Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The London/Marrakech Express, Part Five

It's dawn in Marrakech. Thanks to jetlag, I awaken early and creep up to the hotel roof to see the sun make its first appearance over the ancient medina.
(Marrakech and Atlas Mountains)

Breakfast is a quick affair as we have hired a car and driver for the day to take us on a Moroccan road trip to Essaouira, a coastal town three hours west of Marrakech.

Within minutes, we are out of the city...

...and speeding headlong into the sheltering sky.

We're in the middle of nowhere and our senses thrill to it. After 36 hours of exotic chaos, the stillness is both deafening and strangely intimate. We stare out the window at the unfamiliar landscape and even Luca is silent for once.

Then suddenly I spot something that makes me blink once, then twice. Have we stumbled into a Dr. Seuss book?

A goat in a tree?
How can that be?

In fact, there are three of them, perched on the highest branches of a scraggy-looking tree. Our driver explains the goats have climbed it to eat the argan berries, which are similar to olives.

After eating them, they excrete the nuts inside which are then collected and ground up to make the region's argan oil, famed for its culinary uses and anti-aging properties.

When we pass a cooperative selling argan products a little while later, I tell Piero we have to stop.

Him: Really? You want to stop again?
Me: Yes! How many times are we going to get the chance to buy something excreted from a goat? I'll use it on my skin and you can use it in all the tagines you're going to make.
Luca: That's disgusting. I am not eating it.

Inside, local women sit on the floor shelling, cracking and grinding the nuts into a fine paste.

It does not look like an easy job.

Piero purchases a bottle of the nutty-tasting oil and I buy some skin elixir from this lovely woman. She swears it will make my skin "go backwards in time." (Should this happen, I promise to let you know.)

By now, we are getting so close to Essaouira that we can smell the sea air.

The charming white-washed buildings are a stark difference from the rose-colored walls of Marrakech and there is a palpable hippie vibe here. We walk through the main square...

...past the 18th century fortifications...

...and down to the harbour. The day's catch has just come in.

It is all I can do to drag Piero away from these freshly-caught sardines slathered in rock salt.

I think this fisherman is very "Sartorialist."

We head into the walled medina and wander through the narrow streets. We move slowly in the hot sun past unblinking cats and dusty wares and faded doors that hint at a colorful past...

...past children playing soccer with a dented basketball...

...past regal towers of cumin, coriander, ginger and turmeric...

...past meat and toys, hanging from shared hooks.

We look. We listen. We take it all in.

We don't shop. We watch others shop.

For lunch, we choose one of the countless fish stalls that line the harbor.

After reverent deliberation, Piero makes his selection and within minutes...'s returned to us. We try to sear the memory of every delicious bite into our consciousness for retrieval at a later date.

By now, it's late afternoon. We take a walk up to the old fortress...

...and embrace the stillness one last time. The sun is sinking in the sky and it's time to drive back to Marrakech.

As I gaze out at across the endless Atlantic, I try to remember a famous passage from "The Sheltering Sky" but only succeed in summoning the emotion of it, not the words.
Later, back at the hotel, I find the book in the upstairs library.

"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless."

-- Paul Bowles, "The Sheltering Sky"


Lily said...

Another fabulous Paul Bowles quote which strangely seems relevant to the internet: " I relish the idea that in the night, all around me in my sleep, sorcery is burrowing its invisible tunnels in every direction, from thousands of senders to thousands of unsuspecting recipients..." Morocco is such a magical place, full of storytellers and nomads and treasure hunters, and though I only know you through this blog, that seems also to be an accurate description of you! Thanks for sharing all of your adventures!

Nick Heywood said...

Oh, Essaouira. I was there at exactly the same time of year three years ago! We took a room with a terrace overlooking the water (just peeping over the wall that surrounds the city) for what amounted to 15 dollars a night, ate seafood and watched shipwrights building enormous fishing vessels entirely in wood, then painting them the most brilliant colors. There is a mastery of color in Morocco that I have seen matched almost nowhere else.

And it really is a retreat from Marrakech, isn't it? So still by comparison. I love going back vicariously -- thanks for the memory jog.

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

What gorgeous images. The woman's skin is amazing really-so slather that elixir on. Luca is so very wise I think, quite sensible.

Unknown said...

Wonderful. Pictures, quote, your descriptions, all wonderful.
Thank you.

Helena xx

mermaid gallery said...

wondeful...I really felt the day through your writing. Getting up very early to watch the day begin is my favourite thing to do on holiday. There ARE only so many sunrises left and we have to appreciate all of them. An enchanting holiday brings that to the forefront. Thanks for sharing!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Lily: How brilliant of you to apply that quote to the takes on a whole new life of its own!

Nick: I'm jealous that you stayed in Essaouira. Time slows down there, doesn't it? We found ourselves wandering lost in thought and completely at peace. Where else did you go in Morocco?

Little Augury: Seriously, that woman's skin was shocking. Luminous and soft as velvet.

Helena Halme: I'm so glad you liked it. xx

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Susan Erickson: You are so right. I love that quote. Last night I watched the sun set from my upstairs office and wondered, how many more times will I do this?

Laura said...

That quote is fantastic...and it makes me want to run out and watch a bunch of sun rises! I have to admit I've been using argan oil for a while (doesn't it smell amazing?!) and although I don't think my skin has gone backwards in time, it has remained well moisturized and glowing throughout the dry winter months!

LPC said...

And hold that little boy's hand tight up high:).

Jessica Thor-Miller said...

Could it be? Could it be a goat in a tree? Why yes, you see, goats stand in trees. They stand in trees to eat berries and leaves.

Sorry, you bring up Dr. Seuss and this is where my brain goes. I'll be speaking in this manner all day.

I love your travel writing! My dream is for a Lisa Borgnes Giramonti travel book with a cover designed by Megan @ Ancient Industries.

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Modern Traditionalist: Yes! Did you see the profile I did of Meghan? If you haven't read it, you'd like it. She is crazy/cool...

Nick Heywood said...


I was lucky enough to stay there with my friend Anna almost a month, and so we went all over the place: Marrakech, Essaouira, Tiznit, Fez (my favorite city -- the artistic, religous and intellectual center of Morocco, or so I am told), and my friend and I also stayed with a family of farmers/weavers in the Middle Atlas town of Ben Smim. At the time I was living in Rome, so the tickets were something insane like 12 dollars, and you step off the plane in a different and lovely world. A truly excellent time -- I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Did you go to the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech? Somehow I think you would love them.

The Buzz Blog @ Diane James Home said...

I am living vicariously through your adventures and enjoying every picture you take, every word you write - thank you for taking the time out of your holidays to bring us such delicious posts. I can't wait to read Parts Six, Seven, Eight...

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Nick Heywood: I've been reading your blog for the past hour and LOVING it (hence all my comments on your posts). I totally went to the Majorelle Gardens...that's up next, in fact!

What an incredible trip you must have had. I can't believe you were there for a month. I'm very envious! And yes, I know your friend Anna from your blog...didn't you say she's going to be on "Project Runway"? How thrilling...I'll look out for her...xx

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Towers of tumeric and goats in the trees.

W. Adair said...

Your posts remind me that travel is the essence of my soul. It's so easy to get caught up in the minutia of life and forget. The quote.... just beautiful.
Just joined as a follower! Not sure what that means. (I'm very low tech, I must say).


I think you need to know that your photographs have taken me away today - away from sadness and I thank you.

froogal said...

I have once again been transported and then left with such a wonderful quote it nearly brought me to tears.

Jaime Caldwell said...

Oh my goodness, Lisa, your pictures are fabulous! I LOVE that you got to see the goats live and in person! I just saw pictures in EVERY OTHER SOUK where they were hawking that oil. Do let me know if the properties are what they claim to be!

Just lovely photos accompanied by even more lovely prose. You did a beautiful job capturing Marrakesh and beyond!

Kittie Howard said...

I once lived in Cairo so am happy I stumbled into your blog. You've joggled so many memories and fired up a dream to visit Morocco. Thank you!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

Liberty Post and Kathy Gillespie: Your words have moved me as well. xx

jezebel said...

This is the lyrical, musical- the rhythm of your story-telling is jazz.

Susan's Snippets said...

Lisa -

Wonderfully written and beautifully photographed as always! Thank you for sharing this incredible part of our world with me.

for free

The Goods Design said...

The most stunning pictures - make me want to get on a plane now!

The Blasphemous Fiendess said...

Beautiful prose and photos. Thank you. I do hope you will submit that to a magazine. What would a vegetarian eat there?

StuckInABook said...

I'm just blown away by the beautiful colours! It must be such an exhilirating place to be.

And we have a deal on August!

Glad you liked my spin on the meme - I'd love to see which ten books come off your shelves, and the stories behind them, if you have time in the future...

Anonymous said...

I love it all, but especially the Bureau Tabac photo. Something very Tintin about it.

That Paul Bowles quotation just kills me. Thanks for sharing it anyway.

Julie Anne Rhodes said...

I LOVE seeing the world through your pictures and words. You make everything come to life so vividly.

I have to agree with Luca... not exactly thrilled to know we are eating an oil made from goats excrement, but I'm sure I've probably eaten it with blissfully ignorant pleasure. I doubt I'll lust after it as I did your jams from Fortnum & Masons (which my daughter generously brought me for Christmas) though!

More fabulous tales please!

pve design said...

If only I were a few years younger, I would be chasing your son all over the planet. He is so sweet and what a lucky lad to have a Mum show him beauty, culture and taste life in such an incredible embrace. Travel is like a drug.

Cashon&Co said...

I am so jealous! This looks like Heaven. That picture of the teapot with the blue & white plate & linens....ahhhhh.

Rocio said...

I await each post of your London/Marrakech experience holding my breath, trying to take in a little bit of the textures, the lights, colours and the almost palpable atmosphere that radiate from your pictures. I need textures in these grey days of rain and fog.
Thank you Lisa for sharing!!

rony @ catbird said...

Just breathtaking. Thank you.

(I'm going to need an update on that cream... that woman's skin looked like pudding.)

Miss Nightingale said...

Incredible posts - so magical, transporting. The colours in every photo are amazing! Oh, I have to go there...

Angie Muresan said...

Goats in a tree indeed! That is the strangest sight I have seen... And yet, it feels me with a feeling bordering on the magical. Anything is possible!

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