Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Things have been quiet around here, save for the Morocco back story, because things have been hard. Marriages are said to have a 7 year itch; I have had the re-locating equivalent. 7 months in and it's been a hard few weeks. Nothing is new down here any more, summer is ending, I haven't seen people in months and I've had to get used to talking less Monday through Thursday evenings. It's kinda lonely and I miss my friends. Hell, I miss London and my old life. Which hasn't carried on without me, I know that. London has changed, people have moved out, into marriages, in with new lovers, out of old relationships and everyone has fast paced jobs. Yet, some days the vintage buses which run between our village and the town where I work do not charm me. Some days I long for busy tubes and red buses and architecture and fashion and starbucks. To wear high heels. Lipstick. To go out for drinks after work.

Other days I thank god that at least after a stressful day at work I can drive through 7 miles of gorgeous, national park-ified countryside and sit in my beautiful cottage rather than another bloody journey from Holborn to Arsenal jammed up against five other people without enough space to open a newspaper.

Some days I decide we must get a cat. No, a dog. A whippet and a border terrier. A baby perhaps. Other days I cannot even manage to make myself eat and so looking after something else is out of the question. Work is hard. I feel unsettled. I am busy but sometimes I feel something is missing. I second guess every lonely feeling. Everything feels significant but I can't work out why. Ten year anniversaries of every fucking thing crop up every other week at the moment: losing virginity, passing driving test, A-levels, leaving home, starting university, succumbing to depression. Nostalgia so vivid it's crippling. Songs, music, conversation, sex, books and the way the sunlight looks in the early evening.

Talking about it is hard. Writing is worse. Who wants to read such navel gazing that I brought on myself by choosing to uproot here. Husband has it worse. He still sleeps at different houses each works and holds down his London job with skill and aplomb. He has been promoted.

Yet even unending blackberries, foraging, pies, baking, the onset of an Indian summer and a carnival can't seem to lift me this week....

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Remembering Morocco (Part 3)

We spent the first four days of our trip in Marrakech. Each morning we ate breakfast overlooking the square, each afternoon we watched the sun set from the roof terrace. Marrakech is a very flat city. Each building is supposed to be no higher than the height of a palm tree, except for the mosques, which tower over the city and look beautiful silhouetted against the sunset. The oldest of them all, the Katoubia, was built in the eleventh century and set a trend, both in dimension (the 1 to 5 ratio) and the beautiful tiling around the top. They stand imposing, the call to prayer sounding from loud speakers attached to their tops. All of the other building are of a similar height. It seems that there are two Marrakechs, the one at street level and the one at roof level. I stand, watching the sun set over the limits of the city, the snowy tips of the Atlas mountains visible in the distance, looking over the roofs, the many many satellite dishes and wondering if I could walk over the top of the city if I wanted, jumping from terrace to terrace over the tiny alley ways which divide the houses.

But after four days of wandering through souks and sitting in gardens, we decided that it was time to do something a bit different. We rose early on the fifth morning, earlier than usual, about the same time that we would do at home to go to work. By 8.30am we were sitting in Djemma El Fna, waiting for Omar to pick us up. All we knew was that we were going for 3 days. One night we were to stay in a riad, the other a tent. We knew we were heading over the High Atlas, across the desert the other side, eventually for the sand seas of Erg Chebbi, near to the Algerian border. We had been told 8.30am. It came and it went. The minutes ticked by towards 9am and we began to wonder if it had been such a good idea after all. And then, there was a white landie pulling up. A man jumped out. He loaded our bags in and we climbed aboard. An English voice greeted us. "Hi" she said. "I'm Fizz". And that was the last time we doubted Omar.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Remembering Marrakesh (part 2)

Our riad doesn't serve breakfast. It is more towards the backpacker end of the market. So we start each day with a quick walk across the Djemma El Fna to one of the caf├ęs with roof terraces looking over the square. We soon settle on a favourite, which has fewer English speaking tourists, metal chairs with cushions and proper (rather than paper) tablecloths. We order the usual 'petit dejeuner', a basket of bread with a pot of butter, a pot of 'confiture' (which is sometimes jam, sometimes marmalade, occasionally honey), very fluffy orange juice and a cafe au lait and sit back in our chairs, enjoying the morning sun, which already feels rather warm, and watching the movement below in the square. Sometimes we read, sometimes I paint but mostly we sit and watch the people go by. Everyone seems very busy doing not very much at all. The snakes charmers gather under their green umbrellas, their white coats and yellow shoes distinct from the old ladies in black who sit armed with henna under their umbrellas. There are five, six, seven men all identically dressed, taking it in turns to sit and play haunting but garish riffs on what appear to be metal recorders, trying to provoke their snakes into moving, whilst others try and draw in people to watch, to photograph and most importantly to pay. The crowds shift and move rather like tides. Circles gather around raconteurs and acrobats. Men lie in the shade of their umbrellas. A group of men with wheelbarrow like carts sleep in them whilst waiting for business. The orange juice sellers call out for business. It is a strangely compelling place, the Djemma El Fna.

And through it runs a road although it is barely delineated, if at all. More scooters, more bikes, horses, donkeys, men pushing wheelbarrows, delivery vans, the occasional 4x4. One man we see has about 20 boxes of 16 eggs piled on the back of his scooter, held on by two bungees. Another man is on a bike carrying an enormous basket of bread between his legs, his knees bent out right to the side, peddling away. One woman appears to be carrying a TV. She is riding on the back of a scooter. There is a certain scooter style - left leg turned out, foot hanging off, more often than not with the left arm carelessly draped towards the back of the bike. Some have small black helmets (straps undone) perched on their heads. Most are wearing cloaks, open backed shoes, plain muted colours. It is not until I visit a hamaam that I see a non tourist woman without a hejab or similar.

The hamaam we visit it not a tourist one. It is further down the street on which our riad is, further into the 'residential' part of the Medina. There are 2 entrances, separate ones for women and men. We go in at the same time, M and I, so that neither has to wait around. I don't get hassled very much when I am walking next to M. But in the ten minutes that I stand outside afterwards, waiting for M, I get watched, stared at and called to more than the rest of the trip put together. I am nervous going in on my own, my French is more limited than M's. But all the French in the world wouldn't have helped me, once inside, as the women in there appear to only speak Arabic. They gesture to me to remove me clothes. I had read that full nakedness is taboo, so I change under my towel. I put on bikini top and bottoms. The women gesture at me to remove the top.

She takes off all her clothes and changes into an enormous pair of knickers. Wearing only bikini bottoms and flip flops, I follow her. We walk through a room which is full of naked ladies, sitting on the floor surrounded by buckets of water. They are chatting and washing, catching up on gossip I cannot understand but recognise by tones, glances and body language. They look at me with detached interest. I am taller, skinnier, whiter and blonder than all of them. But I don't feel awkward, not at that point. I follow the lady assigned to me through to the next room. She fills buckets at a tap and washes down the floor. She gestures and I sit down. She soaps me with brown gooey soap, which I later discover is 'savon noir' and then scrubs me with a mitt, all over, no part left untouched. Behind the ears, inside elbows, ankles, the lot. I feel like my skin is coming off, but also invigorated and as if my blood is circulating better. And then, just as quickly as it started, it is over. She is waving her arms. I can't understand her. I try gesturing. We still can't understand each other. A younger girl is called over. "Parlez-vous francais?" "Un petit peu" "c'est finit". I follow her out into the slightly cooler changing area and she hands me my towel which I had hung just fifteen or so minutes earlier on a peg. I get dry and changed. The atmosphere has shifted. It no longer feels like people are watching me with distracted fascination. I feel an intruder in their private social space, alienated because we cannot communicate with each other. I do not know the customs of a traditional native hamaam and feel that they feel I am rude for waiting until they indicate by gesture what I must do. My bag is handed back to me and she stands there waiting. She is after a tip. But I only have 2 dirham. I hand it over and she tuts. I cannot tell if the amount I gave her was reasonable or whether she was just hoping for more because I am a tourist. An academic thought though, as I have no more money with me. She limps off muttering and I leave, starting to feel claustrophobic, with a general "au reviour". The ladies have returned to their soup making and tea drinking and do not even look up.

Sunday, 8 August 2010


{Lying in bed after a afternoon's scything in the meadow-now-garden}

Jamie Oliver (on tv): "the best Morrocan cooking is in the home"

R: "It really does sound like that doesn't it. Marrakesh. And he's right, you need to go to Marrakesh to cook, not eat. The restaurants were crap, weren't they. Do you remember the stalls in the Djemma El Fna".

M: "Mmmm. Shall we have chicken or lamb for supper in our tagine?"


To celebrate five years together, Husband and I went to Marrakesh for two weeks. I wrote about the experience back when I had two readers and a different blog address. Watching Jamie in Marrakesh reminded me of the trip and I thought people might be interested...

Morocco: Part One

And so our trip started by watching the sun set from the plane, a fantastic sight as all the colours of the rainbow were visible around the tilt of the earth with darkness above and below the rainbow, with only the wing of the plane visible as a silhouette against the rainbow.

We landed at Marrakech airport which had no shops to speak of save for a stand selling drinks. A cat, the first of many cats we were to see throughout our time in Morocco (although we didn't know it at the time), wondered over to say hello. We changed some money and then followed the 'sortie' signs. Into a car park. Where several beige cars were parked, surrounded by a gaggle of men wearing long cloaks with pointed hoods. "taxi" they said. "Djemma El Fna". And so began a period of haggling, where they tried to make us pay three times the amount our guide book suggested, and we told them "c'est plus cher". Eventually the arrival of a German couple meant that we managed to persuade them to take us all for a price we were both happy with. And then we were off. Weaving in and out of bikes, scooters, petit taxis, grande taxis and an assortment of cars and horse drawn caleches. Each bike had two or more occupants, most with a man driving, a woman hanging on the back and a child sat on the lap of the woman. Although it was dark the air was still warm, hotter here at night than the daytime England we had left behind and the city walls glowed red in the glare of the street lamps. Benches lined the walls, each one occupied by a couple, here and there a moped or scooter parked next to them.

And then we had stopped and we were in the middle of what seemed to be a festival. People were everywhere, small children offered biscuits from baskets, others talking loudly to each other, shouting over the crowds. More scooters weaved in and out. Smoke drifted up from many stands gathered in the square, the place, the assembly of the dead. The Djemma El Fna.

Through the chaos we managed to get our bearings and began finding our way down winding narrow streets full of more bikes, mopeds and people. It was a street off the southern side of the Djemma El Fna and seemed all the narrower for the shops, wares and people spilling out from the sides. People walked down the right leaving the centre clear for mopeds, bikes, donkeys pulling carts. The air thick with the smell of hundreds of suppers being cooked, of drains, of donkeys and occasionally spices or perfumes from one of the shops. But this road wasn't one of the souks; this was a more residential street. Each even tinier alleyway off to the side had many doors opening off it. Cats lurked in every corner. Men lounged or squatted by every shop. People spoke to us in Arabic, in French. A small boy followed us, trying to ask us where we were going. "Non monsieur" repeated in ever stronger tones, and still he persisted. And then suddenly, we found the riad (guest house).

Arriving finally. Finally. But no, "c'est complete", "but we have a reservation". He comes out, shutting the door behind him. He leads us to another riad several streets away. We are shown to a room. He leaves. The new proprietor asks for more money than the reservation. We haggle. He finally relents. The room is basic but functional. The walls are red and cold. There is no hot water. We drink the first of many mint teas in the courtyard, the tea poured from a great height into a small glass, to aerate it and allow the mint and sugar to mix. We start to realise that we may be on the same timeframe GMT wise, but everything in Morocco takes its own time.

And so it goes on. Very hot by day, cooler by night. Local women are covered up, wearing more clothes than I thought possible in that heat. I buy a scarf, even in the moderate clothing I brought I feel exposed. Other tourists wear shorts and vest tops but I feel more respectful to their culture my way. Call to prayer punctuates the air five times daily, a mournful lament of a wail, broadcast over a loud speaker system from the tops of the mosques, each on slightly different and an altered tone or timing. The air is full of sound. And smells. Spices, leather, bad drains, mint, food cooking, horse pee. The sun shines through the gaps in separated rays and is full of dust. Everyone calls out to you, "lovely jubbly", "fish and chips" "only to look" "I give you good price". Each shop-owner knows these English phrases but no more.

We wander through the souks, everything you could want, many times over said Canetti, and he was right. Rows and rows of colourful shoes, scarves, carpets. We haggle for a few minutes over a small handbag. He starts high, I start low. He says I am a Berber, I tell him his price is too expensive. I start to walk away. A hand on my arm "excuse me" and he lowers his price. We finally settle on a price which suits us both. I soon learn to keep my sunglasses on, stopping only to admire things that I am prepared to actually buy. We both realise that no matter how much you think you will stick to your best price, you often will go slightly higher. We wander and admire and finally emerge in small squares, blinking at the bright light after the darker alleys of the souks. We realise that the map in our guide book is not much use. You simply have to wander and eventually come across the Djemma El Fna and our bearings can return. Everything here takes it own time.

Monday, 2 August 2010


We arrived back last night in Portsmouth in glorious evening sunshine after a week with my parents on the boat in Northern Brittany. Sailing, fishing, sleeping, reading and drinking coffee in little cafes.

As soon as I have washed the mountain of salty sailing clothes and completed a myriad work related tasks, I will tell you all about it...

Warships in Portsmouth, husband fishing and his catch, all by me and iphone.