Friday, April 29, 2011

Wanderlust: Guatemala Edition

Have you ever been to Guatemala?  I haven't, but it sounds pretty great...

Looking out over the jungle from the tops of ancient Mayan temples...

Gorgeous Spanish Colonial architecture...

And swimming here when you're tired?

Count me in.  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

(pictures from here, here, and here)

Also - if you have a place that you want me to mention on the blog, shoot me an email sometime and we'll try to make it happen, 'kay?

April Holiday: Morocco: Chefchaouen

We drove into the little town of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains in the late afternoon, and the sun glinted off the white and blue buildings.  Until 1920, the town had been the refuge of Muslim and Jewish refugees from Spain, and Christians were forbidden on pain of death.
Unfortunately, to us the town seemed a little too much like a tourist trap and we mainly used it as a starting-off point for hikes.  The next day, we drove out to Akchour to hike to the Bridge of God - a pretty incredible natural formation above a huge gorge - and really scary to walk across!  My father was a boy scout growing up (he also practically lived in the Smokies), and these hikes, while not very difficult, gave us a great chance to be out in nature.  We ate that night at the incredible Auberge Dardara, where I highly recommend the goat with fig.
The next day we drove out, towards Tetouan and the Mediterranean coast...
(photo from here)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Congratulations, Will and Kate!

And all the other people getting married/finishing their thesis/having their birthday today.  Happy day!
(On the picture - I really like gardens, and this one is called Innisfree, which makes it even better.  Doesn't it look like something out of "Alice"?  From here.)

Royal Wedding

Even though I should be telling you about the rest of our trip, or something else cool, I can't help thinking about the wedding tomorrow!  Are you excited, too? (photo from here.)

April Holiday: Morocco: Volubulis

I know, I should be going onwards from Fes towards Chefchaouen, like we did in real life.  But I forgot Volubulis, which we visited on our way from Meknes to Fes.
If you decide to visit Volubulis (which you should; it's incredible), wear sunscreen.  I'm not joking.  Even if you never burn, even if you're wearing a hat and spf clothing, even if you're like my mother and my little sister and were actually made to be in places like Morocco, wear sunscreen.  I reapplied like ten times and I still got burned.
Volubulis is an ancient Roman city in the hills between Meknes and Fes, and it was absolutely incredible.  Though we didn't see the entire thing (at its height I think it housed something like twenty thousand people)  what we did see was incredible.  Things like mosaics of Orpheus playing his lyre to all the animals, and bathouses, and ancient olive presses.  We walked down paved roads lined with pillars from two thousand years ago, and saw mosaics of the Myth of Acteon and Hercules' Trials.  We wandered into the forum (where they were filming some sort of low-budget Spanish film) and the basilica, and admired the Triumphal Arch and the House of the Columns.  Volubulis, abandoned in 1755 (though the Romans left in 280), was a beautiful city in a beautiful place.  Standing among the cypress trees in the House of Venus, hills of olive and wheat and poppies stretch to the bases of mountains.
In short, if you like history and ruins, you should definitely stop by Volubulis... I don't know, am I the only one who likes seeing how people used to live?  But I cannot stress this enough - wear sunscreen and drink water.  There is no shade.
Have you been to Volubulis or other Roman ruins?  What did you think?

April Holiday: Morocco: Fes (Sufi concert)

That night, we headed over to the Batha Museum, where the first concert of the Sufi Mysticism Festival would be performed.  It took us a while to decide (that or a great dinner?) but we eventually ran towards the concert and found ourselves seats in the courtyard.
The Batha Museum is a beautiful place to hold a concert.  We sat in the courtyard, and the musicians played beneath a huge oak tree in the garden, but it wasn't just the setting that was magical.  The music was like nothing I'd ever heard before - spiritual and haunting.  Everyone in the audience seemed to know the words to some of the songs, and it sent shivers down my spine to be surrounded by voices like that.  They played two sets - the first by a group of Andalusian musicians, and the second by a Moroccan singer and her band.  The music changed time signatures and used notes I hadn't known existed; it almost shimmered in the air.  I have never been to a concert as moving as that one, and I probably never will again, but it was wonderful to sit in the courtyard under a tree that had to be older than a thousand years, and to hear music that seemed to exist outside the dimensions that I knew.
Have you ever heard Sufi music?  What did you think?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Books for the Wanderer

Every so often I post places where I would like to go, like India and Iceland and Croatia and Thailand and Scotland and... well, you get the idea.  That's supposed to happen every Friday, but I haven't always updated... sorry about that!
Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that I don't only do that to show you pretty pictures (but I do like pretty pictures).  I do that because I sometimes have an insatiable desire to travel, to see the whole world and discover people and stories and hidden streets.  In my family, it's hereditary - this is what my parents and grandparents and their parents before them did.  People wander in my family, and I assume that most of you have the same itch to rove across the earth.
Flavorwire (of the literary mixtapes!) recently published a list of books sure to get the wanderlust inside of you to come out.  I don't know about you, but books and wanderlust combined seem like a pretty good idea to me.

April Holiday: Morocco: Fes (carpets)

After the tannery, we approached a carpet shop, thinking that we were only going to look around and maybe come back the next day if we liked something (this may have been a furnish-our-house trip, too...).  We even had a plan to get out - one of us would get "sick" and have to go home to "lie down" or something.  All I can say is that carpet sellers fall for nothing.
The second we got in, we saw a beautiful rug - one that looked like a piece of the sky - and another gorgeous one higher up.  My parents, who have lived all over the world and know how to bargain, looked at a bunch of other ones first, bargained for a while on those, but eventually we got around to the ones we loved, and the price went back through the roof.
We spent hours in the carpet shop, my parents (who are total pros at this) choosing some top price and communicating telepathically and steadily talking the guy down.  I was really really impressed, and eventually we walked away with the two carpets and three little rugs (not sure why he included those, but okay) en route to the States.  It was probably around five or six by then, and time to hurry back to the house to get ready for our next stop...
In short, the carpet sellers in Fes know what they're doing.  They know how to bargain and come back to you again and again, to subtly hint that those rugs won't be there in the morning, to keep you trapped in their shops forever (one can "lie down" on piles of  rugs, as it turns out, if one is "ill").  The key is to know the most that you will pay for it, and then get it down to your optimal price.  You need to decide in advance  - and then practice like crazy for a while before people will believe you.  I can't bargain for the life of me, as every time someone brings up the fact that their children are starving (is it true?  I don't know) or insinuates that you, being a Westerner, could pay way more and they're just trying to make a living, I break down.  But my parents and my brother are excellent bargainers.  Have you been to Fes?  If so, did you get caught up into buying a carpet?  When in a country where bargaining is the norm, do you bargain?  Are you good at it?  Let me know in the comments!

April Holiday: Morocco: Fes (the tannery)

(from here)

The tannery was something that we'd wanted to visit since the beginning of our trip.  Famously large and with some of the best leatherwork in the world, it was pretty much everything it was cracked up to be, and also somewhat disturbing given the treatment and lack of healthcare of the workers.
Animal skins are treated in the white vats with a combination of pigeon poop, cow urine, and ash and then dyed with indigo, saffron, poppy flowers, and mint in the coloured vats.  Workers jump in and out of the chemicals with bare feet, making sure that the skins are entirely covered.  Visitors to the tannery are given mint sprigs to hold under their noses, but the smell is still overpowering, and must be for the workers, too.  Those who work in the tannery are from families that have always worked in the tanneries, it seems - the job is passed down from father to son.  
Beside the tanneries are the leather goods that come out of it: bags and wallets and shoes and jackets, in every colour and style I could imagine.  I bought my first ever leather bag (all the others I have are cloth and gifts from friends and family) and a whole lot of wallets as Christmas presents for our extended family.  It was an incredible morning, and we moved on to other activities later in the day....

April Holiday: Morocco: Fes (the next couple days)

Since the Riad Lune et Soleil was full after our first night in Fes, we stayed at a little house run by the wonderful Anthony from Dar El Hana, which was perfect for us.  We would spend the days wandering the medina - we visited the stunning Kerouine Mosque, the Madersa el-Attarine, and countless little souks and side streets.  Wandering in and out of Seffarine square (where the brass-workers are) and the henna souk (where the hawkers are), between convenience stores piled high with fanta and kit-kats and tourist shops with glass bangles, was magical.  We visited the Batha Museum, where they were preparing for the Sufi Mysticism Festival, and the Royal Gardens.  We negotiated the winding streets of the Andalus Quarter and the Fondouks, where travelling traders stayed while they were in Fes.
While a lot of the things in the medina are obviously geared towards tourists, you can easily find your way away from that towards the realer, grittier Fes - the Fes of produce markets and smoky street food stalls, of hidden gardens and graffiti endorsing FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.  You find your way deep into the souks where you can bargain with shopkeepers and get a (hopefully) not too inflated price.  You drink cup after cup of steaming mint tea and experience Fes for what it is - perhaps the most alive place that I've ever been to.

April Holiday: Morocco: Fes (first night)

There is so much to say about Fes.  The medina is the largest urban area without automobiles, and it's normal to see a donkey and cart carrying a washing machine or a refrigerator or a million chickens in cages up the hilly streets of the medina.  We arrived late-ish, and quickly made our way to the Riad Lune et Soleil, where we spent our first night.  After the dusty long roads of Morocco, driving by olive and argan trees, the difference was magical.  We stepped into a courtyard of lemon and orange trees and a fountain in the middle, a tiled green oasis with books along the walls and four adorable tortoises roaming the garden.  We settled into the corner table with books and the birthday present that I still haven't finished for my sister and glasses of wine and mint tea - and then the call to prayer started.  Dashing to the bougainvillea-filled terrace, we got to hear the last of the unearthly haunting melodies and watch the sunset as the city lit up.
We ate that night at Thami, somewhere that's actually pretty famous but doesn't make very good food at all (oftentimes, after Paris, dinners in Morocco were disappointing) and wandered back to our hotel for a very good night's sleep.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April Holiday: Morocco: Meknes

Personally, I wouldn't suggest going to Meknes, but that was just my opinion.
Historically, it enjoyed one period of prominence when Moulay Ismail decided to build his imperial city - after his death, the capital relocated to Marrakesh.  Driving in, slightly sunburned from our day on the beach, we were greeted by an incomprehensible road system and, slowly, the dusty city rising from the tangle of highway.
It didn't help that the hotel we wanted to be at was full and we were relocated to a musty and cold (but overpriced) place - or that my darling brother was getting sick.  The next day, all of us feeling overheated and ill, we moved on in the next leg of our journey, to magical and old-as-time Fes....

April Holiday: Morocco: Moulay Bousselham

The next morning, we packed up from Larache and headed down the coast to Moulay Bousselham, a small fishing village, and bird sanctuary - or so we thought.  After a morning of driving through beautiful farmland, we finally got to Moulay Bousselham - more an empty resort town in April than a fishing village.
We reached to village in the heat of the day, so we waited an hour or so to go out on a boat to see the flamingos and other birds in the bird sanctuary...
On a boat exactly like these ones.  
The bird sanctuary was amazing.  We saw ospreys and cormorants wheeling over most of the little sandpipers, and, thrillingly, a crowd of about five hundred flamingos sitting together.  
An afternoon swimming on a secluded beach only accessible by boat and liberal applications of sunscreen... until we packed up that night to drive onwards to Meknes....

(photos from here and here, respectively)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Unrelated, but...

I recently finished Infinite Jest (Mike, my dearest, this is one book you actually have to read.  I give you full permission to read it before Complications) and Flavorwire released another one of their incredible Literary Mixtapes - this one featuring Hal Incandenza (or, if you're in the Orin camp like I am, Hallie).... check it out!  I think a lot of their choices are good ones, but I'd add a couple songs - "And She Was" by the Talking Heads (something I always thought was about detachment from one's body) and "Smatter" of off the Gnu High record (which I consider music for smart people, and who is smarter than our resident "lexical prodigy"?)

April Holiday: Morocco: Asilah and Larache

Driving out of Tangier, we stopped once at a beach that we deemed to dirty to swim at (seriously - broken glass in the waves) and moved on to Asilah, which someone had decided to make as clean as Switzerland - as a result it was really quiet, and we only stayed long enough for a phenomenal lunch of fish and moved on to the next place.
We spent the night in Larache, where my darling brother's Spanish was more useful than my French at La Maison Haute, where Hassan, his wife Fatima, and their wonderful son Mohammed welcomed us into their incredible home.  We took the paseo (sunset walk) by the bay and drank tea to the call to prayer... it was a beautiful town!  Thank you, Hassan and Fatima!

April Holiday: Morocco: Tangier

Our first day on holiday started out in Tangier (or Tanger in French) where we stayed at La Tangerina, one of the loveliest hotels I've ever seen.  That first night, after driving around in hopeless circles in the confusing twisty North African streets, we sat on the terrace drinking mint tea in tiny glass cups looking out over the sea to Spain and listening to the chorus of the muezzins calling people to prayer - pretty incredible, no?
The next day we wandered over to the Kasbah museum, had more mint tea (this time with orange flowers in it!) and then lunch on a terrace called "Le Salon Bleu" - I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Tangier!  We finished up with dinner out at El-Minzah (not actually as good as the Lonely Planet says) and got a good night's sleep before heading off to our next destination...
Tangier is one of my favourite cities.  The whitewashed buildings overlooking the sea make it seem a little more like the Greek Isles than Morocco, and despite what everyone said before we left, we weren't hassled at all.  It was quiet and lovely, damp sea air in the mornings giving way to sunny afternoons and nights in the Grand Sokko alive with people selling avocados and teapots and spice mixes.  It also has a history of writers and expats living in and around the medina (which is really where you want to be) - the whole place seems charged with the history of the past eight hundred or so years.
Have you been to Tangier?  What did you think?

Happy Easter Monday and April Holiday

Hello, blog readers!
I'm sorry I've been away for so long - I was on holiday with my family for two weeks in Morocco and in Spain, which I want to tell you all about, if you'd like to hear....
In short, we flew in to Tangier, made our way down the coast through Asilah to Larache and then Moulay Bousselham to Meknes, then a thrilling three or four days in Fes to Chefchaouen to Tetouan back to Tangier.
In Spain, we went to Granada and Cordoba before coming home to Paris - in the next couple days I plan to tell you everything about it!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Musée Rodin

I love all the museums in Paris, but the Musée Rodin - or rather, the garden - is my favourite.  Today I walked down to the seventh to hang out with Annabelle (where were you, Annabelle?!) and found myself at the museum instead.
Today was beautiful and warm, and tree peonies (!) and lilacs were in full bloom in the main back garden.  That isn't where I like to be, though - or in front where the Thinker is framed in roses.  I like the long, shaded, empty-looking corner to the left of the formal garden.  There the trees are not cut into square shapes and the ground is mossy.  Little clumps of grape hyacinth grow near the overblown holly bush... it's peaceful and quiet and hardly anyone goes back there.  It's the perfect place to read or write or just think...


This could perhaps be the courtyard of the Macondo house... (via)

I started drinking my coffee black after I read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" last summer.   It's funny how little things about books stay with you - I remember being in Acadia with my family, sitting in the hammock over the Sound at our campsite before we went hiking or biking for the day, wrapped up in the long lives of the José Arcadios and the Aurelianos of the Buendia family, in their long full house in Macondo, the first in line tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by ants (you will understand this if you have read the book).
One of the things that the Buendias did was always drink their coffee black, with no sugar.   Before reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude" I used to drink coffee rarely, and then it was more like a glass of milk with a little bit of coffee in it.  I've always been more of a tea person - and I still drink more tea than I do coffee.  But when I do drink coffee, it's now strong and hot and black with no sugar, the way I imagine that the Aurelianos and the José Arcadios drink theirs.
Do you drink coffee?  Have you read "One Hundred Years of Solitude?"  Did you like it?  I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his style of magical realism - the myth-history quality of his novels, especially this one....
Let me know!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Brief History of My Relationship with the Novels of Doris Lessing

The Christmas before last, my parents gave me "The Grass is Singing," clad in textured paperback with a picture of an African sunset, and I finished it that day.  The story of Mary and her inherent fear and racism and repugnance fascinated me, as did the seductive landscape that she lives in, the harsh and arid plains of what was then Rhodesia.  I loved the image of those who eked out a living from the unforgiving climate, the strength and hardiness of those who stayed.  I loved the differences between Mary and her husband, and I loved that even though you couldn't exactly like Mary, you felt some sort of pity or connection to her - you've been with her all this way and seen what she's become.  It is a bleak and neurotic and incredibly compelling novel, the kind of thing that you love because of how true and real it is.
Then, a couple of weeks later, my parents gave me "The Summer Before the Dark" for my seventeenth birthday.  I didn't finish it as quickly, but it struck me just as much as her first novel did.  Again, it is bleak and wildly compelling, striking you with this fear of what is real.  It is raw and candid and emptying.
While these, I am ashamed to say, are the only two Lessing novels I've read, I've been amazed at how clearly she understands the human condition... how she can write about something that you, at seventeen, don't know much about but can still relate to and understand and feel for her pained and depressed characters.  I remember sitting at my desk in the early January morning and devouring page after page of the uncertainty and doubt and clawing aloneness that Kate feels so keenly in "The Summer Before the Dark" before doing my biology homework and having her intricate phrases, the emotion that pours out of the book, stay with me for the entire day.  It's a feeling that I only want in small doses, but one that is somewhat exhilarating - I kept having to stop and say to myself "this is from a book.  This is not you." 
Have you read any Doris Lessing novels?  What did you think?  Did you find them to be emotional and exhilarating and raw the way I did?


At four this afternoon, I take my French final exam.  It's three hours long and I guess I am in what could be called "a state" by some (like my mother.  I love you, Mommy!).
So, to make myself feel a little better, and to make you feel better, here is where I'd like to be, with maybe some tea and a novel (I can't decide between "Sometimes A Great Notion" or "The Bone People," books I've read before and love, or "Infinite Jest," which I'm in the middle of and also love...)
Where would you like to be this Thursday?
(photo from Marie Claire Maison)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This is one of my favourite movies

picture from here.

Last summer, before I went to Switzerland, Kuzu and I had this thing that every Tuesday (I think it was Tuesday) we would get together and talk and watch movies and hang out before she went off to college and I went off to Europe and we didn't get to see each other as much.  It was a little ironic that the second I didn't have school anymore, she - who had been home-schooled - started having school (college, rather, way off in Pennsylvania).  Anyways, one of the first movies we watched was Whale Rider.
Those of you who have not seen Whale Rider, go out and see it.  It's now a little old - something like seven years old?  Maybe ten?  - but it's still one of the most incredible movies I've ever seen.  It's about a young Maori girl named Paikea Apirana and gender issues and ancestry issues and whales... we both cried for the better part of the second half of the movie, and it was generally a good crying.
Please go see it and let me know what you think of the film in the comments!  I would love to hear what you have to say about it, and if you love it as much as I do.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Wall of Sketches

Don't you think this wall is lovely?
My friend Kuzu has a wall of drawings at home where every month she'll change them for more recent artwork she's done.  I'm always amazed at her incredible talent - her drawings light up the room!  If I were more talented, I might do something similar....
It's always lovely when she gives you something she's done (my darling sister always asks) and then you can still tack it on your wall....
photo from apartment therapy, I think....

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Little Something For Your Monday...

It makes me happy, so I figured it would make you happy, too.


Yesterday I handed my mother a comb and the scissors and asked her to cut four inches off the end of my hair.  That's not much hair for me - just the very unhealthy ends of about two feet of thick curls.  When it dried, my hair flew up into curls below my shoulders, so now it reaches the top of the small of my back when it's dry and my hips when it's wet.  It's not a very big change - just curlier and lighter and healthier now, and that's the way I like it.
I was partially inspired to cut my hair by Kuzu, who cut her already-short hair into an incredibly chic face-framing pixie-ish haircut (with bangs!  Super-cute bangs!), but I'm not as brave as she is... maybe one day.  It's weird to think that before I gave my mother scissors I hadn't gotten my hair cut for about three years... and it wasn't really cut as much as trimmed a bit.
Good morning, US people!

This Weekend/Holiday

We had a wonderful weekend, kicking things off with Ursula's birthday and then, on Saturday night, a friend of my father's came over for dinner...  And, as usual, plenty of wandering around Paris at length.
We also started actually planning our holiday that - wow, starts next week!  I'll be gone for two weeks in Morocco and Spain with my family, and I'm so excited!  We're going to go hiking in the Atlas mountains and visit the ancient architecture of Cordoba and.... ooh, does anyone have any suggestions?
Have a lovely Monday, everyone!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ursula!

My darling sister turns twelve today!
It's been weird watching her grow up into this precocious wonderful young woman who knows what she wants and who she is.... I'm so proud and astonished.
Happy Birthday, Ursula!  I hope you have a wonderful day.  Thank you for talking to me late at night and hanging out and constantly fascinating me!
Also, welcome to Paris, Jamie!