Saturday, July 18, 2009


My travels through Southern Spain, Morocco and my weekend in Paris afforded both an inner and outer journey. At times what I saw and chose to photograph functioned largely as a backdrop/diversion from my deeper thoughts. Sometimes I was trying to sort out culture--how did Roman culture transmute into the cultures of Spain, Morocco and France? And then what about the Moors and the Jews? What traditions did they generate....and apart from architecture, what of their worldviews still remain?

I allowed myself to entertain observations about ethnicity--how is the expression of French culture different in Morocco than it is in Paris? And what happens to the French West Africans, the Middle Easterners, the Indians and the Asians who make France their home? Quickly I sensed that being French (like being American) is a cultural identity/a point of view that has nothing to do with genetics. On the plane back to America I sat next to a woman who looked decidedly Asian and she told me she was French. As her story unravelled I noted that she was born in Korea and at the age of nine was adopted by a French family. She no longer speaks Korean--her entire worldview is that of a French woman. She was coddling a small baby, speaking to it in French and soothing it with French nursery rhymes.

The more I thought about her story, the more I faced that today, more than 500 years after the European Conquest, ethnicity/identity are completely separated from physical appearance. The peoples who the Europeans conquered can now be found living in Europe as Europeans. While my grandparents hailed from Russia and Roumania, my identity is that of a baby-boomer American feminist whose influences include academic anthropology, sexology and certainly California naval-gazing!

Much of what concerned and confounded me on this trip were the distinctions between tourism, independent travel and cultural anthropology. Much of how I've engaged the world is that of a self-styled anthropologist/seeker. I throw myself into odd/unknown circumstances, get batted around and then sort out what happened--what that might reveal about me and of course this new/odd culture. While at times painful, it's also what I live for. Probably my most intense engagement of this approach was going to the Hammam (public bath) in Essoira, Morocco. In that moment I allowed my body to be handled in whatever ways were considered normal by my fellow bathers. Still, much of this trip I lived in the safe, momentarily captivating world of tourist sights and pleasures. While my couch-surfer hosts provided me access to other worlds, I largely found myself more interested in the tourist stuff. In Barcelona my hosts invited me to attend a vegetarian potluck massage-exchange and I bagged it, figuring I could do that any time I wanted at home...and that while in Barcelona I'd rather go walk down the Rambla (quite like Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade) and explore the old city. Now home in LA, I'm hosting couch-surfers from Europe who would much prefer going to Disneyland, Universal Studios and photographing the stars on Hollywood Blvd. While they might give lip-service to attending vegetarian potlucks, I understand fully why they probably won't.

Having signed up for an organized tour in Morocco, I was largely fed through the tourist sights and activities. I struggled. It was so not me. While some members of the group bonded into a family, I was forever wandering off...trying as best as I could to have my own experiences. And the Moroccans I'd met on these brief wanders were kind, friendly and engaging. Certainly there were the numerous young men who believed that befriending a foreign woman might provide them access to something good! (It was all playful and nothing problematic ever occurred...) One of my sweetest moments was in an Internet Cafe in Marrakesh when I asked the young woman attendant about who wears headscarves and why. She was in her early twenties and dressed in Western garb and without a headscarf. She described a friend of hers who had just started to wear one. Then that friend came in and we began to talk about how her life has changed since starting to wear one. Suddenly, the woman took off her scarf to show me her short curly locks, we all marvelled at her pretty do, and then we giggled as she replaced the scarf. I suppose it is access to those inner worlds that makes travelling special to me.

The Louvre

One cannot do the Louvre justice in an afternoon visit. I saw what I saw ...and relished it all. To the left is an amazing sculpture courtyard.

This is the head of saint jean the baptiste.

And then there was this gorgeous being...

Sculptures of the Dead

While visiting one of the sculpture sections of the Louvre, I became captivated by sculptures of dead saints and priests--who were all depicted lying peacefully on their backs with a hand over their hearts.

In this one the dead subject is surrounded by his attending nuns...and at his foot lies his beloved dog.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Notre Dame Cathedral

Construction for this ornate and amazing monument began in 1163 during the reign of Louis the VII--and it was completed about 200 years later in 1345.

Sales in Paris

Even pricey Paris has sales....

Music and Dance on a Paris Sunday Afternoon

Sunday Afternoon Dancers

Musicians Playing Traditional French Music

Gay Dancers

Paris Evening

The Science Museum Reflection into the Ourcq Canal

L'Orucq Canal Reflection

Golden-lit Walkway

The Mona Lisa Experience

Viewer/photographers of the Mona Lisa

One of many signs directing Louvre visitors to the Mona Lisa

Yes, my photo of the Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa Photographers

Mona Lisa Posters at the Charles de Gaul Airport
I remember gazing up close at the Mona Lisa when I was 20. There were no digital cameras then and viewing a painting, was just that. One didn't need to photograph it, too. And I don't remember it being covered with glass...and certainly it wasn't cordoned off so that viewers had to stay 20 + feet away!

Newly Arrived West Africans at Work

I spoke to a guy selling Eiffel Tower trinkets and he told me he was from Guinea (West Africa) and had been in Paris for a couple of months.

Tourist Paris

Paris is absolutely jammed with tourists catching a look at the sites!

Picnic Along the Seine

Countries that can be called from a Parisian Call Center

North and West Africa are well featured here... And yes there are countless Moroccan Restaurants in Paris (I'd had enough couscous and tagine for awhile) but for many Parisians they were great places to eat something delicious.

Worldly Paris

The Paris I remember from 35 years ago was a bit snooty and very white. If one couldn't speak decent French one was pretty much dismissed. The Paris I found this time featured a veritable melange of the world. There were West Africans, Asians, Indians and people from every port of the Middle East. And then of course there was the beloved Bohemian arts scene with bottles of red wine shared by scruffy picnickers along the Seine and dusty galleries filled with creations from times gone by.

Views of the Eiffel Tower

There are apparently many options for engaging the Eiffel Tower. One can climb up as far as the main platform or one can take an elevator up to even higher levels. I chose to take a series of photographs and move on rather quickly....

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Postcard from Paris

Visiting Paris was an afterthought -- I'd put much thought into strategizing my tour through Southern Spain and Morocco; and all I'd done to prep for Paris was book flights in and out and arrange to couch-surf with Martine, a sweet woman who lives in the 19th arrondisment (section). The last time I was in Paris I was 20... Then I had my series of 20-something adventures: I'd met some kids who lived out in the suburb of Melun, attended their all-night parties and then got got waylaid at the Gare du Nord train station by an older man who'd invited me to have a drink with him when I should have been boarding a train to Amsterdam. (I ended up spending the night in the women's bathroom sharing my sleeping bag with a French girl who'd also missed the train.)

This visit was decidedly more adult--I attended no all night parties and no one managed to take advantage of me:) Martine took me along with her to one of Paris' summer festivities for Parisians . It featured an hour-long boat ride along the Ourcq canal and then dancing on a barge to a series of performers who belted out traditional French songs and such. The next day I took in tourist-Paris--visiting the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and indulging in a boatride down the Seine.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Leaving Morocco

My last night in my old medina riad was very special. I climbed to the roof top garden and sprawled out on a lounge chair and took in the warm night breeze. Around 10 PM the nearby mosque filled with worshippers one more time and their thick chanting percolated into the night air. Eventually I wandered back into my sweet little room, wrapped myself in a light sheet and slept. In the morning I walked out to the main square and bought one more 3 dirham glass of orange juice, slowly savored the last bits of Moroccan nectar, packed my bags and caught a taxi to the airport. I'd booked a flight to Paris on EasyJet which is kind of the Southwest Airlines of Europe with no assigned seating, etc. I feared it would be a bit of a zoo, but it worked just fine.
The flight was filled with French people--suddenly the veils and headscarves were gone and I entered a very different world.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A New Cycle

My group tour ended this morning and quickly I began to engage Morocco on my terms. The group had provided this ever present bunch of friends to share meals and a bit of the sweetness and support of a family. This morning I tracked down an academic conference on population, culture and sexuality. Despite that the proceedings were in French and Arabic, I gleaned a fair amount--certainly not all of the content, but much of the style e.g. many presentations were overviews of a subject (e.g. family planning) rather than original research. The presentation on STDs had very graphic images but none depicted infected genitals. Research results on a study of obesity amongst Marrakesh women noted a sedentary lifestyle and culture-based dietary practices but failed to note that wearing huge caftans absolutely hides it all, certainly making the wearer less anxious about her looks! (Probably only a foreigner like me would note that...) I also chatted with a researcher who had surveyed the sexual behaviors of Moroccan teens. He noted that about 5 percent were sexually active with more males than females. Our discussion then led to a fascinating chat about the impact of feminism/economic opportunities for women and it's incumbent impact of female sexuality

Then I found my way to a different hotel and a very different scene. The group hotel had been in the new city and the hotel I had reserved for myself turned out to be in the thick of the Medina (old city). The taxi I caught refused to drive into the Medina, leaving me to wander the alleys until one of the street urchins spotted me and led me down more alleys and over to the hotel. As I approached the hotel, a throng of men were leaving the adjacent mosque--I crowded along the side of the alley to let them pass. The hotel itself turned out to be a little paradise with gardens, cushioned sitting areas and more sweetness than I could have imagined for less than 30 dollars a night. After settling in I began wandering the streets, trying out Berber cosmetics, chatting with women about who wears headscarves and why (very varied--and generally not an indication of religiosity).

Tomorrow morning I wrap up Morocco and leave for Paris. I'm curious about the differences in cultural expression between the French Motherland and this melangé of Berber, Arab and French.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dried Fruit and Nut Display

The produce all looks gorgeous...and the flies are free:)


Marrakesh has been the last stop for our whirl wind all over Morocco tour. It's a bit odd ending here in that for many people this is their only stop in Morocco. It's a big city with gorgeous parks, a very large medina (old town) with a huge open square. The square is filled with snake charmers, men with tamed macaques and street musicians who all offer their presentations for hefty tips. Then there are fresh orange juice vendors, dried fruit and nut vendors and then a super-large market where crafts ranging from leather goods to caftans and jewelry are offered for sale. Haggling is part of the scene. It's been fun to bargain hard for whatever.... In the end I remain pretty clueless over whether I've gotten a good deal or just had fun bargaining:)

The main square at night

The main square filled with shoppers (and sellers)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My Adventure in a Moroccan Hammam

Hammams are communal baths which are found throughout Morocco. There is one near the hotel we're staying at here in Essoaira and this afternoon I went for a visit. I'm still reeling from culture shock! First walking around the streets of Morocco I've only seen women veiled and draped...and suddenly in the Hammam, my eyes do a double-take as I walk into a world in which the children are completely nude and the women are wearing just panties. Altogether it seems that Moroccan women actually have a greater degree of comfort with their bodies than most Western women! I was guided into a room in which most of the women were either scrubbing themselves or their children. Being new at this I was assigned a washing assistant. First I was handed a slimy piece of brown soap and instructed, in sign language, to lather myself up. Then buckets of water were poured over me.

Next my assistant put on a very abrasive glove and began to exfoliate my arms, legs and feet. She was really rough and at moments I would motion for her to stop. Then she began scrubbing areas I've never scrubbed before like the sides of my neck and under my arms. No parts were left untouched as she grabbed at my breasts and well under my panties..

Then my hair was washed and combed into a Berber style with a plastic head massager. Finally I was led into another room and told to lie on my back. She virtually got on top of me and started to pull at my arms. This was part of a massage which included lots of pouncing and grabbing, smacking and twisting. In that no one seemed to be concerned about what she was doing to me, I figured it was all standard behavior. Eventually she began pouring pitchers of water on me--I joined in and poured water on her...I was almost tempted to slap and pull at her, too--just to get even!

I left in a culture-shocked daze...

Extracting Argan Oil

There are many women's cooperatives which engage in the labor-intensive practice of processing the argan nut. Argan primarily grows in Morocco and Mexico, but it is only in Morocco where there is a nut/seed. The nuts are harvested, cracked open to harvest the oily meat (which has a decidedly bitter taste) then toasted (or not) then pound with a stone and then run through this hand-crank extractor to access the oil. The oil can be used for cooking as well as for a range cosmetic creams, soaps and oils.

Inside a Berber Village

We visited the High Atlas mountains and I wandered through a Berber Village. Being on the edge of a river bed, the houses were made from stone rather than clay. (I was charged a couple of dirham for the right to photograph the cute cow...)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Learning to Make Tangine

Our teacher shows us how she selects the meat

This is the finished stew

It's cooked in a ceramic casserol dish with a cone-shaped lid over a low fire.

Some of the many flavors that can go into seasoning a tangine--pictured here are ginger, pepper, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic and saffron

Taking in Beautiful Morocco

Driving through small towns

After we left the Sahara Desert we drove through a number of small towns each with particular cultural ane religious practices: in one, women appeared in public wearing full black veils wherein only one-eye could nakedly engage the world. I'd seen pictures before but it was quite chilling to to actually witness the practice. Later we stopped at a local market and I just mingled among the other shoppers. At one moment a gregarious Moroccan woman extended her hand to shake mine. My right hand was full and so I offered her my left. She refused it, laughing as she reached for the proper hand. I laughed along with her, considering what a cultural misfit I must be! Then I went over to a vendor who was selling scarves and I selected four pretty ones...

Moroccan Donkeys

Donkeys are used both in the countryside as well as the cities for transport as well as for hauling stuff.

Monkey Finger Rock Scape

This range in the mid-atlas mountains are referred to as monkey-fingers...

Dogs of Morocco

Basically they are mid-sized, free to roam and in good shape.