Wednesday, November 4, 2009

November day beneath the grey

This morning early (for us) we set out in search of Hillary Clinton, but belatedly learned that she had departed the famed La Mamounia hotel yesterday. I got us to the security checkpoint that, I learned, is in fact in place at all times, Secretaries of State in town or no. The man with the detached and formal air gave me a slip of white paper with the number of the hotel written in blue ball point, telling me that the only way to get through was with a reservation for dinner there. Hmm.. the folks will be in town in December... Instead we headed into the souks for our appointed rendezvous with Abderrahman. He'd invited us yesterday to come hang out at a riad owned by a Frenchwoman he knows (turns out too, his cousin works for her). We took our time getting there, walked and capered beneath the moody sky. Here Hazel measures herself against La Koutoubia.

We're inside already here and looking down into the central courtyard from the terrace. (Abderrahman took us through the winding ways of the souks, passing the Musée de Marrakech and a medersa just beside it, threading through the life of the Wednesday morning streets until we turned left down a tiny alley and then left again down another; he unlocked a black grillework door to access an intercom, spoke with his cousin, then unlocked the inner door.) At left above the fountain in deep red lettering are painted the words, in French and Arabic script: amitié, respect, sagesse -- friendship, respect, wisdom. We sat on one of the narrow couches in a small salon through the arch pictured at right, and began our tea. Among other things, we talked about the difference between the typical western domestic floor plan and the floor plan of the riad -- no windows to the outside for the most part, instead the central courtyard, the successive open-air balconies, the interior exposed to light and weather both. Abderrahman made a comparison and said that you are more at ease here -- there are no windows giving onto the outside world, thus no one peering in to make you feel self-conscious -- different from an apartment or a house in the west (or here, really too) where you can see right into your neighbor's living room and wonder what it is he has in his pouf. But in the riad, you can be and do as you wish, tranquillement. I was trying to draw some connection between western-style housing and the capitalist imperative to buy enough to keep up with your neighbor whose stuff you can see so clearly -- Paul, when I came home and recounted the story, offered another reading: How can I ever manage to see out except from the impossible and distorting height of my terrace?

Carved detail from one of the arches on the first floor:

Always the bougainvillea, I can't help myself. Especially on a grey day the color explodes:

A view from the pavilion on the lower level of the double terrace:

Looking back as we climb up to the upper terrace; pavilion at top left:

The feeling of climbing up out of the mostly narrow maze of streets below to take in the incomparable view from somebody's terrace above is quite extraordinary -- a felt experience, not just viewed. The air is different, the noise of crowing roosters and donkeys braying and scooters gunning is muffled by distance and perspective and innumerable walls; you want to stay and think and breathe before going down again. On a clear day, beyond would sit the great graceful hulk of the Atlas:

She really didn't want me to be taking pictures of her:

Thus the back of her head and my exaggeratedly stern aspect:

The pavilion, with tea things that Abderrahman brought up, walls covered in a garden mural, Hazel marching away from the omnipresent camera:

Hazel, it cannot be emphasized enough, LOVES the mint tea:

We stayed a good hour before Hazel was ready to scoot -- drinking tea, writing and drawing, jumping from stair to stair; we returned to Abderrahman's shop escorted by his cousin (she took a different route back -- hard to converse, hang onto Hazel, and look out for where we were in relation to where we'd been); ended up having lunch with him -- crisply fried sardines, spiced lentils, tomato salsa, fresh bread. I was trying unsuccessfully not to think about how much Paul would have enjoyed that meal.

Wanted to set out these photos before they got stale (like the bread here -- delicious in the moment, not-so very soon after -- but did I say how delicious in the moment?). Not that photos get stale, just that I lose the name of action if I wait to long. And there's a post percolating in here somewhere chronicling all the really good food we've encountered recently: birthday tagine, skewers of grilled chicken yesterday in the souks, and a home-cooked pan of penne vodka this past Monday made right here with the expertise of a culinary-institute-trained chef/out-of-work hedge-fund guy visiting one of the other teachers.

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