Saturday, December 30, 2017

harika holidays from florence

If I don't get a chance to post a "Happy New Year" to you all in a week or two— have a very happy New Year! May it be a harika year of happiness and good health, inspiration and fulfillment. When I find a moment, I have so much to show you— Artemisia, Botticelli, Lippi, Titian, Raphael, Leonardo... Magical names to invoke for 2018. Until then, ciao my friends!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

moroccan doughnuts

I do not have a sweet tooth, but every so often I indulge in a sugary treat. For some time I had been curious about these so-called Moroccan doughnuts, which every now and then could be seen carried away down the street by men in djellabas, the fluffy rings strung like beads on a strip of palm frond. I had incorrectly assumed that they could be found in a café or bakery, and after many disappointing attempts to get my hands on some, I consulted my students. I learned that the doughnuts are called sfenj, and can only be acquired from a dedicated sfenj hole-in-the-wall.

On one of Baby's afternoon walks, I spied a man in a striped djellaba turning away from a little crowd of people with a string of golden rings. Could it be? As he walked past me, it was confirmed: sfenj. In a shop no bigger than a closet, sandwiched between the entrances of apartment buildings, sat a man and a vat of boiling oil. A steamy display case separated eager clientele from the man, who was diligently spooning the sfenj out from the bubbling pool of oil.

I got four plain sfenj on a palm frond, and one dusted with sugar in my hand for immediate devouring. The dough was delightfully crispy on the outside and fluffy inside— far better than your average American doughnut, with or without sugar— and there's something so wonderful about carrying your string of sfenj down the street. Now I just need a blue djellaba...

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Nine years... where have they all gone? Little did I know when I started this blog that I would find the love of my life, leave the other love of my life— Istanbul— and end up in Morocco with a baby. In the wee hours of the morning while feeding the little one, I was reflecting on how much I have loved sharing my journeys with all of you, and how little of it I have been doing since moving here. It feels like time is just slipping away— and there's never enough of it. Sketching and any kind of artwork seems out of the question, and this has plunged me into a sort of loneliness. Drawing and painting is such an integral part of my identity, that without it I am left with an emptiness.

So I managed to do three small sketches in the past month. It's hardly anything, but it's a start. I've been playing around with some pigment powders that I bought in the medina of Tangier:

Just above is Hamide, a Gnaoua musician who zipped across our path on a bike, down one of Asilah's narrow alleyways, sintir on his back. It was so quick that at first I wasn't sure what I saw— a hunched figure in a striped djellabah with what looked like a guitar— but after turning a few corners, we ran right into him. Hamide was laying out a few items on striped and tie-dyed cloths when he greeted us, which involved placing hats on our heads.

Sensing that I was eager to sketch Hamide, Pedro asked if he would pose for a portrait. With a wide grin he pulled out the sintir, a low, banjo-like instrument of stretched camel skin with three goat gut strings.

Je joue pour le bébé.

A deep, trance-like melody filled the alley, lulling Baby to sleep. Seizing the moment, I drew. At some point during the song, a young man popped out of a door with a plate of couscous for Hamide, which he shared with us.

Nous sommes une grande famille. He explained.

So here we are, nine years later. I've really got to start drawing again. Make the time, get over my new nervousness when approaching people. It goes by too quickly.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

the colours of asilah

Like so many places in Morocco, Asilah is white and blue— sky and clouds, water and salt. The blues range from an intense ultramarine to a bright cerulean.

I spied this secret blue haven through a shop window, and dreamed of sitting in that chair under the stairwell with a glass of fresh mint tea, a pad of paper, and a pencil...

Thursday, November 30, 2017

lovely asilah

My third visit to Asilah ended in food poisoning and a bad cold— for all three of us. I've always prided myself on having a stomach of steel but Morocco has an uncanny ability to smash any notions of gastrointestinal strength that one might have. What was intended to be a long weekend of relaxation, grilled fish, sight-seeing and birding, turned into a hasty retreat back to Rabat with a poor baby wailing in the car, and two rattled parents.

And so, over the next couple of posts, I give you the few photos (and one sketch coming— can you believe it?) that I managed to take in this lovely seaside town of whitewashed alleys and colourful murals.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

day at the museum

Back in Rabat, the beautiful Musée Mohammed VI Art Moderne & Contemporain is holding an exhibition of work by Spanish artists from the time of Goya until the present day. Here are some of my favourites, followed by Baby's:

We are grateful that the museum is so child-friendly— our nerves about taking an infant to see the work finally settled when the smiles kept coming from the gallery guards. Baby loved the bright colours and contrast of some pieces, and we hope that more experiences like this will build a future appreciation for art!

Francisco de Goya. Miguel Fernandez Durán, marquis de Tolosa. 1787. Oil on canvas. 
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. José Echegaray. 1905. Oil on canvas. 
Ignacio Zuloaga. Alejandro Fernández de Araoz. 1936. Charcoal and chalk on canvas. 
Rafael Canogar. Untitled. 1973. Silkscreen on paper. 
Rafael Canogar. Estudio para un monumento. 1972. Lithograph on paper. 
Equipo Crónica. El constructor. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. Guernica. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. La pincelada con Felipe. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. Interior de Las meninas. 1971-1972. Silkscreen on paper.
Equipo Crónica. Composición. 1971. Silkscreen on paper.
Ferrán García Sevilla. Poligon 32. 1988. Acrylic on canvas.
Ignasi Aballí. Serie Biografias. 2001. Oil, acrylic, tempera, and vinyl on canvas.

Monday, November 13, 2017

anchovy tajines and strawberry trees

One bright blue morning we drove off in search of the green of an Algerian Oak forest. The winding hilly roads twisted my stomach as I sat in the backseat attempting to entertain Baby with an owl puppet and renditions of Bowie songs. After passing through so many dry agricultural fields, we finally reached the forest— and my guts began to spin.

Pedro pulled over to the side of the road (which by now had become rather patchy), and took the opportunity to search for birds while I gathered my head and fed Baby. We were nearly surrounded by strawberry trees— their bright red fruit beautifully popping out from the green, so deliciously enticing. In fact, this was precisely what I needed: to get my legs moving and to eat something. I foraged a handful of ripe fruit that had been missed by the birds and Barbary macaques, and slowly crushed their thin spiky flesh between my tongue and the roof of my mouth, delighting in the sensation. Soon, the sugar did its magic, and I felt a little less green myself.

The oak forest was lush and expansive; a reminder of how there are so many Moroccos. We didn't stay too long though, as it was getting late and we had skipped lunch. On they way back to Chefchaouen we spied a troupe of macaques lurking in the trees off the side of the road, who vanished the second I pulled out my camera. We headed to the Uta el Hammam plaza, where we were certain to find food being served at such an odd hour.

I had heard that the goat cheese in the Rif is not to be missed, and I've had it on my mind ever since I saw the rounds of creamy goodness beautifully wrapped in palm fronds in Tangier. Though I'm not sure this is the same cheese, I enjoyed it on a fresh salad that came with olives and zaalouk, a cooked eggplant and tomato salad. This was followed by a tasty anchovy tajine, with a lemony tomato sauce.

Mid-meal, Baby scored us both a glass of tea from the neighbouring table. This sort of thing has been happening lately— the most unusual of which has been a gift of sole from the fishmonger on two separate occasions. In Morocco, men, women, and children run up to kiss a cheek or forehead— something that would horrify most Americans— a stranger kissing my baby?! I find it endearing (and cross my fingers that the kisser doesn't have a cold).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

a closer look

Have you ever seen anything so blue that wasn't the sky or the sea? Apart from an Yves Klein work of art or the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, I haven't experienced blues so blue— and it is an experience, rather than a sight. These are colours that swallow you.

The Rif town of Chefchaouen began to turn blue somewhere around the 1930s, and it is said that a Jewish population fleeing Nazi Europe began to paint the old medina blue for spiritual reasons. The various shades of blue, pigments mixed with lime, became a tradition that soon attracted tourists from all over the globe.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

the many blues of chefchaouen

a little moment

While finishing my coffee after breakfast this morning, I was given a moment to do a 7-minute-or-so sketch while my little bunting was entertained by the visiting buntings outside the window.

Friday, November 3, 2017

after the sky lifted

Ophelia had sucked the breath out of the Sahara and cast our skies a yellow-grey, coating everything in a fine dust. Just as I surrendered to the beads of sweat running down my skin, the clothing sticking to my body, the heavy nights, the trees began to softly move in a different direction. The sky lifted, and I could breathe again.

The sleep deprivation that comes with parenthood seems to have dulled the edges of my mind of late— I find my tongue stumbling over words, my thoughts dissipating in little bubbles. I feel like I am constantly running, but never getting anywhere. Still, Baby grows strong and proudly learns new tricks, and I am a mother completely enchanted— all the exhaustion and frustration is blown away with the tiniest of smiles or a giggle.

Throughout my pregnancy I was told that my life would soon be over, that Pedro and I would have to kiss our adventures goodbye— apparently having children is like having your wings clipped, or something less poetic. We were of the opinion back then that everything is a choice, and felt that becoming parents would be a beginning rather than an end. Despite the sleepless nights and occasional tantrums, we still maintain those beliefs, and so we took our teething five month old on a six-and-a-half hour roadtrip to Chefchaouen this weekend. After all, wouldn't our baby want parents who are still curious about the world?

So it took a few extra stops along the road and some gymnastic maneuvering while changing a diaper on the lid of a toilet in a dodgy restaurant bathroom— and I had to master the art of clandestine breastfeeding in public places. All fascinating learning experiences and adventures in their own right! I finally got to see the blue I had been waiting for, and though Baby won't remember it, we all had a wonderful time.