I have dreamt of going to Morocco ever since I was a teenager in Germany, when it was still one of the destinations on the Interail train-pass. Marrakech was one of those names for me that carry mystery and calling. What better time to go than during this trip on Sabbatical.
Even today, where travel is easy and things we value, like safe drinking water, are readily available everywhere I’ve been, the sensual impact of a Moroccan town is big. Colours, smells, sounds and the mazes of old buildings and markets are at times overwhelming, but mostly awe-inspiring to me: I am definitely in a different culture!
The Arabic world is rich with ornament: from jewelry to buildings, in metal, plaster, thread, wood and leather. Patterns and symbols carrying meaning and story are passed on from generation to generation. Craftsmen and women spend their lives working on fine details, often using methods unchanged over generations.
And yet: the modern global flavour is strongly influencing local tastes: everywhere, but perhaps more in urban areas, we saw a blend of worlds: traditional gowns, tight jeans, Moroccan leather slippers and western style knee-high boots. Cellphones are everywhere.
The old world of the Medinas is full of the richness of tile work and plasters. Visiting the Ryad Moqri in Fez, which is now housing a school for the traditional crafts, I learned a little about the technique of the fine plasterwork. The pattern is transferred from a cast using a powder-coating. Then the plaster is cut to the depth desired by the artisan. The result is a relief with strong shadows.
Old buildings require repair and I saw plenty of restoration underway. Newly plastered facades grace beautifully restored interiors. Modern materials replace older tools here too: a plastic burnishing tool.
The sense for decor doesn’t stop in old town: high end condominiums also show attention to detail and seem to carry the traditions forward adding modern style.
Tadelakt plasters are a lime finish that we have just recently been learning about in Canada; Morocco is where this technique originates. We saw beautiful examples both indoors and out. They set the mood of a place and give elegance and beauty featuring cut out patterns and bright colours.
The waterproof surface isn’t used just for wet environments: here restaurant walls, hotel foyers and courtyard walls are finished with shiny blue, red and yellow. You can even take some home in the form of small containers bright turquoise, blue, pink or purple.
As a designer and builder of earthen homes I appreciate the work of finishes as much as the construction of the building.
On a trip south into the desert we saw towns and villages of earthen architecture; some dating back hundreds of years and kept in use or restored, others crumbling and in disrepair. There are themes in the architectural form: corner towers, stepped rooflines, courtyards and large colourful gates.
Houses are built tight together three or four stories high. Narrow streets and walkways are bridged here and there by arches of stone. The old buildings are built of mud bricks or rammed earth on stone foundations, tapered on the corners. They are covered with earthen plaster that is rich with straw fibre. Cut patterns create sharp shadow lines . The colour is the colour of the earth around, ranging from red to orange and yellow tones.
The desert climate allows for clay roofs as well. Layers of bamboo and clay over wooden beams form terraces that blend completely into the landscape.
It’s not all good though; earthen buildings need to be maintained annually and slowly fall apart if not cared for. They do age gracefully and damage can be fixed- even by re-using the original materials. It takes time, interest and energy to make that happen and out in this desert new buildings are often built with cement blocks like everywhere else. In comparison they appear sharper, their colours less attractive and clearly artificial. And if you’ve ever felt the difference inside when it’s 40 degrees outside you’ll stay with the mud.
I was often reminded of villages in Northern Sudan that I saw a few years ago: the private sphere of the courtyard behind walls of earth, bright coloured gates and large clay water urns on the roadside. A gesture of hospitality – even at the gas station.
The best blog is the one I’m actually going to write- so here are some notes after walking from Burgos to Santiago between September 25 and October 15, 2011
I think in my mind I expected a “pilgrimage” to be a fairly lonely experience with little contact to anybody. That was corrected on day 1: we had casually met Sue from Toronto as we walked out of Burgos. A few miles down the road entering a small village where we hoped to have a break and some food we were greeted by her waiving to us from a cafe inviting us to join her and another friend. This is an attitude we would see frequently – peregrinos (pilgrims) inviting others to their table at restaurants and bars. There was always the option for solitude but also the possibility of connection.
2. Peregrino culture:
Very quickly after joining the walking ‘community’ the group behaviour becomes obvious:
a. People take their boots off anywhere- in restaurants, on park benches, in the lobby of an albergue. Often this is accompanied by some treatment of blisters etc.
b. Upon arrival at the albergue you set up your bed space with your sleeping bag etc and
c. proceed to take a shower. Refreshed you then
d. go to the washing station and wash your walking clothes (since you only have one set of clean clothes)
e. Take a rest after hanging the washed clothes
f. Do some journalling
g. Scout out the best place for pilgrim’s menu in the village and take in the sights, perhaps go for a beer
h. Optional visit to the local church and or pilgrim’s mass
i. Join other peregrino’s for dinner ca.7 pm (long before any locals look for food, but the albergue closes at 9 or 10)
j. Full and tired go to bed at 9
k. Wake up early- if you’re the very early type you best learn how to do your packing very quietly
l. Leave the albergue before daybreak to get a good start on the walk and better chances at a bed at the next location
m. Wish everyone ‘Buen Camino’ as you pass them – also allow people to pass and exchange a greeting
n. Peregrinos loose all good habits when it comes to traffic: they wander all over the road, pay little attention to vehicles…
3. It’s Peace making in its own way:
The common goal of ‘doing the camino’ gives a connection point that removes differences of status or other background. We are all pilgrims at this time. We talk to each other in many languages (with more or less skill) laugh and cry, struggle with our bodies, our backpacks and our minds. And we practice tolerance when we get frustrated about the behaviour of others (snoring, zipping bags, flashlights at 4 am etc) . Men and women share sleeping rooms and bathrooms, and we have to give space by turning our glance at times.
4. Pushing my limits
I never thought of myself as a hiker, and before this a 6 km walk seemed like a daunting exercise. Now when we look at 15 km I think “that’s just 3 hrs” and I feel quite able to do 25. Walking has become a serious mode of transport and is in fact a very pleasant way to explore places ( I knew that for visiting towns but hadn’t considered it for longer distances).
All there is to do is walk: Follow the yellow arrows and the sign of the shell and you will get there.
Getting dressed is pretty simple too: One spare set of clothing and perhaps something in the morning to offer some warmth.
6. Other Highlights:
We had a first light frost on the ground with a half moon in a clear night sky. Yes it’s getting colder and time to move the kitchen indoors.
Today was picked as the moving day and everybody jumped in. Wheelbarrow loads of stuff was taken out of the cupboards and fridges and is now in its new location for the cold months. Marisa orchestrated and many hands made the work light. And still it took all day.
At the end of the day dinner was served indoors!
A few more interns finished on Friday and have moved on. The place feels empty and quiet. Our winter population will count around 20.
There’s lots more to do to be ready for winter: the garden will be put to bed, firwood moved closer to the buildings, water shut off to outdoor showers.
Meanwhile I am preparing for a trip to Africa- 10 days from now I’ll be on my way. And Sundays at O.U.R. Ecovillage will resume in February.
Yes, it’s been a long while since I last actually sat down on a Sunday to write.
It is somewhat symptomatic for how the season takes off here at the Village, leaving hardly a weekend to sit back and reflect.
So here it is Thanksgiving weekend and we are taking three days off. Days off look different for everyone. In my case it looked like this:
Sleeping in was definitely on my list. Followed by “unscheduled time to do whatever I felt moved to do”. That translated into doing some browncoat plaster in the bathhouse and cleaning out the gutter of the Art Studio.
A drive to the open water near Sooke at French Beach was a wonderful break. There’s just something about sitting by the ocean and listening to the pulse of the surf.
A visit with friends also felt good and was long overdue.
So think about what time off means to you and how do you make it happen?