forced him to sell much of his land and open the garden to the public for entrance fees. He died before seeing the culmination of his vision, never knowing future owners would finish what he started.  Still Majorelle said of his passion project:  “This garden is a momentous task, to which I give myself entirely. It will take my last years from me and I will fall, exhausted, under its branches, after having given it all my love.”

IMG_6472 IMG_3634 IMG_3627

IMG_8306

Since moving to Morocco I’ve wanted bougainvillea to spill over my balcony.  Though I see it everywhere climbing buildings several stories high and have asked locals where I can buy blooming plants at least 3-feet tall, they’ve all said it is best to plant small cuttings without flowers.  Finally, I felt heard.  I showed a Moroccan friend exactly what I want in pots perched on a riad rooftop.   I showed him the size and color,  repeating I don’t want to wait… I want beautiful, large plants now, not knowing how long I’ll be here to enjoy them.  He nodded, agreed, and produced three single vines.  Each spindly…bud less… only inches tall. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree version of what I’d envisioned.  Disappointed, I thought,  I’ll probably be on another continent by the time these bloom.  

But then I decided to do it the Moroccan way.  No hurry. Plant.  Have patience. Wait and see.  Teaching should have taught me this.  Whether or not I see the fruits of my labor, I’ll tend.  I’ll love. I’ll bloom where I’m planted, believing life–in whatever season–is beauty.

IMG_3619
October 2014–Moni and I at a tea hosted by my school’s Board of Directors
IMG_8309
Travel bloggers and friends on a Sunday stroll

IMG_3622

Riad Hikaya…Balm of Beauty

Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. ― Rumi

It is very, very difficult to feel sad for long in Morocco, because you can never be alone in Morocco. You are surrounded by beauty…It really is a place, I think, that nourishes the soul.–John Pittaway

A picture from Persian poetry, gorgeous girls in red swung open a heavy, studded door. They beckoned me over a threshold for refuge from the dust, glare, and chaos of the Kasbah. Immediately taking my overnight bag, their attention turned to relieving me of the burden my face and body still carried.

“Welcome. Please sit. Would you like some tea?”

Like Dorothy, swept into a black-and-white Kansas cyclone, then dropped into Technicolor Oz, I had been disoriented by a painful situation but, upon landing in a dream,  became distracted from it by beauty. The terra cotta maze of the medina had morphed into a sanctuary of ruby, aqua, green and gold.

IMG_9604

IMG_9606

IMG_9603
Marian and Hakema

IMG_8635

IMG_8576

IMG_8591

IMG_8590

IMG_8587 IMG_8588 IMG_8586 IMG_8585

IMG_8558

IMG_8632

IMG_8550

IMG_8539

IMG_8553

I had read that everything I saw on walls and floors, sat on, sat under had been designed by Jane and John Pittaway, English owners of Riad Hikaya, and handcrafted by Marrakshi artisans. I spoke with John that afternoon who studied Arabic at University and also speaks French, Spanish, and the local Moroccan dialect, Darija. Though he has lived in many parts of the Middle East including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates before moving to Marrakech, we discussed what makes this place unique…the creativity which brims here…. the tension of chaos and tranquility…the balm of beauty that banishes bad.

By dinner on the rooftop under a full moon, I was fully settled in the Rahma suite (Arabic word for compassion)– able to breathe; to let go; to accept, see and savor the gifts of kindness and peace around me.  Not only had the girls turned back my bed, sprinkling rose petals on the duvet and in the tub…not only had Fadoua fed me fresh Tabouleh, the best Lamb CousCous I’ve had, and Celebration Orange and Chocolate Cake which, trust me, is reason alone to celebrate…but Sana, at my request, stopped serving and sat down for a chat over dessert.

The next morning the moon was gone.  The sun met me on the rooftop instead.  After breakfast and a read in the jacuzzi,  I told the girls bye. I left again grateful for the kindness of strangers-now-friends.  I remembered John’s words of a 2-year planned renovation that took five years instead.  So true of life in many ways: “Anything is possible…It was an interesting journey..a way of learning.”

IMG_8565
(from the website) Rahma, (Arabic for compassion), is situated on the first floor of the riad overlooking the smaller, mirrored courtyard.The traditional bed, fashioned from tadelakt and zelij, is framed by a hand carved ‘muqarbas’, or bedhead, with an ornate zowwaq finish. Cactus silk curtains line the tadelakt walls and frame the artisanal, wooden shutters. Hand painted plaster motifs, soft kelim armchairs and vintage berber carpets complete the luxurious feel.

IMG_8579

IMG_8626

IMG_8575

IMG_8563

IMG_8566
Hand painted tadelakt bath and a monsoon shower crafted from zelij and maillechort, a metal favoured by Marrakshi artisans which in English is known as nickel silver

IMG_8620

IMG_8602

IMG_8615

IMG_8618
Sana

IMG_8611 IMG_8609 IMG_8619

IMG_8642 IMG_8638

IMG_8639

IMG_8643

IMG_8623

IMG_8584

IMG_8634
Fresh roses

IMG_8628

IMG_8629 IMG_8631

IMG_8637

IMG_8636

A thing of beauty is a joy forever;

Its loveliness increases…it still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.–John Keats

What a difference a day makes.  Thanks to Riad Hikaya for the stay.  As always, the opinions here are my own.