Art & Artifacts 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.