Monday, January 18, 2010

Up to the mountains, out of the blue

It’s hard, I guess, January anywhere—right? (Previous sentence laced with qualifiers.) The folks left almost three weeks ago and with them Hazel’s primary source of in-put. She’s still grooving on some of the rhymes and songs she and Grammy did together—that one about the King in his counting house absorbed in all his money, the Queen in her parlor sopping up all the honey, the maid in the garden hanging up the clothes when along came a blackbird and snipped off her noseand threw it on the ground! Hazel finishes triumphantly. As seems to happen after any family gathering—with, from Hazel’s point of view, its feast of abundant new sentences and inflections, multiple moments of explanation from new sources, other voices to devour—she has turned a developmental corner. Talks and sings and shouts to bring the house down: she stands on the brown leather poof the apartment came with (its bottom perversely and perpetually damp on these ice-cold tile floors), waves her arms, jumps up and down and cries out, “This is my song about how I love to sing songs!”

A fave cousin in the end canceled a last-minute January trip from Moscow via Milan (there’s a nursery rhyme somewhere in the trajectory of that trip: Moscow, Milan, Marrakech), and there’s no one visiting in February as far as I know. We wait for visitors to come in early March, just learned of another canceled visit for late March, April is Paul’s spring break, and then the flying leap to the end of the school year in mid-June. We’ve decided to go back to the States in June (or late June: what Moroccan trip will we have time and funds enough to take before we go?), so right now I think I’m in a low place of purgatory, caught between the urge to be present here and the push of how to plan for seven months from now: jobs? home? where for either? The hiring calendar for schools inevitably exaggerates this lengthy stretch of months (though I’m sure there must be other fields where a new hire waits a good half-year for the first day of work to roll around). If I let them, vague fears of my own obsolescence as a teacher begin to gather—who would hire me after three years out? Blah blah blah. Another teacher’s visiting friend spent some time hanging out with Hazel and me, all of us (at the very worst moments) waiting for everyone to come home from school—anyway, he played a clip or two off youtube of his cousin’s Spanish blues band. Now Hazel knows that when you’re feeling sad, you’ve got the blues. Whatever its origins, this malaise hangs around, is nudged away by lengthening days, the warm sun, trips out of town.

We went to the mountains last Monday—as always, fantastic to leave the city and the routine of every-day, drink in something new, now especially in the wake of the folks’ departure. The Atlas always make me catch my breath—hulking in staggering mass and rumpled snow-capped implacability, presiding over traffic and the inevitably ever-present haze of exhaust.

(This shot taken late afternoon from beneath La Koutoubia on Mohammed V, looking east out of town)

(This looking across Place 16 Novembre at dusk, the McDonald's on Mohammed V behind me.)When you grow up in Northeast Ohio on the eastern edge of the Cuyahoga Valley, most mountains of any stature take your breath away.

We left Marrakech and drove south-southeast, passing through the part of town that’s under swanky development—more clubs, hotels, resorts, advertisements shouting glossily from curbside various restorative benefits (Profitez de l’air pur, for example—which is true as soon as you can get out from under that Marrakech microclimate, the pollution worse on some days than on others). Right now you see signs around Marrakech announcing a car race in early May, and the road to Oukaïmeden is no exception.
(Scooters at every turn—this friend of another teacher's, the one with the blues cousin, was hit broadside by a scooter going the wrong way down a one-way street. He's a rock to begin with, but lucky the scooter was on the small side and not freighted with another rider, extra baggage like a couch, a million stacked and cushioned eggs, or a sheep—all configurations we've seen in the last five months.)

The mountains ride the horizon—

they seem at once impossibly far and close—

—then all of sudden we’re in them, into the snow,

and looking back down from this far-away height to the plateau that stretches west for 200 kilometers to the Atlantic.

It was a driving tour for the most part, but we made a first stop near a river as we circled back toward Marrakech via Tahanaoute, Asni and Imlil. Hazel was happy to be out and about in the world—

There was evidence all around of the recent rains—muddied stones now dry, a torn and mud-caked fleece jacket entwined in some brush,
the swirl of waters and stones all rushing downhill.

Coming down from the river-stop we passed soccer fields—

and a door right off the narrow mountain road painted in a way I'd never seen until now—

We passed through Asni (larger town where we went to Saturday market back in October), took the sharp left outside of town and headed toward Imlil and back up into the snow—

At Imlil we stopped a second time, this time for lunch. The terrain takes a steep hike here, and the tiny town is the usual starting point for treks to the top of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa (it's a five-hour hike to its base from Imlil). We found a café with a terrace and a view across the valley—

and up into the snows—

We ate lunch, mint tea and tagine—(Friends Kylie and Jeff came with us—Hazel, for some reason, calls Jeff Grandpa Jeff, maybe because he and his parents joined us for Christmas dinner, one more potential grandpa in a room full of them?—huh?)

Before Hazel was spent and we'd maxed out the post-lunch rush of energy, we checked out some serious hikers' stuff getting ready to go up, mules patiently subdued beneath the gear—

then we hiked out of Imlil along the trail toward Jebel Toubkal—

and along the way passed one mule at rest—

The tangle of bare-branched trees partially hid views back down through the valley and across toward snow-dusted peaks still touched by afternoon sun. We were already in deep shadow. The air was sharp, cool—breath off the snows and the moving waters.

(Aqueduct carrying clear water—not the red silt-heavy river water we'd seen earlier in the day, further down out of the mountains).

Last views before turning back—(As we turned back, two local boys, maybe ten and twelve, were chasing each other down. They careened and leapt and skipped and hurtled down the mountainside through underbrush and across slick rock faces, yelling at each other and only stopping their chase to throw snowballs at a girl much younger than they. She was stopped on an outcrop higher up and turned her small body but not her face away from the incoming. I wanted her to throw some back! To defend herself! Who knows what the dynamic felt like to her, or what the relationship among them, but I was anxious on her behalf, a tug of curiosity and sadness. Do you know that book of black and white photographs from around the world pulled together in a 1950s exhibit of the same name called The Family of Man? In it there's a quote from someone to accompany an image of a child, something like, "Deep inside where a child's fears crouch." This tiny drama, because my sympathies were allied with the girl, made me think of this line. Where will her life take her? Where will she take her life?)

Hazel was ready for a ride by the time we headed back down.

A shot from the car looking back up the valley toward Imlil—the river bed is wide and flat and green with new grass. We saw women washing clothes here, cows in tiny postage-stamp sized pastures—

About to pass again through Asni, leaving the white peaks—
Hazel almost down, and happily entertained till she got there—then out for the hour ride back home. And a footnote—Paul was indeed driving—first time behind the wheel in Morocco. Not as bad an experience as everyone says, not as kooky as you'd think given the mad traffic all around. Hoping now to take a road-trip over spring break.

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