Morocco, land of pattern and light.

I’m starting to get letters.  Everyone wants to know why I’ve been home almost a week from a fabulous 10 day vacation in Morocco and haven’t posted a blog or single photo about my trip.  Well…

  1. I took 1400 photos.  Where to begin…
  2. I had about 50 emails waiting for me including two articles to proof and contracts and all the crap that happens when you run a business and put people off for 10 days.
  3. Half way through processing said 1400 photos my keyboard died.
  4. Replacement keyboard from Amazon turned out to be faulty.  I picked up a replacement for the replacement at Best Buy this morning.
  5. My birthday was Wednesday and my sister surprised me with a glorious two day visit, which I wouldn’t have traded for the world.
  6. I found out that the class I thought I was teaching in Montana next weekend wasn’t the class I thought and I have 52 students and each one needed a 35 page bound handout, which will be followed by a three day jacket class in Idaho.  I spent more than $1200 on ink in the last 48 hours.

So this is why you haven’t heard from me.  Just this morning I spent two hours driving all over creation trying to figure out how to get a box, ground shipping, to Montana before next weekend.  So there is a holiday in there, which screws up everything.  And unless I FEDEXed it three day for more than $120, it wasn’t happening.  So I came home, repacked everything in 4 more priority boxes and they are on their way.  Good old post office…

And so now, the blog post everyone is waiting for…

Traveling outside your knowledge and comfort zone is truly a gift, not everyone has the resources or time to do a trip like this, so I’m super grateful that the opportunity presented itself, through Peters Valley, with a really respected tour facilitator Distant Horizons, and off I went with 17 other people to Morocco for 10 days.  I didn’t know when I booked this that it would be Ramadan, which probably meant much less crowds, especially in tourist heavy areas, but it was inspiring to see the dedication of our guides who fasted from sun up to sun down, not even a drink of water, in 107 degree heat.  An unusual heat wave descended upon Morocco, and bringing only “modest” clothing as instructed, it was pretty freaking hot.  But we stayed hydrated and didn’t miss a single planned event or tour.

I’m not even sure where to begin, except when asked last night at a rehearsal to name the thing that stood out the most, I immediately said, the patterns.  Everywhere you looked, there were patterns.  The stairwells (I think I took probably 100 photos alone of stairwells) the tiled floors and walls, the carved wooden ceilings and carved plaster lintels and door frames.  I was so very inspired.


We ate amazing meals, the Moroccan’s loved to show off their cooking and every meal was four course.  Good thing we walked a lot.  I ate lots of creative desserts and had my share of Tagine, the famous ceramic cooking vessel containing the famous Moroccan stew.  Most of the meals were plein air or Al Fresco, we dined outdoors, mostly in the shade as umbrellas provided.  The evenings provided some fantastic Moroccan wines.  They have really good wineries.  And those are chocolate buttons topping that decadent chocolate dessert.

Because we were part of a craft school, we had many tours of craftsmen, traditional crafts, women’s cooperatives, and even some hand’s on experiences.

We visited weavers and rug makers.  We smiled at the woman with orange hands from the dyepots.

One of the last cooperatives we visited took us down a hillside, across the river on a wooden bridge, and back up the other side.

We saw embroiderers, those who did the beautiful stitching and handworked buttons on the traditional dress of Morocco, the djellaba. 

We saw potters.

We saw tile makers and had a great hands on experience.  I assumed that the exquisite tiles we were looking at were inlaid like mosaic, but in fact, craftsmen sat all day long with very sharp chisels, knocking the sides off the little tiles to create a pyramid shape on the back so the tiles could be laid in upside down.  We all got to make a little tile with plaster on the back so it would set quickly.

We visited a tannery, walls and walls of leather goods.  We smiled as our guide told us that they used natural dyes for the leather goods.  Poppies for red, saffron for yellow.  Yeah, no…  

We had a fantastic lecture in Islamic Geometry, build off the Golden mean Sacred Geometry, with nothing but a compass and a ruler.  I seriously wanted to go back to 9th grade geometry and pay better attention.   Our instructor Hamza El Fasiki, a professor, who founded Craft Draft, and will actually be teaching a week in August at the craft school Haystack  in Maine, assuming his Visa comes through because, well that’s a complicated thing in this current political climate.  He is a brass worker but the geometry of the 12 point motif was found in every craft we saw.

We visited some gorgeous gardens, the verdant valleys and Mediterranean growing conditions made for some beautiful spaces and wonderful fresh foods.  The cactus was blooming and the fig trees heavy with fruit.  There were fields of poppies and olive trees, wheat and barley. 

We visited the Marjorelle, a garden restored by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre BergĂ©.  And we toured the Yves Saint Laurent museum (No pictures allowed).  We also visited Anima, a sculpture garden designed by AndrĂ© Heller.  

We saw some remarkable historic sites, including Volubilis, the ruins of a Roman City, 2000 years old, with an aqueduct and sewer system modern for its time, and 2000 year old mosaics from real colored stone, like Onyx and Cobalt.  No wonder they lasted.  

We wandered the medinas of Fes and Marrakech.  A medina is a walled city, where place of worship, schools, shops, places of business, and homes were all safely contained.  The medina in Fes was the largest in the world, 9,000 streets and alleyways creating a labyrinth that you would never find your way out of without a guide, or a GPS app on your phone.  We went with a guide.  There were craftsmen, food vendors, stalls of everything imaginable, along with mosques and homes.  Wandering the alleyways and streets while thinking that all this was built in 800 AD, and that the lifestyle hadn’t changed much since then was beyond anything I could comprehend.  There were no cars of course, streets weren’t wide enough, but freight was transported by donkey or motorbike.  Or a strong back.


Our hotels were 5 star and very accommodating, all had outdoor dining and a central tiled courtyard.  The courtyard was a central architectural style of the Riad, an upper middle class home. 

And the approach to our last hotel, the Bab Ourika, high in the Atlas Mountains was quite the trip, narrow roads around hills and mountains with no guard rails, the final approach one car lane wide, with only a couple spindly trees keeping us from slipping off the mountain.

We also had many lectures and discussions on the geography and political history of Morocco.  I was blown away to discover that the Appalachian mountains that run north south through Pennsylvania close to me, were connected to the Atlas Mountain range where we ended our trip.  Back when the continents were connected, Africa to the United States, the two mountain ranges were side by side.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.  About every hundred years or so some warring tribe or faction came in and there was a dynasty change, a common occurrence in that region.  There is a lot of respect for the current king who holds them all together, and keeps all the different tribes and factions working together in peace.  We talked a lot about the tradition of crafts in Fes, and that there is a decline in skilled craftsmen because of a 1997 UNICEF convention on child rights.  Overnight all the apprentices were removed from their places of work and sent to school.  Now craftsmen don’t start their training until their late teens.  Many of the skilled craftsmen are dying out with no one to replace them.  It is a complex situation.

And the sheep were everywhere…  And goats and camels…

I’ve come home rested, inspired, eager to paint, draw, explore, and of course, I hit the ground running and life smacked me between the eyes as soon as I touched the ground at JFK.  I am reevaluating my life of course, and reassessing what I want from it.  It is something we all do as we near retirement age.  Except artists don’t retire, they just shift their focus to other areas and explore new venues.  So I’m finishing up prep for my next trip, and the conference that follows two weeks later.  Both articles have been proofed and contracts signed.  I’m almost finished knitting a summer top, I’m hoping to tie in the ends tonight.  I’ll take a picture…

Stay tuned…