Morocco Journal Part One

Mountains through Mountains

Five years ago, Ramon and I sat, facing waves coming from the coast that broke from the Rif Mountains. We spoke in laughter and Italian, making loose travel plans for future years and charting my path for the next few months in Iberia. The idea of crossing the strait to Tangier had been set in my mind after a delicious tajine that Jackie had cooked sometime one of those weeks. Ramon thought better of the venture and pushed me to go north, on the train, the slow, local train that snakes through the mountains and deposits its inhabitants in Granada, lush and warm in the summer. It had felt important to go to Granada, even though I had already been. I had to go and be lonely there and settle into this feeling and come to know it. I hadn’t known this before I stepped on the train, nor did I know at the time, but years later, it expanded in written truths. I remember it as an unhinged few days of wandering and writing letters and sitting and smelling the jasmine in the gardens at the Alhambra. I often sat in the same spot, facing the same jasmine blooms, their scent lingering from the previous night and talked to the gardeners. Quietly, I would smile at their observations of the day’s work and the tourists that passed them in streams. Unsettling in the way of stirring up something that needed to be shaken. This journey had been about that, it was what I came looking for and it scared and struck me.

I think now, Ramon knew me and what I’d find in Morocco before I knew it myself. He knew I’d love the textiles, the scent of the place and that I would find myself there one way or another in the next few years. I remember when I came back from a day in Cadiz, he was impressed with my reflections of the city and he smiled a strong, approving smile. We never traveled to India on motorbikes like we had promised over green olives. We never spoke again after I left the orange grove. The letter I wrote months later was good but not good enough to alter a proper simple life. The farmer artist stayed put and I can only choose to have respect for that decision. As he foresaw, once to Morocco, twice to Morocco, maybe it is there we will meet one of these days.

I admit with a whole heart that I was terrified to travel this June. I had been preparing for months, for the past year and I had never felt more unprepared. Wishing for more time had started to become a daily pastime. I could have changed the timing, I full well know this, but I relish in this fear and the tension it imprints on to me. Fortune might favor the brave, but I didn’t feel brave, only constantly in question. Question had become a place of comfort, a default in unseen times. But the answer can never be held in preparations, it is only in action where truth can be felt in its purest form.

Your second time here? Yes, I mean, Oui, I mean, Nam, I nodded. Somehow, through my anxiety of arriving, I was able to sleep on the plane. It was a good omen that I did, somehow my body must have known this would be a very long and challenging Saturday. The agent at immigration seemed to be looking through my face, curious as to what I was actually doing there. Moi aussi, I wanted to add.

Hamid was downstairs to greet me. He is soft and kind and having known Susan for twelve years, there is an automatic comfort. She never fails to amaze me how she has completely entered and been enveloped into the culture and this country. She is Moroccan deep down, she must be. I still am incredibly humbled to have received such generous help from her, I feel so undeserving of it and am hoping to honor it properly.

Just like I was telling David, the air is pregnant with heat. Permeating up from the ground, from the South, up from the Sahara. But it is dry and a bit cooler than I expected it would be. Some of the land resembles yellow haired straw with clusters of goats and dots of low hovering palms as we reach toward Marrakech. We arrive at Amazonite around noon. The secret doors open into the corridors, piled high with rugs and textiles that I just want to rest my eyes on for a few moments. I close them though, because I know they will distract me and we have a long afternoon of mountain roads ahead. Susan was happy to see me and she offered some more names and numbers and advice. It felt like much to accomplish in just a few short days, but she reiterated it could be done. The exceptional owner of Amazonite, Sabah, remembered me and I melted with humility. I often thought of her over the last year and how she generously draped me in Berber jewels, fit for museum collections. She remembered my eyes, she said and I had pause to thank my mother for the gift of light eyes. Sometimes, I think that without them, no one would remember me. I said I would be back to visit next week, hoping I could keep my promise.

Hamid and I jetted out of the palmeraie just as quickly as we had come in and it didn’t take long for the landscape to change drastically. Driving in and through the Atlas Mountains didn’t seem like such a feat as I was making plans to come here, but now going through I see that it appears to be mildly treacherous. It is probably to my benefit that I am beyond exhausted and traveled out at this point. The hazy shade of journey has been clouding my vision since we were on the outskirts of Marrakech. It was a good time to be half asleep. When I would come to again, often times we were in the dip of the mountain pass. These oases are verdant, appearing as if they were soaked in liquid in the middle of the driest bits of mountain. The mountains impress me not because they are massive or awesome in an admirable sense, but for their patterns. The way the vegetation hangs to the seemingly rocky soil, sometimes vertically. The trees grow in large numbers, often they appear so perfectly spaced, gridded almost. They grow as if they are reaching for something, yearning towards the sun that gnarls their positions and limbs. I noticed hives and am thoroughly inspired that bees fly up here to make honey. You would think the spread out, flattened bits of land would host the hives suitably enough, but I often saw them tucked into widened crevices, hidden into the mountainsides.

The further we twisted south, the quicker I felt the anxiety fall away. Let it come down, I need it to disperse. None of it seemed to matter during these bits of road and it will probably extend further into importance and taking up space. What is said about a change of scenery couldn’t be truer. It felt like breaking shells, I sensed warmth and was happy to see myself emerging from the weight of the winter and of the past few weeks. I made it here, just like I needed to and now I am in it but it still feels so unreal.

The mountains turned into gravel like textures. Piles of stones marking the kilometers. Hamid drove like a bat out of hell after most of the curvy passages. It was striking as we entered upon a fairly desolate stretch of land that flattened out and was bordered by mountains in the distance. The dusty embankments lead to Tazanakht, which is windblown and deserted, but it is just hidden from plain sight, the hidden country. We have syrupy tea at the Hotel Taghdoute and it is decided that I will stay with Ahmed’s family instead of in the empty hotel. At first, I did not mind the change, I was much too spent to even think on it, but as I grew more tired, the idea of concentrating and conversing felt like it was taking its toll. But there was no out, only onward.

Ahmen, Ayman and Asma and I sit sheepishly staring at each other. They know the toys I laid on the table are for them and they have to sit on their hands not to rip open the packaging. I don’t mind either way but there is a ceremony of tea and honey. We converse over the names of the foods and the numbers in Darija, French and Berber. This only lasts so long and the sweets are gone and the olive oil soaked up, so somewhere in my tired self, I find the resolve to play with them and we laugh and act silly. Kbira talks me through it, speaking mostly with our eyes. Tirelessly, Kbira shows me countless rugs she has made, all different styles and colors. Her industriousness puts me to shame and would do the same to nearly every creative person I know. I am marveling at her and coming up short in my language. I wished for notes to write, to her and the children, to communicate in my truest intention, I can always write better than I can say it, but there would none.

It is dark now and nearly ten. I’m sure that the pace is finally slowing but I couldn’t be more wrong. Dinner is being prepared and Ahmed has a guest for tea and then we have some business to discuss. We all sit on the floor around the tajine and it seems surreal that I am here with new friends, while last night I was at the airport in New York and the night before, drinking margaritas with T bird. The children are intelligent and funny, they tell illustrious stories and Ahmed listens intently to their observations. I’m humbled and impressed by the quiet strength of this family. Another door of Morocco opened. There is watermelon to finish, it is sweet and cools me to the point of rest.

Finally the night and my longest day comes to an end. The days after this first one will be filled with long roads and tea. Kbira takes all her hair down and shows me. It is incredibly long and luxe, I’m almost breathless at the sight of it, it is that beautiful. She lays down a pile of her rugs for me to sleep on and I leave the window open. It was thinking of Italy when I thought of the phrase, days with open windows never end but today and tonight it is in Morocco where it rings truest.

Kbira’s morning harira is thick and salty with a heady gulp of olive oil pooling at the bottom of the bowl. The dates seem like they were yanked from the palm in a gripping fist, smashing together their sweet pliable skins. You have to pull them from one another. When you eat this every morning with sweet tea, how can you not be thankful for your life, however it will present itself to you later that day.

AM /// June 2014