Endless Summer: A Place in the Sun

Summer is my favorite time of year. An invitation to breathe, relax, explore. After living in Morocco and the Dominican Republic, I don’t dread winter as I once did. I appreciate changing seasons.  And yet… when the cicadas’ song crescendos from a low hum heralding summer in May to a hiss screeching summer’s end in September, I have trouble letting go.

This is my salute to the longest day of summer where I escaped to a beach house in Asilah, south of Tangier. The ocean is where I feel God’s power most intensely, especially on the northern African coast. 

IMG_6790
Road between Asilah and Tangier

I returned to Marrakesh in June to see students I’d taught graduate, reconnect with old friends, and collapse for a reset. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor at my friend’s place grounded me again.

My first year back in the US had been harder than expected. Everything had changed. I’d come back focused on writing my memoir about the time away, feeling positive about getting a full time university position for which I’d applied, and expecting to buy a home near work and my daughter. When the position didn’t happen, I continued job searching though thankful for adjunct positions in the fall and an interim position in the spring. Housing prices in Nashville kept rising; my kids were busy with lives of their own (as it should be but as a Stage 5 Clinger I felt lonely at times no less); and Mom became ill and moved from Kentucky into my apartment with me. At times we both felt lost (more on podcast), but God, as always, never let go. 

Mom made a miraculous recovery and celebrated her birthday in April in a new apartment. We’re all so happy she’s finally living in Nashville. One day after the summer term ended, I boarded a plane. I met my Spanish friend, Moni, in Madrid, then headed to Marrakesh.

After resting until mid-month, I headed north with my Aussie friend, Kate. We stayed in the old city of Asilah, the cleanest town I’d ever seen in Morocco.  Whitewashed in preparation for the annual Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, a mural/art festival, the medina was as quiet, pristine, surreal as a movie set.  

Below was the Airbnb respite —a dream writing space. I felt protected within the 15th century ramparts built by colonial Portuguese. I fed on seafood. I felt free. From the rooftop I watched the waves rumble. On the second floor, I wrote as the sun rose and fell with the tide.  I didn’t know then that I’d teach full time for a university this fall. That I’d have benefits again and a schedule that would give me time to write.  But I knew the One telling me not to fear. I recognized the way He moves–the way He moved me while I lived in Morocco. The unforced rhythm of grace. I remembered a promise that led me here in 2014. A promise extended to all…

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”—Matthew 11:28-30 

Smoother than Nora Jones, He’d again called, “Come away with me.” I did, and though I had no idea what fall would bring, He knew. And it was enough. I knew my only job at that moment was to give thanks in the summer sun.

IMG_6755

IMG_6785

IMG_6764

IMG_6766

IMG_6763

IMG_6787

IMG_6752

IMG_6788

IMG_6753

IMG_6751

IMG_6744

IMG_6745

IMG_6746

IMG_6749

IMG_6750

Asilah
Photos of me by Kate Woods at https://www.moroccobespoke.com/. Other photos by me.

IMG_6715

IMG_6712

IMG_6713

IMG_6721

IMG_6741 (1)

IMG_6719

IMG_6742

Asilah Rooftop
Asilah’s white and blue rooftops reminded me of breezy shoreline escapes in Greece.

IMG_6725 (1)

Asilah
These guys, sure-footed as cats, played and sat along the fortress wall watching the sun set and a friend swimming below.
Asilah
A really good day

 

 

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.”