Saturday, June 27, 2009


On my home page this morning, I noticed a headline about a YouTube video of Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Of course I had to go check it out. They couldn't come even close to Michael's talent but I was so impressed by their precision - no, that's not the right word...anyway, check out this video of them dancing to the Pointer Sisters' "Jump".

It looks like there isn't an ounce of fat on any of them. Bet they don't need many meds either, Kath!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Jewel of Marrakesh: Majorelle Garden

On our way out of Marrakesh, we stopped by the Majorelle Gardens and wouldn't have left except for our travel schedule to get to Quarzazate by evening.

The villa and garden were built in the 1920's in an art deco-nouveau-Moroccan influenced style by Jacques Majorelle, a French artist who moved to Marrakesh for his tuberculosis. Majorelle died in 1962 and the gardens had some years neglect until bought and restored by the Algerian born French designer, Yves St. Laurent, and his partner, Pierre Berge, in 1980. Yves and his companion had a home on grounds next to the Gardens and Yves' ashes were scattered over the garden when he died last year.

When we stepped inside the walls, we entered an oasis - such a contrast to the bustling Marrakesh medina. Fourteen acres of palms - 400 varieties, cacti - 1400 species, bougainvillea, banana trees, succulents, pots, lily covered pools, fountains, water channels...what I imagine an LSD experience must be like.

Unlike the rest of the trip, the four of us - Tetsu, Hisako, Jennifer, and I - separated to experience the garden our own way. I found Jennifer at one point deep in thought...

...and at another, Tetsu contemplating. About our talks coming up in Rabat? The state of his stomach?

At the center of the garden is Majorelle's cobalt blue villa.

This patented deep shade of blue is named after Jacques Majorelle and looks to be much the same blue we saw on the Tuaregs.

To see where Majorelle blue fits in to shades of blue, click here.

All around the garden are amazing pots exploding with plants,

lining walkways,

holding up walls.

Cacti grow like desert jungles,

and succulents pattern along sidewalks.

Photo by Jennifer

Everywhere is the use of light for mood,

Photo by Jennifer

and pattern.

Photo by Jennifer

I left with a bit more serenity and hopes about the future of my yard and gardens in drought-stricken San Diego.

Next, into the Atlas Mountains, over Tizi-n-Tichka Pass to Ait ben Haddeu Kasbah.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On the Road in Morocco: Marrakech

Back to Morocco...

...after lunch at El Jadida we turned inland to Marrakesh and the next World Heritage site on our check list, the medina of Marrakech.

I was frankly lost in the history of all the invaders of Marrakech, the Almoravids, Almohads, Merenids, Saadians, the Alawites. Let's just say the medina, or fortified city, has been around for a long time, through thick and thin, decay and restoration, ever since the Almoravid Berber Youssef ben Tachfine built walls around some camps here almost a thousand years ago.

We were lucky to get a nice riad inside the medina, an old style Moroccan house with a court yard in the middle and breakfast on the roof, thanks to Tetsu who booked us in Dar Belida.

First off, we checked out the center of the medina and the largest square of its kind in the world, Place Jemaa-el-Fna (say "Jem-af-na"), an open air market very lively at night, filled with outdoor grilling, produce of Morocco, snake charmers, musicians,

and, as Jennifer found, monkeys.

We had the following full day to see the medina, not enough time to see everything but enough to appreciate the Moroccans are very into color, pattern, and architecture.

I liked that the streets were too narrow for cars.

Photo by Jennifer

Radiating out from Jemaa-el-Fna are streets with hundreds, maybe thousands of souks, like this spice shop...

I never figured out what these guys were. At first I thought maybe a dried elephant trunk (gasp!), or maybe a gourd. For what could it be used?

And I wondered about this souk for dead bikes.

Everywhere were very old, historic places. The date of this famous bronze door of the Ben Youssef Medersa - 1564. Plymouth Rock was not even a twinkle in the Pilgrim's eyes.

Inside the same Medersa, a school for the Qu'aran.

The Koubba B'Adiyn, part of a mosque, found in 1948 and excavated, had been built by Ali Ben Youssef in 1106.

Jennifer found refuge inside the pavilion, amazing architecture in the Islamic style.

Everywhere were patterns and texture.

In the floor and walls of the harem chamber of the Dar Si Said.

Providing respite for Jennifer and a curious kitty in the Palais Bahia.

We were seeing stars by the end of the day.

Next stop tomorrow, Jardin Majorelle on the way out of Marrakech.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mt. San Jacinto: Be Persistent and You Will Win...Old Chinese Fortune Cookie Saying

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. Thoreau.

This weekend my buddy, Ricardo, and I tackled Mt. San Jacinto again, needing what we call in the business a "corrective emotional experience". I have been to the summit solo but it seems every time Ricardo and I hit the mountain together some snafu happens.

Try #1. Ricardo and I planned to climb up San Gorgonio, at 11,499' the highest mountain in southern California. Poor planning, when we stopped at the San Gorgonio ranger station all the permits had been issued. We went across the valley to San Jacinto, a little shorter at 10,834', but only had time to get up to Round Valley at 9,100' before we had to turn around due to darkness coming on.

Try #2. Ricardo, another Mt. Whitney climbing buddy Jonathan, and I set out to bag the San Jacinto peak but made a wrong turn into Long Valley. By the time we located ourselves we were too far up to backtrack so we climbed up the fairly strenuous section of the Pacific Crest trail to try for the top. We got as far as Wellman's Divide at 9,600', ran out of water, and had to descend.

Try #3. Ricardo and I set off on what seemed to be a nice clear day. We were both wearing shorts, I had a thin, sleeveless blouse, neither of us had rain gear. By the time we hit Round Valley, the ranger said there was a storm coming on the other side of the mountain. Idiots that we were, we decided to keep moving up the mountain so the ranger gave us a couple plastic trash bags for protection. Short of the summit by not much the rain started. We huddled with some other hikers in an overhang debating our options and, reluctantly, began to descend. What is the saying - "all hell broke loose"? Thunder, lightning, stinging hail the size of large marbles, water rushing down the mountain up to our ankles, and those trash bags didn't help much. Cold, hypothermic, I was involuntarily shivering, Ricardo was saying he wanted to lie down and go to sleep... somehow we made it back down two and a half hours later.

Try #4. OK, we're going to bag this sucker because I'm training for a bigger mountain. I've packed a full size pack stuffed with whatever I could pull out of the closet and a couple dumbbells to boot. The weather was good. Ricardo and I got that summit and headed down in plenty of time. It was June, a heavy snow year, and we lost the trail crossing a snow patch. I had my compass but forgot the topo map. We wandered up and down ridges, argued about whether to follow a creek, watched the sun get lower. About 4:30 I pitched those dumbbells. At 7:30 and darkness we settled down to wait for daylight. It grew cold but we had some extra clothing from that pack -- thank god for that. We ruminated how long before someone noticed we were missing. Tuesday, I thought. That was three more days. At daybreak we set off again and in about four hours found our way out. A search party was there, ready to set out looking for us.

This last weekend was #5. A beautiful day in spite of a miserable forecast. We were anxious but fully prepared with extra clothes, rain gear, map, water filter, and a full measure of determination. Bring it on, baby, we were ready.

On top of the southern California world...and back to the bottom without incident. It doesn't get much better.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

El Jadida: A Cistern and Cookies

We set out from Casablanca with our driver, Hisham, of the "gaswhal" fame, to search out as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as we could find.

About an hour's drive down the Atlantic coast, we found our first - the fortified medina of El Jadida or, in the years of the Portuguese, Mazagan. The fortress and medina were built by the Portuguese in 1502 when they were the great seafaring explorers of the world - remember Vasco de Gama and those guys who were the first to make it around the tip of Africa looking for the trade route to India? They held onto the city until the Arabs, specifically Sultan Mohammed ben Abdallah, decided to stop by in the year 1769 and the Portuguese blew the place up on their way out. The fortress remained and the insides were rebuilt, reinhabited by a Jewish group, and renamed El Jadida, "the New One".

Inside the fortress are typical narrow alleys,

but the most amazing sight of the city is hidden beneath -

- a cistern built under the city in 1514, originally as an underground arsenal and converted to fresh water storage in 1541 to supply the city under seige. The supporting columns, 25 in all, are in the Renaissance style of the times and a well was sunk into the center for access to the water. It is the well opening in the ceiling that admits light and casts a stunning mirror reflection in the thin layer of water. More amazing, a shopkeeper accidentally stumbled on the cistern while doing a little remodeling in 1916. Orson Welles used the cistern as a location for the 1952 movie, Othello.

San Diego, seafaring city that we are, has a large Portuguese population, many of them tuna fisherman gone for weeks at a time out on their boats.

For several years until I closed my private office, I had an elderly Portuguese woman who often brought me a tightly sealed jar of cookies. She would say, "keep the lid on tight and these will stay fresh for a long time". With time, she related the history of the cookies. They were made from a recipe passed down through her family for, literally, centuries, used to make cookies for the Portuguese ships that would be gone for two years at a time in the 1400's to 1600's. If tightly sealed, the cookies would stay as fresh as when they were first made. I can imagine cookies from this recipe were on those ships passing by and through El Jadida. They are very delicate tasting, wonderful with a little sherbet after dinner.

Eventually, she brought in the recipe and I was very flattered she shared it. I am going to share it with our readers here exactly as given to me. I have never found it on a web site or cookbook.


4 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon rind or extract
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
8 oz butter in cubes
4 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Melt the butter at low heat (don’t boil)
Spray or butter the cookie sheets
Mix baking powder and flour
Beat eggs well with the sugar
Add the butter after letting it cool a bit
Add lemon/vanilla or both
Add the flour little by little to the ingredients already beaten. Let it stand a few minutes
Knead until all the ingredients are well mixed
When ready fill a cookie press using the star tip (best the antique one made 40 years ago)
Squeeze into an S-shaped cookie
Bake 350 degrees 10 minutes or until light brown.
Let stand on the sheets a few minutes to cool before removing because they break if too hot
Knock under the sheet lightly to loosen them.

They do, indeed, stay fresh indefinitely. Why, I don't know.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Morocco: The People Up Close and Personal

A Moroccan, Khalid El Boumlili, won the Rock and Roll Marathon here in San Diego last weekend. Not only won it, but left the others behind in his dust and finished a minute and a half ahead of the nearest Kenyan. Having just come back from two weeks traveling around Morocco, why am I not surprised?

Four of us traveled around Morocco looking for the World Heritage sites before heading up to Rabat to take part in a symposium on African development -- Hisako, my longtime friend and traveling buddy, Tetsu, her newly retired husband who walked across England with us last year, and my daughter, Jennifer, finally breaking free from Missoula to travel the world.

More than the World Heritage sites, we found the treasure of Morocco in its people. These guys have been around from early Earth times, using stone tools at least 250,000 years before the Europeans. The Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Portuguese, Spanish, Germans, and French have come and gone, contributing genes along the way but the backbone of the country are the Berbers, an ancient mix of Oriental, Saharan and European origins, tribes of nomads, settled farmers, and hunter/horsemen.

Our Lonely Planet guidebook described the Berbers as "live free or die trying". Their history has clearly shaped their personality and outlook and we tried to take on some of their attributes, or at least to be adaptable to them.

Not wanting to lose our lives in Morocco, we hired a driver for the ten days of traveling around the country. Hashem, a young, handsome half Berber man, was given to us as English speaking. He spoke Berber, Arab, and French but his English -- well, not a lot. Jennifer's high school French and a dictionary became our main way of communicating. We learned about Moroccan navigation - what we came to call Moroccan GPS. Each day we gave a list of where we wanted to go, he headed in the general direction and periodically stopped to ask people on the road for further directions. We tried giving him a map and addresses but, after watching how complete strangers responded pleasantly, even with interest, we came to understand these interactions were a way of socialization and connecting with each other.

Driving toward Marrakesh, Hashem indicated we needed to stop to get some "gazwhal". Gazwhal? What was Gazwhal? When finally we pulled into a filling station with a sign "GASOIL", one of us figured it out. Gazwhal -- the French pronuciation for GasOil, as in "we" for "oui". We're still laughing about that one.

One of my photos goals for the travels was to include people somewhere in the picture, not an easy task when many of them didn't want their picture taken.

I got a lot of pictures of backs...

an unexpected candid in Fes...

a conversation taken from a distance in Meknes...

a street nap in El Jedida.

In Marrakesh, Jennifer took a picture of a woman selling baskets from a bit of a distance. The woman jumped up and approached Jennifer demanding dirham (Moroccan money). I came into the picture not fully understanding what was going on between the two, dropped 5 dirham in the woman's hand to end the dispute when Jennifer explained she had been trying to show the woman she had erased the picture from the camera. With this, I reached into the woman's hand to take back the money as she clamped her hand closed. A "tussle" ensued -- Jennifer says a fight -- until I felt the woman's teeth start to close down on my arm. The woman triumphantly returned to her baskets and gave me one of these -

I learned later from a Berber this is a gesture that means "God willing" but from this lady it had, well, one of those "up yours" feel.

We saw amazing skills, like this lady that could belly dance with a platter of candles balanced on her head...

and waiters who could pour tea from several feet above the tea glass.

At the edge of the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis I watched this man intent on writing, oblivious to those on the way to the ruins.

Such a spirit in the man with his cat in Rabat...

and these camel herders on the way to Er Rachidia.

Jennifer was a lightening rod for the younger ones at Jemaa el-Fna...

In El Jedida, I met Simo, a Tuareg selling carpets from his village in another part of Morocco. The “blue people” of the Tuaregs wear clothes colored by pounding indigo stones into power and the powder into the fabric and, as Simo explained, rub indigo onto their faces for protection from the sun in the Sahara.

About the legendary blue men of the desert, our guide book said "tough doesn't do them justice...they lived on camels' meat and milk instead of bread and wore wool in the scorching desert".

Simo attempted to teach me the art of bargaining. "Just give me your best price and I'll pay it". "But", he explained, "if you won't bargain with me, it means you don't love me".

I met another Tuareg at Ait Benhadeau, who owned 65 camels and taught me the gesture for "Inshallah", or "God be willing".

I didn't buy Simo's carpet, but I did go looking for indigo blue in Fes,

preparing for a return to Morocco, inshallah.