Monday, 18 June 2012

Here's a good one

We drove an hour south of Essaouira to a little secluded beach we discovered a few years ago. It's a tiny fishing village built right on the sand, no running water and just a bunch of weathered fishermen hovering in the shadows avoiding the heat of the summer sun, waiting to head out in their boats for the next day's catch.

We got a big shock as we approached down the rough dusty road on the north headland, the town had been drastically changed since we were here 9 months ago. We were in a state if disbelief that they could build such a huge development right down on the water's edge, we almost turned the car around and left in disappointment.

The little outdoor coal barbecues had been abandoned because of the noise and dust of the big concrete trucks rumbling by. The locals also seemed a bit subdued, the effects of constant building seemed to be taking its toll. Selfishly we were upset that everything had changed so much and our vision for shooting one of our entertaining stories on our dream beach had beeb disrupted. I did my best to break bridge the language barrier (Berber dialect of Arabic only here..) with my limited traditional Arabic but the vibe just wasn't there, what were we going to do?

After a while one of the locals invited us next door to his little barber shop where we sat, had tea and struggled through some more uncomfortable conversation, finally realising that this development was exactly what this poor fishing village needed as they were building a fish market that would drastically increase the price of fish for the local fishermen. An hour past and Rob had enough of pretending to know what everyone was talking about, it was time for a haircut.

The mood quickly changed, we were all having fun. Haircut done and our new friend Lahcen had invited us up the hill to his house where we met his wife, her mother and 3 children who all shared the one dwelling in a tiny remote rural village. Lahcen and his family seemed genuinely happy to have us there as we sat in his humble home, bed at one end of the room and TV/dining at the other, drinking tea, eating bread and passing round a collection of old photos. It was a moment of generosity and smiles that we all enjoyed.

Lahcen wanted us to stay for couscous and to sleep the night but unfortunately we couldn't due to our tight travel arrangements. We swapped numbers and waved goodbye, promising to return when we are in the area next month. A few quick landscape shots in the afternoon light, 5 new hitchhikers (seriously, look at the pics) and we were off back to Essaouira.

The new fish markets.
Lahcen and his wife walk me to their home.

Our backseat to the right.

To the left.

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

Early Birds

The early bird catches the worm, and the one that gets up late suffers dehydration and a slow painful death in the midday sun.

We were going to leave early for Essaouira but in true Moroccan style our efforts were hampered by a two hour wait for our hire car to get the correct papers approved on it. There was a buzz in the car when we finally got underway, this was the first time on this trip that we had actually headed off under our own steam without having to work around timetables or other people's schedules. A few near misses as I got used to driving in disorderly Moroccan traffic and we were off out of Marrakech into the 36 degrees countryside in our aircondition-free car, windows down and shirts off.

Our first stop was to return to the location of our wedding to scout it for one of our entertaining stories we will shoot for the book, then it was a 3 hour careful drive avoiding Police speed radars straight to the coastal town of Essaouira with an old Moroccan farmer we'd picked up on the highway in the backseat screaming Berber (moroccan dialect of Arabic) in our ears the whole way.

Our favourite soccer field.

Jump inside and you'll see the air conditioning  button has gone.
Essaouira, where the giant seaguls roam.

Me and our hitchhiker.

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Friday, 15 June 2012

A new museum

For a country that is so rich with cultural and artistic history and tradition, there ain't a lot of museums here but during our visit to Casablanca we were introduced to Lalaoui
Azizi Ouajid Moulay Assaid and his wife Suzanne who are both trying to change that.

Moulay Said (for short) and Suzanne have been long time admirers and collectors of Islamic art and are the brave minds behind The Grand Museum of Marrakech, a unique project designed to promote artistic exchanges and cultural ties between Morocco and the rest of the world.

Situated on a 5 ha block of land on the road to Casablanca, from afar the museum doesn't look like much, most of the site is still currently under construction but Moulay Said was keen to run us through the plans for his museum which consists of sixteen galleries, a house for invited artisans, a library, projector room, workshops and even spaces for artistic creation and we quickly realised just how big his and Suzanne's vision for their project is. At the moment only the smaller buildings surrounding the main gallery have been constructed and are nearing completion, the attention to detail and care that has gone into the finishes are mind blowing! Delicate shades of natural tones have been carefully considered (two years and 127 attempts I believe) to create the perfect colours for the renders. New techniques and different balances of materials have been adopted to apply the perfect texture to the renders. Heights, widths, alignments and levels have been painstakingly measured and matched. Highly decorative details have been subtly added throughout.

Sophia and I were given the grand tour of this new grand museum and it was impressive! It's only the beginning and the museum already has an air grandeur, I can only imagine how the museum will look and feel once the main building is complete!

Morocco is a country of possibilities and it's always exciting meeting the people who are exploring them.

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Riads and Riads

We jumped on a train the other day and journeyed inland away from the sea breezes to the hot and romantic heart of Morocco, Marrakech. Known as the "Ochre City", Marrakech was once the capital of Morocco due to its importance being one of the main trading hubs in North Africa and to this day has one of the busiest markets and squares in the world, Djemaa el Fna.

This visit to Marrakech is all about finding riads and locations for our photo shoots once our food stylist Jane Hann and videographer Steve Brown arrive for a two week intensive food and entertaining shooting period. We have been all over town meeting people with a passion and understanding of traditional and modern Moroccan Cuisine, here's a quick selection of a few of our favourite riads so far.

Riad Jnane Tamsna
Meryanne (owner of Jnane Tamsna) and Sophia enjoying some of Meryanne's recipes.

Sophie and Aziz of Demeures d'Orient

Bahija, the chef of Riad Elizabeth

Riad Kaiss

Don't mess with our favourite chef from Dar Les Cigognes

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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Ou sont les portes?

Morocco has many interesting customs and traditions. When we spent the night in Casablanca at Sophia's Aunt and Uncle's home I thought I'd discovered another cultural dissimilarity from that of my own.

It was only as I was unpacking and readying myself for a good nights sleep that I realised there was no door on our bedroom, actually there were no doors on any of the adjoining bedrooms or the bathroom.....was this some sort of Moroccan tradition? Maybe this custom of door-less living was specially reserved for close family? Was there some sort of bathroom code or regulations that I was going to need to familiarise myself with? As all the rooms faced each other this was going to be awkward!

I gathered myself and managed to find the words i was looking for "ou sont les portes?"

It turned out this wasn't a unique obscure Moroccan practice, the painters were coming Monday.
A good door is not hard to find, usually.

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Sunday, 10 June 2012

How many camels?

Got spoilt today! My friend Najib walked Rob and I through the Habouz souk in Casablanca where he introduced us to Moustafa the fabric seller. Najib wanted to show us the traditional wedding outfit from the south where he comes from but Moustafa wanted to go one step further so within a minute they had  draped me in amazing white and coloured fabrics, everone in the street began to help. I loved it so much I even bought the babouche (slippers) that fit the outfit.

6 camels, no 10!

Looking at the picture now it reminds me of the giant wedding dolls my Uncle Abdelhai has in his home. His Mum Zhor used to make these as presents, even gave one to King Hassan II. Quite an innovative design for the early 20's!

Abdelhai's wedding dolls

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Femme d'Affaires

Recently we were invited to the opening of new little boutique in Casablanca called Flowerbox that essentially produces 'green' decor owned and run by landscape designer Yasmine Sijelmassi. Flowerbox utilises a special system of stabilisation that allows flora and fauna to be displayed for up to 10 years with absolutely no maintenance allowing for small to large interior green wall displays.

The boutique had been extended into the street by means of a large white marque and we were greeted by one of the largest doormen I'd ever seen. Music, food and drinks (champagne for the out-of-towners and fruit juices for the locals) were generously served to the long guest list. Coming from Australia it's usually a pretty safe assumption that we were the most foreign guests there and so the introductions are quickly and easily made (for me the conversation often stops there....haha). The drive home is where I get the de-brief (translation) and learn that we have been invited to meet a few very interesting people once we get to Marrakech in a few days.

Yasmine's boutique not only showcases part of the diverse genres of business now present in Morocco but even more importantly the visibly increasing number of businesswomen. Let's be honest, Morocco is still very much a male dominated society but King Mohammed VI is renowned for his implementation of some of the most progressive laws on women's and family rights in the Arab world making it possible for women like Yasmine to establish flourishing businesses here in Morocco.

Yasmine and one of her green walls
Hassan and Sophia reconnect

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Friday, 8 June 2012


The first time you visit Casablanca you may get a shock. Humphrey Bogart may also be a bit upset that the colonial culture and lifestyle of this strategic WWII  city depicted in the famous film Casablanca are barely visible today. To the untrained eye Casa has become what only could be described as a modern industrial city,  the biggest in Morocco. Dirt, fumes, constant unplanned urban sprawl and the traffic, oh the traffic! A new tramway through the city is in construction and should help to ease the city's growing traffic problem, but in the short term it has only exacerbated it.
The descriptions of many other writers stop exactly here and leave you feeling like Casa is nothing more than a large unsightly mistake on the map of Morocco but the 'white city' hasn't lost all its charm!
Casablanca is a city of contrasts with its art deco quarter reminiscent of the French era, the Hassan II mosque (a beautiful new mosque and the only one in the world built on the ocean), the old medina, the Morocco Mall (the biggest shopping centre in North Africa), the souk, new and old restaurants, underground art and music scenes....Casablanca is like a "kinder surprise", you never know what you will come across as you spend more time in the city.
Friday is prayer day, a difficult day to catch a taxi.

On one afternoon our friend and architect Sophia Sebti took us to her favourite street Rue du Parc in the old French Art Deco quarter. As we stepped into the street the noise of the surrounding areas seems to immediately dissolve and we were faced with a row of beautifully intact buildings containing the Villa Delaporte Gallery and the Abderrahman Slaoui Fondation, the second museum of Casablanca I believe and contains the private Moroccan heritage and culture collections of Mr Slaoui. Sophia later walked us down an adjoining street to Le Doge Hotel. We climbed an amazing art deco staircase past the individually styled rooms (tributes to great legends like Hemingway, Jacques Cousteau, Lempicka) to a hidden rooftop garden with a view of most of the city. We may just have found a great location for our next photographic shoot......

Casa still has some secret treasures, sometimes you just need a bit of help unlocking them.

Abderrahman Slaoui Fondation, a museum.

Le Doge Hotel

To the top.

Sophia, Sophia and Laurent talk all things Casa

Sophia Sebti

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Casa Chaos

The roads are merely an extension of the footpath, and the rules are simply there to be admired. Pin It

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

1st Gear

Life here in Mohammedia all happens at an easy pace. The surf gentle laps the shore, the locals casually go about their daily chores but all the time the music pumps! In the supermarket, out of car windows, on the beach, restaurants, train stations, shops..... if there is music to be played it's only to be played at full volume and make sure the track has a good healthy beat to it!

It's been over a week now and we've spent our time trying to find our feet, to set up our working routine and for me to acclimatise to simply just being in Morocco. We've shot images in the souk, the fresh food markets, farms, the beach and even had the pleasure of being invited to a Moroccan naming ceremony.  My Arabic has improved 100% (not hard when i had none to begin with), my French has failed (a smile still goes a long way). Sophia's parents Zouzou and JP have done their best to educate me on the ways of Morocco but what i have learnt most about are Moroccan building techniques.

The small home they own on the beach near Mohammedia has undergone some drastic changes recently and we have been trying to live and work in the middle of the finishing touches that are still being applied. Building work comes at a fraction of the cost of that in Australia and it also goes a twice the pace. The building code here is certainly not as strict as at home which results in some eyebrow raising techniques and also some amazing ingenuity. As JP said "Moroccans work with what they have and they make it work".

We're off to Casablanca tomorrow, time to change gear.

Our ingenious Moroccan builders
Mohammedia fish markets

Straight off the boat

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Beignets, beignets chauds!

On many a beach in Morocco you will hear "beignets, beignets chauds!". As a child, every time i heard those 3 words my heart stopped. I knew my favourite breakfast had arrived!! My friend Omar the beignets seller was waiting on our door step, a big wooden tray on his shoulder layered with delicious freshly made donuts lightly dusted with sugar just the way i love them. Slightly crispy on the outside, fluffy and moist on the inside. These West African donuts are the perfect way to start or finish any day.

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