Saturday, January 28, 2017

tones of red and rust

Cáceres, located in the Extremadura region of Spain, is home to a stunning medieval town that boasts Roman, Islamic, Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. We decided to take a drive up from Marvão on New Year's Eve to wander Cáceres' tiny streets.

The setting sun cast a redness upon the buildings, which were primarily stone, some carpeted in spots of rusty-coloured lichen. I was not aware of it until this visit, but many of the Spanish conquistadors who ravaged the Americas came from Extremadura, and within the walls of Cáceres stands a building called the Palacio de Toledo-Moctezuma.

The daughter of Moctezuma II, Tecuichpoch Ixcaxochitzin (later baptized Isabel), founded a line of Spanish nobility in what seems to be a complicated series of marriages and widowing in which Hernán Cortés was involved— who fathered an illegitimate daughter with Doña Isabel. Her sixth and final husband came from Cáceres, and one of their sons eventually returned to the Spanish town to marry into a notable family, later constructing the palacio. Regrettably, my photos of the palacio's exterior are not very exciting, so we'll return to some eye-catching details in between the narrow streets.

The feet of San Pedro de Alcántara are polished golden by passing palms wishing for luck.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

white walls and grey skies

Marvão is a picture-perfect little town perched atop the imposing Serra de São Mamede near the border with Spain. Whitewashed houses line winding streets that lead up to an impressive fortress, which was constructed on top of an old Roman watchtower by Ibn Marwan, a Muslim duke of mixed Iberian, Berber and Arab origins. The name Marvão derives from Marwan, and over time I've developed an amusing game with myself to see how many Portuguese words and names have Arabic influences— pretty much anything beginning with 'al' is guaranteed to have once been Arabic.

It was bitterly cold, and no matter which way I wrapped my scarf around my neck, I could feel fingers of icy air creeping in. I was thankful for a little tavern with a fireplace that offered a piping hot cup of coffee. Slowly, the feeling would come back to my fingers and toes...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

so where were we?

I left you in Rome back in September, and I'm not sure where to go from there since there have been several other adventures since. I never did finish posting about the Eternal City, but I think I'll save it for another time. Though we've got the Sahara, the High Atlas, and a little oasis near the Algerian border to cover, I thought I'd start with what I did for New Year's and travel backwards. Oh! There was also a trip to Paris full of art and food— but before I get lost, let's go brave the chill of Marvão.

Wanting to quietly ring in 2017 by a fireplace in the middle of nowhere, we found a cute bed and breakfast in the town of Beirã that once operated as part of an old train station by the Portuguese-Spanish border. New Year's Day was white with fog, and since breakfast would not be served until ten, we decided to pile on the layers and take a little walk. Pedro counted his first birds of 2017, and I photographed what remained of the once bustling Marvão-Beirã train stop. The air was crisp, and sent a chill right through to the bone— were it not for the little heating unit in our room and the cackling fireplace in the common seating area, I would still be thawing out!

It must have been a sight to step off the train, luggage in hand, and see Portugal's major architectural attractions tantalizingly depicted in blue and white azulejo. These are some of the finest panels I have seen, with a beautiful sense of light and depth captured. The artist was none other than Jorge Colaço, who also painted the stunning tiles on the Estação de São Bento in Porto and the Pavilhão Carlos Lopes in Lisbon. I'm becoming quite a fan of this guy...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

hello again

It has been a long time— a very long time. I had it in mind when moving to Morocco that I would be posting like crazy with the same enthusiasm I had had when I moved to Istanbul, but things were different. Much different. When I left San Francisco for the city on two continents, I was going home. I was returning to the tulip-shaped tea glasses and simits of my childhood, the smell of coal in the snow, the deep blue of the Bosphorus on sunny days; it was familiar. I knew the rhythm of the city, I understood.

Moving to Rabat, I hoped for adventure and the excitement of discovery, but what I found was a difficult job and an unwelcoming environment, made more so since I am female— a foreign female. Whereas in Turkey I could visually pass as a Turk, here I am the obvious yabancı; I stand out, which brings on a whole set of interesting situations. Prices are immediately higher, I am quite often dismissed, and I am harassed by men nearly on the daily. As a result of the incessant "pssspssspssshing", grunts and comments, I found myself changing the way I dress and resorting to a constant "resting bitch face" while in public. At times I worried that my expression would become permanent. I developed a feeling of anxiety while being out alone, which is something I have never felt in the past. I didn't draw. I didn't write. I surrendered to a routine of getting up, going to work, getting through the day, coming home, and staying home. I felt like hiding.

When sharing stories on the internet, there's a desire to portray things in rosier tones. Everything is fabulous and lovely— you are not a traveller but an adventurer! A cup of coffee is transformed into something instagram-worthy with a meaningful quote about mindfulness or whatever. The mundane becomes a pretty picture. My palette was not rosy at all; pessimism and homesickness crept in, but news from my beloved Istanbul kept getting worse. The pretty picture in my mind faded with the bombs, shootings, "attempted coups", lies, and more oppression. It has been heartbreaking, and I haven't known what to say.

Naturally, these feelings could not continue. I needed to find joy and appreciation in my life again. I am living in an interesting, vibrant part of the world, with a loving and supportive partner. I have wonderful family and friends. I have patient stacks of paper, paint, and pencils awaiting me. I have a nice little apartment that is often invaded by cheeky buntings. My work life is improving, I am making progress, and I am enjoying it.

Every so often, Pedro and I have taken to the road to get to know Morocco a bit better. We have been to the High Atlas, the ocean, the orange Sahara, and the bleak, rocky plateau. We have met all sorts of people with all sorts of traditions, dined on sardines, questionable keftas and savoury tajines. I rode a camel who tried to kill me, and chased down a man on a mountainside in ceremonial goatskins for a sketch— and I have photographs of all of this. Upon the last couple of travels outside of the country, I have returned with a feeling of happiness for being home. Little by little, the wonder has come back.

As I sit here with a fragrant glass of lemongrass tea in my sun-filled living room, I look forward to 2017 with a renewed hope and optimism. I am excited to explore more of Morocco, and to leave my insecurities behind. I have my brushes and palettes assembled, ready to take to a clean, white page.

I have a lot to show you.