Sunday, June 26, 2016

beer, clams, and cartoons

The simple pleasures in life!

beautiful tacky

On a sticky afternoon while wandering around the Cais de Sodré area, the idea of cool, cucumbery gin and tonics seemed like just the thing. We headed to the Pensão Amor, a brothel turned kitschy bar, decorated in all the things one would expect from such a place: leopard prints, velvet, lots of red, sequined burlesque bra tops, and naughty figurines. It's pretty awesome (and much quieter in the afternoon than at night), but what really impresses me are the fantastic illustrations on the walls of the stairwell:

I'm crazy about the brushy linework, colour combinations and typography— it's something I'd like to somehow incorporate into my own work someday. Just look at that cotton candy pink, magenta, turquoise and green:

After we had enjoyed our drinks and were ready to face the fading sun, we stumbled upon this brilliant poster on a wall nearby:

Had this poster not been behind glass, it would have made its way back to Rabat in my handbag and onto the wall opposite my front door. Look at the teeth! The stubble! The layering of leaves!

a marcha é liiiiiiiiiiinda!

The Marchas Populares are a key feature of Saint Anthony's Night— a noisy parade of dancers and musicians donning Wonderlandesque costumes that somehow represent the different neighbourhoods of Lisbon, which are competing for the "best march". Each neighbourhood has its own song, choreography, and props, which elicit cries of "A MARCHA É LIIIIIIIIIINDAAA!" (the march is gorgeous!) from their supporters. As you can see below, Campolide decided to celebrate its prison, in a most fabulous and rather bizarre way:

Bairro Alto went with a clockwork theme for some reason, and Benfica seemed to be saying something about... pedestrianization?

It was awesome festival of glitter, tinsel, and all things shiny. There was even a dancing aqueduct and a parade of actual brides and grooms!

Friday, June 24, 2016

a sidewalk feast on saint anthony's night

Pedro has been telling me about the madness and wonder that is Saint Anthony's night for years, but we haven't been able to experience it together until now (well June 12th, to be exact). I think I expected something along the lines of a block party with a lot more sardines, and something about basil plants? Little did I know that Lisbon's heart would be transformed into a torrent of food, drink, parades and wonderfully tacky music that would last for days, with people squeezing into every available space to eat, drink, and dance. I'm still not entirely sure what the basil plants have to do with it all, but there were countless stands of neatly potted bushes for sale, and people wearing curly green wigs that were meant to resemble the basil. Sardine hats, sponsored by the local beer company Sagres, were being sported too (as you can see above).

It was decided between Pedro and friends that heading to the Graça neighbourhood for food would be the best strategic move, as the likelihood of finding a space to sit while eating was greater. P and I claimed a slice of sidewalk while Pedro and Pedro battled the crowd for beer, grilled sardines, and pork. We made a fine table out of a backpack, and got down to business:

Between the grilled sardines, the morcela, and the accordion-filled Pimba music blasting through the streets, I felt a lightness bubbling up inside me that I hadn't known in quite some time...

...and it was only the beginning of the night!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

to lisbon

This has felt like the fastest year of my life. I really cannot believe it was a year ago that Pedro and I packed up our belongings and looked toward our new life in Morocco with such optimism and excitement, unaware of the challenges that were awaiting us. As I have previously and so briefly mentioned, it was a difficult year— one that had me fighting hard against giving up and quitting my job. In the end however, my efforts seem to have paid off, as the feedback I received from many of my students was some of the most touching and rewarding in my teaching career.

When the last bell finally rang, I locked up the class room I had transformed from a drab, dusty, and cluttered mess into a bright, orderly space with colourful murals (which I hope will inspire my students' creativity). I walked home, and packed my bags for Lisbon.

Lisbon, the city that glows even on the greyest of days, where white limestone-cobbled pavements and tiled facades play catch with the Atlantic light— where I can indulge in the most exquisite of greasy pork sandwiches or fine seafood and beautiful wines— where I can wear what I want, walk where I want, and look at whomever I want in the eye.

I can chomp on a pork steak and sip green wine while sketching a man on a paper table cloth. I can hold my husband's hand and give him a kiss in public.

I can be me.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Yesterday I had the pleasure of having my hand redrawn with henna by a friend of the lovely lady M who keeps my classroom as spotless as it will ever get (I prefer to think of myself as a bit of a mad scientist in my room, with paints and projects and experiments all over— rather than admit that I clutter). When M saw the abstract result of the henna attack I suffered at the Oudaïa recently (which I worked hard to scrub off), she proudly showed me her beautifully stained hands and feet, and told me her friend was coming to school this weekend for the barbecue we were having— she would give me a much better henna experience. I couldn't resist the opportunity.

We sat on a picnic bench in the shade of a tree, different sized syringes of paste laid out in the sun. I selected an ornate design from the group of images that she had saved on her phone, but then asked her to create what she would like to. When she was finished, I showed it off to the ladies who gave their approval with a delighted "zween"— the word for pretty in Darija.

As you can see, the difference between the previous "design" and this one are massive— it's marvellous! I kept the henna paste on for about eight hours, flicking it with diluted lemon juice as I was instructed (typing my end of the year reports with one hand), hoping for a nice burnt sienna stain. When I scraped off the dried crust, it left behind a bright orange pattern, which I was told would darken over time. Here's how it looked this morning:

It seems as though the back of my hand is not as receptive to staining as my fingers are, though I like the gradient effect that happens as the design moves from my wrist to fingertips. Next time I'd like to have both palms done— I bet it would be zween!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

better than peanut butter

I love peanut butter. I don't mean that mass-produced high-fructose corn syrupy paste that dominates supermarket shelves. I'm talking about real peanut butter— the unsweetened crunchy kind that tastes like peanuts. I'm a bit of a snob about it. As good peanut butter can be a challenge to find in some countries, I normally resort to making my own. Now that I have a fantastic nut guy around the corner from me (sometimes it's possible to catch a marvellous whiff of roasting cashews on the wind), I have begun my search for a nice food processor. However...

One afternoon while exploring Apia, a little artisanal goods shop known for its argan oil cosmetics and honey, I came upon this:

Amlou: roasted almonds, argan oil and honey— one of the most perfect marriages of flavour ever known to humankind! The nuttiness of the argan oil blends so smoothly with the almonds, and with just the right touch of honey, the amlou is delicately sweet. It's wonderful on toast, pancakes, and bananas. In fact, it was this amlou/banana combination that powered us through The Big Day and our trip to the Ifrane area.

Until I moved to Morocco, I had never seen or heard of amlou—I suspect this is because culinary argan oil might not be easy to come by on the outside. If you happen upon a jar amlou, or the ingredients to make it yourself, you must try it. Your breakfasts and afternoon snacks will never be the same!

Monday, May 30, 2016

henna attack

Pedro and I took a trip down to Rabat's medina for a wander yesterday— naturally we left the labyrinth of shops with things we had no intention of buying (a set of carved wooden frames and a carpet bag). I suggested we stop by the overpriced tea garden in the Oudaïa before heading back home— it's a pretty place that overlooks the water, shady and cool, with a fig tree in the centre. On the way up to the entrance of the Oudaïa, I was approached by several women in djellabas with syringes who offered to paint my hand with henna for a small fee. I declined as politely as I could, when suddenly a large woman in a pink floral djellaba materialized out of the shrubbery.

"Bonjour madame, une fleur pour vous parce-que vous êtes belle!"

You know when people smile at you but their eyes do not? I did not want this "gift", and tried to be nice about the whole thing but before I knew it, she had my arm in her iron grip and was scribbling all over the back of my hand. I tried to pull away, told her to stop, but it was futile. Once my hand was covered in a mess of lines, she let go, and with a grin, told me to pay up.

"Non! Je vous ai dit que je ne voulais pas!" I was stern, but she insisted that I only pay what I wanted to pay her, and added that she was working to support her many children. I handed her a five dirham coin, which for some reason prompted her to switch to English— no, the five was not enough. What did we have? Euros? She would take that, she could make change. I did not budge. Eventually she relented and sauntered off, her syringe poised for the next attack. Had I actually wanted my hand hennaed, or had she drawn something a little less 'abstract', I would have felt more generous. I really did not appreciate being grabbed and forced into an orange squiggly stain that will last two weeks or more. Oh well. There was mint tea in the shade to think about.

I had forgotten the coolness of wet henna on skin, the spiced smell, and the way your skin itches ever so slightly when it dries and cracks off. I loved marking my hands with it when I was young. I remember once, many years ago in Dubai, my cousin Rania took me to a salon to get the most beautiful, intricate patterns drawn on our palms. The petals and leaves of flowers bled a vibrant red-orange into the lines of my heart, head, life, and fate. I rubbed olive oil into the designs each day, wanting them to last as long as they could.

The ocean brought salt on its breeze, and a waiter dressed in a blue bluer than its depths weaved in between tables, little glasses of amber-coloured tea balanced precariously on a silver tray.

red, purple, green, and blue

lindo burrinho

Morocco is great for donkeywatching. I have had a soft spot for donkeys ever since I was a little girl, ever since one bit my friend on the shoulder in Büyükada. It sounds terrible, I know, but I think I envied her in some weird way. I remember her shoulder shining red from the swelling, and the tears running down her cheek— I remember eyeing that dusty grey donkey, who seemed annoyed with us, wondering if he thought she was a carrot. I liked the idea of being thought of as a carrot.

I was an odd kid.