Saturday, April 30, 2016

like water into sand

While on a short birding trip somewhere south of Casablanca, we stayed the night at a farmhouse that is known to rent out a room to passing birdwatchers. I didn't know what to expect— this was the humble home of a family of seven in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. I was prepared for simplicity and the usual awkward moments, but hoped to learn more about Moroccan culture and the lives of our hosts. Maybe even sketch them.

The head of the household, a man about our age, would scarcely make eye-contact with me. I was not surprised, as many of the places I have travelled to have cultures or religions that in some way discourage interactions between people of the opposite sex, and here I was with my husband; it would have been rude for him to look at or speak to the wife of another man. Pedro did his best to communicate with him in French, while his wife and children eyed us and smiled. I smiled back. She cooked a delicious chicken but did not eat with us— neither did any of the kids, except for the second youngest boy who was fascinated with the contents of Pedro's shirt pocket.

At some point during the meal, the man began to tell Pedro how his marriage was not one of love— that he longed for an educated woman to have intelligent conversations with, and described talking to his wife as "pouring water into sand". I wished at that moment that I could fade into the wall. Perhaps he assumed I didn't understand French. Perhaps he didn't care. Perhaps I was sand too.

We woke before dawn to catch the morning roar of birdsong in the surrounding fields. His wife was already up, the little house softly illuminated by the light of the kitchen. We quietly tiptoed to the door, desperately trying not to wake the others— I could see the contours of a sleeping child under a fluffy blanket on the floor near our boots. The metal door let out a groan, and in seconds she appeared behind us with a smile, showing us the trick to opening the door in silence.

As I walked through the wheat fields, with the moon to my right and a pink horizon on my left, I thought about her in that little square of kitchen light, and my heart sank.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

a farewell feast

There was one stop we had to make on our way to the airport, and this was to look for some Trumpeter Finches in Juncalillo del Sur. When we passed a lonely penitentiary, I marveled at how birds can take you to some pretty random places; from the inside of a volcano in Eastern Turkey for example, to a sewage treatment plant in North Cyprus. I could have lived happily without ever visiting the latter.

At some point while watching a delightful troupe of finches inspect the vegetation, I began to feel hungry, and became anxious at the thought of missing the opportunity to grab lunch before catching the plane back to Morocco. Luckily Pedro seemed to read my mind, and we soon packed up the telescope and set off in search of food. Things were looking pretty grim with little more than dive bars on offer, until we came across a lovely little restaurant by the water called Mama Gata, which offered a fine array of seafood.

Octopus? Limpets? Assorted fried fish and papas? Yes. Yes. Yes— why yes, I'll give those little potatoes another chance!

Oh I was such a happy traveler!

in the pines

...and back down.

bocadillos and papas

Ah, the beauty of a fresh slice of bread piled high with meats! Be it a seductive slice of smoked salmon or jamón, a dollop of crab salad or a fine piece of morcilla (as modeled by Pedro below), there's simplicity and an understated elegance in a mini bocadillo. We enjoyed these trendy versions of the bar snack with a few glasses of gorgeous wine at the Mercado del Puerto in Las Palmas for dinner one evening, while the next day...

It was the humble deviled egg and a beer for lunch, accompanied by a dish of olives, pickled anchovies, and papas arrugadas— salt crusted potatoes.

I must admit that I was not impressed by the papas, and tried my best to scrape off the salt and smother them in pepper sauce. It was a delicious sauce, but goodness how my tongue hurt from the salt!

surrounding colours

While Pedro searched for birds, I took out my fountain pen and watercolours to sketch a pretty little Kleinia Neriifolia. Heavy clouds hung above, teasing with a bit of sun, then returning to an inky grey. With the sketch complete, I wandered up the path a little to marvel at some lichen and the ribbons of colours that ran through the surrounding volcanic rock.

Monday, April 11, 2016

in plain sight

The colours of that morning were green, white, ochre, rust, and so many grays— the beautiful palette of a volcanic island under an overcast sky. While Pedro scanned the waters and shore for seabirds, I studied the shapes of the shadows between the rocks. Suddenly with a grin, he asked if I noticed anything interesting about the rocks I had been so focused on. "No," I replied, but then, my eyes caught the tiniest movement.
Do you see it?