Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Anzac Day

As an Australian I have always been aware of Anzac Day (April 25th) and often involved in services, but last night when listening to a live broadcast of the dawn service from Melbourne on the radio, it seemed to have a greater sense of meaning. Maybe this is because of the long distance between Morocco and Australia, or the limited contact I have with Australians or maybe it is just a fact of getting older!
For those who don't know, Anzac Day is a day in which Australians remember the sacrifices of those who have died in war; the world wars, Vietnam, Korea and others. It also marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during World War I. This action began at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th, 1915. Over 8.000 Australian soldiers were killed in the 8 month battle.
For many Australians, it is an aspiration to attend an Anzac Day service in Gallipoli. This is often something I think about doing but unfortunately work commitments make a trip at that time impossible, even though I am not far away. Maybe I can organise to visit Gallipoli at some other time of year before I leave Morocco, hopefully.
The feelings of sadness, awe, respect and humility I am sure Gallipoli would engender, I felt when I visited the war cemetery at El Alamein in Egypt.It was not until the bus pulled up at the front gate that I suddenly had the thought that my great uncle was buried here. My mother often spoke of Uncle Cec, of how he was like an older brother, how he taught her to knit as a child. So back and forth I went through line after line of headstones wondering how a war could be fought on the barren desert plains of northern Egypt. After an hours searching, I found it.
VX.41103 Corporal
C. J. Loats
22nd July 1942 Age 41
May he Rest in Peace.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Dose of Australiana

Have just got back from my periodic dose of Australiana (and some good exercise), a walk around Hilton Park. Popular with locals who picnic under the trees and walk and jog around the tracks in the park, for me it is popular because it is full of gum trees and wattles. Here they are called eucalyptus and acacias respectively, they bring Australia to Rabat.
It doesn't seem to matter where you go in the world, you will find gum trees: Portugal, Egypt, Chile and Morocco. This Australian stalwart that is found throughout the Australian continent, from the snowy alps to the dry deserts, has a species for almost any global location and climate. They also provide firewood for many struggling peoples of the world.
What I notice most here in Hilton Park, so called because it is next to the Hilton Hotel, is the silence resulting from the absence of birds. The trees may be able to spread throughout the world but the complex ecosystems they support in Australia don't travel.
Oh for some galahs, red-tailed black cockatoos and even a plain old magpie!

Monday, 16 April 2007

The Caliph's House

A few days ago I mentioned the book, The Caliph's House, and how I was going to book group to discuss it. What did people think? Before I give their thoughts, a couple of comments about the group, 11 women from 30s to 60s of varying nationalities. Some have lived in Morocco for many years and are married to Moroccans while others have been here only a year. Their thoughts:
  • It was an interesting and light read but was it realistic or dramatised to make a good story as some of the events seemed quite far-fetched and unrealistic, even for Morocco e.g. the locked room, the chicken in the well making everyone sick
  • The Moroccans in the book were not portrayed in a positive light, mostly they seemed to take the black market path, the men were womanisers and often domineering and rude. Only the stamp collector seemed a nice person
  • some parts were realistic - the men drinking coffee in the cafes, underhand payments to get things done, sudden increase in productivity when the workers were told the king was coming to visit
  • We all wondered how the writer's wife survived with 2 small children, all living in one room, with few walls, dust, rain and workmen everywhere. She is only mentioned rarely in the book. Did she remain there (while her husband escaped to the coffee shop) or did she get out as most of the women in our group would have done?
  • How did the author communicate with the workmen, as he didn't speak French or Arabic, and where did the endless supply of money come from? I'm sure it wasn't from his writing as there aren't many rich authors out there
Anyway it is a good read if you want to learn something about Morocco, but don't believe everything your read. If you wan to buy it or further details, visit the Caliph's House

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Home town tour

Yesterday I got to see my home town, Rabat, through the eyes of tourists, as I showed around a group of visitors here for a conference. First stop was Tour Hassan, often the only stop for tour groups as it was when I visited Morocco in 2000.

Tour Hassan, or Tower of Hassan is the 44-metre high uncompleted mosque minaret begun in the late 1100s. Even though it is nearly 20 metres short of the desired height, the details of its intricate carving can still be clearly seen today, 800 years later. Good views over the Rabat medina and kasbah, the BouRegreg river and the more traditional town of Sale on the other side can be had from the nearby viewpoints. The large courtyard in front of the minaret is dotted by the remains of the pillars from the unfinished mosque that was destroyed in 1755 by the earthquake that also destroyed Lisbon. Although home to pigeons today, the earthen walls still circle the complex but are starting to show signs of wear and tear in places.

At the opposite end of the courtyard to the minaret is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, in which the present king's father, Hassan II and grandfather, Mohammed V are buried. Located on one of the highest points in Rabat, the mausoleum is an example of exquisite craftmenship both inside and out. Inside the walls are covered in geometric tiled mosaics (zellij) made of individual tiny tiles that fit together perfectly, intricately carved wood and more than a splash of gold. It is an awe-inspiring place in which one can't help but feel reverence. Surrounding it are more examples of the craftmanship such as carved wooden doors and zellij fountains.

After lots of "ohs and ahs" and many photographs, it was off to the Kasbah Oudaias via the enormous decorated gate. Wandering through the narrow alleys bordered by white-washed houses trimmed in sky blue, we stopped at the Galerie d'Art Nouiga where there was a colourful display of Moroccan photographs. With no vehicles, steps worn down in the centre through repeated use, arched gates, and the blooming red geraniums, it is a pleasant walk and photographer's delight. Cafe Maure provided an ideal place to stop for a drink and a chat. It used to have wonderful views across the river to Sale until the developers moved in. Supposedly it will be an upmarket complex of hotel, shops and a marina in a few years. But I liked watching the small wooden boats criss-crossing the river. Adjoining the cafe are the Andulusian gardens, a peaceful oasis from the sometimes frenetic traffic outside. With roses, hibiscus and orange trees amongst the residents, it is a riot of colour at many times of the year.

Final stop was the medina for some last minute shopping. Rabat's medina is a very gentle introduction for first-time visitors to Rabat as the vendors are not at all pushy. In fact, on some occasions you have to wait around for them to arrive and give you a price. Not everyone will reduce their prices through bargaining, but if buying carpets, it is must. Besides carpets, the medina is a great place to buy silver jewelry (sold per 100 mg), lamps both metal and painted goat skin, wood products, leather goods including shoes and bedspreads and cushion covers. Rue de Consul, which during the French Protectorate was home to many consulates, is the centre of the tourist shopping medina. Head further afield and you find the local area of the medina with stalls selling clothing, dried fruit and nuts, olives, kitchenware, fruit and a less-than-appealing selection of butcher off-cuts such as sheep's heads and hooves!

To complete the Moroccan experience, evening saw us back in the medina to sample Moroccan food at Dinarjat, a restaurant found behind a tall, feature-less wall, after wending our way in through the narrow alleys. Set in a restored riad, there was the opportunity to sample the traditional Moroccan dishes such as pastilla, tagine and couscous. Even though I have lived in Rabat a while, it was the first time I had been to this restaurant and would have no hesitation in recommending it as an excellent place to try traditional Moroccan food in a very pleasant environment.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Reading, Writing and Life in Morocco

After reading a couple of blogs by friends who are writers (and teachers) and readers, it is time to talk about books. Belonging to a couple of bookgroups I get to read a range of books, many of which I would never read. The most recent one I have finished is The Caliph's House written by an English writer about his experiences of buying and renovating a house in Casablanca. Although some of it really rings true having lived in Morocco for a while, other parts seem over the top. The stars are Jinns - invisible spirits - and the placating of them. Exorcisms, sacrifices, delayed work and gangster neighbours all contribute to the fun! It was an entertaining read but . . . . . . Anyway it should make for interesting conversation at tomorrow's bookgroup meeting.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

A Quick Snap

Travelling over Spring break gave me the opportunity to indulge in one of my passions, photography. Unfortunately rough roads, blowing sand and glaring sunlight don't make it easy. However, early morning and late afternoon provide an ideal time to get some nice photographs of the desert. Although there were ranges of sand dunes, some quite tall, there was also a lot of stony desert with a splash of colour because of the earlier rain. Although it often appears lifeless there were occasional birds, plenty of dung beetles and other tracks on the dunes. Looking back now, I probably should have taken more photos.

This time it was the deserts from Zagora to Erg Chigaga, one of Morocco's two popular desert areas. The other being Erg Chebbi and Merzouga, which I am told is now wall to wall hotels. Not that I remember it being like that seven years ago. The sand blowing is my biggest memory of Merzouga. No photos of that but instead of the sunset after the sand let up.

To me, the most important parts of photography are two-fold; prompting of good memories of travels as time passes and an opportunity to take those who can't physically travel on a pictorial journey to other places. Still it is important to stop and observe the scenery, the people, what is happening around you without always having a camera in hand.

Happy snapping.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Spring Break 1

Back at work today I now muse of spring break and time well spent exploring some previously unseen Morocco.

Lets start with Marrakesh and visit number three. For my friend it was visit number one so some of the tourist sites were on the agenda. The Medersa is still as impressive as ever. The biggest problem is deciding what to look at first. Heading upstairs is a good idea, not so much to see the tiny bedrooms the children slept in, but rather to get away from the crowds of tourists (and the photographic opportunities are endless). I love the windows like the one in the photograph.

Next stop was the Bahia Palace (below), more incredible architecture and inlaid woodwork, painted ceilings and stucco work courtesy of some of Morocco's best artisan make it difficult to know where to look. One word of advice, don't go at three o'clock as after reopening then many tour groups come by for a visit. Quieter were the ruins of the Badi Palace, now called home by many storks. If only the walls could talk.

Of course the Djemma El-Fna provides a never-ending circus ring of entertainment, from the money hungry water sellers who seem to spot a pointed camera lens at 50 metres to the scantily clad tourists who must do no research what-so-ever before they visit. Then there are the snakes, the man selling false teeth and the seething mass of people that swarm in from all sides in the evening. My highlight, the lucious fresh orange juice narrowly over the brochettes and salad from stall number 1.

However for all their attractions above, my two Marrakesh highlights were two other eating experiences, Narwana - a Moroccan Thai restaurant with a fire and water sculpture in a restored riad, and Al Fassia for tagine with a difference. My mouth waters now at the thought. it was just a shame the Thai food wasn't a little hotter.