My trip to Alaska in 2008 was my first solo adventure. I went to see glaciers, totem poles and to get over my fear of flying so I could get to Europe the following year.
While I was there, one of the recurring images I saw on totem poles and jewelry was a bird with a disc in its mouth, a depiction of a First People’s tale called “Raven Steals The Sun.”
The story has several varients, but they all tell of a world of darkness, and of a chieftain who had three cedar treasure boxes containing the Sun, Moon and Stars. The trickster Raven, learning of the treasures and wanting to bring and end to the eternal darkness, shapeshifted into a child who begged to play with the boxes. Once they were in his hands, he turned himself back into a Raven, and taking the treasure boxes, flew up through the smoke hole of the chieftain’s longhouse and high up into the sky. The contents of the boxes spilled out, dividing the darkness into night and day, and bringing light into the human world.
My first full-bird hat – the Raven King – gave me enough confidence to try other dimensional pieces. The Firebird followed, and then the Crow King – my entry in The Met 500 Design Contest (which you can vote for until August 12)
This new Raven came together pretty quickly, but the Sun proved problematic. Every time I tried to alter a Haida design (shown here) I ended up with a Sun that looked more like flower.
A friend handed me a rubber stamp that leaned towards Gothic, and after several hours of searching the internet for designs to meld with the rubber stamp, my hat took a turn in an entirely unexpected direction.
I liked the ‘tribal gothic’ sun so much that I decided to do all the applique in black leather (which I had stripped off a couch that was destined for the dump). Once I had the Sun in place, Raven decided it would emerge from the cuff, with its wings wrapping around the Sun, catching one of the Sun’s flares in its beak. I stylized the feather detail, to keep the focus on the Raven’s face. The cuff is a herringbone-patterned wool which mimics the chevrons of my embroidery on the wings.
And now I have a hat inspired by my first trip to Alaska, based on a First People’s legend, but with a distinctively Gothic twist. Watch for it to arrive in my Custom Catalog later this fall!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …