Tag Archives: dogs

… Morocco adventure 2007, first part …

Marrakech airport, 16th Dec 2007 … new arrivals are greeted by hundreds of placards. I scan the display showing names of people, Hotels, and Riads, until I spot Dar Pangal, my Riad. In the rush my top heavy case topples and grazes a man’s toes. He shouts an avalanche of abuse, in French. I say, ‘Sorry,’ which raises his blood pressure even more. My understanding of French being embarrassingly basic, I do grasp the questions he hurls at me like projectiles. ‘Where do you come from? Why do you come here?’ His insolence finally riles me. ‘Why do you want to know?’ I ask. He snaps back in English, ‘Shut up.’ Young Saladin, who will bring me to my Riad in the Medina, casts his eyes to heaven and shrugs his shoulders, so do I.

Anything on wheels ages well here. Old bangers zip through the buzzing crowd. Some cars, and bikes, have well-fed goat tied up in the backseat. ‘Feasts are ahead,’ Saladin says, in perfect English. ‘Sacrificing goats for celebrations and sharing their mutton with family, friends and neighbours is an honoured tradition in these parts of the world.’

Turning into a narrow backstreet, we arrive at Dar Pangal. The inner courtyard is an island of peace. Julio offers a warm welcome. He’s South American, but spent years in Paris, working as a designer. He likes Werner Herzog films, and once met Klaus Kinsky. Eccentric people fascinate him. I reveal how I worked for some of these eccentric people in the past. On that wavelength we share reminiscences over mint tea. Using a mobile and texting is a new experience for me. Somewhat nervous, I practice sending messages to Ulla, Ruth and Zohra. Connections work well. A hot shower also works well, and helps me to sleep after a long day.

17th Dec. 2007 … A knock on the door. 7 am and pitch dark. Latifa opens the shutters and invites me to have breakfast. Later I explore Julio’s roof terrace, with sweeping views over the medina roofs, which carry a field of satellites. Seems Marrakech is well wired up through gold vision orbs.

I find an exchange office to buy dirham cash, and then stroll through the Souk, taking my time, feasting on spicy smells and deep colours. An exotic trance battles with my intention to look purposeful, to avoid harassment. Charmed by a timeworn caravanserai, I calculate the exchange rate in my head and bargain over a holdall made from a Berber saddle back. In the process I lose a knitted hat I’d bought for my son. His taste in clothing has become refined, so maybe I should find a different present. I notice that most people don’t like to be photographed without permission, which I respect. The plenty starved cats have no objection.

18th Dec. 2007 … Saladin learns there are no places on trains to Agadir on the Atlantic coast, where I am supposed to meet my friend, Ulla, with her VW bus and her two dogs. We manage to find a seat for me in a grand taxi, an old Mercedes already cramped with Moroccan men heading to Agadir for family gatherings. To ease their fare the men wedge me into the backseat. Pressure of time cancels choice, so I trust the arrangement. Magnificent white clouds over the Atlas Mountains compensate. A short cigarette stop provides a memorable photo. After an hour being cramped together, the men invite me to mint tea and pancakes. We communicate in made-up language, hand gestures and smiles.

I meet up with Ulla, her van and her dog family, a Dalmatian, Leila, and an adorable adopted Moroccan street dog, Ali, in the parking area of Marjane Shopping Mall. I had visited Ulla’s home a year earlier, refreshing a connection from eventful past decades that combined in our memory. Besides, there was our joint mother tongue. Mine had become rusty. Being challenged to speak German brought not only forgotten words to the surface, but also forgotten experiences. Where I can be hesitant and avoid conflict, she has a no-nonsense manner, often with an edge I admire. Shouting the name ‘Ali’ down the road for your dog to behave, is potentially asking for trouble, that is, in Morocco. The predictable raised eyebrows before the penny drops remind me of childhood pranks my mother used to censor. We make an interesting pair of travellers.

Two friends Ulla met on the road, Peter and his partner, have their camper parked nearby. Peter knows everything there is to know about Morocco, including where to find my rolling tobacco, and how to achieve reduced deals for lodgings. Useful, since Ulla’s dog friends own any spare space in her van.

19th Dec 2007 … We are en route through the Anti-Atlas Mountains and along steeply winding roads, with an almost invisible turnoff towards the hidden Berber oasis of Tafraoute. I sign in at Hotel Salama. We have a fabulous meal at a tiny Berber restaurant. The owner, I learn later, married an English Writer, and back in the UK, I discovered by chance a proof copy of her novel in a charity shop. I wrote a spontaneous review.

 

 

 

 

 

The landscape surrounding Tafraout is littered with spectacular rocks. In 1984, a Belgian artist, Jean Verame, painted a cluster of rocks blue. I prefer land-art created with earth materials, not tons of paint. Still, it was done, and these rocks look as if the sky dropped a spot of its blue on them.

Our next destination was Tiznit, and from there on all the way to Tan Tan, near Mauritania, and up again along the Atlantic coast to Essaouira. Given the present surreal lock downs, I may share more episodes of this adventure.

Photography fans may like my album on Morocco at  https://500px.com/p/ashen?view=galleries

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… Winter Tale …

A poem for Ricarda Huch

Snow-tracks, 3Snowflakes spin in lantern beams like distant nebulae,

iron scrapes on ice and halter-bells chime with the trot

of horses. The sledge slows on the steep track,

at the top – a click of tongue – the reigning in.

One window shines in the black yard. Off the sledge,

I drop back in time and nearly slip on frozen muck.

 

Inside, the woman serves hot stew; she says, matter of fact,

‘Stay up, read, that’s fine by us.’ They have an early night.

I feed the fire in the hearth, wrap up and settle near the light

of a paraffin lamp. ‘You love books?’ This is how it began,

Ricarda left books, enough to span the valley to the farm.

You must visit us.’ I was keen, though mother held mistrust:  

 

‘They’re odd; famous relatives don’t take away from that.’

A hiss, a splutter of flame, the antler’s shadow shifts on the wall.

 

Morning sun, books in open crates, scattered across the floor,

nibbled at by Billy goats – how had they opened the door?

Three dog puppies jump and bustle on my bed, gnashing holes

into the eiderdown. They grin at me, feathers on their snouts,

Their eyes propitiate. I let rip and belly laugh. From the hall:

It’s all right; our creatures can wander in and out as they like.

 

The southern window glows opaque with frosted fern and flowers,

cold grace melts under my breath and hand, unveiling a frozen

lake, and beyond the valley, a curl of river and the white rim

of Alps like a parade of porcelain elephants under the pale sky.

From the blue … Ricarda’s voice: ‘Poetry is perception unbound.’

It will take years to feel at home with no rules but my own.

Ashen

An unashamedly romantic  facet of my childhood. For several years I used to spend parts of my school holidays at a ramshackle estate close my home, because my parents had a business and could not always find the time to attend to me as they would have wished. The treasure in that special place (owned by relatives of Ricarda Huch) were the amount of books, stacked up in crates because no one had the time to sort them into shelves. For me, this was an exciting and oracular milieu.

As is the case with 99 percent of images on my blog – the image of the snow tracks is my own.

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… songlines – family – a wedding in Darwin …

Families are an enigma to me. I value solitude and, yes, company, inner space and, yes, gritty adventure, constancy and, yes, change. I must have been born on a wave of contradiction. With no siblings or surviving grandparents, and my mother gone since 27 years, I’m left with a hermit-like father who avoids communication and  lives at a distance. Well, bless him.

my mother with her grandson

my mother with her grandson

 

Opa and his grandson

my father and his grandson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, my sense of family has an abstract quality that benefits my fiction writing. That said, my family extends to weathered friends whose authenticity I respect, my ex-husband included. Last week, our son, Yeshen, and his partner, Natasha, who live and work in London, had their wedding in the tropical Northern Territory of Australia. Sensible, since most of Tasha’s relatives live around the great coastline of this continent, in Brisbane, Sidney, Melbourne, Perth and  Darwin – where we gathered. As a child, like the author Bruce Chatwin, I once asked, ‘why don’t the people from down under fall off the earth?’ Australian children may well think of Europeans as down-unders and similarly ask, ‘why don’t they fall off the earth and float into space?’

The first three decades of my life I moved from place to place, restlessly roaming my inner songlines, searching for footprints leading to a family of mind and spirit, much like Chatwin described in Songlines, the practices of the indigenous people of Australia, who used to traverse their vast territory following the dream tracks of their ancestors, singing the names of everything they encountered on their paths, as a way of bringing their world into being and endowing their lives with existence and meaning.

I travelled all over Europe, have been to Israel, Africa, America … the other side of the planet had never called me. The thought of clocking up over 20 flight-hours made me nervous. Hey, I told myself, this is an adventure. In the end, my passion for clouds outshone my anxiety. A window seat always helps. Without the view I’d feel boxed in.

As the plane cruised over the Bay of Bengal towards my stopover, Singapore, I stared 36 000 feet down and couldn’t help thinking of the plane that only a few months ago went missing without a trace. I diverted myself, as one does when overcome by the enormity of one’s human helplessness, with useless thoughts, like pondering the possible legal implications when bodies can’t be found. Two days after my flight, another plane went down, this time shot out of the sky above the Ukraine. As it emerged, my son’s father was meant to be on this flight from Amsterdam. Due to overbooking, the airline offered a later flight, via Paris, with complementary business class thrown in. He and we were lucky, others were not.

from my window seat

from my window seat

Life is a treasure, if unpredictable – at times beautiful and brimming with joy, at other times painful and cruel, and often exceedingly strange, without rhyme or reason. We like to think we have control, yet know little to nothing about what decides our fates.

It made the wedding ceremony, which took place on an old pearl fishing vessel, all the more precious. The event culminated with the setting sun painting the wisps of clouds salmon pink. It’s my favourite light.

 

approaching Darwin

approaching Darwin

father and son

father and son

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the ring exchange

the ring exchange

the signing

the signing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the bride

the bride

the sun winks

the sun winks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Because the pearl-fishing boat could only accommodates a limited number of people, the ceremony was small and intimate. The images speak for themselves. Later on, a much larger party met for a fabulous reception at the estate of a relative.

There were songs, one specially prepared by the bride’s mother, accompanied by my son’s father on the guitar, there were humorous speeches, there was the glimmer of water from illuminated rock-like pools, festive lights overhead, candles, and the music and slideshow the couple had prepared. The latter I missed and must catch up on, having been too involved with meeting my son’s new family and getting drawn into stories over champagne, wine and delectable menus.

The pleasant tropical winter night, with tables arranged on English-style lawns, was equivalent to a rare, gloriously European summer night. And of course there were more songs, by Mr Palm of Palm Guitars …

Mindil Beach Market

Mindil Beach Market

P1060262lowerIn days that followed, we returned to favourite places.  Crowds gather, especially on Thursdays and Saturdays, at the iconic Mindil Beach with its backdrop of festivities and over 300 colourful market stalls. People come here to watch the sun grow in size as it nears the horizon, and everyone cheers and claps when the last sliver of red drops into the Arafura Sea.

 

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We travelled to Nature Parks, with abundant wildlife …

Palaces built by termites …

Springs, waterfalls and rock pools to swim in, with the thrill of possible crock sightings …

P1060382 - lowerWe enjoyed nights at the waterfront where they serve fresh seafood and Thai dishes, with Sharks and Moon fish beyond the harbour wall waiting for morsels.

Wangi Falls

Wangi Falls

termite palace

termite palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the garden pool

the garden pool

Russell

Russell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banyon

Banyon

palm roof

palm roof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On returning, I watched the lights shining from the islands in the Timor Sea. After 4 hours stopover in Singapore, to stretch my legs, and, delight, enjoy a few roll-ups, yes they have smoking areas at this airport, I settled into another window seat, overawed once more by how such super-heavy Airbuses can lift from the ground. My eyes switched between the book I was reading and the screen on my seat showing the flightpath, with the sun moving across to the Atlantic, while Australia’s night was encroaching on India. Endless hours later, England’s south seemed quaint from the air, with its patchwork of orderly fields framed by hedges and lanes. An American friend once called it Hobbit Land.

Home again. I feel like being gently rocked in a cradle. It will pass. I’ve yet to absorb the experiences of my Aussie adventure, still deliciously disorientated by upside down time and a different kind of dreaming. I got a taste of a new world, as good wine that lingers on, leaving a desire for more, like learning about the traditional owners of the territories, the Larika people. If I heard about Darwin’s man-made and natural disasters, it had not registered. The town was flattened twice, first in WWII – during Japanese air raids, and again in 1974 by Cyclon Tracy. Aussies are a resilient people.

Having enjoyed generous hospitality by the brides fathers, stepmother, mother, aunt and uncle, heart warming company by more uncles, aunts, siblings, their partners, cousins, nieces, and their partners, I miss the buzz of the large family, and not least the cute dogs, Russell and Rosie, whose exuberant joy in ballgames included jumping into the pool. I’ll hold the memory of the green shade under layers of palm leaves, the fresh fish served at the waterfront, the buzzing markets, the incredible architecture of old banyan trees, massive baobab and eucalyptus and the impressive series of sunsets. I’m looking forward to visitors, and maybe assist them in exploring places where their ancestors lived in Hobbit Land.

One image keeps playing tricks on my mind, some dark thing, stuff for a surreal crime novel – a giant toad in a freezer. But that’s a story for another occasion.

Technically challenged, I now hope the images on this page don’t jump all over the place once I press the ‘publish’ button 🙂

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