Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Strings of the Lute

Wednesday evening at bookgroup we discussed a book self-published by one of our own. It was "The Strings of the Lute" by Eileen Colucci.
Focusing on mixed culture marriage, the book follows the life of Lorraine who grew up in Long Island, New York, then moved to France after college where she met Larbi, a Moroccan studying architecture in France. The story follows their life in France, visits to each others countries and families before they finally marry and move to Morocco to live.
The book certainly presents many of the issues that must be faces in this inter-cultural situation, showing how solutions are arrived at and the effect on their lives. It portrays the Muslim world in a very positive light and shows the ready acceptance of this religion to non-believers. Morocco itself is also portrayed in a very realistic light. With a number of bookgroup members including the book's author, long-time residents of Morocco who are married Moroccans, discussion was animated.
Most felt the portrayal of Morocco and Islam was excellent but it also brought back to some the fact that many mixed marriages here in Morocco have not lasted. Naming of friends in this situation who separated followed. Much discussion also involved how much of the tale was based on the authors own life.
Being based on a traditional Arabic song or nouba, provides an interesting framework for the book, with preludes and five mizanes or measures.
For me, one of the issues was the books length (170 000 words) and the fact that the preludes told me what the ending was going to be, although interestingly not all the members saw the ending there.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Travel writing course Marrakesh

Last weekend I spent three days writing, observing, writing, describing, writing, listening and writing some more. This was all part of a travel writing course I participated in run by an ex-magazine editor from the UK. He set up the Travellers' Tales oganisation specifically with the aim of teaching travel writing after he had received so much inappropriate material as an editor.

So the nine eager students ( plus 2 guys from the BBC who were doing a radio program - Excess Baggage - on the course) set off for the spice square in the souk on Saturday morning. Here our first job was to describe everything we saw in half an hour. I only managed to get to the first corner, two-thirds remained undescribed. Next we had to use our other senses other than sight to describe the same area. So much writing, no wonder we were told to bring lots of paper to make notes on. I really wondered what some of the shopkeepers and stall-holders must have thought watching nine foreigners madly scribbling as they briefly glanced up. Still many of these shopkeepers were friendly and willingly answered questions for these curious strangers.

Next step was to select one person in the square and to describe that person in detail - appearance, mannerisms, actions, interactions, conversations etc. Finally it was to select a group of people and describe their interactions and conversations. A break at last. We got to have lunch on the rooftop terrace of Cafe d'espices and so observed the Spice Square from above.

Back at Dar Baraka, our base, we listened and we wrote. Then some of us had to read out what we wrote for comment. Mostly positive, thank goodness. It was great to talk travel writing with the entire group interested in writing. Very much a change from my normal isolation as a travel writer. No wonder I felt I needed to do this course as inspiration.
A drinks break at the museum

Day 2 and we first visited the Marrakesh Museum and Medersa to describe architecture and note down facts. Then we went to nearby alleys, where tourists wander less frequently looking for constrasts and details to provide atmosphere. Plus I did manage to find a wonderful little tagine stall where I had lunch for 20 dirhams.

Finally after hearing advice about getting travel articles published, the crunch came. We had to write a 500 word article in three hours. However, I shortened my time by deciding to go to Bouganvillea Cafe for a lunch of brochettes ad salad. The 6 completed articles demonstrated how much variety in the experiences and descriptions we had each had during the 3 days. It was positive comments for all.

Was this course worthwhile? Even though I have had articles published already, I still learnt a lot and feel re-inspired. Now all I need is the time to write and research.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Winning photograph

Morocco is a very photogenic place; there is the architecture, the markets, the mountains, the desert, the people, the food, and the list goes on . . . . . Don't ask me how many photographs of Morocco I have taken since I have been here, but it is lots. Anyway the exciting part is that finally I have one a prize with one of my Morocco photographs, one of the incredibly beautiful Chefchaouen. Lonely Planet and Flickr together run a weekly competition with a different theme each week, and the viewers and posters of the photographs vote on the one that inspires them most to visit the particular place photographed. lo and behold, in the Side Alleys competition I got third - I was only eighth when I left for Madrid and had ended up third by the time I got back. The winning photograph is below.

My prize - I got to choose a Lonely Planet book, which they will post out to me. As I already have the Morocco one, I hopefully am getting the Africa one. If you want to check out the rest of the entries, here is the link.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Madrid meanderings

Last weekend I made use of the cheap Easyjet airfares and headed off to Madrid for a long weekend - only 700 dirham (less than A$100) return. Had three fully days in Madrid but three art galleries in three days was a bit much for me, two would have been quite sufficient. Mind you the visit just happened to coincide with the opening of a new section at The Prado, which was offering free entry to all. As a result had to queue for more than one hour to get in, even when arriving before the official opening time. The amazing thing, was that even with all these people there was still space as the museum is so big. Lots of religious paintings and portraits but some interesting pieces in between. The other art gallery I would recommend is Reina Sofia, which has Picasso's Guernica, not only the finished piece but a lot of the planning sketches and paintings. Also there are some of Salvador Dali's weird and wonderful pieces and some nice landscapes. Plus there was a special exhibition of photography, "The Double Face of Photography", including a couple of photographs of Australia.
Besides art galleries, I also went to the Royal Palace, where some of the rooms decoration was totally over the top. One had all walls covered in porcelain, many had murals on the ceilings and damask on the walls. There was also an armoury display with lots of different types of armour, not just for men but also children and horses. I thought the visit was well worthwhile. Nextdoor is the recently build cathedral, which is still in the severe style on the outside, like the palace. But inside it has the ceiling painting, but of a modern variety.

Another highlight was the free walking tour - no set cost but you give a tip at the end of what you think they are worth. It was good as I got to learn a lot of the Madrid's history plus got to go places I wouldn't have found otherwise. More information is available at . I believe that there are a number of European cities in which these type of walking tours now run.

Of course food and drink was a highlight. As the days were still sunny with blue skies, but nights chilly, cafes and restaurants still had outdoor tables. So it was very pleasant to sample a red wine, nibble on some tapas and watch the world go by. Also managed to find a Thai restaurant and an Indian restaurant. The latter is always on the list as there is no Indian restaurant in Rabat, instead it means a trip to Casablanca.

It was nice to have a few days out of Morocco, wander the shops, eat and drink well as well as see a city I had not been to before. The downer was spending 45 minutes waiting to get through immigration when back in Casablanca!!!