Artists Sunday …

You’ve heard of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. This year we’re adding another to the mix – Artists Sunday – because there’s nothing more personal than a gift of the arts! This global event features 3200 artists and art organizations across the nation, allowing you to Shop Local wherever you are! You’ll find me listed in the Artists Showcase.

I’ve still got 5-6 custom order hats to finish in the next 30 days – yes I am unexpectedly booked up – so I’m using this opportunity to promote the galleries who represent my work. If you are looking for a gift, please visit one of my galleries, or contact me for a gift certificate to redeem in early 2020.

Peters Valley School of Craft and Brookfield Craft Center are partnering with Artists Sunday. These are samples from the dozen or so hats I have in each of their gift shops this holiday season.

Creative Minds Art Gallery on Orcas Island, and Nature’s Kitchen in Yreka, also have my caps and hats in their shops.. COVID-19 restrictions are in place in both locations, so contact them for their schedule before visiting.

On the custom order front, these are hot off the press and ship out tomorrow. At left is a full fur box hat crafted from a recycled beaver coat and lined with wool plaid. At right, Kraken #3 in the new owners’ heraldic colors. Both hats come with complimentary masks. (Kraken #2 was delivered last week and is now available by custom order in my webstore.)

In addition to masks and tote bags, every hat purchase benefits a selected charity. I will be donating a percentage from my recent sales on Giving Tuesday, December 1. I am thankful for everyone who supports my work, and am happy to pay a share of that forward to those in need.

Re-Imagined: the Results

I am happy to report that my first virtual art show was an unexpected success!

I’ll leave the nuts and bolts details for another day, but suffice it to say that I came out of the weekend with several orders, and had an unrelated uptick in Facebook orders as well. I’ll be busy for the next few weeks.

If you are looking for a hat for the holidays, you should probably order that by Thanksgiving in order to guarantee delivery by Christmas and Hannukah.

After demonstrating this one at the show, the Phoenix / Firebird (shown above) is finished and ships out tomorrow.

I debuted a prototype of a NewsGirl, (also called a BakerBoy or Apple Cap) which is still a work in progress. I finished a non-lace denim version shortly after the show, which is now united with its new musician-owner in Alabama.

I finished the Kraken Cap in time for the show, and already have two orders. The next one will be in team colors (red, teal and black) with tentacles encircling the cuff. I can hardly wait : )

If you missed the show, you can see all the participating artists at Peters Valley School of Craft.

50 years Re-Imagined

In this year of missed milestones and in-person exhibits, the show must go…online! Welcome to the 50th Annual Peters Valley Craft Fair Re-Imagined.

Enjoy this live and interactive event where you can meet over 80 juried artists in our virtual booths, and shop our selection of handmade artworks from the comfort and safety of your home. Chat with the makers, peek behind the scenes, ask about our processes, and shop our websites while you are chatting with us in real time! Register at this link to score one of the 1000 free tickets, or buy one starting at $5 for the weekend to support Peters Valley School of Craft’s largest fundraiser of the year. A limited number of $2 tickets are also available, email me for that access.

The show organizers have developed this short and handy YouTube video which you will find in the Reception Area once you enter the Craft Fair site. I highly recommend that you watch this video to learn all the ways you can interact with us and explore our art. You can also click on the EXPO button to go directly to the artist booths. Once you enter the EXPO, look for me at August Phoenix Hats!

If you click on my booth and arrive at this video, it means I have stepped away for a cup of coffee or to chase a cat. You can play the video, or click on the Booth tab to shop my store, or click on the Chat tab to leave me a message. I’ll be back in a flash!

If you arrive at a screen that says “The Presentation will start shortly” it means I’m online and waiting to connect with you. Click on “Share Audio and Video” to enter my booth and wait a few seconds to connect via live audio/video. You can also initiate a text conversation with me via Chat if you’re camera shy : )

Come Meet The Kraken! This brand new, never before seen, hand sewn cap will make its debut at this show. Stop by to say Hello Kraken and place an order for one of your very own! I hope to also debut my version of a 1930’s style NewsCap to at this show.

You can also have a look around my shop. If you’re interested in ordering a hat, I can even pull fabrics from shelves, closets and boxes for you. Just ask me for a “behind the scenes” tour!

The show runs 10 AM – 5 PM East Coast Time, which means my day here in Seattle will start at 7 AM. I’ll remain LIVE in my booth until 5 PM Pacific Time on Saturday, and by appointment until 10:30 PM for late night shoppers. You can book an appointment with me by clicking the “Book Now” button at the top of my Facebook page, or via email. The show will be open (but not live) all night on Saturday so you can shop our websites. We will return to our booths on Sunday (10 AM – 5 PM East Coast Time / 7 AM – 2 PM Pacific Time).

As a reminder, every hat (both custom and off the shelf) ships free within the Continental US, and includes a complimentary face mask and tote bag. I look forward to seeing you this weekend at Re-Imagined!

Topkapi-inspired …

This week’s progress includes this newly finished Topkapi hat in hand painted silk with braided soutache providing texture along the seams and the brim of a commercial straw hat. Those who follow my travels may recall that this hat is inspired by my favorite ceiling in the Harem Apartments in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, which I visited in 2011.

I’m delivering this hat and complimentary cotton mask to an artist friend who is participating in the PhinneyWood Art Sale & Stroll on Sunday August 30 from noon – 4 PM. Over 40 artists and makers will set up in their yards and gardens for your socially safe and enjoyable shopping experience.

Tickets are now available to the 50th Annual Peters Valley Craft Fair ‘Re-Imagined’ online art show. There are 1000 free tickets available, as well as tickets at a variety of price points if you would like to show your support. I will be participating in this show in October. Wish me luck : )

In gallery news, Brookfield Craft Center and Peters Valley School of Craft are now open, with COVID-19 limitations in place. Please check their websites for schedules and visiting information. Nature’s Kitchen in Yreka, CA is also open, and Creative Minds Art Gallery on Orcas Island, WA expects to reopen in their new space any day now.

In hobby news, my third submission to Mainly Museums was published this week, which puts me well on the path to being an established regular contributor. The Museum of Broadcast Communications was a nostalgic trip which many of you may appreciate as well…

August Progress …

Here are some newly completed hats, caps, & masks. The first is an Imperial style in brocade fabric ornamented with braided yarn passementerie, Afghani silver belt pieces and silvertone beads. The cuff is from a vintage fox stole that the customer provided. The mask is made from the same brocade and also has an Afghani silver accent piece at the upper right corner, sort of like a beauty spot.

This next one is a hand sewn wool cap with a fish themed ribbon on the padded wool cuff, edged with custom braids which I repeated as ties for the mask. I chose black for this mask to pick up the black accents of the hat, and because it was less predictable than red. The tassels are leather, suspended from glass teardrop beads.

I have dropped the price of my Kid’s masks to $6.50 (down from $10) and added two new design choices: Geometric and Super Heroes.

My company is officially 20 years old this year, marking my transition from hobbyist to small business owner. In more normal times I would have planned some big splashy way to celebrate the occasion, but instead, like everyone else celebrating milestones, I’m opting for more subdued activities.

My first plan was to send Fancy Face Masks to 20 of my Facebook followers who responded to my 20 year announcement. The first 10 masks ship out this week.

I had planned to share a series of retrospective projects, but so far the only one I have brought out of my archives is Something Tattered This Way Comes.

I am still in the design phase for a new hat, which I’m hoping to launch before September. The rest of my list of planned promotions have so far, not moved off the page.

I am fortunate to have a home not threatened by fire, and an income outside of my hat business that is not threatened by the COVID-19 economy. No kids to home school, no parents to look after. And yet, I’m slogging through mud. Everything takes three times as long as it should and the smallest things completely trip me up. Every few days I wonder what is wrong with me.

Then I heard a new term this morning – “corona-coaster’ – an apt description for having big plans and short bursts of energy, followed by lengthier lags of lethargy. I also found this article on surge capacity and ambiguous loss, which was hammer to nail for me. Perhaps you will find it helpful as well.

“How do you adjust to an ever-changing situation where the ‘new normal’ is indefinite uncertainty?”

I especially took note of the advice to find fulfilling activities. So I’ll continue to donate about 50 masks every month for distribution through Days for Girls and other organizations. I’ve become a contributor to Mainly Museums. And I’ll be expanding my skillset when I engage in my first virtual art show with Peters Valley School of Craft in October.

Today I washed all the windows to my live-work space that I still rarely leave.

I’m learning to cut myself some slack, or what a therapist friend calls “gifting yourself with white space”. White space is how every project starts, whether it be a book, or a painting, or a dress, or dinner. White space is a necessary thing. It’s up to us to figure out how best to fill it, and in turn have it fill us.

And that, even in the most subdued and incremental of terms, is progress.

Mask – Hat – Mask …

My first hat & mask sets have started shipping out. Every hat order this year comes with a free mask!

I even got to see one of my original hats from about 30 years ago – it was interesting to see that the seams and structure were intact, but the wools had completely worn through. I reproduced the original hat as closely as I could, and added a metal stud on each panel because i’m apparently incapable of letting a hat leave my shop without some form of ornamentation.

On the mask front, I have 50 in kid’s and adult sizes ready to deliver to a local food & mask drive this weekend. I have another 30 in production for the Anacortes/Camano Island chapter of Days for Girls. That will bring my mask donations to just over 500 so far this year.

Because our economy won’t regain its health until our community does. I’ve been trying to target my masks and other donations to benefit essential workers. Among our most essential workers are those who harvest our food, which is why I’m participating in the Food & Mask Drive at the Seattle Repertory Theater, in partnership with WashMasks.org. I’m donating food as well as masks to this effort and I hope you will join me. If you choose to donate masks, they need ties rather than elastics or ear loops, and no nose bridges. There’s also a list of preferred foods and supplies on their website.

Today I learned about the “Lipstick Index”- apparently when women want to cheer themselves up, they often buy lipstick, so it has become an informal economic indicator. But with the advent of masks, women have switched that ‘cheer up impulse buy” to nail polish instead…

I wonder why women aren’t buying or making new masks instead, to keep the focus on their face… Imagine a Mask Index as a new economic indicator as well as a socially responsible action : )

Mask #400+

July 3 starts my 4th month of home sequestering, and the 400th and something mask, all but 20 of which I have donated to individuals and local organizations who needed them, including Days for Girls and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I’ve now turned my attention to Yakima, my birth town and a current hotspot in Washington State. I’ve sent 50 masks for distribution through a food bank and a women’s shelter, and this weekend I’m starting another 50 for WashMasks for distribution to agricultural workers there.

Proceeds from those other 20 masks have allowed me to donate cash to Feed the Frontlines and Off Their Plate – two programs that pay impacted restaurants to provide meals to medical workers. Although my website says that 50% of those sales would be donated, I’m actually sending closer to 90%, with the remaining 10% covering shipping costs.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on here, Americans are now banned from traveling to the EU, UK and Mexico. Although my travel plans take me elsewhere (a US museum tour later this year, and Africa next year) I’m hard pressed to even get on a city bus at the moment. One of the places I post my travel photos to, and visit to travel the world virtually – Trover – shuts down August 1. The world becomes smaller with every passing day.

So I leave my house for groceries and not-often-enough walks, and spend my days with my cats and my sewing machine, making more masks than hats, and listen to people clamor for a return to normal, apparently not realizing that this is the new normal, at least for now.

Make the best of what you have. Use your resources to better the world. Show some love. Stay safe. That’s all I’ve got for today.

Fancy Face for Kids . . .

First off, I want to thank Liz and JoAnna for donating cottons from their stash to assist my mask making efforts for Days For Girls and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. In response to today’s reports out of New York regarding Covid-19 related illnesses that are now showing up in kids, I have put some of those cottons to immediate use.

Introducing “Fancy Face” Masks for Kids – triple layer cotton masks in colorful prints, with either braided yarn or cotton ties. These face masks have a lighter gauge wire nose bridge than my adult masks, with the ends curled into spirals to prevent them from working through the cottons.

As with my adult sized masks, I am donating 50% of your purchase of “Fancy Face” Masks to Feed the Frontlines in Sacramento, and Off Their Plate in Seattle and selected other cities, through the end of 2020 (or until there is no longer a need). Both of these programs team restaurants with medical facilities to keep hospital workers fed during these critical times.

Order your Kids Masks here.

Read about the new Covid-19 concern here.

Put on a Fancy Face …

Six weeks, sixty hours, 300+ masks donated. It’s time to put a new face forward.

I am launching “Fancy Face” Masks today! My new line of upscale masks are now available in the following Collections from my online store:

These collections are a result of me ‘never being able to throw a textile away” which has resulted in a collection of brocades, some of which are too small or not workable for hats, but are too exquisite for the trash.

Costco will require shoppers to wear masks in their stores starting May 4. According to the New York Times, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines will start requiring all passengers to wear a face covering, with a tentative compliance date of May 11. Other airlines and mass transit systems are expected to make similar announcements in the coming weeks. Wearing a face mask is a socially responsible thing to do. Why not make it part of your personal fashion statement as well?

It’s not just about the fashion. I am donating 50% of your purchase of “Fancy Face” Masks to Feed the Frontlines in Sacramento, and Off Their Plate in Seattle and selected other cities, through the end of 2020 (or until there is no longer a need). I plan to continue donating utilitarian linen masks to non-profits (Days For Girls in Stanwood-Camano Island and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance) and to individuals in need (albeit on a limited basis).

Thank you for your continued support of my work, and for helping me to pay it forward into our communities! ~ Heather Daveno, Artisan Hat & Mask Maker

A Wardrobe of Masks …

Fabric masks in large, medium and the new child size (with soft, braided yarn ties)

As I was finishing my first child-sized mask, I mused on the things I’ve been waiting for during the Covid-19 lockdown – visiting friends, going to movie theaters and restaurants, restocking my art galleries, shopping for new shoes and thrift store finds. Like a slew of other anxious humans, I’ve been filling my non-telework hours with eating and sleeping, and reading repetitive news clips late into the night when sleep becomes evasive.

And of course, sewing masks, 260 of them so far. It’s the thing I have chosen to fill my hours while waiting for a “return to normal.” And then this morning, it suddenly occurred to me:

“You’re waiting for yesterday.”

That out-of-the-blue thought spurred me to put down my sewing, put on my linen mask, and go for a walk and a think. A long, meandering, no-destination walk – something I’ve rarely done since I retreated to my apartment studio on March 10. I retraced the route I used to take when I was still visiting my mom, not only in reminiscence of those visits, but because that route takes me through the cemetery and on to neighborhoods that are filled with flowers. I hadn’t realized how many things were in bloom – the forget-me-nots growing wild among the graves, and yards & gardens filled with tulips, japonica, lilacs, and wisteria starting to burst their buds. I made myself pause to admire every blossom. The things you miss when you never leave your house …

On the way back home, I realized that while waiting for a “return to normal” I had also stopped making any future plans. I stopped designing hats for galleries, and have several commissions that I put aside in the urgency to make masks – a project that turned out to be the proverbial marathon rather than a sprint. So I will be rebalancing my projects, splitting my time between mask making and hat design / commissions starting May 1.

I took the rest of the day to start a wardrobe of masks for myself. Once the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, I will want to dress up. I also expect masks will become not only normal, but socially responsible street wear. And I definitely won’t want to visit people and businesses in the grey utilitarian mask I wear when I take out the trash!

After testing my first brocade masks, I decided to launch a couture line which will be available soon in my online store. If you order a hat (or currently have one on order), I will include a couture mask with your order at no additional cost. Like my hats, these masks will be made from recycled brocades, laces, and beads and will typically be one-of-a-kinds. I also plan to offer options suitable for weddings, since no pandemic bride’s “something blue” should be in the form of a surgical mask.

I plan to continue offering utilitarian linen masks to those in need who request them (albeit on a limited basis). In keeping with my ethos of not profiting from pandemics and social causes, I plan to donate proceeds from stock masks (excluding custom couture) purchased from my website, to local food banks through December 31, 2020.

The 100th Mask …

The Hatter’s Decameron, Day 25: Completed my 100th linen mask last night. Production stopped at the next mask when my sewing machine needle had an unfortunate encounter with a finger …

Hatmaking in the time of COVID19 is not what I expected it to be. I have been self-sequestered since March 10, 2020 and expected to use the time to focus on making hats. But after shipping the Purple Phoenix hat (detailed in my previous post), that focus completely dissipated. Instead of creating, I spent my time monitoring the never-ending news, and sleeping and eating between periods of anxiety and anger. Of those news reports, the shortages of PPEs (personal protective equipment) for health care workers – especially masks – made me especially angry.

Anger is a useless state of being, unless you can transform it into motivation.

So on March 24, I set my hat business aside, and joined the army of home sewers and small businesses who are now channelling their resources into making cloth masks.

As with my hats, my masks are made from recycled textiles. For several years, Historic Enterprises had sent their cutting room scraps to me instead of their local landfill. I’m now working my way through my “linen closet,” pulling the softest remnants from those boxes of scrap, sorted by color, and cutting out masks, 1-2 panels at a time.

I quickly worked my way through my entire stash of ribbons, soutache cords and elastic, and am now making ties from 2-3 yards of linen that was printed in a grid, but off-grain. It was useless for hats, but perfect for handmade bias tape.

The customer who had purchased my last hat, turned out to be the director of a non-profit in the Stanwood/Camano area of Washington State, and asked if I could make 450 cloth masks as part of their current efforts. I have shipped 80 masks to that organization so far. The rest of my masks have gone to friends and family, and the staff at my local UPS Store, who received my 100th mask. I am now well into my second set of 100 masks…

My work on this project is pro-bono, as I refuse to profit from a pandemic and I have other sources of income. If you are looking for masks for you or your family, there are several makers who can be found via a Google search. If they are charging a fee, it’s because they have families to support. If a maker gives you masks for free, please consider paying it forward by making a donation to a food bank.

A new Phoenix rises . . .

I received a commission late last year from a customer (whom I shall call Lady C), for a phoenix hat in purples and blues – the first of its kind in this color scheme, as up to this point I have only made this style in shades of red. After months of delay, this hat finally took flight and shipped out today.

Set against a deep purple wool background, this phoenix is crafted in a deep blue wool, which I padded for some added dimension. The wings are lavender leather and blue wool applique, held in place with navy yarn and silver cord. It has a cobalt glass beady eye : ) The hat is cuffed with a chocolate brown karakul, and has lavender linen lining and a silver-tone button at top. All materials in this hat are reclaimed except for the sewing thread and the silver cord.

Because this was “not the customary” custom order, I sent progress shots to Lady C to make sure my work was meeting her vision and expectations.

This hat has a beautiful and mystical back story …

A phoenix presented itself to Lady C in a dream, and when she said: “what is your name?” the phoenix replied: “rue de attar”. When Lady C returned from her dream, she googled the name and discovered a 13th century Persian Muslim poet – Farid Ud-Din Attar, commonly known as Attar of Nishapur.

Rumi, another 13th century Sufi poet, referred to Sheikh Attar as ‘the spirit’ and himself as ‘its shadow’, saying “Attar traveled through all the seven cities of love, while I am only at the bend of the first alley”.

Attar’s work, The Conference of the Birds is a poem he based on a passage from the Qur’an, where two men are said to have been taught the language of the birds. It is considered a significant work of Sufi literature. The work reminded me of the story of the Crow King and his Ministers from the Khalila wa Dimna – a 14th century Arabic fable that inspired my Three Crows Cap. So I was thrilled to bring yet another bird from literary legend to wearable art piece.

Thank you Lady C! I hope your new hat brings you more happy dreams and enlightening journeys …

Yreka!…

These are among the caps shipping out this week to Nature’s Kitchen – an organic bakery and gift shop in Yreka, CA. These are all hand sewn and crafted from recycled wools and found objects. (The tiger faux-fur is the only new textile in this grouping).

This trio of custom orders is for one of my collectors and is also scheduled to ship out this week. I hope you like them, Charlie : )

I’m still recovering from the killer cold I’ve had since January 5, but am back in the shop, catching up …

A Game of Duck Duck Goose …

For those of you who may have missed them, here’s a selection of custom and gallery works that I shipped out during Fall / Winter 2019:

Over the holidays, after the last custom orders have shipped and my galleries are catering to their customers, I turn to my ‘turn of the year’ tasks – updating inventories, photo collections, blogs, websites – mostly the mundane behind-the-scenes stuff that helps keep my business going.

It’s time I spend getting my “ducks in a row” for the fresh new year…

This year, stuff happened, timelines got skewed, and my focus shifted to family matters. My diversion over the last few weeks has been in building a family history blog to honor parents, now passed…

During that process I discovered how useful tags can be – they’re like the new Search Bar but more visual. As a result, I figured out how to add a tag cloud to my online store. I also tagged my best sellers and deleted styles that weren’t of interest according to my analytic tools. If your favorite hat got deleted, let me know and I’ll add it back in. I also updated my Portfolios to include recent custom works, and added my UPS / FedEx shipping address to my Contacts page. Give the page a whirl and see what you think!

I’ve now racing to catch up (hence the Duck Duck Goose analogy), including eight customers patiently waiting for their hats, and three galleries waiting for restock. Soup to make, taxes to prep, cats to pamper, and all the other little birds of-a-yellow-feather hiding in the corners. Perhaps my cats can help with that…

“…here, ducky ducky ducky…”

In Memorium…

It’s been a month since I have written here. It’s been a very long month…

Family matters. Anyone who has moved a parent and taken over the management of their affairs, knows that other things get set aside. Because family matters.

As the eldest child, I took on that job when we moved our mother from her home of 50+ years in Yakima, to a nursing home in Seattle in August 2018. We had settled into a routine of weekly visits and mid-week phone calls to manage her finances and health care, when things turned sideways again late last year. She had not felt well over the holidays, and by Twelfth Night entered hospice care. She succumbed to pneumonia on January 15, just three months shy of her 90th birthday.

Creating hats during this period became evasive, so I turned to creating other things. As I did when my father passed in 2008, I dived into old family photos and journals as a way of keeping my focus on that parent during their final days.

The result is a new blog – Daveno Historica – which will be an ongoing project, in addition to Daveno Travels and of course, this website and its hat catalog. Obviously, I have more to say than a single blog will hold …

To those who have hat orders waiting and quotes pending, thank you for your patience. I am now getting back into my studio. To those who are waiting to see new works, I hope to meet those expectations in March-April.

My mother’s favorite hats.

When failure becomes success…

As an artist/designer, when your work becomes boring and sales slow to a trickle, you can either give it up, or shake it up. 2019 was that year for me.

In February when my little garden was encased in ice, I began work on a Firebird Hat, hoping that perhaps it would warm things up : ) The hat took about 3 months to complete, and the tail that I had intended to wrap around the cuff, ended up on a separate hat.

I entered the pair into the Betty Bowen Awards through the Seattle Art Museum in July, but failed to make it as a finalist. Success came later after two custom orders for the Firebird arrived in November and December.

The thing that felt like my biggest failure was my entry into The Met 500 Design Contest through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My Crow King Cap, based on a manuscript in their collection, placed in the top 40 by popular vote (out of nearly 200 entries) but didn’t make it to the final round.

I scaled this cap down to what is now my Three Crows Cap, for which I have shipped one custom order and have two more in progress. Failure at first can mean success later on! I also made one in a different color scheme for Tubac Center of the Arts, after finding that Blue Grackles are indigenous to Arizona:

Another failed entry in SAM’s Betty Bowen Awards was Raven Steals the Sun, based on a First People’s legend that I encountered frequent references to when I visited Alaska several years ago. Versions of this hat are currently available at Brookfield Craft Center, Peter’s Valley Gallery and Creative Minds Art Gallery.

The success to Raven Steals the Sun can be measured in its offspring of “Sun No Raven’ hats and caps. This custom order was made dazzling by a vintage button from a friend’s collection, and beads and semi-precious stones the customer supplied:

An even simpler version found its way onto a cap, which has already sold at Nature’s Kitchen, and for which I have a custom order pending. Success isn’t necessarily found on the first go-round of any given design:

Failure is not always the end game. Contests are a journey and not often the destination. Acclaim on social media doesn’t mean commercial success, except for when it does : )

As a new year and decade begins, so does my 20th year as a hatmaker and one-woman business. A lot of people have made that possible – the gallery owners and managers who represent my work; my patrons and collectors; my friends and colleagues who share my posts and hand out my business cards unsolicited. Every one of you has added to the measure of my success. Thank you all, for all that you do. Your support means more than you will ever know…

Warm for the Holidays…

Gifting is guilt-free when you choose American-made recycled handcraft! Here’s a sampling of what’s in store for you at the galleries across the country:

Brookfield Craft Center
286 Whisconier Road (Rt. 25), Brookfield, CT 06804
Recognized as one of the finest schools for creative study in America, a percentage of your hat purchase supports their teaching of both traditional and contemporary craft.

Peters Valley School of Craft
19 Kuhn Road, Layton, NJ 07851

Peters Valley School of Craft is a 501(c)(3) founded in partnership with the National Park Service to promote and encourage education and excellence in craft. They are now recognized as an internationally renowned center of fine craft. A percentage of your hat purchase supports their mission. BREAKING NEWS: You can now purchase a few of my hats on their online gift shop!

Creative Minds Art Gallery
123 North Beach Road, Suite F1, Eastsound WA 98245

Creative Minds showcases art that with a skip, jump or twist redefines creativity and functionality … as a result something common becomes special, for that someone special (or for special you – it’s allowed!)

Social Fabric
1302 Commercial Street, Bellingham WA 98225

“’Social Fabric‘ describes the connections we make with one another, making us all a part of the common thread of society…” This gallery focuses on sustainable, upcycled fashions and accessories as well as teaching and community building.

Nature’s Kitchen
412 South Main Street, Yreka, CA
“Organic in Yreka for over 30 years”, Nature’s Kitchen is a whole-grain bakery/cafe and gift shop featuring both local artisans and Fair Trade artists from around the world.  Nature’s Kitchen serves as a center of the community and supports many causes and organizations there. These pieces arrive December 18.

Tubac Center of the Arts
9 Plaza Road, Tubac AZ 85646

Located at the main intersection of this village which hosts over 100 art galleries and eclectic shops, the Center offers a full range of arts programming, seasonal exhibits and opportunities for artists (like me) to exhibit their work.

As you can see, it’s been a rockin’ year in my little studio – so much so that I now have custom orders booked through mid-January 2020. Here’s a sampling of collaborative works with recent customers. A percentage of my website sales in 2019 benefits Roots of Peace – a group that removes land mines and helps to replant those fields with vineyards and orchards, assisting farmers towards peace through sustainable agriculture in war-torn lands around the globe.

May your holidays be warm and bright, and may your shopping support causes close to your heart …

Wright At Home…

My trip to Chicago in 2018 yielded inspiration for a couple of hats.

I was quite taken with the ceiling light in the play room at Frank Lloyd Wright’s residence in Oak Park. I found its graphic nature appealing and transformed a piece of this architectural component into hats as soon as I arrived home.

The ceiling light in the playroom at the Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park, IL

You’ll find some of these hats at galleries this fall. You can also order one custom made, from my catalog.

This hat is featured in November in support of KNKX Public Radio and Peter’s Valley School of Craft in Layton, NJ, where a percentage of your purchase is reinvested into the teaching of American Craft. As always, my hats are handcrafted from rescued textiles and are eco-supportive.

As seen on KNKX Public Radio, November 2019

The other hat inspired by this trip is still in the design phase – a Gothic Peacock inspired by the Peacock Doors of the Palmer House Hotel, which I detailed earlier in my Chicago blogs. Look for the Peacock Hat to arrive here later this year. Perhaps the rest of my blogs from Chicago will find their way to Daveno Travels in that same time frame.

Time for the briefest of naps, and then back to work!

Resisting nap-time in a not-a-hotel lobby in Chicago.
Photo courtesy of my local guide, Patty Panek

A Gothic Hat…

Travel inspires my work.

This is my singular inspiration from my trip to Spain a few years back. You might spot it in in my ads supporting KNKX Radio in October, during their Fall Fund Drive.

This hat is patterned after 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 base of this hat is reclaimed black wool. The arches are ultrasuede that I gleaned from a thrift store skirt, which I then applied to the hat as padded applique in order to give some additional dimension. The architectural detailing is hand embroidered, and the hat is finished in mink rescued from a vintage coat. You can see it in person at the gallery shop at Brookfield Craft Center, or order one from my custom order catalog.

Paying it forward…

Those who follow me here, know that philanthropic efforts play a significant part in my company’s mission, especially when I can pay it forward (or pay it back) to organizations in my own community.

Starting in August, my efforts have been in support of KNKX Radio, the best source of Jazz, Blues and NPR News in Seattle. The station keeps me entertained and informed, and many a hat has been made with jazz and news floating around in the background.

You may have heard my radio spots on your drive home mid-week in August. For the next three months, you’ll also see one of my most recent works – “Raven Steals the Sun” as an ad rotating through the KNKX website.


I’d like to thank Katie Cordrey for designing my ads, and Katie Morgan at KNKX for working with me to make this sponsorship happen!

If I was a newsletter…

I resolve one technical issue, only to have another replace it. Today’s snag is an inability to distribute a newsletter. So, If I Was A Newsletter, this is What I Would Say…

August is Customer Appreciation Month!  If you have purchased a hat from me over the last two years, I’m sending you a free tote bag as a thank you! If you don’t receive yours by the end of August, or would simply like to request one, please send your mailing address. These tote bags replace the plastic bags I’ve been shipping my hats in , in my continued efforts to be a more eco-friendly artisan.

After a long and laborious summer, this website and the online store are now fully functional. You will find my reconstructed research papers, tutorials and travel journals, as well as my Custom Hat Catalog in an easier to navigate format that is also mobile phone friendly.  I have added some new hat styles to my Custom Catalog, including a Gothic version of “Raven Steals the Sun” which you can scroll down to read about.  I’m also currently a proud supporter of KNKX Radio (my local NPR affiliate).  Listen for my radio spots from 3 – 8 PM over the next few weeks, and look for my ad on their website starting in September.  

I appreciate your patronage and continued support of my work.  Let me know what you think! I welcome constructive feedback on this website, your ideas for new hats you’d like to see in my catalog, and galleries you’d like to find them in. Drop me a line at hats@augustphoenixhats.com.

Block Printing and its Impact on Textile and Book Arts…

This article was written by a friend who passed away in July 2017.  It was originally self-published in “A Boke of Dayes: A Journal of the Festival of St. Hildegard” (1994)  I have augmented this article with photos from a catalog of his works that was part of his estate.

Gordon not only carved blocks, but taught carving and printing as well, and volunteered much of his time to the furtherance of this art form.  I hope this article will inspire others to continue on that path.

History
Block printing can be traced back to Egypt.  From there come the best examples of printing and tools because items were buried intentionally for use in the next life.  The environment was dry, free from bugs and rodents. Many pieces are available for study, because grave robbers were only interested in gold, and left the more common items behind. 

Block printing appears to have come to Europe from India and Rome.  In early Europe, dyes were used rather than ink, on surfaces that weren’t as well prepared as they were in their country of origin.

Block printing was part of textile production, rather than a separate industry.  By the 10th century, gold and silver were mixed with linseed oil and printed onto dyed fabrics.  Multi-colored prints were done by block printing a dark outline and painting in the details by hand.  This process led eventually to the manufacture of printed needlework patterns 

The process of block printing textiles led to a number of other forms of reproduction.  In China, paper was printed using clay blocks. By the 10th century, clay letters were set into an iron frame for the purpose of printing pages. This technique was developed by the country people, but later abandoned when the government started using the process for their own purposes. With the advent of printing in Europe, manuscripts could be mass produced, although illumination [illustration] was still done by hand. These hand illuminated printed books were the forerunners of the modern day coloring book.

Notes on technique
Linoleum is made by grinding linseed and flax into a paste, and spreading it out into a sheet. Its’ properties and lack of grain make it an ideal substance for the novice block carver to use. Linoleum can also be purchased and adhered onto wood blocks.  Wood is more difficult to carve because of its grain, which makes mistakes harder to remedy. [One of Gordon’s preferred woods was Pear, I assume because of its tight grain.]

The design is drawn directly onto the wood, either freehand or as a tracing from another source. The design is then carved in such a way as to slope away from the design, rather than carve straight down into the surface.  This gives better structural support to the edges of the design. Wood carving chisels are used rather than razor blades, which can break and become imbedded in your work.

A selection of Gordon’s original blocks and prints are available in an album entitled  “Gordon’s Arts” on Flickr

“Dietmar von Aist – a minnesanger – Uf der linden obenedâ sanc ein kleinez vogellîn.vor dem walde wart ez lût:dô huop sich aber daz herze mînan eine stat dâ ez ê dâ was.ich sach dâ rôsebluomen stân:die manent mich der gedanke vildie ich hin zeiner vrouwen hân.”
See his Flickr page for the English translation … 

Chicago’s Cultural Center…

The Preston Bradley Hall

This building opened in 1897 as Chicago’s first central public library and was reestablished as a cultural center in 1991. It was designed in the Revivalist Style by architects Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. The interiors are modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice (been there), the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (seen that), and the Acropolis in Athens (which I have not yet seen).

The staircase leading to the dome sits in a vaulted 3-story space, 40 x 52 feet wide and is considered one of the grandest staircases in the country.  Ascending this staircase took my breath away when I reached the top and arrived in the Preston Bradley Hall, originally the reading room for the Chicago Public Library. It houses the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome, measuring 38 feet across. The symbols in the ring at the top are the signs of the zodiac, separated at cardinal points by floral panels, although I am informed that these cardinal points are not placed accurately (which would place them at the actual solstice and equinox points between the zodiac signs in accordance with the astrological calendar).

The light fixtures were also designed by Tiffany. The architects liked to mirror their designs and motifs, as you will see here in the fish scale pattern (a popular Roman-era motif) that makes up the body of both the dome and the chandeliers. The metalwork was done by the Chicago Ornamental Ironwork Company.

I laid on the floor to take photos through a zoom lens – a thing I have always regretted not doing in the Baptistry in Florence. The color variances are due to my shooting these photos at various times over three days when I was able to get into this dome between concerts and large groups of visitors.

It was interesting to note that the dome turned green on overcast days.

The mosaics surrounding the dome were also designed by Tiffany, based on Renaissance scrollwork. The inlay appears to include gold, mother of pearl and possibly other semi-precious stones. On sunny days the walls glittered.

The photo below shows the foyer just outside of the Preston Bradley Hall. I was so focused on the Tiffany dome that I missed major pieces of mosaic in this foyer, which were assembled in the Tiffany Studios in New York City before being transported here. They feature the names of classical artists and quotes in Chinese, Hebrew, Persian and Egyptian, selected by librarians during the building’s construction. 

The mosaics on the staircases were designed by Robert Spencer and Jacob A. Holzer, who were both employed by Tiffany Studios at the time. The mosaics were finished in 1898 in a Byzantine Revival style made popular by “Theodora” – a play starring Sarah Bernhardt. They were executed in mother of pearl, gold backed tesserae glass, and Favrile glass which Tiffany patented in 1894. The mosaics are set in Carrera marble, in a style of ornamentation known as Cosmati – an Italian style dating to the 11th century.

I think this is the staircase that leads to the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial (G.A.R. rotunda), and a patch of the mosaic floor on the landing.

The G.A.R. Rotunda was crafted by Healy & Millet and exquisite in its own right. It was built as a meeting place for the group and was furnished by A.H. Andrews Company. The Rococo style furniture disappeared prior to the reopening of the Cultural Center in 1977.

Of all the things I saw in Chicago, this was probably the most spectacular of them. If you only have an hour to spend in Chicago, spend it here.

“Architecture, sculpture and painting have fallen away from each other. They could be put back again if society would return to the time … when every object was beautiful because it was made by the hands of man.”

William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Yesterday’s Main Street and the DuSable Museum…

Today I start my day at the Museum of Science+Industry. The building that houses the Museum of Science+Industry was designed in 1892 by Burnham & Co. to house the Palace of Fine Arts for the Colombian Exposition. I believe it’s one of the only buildings still standing from the Expo.

Head on over to DavenoTravels.blog to read about planes, trains and automobiles (and ships and bicycles). Here you will find softer stuff.

“Yesterday’s Main Street” is a replica of a typical Illinois Main Street, with storefronts filled with the latest in ‘turn of the century’ fashions, including foundations from Gossard Corset Shop.

Downstairs is Colleen’s Fairy Castle, which I read about as a child. It was primitive compared to the Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute, but I reminded myself that this was a working dollhouse, and shouldn’t be compared to architecturally correct scale models.

After posing in front of a Seattle diorama in the Trains Room, and grabbing lunch downstairs, I hop a bus towards the DuSable Museum of African American History.

The first gallery I entered was Rewriting History – Paper Gowns and Photography” by Fabiola Jean-Louis. She created life-sized paper gowns and staged photography to tell African-American history, in the trappings of the European Renaissance. The rest of my photos from this installation are here. Additional photos from the DuSable are here.

My final feat for the day was neither museum nor fashion. The White Sox play the Texas Rangers at a place once called Comiskey Park. Play Ball!

Chicago fashions and bronze peacocks…

One of my chief reasons for visiting Chicago in 2018 was to see the works of Frank Lloyd Wright. My visit to The Rookery is detailed at Daveno Travels, with additional photos on Pinterest. A short walk from that building brought me to the Chicago Exchange Building, where I had hoped to go to the 5th floor gallery to view the trading floor. It’s one of the cases where the guide books are incorrect…

Later that day, I missed a “Gangsta Walking Tour” for my inability to find the start point, but happily stumbled into the Chicago History Museum. On display there was this ensemble – a coat and shoes worn by a trader on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade (the building that I could not access this morning). Traders and others on the floor of the Board of Trade could be recognized by their coats. I believe it dates from the 1950’s.

Also on display was this example of women’s swimwear from the 1940’s.

I found a collection of Bes-Ben hats here. Benjamin B. Green-Field and his sister Bes founded the firm together and sold hats from the 1920’s-60’s. Their more famous customers included Hellen Keller, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor. In the summer of 1936 they held a clearance sale that became legendary – Ben stood on his balcony and threw hats into the crowd that had gathered below. Hats valued at $425 could be purchased for $5 if you could catch one…

Chicago was also the home of the mail order catalog. You have Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Sears to thank for our current “buy off the internet”. Then as now, the practice forced smaller stores, many of them rural, out of business because they could not compete.

Near the History Museum, in the Old Town Triangle District, I was seeking Crilly Court, a residential area built in the late 1800’s and redeveloped after WWII. I was particularly interested in this area because many of the buildings were renovated by Edgar Miller.

Edgar Miller was a modern day Renaissance Man, working in sculpting, painting, batik, lithography, architecture, interior design and stained glass. He was an illustrator for Marshal Fields’ magazine and pioneered the use of modern art in advertising during the early 1920’s. He disliked repetition, considering it “the mark of an uncreative artist.” He used recycled materials to turn old homes into works of art, a practice he called “social adventure”, a practice that I found endearing and texturally interesting.

  • There are additional photos at Daveno Travels. To read more about this little known artist, I highly recommend “Edgar Miller and the Handmade Home” which is lavishly illustrated.

After dinner, I head back downtown for a drink / photo opportunity at the Palmer House. Rebuilt three times between 1871 and 1926, it boasts 24 floors, 2250 rooms, and a ceiling painted by an unnamed Italian artist.

C.D. Peacock Jeweler was the first business to incorporate in Chicago in 1834, and opened a shop here in 1927. It’s Peacock Doors were designed by Louis Tiffany and cast in bronze, and featured on the Palmer House Christmas card that year. I’m thinking of how to feature this on a hat.

And now, with visions of peacocks a’dance in my head, I’m back to the Pittsfield to retire to bed…

Postcards from Chicago…

I’m publishing my full journal for this trip from 2018 at Daveno Travels, but I want to include some additional highlights here. I fear I’m becoming notorious for taking more notes and photos than a single blog can hold…

On my second full day in Chicago, I set out for the 1926 Building, also known as the Fine Arts Building, built in 1895 as a showroom for Studebaker carriages. It has housed artist studios since 1898, including Florence Ziegfield’s Chicago Musical College, the largest music college in this country at that time. It’s also the site of the American Medical Women’s Association, founded in 1915. The glass front elevator has a human operator, and like the Smith Tower in Seattle, gave me an unimpeded view of every floor as the elevator took me to the 10th floor, where I found placards marking the studios for L. Frank Baum (Wizard of Oz), Henry Blake (Cliff Dwellers) and Frank Lloyd Wright (architect).

The Monroe Building, designed by Holabird & Roche in 1912, has a beautiful Gothic – Italian Romanesque interior that’s covered with tile work made by Rookwood Pottery, one of the largest woman-owned businesses in the country at the time. It remains among the largest commercial installations of Rookwood tile in this country.

Upstairs is the Pritzker Military Museum. It’s small but houses a library, and an interesting collection of artifacts and wartime recruitment posters. I got a kick out of seeing this field sewing kit and a tin containing a military button polishing kit.

Next stop is the Art Institute, with its pair of life size bronze lions guarding its doors, a gift from Mrs. Henry Field when it was rebuilt after the Chicago Fire. I find the Textile Gallery closed (there’s always something closed!). The Decorative Arts gallery has a piece of office furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I later found out that he also designed bric-a-brac for his homes, and even the gowns his wife wore …

Downstairs I find a room of miniature rooms, built by Mrs. James Ward Thorne for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-34. She became an active fundraiser for organizations like the Women’s Exchange, which gave women the opportunity to sell handcrafts to subsidize their household income. The rooms are built to a scale of 1″=1′. The hats in the settees below are are less than an inch tall, hard to photograph both due to their size, the glass cases and the dim lighting. You can see more of these miniature rooms here.

I spent a lot of time in the Armor Room – my favorites are here. After escaping that room, I find small illuminations mounted in recesses in the wall of a hallway. This pair is from a “Lives of the Saints” circa 1250/1300, tempera with pen and ink on parchment, depicting Saint Lucy (a Roman martyr, at left) and Saint Scholastica, sister of Saint Benedict and a founder of female monasticism.

I resumed my self guided architectural tour along Michigan Avenue, which was a residential district on the waterfront of Lake Michigan until it was destroyed during the Chicago Fire. As the city was being rebuilt, debris was dumped and built over, similar to how Seattle was extended out into the Puget Sound.

The Gage Building was a trio of buildings built by the same architects in 1898, as a millinery factory for the three millinery firms – Gage, Keith and Ascher. It’s facade was designed by Louis Sullivan and recalls the Arts & Crafts movement of medieval revivalism that was popular at the time in both the US and Europe. The ground floor is now a restaurant.

The Singer Building dates to 1926, architects were Mundie & Jensen. It’s 10 stories tall but only 140 feet wide due to land speculation fever and subsequent prices in the 1920’s. It housed mostly offices and some repair facilities. I had to duck into the alley and reach above my head to touch the original building. The bottom floor is now a Subway sandwich shop.

Today I saw about a third of the sites on my list. I spent the evening paring down my ‘must-see’ list and reading up on The Rookery, the commercial building I would visit tomorrow morning. So much to see here …

Wright design elements…

I spent a week in Chicago in May 2018 to see the architecture, especially the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose works I have admired for quite some time. In a reversal of my normal practice, I have posted the full-length text of this day in Chicago to Daveno Travels, and am using this post to share architectural elements from Wright’s home and studio, and the Unity Temple in Oak Park, that may inspire some of my future works.

Lotus patterned leaded glass window in the dining room. Patterned glass such as this and the diamond pattern you see frequently in homes of this era, allow light to enter, while providing privacy since the disruptions in the glass make it nearly impossible to see in from the outside.

The ceiling light in the dining room is thought to be the first use of recessed, indirect lighting. The grillwork in this ceiling light is stylized oak branches and leaves, and is the same size as the dining room table that sits directly below it.

Stencil in the master bedroom. Wright was American-born with Welsh ancestry. He reflected it in his work by incorporating Celtic motifs from the Tree of Life and the Book of Knowledge throughout his home. This is stencil graces the upper wall and continues all the way around the master bedroom.

A floor grate bringing heat from the central heating system.

The skylight in the Children’s Playroom is a fretsawed grille in a geometric pattern of prickly ash leaves and pods. I have already incorporated a motif from this grille into one of my hat designs.

A stained glass door leading to the street from the Children’s Playroom.

Glass skylights in the Reception Hall (where Wright received guests and clients before taking them into his nearby office). It is inspired by nature as were many of Wright’s designs.

Unity Temple, an exterior shot.

A ceiling light fixture / skylight in the Unity House, the common rooms adjacent to the Temple.

A window in the Unity Temple (in the worship area).

I have also started a board on Pinterest dedicated to the works of Frank Lloyd Wright that I visited in Chicago.

Art & artifact in San Francisco…

I visited San Francisco in May 2013 to attend a wedding. Since it was just a weekend jaunt, I didn’t write a travel blog, but wanted to share a few of my favorite finds from that trip.

The Xanadu Art Gallery was housed in the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in San Francisco. Its interior design mirrors the Guggenheim but on a much smaller scale, with a spiral ramp that hugs the walls and gradually moves you from the ground to the upper levels, leaving the center of the gallery to be lit from a combination of lighting just below the roof.

After admiring the architecture, my attentions turned to the artifacts from across Africa and Asia, many of which were for sale. One of the pieces that caught my eye was a tiny chop carved from crystal, the first I had ever seen that was not jade or some other opaque stone. An attentive salesman kindly unlocked the cabinet so I could hold it in my hand. At $800 I still regret not buying it.

I returned the chop to its case, thanked the salesman, and started to leave, when he asked me if I had seen the textiles. Textiles? “Yes, the ones in the drawers along the wall on the upper floor”. “Uh, no, I did not…” I followed him back up the spiral, and spent another hour pouring through every drawer in the cabinets.

One of a pair of embroidered Chinese sleeve bands at the Xanadu Gallery.

Sadly, this gallery closed in 2015. The rest of my photos are here.

I also visited the Asian Art Museum, which I would return to later that night to see my friend get married. Again, I spent some time just admiring the architecture before turning my attention to the artifacts. Here are some of my favorites:

Rattan bowler, Japanese, 1880’s. The artist was Hayakawa Shokosai, whose works were made famous by a turn of the century Kabuki actor, Ichikawa Danjuuro IX, whose star power inspired the rattan bowler to become a hallmark of fashion for Japanese dandies. This is a rare surviving example.

Japanese chainmail, Edo Period. This detail shot of the very fine chainmail from a suit of Samurai armor shows coin-pattern discs set into it. These links are flat and about 1/4″ or less in diameter.

Dragon and Feline belt hook, gilt bronze, Eastern Zhou dynasty, Warring Period (475-221 BCE). This is the Chinese version of a belt buckle.

You can see the rest of my favorites on Pinterest.

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 – 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 variants, 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, shape-shifted 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 (in August 2019).

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. You can order one of your very own here!

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…

Crow King in video…

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

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…

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.

Directional 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 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.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/453116

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 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 Part V: Applique…

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: