MEMORIES OF MARRAKESH AND ITS UNFORGETTABLE MEDINA
I never really learned my way around.
But my brief stay in the Medina — ancient center of mesmerizing Marrakesh — was a time apart. A chance to live where people have lived and died, worked, played, loved and shared their stories for centuries.
Our AirB&B, a dozen turns into the narrow passageways, was pure 21st century: a renovated traditional Moroccan riad with indoor courtyard, a few beautiful rooms on several levels (accessible by narrow stone stairs,) the courtyard open to the skies, all the 21st century comforts one could want.
Ground level sitting room off the courtyard
Looking upward from the courtyard at dusk
Second level bedroom
And just outside our doorway, life went on — as life has gone on in the Medina for centuries. Families are families, whatever the time or place.
Marrakesh is a marvel of a city. I’d never been to Morocco before.
I loved roaming the streets (with an invaluable local guide!) — visiting the Koutoubia Mosque, the gardens, the palace, the desert-like Palmeraie with its palm trees and camels a stone’s throw from upscale modern homes and golf clubs.
But coming home, back into the 11th century Medina, was the best.
I don’t want to believe it’s gone.
Since the earthquake that has claimed several thousand lives across this part of the country, and left much of the Medina in rubbles, we’ve heard from only one of the three friends we made on that brief visit. A merchant who emailed that he is “All right, thank you, sister!”
We’re praying for the others. And that somehow the people of Morocco will rebuild.
I hope so. I hope the ancient marketplaces will again coexist with renovated riads that might welcome tourists like me again. And those visitors might have a chance to climb up to the rooftop for sunset tea . . .
Relaxing on the rooftop
Another rooftop view at sunset
Looking down into the courtyard gardens & fountain from the rooftop at dusk
. . . and marvel at the 21st century beauty created in the very heart of this 11th century city.
My heart is with their hearts, those citizens of the Marrakesh Medina
WHAT MATTERS AFTER ALL: ALMOST A CENTURY OF FRIENDS
(Written in response to a Medium.com invitation to write about one’s treasures)
What would you grab if you had ten minutes before a coming disaster?
In earthquake-prone, wildfire-wary California, this is a sometimes parlor game. More than once, I’ve used it as an icebreaker or had it come up in conversations with friends and strangers alike.
I think: My passport? My laptop? My cellphone? But invariably, I go back to the now-famous Guest Book Collection. I would grab the guest books.
When I married my Final Husband, sometimes referred to as the Last Best Husband, a few decades back, I moved from a lifetime on the east coast into the San Francisco Victorian he had bought twenty years earlier. He had had no siblings or close relatives, and though he’d been married before had never had children. But he had friends around the globe. I had more relatives — children, grandchildren, sisters, cousins — than could be easily counted, plus friends scattered everywhere myself.
We needed space. So the first major project we undertook was to convert the ground-level area behind the garage into a guest room with a small kitchen and bath. It was seldom empty for the next quarter-century.
A favorite niece started this tradition: as a wedding gift, she personalized a small notebook, transforming it into a guest book. It began life in the upstairs extra room of the Victorian, moving happily into the downstairs mini-suite within a year.
Guests were invariably greeted with a hug and an admonition: “If you leave without signing the Guest Book on the coffee table, you may never be invited back.” To a person, our guests obeyed.
They also quickly got creative. The book became the repository of reflections, photos, poems, cocktail napkins, ticket stubs, playbills, and more. As soon as Guest Book #1 was filled, it was succeeded by #2 — and by the time we downsized, the stack had grown to include Guest Book #6.
The little books came to tell the story of a happy marriage: illustrations by grandchildren, notes from favorite friends — they also grew to include pages for parties or special events, when I would invite everyone to sign with a name or a comment. My son and daughter-in-law came for my MFA graduation. A Parisian friend pasted in a photo from a trip we’d shared . . .
They’re just books, most costing less than $10. But they hold images and remembrances of literally hundreds of people I love.
I come from several generations of mostly women — who may or may not be witches.
The youngest of four sisters, I grew up among aunts and great-aunts who were occasional role models and always sources of entertainment. My sisters and I welcomed ten more daughters into the next generation, although my father — one of five brothers himself — did eventually acquire two grandsons (including my own firstborn.)
By the time of my recent exhaustively celebrated 90th birthday, things had evened out a little: two nieces had had five sons (and no daughters) between them. The rest of that generation is a mixed bunch. Thirty-some of us gathered in Georgia not long ago to celebrate my own longevity and the life of my last remaining sister Helen, who died earlier this year at 95.
The night had cooled and frivolities settled down somewhat when my giant birthday cake was brought out. Son-in-law Paul, whose passions include all things culinary, creates these ten-pound wonders. I hope I was saying some thing profound for the moment, but in truth do not remember.
Profound or not, the moment was captured by my nephew Chris. A writer/poet/English teacher, Chris later found it reminded him of a piece by noted American poet Lucille Clifton. Photo and poem were thus framed and sent to me. Clifton (1936–2010) was a poet/writer/educator herself, and two-time Pulitzer finalist. I am proud to be in the same frame with her.
Turning 90 — which I am now happily doing — is a mixed bag.
Things I’m happy to have skipped: Internet dating. Raves. Tik Tok. ChatGPT. Crowdsourcing. Being referred to as a Content Provider 😡.
Things I’m happy to have enjoyed: Big bands. The hula-hoop. TV before cable. The jitterbug. Trash-free cities and waterways. Patriotism before it got a bad name, and civil discourse before it was eliminated from our democracy.
I’ve recently read pearls of wisdom shared by folks turning 30 — or 50, or 20, or even 70. I was brought up to believe that age brought wisdom.
Nahhh. Age brings wrinkles.
At least my wrinkly brain still functions, as do my wrinkly feet. One can hardly ask for more. My advice to the under-90 set is that if you keep using your brains and your feet you’ll probably be fine. It is wise to appreciate them anew every day.
Things that make it worthwhile to be very old:
Kindness. Kindness should be #1 for any age, but mean old people are just the pits. Which brings up:
Attitude: Optimism works for me. Old people have a lot to be grumpy about (I do not.) But grumpy old people are the pits and then some.
Activism. When you’re emailing congressmen, out working for a cause, joining marches or writing postcards to voters you don’t notice arthritis.
Curiosity. Try to be at least as curious as you were 86 years ago.
Friends. Nobody doesn’t want to be friends with an unthreatening old person. (See above.) It is wise to have been collecting friends all along, but young friends are important because the others keep dying off.
Gratitude. On the worst day there’s something to be grateful for. By the time you get this old, just waking up is one.
Finitude. Specifically: I’m likely to die soon. (Hopefully not tomorrow; another few years on the planet would be okay.) But dying is not the worst thing that happens to anybody. It is wise to consider this reality and take appropriate action.
Faith. In god by whatever name, in Mother Nature, the celestial universe, doesn’t matter. It is not wise to think we humans are the be-all and end-all, an idea too depressing for any age. It is wise to consider the stars and clouds and oceans, and the fact that if we don’t take better care of our little planet whoever’s in charge is likely to give up on us.
That’s about all the nonagenarian wisdom I can come up with.
(NB — Key illustrations for this article were clipped from a video of the aftermath of the crime cited herein, taken from a safe distance. They may not be photographically wonderful, but surely you will get the idea.)
If you plan to travel in Morocco, you might want to engage Take-No-Prisoners Leila and Mild Mannered Abdel, a matchless pair who steered my daughter Sandy and me through the perils (and many remarkable sites) of the country from Tangiers to Rabat to Marrakech.
Fearless guides in their customary, friendlier stances
Considering the fact that much of our time was spent wandering the centers of ancient towns, which feature impossibly narrow, twisty streets with racing motorcycles and plodding carts going both directions at once, not to mention bewildering thoroughfares with traffic circles but no discernible speed limits and few pedestrian crossings or other such niceties, this visitor needed a LOT of guidance and protection.
As far as I can tell, law and order in Morocco is a system unto itself. The unflappable Abdel steered our mini-van through perilous streets and around three-lane traffic circles in the absolute assurance of which lane belonged to him, though this seemed to be a decision in constant flux. I saw occasional policemen — those in Marrakech were old buddies of Abdel — but their primary occupation was to make random stops checking for expired licenses or other signs of malfeasance. Stop signs? Traffic lights? Why bother? (The king goes anywhere, anytime, anyhow he darned well pleases. We watched a few of his shiny Mercedes limos simply being warmed up by zooming up and down a wide avenue just outside of the palace.)
A quieter street; not the one near the palace
To cross a major thoroughfare (there are indeed occasional crossing lanes, but never mind) Leila simply put her head down, grabbed my hand, and plunged into the swiftly-moving traffic. It’s a sort of ongoing game of chicken between drivers and pedestrians; I am amazed by the limited number of dead bodies strewn in roadways.
In all other matters of justice (leave aside the fact that the king does whatever he darned well pleases) it seems to be a matter of swift settlement between evildoer and victim. This is possible, I believe because people don’t walk around with guns. In other words, you might beat up on one another, but you’re less likely to wind up dead — as would be the case in another country that shall remain nameless where anybody and everybody seems to be packing heat these days.
We got a first-hand glimpse of this one day in Casablanca. We were driving peacefully around the city when we passed a park filled with Moroccans of varying ages at rest or play. The latter group included a few young hooligans of a sort common to every country since time immemorial. They were amusing themselves by tossing rocks at passing cars.
They picked the wrong car. A resounding crack against our window startled us all and brought the minivan to an immediate slow-down. Before it had come to a full stop Leila was out the door and jogging toward the hooligans. They were a small group of small boys who appeared to be about 8 or 10 years old. Within moments, Leila had one of them by the shirt collar and was giving him the what-for. It was in Arabic, but what-for to young hooligans is the same in any language.
Leila delivering the opening lecture
Meanwhile, back at the van, Abdel had found a place to park. Leaving the motor running he came to our door, explained apologetically that our health and wellbeing was of his primary concern, but — with a shrug — what could he do about Leila . . . And with that he was off, walking purposefully across the park.
Abdel (left) on his way to join the discussion
The next thing we knew, mild-mannered Abdel was offering his own what-for. To make his point, he administered a whopping swat to the primary culprit. By now a crowd was gathering. Sandy and I, noting how seriously outnumbered Leila and Abdel were, briefly discussed what would happen if one of us were to climb into the driver’s seat of the van. Easy: certain death.
Abdel justice, witnessed by Leila
We learned later that among the adults who gathered around was no one admitting to the parentage of the hooligans. Had I been such, facing the wrath of Leila and Abdel I would not have admitted to it in a thousand years. Leila has rather strong opinions about hooliganism.
Gathering crowd hearing from Leila
With their points made, our two fearless guides walked back across the park to the van. It was apparently all the time they needed to calm down and return to the pleasant companions we had known before the rock hit the window. The evildoing amounted to one small but bothersome shattered spot in the window. Punishment was administered and the issue apparently settled, without bloodshed.
Now, if we could get Abdel and Leila to come to speak with the NRA . . .
SNAPSHOTS FROM AN INTRODUCTORY VISIT TO SPAIN AND MOROCCO
Seville B&B rooftop
There’s something about rooftops, where you can look out over the city and see it anew. Currently I’m seeing actual new cities (wonderful old cities new to me) on a trip to Spain & Morocco. The above came with a view of the cathedral shining benevolently upon us all.
Inside Rabat’s Medina
Later, in the narrow alleyways of Rabat’s centuries-old Medina, people went about their days. To the visitor, life doesn’t seem easy here . . .
Atop Hotel Riad Dar El Kebira in Rabat
but from the rooftop of our hotel in the center of the Medina one could only see beauty.
Rooftop of Olala B&B, Marrakech
While the rooftop of our B&B, a few dozen steps above, was calm and lovely as the muezzin intoned the call to prayer.
Sunset from a Seville rooftop
Maybe rooftops are just their own call to peace and serenity.
She and I had gotten along okay for a number of years, but things were just going downhill, communicatively speaking.
“Dr. W,” I said, “I need for you to look at me when we’re talking. I know there’s a lot of important information on that computer, and you have to input a lot of other important information. But I just can’t handle always talking into the air.” Dr. W continued to position herself northward as I, by design of the examining table, was aimed westward.
One day I couldn’t take it any more. I went to the Kaiser webpage listing General Practice doctors who are accepting new patients and found Dr. G.
I think Dr. G is about 12 — but that is a function of living as long as I have: the doctors all appear to be teenagers. I explained my Dr W problems to the young Dr. G. He turned the computer around and sat beside me so we could look at it together. We could also look each other in the eye when I was explaining very personal data. (Dr. G also showed me where my A1C had been six or eight years ago — whoever heard of A1C before TV ads started shouting about it? — and showed me how he’d start worrying if the line got above a certain point; as opposed to Dr W’s forever telling me vaguely that I am “pre-diabetic.” To be brutally frank, I am pre-dead, but that’s another story.)
Dr. G and I are living in a happily ever after relationship.
Relationships simply need eye contact. I really don’t care how important that computer is, with all its vital data, or that cellphone, with all its fascinating connections to people tango dancing in Buenos Aires or people in Eastern Asia saying stuff that may or may not be true — all I ask is a teeny moment of undivided attention. Look me in the eye.
Speaking of cellphones and interpersonal communications — which we must, although the two are totally incompatible:
Occasionally I go to dinner in a home where cellphones are not banned at the dinner table. (Occasionally I also go to indoor restaurants; but not often, because you can look someone in the eye in most indoor restaurants and not hear a word he or she is saying over the 95-decibel din, but that’s another story and anyway my age is showing again.)
Cellphones and dinners are 98% utterly incompatible. The other 2% is okay for looking up an interesting factoid that arose in the general conversation. Conversations — one or more persons exchanging thoughts with one or more other persons — cannot occur in the presence of a cellphone. Dinnertime, or lunchtime for that matter, conversations are good for the soul. (And the digestion, but that’s another story too.)
Sometimes cellphones at dinners are detached from the hand of the owner and placed beside the knife or fork. Well, okay, but face down please. A face-up cellphone competes for attention with other diners; the cellphone always wins. Diners, bless their hearts, have only voices and animated faces. Cellphones have flashing colors and beeping blurps and strobe lights — with which no ordinary human can successfully compete. The human might be the Secretary of State reporting on a front-line visit to Ukraine; it doesn’t matter. The cellphone wins.
Moral of story: humans need connection; machines break connections. Maybe you agree, maybe you disagree, that’s what conversation is all about, and conversation is always welcome.