Sunday, May 29, 2016

feelin' it



With a warm sun, cool breeze, and more ravens than I could ever imagine, I was in heaven. So much so, that I jokingly asked Pedro to snap what we call a feelin' it photo— those cheesy shots of boho adventurers that are supposed to be inspirational and spontaneous but are totally staged. Recently we were scrolling through some photos on Instagram of very stylish travellers, each of whom had at least one shot of them posing with their arms outstretched, walking towards something exotic. I found it so phoney, so silly, but it had me thinking about the way we present ourselves and want to be seen to the world behind screens.

If you are a long-time reader, you surely have noticed the sharp decline in the frequency of my posting and sharing of sketches. I've spent a lot of time in the past year wondering why I keep this blog, and when I moved to Morocco I felt little desire to continue sharing my life online. I was having a difficult time adjusting to my new life, and really didn't have much to say about it. It's hard to pack up and leave somewhere you love, even if you feel that that place no longer exists. Turkey has changed so much under its current government, I scarcely recognise it.

So while I was feeling lost at sea and to be honest, a bit heartbroken over leaving Istanbul, it felt odd posting pretty pictures; I couldn't pretend I was having a great time when I wasn't. That's not to say that I haven't been happy here in Rabat, but these past nine months have been a rollercoaster— and I've had motion sickness. The little trips Pedro and I have taken to Essaouira, Larache, Meknès, and now the Ifrane area, have done much to lift my spirits, and I feel I am on the mend. Truly, there is nothing like a bit of exploring to get the heart back on rhythm.

Although we took this photo in mockery, I actually kind of like it. The moment was light—the air smelled of cedar and earth, and we were laughing.

cedar roses and dung beetles



Little pockets of sunlight illuminated mushrooms peeking through the dark forest floor, flowers glowed in their spotlight, and elegant cedar roses appeared to bloom beneath their trees. I began to collect the rosettes, sniffing them in hopes of catching some scent— and there was— an ever so slight smell of pine sap. We hiked on to the sound of raven calls, the beating of their glossy black wings. In a clearing I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, on the earth beneath my feet. Two formidable dung beetles were battling it out over a perfectly egg-shaped ball of dung. I watched them for a while, rolling over each other, the grooves on their backs rusty with dust.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

the barbary ape



These elegant fellows are the only species of macaque found outside Asia, in the Atlas and Rif Mountain ranges of Morocco and Algeria. They are the same species that were introduced to Gibraltar, and interestingly, they are matriarchal— something I learned after noticing that several of the adults who were holding babies were male. Apparently the males are selected by the females for their ability to care for the young, which they raise collectively.



I'm generally not a fan of monkeys— creepy experiences with them in Nepal have left me suspicious, but these ones were so pretty and had no interest in us. Expecting that a threatened species might be hard to see on our own, we stopped by the Cèdre Gouraud Forest, were a troupe had grown accustomed to loud, selfie-snapping tourists flinging peanuts at them. It was a bit sad, but at least they seemed to be in good health...

Later, while driving down a winding forest road near Kharzouza, we caught a flash of gold crossing the road— twenty or thirty macaques! There they were, minding their own business, picking through the leaves and soil while giving us a lazy side-eye. We stopped for a while to photograph them from the car, not wanting to disturb them.



Look at how shiny and lush this guy's fur is! It looks so soft...

Sunday, May 22, 2016

monkey crossing

ninety-three



If ever I had a spirit animal, the fierce Little Owl would be it. It may be brown and commonplace, but it's my favourite bird. Ever. Just look at that face! Anyhow, I won't be sharing all 93 species of the birds that we saw— just a few nice shots that we both took throughout the Big Day. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to the lovely Atlas Flycatcher (looking rather heroic):



And just above: the fabulous European Roller, and a dapper little Serin, singing his heart away... Next, we have the ubiquitous Corn Bunting, a pretty Thekla Lark (which I still can't tell from a Crested Lark), and an inquisitive Mistle Thrush who hopped so close to us I thought she might land on my boot:



Lastly, Seebohm's Wheatear and Moussier's Redstart— two birds that beg to be painted. Behold their bold and graphic beauty:



It's an amazing thing— before Pedro came into my life, I was a bird admirer. I made a small effort to learn some of their names, but really didn't know much. I had never seen a Little Owl, let alone any owl, but now I know exactly how to find The Fierce, and I've seen twelve other species. My world has expanded.

How wonderful it is to learn new things! I see and hear birds everywhere— I know that some of them have particular tastes in trees, I have a general knowledge of some of their habitats, and I've learned about the extraordinary journeys they take during their lifetimes. Birds have since taken me to each of Turkey's borders (except the Iraqi), into an extinct volcano and up the sides of mountains, to forests, deserts, and seas.

I can't think of a more beautiful gift that anyone has ever given me.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

a big day



Last weekend Pedro and I drove to the Middle Atlas to see what we could see as far as birds were concerned; May 14th was this year's Global Big Day, in which bird lovers around the world attempt to see as many birds as possible within 24 hours. The data gathered about what was seen where is recorded on eBird, a wonderful online checklist program created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society in the United States. According to eBird, 15,953 people participated this year in 145 countries— astounding to think about, especially when you are tallying up your totals and realising that while you were freezing your ass off in a Moroccan cedar forest before sunrise, birders in Bhutan were looking through their binoculars too, hoping to catch the movement of feathers. In total, 6263 species were recorded— we saw 93 of them. Pretty good, considering we were exploring a part of the country we had never been to. Pedro did all the research ahead of time, and plotted out our adventure in a series of maps. I made sure the cameras were charged, and assembled a protein-packed lunch the day before, so we wouldn't have to stop.

The alarm rang at four— I think. Foggy-headed, I took the quickest lukewarm shower and got ready, piling on as many layers of clothing as I had brought, believing it would make it easier to adjust to the changing temperature throughout the day.



Our first stop was a dark forest of younger cedar trees (we later learned that cedars take on their distinctive horizontal tiers as they age), European Rollers squawked above, flashing their brilliant turquoise and cobalt through the lace of leaves. Beyond their calls, an opera— I closed my eyes to hear it all, my untrained ears unable to distinguish the singers by sound.

"Do you hear that— the meetsoo meetsoo meetsoo?" Pedro asked. "It's a Coal Tit."

Meetsoo meetsoo I whispered, trying to affix the sound to the little black, white and greyish fluffball in my head. Not long after, we saw the charming fellow flitting about and became distracted by the acrobatics of an endemic Atlas Flycatcher.



My plan to layer up proved to have little effect in the predawn chill, and I shivered my way up the trail with a burning sensation in my fingers. The first golden rays of sunlight felt like a gift; I stood in their warmth like some grateful ancient sun-worshiper.



The rest of the day would take us to coot-dotted lakes, vast grasslands streaked crimson with poppies, and rocky plateaus grazed by sheep. Stay tuned for more!

Monday, May 16, 2016

portrait of a salesman



This gentleman bullied Pedro and I into buying a beautiful cactus-silk carpet in Meknès that we didn't need. I figured he owed me something in return...

It really is a pretty carpet!

Friday, May 13, 2016

new watercolours



I've got to say, painting with Schmincke watercolours is a dream...
Thanks Mom!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

a feast in the sand



Under flapping umbrellas bleaching in the sun, young men with smoking grills shout out the names of fish in any language they think you might understand. It's always "verrry good!" and "très frais!"— and they aren't lying. We picked a faded green umbrella and got down to negotiating a price for a feast. As we settled on something around twelve bucks, a burly man approached us offering a pot of tea for a couple of dirhams. We were led to a plastic table by a boy who vigorously wiped it down, then scurried off in the sand to help with the scaling of our fish.



It's really so simple; fresh fish, a little salt, some lemon... maybe a few oysters or urchins? Wash it all down with syrupy sweet mint tea, and enjoy the sun.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

oysters



In a restaurant on the edge of a turquoise lagoon, we found our lunch. Fresh from the Atlantic, we dined on spider crab legs, urchin roe, and a dozen of Oualidia's famous oysters— the largest oysters I've ever seen!



The oysters were served with lemon wedges, and a vinegar flavoured with onions and radishes— a beautiful combination of sweetness, tartness, and sea. Their cool briny flesh melted on my tongue, the sensation returning me to my early twenties in Rhode Island. On a whim, a couple of friends and I decided to pool our money together for oysters and martinis in Newport one day— a very, very rare treat for so-called starving artists. I think we managed a martini and two oysters each, though I seem to recall that we took more pleasure in the contrast between our posh surroundings, our combat boots, tattoos, and coloured hair. Here in Oualidia, oysters are offered to any passerby from baskets on the backs of motorbikes— men of all ages patrol the sands with blades, lemons, and the same baskets, with a "Huîtres? Huîtres?"



Lately I have become acutely aware of the passage of time— I suppose this is normal for someone nearing forty. So much has happened and changed since that day in Newport! I never would have believed it if someone had whispered to me then that I would find the love of my life in Istanbul, that we would one day be enjoying oysters on a beach in Morocco, and that they would taste so sweet.

oualidia



Shortly after breakfast we continued south to Oualidia, a sleepy town for seaside holidays that reminded me a bit of Bodrum—though thirty years ago or more, before the British invasion. White houses rimmed in cobalt, the laughter of gulls, and salty air— I could feel the knots in my shoulders start to ease.