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Published: October 26th 2014
Artsy Asilah throws a big summer arts festival every year. There is a mural competition and the winning works are allowed to stay up until the next contest.
The Medina walls are home to thousands of birds. Fist-sized nests pock the masonry from top to bottom. When the nestlings try out their wings they fly in short, drooping lines from hole to hole. Small Moroccan children make a game of grabbing them up in their little cupped paws. Fluttering wings tickle small palms until the the hands open with an abrupt giggle and the game begins again.
We flew into Casablanca from Tunisia. Passport control was slow and testing. Customs officers would arbitrarily open and close lines on a whim. A Moroccan man in a Yankees cap was in front of me. When he reached the window the officials went over his paperwork with a magnifying glass, had him take off his hat and answer a slew of questions. When it was my turn I presented my US passport which they quickly stamped with a smile and sent me on my way.
There is a train station at the Casablanca airport. Karen and I needed to get there to reach our destination of Marrakesh. I saw the man in the Yankees cap and asked him for directions. His name is Mohamed. He lives in Toronto. He lived
8 AM on 22 October, 2014.
in NYC. He speaks perfect American English and he too was going to Marrakesh. Our stars were aligned.
We spent three nights in two-dimensional Marrakesh. A large public square populated with juice vendors, snake charmers, amateur acrobats and souvenir salesmen. Terraced restaurants fence the space. French tourists hang out in rooftop bars and take pictures of the juice vendors, snake charmers, amateur acrobats and souvenir salesmen. Horse drawn carriages do a brisk business in the Medina. Three nights with the tourists and we were 'stick a fork in me' done.
From Marrakesh we stopped back in Fes for a couple of days, did Chefchouen again for a week, finally saw Tangier where we visited the 'Bourne Ultimatum' hot spots and then we finished our touring with a coastal town Karen had uncovered called Asilah.
Phoenician settled in 1,500 BC. Just southwest of the Straits of Gibraltar. The most beautiful Medina I have ever seen. Walls and ramparts are fully intact. Whitewashed homes punctuated with cobalt- blue trim. Artsy, schmartzy streets painted up in murals and dotted with sculpture. Narrow lanes cul-de-sac into tiny communities of four or five homes. Flowering plants and sleeping cats outside the doors.
The Main Drag
Portuguese built the fortress in the 15th Century. The town's old Mosque is to the left under the minaret. The Portuguese used these building as barracks and administrative offices. The walls and buildings are intact as originally built.
Morning coffee in cafes, watching scarved Moms take their kids to school. Little girls equipped with Hello Kitty book bags. Miscreant boys chasing one another around the old square. Scuffed shoes pancake-slapping the cobblestones. Fresh fish are plentiful, food is excellent overall, nice folks and one terrible hotel.
Outside the brown Medina walls; Tall palm trees are festooned with climbing ivy and are home to thousands of noisy birds. In the evenings the dark sparrows twitter-swirl magnetic whorls into the indigo-blue sky. On the train ride into Asilah I saw a small flock of wild Flamingos feeding in brackish pools along the track. European Storks winter in farm fields and Snowy Egrets follow the plowing tractors. Morocco loves its birds.
Asilah has a mural painting competition every summer. The winning works are left up until the next contest. The population of Asilah is 12,000. During the summers it balloons to 110,000 people. At this time of the year you'll have the place to yourself. Spend hours sitting in cafes over a hot glass of sweet mint tea. Visit a bakery and buy fresh-made breads from a honeybee-fuzzed, display case. Read, write or just sit on the parapets and
Home In The Old City
KJ and I agree that if you were going into a witness protection program then Asilah would make a great choice for residency.
stare out over the deep-blue Atlantic. Asilahns don't get going until 10 AM. Siesta at 12 PM and back to business at 3 PM only to quit working at 5 PM. Is this a great town or what?
With this kind of vibe going for it and its location on the main train line to Tangier; Karen and I were surprised at how quiet the town was in October. A man told us that January is the quietest month of all. We think that Asilah is the finest place that we have ever visited in Morocco. Easy to get to. Moroccan trains are cheap, comfortable and punctual. We never expected to find a railway system this nice in North Africa.
Food is inexpensive but monotonous. Tagine, Couscous and Harissa. A comfortable hotel will run $50 per night and the quality of the hotels varies quite a bit. We had a dynamite room in Marrakesh while our $50 Asilah hotel is the kind of place you'd find in Vietnam's central highlands for ten bucks a night. As more people hear about Asilah, foreign money will start to flow and the quality will improve. If I were to come back
Sleepy black cat captures the mood.
here I would take a flat in the old city. There are plenty available.
Morocco is a sexually segregated society. Men have their side of life and women their own. The closest female-male relationships we see are between young boys and their mothers. Moroccan as well as Turkish men maintain close relationships with their Moms throughout their lives. Every time KJ and I walk into a cafe we get a lot of polite attention. Moroccan women do not go into cafes unless it's a holiday. Cafes are populated with men sitting two to a table and nursing a glass of tea. In the evenings the same cafes are crowded with men watching soccer games on flat screen televisions mounted over the tables.
Women control the household. Women can be found dressed in everything from jeans to fully veiled dove-grey ensembles. Opera gloved hands. No exposed flesh. Floating down the streets like specters. Morocco's countryside is amazing. Everything from snow-capped mountains to forested desert oases. Mud-bricked villages and steep-hilled farmland. Horses still pull hay ricks and grown men ride tiny donkeys sidesaddle. The train ride north from Morocco has scenes that will make you think you're in Arizona complete
Mohammed and KJ in Casablanca
Great guy who introduced us to his wife Alma and his family in Marrakech.
with mesas and buttes.
Before we left Marrakesh our new friend Mohamed invited us to his family's home for dinner. They have lived in the same spot for forty years. His parents were amazed that we had been to Turkey. Turkey, for some Moroccans, is the city on the hill. Something to aspire to. They think of Turkey as one of Islam's great economic success stories. We met Mohamed's wife Alma. She is Filipino by birth but has spent most of her life in North America. They're busy establishing a second home in Morocco. Alma is the epitome of 'Perky' and we all hit it off immediately. We drank tall glasses of mint tea with Mohammed's Dad in the downstairs parlor as is customary. His Mom served up a platter of little cakes and cookies that were as delicate as tiny blossoms and just as fragrant. Upstairs in the dining room we gorged ourselves on a huge lamb Tagine and fresh baked bread. The lamb had been cooked with dried prunes and raisins. The dish was dripping with succulent fat and we dipped pieces of flat bread into the broth to sop up every drop. Mohammed and Alma translated
Train To Fes
Some Moroccans will just sit anywhere they please; Assigned seats be damned.
for we old folks so questions and answers were flying across the table to everyone's delight. We always find on these trips that those with less seem happiest. As we said our goodbyes, Mohammed's Mom gave us gifts from her recent Hadj to Mecca and kisses to both cheeks. We had found a new home in Marrakesh.
We're leaving today from Barcelona on a big boat where my only decision will be what time to get up. I'll take the 13-day crossing to organize my thoughts and write a final entry, We have so many to thank and so many more pictures to organize.
Talk at you later. John M.; write me re: visit.
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