The Crow King In The Round

This video shows one of my newest works ‘in the round’, with the inspiration manuscript in the background. This cap is handmade from rescued leathers and linens. To learn more about this project, click here.

If you like what you see, you can vote for this entry here and help an Indie artist get her work in front of the judging panel at The Met!

The Crow King – based on an illumination from the Kalila wa-Dimna

A Berber Inspired Hat

Travel inspires my work. If you’ve been following me here, you will know that every country I visit, inspires a hat. This one is inspired by a door in a kasbah in Morocco.

The Kasbah Mohayut, on the edge of the Sahara, had doors covered in an ornate configuration of what looked like talismans. My suspicion was confirmed in Marrakech, where I found a copy of a Berber Museum Journal that described the inverted triangular shape as an tizerzaii fibulae. In practical terms, they are worn in pairs, at the chest, usually with a chain connecting the pair together at the lower tip, to secure a woman’s clothing (Viking women wore a similar style of jewelry, for that same purpose). In symbolic terms, they are a protective symbol, something like a Turkish evil eye.

“The mirror-fibuae motif found on the doors in the Atlas operates like a single eye that tattoos each entrance, each important passage into an inhabited place… The eye, and its different representations… may help protect against the black look.” (from “An Aesthetics of Protection” by Salima Naji, Les Cahiers du Musee Berbere, Issue #1, Fondation Jardin Marjorelle Publishers, 2012)

Here’s the hat, and the door that inspired it. The hat will be available soon in my Catalog of Hats.

Morocco 2017 – Epilogue

After realizing that I had no suitcase, and in fact had added to my cargo, I spend much of the night packing my most valued treasures into a shopping bag that would serve as my carry-on, and turning a tyvec grocery bag and a roll of duct tape into something resembling a suitcase that I can check in at the baggage counter.  

Duct tape. Never leave home without it!

It is hard to leave the Riad Adriana this morning.  It is even harder to leave Morocco…

The drive back to Casablanca today is 150 miles.  I take more photos from the car, trying to grab more of the landscape in shots that I would ultimately discard.  We check in to the Hotel Barcelo, the hotel that marked the beginning of our trip nearly 3 weeks ago. Brenda and I will fly out after midnight tonight, but the hotel is a nice base to take care of any last minute travel needs. After a sleepless night and a sudden onset of illness, I welcome a bed and a nap.

Dinner tonight is at Mohamed’s home.  He drives us by his restaurant, and circumvents much of the downtown area to arrive at his flat.  His apartment furnishings echo those we had seen elsewhere … low couches running without break along white walls, with a center table and small wooden end tables that double as dining room chairs.  He has prepared tagines, and a huge plate of fresh fruit for desert that he would turn into delicious smoothies which offered a soothing finishing touch to his masterly prepared feast.  

It’s time to go.  Mohamed drives us to the airport, and Doug follows us in to try to make sure I reunite with my errant luggage.  He suddenly encounters a stop point, and is forced to wave us goodbye.  

That begins my back-and-forth 45 minute post-midnight jaunt between the lost luggage department, the ticketing desk, a misdirect to a separate ticketing desk which is closed, and then a redirect to the one that is open, where I pay an extra baggage fee and receive my boarding passes. Three more compliments from men ranging from 20- to 50-something on my jeballah (which I’m wearing to assure that they make it home with me),  but they all look quizzically at my hat, thinking it’s Chinese.  

Finally, I catch up with Brenda, and we both wait for our 1:40 AM flight to Frankfurt, where we would catch our respective flights to Canada and the US.

Arriving in Seattle, I raise a few eyebrows at US Customs, until I relate how my luggage was lost and I had to buy new clothes, which elicited a laugh and a “no wonder you look like that” from the young guard who let me through without further question. Marie meets me at the passenger pick up, and drives me to a store where I buy a salad and fresh fruit. Then it’s home to cats whom would have my undivided attention for the next three days…

“I did not see the things I expected to… and I saw what I never expected to see…”

You never see or get to everything you want to on any given trip.  I saw the set for the Kingdom of Heaven but couldn’t touch its walls. We missed the Archaeological Museum in Rabat and the Arms Museum in Fez, and the Maison Tiskiwin (Berber museum) and Bahia Palace in Marrakech. I saw the Atlantic but did not get to walk on its beach.  Seeing the exteriors of some of the world’s largest mosques but not being able to enter them, was a little disappointing.

I saw things I never expected to see.  The magnificent architecture of the Kasbah Amridil in Skoura. The Atlas Studios in Ourazazate.  Yves Saint Laurent’s memorial, and the centuries old bakery in the souk in Marrakech. Books on the shelves at the Qarawiyyin Library in Fez. The antique store in Taroudant. The Todra Gorge where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.

There were experiences that defied expectation.  Hand feeding monkeys in the Forest of Cedars. Walking barefoot in the red sand of the Western Sahara.  Riding a camel. Weaving on carpet looms in two different cities. Posing on the set of “Return of the Mummy.” Tea and dinner in personal homes. Sleeping in historic riads and kasbahs. Doug sharing a YouTube video with Berber camel men around a fire in the Sahara under a sky pierced with a multitude of stars. Turning lost luggage into an asset, Being mistaken as a Berber a few times. 

Unlike my visit to Istanbul where I bought every Turkish cookbook I could find, I have not taken up the cooking of Morocco.  But on weekends, I slip on my jeballah and leather slippers, and burn incense of a morning like they did at Kasbah Moyahut and the Saharan camel camp.  I line up my collection of “red sand movies” which play in a continual loop.  I am looking for a carpet loom, and a course on learning Berber for when I return.  I am still pouring through notes for future blogs on Berber culture, Moroccan agriculture and Islamic architecture.  And of course, I hope to design a hat or two that echo this incredible journey.

Morocco is an exceptional country to visit. My original journal ended with plans to return to Morocco, to the desert and the Atlas Mountains. Time will tell if my path takes me there, or somewhere else. Africa has a kept a piece of my heart, like Istanbul did, and I hope to return in 2020 to see what else the continent has to offer.

With special thanks to Doug Baum and his Texas Camel Corps tours, who made this experience possible. 

Morocco 2017 – The Atlas Mountains

We arise to another rooftop breakfast, with a table laid in white linen and small colorful tagines filled with preserves and shreds of butter.  We are back in the lands of well-rounded breakfasts, complete with fresh yogurt and one-egg omelets, which will help to fuel our final day of this tour and a much anticipated excursion into the High Atlas Mountains.

I have enjoyed three weeks of mostly temperate climate, sun and brilliant blue skies. Today would be no exception. Once we clear Marrakech, I note the consistent mud brick walls that separate the farms from the road, which is  a stark contrast to the hodge-podge of materials that I have seen used in perimeter fencing over the last two days.  We drive through an unexpectedly lush landscape marked by forest-green palms, lime-green weeping willows and a variety of bougainvilleas in full bloom. 

We climb up the side of the mountain and stop at a scenic outlook, where camels and aggressive trinket salesmen outnumber the tourists.  There is a blanket salesmen hawking antiques, and I see a clay oil lamp in a Roman style, but since I cannot tell if it’s an antiquity or a reproduction, I don’t show any interest in it since I don’t want to engage with the salesman. I hear Catherine behind me, with her steady stream of “La La La” (La is the Arabic word for no).   I try not to make eye contact but am barraged anyway.  I am chastised for speaking Arabic to a young Berber who is anxious to sell me his strings of beads.

Camel men vie with eachother as they invite passersby to mount their camels for photos (and we know where -that- can lead you…) We watch Doug as he checks the teeth of one of the camels and converses with the camel’s owner.  It’s one of many times on this trip that I would wish I could at least understand Arabic.  We continue to be impressed at how well Doug can walk up and start a conversation with pretty much everyone he meets.  

Back in the car and a few miles further up the mountainside, we encounter another police checkpoint. This stop takes much longer than our previous ones, and Mohamed is asked to step out of the car to speak with the officer at their vehicle.  Doug joins a few minutes later.  Several minutes pass. One of the officers comes up and slides our van door open, and asks for our nationalities.  Several more minutes pass…  finally Doug and Mohamed return, having resolved the questions the officers had about our rental vehicle. No money exchanged hands at this stop, which we again credit to Mohamed’s exceptional negotiating skills.

Finally, we arrive at Oukaimden, a ski resort and town at about 10,000 ft. elevation.  It’s windy but not as chilly as I was expecting, and Doug points to the green and rock pasture where some sheep are grazing, and said that usually there was still snow there this time of year.  Doug orders lunch from a tiny roadside tagine restaurant, and I scamper around the rough terrain, at one point I trip and take a spill.  “You lose cred with the Berbers when you do that,” Doug kids with me as he extends a hand to help me back to my feet.  

Lunch is ready.  We are seated under a large umbrella at a table covered with a white plastic cloth and laid out with an assortment of floral patterned melmac plates.  Tagines filled with beef, chicken and goat, under layers of potatoes, carrots and canned green peas, cover the table.  The goat is pretty fatty, but the dishes are all piping hot and satisfying in spite of the complete lack of spice that is an unexpected deficit to the cuisine here.

Tagines for lunch. Photo courtesy of Mark Charteris.

After lunch, Doug gives us an hour or two to wander around, and drives the rest of the group towards the ski area for some photo ops. I go out to the bridge and find a place where there isn’t any grafitti, and lay down on my stomach to get this shot of Mt. Toubkal.

Next, I climb about halfway up the hill to investigate the stone ruins that Doug had pointed out.  They appear to be the remains of a small village, with only stone walls remaining of the original one-room structures. Doug says that shepards use these ruins as shelters during the summer season, when they bring their sheep to graze here.  The grass is emerald green but very boggy, and there’s a lot of rock outcrop.  But the scenery is pretty fantastic, especially the view of Mt. Toubkal, rising 13,000 feet in the distance, being the second tallest mountain in Africa behind Kilimanjaro.  

I have brief thoughts of just staying here…

But the van pulls up, and Doug comes up to see if I’m ready to go.  He takes my camera and snaps a few photos of me, “Berber Girl with her sheep and horse” and stone ruins and mountains in the background, which would become among my favorite shots from this trip. You will find a zillion additional photos at Daveno Travels.

We head down the mountain to the valley floor, and the town of Ourika, where we spend another hour just wandering around. The road is lined on one side with hotels and shops, and on the other side with restaurants lining the banks of a fast-moving river. More than one merchant yells at me in 6 different languages, trying to figure out what nationality I am in order to entice me into their shops…

There are a number of footbridges to the restaurants, some more stable than others, and I spend about half of my time just looking at these eateries, with their brightly painted furnishings so close to the rocks that some of the chairs and tables are actually sitting in the rushing water. The roar of the river is so loud that it must be hard to hear your waiter…

One of the many riverside cafes in Ourika

Then it’s back to Marrakech for our final night in Morocco.

Back at our riad, I start consolidating my belongings to determine how large of a suitcase I need to buy for the flight back home.  I pour my remaining vodka into a water bottle, and peel the label off to visually separate it from my actual water bottle. I sort through papers and toiletries and start throwing things away.  I really hope to keep my luggage under the 8 pound limit so I don’t repeat the lost luggage issue that I started this trip with. I am loathe to spend money on a new suitcase, but it’s on my list of things to shop for tonight, now that I have a visual of the size that I need to buy. I pack my purse with stuff I’ll need tonight, top off my water bottle and join the rest of the group for the walk to the van. 

We pull up to the curb at the Jemaa el Fna and determine a place to meet in about 3 hours. Brenda, Mark and Catherine are looking for a restaurant, and Doug has his own shopping list to complete.  I bound out of the van, determined to wring every last minute out of this final evening.  I find a cash machine and head towards the tannery souk that we had passed by yesterday, in search of the fancy shoes I had seen.  

For once, I navigate to a previous place without getting tremendously lost, and find the shop that sells the shoes.  I pull a pair off the wall, and after trying on a couple of pairs, choose the ones that will go home with me.  I also find a thimble here, and barter with the shopkeeper for most of the money I have just pulled out of the ATM.  I show him my turquoise shoes, which have separated at the toe, and he glues it back in place for me (at no charge!). 

Back in the square, dark has descended and a carnival-like atmosphere now blankets the area.  I decide to try some street food rather than a restaurant, and walk past booths selling snails by the bowl, and several types of snack foods, before settling on the Chez Hadj Ahmed Doukali, with its rows of county fair style picnic tables and benches.  I order a spinach dish (the spinach turns out to be canned) and a chicken bistilla.  I pull out my water bottle, take a big swig, and discover that it’s the one I had filled with vodka…

After dinner, I’m feeling pretty great : ) and head back out into the square, flitting in and out of souks. I buy a pair of red leather slippers and an embroidered pillow top that I whisk out of the center of the 3 foot pile without disturbing the rest – a magic trick that mystifies the salesmen, who looks at me wide-eyed and asks how I learned to do that.  I catch up with Doug who is looking for tagines and books, He helps me to buy a knit prayer cap before we part ways again.

My shopping done, I’m walking through the square under a starlit sky filled with smoke from the food braziers.  Neon whirligigs like what I saw in Istanbul during EID shoot up through the haze and pierce the sky before falling back down and being chased by the teenagers who are trying to sell them. The air is filled with the noisy clamor from a thousand strangers, as I relish my final hours here in the carnival that is the Jemaa el Fna of Marrakech.

Jemaa el Fna, photo courtesy of Mark Charteris

I find Doug and Mohamed at the designated meeting place, and after about a half an hour, we wonder if Catherine has accepted the invitation she was made earlier to drive one of the horse-drawn taxis.  Eventually they arrive, they had found a restaurant that had both wine and bellydancers, so they are also pretty happy.  All of us collected, we return to the riad.

…. and I find that I have completely forgotten to buy a suitcase … 

Morocco 2017 – Marrakech

We are on the road to Marrakech.  You can almost hear everyone humming the famous Crosby, Still & Nash song to themselves … 

After passing through an unremarkable landscape, our first glimpse of Marrakech is of a medina in the distance, with a mass of rooftop satellite dishes offering a stark contrast to both the sand colored walls and the brilliant blue sky.  

Downtown Marrakech felt a little like Casablanca, with its rounded front buildings and general noise and grime. We are once again booked into a riad in the old city. Driving in any Moroccan medina is a true art form, but again Mohamed demonstrates his skill, and in spite of another GPS failure, traverses the narrow passageways to get us close to our destination.  We cart our luggage (some of us more than others) through a small souk and to the door of the Riad Adriana.

We are met in the courtyard with tea and a tray of sweets, and seated on cushions around a center fountain filled with rose petals. I take note of the vases of roses and huge bowls of oranges in the corners of the courtyard.  I start nibbling on a second cookie when we are ushered to our rooms.  

See more photos of this riad at Daveno Travels.

Unbelievable!   Having just checked out of the Palais des Roses, we find ourselves in a true palace of roses … there are rose petals scattered everywhere in our rooms! There’s another tray of sweets and fruit on the small wooden table, along with a welcome bottle of water.  Once again, I am struck by the stark differences in hospitality between the large hotels – which didn’t even have water or menus in the rooms – and the riads which see to every potential need, even those that you didn’t realize you had … 

After a brief rest, we walk back through the souk to meet up with Mohamad and the van. I’m not paying enough attention to where I’m walking, and suddenly collide with a scooter after which we both take a spill. The driver is visibly angry and I find a safe place to stand behind Mohamed and Doug, who quickly deescalate the scooter driver.  I look down and find that remarkably I don’t have treadmarks across my foot, and my ankle seems OK, and so we continue on.  I would stick close to the sides of the souk every time we walk through here for the duration of our stay.

The Majorelle Gardens surrounds a villa that was built in the 1920’s for Jacques Majorelle (a French Orientalist painter). The property was purchased in 1980 by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, who turned the villa into a museum, and also restored the gardens. (Click here for some history.) I did not find the gardens ‘breathtaking’ as the guidebooks will tell you, but it did contain some interesting cacti in sterile and oddly colored plantings.  I found the color scheme to be somewhat garish, in its green, blue, yellow and oranges, with even the fish in the pond seemingly matching the scheme.  

I left a kiss on the Yves Saint Laurent memorial, and then entered the Musee Berbere which he and Pierre founded in order to help preserve Berber culture here. 

Of all the places to not allow photographs !!!  It’s a compact space, set under a dark ceiling pierced with lights to simulate stars, and exhibiting ethnic clothing, jewelry and household implements.   I walked through twice before one of the curators helpfully pointed me towards the exit, where I spent another half hour buying books about Berber culture, but failed to find a catalog of the exhibit I had just perused…

Our next stop is the Jemaa el Fna, Morocco’s Central Square, where we would meet a local guide who would take us through the historic highlights of the Square.  

Marrakech is considered one of Morocco’s four Imperial cities, founded in 1062 by the Almoravids, a dynastic Berber group.  They build a kasbah and a mosque here, eventually uniting Morocco as well as much of Spain and Algeria.  Under Youssef Ben Tashfine, Marrakech became a center of culture and learning, with Andalusian style mosques and palaces.  

The Koutoubia Mosque is built on the site of the original Almoravid mosque which was destroyed by their successors the Almohads in 1147.  It’s minaret was the model for the Hassan Tower in Rabat, and stands 230 feet high.  As is the case with all mosques in Morocco, it is closed to non-Muslims. It is the largest mosque in Marrakech and would serve as our landmark during our visits to the Central Square.

We walk to the back of one of the souks, where the oldest caravansary stands, or at least the remains of it, since it now appears to be a dumping ground for junk and trash. Next is a bakery, with the oven so deep inside the building that the baker uses 6-8 foot paddles to move the loaves around in the wood fired oven.

The oven, photo courtesy of Brenda Dougall-Merriman

Next is the Medersa Ben Youssef, which dates to the 14th century and in its day was the largest school for Koranic study in Morocco.  It’s most outstanding features are its carved cedar and plaster ceilings and glass dome which you will find photos of at Daveno Travels.

We circle through the old souk, past a woodworker operating a bow lathe, past dyers and leather workers, where I spy some very ornate shoes I want to buy but the guide says we don’t have time to stop. He takes us to a women’s dress shop, decorated with a hot pink carpet and chandelier, with windows filled with jeweled caftans of the style you would wear to a black tie ball. We decline to enter the shop, which turns out to belong to some relation to our guide (which is fairly common here).  We speed past a few other shops before we say goodbye to our guide and pick one of the restaurants for dinner.  We find one with a rooftop terrace, the Restaurant Riad Omar, overlooking the square and affording a wonderful sunset view of the Koutoubia Mosque.

The Jemaa el Fna is the 1000 year old heart of Marrakech, filled with snake charmers, storytellers, monkeys on chains plying for coins; merchant stalls of every description and just about as many food choices. Marrakech is described as a true contradiction – African and Arab, Eastern and Western, religious and secular, chic and rough-and-tumble. When I return to this spot tomorrow,  I would encounter a riot of color and sound and a kaleidoscope of cultures in an atmosphere that would remind me of Venetian Carnivale after dark. 

But that would be tomorrow night, after a day in the High Atlas Mountains.

The Making of Raven Steals The Sun

My trip to Alaska in 2008 was my first solo adventure. I went to see glaciers, totem poles and to get over my fear of flying so I could get to Europe the following year.

While I was there, one of the recurring images I saw on totem poles and jewelry was a bird with a disc in its mouth, a depiction of a First People’s tale called “Raven Steals The Sun.”

The story has several varients, but they all tell of a world of darkness, and of a chieftain who had three cedar treasure boxes containing the Sun, Moon and Stars. The trickster Raven, learning of the treasures and wanting to bring and end to the eternal darkness, shapeshifted into a child who begged to play with the boxes. Once they were in his hands, he turned himself back into a Raven, and taking the treasure boxes, flew up through the smoke hole of the chieftain’s longhouse and high up into the sky. The contents of the boxes spilled out, dividing the darkness into night and day, and bringing light into the human world.

My first full-bird hat – the Raven King – gave me enough confidence to try other dimensional pieces. The Firebird followed, and then the Crow King – my entry in The Met 500 Design Contest (which you can vote for until August 12)

This new Raven came together pretty quickly, but the Sun proved problematic. Every time I tried to alter a Haida design (shown here) I ended up with a Sun that looked more like flower.

A friend handed me a rubber stamp that leaned towards Gothic, and after several hours of searching the internet for designs to meld with the rubber stamp, my hat took a turn in an entirely unexpected direction.

I liked the ‘tribal gothic’ sun so much that I decided to do all the applique in black leather (which I had stripped off a couch that was destined for the dump). Once I had the Sun in place, Raven decided it would emerge from the cuff, with its wings wrapping around the Sun, catching one of the Sun’s flares in its beak. I stylized the feather detail, to keep the focus on the Raven’s face. The cuff is a herringbone-patterned wool which mimics the chevrons of my embroidery on the wings.

And now I have a hat inspired by my first trip to Alaska, based on a First People’s legend, but with a distinctively Gothic twist…

Morocco 2017 – Taroudant and a GPS Fail

Having left the Ksar of the Ait Ben Haddou in Ouarzazate, we proceed to Taroudant.  We reach the downtown district but are unable to locate our hotel.  Mohamed and Doug both roll down their windows and start asking for directions from pedestrians on street corners, but everyone they ask are tourists, just like we are.  A phone call to the hotel, provides direction to the medina.  

We find the outer wall of the medina and venture in. The streets become progressively more narrow until they become alleys rather than streets. Mohamed and Doug fold in the side mirrors on the van and I wonder how much paint we are going to lose. Doug keeps looking at his GPS but it’s not matching the layout of the streets. We stop and call the hotel again. “We’ll send someone to guide you.”

A few moments later, our guide arrives, a dark haired 40-something wearing a black jacket and jeans.  He rides his bike in front of us and gets too far ahead a couple of times but Mohamed manages to catch up.  We continue to drive down this alley, up that alley, and around a corner …

…and into a plaza where there must be at least 20 dark-haired guys in dark jackets and jeans, on bikes… 

“Oh NO!”  We can’t pick our guy out from the crowd, and have no idea where we are. I break out in uncontrollable laughter which I’m pretty sure isn’t helping our situation at all…

After several painfully long minutes, our guide figures out that he has lost us, and circles back.  In a short time he brings us to another wall in the medina.  Doug starts laughing because his GPS was trying to give us directions “to a location that cannot be driven to.” We’re still laughing when another guy arrives with a donkey cart that we’ve seen used to transport produce and alfalfa, and motions that it is for our luggage. We have arrived at the Riad Dar Dzahra.

Another wonderful riad! The oldest section is 300 years old and houses the family, with the guest rooms situated in the newer parts of the building. I am directed a second floor room with a name placard on the door that says “Caid”,  and unlock the door to find a spacious space which includes a sitting area with couches and gorgeous worked-metal cabinetry, and a bathroom with another one of those cool sinks and mosaic tile showers.  Photos of this riad are here.

Back downstairs, dinner in the riad restaurant is a fishball and carrot tagine, which tastes remarkably like any other kefte tagine we have had to date, with a tasty lemon parfait for desert.  Then its off to bed for the long day tomorrow.

The next morning, breakfast is another of those ‘all bread’ affairs, about 5 different types including something that I think is a honeycomb pancake – soft and spongy without much taste to it, and the Moroccan pancakes I have become fond of, except here they are served cold which makes them less palatable.  There’s almond butter in addition to the jams and honey, but no olives, cheeses or eggs.  I leave the table feeling a little protein deprived.

After breakfast I walk around the courtyard. The manager also points up to a stunning window grill in the family quarter, and explains that there are no nails – it’s all peg construction. “Nails wear the wood out so we try not to use them.”

I also discover that the courtyard is surrounded by a specimen garden. I look up to find a poinsettia intertwining with a banana tree.  There’s a cotton plant in the corner, the first one I’ve ever seen, as well as an agave, a prickly pear, a papyrus, a yellow rose, and a towering wall of bouganvillea.

We visit the Aladin Treasure antique shop, situated in what looks like an old caravansari.   I find two brass locks in the shape of  a camel and a lion, and a china plate with metal overlay and what looks like carnelians.  “This piece represents two cultures,” the shopkeeper says. “The painted porcelain is Arabic, the silver overlay is Berber.”  We try to find a teacup to match but ultimately I decide that the teacup is too fragile to survive the trip home.  

  • Aladin Treasures does not have a website, their address is Souk Municipal bloc B N°31 in Taroudant, Morocco 83000

Our next stop is a souk – in contrast to the souks we’ve seen elsewhere, this one is clean and orderly, set up on a grid, and filled with items catering to residents rather than tourists, which provides insight into the common objects that people use day-to-day.  

I watch a furniture maker as he applies metal sheeting to a table.  He motions “no” when I take out my camera, but after walking the rest of the souk, I return and watch the craftsmen some more.  The shop steward initiates conversation in limited English, and although I still cannot take photos, I notice that the workmen are more deliberate in their movements, and seem somewhat amused as I make a sketch of one of the tools they have laid out on their workbench. They are working on a pine table, which they brush adhesive onto, and then lay the thin metal sheet, burnishing it to the pine with the handle of their tin snip.  I was fascinated at the absence of nails and brads, and although they did not do any repousse work while I was there, I assume that the pine is soft enough to accept the hammered designs that I saw on the cabinet in my room.  There were several Berber pieces here, including a fountain with a deer head spitter that I wanted to take home.

Back on the road, I note fences separating the farm plots, here a brick wall with a crenelated top, next to a fence made up of burlap and brambles.  I start to see road signs in Arabic, Berber and French.  There are beehives here, and orange groves, and a couple of peacocks wandering around. We’re on our way to visit a grain storage system that was not totally destroyed in a recent earthquake. 

We turn off the road and head up a hill, the road becoming more dirt-path the further we go.  We stop when Doug points out an argan grove – a nut that only grows in Morocco, and which is processed into an oil for cooking and medicines, and more famously, toiletries and cosmetics.  Mohamed shows us how to smash the green nuts between two rocks in order to expose the inner kernel, which is white, about the size of a pumpkin seed, crunchy and a little bitter but with no other discernible flavor. Learn more about argan, and the health benefits here.

We are now driving through fields of wheat and rock, and I mention that the wheat would have to be harvested by hand with a scythe because the stone outcrops would limit more mechanical harvesting.  Further and further up the steep incline, the path continues to narrow until we arrive at the ruins of a granary. The family that owns this land lives in a riad right next door, but gives us permission to look around (for a very moderate sum of dirham). 

We wander around for awhile, passing the families’ chickens and a lone (and unexpected) tortoise. On our way back down the hill, we stop again so Mark can take some shots of another argan grove – this one with goats in the tops of the trees, which if you read the previous link, you will discover is one of the ways that argan is harvested … 

Then it’s on to Agadir, where we lose an hour when we pass through another time zone. Agadir was a centuries old fishing town and market center before it was largely destroyed by an earthquake on February 29, 1960, which killed 15,000 and destroyed 3,600 buildings including its historic medina which was the epicenter of the quake.  The city was entirely rebuilt from scratch and has developed into one of Morocco’s most important ports and tourist destination cities.  It’s population is principally Berber, and claims to be the largest sardine fishing port in the world.  

There are a few historic and cultural sites that we did not have time to visit, including a 16th century kasbah, and the Media d’Agadir, a reconstructed Berber village housing a collection of traditional craft workshops, and a Museum of Berber Art. Dinner this evening was in a modern restaurant that became more night-club like in the later hours, and I left the table before desert in order to seek some quiet time in the cool night air.

We check in to the Palais des Roses, where we are welcomed at the concierge desk with glasses of tea.  Their brochure states that it was patterned after a Berber ksar, though it feels very French Protectorate, with around 800 rooms on 5 floors, and a sweeping view of the pool and water gardens from the restaurant terrace.  I see a butterfly here, and a Eurasian magpie.  I can’t find my way down to the beach, but enjoy a brief stroll around the pool and gardens before returning to my room.  There’s WIFI in the lobbies but none in the rooms, so there’s a bit of walking involved to get online.  It’s a nice enough hotel if you are into resorts, but by this point I’m so spoiled by the more intimate and interesting riads, that I am happy we are only here for one night.  More photos are at Daveno Travels.

Next stop … Marrakech.

Morocco 2017 – A race, a fortress, and a film studio

The Kingdom of Heaven set at the Atlas Film Studio

I wake up to catch the sunrise from my window at the Ait Ben Moro Kasbah, the golden sky reflecting in the skim of ice on the swimming pool. I’d give anything for a pair of wool socks.  Today we leave for Ouarzazate to see the Kasbah Taourirt and the Atlas Film Studio where Kingdom of Heaven was filmed.  We’ll log 200 miles today.

The roads leading in to Ouarzazate are lined with red flags. It turns out that we have arrived for the end of the Marathon des Sables, a seven-day footrace through the desert that starts here, and ends here with a festival.  We step out of our car just in time to see the last runner cross the finish line, a smiling, white bearded gentlemen preceded by a police escort and followed by an aid car, and met with applause from the jubilant crowd.  

Across the street is the Kasbah Taourirt, originally a cross-point for African trade caravans enroute to North Africa and Europe. It is said to be the most beautiful kasbah in the country, although it’s exterior doesn’t hold a candle to Kasbah Amridil in Skoura. Just outside the door sits a German Krupp cannon which belonged to the Pasha of Turkey during the French Occupation.

We enter to find interiors that are well restored and in some cases stunning. We are led through several of the 300 rooms, including the harem, kitchen, a reception room with French tile, and the royal apartments with their elaborately worked cedar ceilings and carved and painted plasterwork.

Among the interesting details was the room that had 3 holes in front of the window for ventilation. In the winter, warm air comes up from the kitchen. In the summer, cool air comes up. It’s pretty ingenious. Another room had a staircase with steep, irregular stairs – a defense against invaders who would lose speed trying to run up the uneven steps. Yet another room with bright red ceiling beams, which our guide told us had been painted that color for one of the many movies that had been filmed here. “Every film ever made in Morocco was filmed at this kasbah” our guide told us.  He then rattled off an extensive list of films, and told us which ones he had been an extra in, which seemed to be nearly every movie on the list…

There’s a gallery of local artists on one of the floors, where our tour stops for quite some time, to encourage us to buy the the paint and multi-media works that are for sale.  While Mark and Catherine select pieces to add to their collection, I step outside into the courtyard to take shots of the patterned glass that is behind the grillwork on the outer doors. The guide catches up with me and explains that the window grills, now metal, were originally made from wood. The ornately carved and painted doors are Moorish, not Berber.  He also said that many of the modern buildings in Morocco are built in the traditional style, or at least have some of the traditional elements like the little three or five brick pyramids at the corners of the roofs, because people prefer to keep the old styles.

I have posted additional photos of Kasbah Taourirt here.

Our next stop is the Atlas Film Studios. When Doug was drawing up our itinerary a few months ago, I asked if we could take this 45 minute detour, so I could wave at the area as we drove by.  I was both surprised and delighted when we pulled up to the gates, where we were met by a guide who gave us a tour of the studio.

Atlas Studios is the second largest film studio in the world, behind Hollywood.  Several films were made here or in the surrounding area, including Asterix, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Man Who Would Be King, Kundun, The Mummy Returns and Game of Thrones (Season 3).   The pink stucco front gate is flanked by Egyptian figures and Chinese Fu-dogs.  Just inside the gate, in the parking lot, were a pair of Roman chariots and a reed boat on a trailer. We are escorted past a set where filming is taking place (King Tut we think), and into a dark hall of columns where Cleopatra was filmed. We walk along the back of a set, supported by scaffolding, and into the courtyard where Moses was filmed.  I remarked on a flowering tree in the courtyard, which the guide said was ‘in bloom’ because paper flowers were taped onto it.

One of the sets for Cleopatra. Some of the images on the columns are NSFW.

More scaffolding, and then through a pair of very tall, very narrow doors, and onto the set for The Mummy Returns.  At this point the guides stopped to let people take photos on the steps of this set. Our guide takes my camera and I strike a pose, and wait, and strike the same pose again.  It takes him a minute to catch on, and then another minute before he stops laughing long enough to take this shot. By now, a sizable crowd has stopped to watch.  At the end of our ‘photo shoot’ he gives me the stage name of “Fatima Tagine” which I adopt for the rest of the day.

“Fatima Tagine” on the set of The Mummy Returns

Around the next corner is the set for King Tut and Asterix.  I can see the Kingdom of Heaven set in the distance, and plead with the guide to take us there. It’s not part of the tour and so he declines.  I’m simultaneously disappointed at not being able to touch the walls of Jerusalem,  and at the same time elated to see it in person, even from this distance.  I take as many zoom shots with my camera as time allows.

Past Cleopatra’s milk bath pool, and an ark, and a catapult, and into a Chinese themed building that turns out to be the set for Kundun.  I get separated from my group so I make the best use of my time with my camera, which you can view here. The tour guide is relieved to finally find his Fatima Tagine safe and sound on this movie set, after he had reportedly looked ‘everywhere else’…

I would later learn that Moroccan craftsmen built the sets, as well as props and costumes for Kundun. The King of Morocco is very supportive of the film industry and has several times lent the Moroccan Army as extras to epic films being produced here.  This link takes you to additional information about the film industry in Morocco.  

After lunch in the studio restaurant, we head to another UNESCO World Heritage site – the Ksar of Ait Ben Haddou This 17th century fortification is accessible via a wooden foot bridge which stretches over the Mellah River, surrounding a fortress built into the side of a mountain. This is another site made famous for films that were made here, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and The Sheltering Sky. It’s narrow walkways and staircases can lead you into a number of places, including both shops and personal homes.  It is very easy to walk into someone’s personal space by mistake (which I did), but I was very kindly corrected and pointed back towards the direction of the market areas.  I did not make it all the way to the top of the hill at the center of this ksar, but even still, I was able to enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding oasis. Additional photos are here.

Back on the road, I notice small square buildings every few miles, which Doug tells me are prayer rooms, and he points out other on the tops of gas stations.  The switchbacks here are remarkable and some of the hairpin curves are so tight I’m surprised we can’t see our own back license plate .

After what feels like a very long drive, we arrive in Taroudant, and a medina that would become a story of its very own … 

Ksar Ait Ben Haddou

Morocco 2017 – A Citadel and a Berber carpet shop

We leave Tinghir and the stunning Todra Gorge,  and drive through landscapes of shifting contrasts. We arrive in Skoura and check in to the Ait Ben Moro, an 18th century kasbah that has been restored and converted into a guest house. I find a room that is simple but elegant, with thick walls, reed and beam ceiling and stone floor that you would expect to see in an 18th century manor house.  

After taking some time to admire the architecture,  I head downstairs to visit the carpet shop that is next door. Aziz, the concierge at the hotel, accompanies me and once inside the shop, proceeds to show me carpets.  I select a small blue one, and Aziz introduces me to his wife, Manar, who is the weaver.  But instead of finishing the transaction, she motions to me to join her at her loom.  

What are the odds that I would have a second chance to weave on a carpet loom in Morocco?

I take off my shoes and sit down next to her on a cushion.   Manar only speaks Berber but that did not pose a barrier to our communication. I would later learn that her name means “lighthouse” which is pretty fitting.  

I watch as she throws a weft thread through the upright warp.  She then hands me a beater – a heavy iron comb with a handle that must weight two pounds – and motions to me to beat the weft down.  The beater makes a ‘chick chick’ sound against the warp threads.  

throws the weft through again, and turns to me with effervescent eyes and with a big smile,  and says “chick chick chick” which is my cue to beat the weft down again.  After 3-4 rows of weaving, she demonstrated how she cuts her yarn for the knots and then shows me how to tie them. She is happy to pause while I take a pictoral of this process which I have boarded to both Pinterest and Facebook.

I continue to add knots to the warp threads, almost as fast as my teacher. After about an hour of weaving and knotting, I turn at the sound of Mark’s voice.  “It figures we would find you here.  If we’re missing Heather, we just start looking for a carpet loom.”   He tells me it’s time to visit a nearby historical site. “Do I have to?” I whine, not wanting to leave the loom.  “It’s completely up to you,” Mark responds. Reluctantly, I put down my beater and put on my shoes, and signal to Manar that I need to leave.  “But I will be back to buy that carpet.”

Aziz escorts us along the back side of the hotel, past a tomb of a holy person who’s name I cannot remember, and through fields of beans and alfalfa bordered by irrigation ditches and dotted with olive and pomegranate trees. He points to charred trunks of date palms, and says that the farmers use fire to treat a parasite.  Mohamed looks up and then starts hunting the ground for things to throw, and after several tries, dislodges a cluster of fresh dates, which he and I knosh on with relish.  

A little further on, we come to a wide dry riverbed, which Aziz says is their road to Mecca.  Beyond the dried riverbed, peeking out from a palm grove, is the most remarkable building I have yet seen – the Kasbah Amridil.

This 17th century citadel is primarily a museum, and one of the most famous buildings in Morocco, even being featured on the old 50 dirham note.  Some scenes from ‘Laurence of Arabia’ were filmed here. We meet another guide, who walks us through an entrance in the ornate walls, and starts our tour in a courtyard filled with artifacts which include an olive press, several clay cook pots and lanterns, and a form used for making the rammed earth walls.  I have posted the rest of my photos to my supplemental blog at Daveno Travels and Pinterest.

We return to the Ait Ben Moro through the bean and alfalfa fields, and Doug and I go back to the carpet shop.  Aziz assists in finalizing my purchase, and then extends an invitation from Manar to join her for tea in their home.  We walk to the one story building that he points out, and Manar invites us in. She shows us her kitchen, an immaculate room with glass-fronted cabinetry and modern appliances, and the bathroom which has both Western and Turkish style toilets.  

She then leads us to a room that is the same style as Said’s home – low cushioned couches lining unadorned white walls, a ceiling edged with heavy crown moldings and sporting medallions that support hanging lamps.  A low round table covered with two tablecloths is already set with tea and dried fruit. Soon the table is covered with bread, jam, honey and butter, and Manar and her mother Fatna join us.  A young woman who is a recent university graduate tells us in flawless English that everything we are being served, was produced on their land.  We also learn that in spite of having a modern kitchen, Fatna continues to bake bread every morning in the wood-fired oven in their back yard.  “Tastes better,” she says.

It was such an honor to be invited into this home.  The rug Manar wove and which I would carry home on the plane (not trusting it to checked baggage), now has special significance and I will treasure it always.  I have a goal of learning Berber so I can speak with her directly when I return to Morocco.

And now I want to buy a carpet loom…

Morocco 2017 – Todra Gorge and Berber Pizza

The landscape we would encounter later today, in the Valley of the Kasbahs

It’s a leisurely morning in the camel camp, a place I would have been happy to stay for a few more days, but I’m assured there’s still a lot to see on our Moroccan tour.  After breakfast, we mount our camels and say goodbye to the Erg Chebbe dunes, and head back to the Camel’s House in Merzouga.  We find Mohamed there, refreshed and smiling and ready to roll on the next leg of our journey.

We stop at a store that sells fresh camel milk, and are invited to the pens out back. Catherine tries her hand at milking a camel, while I watch a jealous baby camel trying to get his share.  There’s a blue-eyed camel here, which Doug says is fairly rare.  

While Doug and Catherine are talking shop with the owner, I step back inside and find an open door, and step through to a ‘dinner and a show’ place that has Berber tents set around the center courtyard.  I snap a few shots of both the camels and the tents before we head out, which you will find on Pinterest.

Further down the road we start to see large flat pyramid shapes in the desert, and learn it is a system of deep wells for water.  One of the really great things about this trip is that Doug gives a comprehensive picture of the culture here, a nice mix of new cities, old sites, everyday life and agriculture.  We pull over at a point where you can follow a staircase below ground to see the well structure.  He reminds us of the aqueducts we had seen earlier in the trip, and how the systems all tie together to support this agricultural center of the Maghreb.

After our tour of one of the deep wells, Doug walks us over to a Berber tent set up along side the road, and introduces us to his friend Youssef, who has already ordered pizza for our lunch.  It’s a delicious affair, built like a 12″ calzone but with very thin crusts, stuffed with kefte, egg and almonds.  

Youssef pours the obligatory tea afterward, and then takes out his drum. His tent is divided in half at the ridgepole, with half of it serving as a restaurant, and the other half as a gift shop. I shoot more photos and then stop to admire the wares.  In spite of Youssef’s attempts to sell me a pastel colored length of cotton, I buy a Tuarag- indigo one, and, demonstrate to my travel-mates how to fashion it into a turban.  “Moha showed me,” I respond when they asked where I learned how to do that.  

I sit down and make a comment about the fun things for sale on the other side of the tent,  including a silver pipe and a daggar I’d like to bring home but thought I would not be able to get it through the airport.  “You can’t get anything through the airport,” Catherine responds, and everyone laughs at the reference to my still lost luggage.

Back on the road, we arrive at our next stop, the Hotel Tomboctou, converted into a hotel from a kasbah that was built in 1944.  Unlike most kasbahs that were built as fortifications, this one was built as a reception hall.  You can read more about the history of this kasbah here

Catherine and I visit a local hammam, which turns out to be a lot different from what I experienced in Istanbul.  This one is small, very noisy, and more utilitarian than spa-like. We change in a common area and are given a bucket for our shampoo, and are taken to another common room where a bucket of hot water is thrown onto the floor.  We lay down on the heated tile floor for a steam and a scrub, but there’s no massage or cooling bath that follows in a Turkish hammam.  After about 45 minutes we are sent back to the changing room, and after tipping our attendants, we leave, cleaner but slightly deaf… 

Dinner tonight is at the home of Said, another friend of Doug’s.  We drive up to a wall with a huge metal door, and pound the ring as you would to gain entry into a castle.  Inside the gate we walk to the building that is his home. The single room is enormous, with couches lining all the walls but grouped in a way that partitions the room into about five distinct seating areas.  The walls are pale and bare, the ceiling bordered with heavy, ornately carved crown moldings and a central medallion from which a lantern is suspended.  The couches are multicolored, and the floor is completely covered with Berber rugs.  We turn to meet Said.

What can I say other than Doug has the coolest friends!  Said is tall and thin, with sparkling eyes shadowed only by his large turban, and a smile that takes up half his face. He’s the gregarious poster child for “Happiest Man on the Planet.”  He seats us and pours tea, offered with plate of wafers and nuts, and then leaves to check on dinner which is being prepared in another building.  A short time later, his sisters arrive with kofte tagine, which Said follows with a huge platter of chicken skewers.  Just when we think we are done, another sister brings in a massive tagine filled with enough couscous, eggplant and carrotsto feed 20 people.  “Eat, eat!” she says.  We take turns going around the table, taking a spoonful of couscous, which I think we do in 3 rotations before we protest that we have truly eaten our fill.   In comes a large bowl of apples, which she peels and quarters and hands pieces to each of us to eat with our tea.  

After dinner, the usual participatory drumming commences as a competition between Said and Doug, who can really play a mean drum.  I am handed a drum at one point and I do my best to keep up.  Mohamed whips out his flute. Mama and Sister bring out fancy dresses and turn Brenda and I into Berber brides.  There are so many smiles here, and after four hours it is hard to leave…

We return to Said’s home the next day for mid-morning tea, and to visit his camels which are tethered as a road side attraction and photo op for passing tourists.  His home offers a beautiful panoramic view of a patchwork of fields in the valley, overlooked by one of the many kasbahs in this area. 

After saying our goodbye’s, we set out for Todra Gorge, with its red rock canyon walls soaring 1,300 feet above your head.  It’s a magnificent geological site, popular with tourists and rock climbers. There’s a hotel nestled at one end, and merchants set up along the other side, some with locking cases.  The river runs down one side, and on the other side are concrete canals that carry crystal clear water down into the irrigation system below.

I reach the end of the paved road and take a goat trail part of the way back, putting me above the merchant stalls but below caves with stairways carved into the rock, that appear to be inhabited. There are two nomadic tribes who rendezvous at Saturday market here … the Haddidou and the Merghad.  The area was also once inhabited by a Jewish population.

We backtrack to Tingher, for a tour of farm fields on our way to the Ikelane mosque and medersa. The ruined mosques are the only ones non-Muslims can visit here, so we take our time exploring.  

It is not a very old mosque, thought to have been rebuilt during 19th century but abandoned in 1998. It was destroyed during heavy rains and flooding in Decemer 2006.  I was thrilled to find out later that the Hotel Tomboctu is involved in its restoration. 

Next stop –  Skoura and the Kasbah Ait Ben Moro, and a carpet shop that I will be hard-pressed to leave …

See my supplemental blog at Daveno Travels for additional photos.

Me, Doug, Said and Said’s camel, photo courtesy of Mark Charteris

Morocco 2017 – The Red Dunes – a Sea of Sand

We end our too-short stay in the exquisite Kasbah Moyahut, and find a young man in a white turban and blue caftan waiting for us out front.  It’s Moha, our guide and camp concierge, who would take us into the Erg Chebbi dunes, the tallest in Morocco.

We drive a few short blocks through one- and two-story mud brick buildings, to the “Camel’s House” where Mohamed will rest up while we’re away. Brenda and I check out the shop next door, filled to the rafters with local handcrafts.  I find a small woven pouch to carry my camera in,  a simple ring that I think is fashioned from wood, and a turquoise caftan.  I still lack the knack for bartering, but as an artist, I know the value of handmade, and consider my lack of bartering skills to be of benefit to the local economy.

Our camels have arrived, so we grab our overnight satchels and mount up.  My back complains a little, until I sync with the sway of the camel, which makes the ride much more comfortable.  And we’re off!

Not quite an hour later, our camp comes in to view … a cluster of dark oblong tents surrounded by a reed fence enclosure, nestled in a depression between some dunes. We dismount and are shown to our rooms – individual tents surrounding the carpet-strewn courtyard.  My tent is lined in synthetic silk, with a tidy twin bed made up with sheets and blankets, and a mosquito net canopy draped over the end.  

We are shown to the ‘restaurant’  – a tall circular tent draped on the inside with several colors of ‘silk’, gathering at the top with the ends twisting around the center support pole.  We are seated on the low couches that line the walls, and enjoy a kefte and egg tagine, accompanied by a beautiful Moroccan salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and green pepper, garnished with orange slices and the tasty green olives I have come to favor. We ask what type of meat is in the tagine, and get a description of how the meat is processed (chopped vs ground) but not what animal the meat is from.  We suspect that most of the kefte here is beef or lamb, or a combination. Dessert is presented as two platters of sliced oranges, one sprinkled with cinnamon and one without.  And tea!

I am told there is internet reception here, so after lunch I take my laptop to the top of a nearby dune to see if I can “Facebook from the desert.”  I don’t get a signal.  What I do get is a lot of sand in my keyboard as the wind picks up.  I close up my laptop and climb a taller dune for some photography. It’s incredibly beautiful, and my bare feet are rejoicing in the hot sand.  

Back at the camp, I try to wipe sand that looks more like ground cinnamon, out my camera and keyboard, and hope that I haven’t damaged every electronic thing I own. I find a spot to repose in the ‘reception’ tent, and  watch a pair of finches as they build a nest a few feet away, and three dung beetles as they skitter across the sand, while the rest of the camp sleeps…

Soon it’s time to wake up and saddle up for a sunset ride. It’s a really great ride, zigzagging along the edges of dunes, watching as Moha and Hassan pick out pathways that offer the least amount of vertical climbing.  It’s the same theory as mountain climbing – you don’t go straight up, you zig-zag, which takes longer but is safer and more energy efficient. 

We reach our destination and park the camels at the base of the dune. We climb up to our vantage point, and Doug sets up his camera and tripod for a live Facebook feed. It’s still warm but the wind is really kicking up, so I pull my scarf over my face as I watch the dunes start to change colors with the sun’s setting rays.  Moha and Hassan allow me to photograph them, and Hassan captures the photo of me (at the head of this post) that would become the talk of the town back in Seattle.

The next hour is nearly indescribable. The sun sets, the dunes continue to shift and shadow and the landscape becomes surreal. After the sun sinks beyond the horizon, we start our return to camp.  

I keep looking back at the dunes, trying to embed the red landscape into the deepest recesses of my brain. When I can no longer distinguish the sand from the sky, my attention is drawn upwards to a canopy of blazing stars… 

You are closer to the stars on the back of a camel…

Back at camp, it’s dinnertime, and we are joined in the restaurant by a Chinese tour group.  After tagines, tea and fruit, we are invited to a bonfire and drum circle.  Once the fire is raging, our Berber hosts launch into a Chinese song they have learned.  The Chinese group sing next, a folk song which the Berbers pick up on quickly and soon join the chorus. Back and forth – the Chinese clapping and the Berbers answering with their drums, both singing the same song. It was a pretty cool thing to witness.

The Chinese are going out for a sunrise camel ride, so they turn in for the night. Doug and I remain and it is our turn to engage, so we are handed drums and accompany our hosts as they sing. Then Doug starts a conversation with the three camel men, asking a question in his Egyptian Arabic, which I think is being translated into Moroccan Arabic by the first camel man, which is then translated into Berber for third camel man who does not speak Arabic. Doug takes out his phone, pulls up a video, and hands it around the circle.  The stars are bright and the fire backlights four men, in turbans and caftans, t-shirts and jeans, with no common language, as they share a video on a cell phone in a camel camp in the Western Sahara.

I am suddenly overcome by the sensation of having walked into a “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” commercial…

As the fire dies down and the stars lull me to sleep, we retire for the night to our respective bedchambers.  What an incredible day…

Morocco 2017 – Monkeys, a White Horse, and a Kasbah

Kasbah Mohayut at sunrise

After a final fabulous breakfast in Fez, we pack the van and hit the road. It’s going to be a long day (340 miles) but there will be a lot to see. Doug says there’s snow in the mountains but the roads will probably be clear.  At least he hopes they will be clear … he relates a story about his previous trip, where he made it over the pass just before the road closed. The couple in the car behind him were not so lucky, and were stranded for a week, waiting for the pass to reopen.

There’s fog hanging over the orchards, appearing to rest on the netting designed to keep the birds away from the stone fruit. There are bottles of olive oil atop wooden boxes at makeshift stands, every 50 feet or so along this stretch of road.  I rarely see people attending these roadside stands, the honor system must be pretty strong here.

We’re now seeing direcional signs in Arabic, Berber and French

As we climb into the Middle Atlas Mountains, we are back into pines and cedars. We reach Azrou, in the heart of the Forest of Cedars. Doug tells us to start watching for monkeys, and no sooner does he say “monkey” than we see them coming down out of the trees. We pull over and park, and are soon surrounded.

These are macaques (also called Barbary Apes) – indigenous to the mountain forests of Morocco and Algeria. Only a few thousand are left in the wild, marking them as an endangered species. They are twice as big as I was expecting, and docile, except for the Leader of the Pack, which the locals point to, with a warning to keep clear.

A young guide comes up to me with a handful of broken up crackers, and says “photo” as he hands me a few pieces.  I start to toss them at the macaque closest to me, but the guide shakes his head and giving me more crackers.  After a few more tosses, the guide motions to me to hold out my hand and wait for the monkey, which I do.  

He snaps a few photos and then leads me to his horse – a beautiful white creature with an ornate saddle, is standing next to a boulder, a convenient aid for mounting.  The guide again says “photo” and I climb up onto the horse.  He snaps a few more shots, and then unexpectedly grabs the reins, and starts to lead the horse into the forest.

“Oh NO!”  What have I gotten myself into???

I frantically protest, but he he continues down the path towards the forest. I twist around in the saddle and start waving and yelling to try to get Doug’s attention.  After several more yards I impress upon the guide that I’m with a group and I MUST GO BACK.  He slowly turns the horse around, and Doug arrives as I dismount.  “Please find out how much that escapade just cost me, I’ll be back with my wallet.” By the time I get back, Doug has negotiated the price down from 300 dirhams ($30) to about 70 dirhams ($7). I give the guide an extra 20 dirham, which puts things right and everyone walks away happy.  

And now I know what “photo” actually means…

I wander around for a few more minutes, picking metal sequins out of the dirt that have dislodged themselves from the horse saddles. I contemplate visiting the merchant’s row but decide I shouldn’t tempt fate again today.

We take a 45 minute detour in search of a tree that we had been told was the source of aspirin. Mark is a doctor, so it’s pretty important to him. We drive up a rocky road and find a tree in the center of a clearing. There are signs all over the place in French, and a placard on the tree itself. It’s a very tall, and very dead tree…. about 800 years old, thought to be the oldest tree in the Atlas Mountains.  But it is not where aspirin comes from.  

Back onto the highway, we reach Ifrane, also known as Little Bavaria or Little Switzerland.  It was built as a summer resort in 1929 by the French; the cream-colored buildings with their sharply gabled red tile roofs make the town look more like Europe than Morocco. Although Moroccans come here in the summer to escape the heat, it’s also a popular ski resort in the winter. There’s a large stone lion on the main drag, surrounded by tourists, I presume another memorial to the wild lions that once roamed the countryside. I’m sad that I couldn’t grab a photo of it.

Beyond the city, we continue past cherry and plum orchards in bloom, and something that looks like ponderosa pine.  There’s an apple orchard, some goats, and a flock of sheep with red faces. Off in the distance I see a conical tent set into a stone wall.  Here are pomegranate trees, and stone walls made from volcanic rock.  Doug points out Ephreda bushes, a common desert plant useful as fire starter.  The landscape starts to shift, and there are red striated outcroppings that Doug describes as uplift from the teutonic plate activity in this area.

We stop for lunch in Midelt, the City of Apples – a gigantic red apple sculpture at the edge of town tells us so! At the Restaurant Diafa, most of our group orders pizza, while I welcome a salad, one of only two or three that I will find in this country. The corner of the restaurant is curtained off as a prayer room, where men and women take turns behind the curtain for a few minutes of midday prayer.  As we depart, we are barraged by men wanting to sell us fossils.  Morocco was once a sea bed, so ammonites and other fossilized sea life are a pretty big business here. 

Back in the car, we pass juniper trees, and roadside honey stands. As we pass a lake, we are pulled over for the second time today at a security checkpoint. We’re told the ticket is 800 dirham, but the officer will lower the ticket to 500 dirham if we pay it on the spot.  They accept the 100 dirham that Mohamed has in his pocket, and we are back on the road.  We’re starting to think that checkpoint patrols are a pretty lucrative line of work here. 

Well after dark, we reach Mergouza, and the Kasbah Mohayut.  My. Oh. My. Even in the dark, this mud brick oasis on the edge of the desert is very beautiful, and I cannot wait to explore it in the daylight.  I find my room at the far end of the kasbah, and walk through a modest door and into a space that I swear is bigger than my apartment.  

I am thankful for the directional signs that prevent me from losing my way back to the restaurant for dinner. Tonight’s meal consists of two meat tagines and a plate of couscous topped with grilled eggplant, which we share as a group.  I’m exhausted and not very hungry and try to leave the table early, but the waiter would have none of that until he had served tea and dessert – a lemon-bar pastry with a torched marshmallow cream topping.  It is very dense and flavorful, and I am glad the waiter was so insistent.

I wake early the next morning to see the sunrise and to explore this wonderful kasbah. After wandering around the roof and the courtyard, I follow the signs for the restaurant and am the first to arrive for breakfast.  The buffet offers whatever you want to eat – as long as it is a form of bread!  There’s chorizo soaked in honey, and little chocolate stardrop cookies, hard rolls, soft breads, and deep fried chickpeas rolled in sesame seeds. Hard boiled eggs, cheese wedges and two styles of peanuts offer some protein.  The mint tea here is not as syrupy-sweet as what we had been served up to this point, and is poured into glasses that each have a fresh sprig of mint. I drink several helpings out of the classic, ornate tea glass. 

I wish I could capture the sounds and smells of this place, as I sit at the edge of one of the fountain courtyards, tea in hand, incense wafting over me… above my head an iron chandelier, with palms and birds… waitstaff wearing the blue and gold caftan that the men wear here, smiling at me as they light incense in the other four corners of the courtyard.  

It is very, very hard to leave. But leave we must.  The Red Dunes await … 

Please visit Daveno Travels for additional photos of the Forest of Cedars and this delicious kasbah!

Morocco 2017 – Fez Day 2: tiles, souks and cemeteries

We’re off to see the Souk!

Wafi, our local guide for today, meets us at our hotel and rides with us to our first stop. In the car he gives us a brief history of Fez el Bali, the original medina-city.

  • It is the second oldest city in the world after Jerusalem, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.  It lays claim to the first psychiatric hospital in the world, as well as the first surgical hospital, the oldest university and library, and the world’s 3rd largest mosque behind Mecca and Medina.  A US flag marks the veterinary hospital, which was also founded by a woman.

Fez has been predominately Muslim since 789. In spite of that, almost every city in Morocco has a Jewish quarter, and Fez is no exception.  Our first stop is the Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest in Morocco.  I remarked on the square openings at the end of some of the sarcophagi, and learned that it was where a lit candle would be placed for the dead. A little further on was a section where 500 children were buried in unmarked graves, most of them dating from the 1930s-40s.  I learned later that there were both malaria and cholera epidemics that crossed North Africa during that time, and wondered if that was a contributing factor.

Our next stop is the Royal Palace, with a huge, nearly empty courtyard and scant police presence. Wafi explained the colors of the uniforms and the branches of the armed services that the officers represented, and cautioned us against photographing anyone in uniform in Morocco.

The general populace is not allowed beyond the grand brass doors, but there’s plenty to look at from this side of the gate. Wafi said that nearby residents keep an eye on the doors, and when they see workmen polishing the doors with lemon juice, they know the King will be in residence within the week.  

I note the patina brass gutter along the top of the door, just under one of the mosaic archways. The knockers on the main doors are well above my head, and about the size of dinner plates.

Our next stop is an outdoor mosque, marked by an immense flat circle on a hilltop offering a panoramic view of the old medina and a graveyard that dwarfed Arlington cemetery in Virginia.  There’s a minbar at the East side, painted yellow, and gates with green tiled roofs at the other compass points. Services are held here during the summer when enclosed buildings are too hot. I can’t even estimate the size of this place. The view is outstanding.

Next stop, the Art D’Argile Tile Factory.  What a fascinating place! They produce wares mostly for restaurants, from a white lead free clay which is very hard to break. We watch a potter with an electric kickwheel, pull small goblets off of a mountain of wet clay at the rate of one every 45 seconds. He then whipped out a small tagine, the size that Moroccans use for mezze dishes, with a perfectly fitting lid, without the aid of a template or any form of measure beyond his hands and eyes.  

I stop to watch a craftsman painting a pot, nearly freehand with the exception of equally spaced vertical pencil lines on the outside of the piece. The flourishes between the geometric shapes were completely freehand and as even as could possibly be.  I bet he’s done that design a million times… 

Past the glaze room and the kiln that was tall enough for a man to stand in, were the mosaic tile cutters. Ahmed, the manager who was guiding us through the factory, explained that Roman mosaic work has 4 shapes, compared to Zellige – Moroccan mosaic – which is made up of 700 shapes.  I learned from the museum at the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca that the white clay is hydrated, kneaded and rolled out before being cut into tiles.  The tiles are fired at 1000 degrees Celsius, and then enameled and fired again at 800 degrees Celsius. 

The tiles are then marked and cut with a hammer.  Ahmed led us to the pair of tile cutters, who cut precise shapes (called ‘froma’) at an alarming speed, using a hammer with a flat chisel where the claws would be on a carpenter’s hammer. Piles of cut pieces and shards were at least a foot deep on the floor at their feet. The froma are chiseled on the back, which is also different from tiles I have seen everywhere else.  This allows the froma to butt up against eachother, with the mortar (called ‘hamri’) filling in the backside to produce the panel. Additional photos are at Daveno Travels.

We shop the gift show and then I wander out into the back courtyard, where I find a fountain sitting in the center of a star-shaped mosaic sampler.  I’m literally on my hands and knees taking photos of individual tiles, aware that a couple of older gentlemen are watching me as they sip their tea.  When I am done with my camera, Wafi comes over to forward a compliment on my djellaba (the one from Chefchaouen) and relays that one of the gentlemen who have been watching me, wants to know if they can buy it from me for their wife if I ever find my luggage …

We pile back into the car and we are at last, off to see the souk.  Mohamed drops us off outside the medina wall, and we enter the snake-like labyrinth of alleyways, some dark with filtered light, others open to the sky, twisting through open courtyards and then back into covered alleys.  Wafi says its really easy to get lost here…

The souk, in addition to being the ‘shopping mall’ of the medina, also houses several historic sites. The first one we see is also the one I’ve been most excited about – the Qarawiyyin Library, the oldest working library in the world. Established originally as a mosque by Fatima Al-Fihre in 859, it houses 4,000 rare books and manuscripts, and was at one time attached to a university which has since moved to another part of Fez.

We stop for a glimpse of the Kairaouine Mosque.  As with all mosques in Morocco, non-Muslims cannot enter but we saw a little of the gleaming white courtyard through the heavy gate doors.

We enter via a staircase, a beautifully restored building that was either originally a caravansary (traveler’s rest) our or a fondouk (another form of lodging for traders and their mules), which now houses a women’s weaving cooperative.  At the top of the building I find a woman at her carpet loom.  The back of the loom faces the room, so I peer around to get a glimpse of the rug, and the weaver invites me to sit with her on her workbench.  (Photos courtesy of Mark Charteris)

She shows me how she ties the knots, and then hands pieces of wool to me so I can try.  I expect to get a couple of pieces, but she continues to hand them to me until the row is finished.  She hands me a pair of barbers shears to trim the pile, but I decline as I am terrified of ruining her work.  She hacks off the yarns with some abandon, and starts her next row.   What an experience that was!

The next flight of stairs takes us up to the top of another shop, this one filled with leather goods. The top floor is open to the air, and overlooks the Choura Tannery, one of the three largest in this souk. There are dozens of vats, with men scraping hides from goats, sheep and cows.  Although we were warned of the stench, and handed sprigs of mint to hold under our noses, I don’t find the aroma that overpowering, and ultimately I just eat the mint.  

The vats include mordants made from lime, salt and pigeon droppings, and there are cages of pigeons nearby to supply the droppings.  Colors are only derived from natural organic sources, and there are several steps in the process of tanning, ending with skins in every imaginable color, grade, suppleness and sheen.  This shop sells handbags, coats and leather ottomans made from the leathers dyed in these vats.

After lunch at Restaurant Asmire, we find another leather shop, and I find a pair of delightful turquoise leather mules with upturned toes.  A nearby textile shop draws us in, and after a few minutes, we are seated and served tea. The shopkeeper teaches us about fibers, and shows us an agave leaf which is stripped for its fiber and blended with cotton to make scarves, shawls and other garments. He then starts unrolling lengths of woven goods in a process similar to buying a carpet in Istanbul.  I excuse myself from that process but I find a traditional fez here for my brother, and try on one of the conical slave hats that our waiter was wearing at lunch.  I buy the fez, and leave the conical hat behind.  But it gets presented to me in the car, a gift from Mark and Catherine, whose generosity seems to be endless.  I wear it to breakfast the following day.

We barely scratched the surface of the souk in Fez el Bali, and did not venture very far into the medina.  There are also two other medina’s in Fez – Fez el Jdid, established in the 13th century, and Ville Nouvelle, built by the French in the 19th century.  We did not visit those sections either. To learn more about its history, click here.  

It would take a week to see all the major sites in this city.  If I ever return to Fez, my list of things to see includes the Batha Museum (of Moroccan craft), and the Arms Museum, housed in a 16th century fortress. Additional photos are collected at Daveno Travels and several boards on Pinterest.

Tonight, Brenda, Catherine and Mark have opted to stay in,  so I join Doug and Mohamed for dinner at a nearby BBQ house.  It was a meal of meat, meat and more meat, but it sure was tasty.  Then, it’s back to the hotel to pack.

No sleeping though – I’m way too excited. Tomorrow’s destination is Merzouga and the Red Dunes of the Western Sahara. And camels!

The Making of the Crow King

Twitter has its uses. On June 5, I ran across a tweet from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, announcing a design contest: “The Met’s 150 Years of Creating”. Voting opened today to the public and runs through August 12. Winners of the popular vote will be judge by a jury, and the winning entrant will have their design developed into products for The Met Museum Gift Shop in April 2020.

I am one of 190 entries. It’s the biggest contest I’ve ever entered and although I don’t expect to make it to the top ten, it’s a real feather in my cap just to be on The Met website. I hope you will VOTE for the Crow King!

The deadline for submission was in 6 days, so I spent an hour combing the manuscript collections and found three pieces, which I narrowed down to this one after learning its back story.

The Kalila wa-Dimna is a series of allegorical tales written in Sanskrit during the 4th century as a teaching tool for three young princes. It was translated it into Arabic 300 years later, in a style so lucid it is still considered a model of Arabic prose. Called Kalila and Dimna, after the two jackals who are the main characters, the book was written mainly for the instruction of civil servants. But it was so entertaining that it became popular with all classes. Arabs carried it to Spain, where it was translated into Old Spanish in the 13th century. In Italy it was one of the first books to appear after the invention of printing.

I was a storyteller once, with a fondness for 13th century history, and a traveler to both Spain and Italy, so this piece made an emotional connection with me. It reminded me of another allegory – the Monkey King from Journey to the West (a Chinese work). I find allegory to be not only amusing, but a powerful teaching tool as well.

Anyway … I cropped the folio and made a color copy for reference, and several black and white copies for templates. And, with time rapidly ticking down, I began.

At first, I was going to apply the birds in one piece, but I decided to apply them individually to get better spacing and more dimensional detail. The foliage lent itself well to individual ‘stalks’ as well, which wrap around the rest of the cuff.

As usual, I changed the materials several times, trying several wools before settling on a rust suede leather to mirror the background of the folio. At that point, I also decided to mount the Crow King to the crown of the hat rather than the cuff. And of course, all the materials are rescued from previously used clothing, and remnants from other costumers’ cutting room floors.

The birds are appliqued in leather which is padded to make them more dimensional, held in place with whip stitch which I covered over with couching. The leaves are ultrasuede and will become dimensional, as they will naturally curl at the edges with wearing. I added brass beads to the tips of the foliage and a gold wire crown to the King Crow, as points of difference from the original – to leave my mark on the piece rather than making a carbon copy of someone else’s work.

I finished the hat 4 days after starting it. Oddly, the very next day, as I was walking to work, I was buzzed by a crow in a part of town where I’d never seen crows. He buzzed me so close that his feathers brushed my hair, and then circled around and did it again! He landed on the closest lamp post and cawed at me until I was a block away. I’ll leave it up to those who read this, to offer their own interpretation of that event …

Morocco 2017 – Fez and all the broken things

Saying goodbye to Chefchaouen

Descending from the mountains and the Blue City of Chefchaouen, we are soon back in olive groves, cherry orchards, and fields of wheat and lettuce.  Mohamed suddenly pulls over … there’s an open air market that he thinks we should see …

We park on the side of the road and traverse a narrow foot bridge over a creek.  After taking shots of this burro bit and learning about how it was used, Doug asks us to leave our cameras shuttered, since this is a ‘daily life’ activity and tourist photos would be intrusive.  We spend about an hour wandering the grid that the stalls are set up along, orderly in their layout but calling out “souk” in their content, offering everything from plastic kitchenware and plumbing supplies, to detergents and cleaners, spices, raw fish and freshly butchered chicken. A man cooks kebab over a trench brazier, a ferrier shoes a burro.  I walk past large tubs of fava beans, alfalfa and oranges, among stacks of cartons whose labels I could not decipher. Most of the stalls were run by men, the shoppers were equally divided between men and women, each loading their purchases onto motorcycles and burros for their respective treks home

We’re back in the car and on our way.  About 3 hours later, Mohamed negotiates some fairly astounding traffic, with roundabouts at every intersection, cars interlacing through each other every which-way, with the rule of the road seeming to be dictated by a “stare-down and wave-through” technique. The chaos gives way to a wide and much calmer palm tree lined boulevard with a 12-foot wide park down the center, complete with grassed areas and park benches and filled with pedestrians.  We arrive at the Hotel Volubilis in downtown Fez.

It’s a modern hotel, a very stark contrast to the riad in Rabat and the boutique mountain hotel in Chefchaouen. My room is white, spacious, unadorned, and overlooks a swimming pool.  For the first time since arriving, I am wishful for my suitcase and the swimsuit contained therein.  Brenda later offers me hers, but I never do take her up on that offer.

And then, a series of small unfortunate events starts to fray the edges of my else wise impressibility.

I unpack my ‘luggage’ – a heavy, white plastic laundry bag from the Hotel Barcelo in Casablanca – and the handle rips. “A bit of duct tape will patch that right up,” I say to myself as I reach for the roll I had tucked into my purse. I reach down to take off my shoes, and find that I’ve blown the side seam. “Good thing I packed that duct tape,” as I remove the insole to do a quick internal repair.  In the bathroom, there’s a hole in the shower wall that I can see daylight through.  “I’m going to need more duct tape” I mutter as I use up most of what I had left so I could take a shower. I take off my watch and the metal band breaks, beyond my ability to repair. There’s no bottled water or WIFI in the room, no services directory, not even a “do not disturb” sign. In the corner, there’s a broken chair…

I go down to the lobby to inquire about WIFI, and find Doug, whom I alert about the broken chair in my room so he doesn’t get charged for it.  A few minutes later, Doug and the front desk manager arrive, and I show them the shower wall (now patched) and the broken chair. “We have another room” says the manager.  “I don’t need a new room, I just don’t want to be charged for the broken chair,” I respond.  “Please follow me,” says the manager, and he shows Doug and me to another room.

“Do you like this room?” the manager asks.  I reiterate that I don’t need a new room, I was just reporting a broken chair. I’ve already unpacked and I really don’t want to make a fuss. “So this room will work for you then?” the manager asks.  OMG.  I walk over to a chair in the corner. “This chair is not broken.  Let me take this chair to my room, and it will all be perfect.  Can we do that?”  The manager finally understands and insists on carrying the new chair to my old room. Such a simple fix, and yet so elusive…

I think it was later that day that we hunted down a hardware store, in part to escape the drum corps that have taken up a corner of the hotel lobby.  We find a Carrefour, where I use the last of my dirhams to buy a roll of duct tape in case my shoe or luggage blow out again.  Mark and Catherine stock up on wine and champagne in the grocery department downstairs, while their floor standing oscillating fan is being assembled in the hardware department.  It will help them sleep at night, and will provide notes of humor at every hotel, kasbah and riad for the duration of our trip.  On the way out, I notice the really nice bright green Tyvek shopping bags that Carrefour offered at their checkouts, and Doug gets one for me. New luggage!  In the car, Mark and Catherine gift me with a bottle of vodka. Things are looking up!

After a dinner buffet in the hotel restaurant, Doug and I hit the boulevard in a search of an ATM and a drug store. We locate two ATM machines, which both fail (adding to the list of All the Broken Things) but do find a convenience store, where after a short discourse between Doug in Egyptian Arabic and the shopkeeper in Moroccan Arabic, with accompanying charades, I procure some necessaries, including a plastic disc that looks like a scalp massager, but which works surprisingly well as a hairbrush and is very compact.  

Back on the boulevard, we see a bronze statue of a lion in the parkway, and I pose for a photo. I would later learn that it commemorates the last wild lion in Morocco, who was shot by a trophy hunter during the 1930’s. Had I known that, I would not have smiled for this photo…

We cross the street to the hotel. The drummers are now gone, so I sit in the lobby to get onto the WIFI, until the hoteliers start turning the lights out, signaling that it’s time to return to my room.

The next day, breakfast in the hotel restaurant turns out to be among the best of the entire trip. Fresh and grilled vegetables, eggs, blocks of feta, dates, olives, and folded and fried Moroccan pancake called mesmen, which I spread with honey and cream cheese.  I also note a variety of cold cereals and something that looks like Cream of Wheat. At the end of the room there’s a table-top coffee dispenser, reminiscent of the vending machines I fell in love with in Florence, that serves 5-6 different styles of thick, milk-based European coffees at the push of a button.  

Mmmmm…. vegetables and coffee, my two favorite food groups…

Today we visit Volubilis, the ruins of a Roman town renowned for its mosaic floors.  We stop at a 3rd ATM but it doesn’t work for me either, so I give up so as not to delay our day any further. I’m concerned that my shoe repair won’t hold in the rugged terrain we are going to be walking through soon, so I break out my sewing kit and astound my traveling partners when I produce thimble, beige carpet thread and a leather needle, and begin to stitch up the side of my handmade Italian shoe.  

“You carry a sewing kit – with a leather needle?” they ask. “Textile artist!” I answer.  About 20 minutes later, my stitching is complete, and I pull out a black Sharpie.  “I may be a bag lady but I’m still a fashionista,” I joke as I color the carpet thread so it matches my shoe.  By now my traveling partners have run out of words…

Just outside the city, we reenter agricultural areas, marked by roadside produce stands with pyramids of fruits and potatoes towering over the edges of the bushel baskets that line the edge of the road.  Farmland is interspersed with ruins of stone or brick walls.  We arrive at the Roman ruin of Volubilis.

  • Volubilis was a caravansary for the Berbers and the capital of the Kingdom of Mauritania, before becoming an important Roman outpost after the Third Punic War in the 2nd century BCE. It marked the furthest reach of the Roman Empire into Africa. The city declined during the 8th century, with most of its inhabitants having converted to Islam and moved to the nearby city of Meknes.
  • In spite of its marble being stripped during the 18th century to build the sultan’s palaces in Meknes, Volubilis remains one of the best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco.  It was rediscovered during the French Protectorate in 1915, when excavation and restoration work began. Most of its artifacts have been moved to the Archaeological Museum in Rabat, which I hope to see on my next visit to Morocco.  Volubilis was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

After leaving the parking lot, we are greeted with an expansive concrete plaza – designed no doubt to gather large groups together for orientation before heading out onto the site. We hired a local guide, who wore a long, loose, lime-green caftan over his jeans and sandals, and a conical straw hat that I had started to see on some of the older people on the outskirts of town.  We head out under hot sun and a pale blue sky with just enough wispy clouds to offer a contrast to the nearly 104 acres of ruins we were about to view.

The floors are exquisite and I am in awe of their condition, in sharp contrast to the vestiges of the walls that surround them.  I wonder what has prevented weeds from breaking through, when everything else is overgrown.

The guide is great, and again I wish I had brought my journal, even with the risk of it drawing my attention away from where my feet were going.  There are informational placards that I photograph along the way, with information about the aqueducts that fed the city, and some of the homes which are named after images in their mosaic floors, including the “House of Venus,”  the “House of Bathing Nymphs,” and the “House of Big Game” with its lions and tigers detailed in the floor.

The “House of the Rider,” (Maison av Cavalier according to the carved stone marker) named after a bronze figure discovered there in 1910, was one of the larger homes at 1700 square meters.  The mosaics covered the floors of  the public areas of the homes (but not the private areas like kitchens and baths), and I cannot help but think there must have been some ‘keeping up with the Jones’s” competition as the floors become more spectacular as you circle clockwise through this site.

We see the the remains of a bathing pool. Shown here is a jacuzzi – a large flat pool with a center stonework carved into backrests that would accommodate 10 people.  It served as a social center in the same way that the Turkish hammams did during the Ottoman period. Our guide told us that the water for the jacuzzi was heated by underground pipes which ran under the ovens in the nearby bakery. Talk about architectural multi-tasking … 

The imposing Triumphal Arch of Caracella is a popular place to have your photo taken, and guides are yelling at the too-adventurous tourists to stop climbing to the top of it, presumably for a better photo op.

  • The Triumphal Arch was built in 217 AD by the town council in honor of Emperor Caracalla and his mother Julia Domna as a thank you for granting the townspeople Roman citizenship and tax exempt status.

Further down the avenue, our guide points out the bakery, and the King’s Palace with its huge circular mosaic floor, and a square pool larger than my entire living room, overlooking a panorama of fields and orchards, with the Atlas Mountains in the distance. I take note of a stacked stone wall, and a vomitorium with the remains of the trench which drained into the sewer.
I had seen a piece of a mosaic floor in a Roman exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum, but it is entirely different to see them in context.  In spite of being exposed to the elements, they are remarkably intact and vibrant.  It’s a testament to the craftsmanship that went into their making.

Back at the plaza, there’s a small museum, with maps on the walls and a few cases of Roman artifacts which included bone buttons and needles, bronze pieces from horse trappings,  and a foot tall bronze figure of a boy, labeled “The Genius of Abundance.”  In the next building is a display and sale of local products, mostly honey and packages of herbs from the nearby farms.   I am once again disappointed by the lack of a gift shop, and will have to shop for a book online.

Tasks for tonight include laundry – combining a shower with a soapy stomp on my red traveling coat, wringing it out in a towel and hanging it up to dry.  With all of my clothes clean and in various stages of drying, I head back down to the lobby to read up on what I expect to see in the souk tomorrow.  It’s another night of being on WIFI until the lobby lights go out.  I hope I’m not annoying the hotel staff… 

More information about the history history of Volubilis is here. My full photo collection of the mosaic floors from this site is boarded on Pinterest.

Morocco 2017 – The Blue City of Chefchaouen

After roaming around the Kasbah of the Oadaias and inspecting nearly every inch of the fortress in Rabat, we climb into the car and head towards the fabled Blue City of Chefchaouen.  

We drive by groves of trees that have had their bark stripped to about 8 feet up. They are cork oaks, freshly harvested. Cork can be harvested a dozen times during a tree’s lifetime; after a tree reaches 25 years old, it can be harvested by hand every 9-12 years. The harvest does not harm the tree, and because trees regenerate their bark, cork is considered a renewable resource.

We also pass hothouses where bananas are being grown, the structures are not as tall as I would expect but stretch back from the road for several acres. I also see smaller quonset shaped hothouses where strawberries are being grown. Flocks of sheep graze right along side the road while their shepherds stand nearby, almost always in traditional dress.  We see cattle, but are told that these are dairy cows.  Beef cows are raised in feed lots, but Morocco does not have an industrialized beef industry.  Mohamed, our driver, also owns a restaurant, and explains that restaurants work directly with butchers, who buy cows directly from local ranchers.  Much of local commerce is based on personal relationships here.

Further on we start to see burros pulling carts, almost as often as we see other cars.  I look out at hedges of prickly pear interspersed with low growing trees, which form a green fence between the fields and the road. We pass through a  small town of window manufacturers and automotive shops operating out of spaces about the size of a single car garage.

Here’s a graveyard out of seemingly nowhere…

There are carts of oranges along the side of the road, nomadic fruit stands. More burro carts, houses that are painted lavender and pink.  Doug points out aqueducts running parallel to the roadway, 40-50 year old structures delivering water to the fields.  The prickly pear hedges have disappeared and now the road is lined with eucalyptus trees. To the left is a sugar cane field, and to the right, pottery stands displaying piles of lanterns, pots and tagines. Craftsmen’s booths are lined up side by side for a solid two blocks.

Climbing up a winding road, nearing sunset, we turn a bend in the road and a very pale blue and white landscape comes into view.  It’s Chefchaouen, a mountain community that we would explore tomorrow.

  • The Blue City of Chefchaouen was established in 1471 by Moulay el Ben Rashid ed Alami, a Moorish exile from Spain. It served as a refuge for Moriscos and Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition and was also a stronghold against the Portuguese.
  • It’s Jewish population painted the town blue during the 1930’s.

We pull into a steep drive and check into the Al Khalifa Hotel, on a hill overlooking the city.  The rooms are simple but efficient, and the red painted furniture is striking against the blue-washed walls.  It feels very Himalayan, but the hotel manager assures me that the motifs are indeed Arabic-Moroccan, painted by a local artist.

After a brief respite in our rooms, we walk down a winding set of stairs towards the town square, only to discover that the restaurant is above us (literally).  Mohamed finds a route which backtracks upwards, and we arrive at The Lampe Magique Casa Aladin.  It’s a fun place and we get a table right next to the window, which offers an excellent view of The Qasaba – a kasbah which now houses a museum.  Our table is covered with tea glasses and plates of mezze, a precurser to the tagines that will arrive later.  Mine is squid, delivered still boiling.  I watch it continue to boil for at least two minutes before I test my bravery and my fork, spearing the succulent white meats from the broth and blowing the sizzle away so I don’t burn my tongue.  Still very hot but very delicious!

Doug gives us an overview of what to see during our free time tomorrow, and to use the Plaza Uta el Hamman, the town square, as our landmark. The city is built into the side of the mountain, with a Spanish mosque overlooking the city and the reddish mud brick wall snaking up the mountain at the northern edge of town.  It was built in 1471 as a stronghold against the Portuguese.  After dinner we walk back to the hotel, through noisy streets where the shops are still open, under a beautiful starlit sky.

We start the next morning with breakfast in the glass-enclosed terrace of the hotel, which Doug says is new since the last time he was here.  Brenda and Doug pair off, as do Catherine and Mark, and I set off down the stairs for a couple of hours of sightseeing and shopping.

I walk down the pale blue staircase towards the town square, immersed in a soundscape of rushing water, and the pastoral bleats of goats and sheep.  There’s a waterfall near the Hotel Khalifa, the Ras el Maa, a water source for Chefchaouen that literally roars out of the mountains.  I cross the bridge to admire the sound and the view. Further upstream are wooden structures with roofs but no sides – washing sheds where the townswomen come to do their laundry, and wash fleeces prior to processing the wool into yarns for weaving.  I pass one of the community bake houses, built in the mid-1500’s.  There are no ovens in the homes in town, it’s too much of a fire hazard, so women bring trays of bread dough, covered with linen towels, to be baked in the centuries-old wood fired ovens.

My first stop is The Qasaba, built in 1471 by Moulay el Ben Rashid ed Alami in the Andalusian style, complete with crenelated walls and a watch tower with a prison in the bottom. The cell reminded me of Casanova’s cell in Venice – some things are universal. The top of the watch tower affords the expected panoramic views of the countryside. I was particularly taken with the finish work of both the carpentry and the brick flooring, and wondered if the top floor doubled as a residence. See my gallery of photos at Daveno Travels.

A building across from the tower that I think was the original manor house for Moulay Ali Ben Musa, now houses an Ethnographic Museum, although apparently I missed many of the displays. There were several settees displaying tradition craft, which I have boarded on Pinterest. The expanse between the guard tower and the manor house was filled with gardens and two fountains. Gardens and fountains were very important to Islamic cultures and nearly every building of consequence had one.

Back in the town square, my eye is caught by a textile that turns out to be a rug.  The young shopkeeper tells me he is the weaver, and draws back a row of shawls to show me his loom.  I buy one of his striped shawls, and he puts it into a small handbag which he has also woven the fabric for.  I wander off, absent in thought, when another shopkeeper shouts down at me from doorway and asks me where I’m from.  

“Seattle, USA,” I shout back.  “Is that near Tacoma?” he responds…

He introduces himself as Abdamin, and invites me into his antique store.  He shows me a photo of his girlfriend in Tacoma, and after some social banter, I have a look around.  Here’s a pile of small silk prayer rugs of the style I was looking for in Istanbul.  He pulls about half a dozen from the stacks and lays them out on the floor, and then makes me circle around them until I choose one.  I see another pile of square carpets, which he tells me are for laying your head on when you go to bed.  I buy one of each style, not haggling over the price.  While he’s fetching me a glass of coffee, I look around again, this time finding an astrolabe in a corner cabinet.  I had looked all over Florence and Istanbul for one of these, after visiting the science museums in both cities.  What an unexpected find! Abdamin takes it out of the case for me, and I promptly dismantle it to see if it has all its parts.  It does.  And now it is mine …

I finish my coffee and my transactions, and get a very friendly parting hug before setting off again.  I turn right into a cobblestone alley, looking at the tailors hunched over their sewing machines in stalls that can’t be more than 6 feet wide by 10 feet deep, stuffed floor to ceiling with folded garments and stacks of fabric.  Walking back towards the square, I spy what would become my second clothing purchase … a red, green and purple striped djellaba with fancy turkshead and tassel buttons.  The shopkeeper helps me try it on, and accepts the $200 dirham I have in my pocket in spite of his $300 dirham asking price. His wife made it, and he was eager to make his first sale of the day.  

  • My clothing purchase in Chefchaouen was a Djellaba, a full length, long sleeved garment with a hood, worn by both men and women, though I saw more men wearing them than women. Caftans do not have hoods, which sets them apart from djellaba, which always have hoods.

My wanderings take me to the backside of some apartment buildings, where I find a panorama view of what I think is the reconstruction of a lower fortress wall, and what I think is the tomb that Abdamin spoke of. He told me there are several holy men buried in Chefchaouen, though I did not learn any of their names.

I also find some other things of note, like the gate to a mosque that no longer exists, and a hamam built in 1927, and a woodworkers shop across the alley from the hamam. I put my camera away at this point, but admired all of the templates that he had hanging along the walls of his shop.

I make my last shopping stop at a shoe stall, but after trying on a pair and not succeeding at the haggle, I decline the sale, and then get lost trying to get away from the salesman who is now following me.  I pass some kids who greet me with “Ola.”  When I relayed that later to Doug, he said that a lot of Spanish tourists come here, and the kids probably weren’t Spanish, but thought that maybe I was.

After about a half hour of upstairs and downstairs and circling around to the salesman who is still trying to sell me those shoes, I find my way back to the hotel, where I rejoin my group.

And shortly after noon, we set out for Fez.

Morocco 2017 – Rabat

We leave the Habbous District of Casablanca, with it’s grand Municipal Building of carved plasterwork and arches, and the souk where I acquired a beautiful striped caftan and a tunic/pants set (yay, pants!).  We drive through another market filled with farmer’s wares, and shop from our car for bananas, apples and the distinctive round loaves of Moroccan bread that we would munch on on the road.

Morocco is an agricultural center of the Maghreb, and every crop grows here except for pistachios.  Doug points out fields of sugarcane, we saw stalks of the stuff in the souks, where it was ground and sold as a beverage.  

Unlike Casablanca, where I only saw a couple of minarets, here they dot the landscape with regularity.  They are always square (which I would learn later is a regional style) and always have a finial at the top, called a jamour, typically with 3 spheres which symbolize the sun, moon and stars.

In about an hour, we arrive in Rabat, the capital and the political, administrative and financial center of Morocco, and the second largest metropolis behind Casablanca. I am also told it has a bit of pirate history although I have not yet tracked that down.

  • Rabat was founded in the 10th century near the Roman port of Sala, and became the capitol city under the reign of Caliph Yacoub el-Mansour after his victory over Alfonso VIII at the Battle of Alarcos in 1195. After the caliph’s death, the city declined for the next several centuries until being settled by the Moors who were expelled from Spain in 1610. It regained its status as a capitol during the French occupation in 1912.

We drive along the crenelated wall of the Kasbah of the Oudaias which surrounds the oldest part of the medina, and find a place to park. The rest of our way is on foot through the covered alleys to our lodging for the night.

Kasbah of the Oudaias, surrounding the medina

We walk through an unassuming wooden door and into a courtyard, 3 stories tall, covered at the top with a pyramid-shaped glass ceiling. We have arrived at our first riad – the the Dar El Kabira. It’s stunning, filled with light, and furnished as though it were the home of a nobleman. We are seated and served glasses of tea while our passports are being. processed.  I admire a tall set of carved double doors with large brass barrel locks, wondering where the door leads to. Soon, we are given our keys and are led to our rooms.  I nearly fall over backwards when the door I have been admiring, turns out to be the door to my room …

The room has the dimensions of a large shoebox, tipped on its side. The ceiling is at least 20 foot high, dark wood and beamed, with a single simple chandelier suspended from its center. There’s a small round table to my left, holding a red velvet tagine filled with fresh fruit, and a bottle of water in an ornate cover, and a plate with a napkin and knife for the fruit,  and a welcome note, rolled up and tied with a ribbon, that includes the WIFI password. The ambience of the room calls up the 1930’s French occupation, with pastel ceramic light fixtures in the colors of Turner’s Flamingos.

I check out the bathroom and find a sink that I have only seen in photographs. It’s a finely painted blue and white porcelain basin with engraved brass fixtures, sunk in to a simple white wrought iron stand. There are toiletries here, which I grab to start reconstructing the kit that were lost with my luggage. I really don’t want to leave, but we’ve been promised a remarkable sunset…

We walk towards the waterfront, passing old graveyards on both sides of the highway.  I see a lighthouse, and a sand and rock beach that appears to be a popular hangout, in spite of the chilly wind that has picked up.  We are treated to plumes of water sent high into the air as waves crash into the breakwater, and a sun that turns the sky from pale blue to tones of Navajo pink and yellow.  We hike back up the hill towards dinner, and I turn back every few steps to watch the sun’s rays play out against the sky, which is in turn, turning the air to gold and the wall of the kasbah to shades of tawny red.

Dinner tonight is at the Dar Naji restaurant, where we sample our first classic Moroccan cuisine – a chickpea soup that tastes like the chorba I ate in Istanbul, served here with a small cinnamon bun soaked in honey, and a hard boiled egg that we are told to peel and break into the soup.   Next up is a plate of mezze – 10 different salads and relishes presented on a bed of romaine leaves.

Tea, served by a skilled waiter who pours a steady stream from a silver pot held above his head, into the six glasses on a silver tray, which he rotated with his other hand. Dinner and a show!  Bread, and tagines, and more tea and fruit for dessert. I settle back into the low couches as the meal comes to an end,  and Catherine remarks that my new striped caftan matches the cushions on the couch.  I respond that I’m trying to fade into the scenery, so I don’t have to leave.  But after awhile I’m found out, and we return to our riad to bolster reserves for our busy day tomorrow.

Breakfast the next day is served on the rooftop terrace of the hotel — yogurt, fruit, breads and tea. I note that the roof of the building behind the riad is covered with crypts.

Afterwards I rush up and down the stairs, trying to find the embroidered caftans that I can see hanging on the walls from the courtyard floor.  The maids sound French, and are dressed in white shirts, pants and short aprons, with crisp white bonnets covering their hair.  They’re looking at me from around the corners and giggling, and the manager of the hotel finally tells me that they are pleased to see a guest in traditional dress.  “Tell them I lost all my clothes at the airport, and I am now dressing Moroccan.”  The hunt for an elusive floor continues until one of the maids leads me to -the other staircase- which gets me to the third floor and allows me to complete my quest.

Today we visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, a leader revered as the father of Moroccan Independence. The mausoleum was commissioned by his son, Hassan II and was built by 400 Moroccan craftsmen using white Italian marble. Its stained glass windows and dome hail from France.

Glass dome in the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, made by French craftsmen

Across the plaza is the Hassan Tower and Mosque, begun in 1195 and intended to be the largest mosque and minaret in the world. My first view of the Hassan tower was through the partially ruined mosque wall. The holes in the red wall accommodated scaffolding during the construction process, and were left open to allow for air circulation.

  • Caliph Yacoub el-Mansour started construction of the Hassan Mosque in 1196 but died 3 years later, and the mosque was never finished.  It was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 (which destroyed much of Morocco), leaving only the unfinished minaret standing.  Had it been completed it would have had the capacity for 40,000 worshippers and would have been the second largest mosque in the world behind the Samarra in Iraq.
  • In more recent history, Mohammed V conducted the first Friday prayers here, after Morocco won its independence from the French in 1956.

Hassan Tower stands at about half of its planned height. There is an internal ramp which allowed donkeys to carry building materials during its construction. My guidebook says that this tower is usually open and offers an excellent vantage point of the surrounding area. It was closed for construction when we were there.

Our next historical site is the Chellah Necropolis, dating to 1339 and built by Abou Yacoub Youssef as the site for a mosque and burial place for his wife.  The outer wall was built sometime before 1351 by Sultan Abou Yacoub,  possibly as a reconstruction of the original Roman walls.  

The site became the burial place for the Merinid rulers, of which there are now at least 50 tombs.  The site was destroyed during the 1755 earthquake that destroyed many historical sites in this region.  It now houses over 70 storks in the biggest bird nests I have ever seen.  Additional photos of this site are on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels, although I did not manage to capture the pond, where women come to feed eggs to the eels in hopes of conceiving children.

  • Travel tip: bring a dirham or two to give to the woman who sits at this pond.  You can pay a woman a dirham or two, and she will reach into her basket for a boiled egg, which she peels and feeds the whites to the eels, and the yolks to the cats who are already circling her ankles in anticipation of a treat.

We finish the day roaming around in the Kasbah of the Oudaias, the 12th century fortification at the head of the medina, restored during the 17th-18th centuries.

I did not expect to see blue-washed walls before arriving in Chefchaouen, but most of the alleys were blue at the bottom, white at the top, and led to private residences which looked out over the sea.  I discovered a courtyard, and a door, which led down a series of stone steps to the ramparts and guard towers that guarded the Kasbah on its northern and eastern sides.  

  • Travel tip: We did not get into the museum or the gardens, but I hear they are highly recommended.  Make plans to see them when you go.

See additional photos of the sites of the day at Daveno Travels.

Next stop – the Blue City of Chefchaouen…

Morocco 2017 – Welcome to Casablanca!

Mosaic facade on the Main Post Office in Casablanca

A red-headed cowboy leaning against a pillar in baggage claim, lifts his gaze from his phone.  It’s Doug Baum, our tour guide and ‘camel guy’ for the next two and a half weeks.  He offers to assist Brenda with her luggage, and looks around for mine.  I grin, and hold up my purse, and say “this is it, I’m traveling light this trip.”  “Oh Girl!” he exclaims with an air of disbelief.  

“Nothing is going to ruin this trip.  I’ve got the critical things I need, and I’ll buy new clothes in Fez.  Let’s go!”

I will not allow myself to be stressed or let lost luggage ruin this trip.  I obeyed that nagging voice in Seattle and repacked essentials.  Everything else can be replaced.  “It’ll be fun.  No stress!” I shout in Doug’s direction,  “you are not allowed to stress out about this!”  When I’m sure that we both actually believe those words, I start to laugh.  What else are you gonna do?

I comment about the unexpected site of green fields stretching to the borders of my vision.  Doug says it’s been a wet spring here, so everything is even more green than usual.  We climb into his car and he starts the conversation with a snapshot of the culture we are about to encounter.

  • My introduction to Morocco begins in Casablanca, the largest city in the country with about 31 million people, and the country’s industrial capitol. Today it is one of the four largest metropolises in all of Africa. The city was originally Berber, and was destroyed at least twice over the past 8-9 centuries. Click here for more history of this fascinating city.
  • The population of Morocco is one-third Arab and two-thirds Berber, with Derija (an Arabic dialect) and Tamazight (Berber) being the primary languages, followed by French, Spanish and a smattering of other languages. Morocco gained its independence in 1956, although its cultural history traces its lineage to pre-Roman times.

We meet up with Mark and Catherine, who have arrived from Australia, and start a walking tour of Casablanca with Nezha Sebti, our local guide. Nezha leads us down Boulevard Mohammed V, which slices through the city from its center to the waterfont, past a number of colonial era and Art Deco landmarks, including the Rialto Cinema, still in operation. Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf both performed here. The Palais de Justice, and the old French, British and German consulate buildings.

The Main Post Office caught my most fervent attention, with its stunning blue and green mosaic tile facade — an example of “Mauresque” architecture, a blending of Moorish elements, European Art Deco and Art Nouveau, which gives Casablanca its distinctive architectural flavor. The style dates back to the French Protectorate period (1906 – 1930’ish). A photo of some of the tilework is at the beginning of this blog, with additional photos at DavenoTravels.

We end our walking tour at Rick’s Cafe, inspired by the film Casablanca which was actually shot on a sound stage in the US.  All I can remember is the white tablecloth, and the Coca-Cola, poured from small glass bottles into tumblers filled with ice, each garnished with a wedge of lime.  My fatigue sets in as we finish our first dinner, and walk out through the thick crenelated wall of the medina, past a cannon and on to our lodging at Hotel Barcelo.

The next morning, breakfast is at the Terrasse Cafe Restaurant on the Corniche. It’s my first view of the Atlantic Ocean, and my first taste of tagine — Morocco’s national cooking style — this one is an egg and meat dish swimming in oil, which our driver, Mohammed, shared with me.

The sea is stormy-grey against a pale blue sky, and I can see a lighthouse in the distance.  Bagpipes below us add a humorous underlay to the morning’s conversation.

The Corniche in Casablanca

Today’s plan includes a visit to the Municipal Building – a miniature version of the Lion Courtyard from the Alhambra (which I visited in Granada). The building was crawling with police since the King was in residence, and I had to be very careful in aiming my camera away from them.

Afterwards, Doug and I spent an hour shopping at a nearby souk, where I begin building my Moroccan wardrobe. I come away with a nice (and expensive) striped caftan, and an embroidered cotton tunic with pants included (yay pants!)

Our next stop is the Hassan II Mosque. the largest in Morocco and the fifth largest in the world.  The prayer room has a glass floor over the sea, and a retractable roof, and accommodates 25,000 worshippers. We weren’t able to go inside, but I explored as much of the exterior as we had time for.  We also got to watch workmen doing restoration work on both a fountain and the mosaic work over one of the side doors.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

On the other side of the expansive courtyard, we walked past the madrasa – a university for Koranic study, and into a museum which had numerous examples of the styles of craftwork we would see up close and personal throughout this trip. I have boarded tile and plasterwork, as well as several door panels on Pinterest.

I commented to Doug on the plantings between the Hassan II courtyard and the Madras, which included palm, snake plant, and surprisingly, prickly pear. Doug said that prickly pear was brought here from Spain during the time of Columbus, and that it’s used throughout rural Morocco as organic fencing. See more of the Hassan II Mosque on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

Next stop – Rabat ….

Morocco At Last

Finally.  After two weeks of flurried preparations at both home and office, and a very long night filled with unnecessary preparations, today has arrived.  I am on my way to Morocco.

The last time I went to Istanbul, I was packed in 2 hours. It has taken me 3 days to pack for this trip, and yet last night, heeding a nagging voice in my head, I repacked again. I dump my carry-on out onto the floor, swapping out my shoes, moving my chargers and adapters to my purse, as well as my sewing kit, a small roll of duct tape, a spare shirt and a book.  “This is a ridiculous level of overthinking,” I say to myself.  But I chalk it up to the normal pre-travel jitters which always keeps me up until 2 AM the night before a flight.

Adam, the apartment maintenance guy arrives just as I am leaving, to patch the ceiling in my bathroom after a week of flooding from the upstairs neighbor.  “It’ll all be repaired by the time you get back,” he assures me. I’ve spent the last several days packing valuables into my now empty fridge, oven and dishwasher, bundled much of my clothing into plastic bags, and have parceled irreplaceable belongings out to a handful of friends, in the event that the neighbor upstairs persists in letting his faucets run unattended, or worse – setting the place on fire, as I look with some concern at a BBQ which has newly arrived on his deck…

A final tussle with the ShopCats and reassurances that substitute keepers would arrive twice daily to provide them with meals and playtime, I’m off to board bus and then LightRail that will take me to the airport.

I have left extra early to counter Seattle traffic (there was none), and lines at the airport (there were none).  I take a pleasant stroll down the concourse to the Lufthansa ticketing desk with my TSA pre-check pass in hand.  “Sorry miss, your bag is overweight (by less than 2 pounds!) and will have to be checked.”  Oh well, at least I won’t have to wheel it through the airport and struggle with getting it into the overhead bin on the plane.  

I hop onto the tram (no waiting!) and thread my way through halls and escalators to the international gate, and through security without having to take off my shoes (a first!).  I’m still 2.5 hours early, so I grab a yogurt, a seat, and my copy of El Cid which I had slid into my purse at the last minute.

Previous flights to Frankfurt have taught me to book an aisle seat in the center section of the plane, since the chances are high that you’ll have at least one empty seat next to you.  This pays off for me again, and after dinner and a movie – “The Dressmaker,” a deliciously dark piece – I curl up across 2 seats and take a nap.

Eight hours later, we land in Frankfurt.  No frisking or swabbing for explosives at Frankfurt (another first!) “Wow, this is going to be a great trip, everything is going so well!” I whisper to myself, through lips curled in an uncharacteristic grin. I meet up with Brenda, a woman from Toronto who will be one of my traveling companions for the next several days.  We pass the time with idle chit-chat, sitting on the floor in the hallway, wondering why the seating area for the gate is behind locked glass doors.  Finally, after the hall has filled with passengers, and the staff have made several false starts, the doors are unlocked and we flood in.  More waiting, and then boarding, and the final leg of the flight begins.

The plane follows the Spanish coastline on its way to North Africa.  I’ve booked a window seat for this 3 hour flight, and look out over green lakes, an unexpected patchwork of crop fields that stretch to the horizon, and an expanse of solar panels about half an hour outside of Casablanca.  

We land, deboard and head to baggage claim.  Brenda finds her suitcase right away and waits for me as I search the carousel, and then the piles of suitcases in the corner, and then every other carousel.  After about 20 minutes I find an airport staff to help me, and we search again, everywhere, for a tidy, well packed lime green bag that apparently never arrived…

Pro-bono projects – and Morocco!

This news story was originally posted in early March 2017 on my previous website. I am reposting it here for posterity and public record : )

The absence of blog posts is an indication of just how busy I have been over the last few months.  

First of all, I want to announce that I am pausing hat production for the rest of March.  I am joining a small band of intrepid travelers on a three week tour of Morocco. Our guide, Doug Baum, is renowned both for his camel tours of Egypt, India, Jordan and Morocco, as well as camel treks in the SW US. He is as the owner / operator of the US Army Camel Experimentestablished to educate the public on the historic use of camels in America in the 19th century.  Brace yourselves for an onslaught of blog notes and photos upon my return …

In January I delivered a dozen handmade caps to a Vendor Appreciation event for Real Change News.  I challenged myself in November and December to make these caps as part of my annual philanthropic efforts. Real Change is an advocacy group working towards ending homelessness and poverty in the Pacific NW.  This project was so much fun that I hope to make it a new annual giving tradition.

Late last year I was approached by The Underground Railway Theater, a theater group in Cambridge, who were looking for hats for a play titled “Homebody Kabul”. They provided me with some off-the shelf imports and asked me to rework them so they would look handmade and echo the descriptions from their script. It was an interesting process, turning imported hats into stage props… My Homebody Kabul album on Facebook shows the original hat in the comments section for each makeover, and included quotes from the play in selected photos.  I donated three of the hats to keep them within their allotted budget.

“…Several months ago I was feeling low and decided to throw a party and a party needs festive hats. So I took the tube to where there are shops full of merchandise from exotic locales, wonderful things made by people believe as I do not…whose grandparents believed in magic, believed that some combination of piety, joy, ecstasy, industry, brought to bear on the proper raw materials…” 
from “Homebody Kabul” – a play by Tony Kushner.

My next project was the Women’s Marches in Seattle, Sacramento, Olympia and Washington DC. After trying to knit a hat, I turned to my “linen closet” and produced hats with a handstamped design and ears in two variants. I randomly selected 10 men and women, and gifted them with a custom made hat for them to wear, as well as one to give away that was patterned after the knit version. The results of that project are captured in The Art of the March.

These hats became so popular that I added them to my Custom Catalog, in a variety of colors and cuff treatments, with 50% of the purchase price benefitting Planned Parenthood.   I have sold about 20 so far.  If you would like to order one, they will be available again after April 5.

The black and pink hat shown here is the one I wore in the Seattle March, and has been accepted as part of the permanent collection at the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, just as soon as I can get it shipped.

I am now working on a hat for the Science Marches that will be occurring on April 22.  I am still working on the prototype, which will be made of linen in your choice of color, with an atom embroidered on the top, and a DNA strand handstamped to the sides. The cost will be about $65, and I plan to donate about 20% of the purchase price to an organization working to support women in the sciences.  The leading candidate is the Scientista Foundation, although I am also collecting other suggestions.  
If you are interested in ordering this hat, I am not collecting money right now, but do give me your name, head size and color preference.  Ears are optional and at no additional charge.  

I am now off to finish hat orders and attend to a list of logistics for my upcoming trip.  See you when I get back!

Creative Minds on Orcas Island

I took a weekend excursion to this, one of 172 islands that make up the San Juan Islands. A friend of mine, Janet Gadallah, has opened an art gallery here and I’ve come to pay her a visit and to deliver some summer straws.

After a full day of sightseeing, including the Rosario Resort and Mt. Constitution, we return to her gallery, where I check my new hats into her inventory, and then begin the evening project – painting all of the door and window frames in her gallery from ugly cream to shiny black.

I must say that a little paint makes a big difference. The new black woodwork not only frames her gallery nicely, but ties the building to the art and makes everything pop …

New Summer Arrivals from August Phoenix Hats!

The gallery showcases island and regional artists, many exclusive to Creative Minds. It’s located at 123 North Beach Road in Eastsound. Be sure to stop by when you’re on the island!

Stitchery Series Part V – Applique & More!

This is the last in this series, which has focused on (mostly) Chinese embroidery as a surface embellishment. This segment will cover a few other forms of surface decoration that can be combined with embroidery to bring new color, texture and uniqueness to your own textile projects.

Reverse appliqué is my favorite technique and can add a lot of dimension to your project, especially if you are working in several layers of heavy fabrics. I used this technique for a small round pillow with five layers of wool. By the time I was done, the pillow gave the impression of being carved rather than sewn.

Grab some history and technique of this process at the download below:

Stitchery Series Part IV – Chinese Symbolism

Every symbol in Chinese textiles had significance, and evolved from several philosophies and concepts.  The Chinese enjoy puns and plays on words, and often designs were used if their verbal sound or written character was similar to a quality or virtue.  Hence, because the words for bat and happiness sound similar, bat became the symbol for happiness. 

The invention of the draw loom and the development of jacquards and brocades allowed patterns to be woven into the cloth. Common patterns included checks, diamonds, zig-zags, coins, clouds, dragons, lions, horses, flowers, birds and fish. Brocades were often over-embroidered to augment the woven patterns (a technique I now employ on my hats…) 

Learn more about Chinese Symbolism in embroidery and textiles here:

Stitchery Series Part III – The Stitches

This installment provides a ‘Cliff Notes” historical overview of embroidery stitches in China and Europe, and rolls right into the stitches themselves.

There are somewhere around 100 – 150 identifiable embroidery stitches used worldwide.  I have only captured here those that are the oldest and most recognizable. For additional stitches, please look into the additional resources at the bottom of this post.

A Gothic Hat

Travel inspires my work.

This is my singular inspiration from Spain, from the Cloister of St. John the King in Toledo. It took about 6 years to bring this hat from drawing board to finished piece, and hours of experimentation to translate the arches not only into textile, but into a commercially viable piece of wearable art.

The first one I made was from recycled wool. The arches are ultrasuede that I gleaned from a thrift store skirt, applied in padded applique to give the arches some additional dimension. Detailed in hand embroidery, and finished with a mink rescued from a vintage coat.

I have made one other in a Garden style, with a padded fabric cuff ornamented with grape leaves, vines and grape clusters. Both styles will be available soon by custom order in my catalog.

Andalucia 2012 – Granada’s Albayzin District

My first breakfast in Granada was in the modern district, at a cafe that seems to attract every cop in the city for their morning coffee. My last breakfast will be in the historic district of Albayzin, followed by a day of leisurely walk-abouts as I savor my final day in Spain.

I hop the #31 Red Tour Bus to the old Moorish quarter of Albayzin, where I have breakfast of cafe de leche with no sugar, and ‘1/2 racion de churros’ – a sort of donut but very airy and not as sweet.  I watched the cook as she swirled the vat of oil before extruding a length of batter into it, using long chopsticks to catch the batter and guide it into a spiral, flipping it once in the oil before flipping it out onto a plate. The entire process took about 45 seconds. 

The Albayzin District is whitewashed like Cordoba was, a restful change from the sites of the past couple of days.  I enter at San Nicholas Square and start wandering down streets and selected alleyways.  I find  the Great Mosque but cannot enter.  Built in 2003, it’s a modern, compact building with a tiled three-station ablution area. There’s a fountain in the courtyard and a great view of the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance. The view must be spectacular at night.

A farmers’ market is in full swing today. I find a shop window full of small doll-like religious figures. The white hooded figures at center look like KKK but are actually inquisitors, among other church themed figurines. It struck me as really odd, given how gruesome the Inquisition was in Granada …

There’s a blue path laid out on the cobblestones that seems to be an art installation, running from San Nicolas Square to some unknown stopping point. I follow it and discover a chapel built into a wall is all that remains of the Fortress of Granada, that pre-dates the Alhambra. Here’s a synagogue which is also closed, which has curious brass horseshoe-donkey motifs on the planters on each side of the door. I stop to photograph an iron grillwork that is nearly identical to the one on my front door at home.  It would inspire me to do a minor make-over of my front porch, to play up the Spanish influence. 

I cannot find any books, but buy some tiles as a souvenir before catching a bus to the Sacromente, which I miss and end up back downtown. By the time I arrive, it’s siesta, so the Cathedral and the Royal Chapel are closed.  I check out of my hotel and board a bus to Malaga, where I have booked a hotel close to the airport for my flight home in the morning.

I check into the Hotel Solymar, a non-descript but adequate hotel two blocks from the beach.  I walk by a granite marker inscribed with ‘Birthplace of Antonio Banderas” which cracks me up, especially when i start seeing other references in shop windows.  I do not see any such monuments dedicated to Pablo Picasso, who was also born here.  

I choose a fish restaurant on the beach and have the full attention of the staff since I’m the only one there. I look out the window towards an industrial area to the north, and an absence of sea birds over the waves.  

The tide is coming in. The beach is dirty but I take my shoes off anyway, and venture out into the surf for a stroll as the sun sets on my last day in lovely Spain. You will find photos of my final day in Spain on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

Andalucia 2012 – Granada and the Alhambra

When your concierge says “you only need to be at the train station five minutes ahead of departure,” take him at his word. So far this trip, my hotels have been 5-10 minutes away from the train station, and a 5 or 6 Euro fare.

In spite of his suggestion, I arrive an hour early for my next destination – Granada and the famous Moorish Red Fortress known as the Alhambra…

I board the train for Granada, which is delayed three times due to accidents and adds an hour to this trip. I arrive at the Abadia, where I check into a pleasant, spacious, modern room on the floor level of a courtyard filled with small palms and tables with umbrellas. I would enjoy coffee a few times during my stay here. I’m a little fatigued this morning and my Google directions have failed. It is still early enough for a cappuccino so I stop in the first cafe I find, for a cup of caffeinated froth and a consult in my travel guide. I’m off to find the Cathedral.

I encountered living statue street performers in Florence, and find one here as well. This one is a Roman soldier who becomes animated as soon as you put coins into his box. I watch him for awhile before heading to the Cathedral, running a gauntlet of gypsies so numerous and aggressive that their attempts to exchange their sprigs of rosemary for coin becomes a contact sport. I think I should have hired the Roman as a bodyguard…

  • The Cathedral is another Christian church built where a mosque once stood. It began as a Gothic structure but was finished in the Baroque style. It is closed today, which is only a minor disappointment since I’m starting to get burned out on cathedrals and religious artifacts this trip. Ferdinand and Isabella are interred in the Royal Chapel adjacent to the Cathedral but I could not locate the building.

There’s an open air spice market just outside of the Cathedral, where I buy tea and saffron, and sample candied aloe vera, which tastes sort of like green tea ice cream. I enter the Calle Reyes, a plaza filled with cafes and shops. I manage to find a sewing shop in every city and Granada is no exception. This one carried mostly yarns and flosses, embroidery hoops on stands, and the rayon that mantilla fringe is made from.  There’s also a statue here of a famous guide and his burro.

I hop aboard a tour bus and head up to the Alhambra.

  • The Alhambra (Al Qal’a al-Hamra,) or “The Red Castle”, was built during the Nasrid Dynasty in 1243 and was the last Moorish stronghold to fall to the Spanish Reconquista in 1492. It gets its name from the red clay the buildings were built from.
  • It was designed to be a palace-city (like the Topkapi in Istanbul) and was further transformed in the 13th century when water was brought up from the Taro River and the castle was expanded into a fortress. The complex contains several gardens, and the Nasrid Palaces, the oldest and most well preserved Islamic palaces in the world.
  • Travel tip:Reservations are highly recommended. Due to ecological concerns, they limit the number of visitors per day and after waiting in line for over an hour, I was one of the three last people who got to the ticket counter before they cut off ticket sales for that day.

Once inside the complex, my first stop is the Tienda Libereria de la Alhambra, the official bookstore. My purchases are governed by how much weight I am willing to carry for the rest of the day. Beyond that there are several souvenir shops selling both antiques and replicas. Among the wooden pistols and knives is a scissor-dagger in a sheath, which I lust over for several minutes before walking away from the case.

Must. Move. On…

Entry to the Nasrid Palaces is timed, so I visited the Generalife, a separate area outside of the Alhambra Fortress, built as a recreational area where the Kings of Granada could escape their official routine.

  • Travel tip: Every eatery here seems to order the same menu of pre-packaged processed foods. I want a salad but never find one, so I end up forgoing lunch. There are plenty of places to sit down here for those wise enough to save their money for books and bring their own picnic lunch. Water and shade are both limited, especially in the area where you queue up to enter the Nasrid Palaces. Bring a hat and your own water bottle.

The Generalife (“Garden of the Architect”) reflects the Muslim concept of garden as it is referenced in the Koran and to reproduce paradise on earth. Dating back to at least the 13th century, it originally included orchards, farmland, and animal pens. It’s gardens are currently planted with citrus, jujube, pomegranate and grapes, cypress, laurel, jasmine, and roses, which are very fragrant. Andrea Navagero, the Venetian ambassador to Charles V, wrote in 1526:

  • “…Although it is not very large, it is extremely beautiful and well constructed and the beauty of its gardens and waters is the best that I have seen in Spain… The water arrives at a stunning green courtyard, which has the appearance of a meadow with a few trees, and by closing off certain channels, the stream that flows through this meadow, I know not how, swells underfoot and dampens everything and then effortlessly retreats without evidence of human hand…
  • For a concise history of the Generalife and a selection of travelers’ accounts between the 15th-19th centuries, please read “The Generalife: Garden of Paradise” by Jose Antonio Garcia Lujan.

The Court of the Myrtles (named after the hedge that surrounds it), previously known as the Court of Alberca or the Court of the Pool, is an example of classic Granada architecture, built during the reign of Muhammed V (the founder of the Nasrid dynasty). Half of the wooden ceiling was lost in a fire in 1890.

Beyond the Patio of the Sultana is the Water Stairway, dating to the 16th century. Under a canopy of bay trees, four sets of terraced stairs are linked by three landings, with a small fountain in the center. The stone handrails have channels carved into them that were filled with water that flowed so fast, they created little whirlpools at the round joints. The sound of birds and water throughout the gardens was omnipresent, and at times, drowned out all other sound. I would remember it as one of my favorite spots here.

I enter the Fortress through the Water Tower and veer right, walking past more gardens and into the section called the Partal. The Palacio del Partal is another of the oldest buildings at the Alhambra. The tower is known as The Observatory and the pond serves as a water tank. Its original roof was dismantled in the early 20th century and resides in the Islamic Art collection in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Next to the Partal Palace lies the Mexuar Oratory, the private place of prayer for the sultan and his retinue. The Mexuar was the first of the Nasrid palaces to be built here. It is oriented towards Mecca and is unusual in that it’s windows are open rather than being enclosed in glass. Its walls are carved plasterwork that I would later see in the Nasrid Palace. John Hoag, author of “Western Islamic Architecture” describes the work as “carved with incredible intricacy on a scale so minute it looks like embroidered cloth.” It’s a very accurate description.

I was not prepared for the visual feast. There are so many viewpoints framed by architecture that at times it becomes surreal, and feels more like I am standing in a painting instead of a landscape. Like my experience at the Topkapi, after awhile I put my camera away and just tried to drink everything in with my eyes, confident that much of what I would see would be included in the stack of books I was adding to my Islamic arts library.

  • For those of you who would like a deeper dive into these buildings, I suggest “Reading the Alhambra: a visual guide to the Alhambra through its inscriptions” by Jose Miguel Puerta Vilchez (published by the Alhambra and Generalife Trust and EDILUX s.l.,) This book might also be helpful in translating the Kufic and Arabic script that you see in the tiles, carvings and other art pieces here.

The Courtyard of the Lions is said to correspond to the Koranic definition of Paradise and is also called “The Garden of Happiness”. The channel at the feet of the lion fountain symbolizes the four “rivers” running off in the four cardinal directions. It is one of the most private places in the Royal Palace. This courtyard dates to 1380.

The Fountain of the Twelve Lions is under restoration. Originally a water clock, each lion spouted water to mark a specific hour. After the Reconquista, the new Christian inhabitants dismantled it to see how it worked, but could not reassemble it. It has never worked as a water clock since that time. The lions are thought to date back to the 10th century; two of them are on display in Palace of Charles V. The top of the fountain was removed to another garden in the Generalife complex. I have included a black and white photo of the original fountain in my corresponding blog at Daveno Travels.

Washington Irving, author of “Tales of the Alhambra” and “Sleepy Hollow” lived in the Royal Apartments in 1829 before becoming the ambassador to Spain. My vacation was extended by reading his book, and retracing my steps through his eyes. I quote him periodically throughout the rest of this journal:

  • “…we passed through a Moorish archway into the renowned Court of Lions. There is no part of the edifice that gives us a more complete idea of its original beauty… for none has suffered so little from the ravages of time. In the center stands the fountain famous in song and story. The alabaster basins still shed their diamond drops, and the twelve lions which support them cast forth their crystal streams as in the days of Boabdil…”

The Hall of the Abencerages is at the opposite end of the Courtyard of the Lions. This is the first apartment which constitutes the Harem, this section reserved for the Sultana. This was also the site of an assassination, and the blood spots are still said to be visible on the marble floor. When Washington Irving lived here, he was told that this part of the palace was haunted by the event, and that sounds of low voices and the clanking of chains could be heard late at night.

Facing the courtyard is the Hall of the Two Sisters, the best preserved section of this palace. It is named after the pair of stone slabs that flank the fountain which is imbedded in the marble floor. A channel leads the water from this fountain to the center Fountain of the Lions. There is a network of pipes below the surface which recirculates the water back to the fountains.

  • “The lower part of the walls is encrusted with beautiful Moorish tiles… the upper part is faced with fine stucco-work invented at Damascus, consisting of large plates, cast in molds and artfully joined, so as to have the appearance of having been laboriously sculpted by hand…”

Washington Irving resided at the Alhambra in 1829. I poked my head into his lodgings in the Royal Apartments. The interiors felt Italian in style, in what looked like mahogany paneling, a dark contrast to the carved plaster of the rest of the complex. I later read in Irving’s account of these rooms in his “Tales of the Alhambra.”

  • “…the door opened to a range of vacant chambers of European architecture…there were two lofty rooms, the ceilings of which were of deep panel-work of cedar, richly and skillfully carved with fruits and flowers…”
  • “…I found on inquiry that it was an apartment fitted up by Italian artists in the early part of the last century, at the time when Philip V and the beautiful Elizabeth of Parma were expected at the Alhambra and was destined for the queen and the ladies of her train…”

The fountain and the garden he later describes, are still there, although I am sad that I did not arrive home with a photo of it.

The palace of Charles V, a stark Florentine-looking box which now houses the Alhambra Museum, includes Roman and Islamic artifacts. The building is expansive on the inside but as it is not furnished, it is hard to tell what it may have looked like in period. Its round courtyard was commissioned by Charles for his bride, Isabella of Portugal. The architect was Pedro Manchuca, who was born in Toledo and studied in Italy under Michelangelo. The building was abandoned during the next century, having never acquired its roof.

  • “…With all its grandeur… it appeared to us like an arrogant intrusion, and passing by it, we entered a simple unostentatious portal, opening into the interior of the Moorish Palace…”

This oldest section of the Alhambra is the Alcazaba, built on Sabika Hill, where a castle already stood, dating back to 860. It was renovated and became the defensive fortress for the entire Alhambra Fortress. It is separated from the rest of the fortress and the Nasrid Palaces by the Wine Gate, where tax free wine was sold during the medieval period. It was here that Boabdil relinquished the keys to the city to the Christian monarchs at their successful end of the Spanish Reconquista.

I end my tour of the Alhambra at the Monastery of San Francisco. It was built by Queen Isabella in the 15th century to fulfill a promise she had made to her church, to build a monastery next to the Moorish palaces in the Alhambra. It stands on the site of a mosque, palace and gardens built in the previous century. Ferdinand and Isabella were originally buried here, but were later exhumed and moved to the Royal Chapel adjoining the Cathedral downtown.

The Monastery now houses the Parador Hotel. I could not afford to stay there, but did eat dinner there, where I ordered a salad but was served a plate of salted salmon instead. The dining terrace affords a magnificent view.

For additional information about the Alhambra, or to plan your own trip there,please visit their website.

Now that you’ve read my tale, see more of the Alhambra via my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

The Inspired Turks

This collection resulted from my travels through Istanbul in 2011. They are shown there alongside the architectural elements that I was inspired by, which includes the Harem Apartments at the Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, and my favorite mosques.

Of this collection, the Suleyman and Suleyman Garden remain among my most popular styles, made by hand from mostly reclaimed textiles. Both styles are available by custom order, and through my galleries during the fall and winter season. I have also reintroduced my Topkapi, hand painted on linen for a lighter weight summer hat.

After overcoming my fear of flying in 2009, my first international was to Carnivale in Venice, a trip that would inspire me to create hats that mirrored the sites I had seen there. Two years later, I returned to Florence, and then went on to Istanbul. I would now be happiest if I could visit the world every six months : )

The journals for this collection are now available here. I hope you will continue reading the back stories behind my creations.

Next up – a Gothic hat inspired by my travels in Spain!

Venetians and Florentines

This collection resulted from my travels to Italy between 2009-2011. They are shown here alongside the architectural elements they are inspired by.

Of this collection, the Venetian and Venetian Garden remain among my most popular styles, usually by custom order, made mostly by hand and almost entirely from reclaimed textiles and found objects. I have also reintroduced the Florentine to my Custom Catalog.

My first trip outside of the US was in 2009, when I attended Carnivale in Venice. It is the trip that started my internationally inspired designs. Read the rest of my Travels in Italy for the back stories behind these hats.

Andalucia 2012 – The Alcazar and Surrounds

After I have seen all the sites in the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, I break for lunch. Today’s attempt at ordering tapas and a mojito for lunch are ‘corrected’ by the waiter who insists that I should more properly order a crab salad and a glass of white wine. Apparently I was trying to order bar food and I also apparently defy the meals of a stereotype female. The salad comes with a packaged loaf of bread. There is so much pre-packaged food here… Music in this restaurant is American rock from the ’50’s.

I finish the lunch that was chosen for my by the wait-staff, and spend my next few hours at the Alcazar.

  • The Alcazar was the castle of King Alfonso X, known as The Learned, King of Castile, Toledo, Leon, Seville, Cordoba and a few other cities. He ruled from 1252 until his death in 1284 and spent nearly two decades in what would become a failed pursuit to become Emperor of Christian Europe. In spite of draining his treasury by remaining in a state of near constant war, Alfonso also promoted a blossoming in the arts, sciences, and law. He is commemorated in the US House of Representatives as one of the world’s most influential lawgivers.
  • King Alfonso also recognized Spanish as a formal language of government, breaking Latin’s hold and accelerating Spanish as one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. Castilian became the common language as well, helping to unify a people who had been conducting business and general life in Arabic, Berber, Hebrew, Basque, Portuguese and a host of other languages and dialects.
  • The Alcazar was started in 1328 as a military fortification, and was later extended to include gardens, transforming int a residence for the Catholic monarchs after the Reconquista. Christopher Columbus was received here by Ferdinand and Isabella. After the surrender of Granada, it was used by the church until the Inquisition was banned in 1821, after which point it was used as a prison until 1951.

The area outside the wall is a public park / plaza. I was surprised to find plazas of hard packed yellow clay more often than plazas of grass.

Unlike the other ‘castles’ here which were actually manor houses, the Alcazar feels more like a fortification. A statue of King Alfonso stands near the entrance. There are a number of artifacts here but I only found one furnished room, a council chamber, perhaps used as a war room. A stone staircase takes you to the roof where the view between the crenelations is far superior to the view from tower I would later see at the Roman Bridge.

The highlight of this building is the gardens in back, with its terraced pools down the center, filled with foot-long fish that are probably hand fed. There are mosaic pools in Romanesque themes situated towards the back corner. The garden also features formal box hedges, and topiary in the shape of large jugs with handles.

I cross the wide, brick paved Roman Bridge to the Museum of Three Cultures. There are buskers and a few craftsmen stationed along the bridge, and a statue of Saint Raphael, guardian angel of Cordoba since the 16th century, when he appeared to a clergyman, proclaiming that the city was in his possession. This tower at the end of the bridge hosts a museum, which begins with a ‘talking wax statues’ presentation, which, although interesting, was a little tedious. The rest of the museum is mostly panoramas of various aspects of Islamic life. 

Across the street from the Alcazar are the Almohade Bath (the Caliph’s Baths), a partially restored ruin of royal baths. You enter a Reception Hall, built in the 10th century, when the Alcazar became the governor’s seat.  There are traces of carved plaster in this room, with foiled arches, inscriptions, plant motifs, geometric decoration and mythological animals.  In the center of this room there was once a fountain with a spout and basin, which may have been used as a reception hall or a ceremonial space by the governor of Cordoba between the 11th-14th centuries.  It was also used by the kings of Castille.

The informational placards (of which there are many) will tell you that the Baths had a perfect design, from the changing room where you would leave your clothes, to the Cold Room, where you would perform ablutions at the tiled fountain, and use the latrine.  It is here that you would receive a cloth and ‘alcorques’ – a cork-soled sandal that would help you to avoid slipping or scalding.  Your next stop would be the Warm Room, a domed room where you would bathe. You can see the original marble slab flooring here.

You would then progress to the Hot Room, another domed room divided into three spaces, two had pools, one of which was installed by Christians during the 13th century. A bronze furnace between the two pools supplied heat to the pools and the hypocaust – galleries under the marble flooring through which heat passed from the furnace to the chimneys.  Ceramic pipes distributed heated water to the pools and also heated the marble floors. The furnace was made of refractory brick and was kept lit at all times to prevent the deterioration of the boiler. It was only extinguished to change its position or for repairs.

There was also a garden here but it was in serious disrepair.  It originally was divided into four parts by two channels, in the center of which was either a pavilion or a fountain.  (I would later see this style of garden at the Court of Lions in Granada, and would learn that it reflected the ideal of Paradise in Islamic architecture). The garden was laid out in front of the baths at a lower level than the floor of the portico, so the tree tops were at the same height as the people.  The garden may have contained orange and lemon trees, myrtle and aromatic plants, making it a pleasure for the senses. 

  • The Andalusies developed a sophisticated hydraulic engineering and irrigation system which brought water here by an aqueduct that followed the top of the city walls, and discharged into reservoirs near the baths.  A brick cistern in the baths was used for irrigation.

I walked along the riverfront and shops, it’s ambience heightened by the number of women dressed in traditional flamenco wear, apparently for some festival.

Dinner is, at last, tapas! A small plate of marinated shellfish, and another plate of potato and pepper salad, followed by a flamenco show at the Tablao Cardenal later that evening.  I may never know why I was seated at a table by myself, at the corner of the stage, with everyone else being seated at the other end of the room. At intermission, one of the lead singers sat down at my table and tried to strike up a conversation, but my Spanish remained inadequate, and all I could say was “no habla.”

On the stage, the women are spirited in step and very serious in facial expression, in high contrast to the men, whose broad grins were so contagious that even the women were smiling by the end of the evening.

It was a great experience to end my stay in this city. See more of the Alcazar and Cordoba on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

Andalucia 2012 – The Jewish Quarter

I leave the Mezquita and admire the palms, as they filter shade onto the hard-packed clay that paves the public spaces here. I am off to the Jewish Quarter, one of the best preserved and largest urban Jewrys in Europe. There are two homes of note here, across the street from each other, as well as the Synagogue.

The first home is Casa de Sefarad. The first room of this house is filled with absolutely stunning metalworked textiles as well as jewelry and household objects.

  • Sephardic Jews introduced the production of Golden Thread, from North Africa to Europe via Morocco, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Gold and silver were smelted in specialized furnaces to produce this thread, which was then spun with silk to make it pliable. Golden Thread production contributed to the social structure of single and widowed Jewish women, who were the chief creators of both the thread and the textiles it embellished. Sephardic Jews had a leading role in the production of this thread up to the 20th century.
Shown here is a section of a heavily worked jacket.

I admire cases of jewelry, including a pair of silver cloak brooches, and a metal wedding cap similar to those I saw in Bursa. A selection of Hamsa, which was a cross-cultural piece. Muslims call it the Hand of Fatima, symbolizing the five pillars of Islam. Jewish people call it the Hand of Miriam, symbolizing the five books of the Torah. There are several mediums represented here, including metal piercework, enamelwork, and one piece that displayed a Sultan’s tughra (calligraphed signature) on its palm.

The rooms here are painted in vibrant shades of blue and red, with wood planked floors rather than tile. I am stunned to find a full size painting of Lubna, a 10th century Cordoban woman with extensive knowledge of calculus, metrics, and math. She worked in the library of Caliph Al-Hakim II, considered the most important depository of knowledge at the time. She is also a doppelgänger for a friend of mine, Kate O’Guinn.

Additional photos of the Casa de Sefarad are boarded on Pinterest

Nearby is a synagogue, built at about the same time as the house. Its small size indicates that it was a private space, built for the family. Built in 1315, it was used until the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. In 1588 it was the property of the shoemaker’s guild, who added a chapel dedicated to St. Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers.

There is a timeline here showing the persecution of the Jews over the centuries, starting with the Roman inquisition of 1184, the destruction of the Jewish Quarter by fire in 1391, and the Inquisition of Cordoba in 1482. The most wrenching reference is to the night of December 22, 1504, when 107 Jews were burned in a single night. By the mid-18th century, the burning of people stopped, but was replaced by the burning of books…

Across the street is Andalucia House, whose claim to fame is a scale model of one of the first paper making factories in the Western world. Paper was invented to China, and carried by Muslims during the 10th century to Europe via Bagdad, Sicily and Spain. Clicking on my previous photo link will bring you to a step-by-step photo expose of the papermaking process and the medieval tools that were employed.

To learn more about the Jewish Quarter, visit this website. I have boarded the papermaking process on Pinterest.

Andalucia 2012 – Cordoba and the Mezquita

Cordoba is almost as much like OZ as Istanbul was.  My introduction to this city is a drive through a very crowded street, along a stone wall which I would discover is the Mezquita, a model of which I saw at the Islamic Science Museum in Istanbul last year, and a major reason I came here.

  • I was also drawn to Cordoba because of its history as a scholastic and scribal center as far back as the 8th century.  Under Muslim rule, Spain celebrated a golden age of economic and cultural revival.  Christians, Jews and Muslims worked side by side in the scribal houses, translating the world’s works into their respective languages.  It was among the most diverse and religiously tolerant city of its time. 

My taxi drops me off at the front door of Los Patios, across the street from the Mezquita.

What a happy little hotel!  The enclosed courtyard is filled with palms and tables, with 23 fully furnished hotel rooms overlooking it from the second floor. The concierge tells me that admittance to the Mezquita is free in the morning (Sunday) and that my meals in the hotel are discounted by 10%.  I take advantage of that offer by sitting down to a dish of squid in ink sauce and my first Sangria before setting out to explore the city…

Near my hotel is a horse stable and a poster advertising the equestrian festival which begins the day after I leave.  The stable is locked but I find a piece of screening that had been torn away enough to be able to slip a camera through. I can just barely see the heavily vaulted ceilings and iron railings that separate the stalls.

The next street leads me through Los Patios District. The origins of these courtyards date to Roman times, when houses were built round open air ‘agora’s. The Moorish term is casinillo, with their additions of fountains and flowers. They are almost always whitewashed, and every inch of wall space is covered with potted plants and flowers, predominantly geraniums, and many of the owners will gladly charge you a pittance to allow you to come in and look around. I paid a 50-cent admission fee to enter one of these courtyards, and found it cool and incredibly fragrant.

Heading north takes me into the Art Nouveau District, where the architecture is a mix of Nouveau and Deco facades.  Turning a corner suddenly brings me into the stark ruins of a Roman temple dating to the 1st century. 

  • The city of Cordoba dates back to about 160 BC, when it served as a Roman trading port. It remained a Roman city for 8 centuries. It became an Emirate in 756 and a Caliphate under Abd-ar-Rahman in 929. 

I tour the Palacio de Viana, a series of twelve courtyards and a garden taking up 6,500 sq.m. of space surrounding a 14th century manor house named after the Marquises of Villaseca, a ruling family who lived here until the 19th century.  Among my favorites was the Courtyard of the Cats, the oldest documented community courtyard in Córdoba, known in the 15th century as the Houses of Puentezuela de Tres Caños. The Courtyard of the Orange Trees was originally the Arabic kitchen garden, and the entrance to the palace in the 15th century. It includes a maze garden with a fountain at the center, surrounded by 100-year old orange trees.

I was not able to take photos inside the palace, though I did take a few of the kitchen, including an interior water well, a version of which I would see again in the Jewish Quarter. The rest of my photos for today are on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

I finish my day with dinner at an outdoor cafe, where my lack of Spanish thwarts my efforts to order tapas.  I notice the tent card on the table for pre-packaged flans, custards and ice creams, that are delivered to your table in their wrappers. I would find identical menus at nearly every restaurant I ate at here, and was amused with the concept of restaurant menus for freezer-case desserts.

Breakfast the next day is toast and pate that tasted like a spam product, peach juice and plain yogurt with a separate sugar packet, all served in individually pre-packaged servings. I share the dining space with sparrows who are scavenging crumbs from underneath the tables, and bathing in the fountain, two tables over. 

Ready for my day, I walk across the street to the Mezquita. Admission is waived on Sunday mornings so locals can attend Mass.  Walking through the 800+ Islamic arches with Latin liturgy echoing in the background remains one of my most memorable experiences.

Walking through the Mezquita during Sunday Mass
  • The Mezquita was the largest mosque in the Western world, measuring almost 24,000 square meters. It was built in stages between 785 and 987 and would be considered the most important sanctuary of Western Islam.  It was inspired by the Mosque of Damascus and built from materials gleaned from the 6th century San Vicente Basilica.
  • The original mosque was divided into two parts: an open courtyard for ablution (the ritual washing prior to prayer) and this covered hall, with a capacity for over 10,000 worshipers. The archways, built of brick and limestone, are a Visigoth influence and add structural integrity to the building. The architect was Ahd er-Rahman, who was also the first independent Emir of Andalus. 

Walking from one end to the other is a tour through history, as you can discern the ages of the various naves by the differences in the columns and the structure of the arches.  

  • The nave of Al-Hakim II was the second extension of the mosque during the late 10th century.  It houses the private chapel for the Caliph, and the mihrab, the elevated pulpit where the imam delivered sermons. After the Reconquista of Cordoba by Fernando III in 1236, the Muslims were expelled and the Mezquita was consecrated as Santa Maria la Mayor, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. A large silver lamp once hung over this area, which held just over 1400 lamps containing perfumed oil. It was destroyed during the building of the Christian chapels in the 14th century. 
  • Further destruction occurred the following century during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, when a great center portion of the mosque was destroyed to make room for the Grand Chapel. Although the Council of Cordoba issued a public proclamation to stop this work, Bishop Don Alonso de Manrique (who was in charge of the construction) petitioned King Charles I of Spain to continue, and was granted that permission. When Charles later passed through Cordoba and visited the mosque, he said “Had I known what this was, I would not have allowed it to reach the ancient part, as what you are doing is already done elsewhere, but you have undone what is unique in the world”. 
  • The Grand Chapel was finished in 1766 and remains to this day an active cathedral. The altarpiece is red Cordoban marble, paintings by Cordoban artist Palomino. The chandelier was donated in 1629, measures nearly 2 meters across and weighs close to 150 kilos, crafted by Cordoban silversmith Sanchez de la Cruz.  

Guards are posted around this area during Mass to prevent tourists from taking photos. You are free to wield your cameras once prayers have concluded.

I admire the fretwork encased windows, many of which are reproductions.  At the other end of the building are a number of glass cases housing artifacts ranging from Visagoth carvings, to bibles with silver fittings, and what I believe is the gearwork for a clock or chime tower, as tall as me and about 8 feet long.  It’s a pretty impressive clockwork. 

It was difficult for me to leave this mosque.  I leave the dark coolness of the Mezquita and step out into a brilliant sun, filtering through palms onto a hard-packed yellow clay where most public places would have either pavement or grass.  I’m off to the Andalucia House…

See more of the Mezquita on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

Andalucia 2012 – Toledo

My travels have taken me from Venice to Florence, and to Genoa – centers of commerce during the medieval period, and of heightened artistic and scientific endeavors during the Age of Enlightenment. Istanbul presented itself to me as a counterbalance, with similar pursuits and advancements equal to their European counterparts, and in some cases surpassing them.

My next destination continues to trace a path through Europe as it existed under Muslim occupation. That pathway brings me to Andalucia, in search of the remnants of medieval Spain when it was under Moorish rule.

My favorite flights are those that are uneventful, as this one was. My only memories of it are giving up my window seat so a mother could sit with her child (who had booked seats separated by a row and an aisle), and being woken up at midnight Madrid time for yet another white something sandwich. By the time we land in sunny Madrid, I’m dying for a salad. I find one with white beans, red peppers, and eggs with bright orange yolks, the first orange yolks I had ever seen.

I board a city bus to the Madrid train station — a large, clean, modern multi-platform affair with large airport-style screens showing arrivals and departures. It’s pretty easy to navigate as long as you pay attention not only to your train number and gate, but also if your ticket says “Baha” (lower floor) or “Plata” (upper floor).  I exchange USD for euros, and find a ledge to sit on, within sight of the reader boards. There are beautiful palm trees just outside of the double glass doors, which I thought led outside, until I stepped through …

I enter a wing that looks like an aircraft hangar, filled with a conservatory containing full size palm trees, and a pond filled with over a hundred turtles of various sizes and ages. There are shops along the sides and a couple of restaurants. It is serene and I look forward to returning here to make my connection between Toledo and Cordoba.

  • Toledo is a small but historically important fortified town, halfway between Madrid and Cordoba. This Iberian city served as a Roman trade hub, a Visigoth capitol during the 6th century, and a Moorish capitol in the 8th century before coming under Christian rule during the Reconquista in 1085. It was the capitol of Spain until 1561 when Philip I moved Spain’s political center to Madrid. It remained Spain’s religious capitol.

It is pouring rain when I arrive at the beautiful Neo-Moorish train station, and it takes me several tries to hail a cab for the winding, uphill five minute ride to my hotel, The Santa Isabel, located in historic Central Toledo.

  • The Santa Isabel was built inside the restored home of a Toledan noble, and dates back to 1388. It went through a series of remodels during the 15th, 16th and 20th centuries. If you follow my travel blogs you will note my preference for lodging in historic properties rather than mainstream hotel chains. I get a much better feel for the country that way.

I walk through its 15th century doorway and up a colorful ceramic-tiled staircase, and enter my room. It is spartan, with heavy carved doors on iron hinges. A mock balcony overlooks a niche carved into the building across the narrow street. It is very quiet here and I fall almost immediately to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning in the crowded dining room is bread with olive oil, tomato puree and prosciutto, orange juice, and a cup of very thick coffee served with a double-sized packet of sugar. It’s a far cry from the Turkish breakfasts that I am now completely spoiled by. I finish quickly so I can start my plan for the day.

I thought Florence was the home of brilliant sculpture until I visited the Cathedral of Santa Isabel, which houses floor to ceiling works carved from the most beautiful marble I had yet seen. Of equal workmanship were the wooden pews, which appear to be of mahogany, and depict the defeat of Granada. They are reputed to be the largest carved choir in all of Europe.

  • The Cathedral of Santa Isabel, also called the Holy Church Cathedral is nearby. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, building began in 1227 over the foundation of a 6th century Visigoth church, which itself had been built over a mosque. The church was not finished until the 16th century.

The Chapel of St. Blaise, with its lapis-blue ceilings and murals, was stunning. The halos of the saints, done in gold leaf, were in remarkable condition for frescoes dating back to 1397. It was also the first cathedral I had visited that had electronic votive candles. One of the treasure rooms is filled with vestments, and I see an alter cloth that had been woven by Muslims, who had included an Arabic border around the central lozenges.

The Cloister of St. John the Kings was begun in 1389 by Rodrigo Alonzo under the direction of Archbishop Don Pedro Tenorio. It was finished in 1425. Finely wrought archways surround a courtyard which is intensely lush and beautiful.

I start thinking how to incorporate gothic arches into my hat designs …

The orange trees in the courtyard are in full fruit. There’s a roof of bird netting, presumable to keep the trees in more pristine condition. This cloister would be among the finest example of Spanish-Arabesque Gothic architecture I would see on this trip.

The ceilings surrounding the gardens are done in marquetry, and I spy a pair of stone lions passant on one of the overhead arches. I take a myriad of photos of the floor tiles, a feature I would become fixated on throughout this trip.

I wander around the Plaza de Zocodover, in and out of the wide alleys, watching workmen hang lanterns and large sun shades. I walk pass the parliament building of La Mancha which is housed in an old convent, and along the Arabel – “between walls” – one of the oldest parts of the city, built by Muslims to protect Toledo. Further down, the Bisagra Gate, on a bridge over the Tajo River, offers an exceptional viewpoint for the city.

I will remember Toledo as the city where churches, synagogues and mosques all look the same. The Synagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca was built by Muslim architects in the early 13th century, and converted to a church in 1492. I was surprised to see Islamic script carved around the doorway. Its ceiling reminds me of the ‘upside down ships’ hull” from a church I saw in Alaska, and the interior is filled with arches like those I had seen in pictures of the Mezquita in Cordoba.  The Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, Toledo’s oldest mosque, dates back to the turn of the 11th century, it’s keyhole arches facing Mecca. It too, was converted to a church less than 200 years later. 

Synagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca

The Museo de Santa Cruz, as noteworthy for its architecture as its contents, was formerly an orphanage and a hospital. It is home to the famous Tapestry of the Astrolabes. Woven in Belgium in 1480, it combines mythology and science to explain the divine world as it was perceived during the Middle Ages. 

The Astrolabe Tapestry

Lunch choices are pasta, pizza and doner kebab. So I choose – gelato! But it was really good gelato, the best I’ve had outside of Venice …

I thought Florence was the most austere city of my travels until I arrived here. Toledo is rugged, but compact, and in spite of its’ hills it is a fairly easy walk as I traverse the entire outskirt of the city before heading back towards its center. I look for souvenirs to buy, but Toledo is a ‘trinket’ city, full of reproduction helmets from the Roman and Medieval periods; blades that are labeled as damascus but which do not bear the patterning; damascene plates and other items geared towards tourists.  I could not find English books, or in fact many books at all. 

English is not a language of choice here, and hard as I try, my limited repertoire of phrases fail, and yet people continue to speak to me in Spanish long after I have said “no habla Espanol,” a statement which is met with intolerance. It’s an interesting comparison to my trips to Italy, where nearly everyone speaks at least a smattering of English, or to Istanbul, where pantomime has evolved into an art form …

Dinner this evening is at the El Foro Cafe, where I point to a chicken and seafood paella on the photo-menu (a god-send when you have a language barrier). I think paella must be a national dish, and it is a specialty of this cafe. It arrives with seafood in shell, immersed in the rice and messy to eat, but the squid and calamari are very tender and flavorful. I am smitten by the violetta mojito, deep purple at the bottom of the glass, fading to the palest lavender at the top, and “like drinking candied violets.” I had been introduced to ‘cafe violetta’ in Genoa, and it would take me weeks of searching for the elusive elixer upon my return to Seattle …

After dinner I board a tour bus, which includes really great views of The Fortress, Toledo’s ‘castle’, perched on the top of the tallest hill in the city. It’s easy to see how difficult it must have been to have finally conquered this city …

I’m back on the road the next morning. There’s no direct route from Toledo to any other city, so it’s back to the train hub at Madrid. The landscape between Toledo and Madrid reminds me a lot of Eastern Washington, right down to the ridge that is the same shape and texture as Ahtaneum Ridge, and the red clay soil that lines the railroad tracks. About an hour outside of Toledo, olive groves give way to deciduous trees and more rugged mountains in the distance. The power polls are topped with glass transformers which make them masquerade as street lights …

Back in Madrid, the misting machines are at work in the conservatory, humidifying the court of palms. The pond is swarming with baby turtles clamoring up the cement ‘sunning’ platform, while adult turtles are vying for space at the bubbleator. At the cafe I am introduced to cafe con leche, which appears to be a shot of expresso served with half & half. The menu lists a ‘traditional breakfast’ as cafe, and either a croissant with jam, or some sort of fried pastry. I confuse the counterperson by ordering a club sandwich …

Finally, it’s time to board. The trains in Spain are newer, cleaner and much less industrial than those in Italy, and I watch a crew of men and women in bright orange coveralls, washing the outside of the windows on the train the next track over. My next destination is Cordoba, where the forecast is for 82 degrees. It’s raining back home in Seattle, and friends are pretty jealous …

For pictures of the day, please see my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.

Stitchery Series Part II – Tools and Techniques

Through personal experience, I have found that needles of bone and ivory, although retaining a sharp point longer than other materials, are also coarser and more brittle, which causes them to break easily. Bronze needles are the best for embroidery as they have a smooth surface and are more pliable than modern steel needles.  A pliable needle helps to decrease sore and fatigued fingertips.

I am fond of Chinese scissors which made from iron and hold their edge well, and which are available in a variety of sizes from the bonsai section of your garden store, or your black powder / sutlers fairs if you are a reenactor. I also keep my grandfather’s pliers close at hand because it is sometimes easier to pull -rather than push- a needle through dense fabric or leather.  A Chinese pin cushion and a jade pin dish round out my kit.

Learn the rest of my favorite techniques by downloading the article:

Stitchery Series Part I – History and Fibers

This 5-part series begins with a very brief historical overview and comparison of embroidery between East and West, and then delves into materials and technique.  My intention with this series is to demonstrate how embroidery can be combined with other techniques to bring new color and texture to your own textile projects.

Download Part 1 of this series here:

Teaching Applique at the Seaview Fiber Arts Guild

Back in 2015, a milliner friend of mine asked me if I might lead a workshop for the Seaview Weaving and Fiber Arts Guild, of which she was a member. Of course, I said yes. Little did they know how much trouble I would bring through their door…

I dug out my handout on the history of a few basic embroidery stitches, illustrated with both historical and modern examples, and brought examples of my own works to further illustrate the techniques and applications that were covered in the handout (which you can download at the end of this news story).

I had been asked to develop a project for 8-20 students to work on. But recreating the same project 20 times was far too boring, so I brought 20 kits, ranging from complex multi-layer reverse applique, to trapunto, to simple applique, to simple embroidery. Some kits were flowers, some were animals, others were Celtic knotworks.  Each kit came with a pattern, tracing paper or fusing, instructions, and a selection of fabrics, some of which I had partially assembled if it was one of the more complex patterns. 

I presented my historical overview to a receptive group of about 15 guild members, and explained how I applied historical techniques in my own work.

Then we got to work…

Everyone found a project that was interesting to them, and some members of the class even took two kits. After two hours of tracing and sewing and pressing and more sewing, a few people seemed unwilling to put their projects down in spite of a delicious lunch waiting for us in the other room…

Afterwards, I was able to see projects that the guild members were working on, including a Ravens Tail pouch with it intricate twining. I was introduced to spun nettle, which I would love to have a chance to embroidery with some day. What a tremendously creative and talented group.

For additional photos, see the Seaview Guild Blog. You are welcome to download my handout at the link below. Feel free to share : )

The things you find …

One of the fun things about rebuilding a website, is combing through your archives to look for things that you need to repost, and finding things that you had forgotten you had!

Katie Cordrey wrote a piece about me for the Eco-Fashion section of Green Living Journal in Spring 2011. That article, titled Marvelous Millinery, is posted below:

Reconstructing the UlaanBaatar Boot

Several years ago, a friend and I stumbled across these boots in a military antiques shop in Seattle  (now closed).  We recognized them as traditional Mongolian footwear, and were informed by the shopkeeper that they are still manufactured in UlaanBaatar for the military.

When the stitching wore through the soles, I tore the boots apart to refurbish them.  This article outlines the process for putting them back together again.  I have boarded a few photos from that process on Pinterest.

You can download the instructions below. I highly recommend that you cut your pattern out of tag board or lightweight cardboard and tape the pieces together to make sure that they will assemble correctly, before cutting in to your leather.  Also please note that the drawings in this document are not to scale …

Return to Turkey

I returned to Istanbul in September 2011. Baha meets me at the airport, all smiles. Back at his hotel, he’s printed out a stack of Islamic designs for my hats, and I show him the hats he asked me to make for him, to sell at his hotel. We start discussing price points and promotional plans.

Price points become really tricky with the exchange rate between USD and TL, and I’m concerned about tariffs and shipping costs. I start to get a little stressed out, so I take a break.

It’s EID and the city is lit up like Disneyland. There are street vendors and kids tossing neon spinners high into the sky. I try to get some night shots of the Ayasofya and the German Fountain. By the time I get back, Baha has put my hats into the glass case he has already built in his dining area.

His hotel is full, so he has reserved a room for me at the Kybele Hotel, where I spend the night admiring the ceiling where there’s a grid of Turkish lanterns, mounted every 10″ and lit up in a festival of colored glass.

I wake up the next morning to a landscape that has changed. Sidewalk cafe tables have been banned by city ordinance. The old hotelier is gone, as is Cihan. Baha is not his sunny self. He walks me through the fashion district near the Galata Tower before we hop public transit to the Rumeli Fortress. It’s a long trip, and the door to the Rumeli is being locked just as we arrive. It’s not the last door that would close on this trip.

The next day, I go back to the Bazaar and am successful in finding the suzuri salesman, who sells me 3 pieces which I intend to cut up for hats. I buy a Turkish designs book, and note the similarities between Chinese and Turkish phoenixes and dragons. I look for the Chora Church, which Baha had suggested the last time I was here. His directions fail me so I hail a cab, but even the cabbie has trouble finding it. He drops me a few blocks away but points in the direction I need to walk to get there.

  • Built in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Justinian, the Chora Church was converted into a mosque in 1511, and became a museum in 1945. Unlike other church to mosque conversions, the original mosaics and frescoes were not plastered over.

The mosaics are incredible, with tiles the size of my smallest fingernail and not always square, allowing for fine shading and shaping of the human faces. The domed and vaulted ceilings bring back memories of the Basilica in Venice, but with the addition of windows in the tops of the domes, reminiscent of the Salute Cathedral. I was surprised by the intensity of the colors.

To see my photos of the Chora Church, please see my supplemental blog at Daveno Travels.

Afterwards, I wander through a residential area of old Ottoman homes, and scale an ancient wall for a panorama view of the surrounds. I stop for a bottle of ayran and turn the corner to find a delightful, huge open air market. Arriving at the water’s edge, I hop a ferry with the intention of going north to Eyup. But the ferry turns south instead.

Rumeli fails, and now Eyup as well.

I return to the Han Hotel and ask Baha about the TurkuaZoo, which is said to have an aquarium where you can swim with the sea turtles. He doesn’t know where that is, so I Google the bus route myself. That adventure ends up as a 3 hour bus ride through another wedding gown district, and reaching the end of the line,forcing me off the bus and onto another going back the direction I came. I never find the zoo and I wonder what plan will fail next…

I find out over dinner that plans for Bodrum have fallen through. Baha suggests alternative destinations for me to visit on my own. “See what is outside of Istanbul for a couple of days. Cappadocia perhaps. Or Ephesus.” He offers to find a tour that I can afford and make those arrangements. I chose instead, the ancient Ottoman capitol of Bursa. I have not felt well for the last couple of days. I would spend the next day sick in bed, and leave for Bursa on the following day.

  • Bursa has a history of some 5,000 years. It was built by Hannibal as a gift to King Prusias, who gave refuge at his court after Hannibal was defeated in his campaign against the Romans. The Citadel is still a significant part of the landscape, and I am taken by the way the modern parts of the city have nestled up to this ancient stone fortification. 
  • Bursa became the capitol of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Orhan Gazi, who is buried here. The city became the cultural center of the scientific world, and was an important part of the trade routes heading West. In recent times it has become a center for textile and automotive production in Turkey.

It’s a 6 hour trip by bus to the Boyoguzel Hotel, a modern business hotel just outside of town. Downtown Bursa is too far to reach by foot, but it’s a lovely day, so I spend the evening walking around, and find the grave of Suleyman Celebi, the author of the Mevlid, an epic poem describing the birth of Mohammed.

Further down the street is a large, elevated cement stage with a proscenium from which hang a pair of oversized Turkish shadow puppets, marking the Karagoz Cemetery. Legend has it that during the construction of the Orhan Mosque, two blacksmiths named Karagoz and Hacivat impeded work by distracting the other workers with their antics, and were beheaded by order of Sultan Orhan, an action he later regretted. In an attempt to cheer up the distraught sultan, his vizier removed his turban and made a screen, and reenacted the antics of the dead blacksmiths in shadow-play. The vizier, Sheikh Kusteri, is credited as the father of Turkish puppet theater, and Hacivat and Karagoz became staple characters.

I stop for dinner at a kebab place where a very enthusiastic cook takes me into his kitchen so I can point to what I want. A stop at the liquor store for a bottle of Raki, and a slow back up the hill, completes my day.

The next day, I hail a cab to Yesil Madrash, the Green Tomb, which turns out to be the furthest point away from the hotel, and with all the other sites lined up in a mostly straight line back up the hill. It is very early yet, so I step into a small bazaar that is housed on 3 floors of an Ottoman home. It’s a lovely place and I am closely attended to by a child who continues to talk to me long after I indicated I do not speak Turkish. I regret not having purchased anything there.

Yesil Madrash is the burial place of Sultan Mehmet I, and his sons and daughters. Unlike Christians, Muslims do not bury their dead in their places of worship.  Mosques (camii) are always separate from tombs (madrash).

  • Commissioned in 1421 it is commonly known as the Green Tomb because of the turquoise-green tiles that cover its exterior. Its interior is a riot of blue tilework inscribed with interlocking rumi and cufic inscriptions.

Upon my return home I chided myself for not making the time to visit Iznik, less than two hours away, and the home of the factories that produced the tiles for many of the buildings I visited in this country.

The video below is a 360 degree view of the interior of this tomb. For additional photos please visit Daveno Travels. 

Further down the street, the Turkish Islamic Museum of Arts fills several tiny rooms surrounding an open air courtyard. There is an extensive array of artifacts, each room seems to be themed with either the type of item (coins) or the items’ usage (prayer items). Assuming that a catalog does not wait for me at the end, I start photographing items, which attracts the attention of a security guard. I am writing notes, and in spite of the language barrier, I figure out that he’s asking me not to lean on the glass. 

There are cases full of ceramics in the outdoor courtyard, and I motion to my camera to make sure photography is allowed. “Yes,” he nods. I continue to photograph everything which continues to rouse their curiosity.  I take a last look to make sure I haven’t missed anything, and wave goodbye.  As I am standing just outside the entrance, my nearly useless map in hand, trying to figure out where next to go, the youngest guard runs up to me and presents me with an English language Bursa City Guide.  “A gift,” he beams. I thank him profusely and sit down with it for the next 20 minutes. Small gestures make such a big difference…

Here are a few of my favorites from this museum.

Just outside of the Yesil Madrash, I find a handful of street merchants. One is peddling small antique trinkets and silver by the ounce. The ring I have not yet found in Istanbul, I find here — a prettily worked silver bezel surrounding an onyx cabochon, and a silver thimble, covered with granulation, which must be the most perfect thimble ever (and which now I cannot sew without).

The Cultural Museum, previously a dervish lodge and then a library, now houses a collection of costumes and textiles. I wander around, completely alone, no guards or attendants in sight. Sunlight streams through the windows and reflects off the cases, which makes photography difficult. I also wondered about UV damage, especially to the metallic thread embroideries. Here are more of my favorites.

Prayers are in progress at the Ulu Camii, so I check out the Kozahan (the Silk Bazaar). Built in 1491, it is stocked to the ceiling with every type of silk scarf, apparel and towel you could possibly imagine. A small import shop at the entrance of another han attracts my attention. I should have bought a lamp here but did not, and the filigree belts which the clerk pulls off the wall en masse for me, also sadly stay behind. Other bazaars sell modern goods for the locals and cheap trinkets for everyone else.

I find a kebab place to eat lunch, and have my first durum which I like a lot, a tortilla filled with a tiny bit of meat, pickle and tomato. I mill around until 2:30 and the end of afternoon prayer. It was interesting to note that in spite of there being a women’s gallery, the only people exiting the mosque are men.

  • The magnificent Ulu Camii was built in 1399, when, to satisfy a promise to construct 20 mosques, Yildirim Bayazid chose instead to build a single mosque with 20 domes and minarets. The center dome is glass, hovering over a 16-sided fountain. The calligraphies were finished in 1904.

Ulu Camii is the largest mosque in Bursa, and is also the most distinctive mosque I have seen in Turkey thus far.

Children run around, and a couple of girls are rolling around on the carpet. Women in headscarves, in spite of the secluded women’s gallery in the corner (there’s no elevated gallery here), prayed in groups of twos and threes, along with a scattering of men. It was interesting to watch ‘only men’ entering and exiting the mosques at prescribed prayer times, but the women entered with the tourists. Men and women prayed here separately but simultaneously on the main floor, with no screens or barriers between them.

I backtrack to the Orhan Camii, where a custodian is vacuuming between prayer services. I quickly take a few photos, pull all of the change out of my pocket and put it in the offering box.

Nearby is the tomb of Orhan Gazi. His turban is perched on his sarcophagus which is overlaid with a heavily embroidered tapestry. The pillar is one of four that support the domed ceiling. The walls are whitewashed with limestone. It was very airy and beautiful.  See more of my photos here.  I find a public park with a directional sign listing distances for neighboring countries (an installation art piece) and several shady benches. I take a coffee break and study my map. A man sits down a little too close to me but does not initiate contact and leaves after about 10 minutes. It was the only time I would ever feel unsafe in Turkey.

Bursa is a city of sultan’s tombs. A silver domed building that had been the chapel of a Christian monastery, was converted to become the burial place of Orhan’s son, Osman Gazi, who died during the Siege of Bursa in the 14th century. The carved sarcophagus is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and surrounded by a brass balistrade. His turban rests on top, as is the burial custom for the sultans in this region.  It is done in blues and whites and is very calming.

I tour the 17th Century Ottoman House Museum, believed to be the birthplace of Sultan Mehmed. You will find those photos here.

I find the Uluumay Ottoman Costume and Jewelry Museum just minutes before it was scheduled to close. The curator gives me a personal tour of room after room of costumes, textiles, jewelry and other artifacts that he has been collecting for the past 50 years. It is housed in an old Ottoman school, only large enough to exhibit a quarter of his collection. Completely accessorized mannequins of folk costumes from all over Central Asia and the Balkans, are displayed on turntables in glassed off sections of the room. Photography is not allowed and of course these things have not been cataloged. But the presentation is exquisite and had I had more time I would have asked to sit and sketch things. The Hurriyet published an article about this museum the year after I was there.

I head back up the hill to the hotel and find dinner at a kebab place about a block away. Seated at a sidewalk table, I watch the relentless stream of traffic just feet in front of me, and watch in awe as a man in a wheelchair bullies his way across the intersection. Taxis pull straight into oncoming traffic and block the flow until they can push their way through.

Motorcycles hop off and onto the sidewalks. Right of way seems to go to whoever is fearless enough to take it. In Istanbul there are crosswalks and walk signals, but those are a rarity here. Women with children and strollers take the same risks and are awarded the same care as anyone else. By the end of the day, I find myself running in front of cars and buses, not being assured that I would make it across the street…

I spend the rest of the evening wandering around the residential areas, admiring the architecture. I have figured out the high-speed ferry, a 2 hour trip which will return me to Istanbul tomorrow morning.

The following morning I hail a cab to the ferry dock. The high-speed ferry is the most efficient but also the most boring route between here and Istanbul, with nothing to see but the flat, expansive Marmara Sea. I purchase a plate of the egg and phyllo dish that is a prevalent breakfast dish here, and coffee with milk, like a latte.  I find a table but discover that the entire ferry is assigned seating.  I locate my seat after sharing that knowledge with the tourists are seated there,  and spend the remainder of the trip writing in my journal.

Today is my last day in Istanbul. I am finally recovered from my maladies and try to cram as much stuff into my remaining hours as I possibly can.  I had hoped to see the Orient Express but it left a few hours earlier. Baha shows me the way to a lamp maker so I can buy an Istanbul-made lamp like those that cover the ceilings of the Kybele and Hotel Han. I spend the rest of my day shopping for hatmaking materials along a “Textiles Row” of shops near the Grand Bazaar, and come home with bags of laces, woven trims and metallic thread appliques.

I take one more walk through Gulhane Park and Sultanahmet Square before returning to the Han Hotel. Baha offers me an hour of his time and a small bowl of chorba, a final gesture of hospitality.  A taxi arrives three hours later. My hats that I had hoped to sell here would arrive in Seattle by DHL a few weeks later.

“Inshallah you will visit Istanbul again some day,” he says, as the door to my taxi slams shut and I am whisked back to Ataturk Airport for my flight home.


Crossroads Tour – A final Bazaar, a last museum, a last day

Baha invites me to Captain’s Table for breakfast, which he promptly covers with an extensive array of dishes. We are joined by an Australian woman who is also leaving today. Baha offers to take us to the bazaar to buy suzani (the embroidered bedspreads) and ceramics. I don’t think I can cram anything more into my suitcases but the offer is more than the Australian and I can resist.

The Australian finishes breakfast and heads upstairs to pack. Baha shows me YouTube clips of Turkish tulum, and a traditional Turkish men’s line dance called Horon. He then asks me if I know what this is called, as he pulls up another line dance. “Riverdance” I respond, and tell him it’s Irish clogging. This cultural exchange would continue between us by phone and Facebook for rest of the summer.

At the Bazaar, Baha takes us to the vendor who sells the suzani for his hotel. We are offered tea and seats. We make our selections and are each gifted with a suzani pillow case. The embroidery on mine is incomplete, which makes me smile. Baha also notices and pantomimes with needle and thread, indicating that I could finish the embroidery on it myself. I am also gifted with a silk ikat headscarf.

I photograph a framed goldworked section of an Ottoman robe that is leaning against a wall behind a pile of other things. The Australian takes off to join her friends, and Baha takes me to Iznik Ceramic, managed by Tolga Neidim. I sort through stacks of handmade tiles, and select a few in traditional Turkish motifs. A blue and white Turkish cup rounds out my purchase there.

We stop for lunch at a sidewalk cafe: a kebab roll, with a huge mound of pickled cucumbers, grilled peppers, and cilantro onto a plastic placemat at a table that reminded me of a lunch counter at Woolworths. A beverage called ayran which reminded me of kiefer. There are no circles on my map today, so I decide to keep my sightseeing to within a few blocks of the hotel.

I find the Ibrahim Pasa Palace, a building that dates back to the Ottoman period which houses the Islamic Art and Ethnology Museum.  It’s a treasure trove that would make my friends Sunjan and Khalja want to move here. A nomads tent, called a kara cadir in Turkish, woven from black goat hair with center pole supports, much like a Bedouin tent. Home interiors and women’s clothing from the end of the Ottoman period. A lantern built around a Chinese dragon pattern blue and white porcelain drum. Wood and copper doors and 13th century stone reliefs. Sarcophagi in carved wood and stone. Kor’ans that I could not bring myself to photograph. Anatolian kilims that were woven in one piece, a rare find as they are traditionally woven in two or three sections and then stitched together.

Here are my photos for the Islamic Ethnology Museum. Additional photos of this final day are at Daveno Travels.

It has grown chilly and overcast, just like my first day in Istanbul. I try to play the “What’s for dinner” game with Cihan, who embarks on a lengthy conversation with Baha before departing for the kitchen. Baha shares with me that there had been a recent death in his social circle. I had also lost several friends and family recently, and we talked about that a little. I repeated what he had told me earlier, “that only Allah knows when weddings and funerals will occur.” There was little else to be said.

Dinner arrives: potatoes, carrots, and lamb ribs in broth, with a side dish of rice. A nice, simple comfort food. Baha will catch up with me later this evening for a final evening out. I finish packing, settle up my bill and drop my suitcase off at the concierge desk.

Oh look, there’s Cihan! It’s like he never leaves …We engage in an incredibly topic-varied conversation, which I step away from whenever he needed to attend to customers. He is a very articulate and intelligent young man. Near 9 PM, he ducks into the Barbecue House, and emerges with a single plate, two pieces of baklava and two forks. These guys! There is no end to the hospitality here…

Baha arrives and we catch the tram across the Galata Bridge, then climb a very steep winding alley of stairs to the base of the Galata Tower in the Beyoglu district. I point out buildings with facades that look like the ones I saw in Genoa. He shows me his favorite church, Sant’Antonio di Padova Church which is locked behind an iron gate. It is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul, built by the Italian community in 1905 on the site of the original church which had been built in 1725, but later demolished.

We spend the evening walking around and looking at architecture. We thread through crowded streets to an alley and up to the Asmali Mescid, and later the Cicek Pasaji (Flower Passage) where we listen to musicians as they roam from one table to the next, one of which is playing something that looks like a hammer dulcimer.

  • The Flower Passage building dates back to 1876 and was originally the site of the Naum Theater, a favorite of a couple of Turkish sultans during the 19th century. After the Russian Revolution, impoverished women sold flowers here, giving the building its current name. The tables are set up in a very pleasant covered courtyard formed by two three-story buildings that is actually the alley between Istiklal Avenue and Sahne Street. 

We hail a cab back to the Sultanahmet, just after midnight. I am the last guest in his hotel, and since he can sleep the day tomorrow, he sits up with me in the dining area. So we talk… about my Facebook albums that he looked at the other night. The route my plane would take over the North Pole and Canada on its return to Seattle. If there are sharks in Puget Sound. Cars, and sports, and music. Whatever small talk our tired brains could manage…

The shuttle arrives, and Baha loads my book-heavy luggage into the van. He gives me a warm European-style send-off and promise to keep in touch. It has been a most remarkable trip, and I will never, ever forget this place…

Crossroads Tour – Ayasofya and the Sea of Marmara

My first stop this morning is Ayasofya, the lines have not yet formed so I walk right in. Even though this is no longer a mosque, I cover my head and remove my shoes within a few feet of the entrance because it feels wrong not to do so. 

  • This church-converted-to-mosque is among the oldest religious sites in the world, dating to 537 AD. It is also among the most important examples of Byzantine architecture still standing. It is the third church built on this site after the first two were destroyed by fire during riots in the 5th and 6th centuries. Emperor Justinian I assigned two Anatolian architects (Söke/Balat and Aydin) to build a basilica that surpassed Solomon’s Temple. Materials were recycled from various buildings in Anatolia, including the Temple of Artemesis in Ephesus and a pagan temple in Tarsus. Restoration work started almost immediately after the domes suffered damage from earthquakes in 553 and 557.
  • There are runes carved into one of the marble railings from the Viking raids of the 9th-10th centuries. The church was looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. During this famous sacking of Constantinople, many pieces from the Ayasofya were redistributed to churches in the West (I saw some of these pieces in the Doges Palace in Venice) Historians at the time recorded that “compared to the Crusaders, Arabians are more compassionate…” 

When Sultan Mehmed conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Ayasofya was converted to a mosque. Great care was taken to preserve the integrity of the structure as well as the sacredness of the space. Four minarets were added between the 15th-16th centuries, two of them built by Mimar Sinan. This stunning minbar (the imam’s pulpit) dates to the late 16th century and is one of the most beautiful I saw in any mosque. 

  • The most famous restoration occurred in 1847-49, when the 8th century mosaics were uncovered and documented. They were plastered over again as Islamic law bans images, but were restored again in 1932 when the Ayasofya was converted to a museum. 

One of the domes in this building inspired this silk and brocade hat…

I board a train and head across the Galata Bridge to the Kabatas ferry terminal and the Princes Islands.

  • Travel tip:  Istanbul can be an intense city and the crush of people can be relentless, especially at peak tourist season.  When you need a break, go to a hamami or take a ferry somewhere.  It doesn’t matter where, just pick a direction and go.

I am among the first to embark, and find the perfect seat on the starboard bow with an unobstructed view, a place to hang my purse, and a rail to prop my feet up on. I replay the pleasant conversations from last night as I gaze down into a jade colored sea filled with jellyfish, and watch as three dolphins break the surface of the Marmara. The Golden Horn and Bosphorus sails are nice, but this is the ferry trip that gives you a true feel for the immensity of this place. Twenty million people live here, in a city whose skyline along both sides of the coast is unbroken. 

There are about 5 stops on this run, the final of which is Buyukada, where we debark into a town filled with Victorian era houses covered with varying degrees of gingerbread, some with Indonesian peaks, slopes and other design influences that do not strike me as Turkish. The architecture and flora here are dramatically different from the mainland and it feels very tropical. I can see why this is such a popular mini-vacation place for the city-dwellers. 

I take a short walk before allowing myself to be talked into taking a tour of the island by horse drawn surrey. I opt for the shorter of the two tours, which winds its way to the top of the hill, through residences and parks and twisty windy roads. We stop at the top to water the horse, and trot back to the city center, past vendors selling silk flower hair wreaths, and the most expensive gelato I have had so far this trip. It’s a very short wait for the ferry back to the mainland.

I return home after a very pleasant day, topped by very well timed transit schedules. I’ve got two days of photos to upload and have given up trying to transcribe my journal due to wanting to pay attention to more immediate things. After dinner I settle my tab and ask to have my boarding pass printed. But there’s a problem with printing it. Baha calls Lufthansa to get it sorted out. And then, a remarkable thing occurs…

“Your flight does not leave until the 19th…”

An extra day!  Baha suggests that we celebrate, and we join Erhan and his lady friend for drinks at Cagaloglu Hamami, one the oldest and finest in the city, where we sit with a small group of local hotelliers. Baha instructs me in Turkish etiquette — to stand and shake hands with people as they enter and leave the room, and how to properly clink glasses during toasts. I am asked to relate the story about my lost taxi driver, which elicits much laughter from the group.  

Afterwards, Baha takes me across the street to the Kybele, the hotel which adjoins his. “Like museum,” he says; It is similar in structure to the Han but larger, and filled floor to ceiling with glass lanterns, yurta bands and other antiques. We take the very slow glass lift to the roof that the Kybele shares with the Han. The view is spectacular, made only slightly less perfect by the absence of stars…

For additional photos from this day, please visit Daveno Travels.

Crossroads Tour – The Hamami, Suleyman Camii and a Lost Taxi

I begin my day at a Turkish Bathhouse, called a hamami.

  • Tarihi Gedikpasa Hamami was built in 1475 by Hayrettin for Gedik Ahmet Pasa, a statesman and naval commander during the reign of Sultan Mehmet. Hayrettin was considered one of the most important architects of the period and is regarded by many historians to be the teacher of Mimar Sinan.

Tarihi Gedikpasa has the largest dome of any hamami in Istanbul and is one of the most important Ottoman historical buildings in this city. It serves both men and women in segregated parts of the bath. I check in at the front desk and am led to a room with a bed and a chest, where I could disrobe. I wrap myself in the thin striped cotton towel that they handed me on the way to the room, slip on rubber flip flops, and lock the door behind me. I am led into the bath.

The heat nearly takes my breath away. A series of domes peppered with round glass windows at the top, allow beams of sunlight to illuminate the marble lined room. I am led to one of three marble fountains along the wall, where I am doused with water from a plastic bowl, which is then handed to me so l can continue to wash. I am then motioned to lay down on the large marble platform under the center dome. It feels like it is heated. I am wrapped in the now-soaked striped towel but am motioned to take it off and to lay on top of it instead.

In an American spa, you are met with white coated attendants who drape you discreetly in a comfortable but clinical setting. My Turkish attendant is a middle-aged woman in a black two-piece swimsuit. She begins…

I am scrubbed head to toe with a heavy luffa mitt. Sit up for more scrubbing. Lay back down as a cotton sheet filled with suds is laid across my back, giving the sensation of being smothered in a blanket of heavy cream. More washing. More turning. Rinsing. Back again for massage and hair. Rinse again. Sit and steam …

The final step is being led to a pool of cool water that did not smell of salt but which made me feel more buoyant than I know I am. The pool is blue tiled, and under another dome with shafts of light coming down through the small squarish windows and piercing the water. The photo below is not the ceiling of this hammami but is of a similar one elsewhere in Istanbul.  I am floating as much in shafts of light through heavy windows, as in the cool water of the pool…

There are traces of frescoes throughout this hamami, but no paint could survive so many centuries of steam. I wondered what deals had been struck, what intrigues planned, what gossip shared or weddings arranged over the centuries here.   I walk out into a common area, where I am dried off with a heavy Turkish towel and shown back to my changing room. If I lived here, I’d do this at least once a week …

  • Travel tip: Book your visit to a hamami on a Monday when most sites are closed, and use it as the halfway point of your visit. A standard bath is TL35, splurge for the full treatment for TL50 which includes a massage. Remember to bring a bottle of water; this experience, like any spa treatment, will dehydrate you.

Completely refreshed, I walk to the Grand Bazaar for lunch. My waiter is half Turkish, half German, raised in Boston. My meal is a chicken dish cooked in filo, served in tomato sauce, accompanied by yogurt and garnished with french fries, a culinary detail which continues to baffle me. The salad is the traditional mix of tomato, onion and cilantro, almost like a salsa.

I spend my lunch time watching people. Turks refer to East Indians as Blacks. I do not know what Turks call Africans, or if they make a distinction. People who work in the service trades need to be competent in at least 5 languages and the successful ones like Cihan have working knowledge of closer to ten. The hospitality and general attitudes towards others here borders on the unreal. People offer to help you almost before you ask, from trying to give you directions, to helping mothers with strollers as they traverse stairs and trams.  

It’s time to find the University of Istanbul, and behind it, Suleyman Camii. I discover a street of craftsmen that I nicknamed “Metalsmith Alley”.

  • Travel tip: Mimar Sinan Cadessi, the street that runs along the backside of the University campus, is where you want to buy things after you have experienced the Grand Bazaar. I stopped to watch this artist (whose name I believe is Ercan Tekin) as he engraved Turkish coffee sets on the sidewalk outside of his shop and bought a few of his wares. There were a number of working metal shops here, as well other artisan merchants and at least one antique store.

I arrive at the mosque when it was closed for prayer so I try unsuccessfully to locate Barbarossa’s statue and tomb. There are several major restoration projects occurring in Istanbul right now, and much of the Suleyman complex is not accessible. I buy a traditional pair of hand knit wool socks from a vendor just outside the wall.  The purchase takes nearly all of my remaining cash. Noticing this, the vendor smiles and slips a bottle of water into my bag before sending me on my way.

  • Sultan Suleyman Camii was built on one of the seven hills of the city by Mimar Sinan, and is the largest square based semi-domed mosque he ever designed. It was finished in 1557. A 90-foot wide dome is supported by four ‘elephant’s feet’ pillars which are masked by an arcaded gallery to give the illusion of an immense open space. Mimar imbedded juniper beams among the stones in the foundation to absorb shocks from earthquakes. To improve the acoustics, 255 empty pots were incorporated into the dome. Soot from the oil lamps was directed by a venting system to a chamber, where it was collected for use in calligraphy ink. 

The colors are very sedate compared to other mosques and I found the Suleyman Camii to be among the most calming of any I spent time in in Istanbul. The sound of tens of pairs of shoes dropping to the marble step in unison as men and women left after prayers, is a sound that still reverberates in my ears, weeks after having heard it… 

  • Sultan Suleyman, called ‘Lawgiver’ by the Turks, reigned from 1520-1566 and was the longest ruling sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire. He reformed Ottoman law in keeping with Islamic principals and commissioned the building of mosques, schools, hans (hotels), baths, bridges, hospitals, and a large library. Sciences, art and literature flourished during his reign, in part due to his financial patronage. He was referred to as The Magnificent in recognition of these works which he did to serve his religion and his nation. His reign marked the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Chief Architect Mimar Sinan, called Sinan the Great by the Turks, was born into a Christian family sometime between 1494-99. He was recruited into the Janissaries when he was 14-18 years old, and went on to become a military engineer. The campaigns and wars he was engaged in allowed him to see the architecture of several different cultures, which may have formed his own style and skills. Over the fifty years that he served as Chief Architect, Sinan was responsible for the design, construction and restoration of 477 buildings and public works, about 20 of them of which still stand in Istanbul. The Suleyman Camii is regarded as one of his greatest achievements. 

On my way home I shop a street lined with button shops, fabric shops, and more kitchen shops than I have seen in one place with the possible exception of Chinatown. I finally find the tiny spoons which complete my glass tea sets. I visit Sinan’s tomb, a very modest structure tucked away under a wisteria arbor. I think I walk past a synagogue, mosque-shaped but with a Star of David window above its door. I also find an English book store and allow myself to splurge, having decided days ago to trade my carpet for an Islamic library.

With daylight still left, I head to the Galata Bridge. The top deck was studded with an array of food vendors hawking roasted corn, roasted chestnuts, and savory breads. The rail is lined with fishermen, pulling small silver smelt-like fish out of the sea on their multi-hook lines. I sit down on the curb and watch the boats traffic in and out, pushing the surf up over the retaining wall. I return home via the bottom deck of the bridge, which is lined with restaurants.

I now want to figure out if I can stay here an extra day. Plans for tomorrow include the Ayasofya and perhaps the art museum.

Back at Hotel Han, I am seated at Captain’s Table for dinner. Cihan confers with Baha and suggests a shrimp/tomato/cheese casserole which is served sizzling on a brazier. It’s a nice presentation. I order Raki. Cihan brings two glasses to the table, one filled with water, the other with a single shot of Raki, and pauses over the shot with a bottle of water, but I wave him away. Both he and Baha watch me drink it, straight up. It tastes like ouzo.  

Baha asks what my plan is for tomorrow. “The Ayasofya and the museum,” I say. “You must go to Princes Islands. Very Important.” And he instructs me to take the second train station past the art museum to the end of the line which is the Kabatas ferry terminal. One island has a castle, another has a famous church, another has very nice houses. And he makes notations on my map. He gets a phone call and says he needs to leave to meet up with his family. He grabs his jacket, and invites me to come along.

I experience Turkish traffic from the car’s point of view as he weaves through streets that don’t even look passable. We arrive at Lasos Fish Restaurant, where a small group have already gathered. Baha introduces me to Mustafa, one of his friends. Raki is ordered, and a little later a plate of tuna sashimi and onion arrives, followed by a plate of melon wedges and sheep cheese. Mustafa is quite animated and has an opinion on a lot of topics. I seem to be an anomaly, “that American woman who drinks her Raki straight.’ Mustafa asks me if I am Irish. At the end of the evening Baha walks me to the cab stop, gives instructions to the driver, and sends me on my way. And a new adventure begins…

The cabbie get off the freeway, and stops at a cab stop to ask for directions to the hotel. And again a few blocks later. And again. Between stops and turns he mutters “Hotel Han” and “Allah Allah” and throws his hands up in the air. A dry cleaner is shutting down for the night, the cabbie stops to ask him directions. Some random guy is standing on a street corner and cabbie stops for directions but I don’t think Random Guy speaks Turkish.

We get to the walled city and I start pointing at signs for Yerebatan and the Cistern.? I also point straight ahead at the Ayasofya because I can walk home from there. There’s more muttering of “Hotel Han Hotel Han” and “Allah Allah,” and the raising of hands to sky. By now I’m the one praying to Allah… I really want out of this cab but I cannot get him to stop. I point once more to the sign for Ayasofya which he takes literally, and starts driving across the pedestrian plaza to the mosque. NO!

Finally, after eight stops for directions and a countless litanies of “Hotel Han Hotel Han Allah Allah,” we arrive at the Hotel Han. His meter says more than TL35 but he only charges me what he had quoted. I tell him “Good Job” and we both laugh, though who was the greater relieved between the two of us, would be a pretty hard call…

For more photos of the day, please visit my supplemental blog at Daveno Travels.

Crossroads Tour – The Horn, Astrolabes, and a Holy Place

I am up and ready to go by 7:30, having three days remaining with a long list of things left to see. I step out onto my balcony to see that the sidewalk across the intersection has sprouted a rainbow of tables, and a grey haired man with a black cap and a brass shoe shine kit. I head downstairs to catch an early breakfast and am greeted by Baha and Erhan, one of his brothers, who apologize for the construction noise last night. “No worries,” I say, “not your fault…”

I decide to visit a hamami (Turkish bath) tomorrow as many sites are closed on Mondays. Baha makes a reservation for me at the Gedikpasa Hamami, a 15 minute walk from here. He asks me what my plan today is. “The Science Museum,” I say, “and the Galata Tower”. “Where is your map” he asks, which has become our daily routine. “You must go here”, he says, circling a fashion district near the Galata Tower. “And here,” he adds, circling a mosque at the north end of the Golden Horn which I must take a ferry and then a funicular to reach. “It is very important mosque” he says with intense earnest. Hmmm. That’s not something I had planned for, but I’ve learned not to question his advice. 

I hurry on to the Islamic Science Museum, eager to see how it compares to the Galileo Museum in Florence. There are world globes in the entryway, but unlike the ones in Florence, these are not enclosed in glass. The first room is filled with astrolabes! Case after case, about a third of them are originals. I start snapping pictures of the originals and their accompanying signage, but take few notes as I expect that information will be in the museum catalog. Perhaps I’ll even be fortunate enough to find a replica of something here for Payne in the gift shop. 

The next room is filled with sundials and clocks. The next one, siege weapons. No cases! No ropes! I am furiously fighting the urge to sit on the floor and play with All The Things…

I stroll through rooms of medical instruments, weather instruments, early steam engines, distilleries, kilns, a few books, a few maps. I reach the end. Where’s the museum store? No gift shop? No catalog? ARGH!!! Had I known that I would have taken better notes…

I take a short respite in Gulhane Park to watch the herons and the small green parrots which nest in the tree hollows. After wandering around the fountains and ponds, I am off to find the ferry… 

Today’s lesson is that one cannot always rely on maps. There is construction at the Galata Bridge and I cannot follow the waterfront through to the ferry dock for the Golden Horn. I’m lost. The sun is intense today and I sit down on the curb, pulling my shawl over my head for shade. After a few minutes, my attention is drawn by a parade of people on the other side of the street. Directly across from me is the blue and white sign marking the ferry dock for the Golden Horn. I cross the street and watch where a crowd of mostly East Indians are scrambling over piles of broken concrete, winding their way towards the water. When in doubt, follow the crowd, chances are that they’re going to the same destination as you are… 

I arrive at the ferry ticket office and ask for a round trip fare, following along with the pantomime that the ticket officer is outlining on his desk to make sure we are both talking about the same thing. He gives me two brass tokens, one for each way. I pop one into the turnstile and wait inside the building. 

  • The Golden Horn is a four mile long natural harbor which served as the main commercial port for Constantinople during the Byzantine era. The Byzantines protected the port by blocking it with a huge chain, which was only breached twice…once by 10th century Vikings, and once again during the Fourth Crusade. In 1453 Sultan Mehmet bypassed this chain by dragging his ships from the Bosphorus, overland on greased logs through what is now the New District, and launched them back into the Golden Horn, in the space of a single night. It made him the stuff of legend.

A short ferry ride criss-crosses this waterway to the large bay at the end, where one gets off the ferry and walks to the funicular. I wait in line for about an hour for a six person tram car that takes a very short ride to the top. The tram car drops us off at the base of a graveyard. I pass a restaurant, and more graves marked by blooming iris. And houses. A passerby tells me I’m going in the wrong direction. It is nearing sunset and I may not reach the mosque in time to enter it, but at least I will be able to tell Baha that I came and I saw. 

  • Travel tip – save yourself the wait for the tram and just walk up the hill. At the top, head south to get to the Eyup Camii.

There is an entire city up here! There’s a bus. And shops. And more restaurants, all perched on top of this vertical graveyard. I see a red sign that looks out of place, and turn onto the path. There’s a group of people waiting at the top, near a gate. Thinking I have arrived at the mosque, I pull my shawl over my hair, and find a place to stand. I see a group of women and try to move closer to them, but the air is thick with emotion and so I keep my distance. Then I observe a cluster of men gathered off in the trees near a grave. Women start to stand up and kiss each other. I start to back away as I realize these kisses are not in greeting, but in comfort.

I am at a funeral… 

I exit as discreetly as I can, thankful that I did not intrude on them to ask directions. After several more minutes, still surrounded by graves and those visiting them, I see the minarets of a mosque. I pass a young boy wearing the circumcision clothing I saw in the shop windows the day I visited the Grand Bazaar. I turn the corner and find myself in a courtyard, surrounded by shops and filled with people. A few steps further brings me face-to-face with two bridal couples who have just exited the Eyup Sultan Camii. 

I see a long line of people carrying bottled water and take-out meals. Two men are handing out programs, so either there’s a wedding, or prayer is soon to begin. I find a place to stand near the wall where I can watch unobtrusively. I see women enter a stairwell and take off their shoes. The staircase leads to an enclosed walkway with stained glass panels, stretching over the courtyard. I follow the women in, take off my shoes, cover my head, and walk up the stairs. 

There are women praying in the walkway, facing the stained glass. Through the windows on the other side, I look down into the courtyard where the mealtime pandemonium is starting to subside. I sit down next to the wall and continue to observe. A few women alternately stand and kowtow. One is on her cell phone. There are children running everywhere. Two other women sit with a prayer book in their lap but do not seem to be referencing it as they converse with each other. To my left, an alcove where women are sitting with heads covered, but not in prayer, or in fact in any form of obvious activity. The imam’s calls to prayer has begun… 

I do not know how long I have been sitting here. Finally, my curiosity takes over and I stand up and quietly move into the alcove. And then I look up. Unbelievably, I am standing inside the women’s balcony of Eyup Camii.

  • The Eyup Sultan Camii is the first mosque ever built in Istanbul and is considered the city’s holiest religious site. It was built on the place where Ayyub El Assari (called Eyup Sultan by the Turks), standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed, died during the siege of Constantinople in 674-78. The story relates that he was buried where he fell and this mosque marks that spot. It is an important destination point for Muslim pilgrims, and many bridal couples come here for blessings before their nuptials.

The wall in front of me is an iron screen, separating the women’s balcony from the men in the main mosque below. I sit down next to the screen, and peer thorough. An imam is preaching, breaking his pace frequently with sips from his water bottle. Men are sitting on the floor all helter-skelter. There are water bottles, cell phones, papers and books near some of them. Some of the men are trying to control small boys. Unlike the women who are physically engaged in prayer, the men are not following the same patterns of standing and kowtowing. 

There are doors in the screen about the size of a child’s face, one is open and hung with a string of green prayer beads. It’s a perfect camera shot that I do not take because it would also capture the men at prayer.  I put my camera away and listen to the imam. After a while, the men join in as a chorus. I stay a few minutes longer before departing, humbled and moved by the experience of having witnessed a prayer service from behind the screen, at sunset, at this most holy place in the city. 

I walk back to the brick road and am surprised to find that within a few minutes I arrive at street level. Had I known that I would have never waited in line for the funicular. I cross the street and walk back to the ferry dock, slip my token into the turnstile and take a seat in a nearly empty ferry station. It is a 45 minute wait for the next ferry and people slowly fill the station. Finally, the incoming ferry docks and offloads, and we push and prod each other through the double doors, across the rough wooden planks and find seats for the sail home. The sun is setting, the fiery sky reflecting onto the waters of the Golden Horn. What an incredible view. 

I reach the Hotel Han and find Cihan at his usual post. “Choose please,” I say to him with all the energy I have left. I am ushered inside when the weather turns cold and I am seated at the Captain’s table, where Baha joins me for a dinner of lamb on a bed of pistachios and cooked greens, rice, fries and yogurt, accompanied by a glass of Yakut wine. I relate the day’s events, and thank him for sending me on this quest. Baha responds with “only Allah knows when weddings and funerals will occur.”

Upstairs, I pack my bags. Two days remain and I need to make time to buy another suitcase if I need to. I have an appointment at the hamami tomorrow at 9:30, and then I plan to see the palace of Suleyman the Magnificent, and Barbarossa’s tomb, and the Galata Tower if time allows. 

I arrived here, wanting to leave immediately. Now I do not want to leave at all …

For additional photos from this day, please visit Daveno Travels.

Crossroads Tour – The Bosphorus

I awaken from first decent sleep I’ve had since arriving here, to sun streaming through the embroidered and sequined curtain. What a glorious, sunny day! After the traditional breakfast that I now look forward to every morning of peynir cheese, oil-cured olives, sweet breads, and french bread with today’s pair of homemade jams, I consult my new map, and set out to follow the train tracks to the waterfront for a ferry to the Rumeli Fortress. 

I find the Sirkeci train station, the arrival point of the legendary Orient Express. I stop to take photos of the cute little steam engine that sits in the yard along side the station. I had hoped to come to Istanbul on this train, which ran for nearly a century before shutting down in 1977. An Orient Express run by the Venice Simpleton company now runs only twice a year, departing out of London.

  • The original Orient Express began operation in 1883 in Paris, where it took three days to reach Istanbul via Romania, Munich, Vienna, Varna, Budapest and Bucharest. Six years later, the first non-stop train departed Paris for Istanbul, where it stopped at the Sirkeci Station. Passengers could walk from Sirkeci to the ferry terminal for service across the Bosphorus, where they could pick up the Ottoman Railways on the Asian side of Istanbul to continue their journey to Bagdad and other points in the Middle & Far East. 

I find the Eminönü ferry dock but am outwitted by the ticket machines. I ask for assistance from one of the clerks who redirects me to the Bosphorus cruise dock. I grudgingly trudge north, and buy a ticket for TL25 instead of the TL7 that the ferry would have cost. By the time I board, there’s no seating available on the upper deck, but plenty of room below on old wooden seats that remind me of ships from the ’40’s. 

  • The Bosphorus is a nineteen mile long strait that connects the Black Sea in the north, to the Sea of Marmara in the south, and separates European Istanbul from its Asian side. It was a critical factor in the establishment of Constantinople in the fourth century, and remained a strategic waterway for centuries after that. 

We pull away from the dock, and I see the waterfront side of the Ayasofya and the Sirkeci train station, and a little later, the minarets of the Blue Mosque. The skyline is studded with mosques and minarets. We pass the small Ortaköy Camii, and next to it, the Esma Sultan Yalisi, a 19th century mansion that was used to store tobacco during the 20th century. 

After we pass under the Bosphorus Bridge, I queue up for the WC (restroom). The expressions on the faces of the German women in front of me make me wish my German wasn’t so rusty. I find out the cause when my turn comes to use the Bayern (women’s room). 

I am introduced to a traditional Turkish toilet… an oblong ceramic piece with a very shallow bowl, a hole, and two textured areas where you place your feet. Now I know why the German women are grimacing and shaking their hands. The toilet reeks as any pit privy does, and I wonder if the Germans understood that the water tap and pitcher at your right foot is there to flush the toilet as well as take care of any other needs. One more experience checked off my bucket list (no pun intended). 

The Rumeli Hisari comes into view. It is expansive and I am disappointed that the boat does not stop here.

  • Built by Sultan Mehmet II in 1452, it was completed in 80 days and was one of two fortresses that led to Mehmet’s successful siege of Constantinople the following year. 

A pair of yogurt vendors board at the port of Kanlica. One sells you a yogurt, the other hands you a packet of powdered sugar and a spoon. The yogurt is crusty on top and really good. 

Beyond Kanlica we reach Rumeli Kavagi, where the strait narrows and is thought to be the site of the ‘Clashing Rocks’ from Homer’s epic ‘Jason and the Argonauts.’ During the Byzantine period a large column was erected as a warning to ships. It remains a treacherous part of the strait, even with modern day navigational equipment. 

We reach our final destination, the small fishing village of Anadolu Cavagi that sits at the base of a hill, crested by Yoros Kalesi. 

Following directions and maps seems to be beyond me lately, and I am approached by a waiter from the nearby restaurant, whom I try to ignore until I realize that he’s trying to point me towards the castle. The road up the hill is pretty steep, taking me past a cemetery, through a maze of opportunistic eateries, and up to the ruins of the fortress.

A ruin which is closed for renovation… 

I content myself with wandering around the back side. This is the closest I will get to the Black Sea this trip, as the rest of the land on this side is restricted to military access. I turn around and head back to the head of the path, just in time to see a group of men old enough to know better, scrambling over the locked iron gate at the entrance to the fortress. That seems to be a good way to get arrested … 

Treading down the stone stairs is a little treacherous, and I am mindful of the patches of broken glass. Down the path, past the ‘serf’ with the chickens and shanty house, past a restaurant, further down the stairs past a play yard with a wooden swing set, a wooden teeter totter taller than most adult men, and a number of hammocks. It’s inviting but I opt to continue down the hill. 

The boat schedule shows that I still have time for lunch, so I head back to the waiter who pointed me to the castle. My eye contact is returned with a big smile as he seats me for lunch. I choose swordfish, cooked on a small grill just feet from my table. I look around at a terrain built on the side of a hill, with outdoor cafes under tarp roofs, foliage and intense sunlight that make me think more of Greece than Turkey. 

I hold up my hand to get the waiter’s attention and my check. 

  • Travel tip: No one is ever in a hurry here. Choices are made via sign language or gesture, checks are tallied by pen and paper or calculator and if you ask for a receipt you are likely to get the scrap of paper they did the tally on. 

I wander down towards the ferry dock, stopping for a gelato and looking for the elusive silver ring that I ultimately will never find this trip. I buy a glass evil eye key chain from a young gypsy woman in the square. The Hotel Han attaches glass evil eyes to their room keys. It’s the small things that serve as the sweetest reminders… 

I stake a place near the door of the ferry terminal, since the first ones in line get the best seats (though that often means a 45 minute wait). I read a sign at the terminal building describing Andalolu Kavagi as the customs point during the Roman era. The village industries included fishing, gardening and serving the ships while waiting for favorable winds to the Black Sea. When the ferry arrives, I take a seat inside next to a window, in hopes of getting some shots of the Rumeli Hisari and perhaps a nap. Between naps I am rewarded… 

Back at the hotel, the young waiter, whose name is Cihan, stands and smiles as he waits for our nightly game of ‘What’s For Dinner’. Baha later invites me to what I now call the Captain’s Table for a cup of coffee and small talk about soccer and football, and my hats. 

After dinner, I return to Gulhane (Tulip) Park, which surrounds the Topkapi Palace. The birds I couldn’t recognize by voice, turn out to be grey herons. The tops of the trees are filled with their nests, and I break out my binoculars for a better look. What a spectacular sight! More pairs of birds than I can count, building nests and mating, puffing out their chests and making a racket with their calls.  I note the location of the Science Museum which I will visit tomorrow. 

I go to my room to download the photos from the day. Construction continues and the building starts to shake as heavy equipment seems to slam into the side of the hotel’s foundation. It felt like an earthquake that lasted for hours, but at least it wasn’t jack hammers. I doze off and on until finally, at about 2 AM, quiet reigns. I learn later that the heavy work must be done at night as trucks are not allowed on these streets during the day during tourist season. There appear to be no sound ordinances here at all…

For additional photos from this day, please visit Daveno Travels.

Names from the Secret History of the Mongols

By Heather Daveno, 1988

The Secret History of the Mongols was written for the royal Mongol family after the death of Chinghis Khan in 1227 AD. It details the history of the Mongol peoples from the birth of the first Mongol, Batachikhan, through the ascension of Ogodei Khan to the Mongolian throne. The Secret History is considered a primary source for the genealogy of the ruling families of Mongolia up to the beginning of the 14th century. 

I compiled this list of names from my copy of The Secret History as adapted by Paul Khan, published by North Point Press, San Francisco, 1984. I intended it as a resource for the Offices of Heraldry for the Society of Creative Anachronism, as well as any LARP or gaming groups that may find it useful. The names are in alphabetical order, followed by gender (m/f) and page number for reference. Translation, clan affiliation and other notes from the text are included. Tribal spellings are taken directly from the text and may not be consistent throughout this catalog.

After having lost this file for several years due to a series of technology crashes, I found a copy online at the Mongolian University Library, which allowed me to reconstruct my printable list which you can download here.

Many thanks to Crystal Lin Smithwick, whose assistance in setting up the original table on my original website, was invaluable.

For additional information on medieval Mongolian naming practices, please click here.

The Mongolian Invasions of Medieval Europe

“All warfare is based on deception… Feign disorder, and crush him. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.” — from ” The Art of War” by Sun Tzu

  • My editors notes in this article are in (parenthesis). This post is an overview and supplement to my original article which is available by download a little further down this page.

Although Chinghis and Sun Tzu were not contemporaries, much of the opening quote applies to Mongolian warfare, where deception formed a basis of battle strategy, and combined with high levels of discipline, organization and personal strength to make the Mongolian army a fierce force to be reckoned with. The Mongols believed that their Great Khan was directed by God to conquer and rule the world. Resistance to him was resistance to God and punishable by death. Conquest on the scale envisioned by Chinghis¹  needed a high degree of discipline and organization. Their power lay in tribal confederation and non-assimilation of foreign ways. 

The Mongolian Army – Structure

  • Khan / Khagan² – Commander-in-chief.
  • Noyan – The equivalent of prince, serving directly under the khan.
  • Bahadur – The equivalent of knight. The Bahadur served as personal bodyguards to the khan.
  • Yurtchis – Quartermaster of the ordos or camp.
  • The body of the army was made of of units of Tumen, Minghan, Jagun and Arban (which are described in my original article)

The Mongolian Army – Uniforms, Armor and Weapons
White was a sacred color, reserved for the Khan, whose armor and tunic were white or white and gold. He typically rode a white mount. (I hypothesize that white did not become a mourning color in Asia until the disastrous defeat of the Mongolian forces during their failed attempt to invade Japan in 1274 and 1281.) Bahadur wore black armor, a black tunic with red facings, and rode a black horse with a red leather saddle. (The uniforms for all others, as well as the provisions they carried, are described in my article.)

The iron helmet was covered with lacquered leather (I presume to avoid rust) and had a horsetail crest. Rank was denoted by a pair of red ribbons, which hung from the crown and down the back. (It is my believe that the Manchurian hats with their upturned fur brims and ribbons down the back, evolved from Mongolian army caps.)

Mongolian archers wore a stone ring on their right thumb, which they used to release the bowstring (rather than their fingers), which increased the velocity and speed of release of the arrow. Each man carried 2 quivers, which held about 30 arrows each.

The horse was the most prized possession the Mongol owned. Steppe horses were renowned for their courage and endurance. They only needed to be watered once a day, and they could dig for grass under the snow, which eliminated the army’s need to carry feed.

Each warrior had between 3-20 horses, which allowed them to ride non-stop. A Mongolian horseman could string a bow from his saddle, as well as eat and sleep on horseback. Herds of up to 10,000 head accompanied the army and were divided by color, which served as another definition of rank.

The Mongolian Army – Training and Tactics 
The harsh and demanding lifestyle provided Mongolian soldiers with endurance, mobility and other warlike qualities. Mongolians were also very dedicated to their leaders, and were highly disciplined. Their European counterparts however, went to war with little training or discipline, very little experience in fighting as a unit, and as often as not, went to war for profit under the guise of religious crusade. The feudal system allowed men to lead based on their wealth rather than on tactical ability. 

Training for the hulega, or “Great Hunt”, conducted like a campaign and designed to teach discipline, strategy and unity under command.

The most often used method of attack was the tulghma, or “Standard Sweep”, with light cavalry attacking at right angles, and heavy cavalry s charging from the rear.

Another favorite maneuver was the mangudai.A light cavalry of suicide troops charged the enemy, then retreated, leading the enemy into an ambush of heavy cavalry. Units communicated with each other with a variety of signals, including whistling arrows or flags by day, torches at night.

Dispatches were sent via courier, through a pony express system called the Yam. Roads became thoroughfares throughout the Mongolian Empire, with rest stations and fresh horses every 25 miles. This allowed couriers to ride 120 miles a day. Roads also allowed the army to move columns of soldiers at great distances, making simultaneous thrusts, surrounding the enemy, and appearing to be a larger force than they actually were. 

If the Mongolian army was too heavily outnumbered, they would turn aside, putting a day or two’s journey between themselves and the enemy, and then lay waste to whatever was around them, which depleted supplies that would normally have been foraged by the enemy. Mongolian armies might also retreat for 10-12 days, until the opposing army had disbanded, then attack them. Mongolians gained victory by destroying the enemy and progressively dominating the territories of those they conquered. The Mongols were able to do this in Russia by dividing the country and then weakening it.

The artillery stayed behind with the engineers (typically Persians), reserves and remounts. The Mongols learned about siege weapons from either the Chinese or the Persians, and improved upon them when they invaded Iran. Chinese siege engines used by the Mongols are described in my article

Among the Mongolian siege methods was to dam a nearby river and divert its flow to flood a city. The Amo River, used for this purpose, now has a new course from what it had prior to the 13th century.

  • My thanks to the editors of The Elf Hill Times, who first published my article in January, 1998 under the title “The Mongols: Their Attempt at World Domination” which you can download here:
  • This post is updated to include notes from classes I taught in 1998-99 on “Warfare in Medieval Mainland Asia”. This work has been cited in an academic research paper titled “Challenges Facing Mongolia’s Participation in Coalition Military Operations”, written by Lt. Col. Byambasuren Bayarmagnai of the Mongolian Armed Forces, published by the U.S. Army War College in March 2005.

The Mongolian Army – Invasion Timeline and Legacy
1206 – Temujin, after uniting the nomadic tribes of the steppes into the Mongolian Federation of Tribes, is proclaimed khagan, and given the name of Chinghis. He begins a series of foreign conquests the following year.

1207-1210 – Chinghis sends his eldest son Jochi to defeat the Oirat, Buriyat, Turkish Kirghiz and Tumet tribes. The next battle is against the kingdom of Si-hia in the Ordos desert. This is a stronghold of Buddhism and Chinese culture with an army of 150,000. Jochi lays siege until 1210, when the capital city of Chungsing surrenders. —In the meantime, Chinghis takes the kingdom of Karakhitai, of which most subjects are Turks. In 1209 Barchuk, the ruler of the Uighur Turks, joins with Chinghis.

1211-1217 –Jaghatai, Jochi, Ogodei and Chinghis lead three forces totaling 120,000 men across the Gobi Desert against the Chin army of 500,000, and defeat them in 1217. Turkistan is invaded on this campaign and absorbed by Chinghis in 1215.

1219 -1245 are detailed in my original article

1246-1251 –Ogodei’s widow Artedais serves as regent until the new khagan can be elected. Although Ogodei appointed his grandson Kubilai, Artedais succeeds in putting her own son Kuyuk on the throne. However, Kuyuk dies two years later and Mongke, nominated by Batu, becomes khagan in 1251.

In a controversial move, Batu later establishes himself at Sarai (65 miles north of Astrakhan on the lower Volga River) and holds his own khurlitai, where he is proclaimed (or proclaims himself) khagan. Batu breaks allegiance with Karakorum and rules independently as the Great Khan of the Golden Horde (from the Mongol altun ardu). Although Batu’s tribes are mostly Turkish, the official language remains Mongolian, and it remains a province of the Mongol Empire. This is the beginning of the splintering of Chinghis’s empire, and begins the demise of the Mongolians as a coherent ruling force by the 14th century. 

Italian trade settlements at Kaffa, Sudak and Kertch are maintained by Genoese and Venetians. The Mongols take over direct administration in the Ukraine, but allow Russian princes to administer most of the rest of Russia. Tribute takes the form of annual taxes from merchants and farmers, and animals from Russian nomads and cattle breeders. The Mongols interest in land was not political (they did not care who owned it), but rather they viewed land as a source for troops and revenue, assessed through annual censuses which were carried out by the Chinese. Their only political interest was for the Russian nobility to acknowledge their khagan at Karakorum as the Supreme Ruler. Batu’s aim was to keep Russian princes disunited; rivalry was encouraged through the naming of one of the princes as Grand Duke, a title which was revoked and transferred by the ruling Khagan at will. 

1255-1299 –Hulagu, a grandson to Chinghis, conquers Transoxiana, Iran and Iraq and establishes the Iklhan Horde in Iran. Batu dies at old Sarai in 1255, leaving a territory from the upper Ob River to the lower Syr Darya, and from the Caspian coast to the Black Sea. A decline in leadership begins. Berke succeeds him in 1257 and dies in 1266.

Mongke Temur becomes khagan in 1266, but Nogai Noyan is the actual hand of power, and the cause of much infighting among the Mongolian ruling class. Nogai urges the Russian princes to fight against Poland and Lithuania, while he advances on south Poland and Hungary. Mongke Temur dies in 1280 and is succeeded by Tuda Mongke, who later abdicates to Teleboge, who is later seized and given to Tokhtu whom Nogai later proclaims as Khagan. 

Nogai takes dominion in the Crimea, and is later opposed by Tokhtu, who sides against him in a war between Venice and Genoa. Nogai dies in 1299. Kubilai, grandson of Chinghis, conquers China in 1279 and establishes the Yuan Dynasty. Ghazan, great grandson of Hulagu, has become a Muslim and the Ilkhans become the national dynasty of Iran. Ties to the Mongol Khagans to the East dissipate. 

1312-1378 –Tokhtu dies and is succeeded by Ozbeg, who appoints Ivan Kalita of Moscow as Grand Duke. This office remains with the princes of Moscow until the end of Mongol rule in Russia. Ozbeg dies in 1341 and is succeeded by his son Janibeg who dies in 1357, and is in turn succeeded by Beribeg. The Golden Horde loses interest in lands south of the Caucasus. Beribeg is murdered in 1359. Timur becomes a major player and establishes Samarkand as hie capitol in 1335.

The Golden Horde is counter-attacked successfully in 1363 at the battle of Kulikouo by Dmitry Donskoy, Prince of Moscow. This battle is the first major defeat suffered by the Golden Horde.Civil war breaks out between rivals for the khanate and Russian princes attempting to overthrow Moscow. The Lithuanian Grand Dukes extend their power as far as Kiev. The Golden Horde’s territory is divided between the rulers of the Crimea, Astrakhan and Khwarazm. Timur Melik makes himself master of Khwarazm, and helps Tokhtamysh in his possession of Astrakhan and Sarai in 1378.

sees the beginning of the disentegration of the Golden Horde. The remainder of this timeline, running to 1689, is detailed in my original paper.

The Mongolian Legacy The Mongols were the last and most destructive invaders to come from the steppes. Even though Europe was saved from invasion by the deaths of Ogodei and Mansu, the Mongolian campaign had the following far-reaching and negative consequences: 

  • Herring glut – In 1238, the British herring market became glutted when ships from the Baltic didn’t arrive because of preparations they were making against the Mongols. Fifty herrings sold for one shilling. 
  • Genoese monopoly – Subetai signed a treaty with the Genoese, who acted as spies in return for the Mongol destruction of all other trading posts in the Crimea, which gave the Genoese a monopoly there. 
  • Russian economy – Russia suffered a ruined economy and exploited peasantry, as well as self-important and abusive aristocrats. 

However, not all consequences were dire: 

  • Western Europe gained knowledge of Asia and trade routes to China were reopened.
  • China flourished during Kubilai’s reign, since many of the governing officials left court and turned to artistic and scientific pursuits.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church became self sufficient due to it being isolated from Constantinople and went unchallenged by foreign ideas
  • Novgorod became a center of trade.
  • Russia’s population spread out evenly across the countryside as forests were cut down and agriculture was expanded.

The success of Chinghis lay in the strategies of his general, Subetai, as well as his own skill and organization in battle. The Mongol nation was eventually defeated by their own political infighting, disintegration in their discipline, and their shift from the harshness of nomadic culture, to the soft luxuries of city life. The introduction of firearms to Eastern Europe also played a major role, as they changed the nature of war throughout Europe, and later, the world at large. 


  1. Although there are many spellings of Chinghis Khan, I prefer this more obscure one, which phonetically resembles the name’s meaning, which is “the sound of iron being forged”. 
  2. Under the Mongolian Federation of Tribes, each tribe had a khan, the Mongolian term for chief. Khagan is the Mongolian term for “khan over all khans” or “Great Khan”.
  3. A silk shirt did not pierce when shot, but instead traveled with the arrowhead into the flesh. The Mongols found that pulling the shirt extracted the arrow point, which kept the wound clean since it never came into contact with the metal tip, which in turn lowered a soldier’s risk of infection.
  4. The Secret History of the Mongols, adapted by Paul Kahn, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1984. 
  5. All sons of Chinghis 
  6. Jebe, also known as Jirghogadai, from the defeated Tayichigud tribe, is one of Chinghis’ four generals.
  7. Subetai, also spelled in some sources as Subedai, was also one of Chinghis’s four generals. 
  8. Batu, son of Jochi and founder of the Golden Horde.Khurlitai, the gathering of all the tribes for the purpose of electing the new khagan. 
  9. By tradition, the wife (khatun) of the deceased khagan ruled as regent until the khurlitai was held. Although this text refers to the next khagan being named (as in the case of Chinghis appointing Ogodei to succeed him) such appointments had to be ratified at the khurlitai before the title was recognized. Being named a successor did not always guarantee the right to rule, if the khurlitai or political intrigue placed someone else as khagan.
  10. Mongke, also spelled Mongge, eldest son of Tolui and fourth khagan of the Mongolian Empire.Ozbeg, nephew to Tokhtu, khan of the Golden Horde, who is also known as Tokhtagha. Ozbeg is Islamic, the Uzbeg tribe is named after him. History of the Mongols by Bertold Spuler, Dorset Press, NY 1988. 
  11. Timur, also known as Tamerlane. 

Additional Sources

  • The Sword and the Scimitar by Ernie Bradford, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Italy 1974
  • The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe by James Chambers, Athenium Press, NY 1979
  • The Horizon History of Russia by Ion Grey, American Heritage Publishers, NY 1970
  • The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by R.E. Latham, Penguin Books, England 1958
  • Silks, Spices and the Empire by Owen and Eleanor Lattimore, Delacortes Press, 1968
  • The Rise of the West by W.H. McNeill, Mentor Books, NY 1965
  • The Mongols by E.D. Philips, Frederick A. Praeger Inc., NY 1969
  • Medieval People by Eileen Powers, Barnes and Noble Books, 1963 
  • Cities of Gods, Isles of Spice by Christine Price, David McKay Co., Inc. NY 1965

Crossroads Tour – The Topkapi Palace

  • The Topkapi Palace, built between 1460-78, is a walled complex covering 700,000 square meters, comprised of three courtyards, several gardens and all the buildings you would expect to see in a royal administrative city. It was the residence of the Ottoman sultans until the middle of the 19th century, and also served as the administrative and educational center for the state. It became a museum in 1924, two years after the Ottoman monarchy came to an end.

I arrive about 2 hours before closing. I wait in a line that eats up twenty valuable minutes, and enter the Topkapi Palace through the Gate of Salutation, whose iconic towers were built during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. 

  • The sultan alone could ride on horseback through this gate, and the palace women were allowed to remain in their carriages, but all others had to pass through on foot (as I do today), passing under a calligraphed inscription that proclaims the tenant of Islam: “There is no god but God; and Muhammed is the prophet of God.” 

This gate opens out onto the Second Courtyard which is also called the Council Square, where coronations, receptions and other affairs of state were held. The Tower of Justice (used as a council chamber for the Grand Viziers and military judges since the 19th century) and the Imperial Chancery (dating from the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, early 16th century) are also located here.

I walk past the Treasury, which is now a Weapons Museum, in search of the Palace Kitchen, which houses Turkish glassware and Asian porcelain collections. Disappointed to find it closed, I head towards the Carriage Gate, the gateway to the Harem Apartments, the private residence of the sultan and his family.

  • Built in the 16th century and expanded over the next three centuries, the Apartments are notable as a showcase of architectural history. They contain more than 300 rooms, nine bathhouses, two mosques, a hospital, dormitory and laundry. The Harem also served as a recruitment center for young children who were trained for state service. 

After passing through the Carriage Gate, I walk into the Domed Cabinets, where documents referencing Mecca and Medina were kept. Next is the Fountain Hall, rebuilt in 1665 after a fire, and dizzying in its wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling tile work. Then through the Courtyard of the Black Eunuchs, who guarded the wives and concubines. After half an hour, I stop taking photos. Baha was not kidding. The palace is immense, room after room after hallway, linking to courtyards to even more rooms…

I pass through the Main Gate, which leads to the sultan’s private apartments, the Gallery of the Concubines, and the Courtyard of the Sultana Mother. Each apartment is two stories, though public access appears to only be available to those rooms at the ground level.

  • The majority of girls brought to the Topkapi as concubines were actually employed as servants. Those who were pretty and intelligent would be educated in reading, writing, music, religion, palace etiquette and the arts of the courtesan. From this pool, those who became favorites or whom bore the sultan a child, would become his wives and would receive letters patent, new dresses and separate chambers, and would receive additional training in Imperial traditions.  Wives founded charities, commissioned mosques, and devoted themselves to good works in keeping with their conversion to Islam.
  • There was a complex ranking structure within the Harem, defining specific roles, duties and apartments for every girl,from the lowest servant to the Favorites, Wives, and the Sultana Mother. The Koran required that women slaves be well looked after, stating “Furnish them with anything you eat and wear, and never treat them badly.” They received a per diem commensurate with their position as well as gifts at weddings, birthdays and festivals. Women also had the right to leave the harem after having lived there for nine years, and would receive a trousseau and assistance in finding a husband. Even after their departure from the harem, they remained under palace protection until their death. 

I came back from the Topkapi with enough information about the Harem to write a comparative study of the courtesans of Venice and Istanbul…

The Courtyard of the Favorites housed the wives, in close proximity to the Sultana Mother. Each Favorite had a private room on this second floor, with a fireplace and enameled closets. Those rooms overlooking the Golden Horn also had separate toilets and hamamis. The lower level dormitories housed the concubine servants.

The Sultana Mother’s apartments were also heavily tiled, and included a fireplace and a fountain in every room. In addition to living quarters, the Sultana’s living area also included a prayer room, bathhouse and toilet, making it an independently functioning structure from the rest of the harem apartments.

I cannot remember which of the apartments had this beautiful dome, painted with vines. I was so inspired by the dome that I replicated the design as a hat a few weeks later…

The Privy Room of Sultan Murad III was designed and built by Mimar Sinan in 1579 and was the sultan’s official and private apartment. It is covered with Iznik tile and the room is encircled with a white-on-blue calligraphed band reciting the Verse of the Throne from the Kor’an. It is quite spectacular even in this dim light.

I duck into what would be the first of several gift shops here, and find a book of Suleyman’s poetry. The palace will close soon so I run through rooms of jewelry; coppers, brasses and silver works; weapons and helms, catching the briefest glimpse of the Topkapi Dagger with three enormous emeralds set into its handle. The textile collection is much smaller than I expected, but most of the pieces are laid out flat which gives the perfect view of their construction.

A 17th century Italian velvet that I watched being produced on a video at the Lanterna in Genoa, is here, in the form of a Sultan’s coat. Italian silks and velvets were highly prized by the Ottoman sultans and princes. There are several inner caftans here as well – collarless, and tight fitting, with gussets running from waist to hem. Caftans were worn over a loose robe called an entari, which in turn were worn over shalwar trousers, with a wide waist which was gathered in with a sash which passed through drawstrings on the waistband. In addition to Italian velvets and silks, a metallic brocade called serâser (a cloth of silver/gold alloys produced in Istanbul during the 16th century) and kemha, (a compound weave blending polychrome silks with metallic threads) were also worn.

Towards the 18th century, the heavy silks and velvets gave way to satins, taffeta, gezi (a thick silk), sandal (a cotton/silk blend) and selimiye, a silk produced in Istanbul. I loved the talismanic shirts, which reminded me of the Taoist caftans from some of the Mongolian exhibits I had seen. Verses from the Kor’an and other prayers were meant to protect the wearer from illnesses and enemies, and are thought to have been prepared through a combined effort of the court astrologers and theologians.

I spend the remaining daylight wandering around the grounds, weaving my way through pavilions and admiring the carved marble plaques that line the sidewalks along the Royal Kitchen. Many are in various states of repair and restoration.

I exit the Topkapi grounds through the Imperial Gate, capped with beautiful gold Arabic script against a blue background.  The roundel on the archway is the signature of Sultan Abdulaziz (1861-76). Above it, “Help from God and a speedy victory” which was also the battle cry of the Jannisaries. On the other side, the following script: 

  • “By the grace and assent of god and with the aim of establishing peace and tranquility. This auspicious citadel was built and erected in the blessed month of Ramadan in the year 883 (1478 CE) at the command of the son of Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Mehmed Khan, the sultan of the lands and the emperor of the seas, the shadow of God extending over men and djinn, the deputy of God in the East and in the West, the champion of the water and the land, the conqueror of Constantinople and father of that conquest Sultan Mehmed, may God make his reign eternal and exalt his abode above that of the highest stars in the firmament.”

If I ever came back to Istanbul, I would want to spend at least two days here.

You can see more photos (in larger format) at Daveno Travels.

Back at the hotel, I am greeted by an animated young waiter who is working the sidewalk in front of the hotel. The Hotel Han is right next door to the Barbecue House, which seems to be a pretty popular eatery. I walk up to the large pictorial menu and ask the waiter for a suggestion. After some back-and-forth banter, he seats me at a table on the sidewalk. A very short time later, a large sampler plate arrives, covered with chicken, steak, lamb, and two other meats I could not identify; grilled peppers and tomatoes, a salad of shredded carrots, lettuce and spiced pickled cabbage; rice, fries, pizza and a boat shaped bread filled with cheese. A half a piece of focaccia serves as a trencher below the meats.  An Efes beer to wash it down with, and a dinner show, free of charge as I watch with amusement the young waiter convince passers by to pull off the sidewalk and take a seat.

Thankful for the course corrections of the day, with a happy mind and full belly, I look forward to a full night’s sleep and new adventures tomorrow…

Making a Tibetan Maikhan

By Heather Daveno, early 1980’s. This DIY article is copyright free as long as you credit its author.

The peaked roof of the 13th century maikhan was supported by a ridgepole, supported in turn by two upright poles. Guy ropes served to stabilize these uprights at each end of the maikhan. The guy ropes which were made of yak hair, were adorned with prayer flags, which served to both mark the guy ropes (notorious trip hazards), and to send prayers to heaven for the Buddhist inhabitants. Smaller maikhans belonging to Buddhist ascetics included an iron trident, which probably fastened to the top of one of the two uprights.

If you would like to build one like I did, feel free to download this article.

A Requiem for a Hat

As I was designing hats for an upcoming show in 2016, I was somewhat dismayed to find that I could no longer craft a couple of my favorites. It is with a mix of nostalgia and sadness that I announce the end of the line for the hat that started it all…

“The Classic,” known by some as the “Classic Lao Hat” launched my company several years ago. It was inspired by a medieval Viking model, although this style was also prevalent throughout Europe, Northern Europe, Russia, and Mongolia during the medieval period.

Historically a 5-panel hat with exposed seams, I designed my version with 6 panels to accommodate embroidery on every other panel. That design modification also ended up created a better fitting hat.

Originally made from 70/40% wool felt, I switched over to using wools gleaned from thrift store coats, which felted up when washed and which became fray-proof. This produced a higher quality and longer lasting hat.  But supplies for this quality of wool have diminished in the recycled textiles market, and I can no longer guarantee the selection of colors that make this hat marketable.

I have a few of these hats in my inventory, most of which is now on tour at various gallery shows across the country. I also hope to continue with my leather versions, albeit in a very limited color palette.

Meeting a similar fate is my Sitka, named after the Russian military hat I brought home after visiting Sitka, Alaska. My version was a tall six-panel hat with exposed seams, brocade cuff and embroidered earflap that tied up in front.

Looking on the bright side, if you own one of my Classics or Sitkas, hang on to it.  As of October 1, 2016 it took one more step towards becoming a collectible : ) 

Names from the History of Archers

This index is a list of names from The History of the Nation of the Archers by Grigor of Akanc, written in 1271 in Cilicia at Akanc’ and preserved at the Armenian Convent of St. James at Jerusalem. The Armenian text was, translated by Robert D. Blake and Richard N. Frye. I located this work in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 2, No. 3-4, published by the Harvard-Yenching Institute in December 1949.

I compiled this in 1988 as a resource for historians, heralds, historical reenactors and modern gamers. You can download the complete list here.