May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Morocco Marrakesh

After a night in Madrid in a perfect little bunkroom to ourselves for 13 E each, we got on the plane and saw the Strait of Gibraltar on the way to Morocco.  I was a little nervous because of the stories of petty crime, rip-offs and the role of women so I was “set for bear.”  I tried to get money from several ATMs, but they refused me.  Immediately out of the airport, I thought I had read that a taxi ride to the new city was about 7, so I was shocked when it said 100.  Then they wanted 100 a person!  We got out of the taxi with our stuff and got out the map to show them it’s just as close to the new city, so finally we went for 85—Les found in the book that it should be around 90D.
Since then I’ve relaxed quite a bit. 
hotel lobby
Our hotel was a little fancier than we expected, but we looked around and it seemed fair, AND it had air conditioning at the press of a button!  (Also we’ve been wasting our time in the evenings with movies on the TV.)
Looks like Brother Jim!
The man behind the desk looks a lot like my brother Jim.  He gets paid 150,000 D a month and we just paid 300 for a hammam bath and massage; about 1/5 of his salary. 1 D=7-8 USD.  He works 10 hours a day, 7 days a week.  He’s not yet married and is a nice, gentle man.  I called my bank, and they said that their debit card doesn’t work in Morocco.  There MUST be a lot of crime here.  We went to the modern grocery store and I was amazed at the spice section; it was colorful, plentiful with piles of each spice in a circular bin.  The French influence is strong here with foods and also everyone speaks French along with Arabic.

After a day we were roaming the streets.  The scavenger hunt for a bank that could cash a traveler’s check was a failure, and the next day they wouldn’t accept my $100 bill because it was dirty and had a tear in it.  Finally we were advised to visit a machine that gave me change.  I tried a ripe olive from a tree in the street and it was very bitter.  It must need the soaking in vinegar to process it.   
Olive from this tree
the Royal Theater
On the way we went in the national theater lobby.  It was quiet and pretty.  This was also the place where folks line up to get football tickets.  Morocco against Tansania!
Fabric Dyes: Cobalt, Indigo, Saffron, etc.

The medina (old center of town: now a tourist area but used to be the place where the natives lived while the French built new towns with roads and electricity and running water for their people when they took over) was complex, beautiful and chaotic.  It wasn’t as overwhelming as India was for me—or maybe I have a new scale inside me.   

Dying Wool and Cactus Silk
We took the walking tour that the Lonely Planet book advised and saw lots of people working their art in wood, tile, and wool and silk—no, not worm silk, but cactus silk! A man that was showing us the dyes took Les and made him a little turban from a twilight blue scarf, and showed me a stylish knot to use when I wear a scarf. Les found a nice tailor to hem his pants for 12 D.   

We have enjoyed one huge meal a day: 

couscous with a mountain of vegetables and meats, and tajine that is like a dry-ish stew of vegetables and meat and olives.  The food is really good.  We are becoming “regulars” at a coffee place across the street.  My favorite is listening to the prayers over the loud speaker; and if I’m close enough to a mosque, I can hear the singing live.  
 One waiter was very, very, enthusiastic about Islam and was telling us about how everyone is Allah, and so many names have Al- and how the word for Allah looks like a human, and that we are all one in peace.  It was quite beautiful.  All this while on the TV (every restaurant seems to have a TV) was the live scene at Mecca.

 I had been looking forward to the hammam experience.  It began as a bath house for those who lived in the medina (center of the city) who had no running water.  They use a soap that in the solid form looks like liquid resin and feels a little like slippery honey.  They refer to it as black soap.
After our Hammam
They gave me a little black thong like thing to wear, and some plastic slippers.  After sitting and having buckets of water splashed on me, I lathered myself up and sat in a steam room shaped like ½ an egg with beautiful streams of sunlight coming in through small holes for about 15 minutes. 
Al Fatima: my masseuse
I then lay on a table while Al-Fatima scrubbed all my skin with a rough mitt.  Lots of skin rolled up on me and this was bucketed off before I lay on a plastic covered massage table for a nice overall massage.  I asked her for some depth because of issues with my hands falling asleep when I use my arms.  She was great!   
Then I lay on a plastic sheet and she applied mud and seaweed before she wrapped me up, mummy style.  I dozed in a nice white-tiled moist aired environment before I got up to shower off the mud.  Al-Fatima came to wash my hair and body and gave me a big white fluffy robe and a towel.  Yes, I got the full treatment, and I’m sure the locals don’t go through all this.  My skin did feel amazing as I joined Les in the tea room and sipped from glasses stuffed with mint, some mint and honey tea.  We slept well.

I am very much a minority in the streets—being female.  I don’t see any women sitting with newspapers sipping coffee in the terrace chairs on the street.  Women look busy shopping, or selling or begging.  Some stand and socialize, but they don’t normally sit and relax in public places.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mountain Family Friend's Farm in Italy

Sabbionara and Avio (on the right) from the mile high farm

September 25-October 3 without the world wide web:
Ahhh, to hear Lucia’s voice again was delightful.  It sings, rolls, presses, and bounces.  We heard it first on the phone when we were a little lost going up the mountain to the farm.  I had been frustrated all day because I had left Lucia with questions about where she was going to pick us up, and I couldn’t get on line anywhere; so we didn’t know where she was going to look for us.  I didn’t want to inconvenience her. 
can you see the gully and the line that goes up from there? That's where the farm is.

From the top looking down at the place of the photo above

 I was dehydrated and tired by the time we got to the cableway where we left our packs and started up.  Les was spent like I’ve never seen him, but we both made it to the top where we met Franco (hired manager of the farm for 20 years from Czech Republic)
who gave Les a fresh t-shirt.  It was fantastic to see the place again, high on the side of a mountain in the Dolomites.  
Laura on the right

We met Laura, another WWOOFer from Juneau, Alaska (via Ohio), who has been here for 2+ weeks.   

Francesca ("Panina")


 monsters at the end of our bed
We met the three kids: Giacomo, Francesca (we called Panina when she was 3 weeks old), and the new one, Margarita.  


Margarita and Pipo

We met the two dogs, whom I LOVE--Arga (a beautiful black shepherd mix who reminds me of Tarka) and sickly but very sweet Pipo--, the goose (Gustavo) and his two ducks that he bosses around all day; the hen and rooster and all the rabbits (Attila, the male).   



It was fantastic to see Renzo too--the farmer who invents competition climbing walls--; he looks exactly as I remember him.  He turns 60 this year and is still an adventurer/daredevil/hard working and happy go lucky guy.  I want to be like him.  
Right away, Lucia tried to catch Attila (AH ti la) by offering him a female bunny.  Lucia’s cooking is super good, with plenty of olive oil and hard grated cheese.  

 I belayed Giacomo as he tried to reduce his time on the climbing wall mounted on the south wall of this summer castle turned into a small family farm/retreat center.  
Renzo belayed me on the wall; it’s been years since I climbed.  Then he demonstrated the tight rope.  I tried and could only take two steps. The building’s walls are about 2 feet thick, and keep the inside cool no matter how hot it is outside.  They have no refrigerator; just a dark room for most supplies. The second floor has a huge wood floor room suitable for yoga or dance (I’ve been giving ballet lessons to Francesca, who has been very focused and ready for it—and Laura and I did some contact improvisation), with one end devoted to a bouldering wall and ceiling.   
There’s a room in which we put corn that we braided together to dry.  We have a mouse in our room that stole some chocolate but will not eat the poison we put out for it.  Laura has a scorpion in her room; but maybe it was a dead one that Franco put there for a joke—he put a dead dormouse on the concrete mixer for fun and we put it on a ladder with a little love note to Franco.

Our major work here has been processing wheat to collect the wheat berries.  Laura thinks of this as one of the most ancient work.  Les loves the specificity and repetition of it.  We twist or pound the heads until the seeds are released, then we take it into the wind and pour so that the chaff flies away.  

 I thought we could make our next million selling the chaff to throw at brides and grooms as they leave the church; or maybe I can put it in dancers’ hair to fly when they twirl.  A whole days work gleans only 4-5 cups of berries. Also, we collect delicious veggies from the garden, cook, walk the dogs, and today (9-30) we cleaned the rabbits’ cages.  Stinky!  It needed it.  This is the farm where I first learned to enjoy espresso.   
The final night, they fired up the pizza oven outside and made spectacular pies (the final one: pear, Gorgonzola, walnut, mozzarella, Parmesan).  Laura broke out some nice wine, Renzo opened the beer I brought, Renzo put on some folk and traditional USA music with Bruce Springsteen, and the stars fell around the Milky Way.  It was a lovely evening.
As we left, Lucia was making marmalade from a fruit that looks like a yellow apple and is hard like a beet.  It’s called cotognia; they were 40-90% full of worms, but to smell the boiling fruit at the end, I can imagine how delicious the jam will be.
Images I don’t want to forget:
1.     Ballet lessons for Francesca, with Margarita in and out of the lessons.
2.     Taking Les and the dogs to the huge cliff-sided gully where the spring is, and across it, the bridge made of little colorful planks.
3.     Les and Gustavo (goose) sharing a conversation back and forth; then Pipo (dog) and Gustavo at a distance from one another.
4.     The sound of Lucia’s voice when warning her children—calling each by name with long vowels, and her laugh that sounds like water falling.
5.     The lighthearted way we communicated with large gestures, and an occasional Czech to Italian, and English to Italian dictionary; sometimes with Lucia telling Renzo the story we just told her.
6.     Les singing the Can-Can as he pounded the heads of wheat.
7.     How Les looked as he arrived the first time he climbed the 2-hour path up to the mile-high farm.
8.     How much Franco teased Laura, and his gentle, playful, physical and verbal humor.
9.     The garlic mayonnaise that Namua made was named “Salsa de la Estrega” (“witch sauce”); it gave Lucia a stomachache.  Lucia can’t eat raw garlic.
10. Looking at the farmhouse from way below, following what I imagine to be the trail up with my eyes.
On our way out of town, we stayed in a hotel by the train station so we wouldn’t have to hike down so far in the early morning, got the best gelato, stopped in the post office to see for the last time if my package got here (no-Lucia will have to send it somewhere else where I will be), and enjoyed an evening at a place with 200 solar panels, surrounded by vineyards and cows and strolling through the streets and town cemetery.  We’ve been without Internet for a while.  I hope to catch up and get back on track.  Morocco is next—through Rome and Madrid.