Geometric patterns made by Moroccan zillij, mosaic materpieces, capture attention and mesmerize. For me, the facination with zillij is so overwhelming that it makes me love Moroccan artistic traditions. It also drives me to write and produce this blog. More
From “The Bull” by Ahmed Ziyadi
Moroccan Short Stories, translated by Jilali El Koudia
“Night is a tent without a central pole or pegs or supports. It opens up horizons and connects earth with sky from whose remote holes a faint light twinkles, hardly illuminating itself. The larger hole, in whose orbit trail smaller ones, has disappeared or perhaps closed up tonight. Some holes are better kept open than patched up, since the patching gives the illusion that the hole is restored to its normal state, only to be revealed still torn someday. Thus the mender realizes that he has been deceiving himself and others as well. It is said “cure your wound before it gets larger.” No, let it get larger and larger until it consumes the whole body, and a new one will be born.”
I never heard of Moorish revival architecture until I saw the Bloomingdale’s home store in Chicago. It is housed in a restored Masonic temple built by architects Huehl and Schmidt in 1912 for the Shriners. More
My mother in law is a helpful person, which is to say that she isn’t very good with people. She full of information on the right way of doing things; the right way to eat, the right way to clean, the right way to pray. She is there to remind you to turn off the light, air the bed linens, and say “Bismillah” before eating and “Hamdullah” after burping. Her knowledge of Islamic practices and Moroccan superstitions is vast, which is to say that she doesn’t know or care much about what people want to hear. She is the harbinger of “hashuma.” More
People smile at me as I walk with my daughter through the medina, my thumb and index finger wrapped around her billowy wrist. These standing witnesses seem like the collective soul of the world, yawning, like a baby awakened with a gentle rub on the back. When my daughter and I are together playful and chatty, we become a catalyst that causes a deep, dear memory to show itself as a smile on the face of strangers. This floating memory is so primal that it cannot enter the conscious mind as a coherent thought. Instead, it enters the semi-toothless mouth of a fruit seller who, in broken English, asks my daughter if she wants some melon. More
There was a group of Americans at the tapas reastaurant where we I ate with two girl friends on a Saturday night. I had grown accustomed to not hearing my native language around me and gravitated towards their words. I knew they must be part of an organized group, perhaps a conference or fellowship of some sort. On my way back from the bathroom and after a second bottle of wine, I stopped by their table to ask. More
Magharebia.com wrote an article on Morocco’s efforts to promote rural tourism. The article fails to mention USAID-funded efforts to identify and establish Moroccan rural tourism projects. The report which was completed by Chemonics for USAID has some lovely photos.
I’ve become a fan of contemporary Moroccan artists such as Mohamed Hamidi, born in Casablanca in 1941. You can see a few more of his paintings online at the Shashoua Gallery although my favorites aren’t featured there. A friend of mine had a book and the book had pictures of the paintings and the paintings aren’t online. Perhaps I will time to scan those pictures so I can share my favorites with you. I found a reading list online, but with the holidays coming I don’t think I will find the time or budget to buy or read any books. In the meantime, I will hunt for inspiration at the Gallery of Marseille and Art-Maroc.co.ma and whatever else I can find online.
I pull up to the Agdal train station and the attendant tells me the lot is full. I wait in the car for another car to leave. I pull into a too-small space. A passerby motions which way I should go as I drive back-and-forth to nudge into the opening. I ignore him. Frustrated.
According to an article by Sarah Touahri at Maghrebia.com, earlier this month the Moroccan Secretary of State for Traditional Crafts Anis Birou revealed government plans to open the country’s first higher institute for training in traditional crafts by 2010. Training in handicrafts has traditionally been done through apprenticeship. A formal training institute will help address problems in production and help the handicraft sector meet international demand for Moroccan goods – a need not being met by current supply. The full story is online at full article at maghrebia.com.
My only question is: can they teach me to make stencils like the ones hanging in this wood working shop in Fes?
I recently read “The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Ebernhardt.” I happened upon the book on a library shelf. I quickly became absorbed by the tale of this cross-dressing, Russian expatriate and Muslim-convert who travels Algeria dressed as a man going by the name Si Mohammad. Despite her excessive drinking, seasoned drug use, and hyperactive sex life, she was welcomed into a mystical order of Sufism. Her life story is filled with drama from her pursuit of absolute individualism and pure self-understanding. I’m surprised that her short life, she drown in the desert at the age of 27, has yet to be converted into a movie.
Now that I am safely at home I can confess that I locked my keys in the car at Chellah. And my cellphone. And my wallet. I had my camera bag with me which held a few dirhams, and my three year old daughter, who was wilting under the midday sun hovering a few thin inches above our heads. I had memorized only one local phone number, which rang a house where no one was home. This is the kind of moment that tests Moroccan hospitality.
Trying to understand the origins of Moroccan design makes it is easy to neglect the new developments taking shape around the country. Take for example Hay Riad, the suburb of Rabat. The first time I visited Hay Riad in 1996 it was considered a far-out suburb, a cumbersome bus ride away from the city center. Now traffic flows into Hay Riad. It is complete with shops, businesses, gardens, and religious centers.
Chefchaouen is cool even when its 110 degrees outside ; think dreadlocks mixing with laid-back mowhawks. Walking through the medina, residents greet me with a friendly “Hola,” “Bonjour” or “Hello.” They ask me for nothing as I walk the medina alone, except perhaps a visit to their store or restaurant. This must be the friendliest city in Morroco.
Sitting on the beach in Restinga looking at the Mediterranean I imagine Phoenicians sailing their galley ships across from Lebanon to Morocco. The oarsmen could rest on a windy day like today as they sailed their ship westward towards Tingis, modern day Tangiers.
I love to spend time at my friends house in the neighborhood of Rabat aptly named L’Ocean, just down the street for the new Bou Regreg waterfront and the Oudaya kasbah. They have a beautifully decorated fifth-floor apartment with a large terrace and amazing ocean view. Its the perfect spot for watching sunset and relaxing with friends. I can’t say enough about how nice it is to have your own place in Morocco…a place on the ocean. But, in L’Ocean, if you turn away from the ocean and look south down the coast you will see a neglected neighborhood that tells the story of suppressed waterfront development in Rabat.
Once you see a Moroccan zillij masterpiece, you can spot the style anywhere. It is an art form that has been practiced for a thousand years. It is a unique specialization of Morocco and continues to thrive in Moroccan society within a contemporary creative framework.
My guide tells me that the color of Fes is blue, but I say its grey. The color of Fes is grey like the clay used to make Fasi pottery and tiles; the grey of pollution and plaster work; it is the grey of the crumbling medina walls. It is a particular shade of grey that is more a complex taupe than a simple mixture of black and white. The color of Fes is the color of creative inspiration. With 50,000 artisans and 15% of the population working in the craft trade, Fes is a specialized source of human creative energy. It is amazing what can be made with Fasi grey.
As an English speaker, researching the origins and history of Moroccan design has been a nightmare. Virtually no one in the English language writes about the culture of Morocco. The subject is treated by picture books, travel guides, and cook books that do more to inspire than inform.
Driving from Fes to Ifrane, I spotted patches of red amongst a green patch of land. On closer inspection, I realized there were Berber women gathered dying wool in the shallow river-bed. As we drove, I saw some women running towards buses. They carried buckets overflowing with red, freshly-died yarn. I wanted to take their picture, but felt unsure about invading the moment with a camera. To be a good photographer, I suppose you must be invasive. The sight of the women and the red yarn in the green riverbed is a picture I continue to wish I had taken.
Each city in Morocco likely has its own saint. The Moroccan cult of saints grew from African traditions and Islamic monotheism as a means of providing a bridge between believers and God.
Believing in saints has allowed Islam in Morocco to accommodate pre-Islamic ideas and adapt to the histories of local communities. But make no mistake that the belief in saints in Morocco is still an expression of Islamic ideals. Moroccan saints are socially important persons who can connect their ancestry to the Prophet Mohammad.
I expected to see Moroccan design influences during my trip to Arizona. The desert climate is perfect for tile, cement/adobe houses, and water fountains. A pleasant surprise was an unplanned trip to Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation. Built in 1777, this active Catholic church has been called the Sistine chapel of the United States. I had never heard of it before. It was beautiful and well-worth the visit.
As I research the underlying archetypes and philosophies of Moroccan art and design, I’ve begun to suspect the West has a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to Islamic achievements in art. Islam isn’t commonly credited with having Art, with a capital A. Rather, Islamic art is labeled as decoration or ornamentation. This is probably because 1) the Islamic empire established sophisticated art forms by the 11th century, several hundred years before the Renaissance, which gave European civilizations a political motivation to claim the influence as their own; and 2) Islamic artists don’t do paintings.
On a recent trip to Oued Laou, a city on the Mediterranean north of Chefchaouen, I saw the opportunity fueling Morocco’s real estate and tourism development efforts. Sheep grazed in an empty lot next to the town’s hotel, enjoying a water front view along with me and my traveling companion. The hotel staff said business had picked-up since they had been featured in the most recent Lonely Planet guide. They seemed nervous about the increased attention, but we were the hotel’s only visitors.
Don’t have the time and money to travel to Fes? Don’t have access Islamic art at the local museum? Help has arrived. I’ve collected the following links to Islamic and Moroccan art so you can get your culture-fix without leaving the computer. How’s that for efficiency?
An interesting documentary on medieval Arabic/Islamic society in Europe, specifically Southern Spain. Includes an explanation of the geometric proportions used in the construction of the Alhambra, which is based on proportional rectangles. The images in the video are from Morocco or Al-Andalus, the Iberian Peninsula. It is a bit odd to see Rifi women in the North of Morocco on screen as the narrator discusses how Mohammad founded Islam in Mecca. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful documentary worth watching.