A secret valley

A secret valley, Langtang

A secret valley, Langtang

                                                it is said that no one knew about this valley
                                                that it was secret for some 500 years

                                                but i wonder at the role of such fables,
                                                somehow able to illusively embolden us,
                                                to make masks for the fact of our smallness

                                                                                    the fact is
                                                we are procured from thin air
                                                and other astral flotsam

                                                                                    our one ostensible aim
                                                to make sense of the strangeness of being

                                                coaxed cleverly by specific histories
                                                we have evolved to think we speak for all things

                                                how we cannot

                                                in this secret valley, hid for 500 years
                                                memories of ascetic pilgrims are stored
                                                in the stellular veins of mica rock

                                                much later down the track
                                                we walk and hack our heels in,
                                                lustily

                                                these rocks are ghosts
                                                that weave our clothes
                                                with silver dust and

                                                now we are made from earth
                                                our own ascetic robes loosened by
                                                valley echoes of benevolent laughter

                                                                                    the truth is
                                                                                    (though mostly we don’t feel it)
                                                we thrill the pilgrims with
                                                our thorough artlessness

                                                we are so out of touch

                                                but for such
                                                intents and historic purposes
                                                this does not mean
                                                so much to us

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Screwed up and human

we are this wanting –
belief to be believed
vulnerable and small
like children we scream
“see me! tell me what
you think!”

moles on porcelain
screwed up and human
wanting to be none
and everything and
always, ever
trying

This is not a grand declaration

bedroom still life

bedroom still life

this is not a grand declaration

this is not a banner and plane

this is not one of those
love song dedications
web testimonials or
tattooed names

not a play in three acts
nor twelve sonnet verses
not a ring on a finger or
a silver-filled purse

’cause with you

i don’t need to make
those kinds of gestures
or use so many words

We are the keepers

we are the keepers
archaeologists
we comb catacombs
like beggars our
fingers irreverent
for sprinkled gold
filling bags with
trinkets sage and
shining under dust
we are hoarders
we grab with
lust and just
store things away

When we were young #1

Self-portrait

when we were young
(teenage girls)
i suppose we had fun
being ponied about
upturning our noses to
other noses and
kissing on both cheeks

i suppose it was fine to
make artless portraits
of faces and nails (mine
always chipped)
hair loose on ironing
boards, toes cut
for shoes that poked
other girls like needles

when i was young (a teenage girl)
i glossed my lips with rubber filler
and prayed for no gaps

but backed against
confessional scrawls
on toilet walls when
we clawed at each other
and you rattled off flaws
(a trademarked munition)
the dog-eared bits at
my fingertips made
jokes of the chips on
your shoulders

could i be forgiven
that when we were young
(as teenage girls)
i tried on your short dress –
but once, and
only for size

Treading water

The river at Pashupati

The river at Pashupati

                                                               we tread viscous circles
                                                               convinced for the dive
                                                               now hours, days, years
                                                               have made ridges in our
                                                               heels
                                                                     we are wet ghosts

                                                               you trick me for buoys
                                                               but i know you swim
                                                               if you make me laugh
                                                               you’ll only choke me and
                                                               bust
                                                                     water through my nose

Gutted or not

Barn

garbed by
mourning skies
rivers carved
in our cheeks
we spoke without
speaking breathed
between breaths
throats fish-hooked to
intercostals breathing
and not breathing
ribbed palms reeling
in and out and in
and out we watched
strewn crumbs
disappear
i like to think
somehow
gutted or not
to some stranger’s
eye we were
pretty

There are no pictures

A bed and corn

Beds and corn

there are no pictures

the scuffed knee freckle
rawbone part

the garden sprinkler caper
sticky hand and tender skin part

the stumble off the mark
little athlete clutching mud and
ribbons at the heart part

there are no pictures

growing up is hard and
fast without them

Un Petit Tour du Maroc, Part III – Fez, Volubilis, Moulay Idriss and Meknes

From the crooked, blue washed walls of the hill-set medina in Chefchaouen, we made our way (again on a CTM bus) to Fez.  This wonderful, infamous city was, unanimously, the highlight of the whole trip. However, for me and my fellow travellers, this wasn’t really on account of the city itself (though it was lovely) but for a little guesthouse we stayed at right in the middle of the old town, at which we received the most unprecedented and quite unbelievable hospitality. I have absolutely no second thoughts whatsoever about the free publicity I’m about to give this place and its owners, Aziz and Mohammed, here on this blog.

We arrived at Dar El Yasmine after a little bit of fuss. In our attempts to follow the written instructions we’d received when we booked the hotel online at the last minute, we’d taken a taxi to the edge of the medina, where we assumed we needed to be. There, we were accosted by a shady guy who tried to inform us he was meeting us from his hotel, whilst trying to take our bags. Obviously a complete scam as we hadn’t told anyone that we’d arrived (and outside the walls no less), I picked up my phone to call the guesthouse at which point the guy promptly vanished like a puff of shisha smoke.

After my phone call, and without any fuss this time, we were met by one of the actual staff members from the guesthouse, who greeted us quickly then sped off in front of us, zigzagging between the throngs of people crowding the cluttered and narrow main street of the medina. Hardly able to keep him in sight as we lugged our suitcases behind us, half skipping every few metres, we eventually ducked into a small lane on our left, hung densely with colourful and lush carpets.

Straight on, and around the corner to our right we found it: a mounted plaque announcing our arrival at Dar El Yasmine. Through an ancient wooden door framed by studded, rusted steel, we were welcomed, literally with open arms, by Mohammed, one of the young, entrepreneurial owners. As we sat drinking delicious, sweet mint tea, another young guy flew down the stairs. Quite instantly the energy in the room heightened. His entire face sparkled as he introduced himself, in perfect English, as Aziz, the other owner. We were quite taken aback by the energy, ease and immediate friendliness with which he spoke with us. He truly seemed to personify goodwill and honesty, and indeed proved this to be the case time and time again over the course of the three days we spent there.

Laughing at his choice of dress – a full suit – in such extreme temperatures, Aziz explained enthusiastically that he’d just come from the wedding of his best friend, who was – wouldn’t you know it! – marrying an Australian girl. Of course, as soon as we dropped our bags off in our rooms, we were whisked off as his new guests. Our concerns at being ‘wedding crashers’ were dismissed with a wave of the hand by Aziz, and were further assuaged the moment we arrived. Karim, the groom, welcomed us in as old friends, clearing a table and setting places for us. We dined on tajines of chicken, prune, and goat, and gorged ourselves on caramel ice cream and fruit, eating with other latecomers including an old, man, clearly a victim of hard knocks, who’d heard the music and invited himself in off the street. He was welcomed to the party, just like us, of course.

A Moroccan wedding is truly a spectacle to withhold. A Moroccan bride, with the help of her entourage of ladies hired specifically for the occasion, will typically change her outfit between 5 and 10 times on her wedding day, if you can believe it. Tradition dictates the variety of colours and forms these dresses take, and let me tell you the heavily bejewelled numbers are not for the faint hearted! The bride’s feet and hands will also be covered with intricate patterns of dark henna, her face with a thick slick of makeup, and her eyes decorated with black kohl curving outwards with a dramatic flick. For the most part of the day, in my experience, the bride doesn’t really move (who could, in those heavy garbs?!) but sits there looking very decorated while people take lots of photos.

The bride and groom will also generally make a number of grand entrances to the party during the day. During the time we were at the wedding in Fez, the groom rode in on a horse accompanied by a fanfare of horns, while the bride was carried inside in a l’aamehria, a wooden carriage veiled with shimmery fabric, which was hoisted up on the shoulders of many men (again hired specifically for the occasion).

In Morocco, the party can go all night, with music playing very loudly until the early hours of the morning. I’d experienced this previously on the eve of my departure to Tangier, on the first leg of the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t crash that one because I was trying to sleep, which simply meant I tore my hair out to the offensively loud and distorted beats and wails from the clearly broken speakers as they bounced off the walls of my bedroom until 5am. At the wedding, however, I was privy to what actually happens when the music is inside the building. Note: manic dancing applies. Hang onto your mothers; I made the mistake of letting mine loose.

After we left the wedding, we wandered the medina for a while before returning to Dar El Yasmine to sit on the cushioned terrace, where Aziz prepared apple shisha for everyone. We were joined by a group of wonderful people, including two recent high school graduates from the Netherlands, Sebastian and Annalou, as well as a Spanish girl who we’d met on the bus to Fez. On the way over, as we stopped at a cafe to refuel, we’d watched on in delight as Sylvia bounded off the bus, bought lunch for and virtually force fed the ancient Moroccan lady (a stranger) still sitting in the seat next to hers. She took no note of the woman’s many polite refusals, instead smiling, laughing and persisting until the woman accepted her offer with gratitude. I instantly loved her for this, as she reminded me of so many of my Spanish friends; like them, she was vociferous, completely forward, unapologetic, and, well, simply wonderful!

Up on the terrace, Aziz suggested that he might cook everyone dinner, which just added to the existing home-away-from-home vibe. A couple of us accompanied Mustafa, a beautiful young Berber lad who’d recently moved to Fez from the desert (but missed his desert ways greatly) to the market to buy everything we needed. We spent the next couple of hours cooking up a storm together in the tiny hotbox of a kitchen. The Dar El Yasmine ‘family dinner’ was recreated every night we were there, and – you may not believe this – when we made a move to fix up our bill at the end of our stay we were told we were not being charged for it. Where on earth, other than Morocco?!

The next day, Aziz and Mohammed had organised us a fantastic private tour to the Roman ruins of Volubilis, Meknes and the sacred city of Moulay Idriss in an air-conditioned minivan (though we certainly didn’t ask for such luxury, it was paradise given the high 40C temperatures!

We first caught sight of the formidable ruins of Volubilis from the road, high about the plateau upon which it slowly disintegrates: far in the distance we could make out crumbling archways cushioned by softly rolling hills. The heat rippled in a haze around us, giving the impression that it was, itself, responsible for the remains. Winding downhill we reached the site, and though we didn’t opt to take a local guide, we found our way around well enough by using our Lonely Planet map. Sure, we missed out on some of the history doing it on our own, but we enjoyed stumbling upon the many beautifully preserved allegorical and mythical mosaics, and trying to recreate the fallen city in our imaginations.

The beautiful ruins at Volubilis

Following Volubilis, we drove through Moulay Idriss, the sacred town where lies the tomb of Moulay Idriss himself, the creator of the first Arab dynasty in Morocco. Up until the year 1916 the town was banned to non-Muslims, due to its sacred status. They say that one trip to Moulay Idriss is worth a fifth of the hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca – though for us, there was really very little to see.

Our driver also made a stop in a little village, the name of which eludes me, where we were welcomed into the home of a Berber cave-dwelling family. There, the cool earth surrounded us, allowing everyone inside respite from the heat. Though it was a fascinating stop, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. It was obviously a place frequented by tourists, and I watched on in extreme discomfort as one of the much older, and visibly frail women filled a bucket of water to its brim, balanced it on her head and proceeded to show off her dance moves without spilling a drop, egging us on to take photos. Though I know such performances are intended as a means to earning some menial income, I just wanted to pay her to stop! I have never been able to stomach the absolutely unashamed and unequal division of power, or the sense of intrusion, that is always present in these situations. It makes me really sad that the world is like this.

The town of which the name escapes

On the way home we stopped past Meknes, very briefly, though we were all so exhausted we didn’t have much energy to give it a good go. I think I’ve mentioned the heat before. I’ll do it again. The. Heat. Is. Brutal.

And that must be why we decided it’d be a good idea to spend the next three days in the middle of the Sahara desert at Erg Chebbi, on the border with Algeria. Good one, us!

‘Til the next episode,

Briony

Outside the city walls…

Outside these walls...

I don’t often venture outside the impressive city walls of Taroudannt unless I’m travelling somewhere specific. There’s really little need to.  All that one seems to require can be found within them: artefacts and essentials alike abound in the city’s two souks; the crooked back lanes and colourful murals provide a calm escape from the buzz and dust of the city centre; and I can make it to work from my house in about five minutes (and back home again for lunch even more quickly!).

Most of the government buildings exist on the outside though, and today was one of the rare occasions I needed to visit one of them. Instead of waiting for my friend outside the police station, at which my Visa extension papers await approval, I wandered over the road to the park. There are many similarly gorgeous and impeccably maintained water features like the one in this picture surrounding the official residences of Taroudannt. They’re lovely! Maybe I could lobby the pollies to install one inside the city walls…

What would WorkSafe have to say?

What would WorkSafe have to say?

There always seems to be a lot of construction work going on in Taroudannt, and coupled with that some very interesting scaffolding configurations. This photo, believe it or not, is of one of the less hairy set ups; honestly, if I’d taken a photo of the scaffolding adorning the construction that lay just around the corner from my house a couple of weeks ago, I think the click of the shutter might have collapsed the entire building. So instead of posting a picture of an entire support structure balanced on the end of one piece of wood which sat upon three precariously piled concrete blocks, I’m posting a picture of some bits of wood shoved into holes in the new wall (which ostensibly will be filled in later, perhaps from the inside?)

Throughout Morocco, you’ll find a lot of unfinished buildings like these. Usually they are big, square concrete structures with iron rods poking out from the ‘roof’, left there to facilitate future expansion. As far as I know there are two main reasons for this. The first is that in Morocco, as in other parts of the world, families stick together for as long as they are able. This means that as they expand, and as children grow up and have their own children, houses also tend to grow (upwards!) with new levels stacked on top of the existing structure so as to accommodate new family members. The second reason, I have been led to believe, is that an unfinished home commands fewer taxes…

I’m reluctant to make a value judgement on this one, but tend towards applauding a clever way to get around paying the Man in a country in which the taxes may not make their way back to the people anyway. That said, even though corruption exists the Moroccan government has taken steps to combat it, so…What do you think?

If only I liked watermelon…

If only I liked watermelon...

It has become apparent to me over the last few weeks that it is watermelon season in Morocco. Even though I have never had any interest whatsoever in eating the bland and watery, yet strangely popular, fruit, I must say I do enjoy them spilling out of shop fronts, tumbling off the back of donkey-drawn carts, or being smashed open theatrically on the ground by enthusiastic vendors. Luckily for me, I have managed to acquire a taste for cantaloupe, which is also in abundance, as well as many other different hybrids – I was shocked to find a yellowish melon I indulged in the other day tasted exactly like a pear. Innovation at its finest, I say.

Turns out that riding a bike is actually like riding a bike

Turns out that riding a bike is, indeed, like riding a bike

 

Couldn’t really help myself posting a snap of my new bike! (Exclamation point!)

I’d been toying with the idea of buying one for a few weeks; everyone in Taroudannt owns a bike, and being the absolute conformist and callous consumer that I am, I really wanted one. So on Sunday I found the energy from somewhere, braved the brutal heat and toddled off to the second hand bike market over the other side of town.

I emerged victorious, having paid the equivalent of about $70 AUD (700 Dirham) for a fixed gear complete with handy handlebar basket (for pet goat), working brakes (very important) and lock for ‘kidnappers’ (as was kindly explained to me). My happy success has been made even sweeter by friends’ many exclamations over my ‘sweet deal’. Always nice to know you haven’t been ripped off.

Though I haven’t ridden a bike for about a million years, I have found that funnily enough riding a bike is, well, like riding a bike. It’s bloody fast to whizz around the town now, and to my dismay I have come to the realisation that owning the same mode of transport as everyone else has indeed given me a sense that I’m, dare I say it, fitting in. Ugh. Well, at least it’s not a Mercedes.

Cous cous amongst wonderful friends

Cous cous amongst wonderful friends

The first thing my darling friend and star pupil said to me when I arrived at her house for a delicious cous cous lunch last week was (and in English, too): “Welcome! This is your home now too; you are welcome here any time. It’s very small and there are lots of us, but we are very happy here.”