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My mother is sleeping more and more, the nurses tell me. She curls up on her bed and dreams of her lost husband, who died more than 20 years ago, muttering his name in her sleep. She’s never gotten over that loss.

She eats like a dying person; here a half-glass of juice, there a couple spoonfuls of applesauce, barely enough to sustain a flicker of life. They tell me this on the phone. I call her about 3 times a week, on average, and over the last couple of months, our conversations have dwindled to me shouting, repeating the same things. “Remember? I’m in Morocco…in Morocco…MOROCCO! In Africa.”

Now the nurses have mentioned the word hospice. They say, “We can’t know,” and “In my opinion,” and “Given my experience in geriatric care.” They are talking about weeks, if that.

I have searched the internet and gotten tickets for a decent price, considering the time of year and urgency of the need. I have called my brother, who lives 10 minutes away from her. My other brother is driving his family from Iowa to Seattle.  I fly out early Sunday morning, leaving the kids to finish their last couple of weeks of school without me making their lunches or nagging them to do their homework, leaving Donn to survive on pizza and eggs. (The children are excited to cook! Which means a lot of eggs.) The chances of them going to the beach clean-up organized by the school, or the Parents of Students Association Exhibit, are really slim. On the other hand, I’m sure they will have some fun times, on what Ilsa calls their “pizza and coke diet.”

I’m making phone calls, cancelling weekend plans, opting out of book group (I just joined a book club) and the baby shower next week. I need to go to the medina and pick up a graduation present for my niece and a hostess gift for my brother and sister in law. At night my head whirls with plans and memories, as I simutaneously look to the immediate future and the distant past.

I may or may not post much about it, or much about anything at all. I have some half-finished posts that I might just finish. Life is complex and multi-faceted, after all; we celebrate life and death and love and loss all at once, every day, whether  discussing pandemics or soccer scores, or watching the fading flutter of a moth’s wings against the window pane, silhouetted against the dying light outside.

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Saturday, Elliot was invited to a birthday party by a girl in his class. The invitation was all in French except for the words “Black and Blue Party.” The party supposedly started at 3:30 and ended at 9.

We discussed this in the car. We don’t have much (read any) experience with Moroccan kid parties, but we do know Mauritanian ones. They come in two varieties. One invitation would say, for example, 3 to 5, and the party would last from 4 to 6:30, approximately, and would inevitably include a taped disco version, in English, of Happy Birthday. (Happy Bi-irth day to you–CHA CHA CHA! I love this version, and have incorporated my interpretation of it into all parties I go to now, to the embarrassment of my own children) The other kind would say “Come on Friday” and you could go anytime, eat some food, hang out for a bit, and then leave. We assumed a 6 hour party would be the latter kind, so just in case, we gave Elliot my phone and taxi money, so he could leave at any time.

The party girl’s house was located at the end of a street of apartment buildings. When we arrived, a thumping bass was echoing off buildings down the block, which made it a bit tricky to isolate and locate the apartment where the noise was coming from. Once we’d done that, we’d found the party.

We walked in so I could greet the girl’s parents. The room gave out onto a small green garden, where the kids had gathered and where the four-foot-tall speakers were. I was amused to see the girls on one side, dancing with each other, and boys huddled on the patio, punching each other. Ah, junior high, how I miss thee!

Six hours later, Elliot came home with his head still ringing from the music. “A lot of Rihanna and Cascada,” he told me. “Who?” I said, cuz I’m hip like this. Apparently the two sides of the room did occasionally mingle, mostly around the cake.

The music was nonstop for the entire six hours. At one point, the neighbours, fed up, threw rocks at the kids. “They did WHAT?!” I said to Elliot. Donn was more philosophical. “I can sympathize,” he sighed. Donn is not a big fan of really loud pop music.

Yes, the neighbours threw rocks over the wall into the yard, hitting some of the kids on the head! The girl’s parents went out to pacify them. “It’s a party; it’s just once a year; it will soon be over,” they soothed. According to Elliot, no one was bleeding or seriously injured. Also Elliot was not hit–he and a friend took cover when the rocks started flying. Being in junior high is not just awkward anymore–now it’s dangerous.

And go ahead and make your jokes about getting stoned at the party in comments. I’m looking forward to them.

We collected Elliot and took him back with us to a friend’s house, where we were having a spontaneous sit-down dinner for 12. (Of which 7 were children but still. How is it the French can always pull this off? My last-minute sit down dinners for 12 tend to come from McDonalds. We even had freshly-baked clafouti for dessert. Meredith is always eating clafouti so I was very happy to finally get to taste it.) The topic of the conversation turned to driving in Rabat, and both the Frenchman and the Moroccan agreed–it’s much worse in Casablanca.

Although both were settled by people related to each other and both have the root “Moor” in their names, there are many differences between the two neighboring countries in Africa where I have lived. This is part two of a semi-regular series in which I will choose a topic at random and natter on about it for hours.  Today’s topic: Driving (read part one: Sharks here)

Did I mention we got a car? We did, finally. I feel like an adult again, because I have keys; house keys, car keys, keys to things that I own.

Our car is brand-spanking new, and a beautiful dove-grey, so we’re sort of nervous about it. A friend of ours told us, that very first day, to just go ahead and take a hammer to it and put the first ding in ourselves. “It’s easier that way,” he advised. We couldn’t do it.

The kids don’t like the smell. “It smells like when you throw up in the car and it’s all icky,” they tell me. “What? Are you crazy?” I respond. “People LOVE this smell. You can buy air-freshener that claims to replicate it.” They just roll their eyes.

Our new car is supposedly four-wheel drive, but it is “légère,” light, not heavy-duty. It’s basically for suburbanites who like to pretend they need a 4WD. This is a little sad for us. In Mauritania, you need a real 4WD to go just about anywhere. When we arrived in 2001, only about 4 roads were actually paved, and even when we left in 2007, it was still possible to need to put your car into four wheel drive after getting stuck in soft sand while dropping off a friend, for example. No residential streets were paved.

After Nouakchott, Rabat initially feels like Europe. Everything’s paved, and there are enormous roads, 3 lanes in each direction–theoretically, according to painted white lines. Although you can go most places in Morocco and find paved roads, things are rough enough in the countryside that Donn wanted a Land Rover, as his job takes him off road fairly often. But I wanted something smaller for round town, and we had our budget to think of, so we went for our beautiful, dove-grey compromise.

But in one way, the two cities are alike–the habits of their drivers.

I had never seen, never even imagined, anything like the Mauritanian drivers. They sit at red lights with their hands trembling on their horns, like Jeopardy contestants, so that the split-second the light turns, they can begin to honk. Before you can physically move your foot from the brake to the gas pedal, the cacophony has started up. Not content with that, they drive up into the lane intended for oncoming traffic, so that when the light turns green, they are up front, blocking every body else so that they can go.

“Sorry! I forgot YOU were the king and these roads were created for YOU!” I used to shout in annoyance. Or I would whip off my glasses and hold them out… “Obviously you need these more than I do!” This was on my good days, the days I’m telling you about. You don’t need to know how I responded on my bad days, when the children weren’t in the car.

On the “highway,” which I put in quotes because it is divided by a sand ditch that cars turn around in and bordered by wide sand shoulders so that you can just drive up the wrong side of the road, sometimes donkey carts in the right lane would suddenly turn left, just in front of me. I would slam on the brakes and, well, let’s just draw a curtain of seemliness across the ensuing scene.

I’m kidding. I’m a paragon of patience. I just want to make the rest of you feel better for losing patience with the jerk who cut you off, when you really have no idea.

Mauritanian drivers are, seriously, beyond what you can imagine if you have not traveled in Africa. (It’s not just me, others have said the same) Please don’t leave me a comment about how someone double-parked once in front of your office, unless you don’t mind being mocked behind your back. Because we dream of simple double-parking, when we’re stuck in one of those pointless traffic jams caused because everyone tried to go through the round-point at exactly the same time, where no one will let anyone else go first. If you can inch forward a mere centimeter, you do it, and the cars stick every which way. It’s like driving with a lot of 5 year olds who have not been taught to share. And who pick their noses without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. And who know bad words in Arabic.

Since Rabat feels so much more like Europe, I had this fantasy that driving would be more like Rome, for instance, where the drivers are fabled but it is possible to have an undinged car. But instead, it’s Mauritania all over again, paved so that you can’t drive onto the wide sand shoulders, and with six times the number of cars. It’s beyond crazy. It’s like 5 year olds with car keys AND whiskey.

Then there’s the motorized scooters whizzing in and out, sounding exactly like mosquitoes, diving RIGHT in front of you and then stopping suddenly. It is a sadly common sight to see one of them downed, their drone quieted. While I can never be unmoved by the sight of a car accident, at the same time it can be hard to summon up a lot of pity for someone who drives like the road is empty and always, only, all for him, when in real life the road is packed with larger vehicles, all of whom feel the road is all for them.

I mentioned the roads with the theoretical 3 lanes in each direction. In practice, there are 6-8 lanes in each direction. This makes it especially fun when the road funnels into an arched portal carved into the meter-thick ancient city walls, one-lane-wide only. All the cars have to be patient and let others go first sometimes. This works out great, and it’s heartwarming to see the politeness of the drivers, pausing to let the overstuffed bus go first, smoothly letting the taxis in, etc. It brightens my morning, yes it does!

Ahem. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Elliot got hit by a car yesterday. It was just outside the school, where people seem to view the children crossing the road as an opportunity to rack up points! How many little ones hit today? Only 4? I got 6. This is in spite of a painted crosswalk (What do those stripes on the road mean? Nothing. They’re decorative, just ignore them.) and a policeman, stationed next to the guy selling candy so they can chat.

It was a very light bump that didn’t even knock him over. I don’t even know if he’s bruised. But still. I hoped we could get through a year without one of us being hit by a car; instead we only made it 8 months.

To sum up: In Mauritania, the drivers are bad; in Morocco, they are worse.

Last Sunday, as you may have noticed, was Mother’s Day. The fact was brought to my attention by the internet, as with so many other things. I lost no time in pointing this out to my family. I know mothers who despise this holiday as false, a time when people feel forced to buy flowers, chocolate, cards, make their mothers breakfast in bed. I say I will take what I can get. So they feel forced to do it? Great. No worries here. It’s not like I’m getting chocolate and flowers without this.

The problem was that the morning was really busy, and then we got trapped downtown. May 10th was the day of the Rabat half-marathon, and the planners in their wisdom had blocked all the main roads to get out of downtown, through those enormous thick city walls. We ended up trapped, pointlessly driving 10 miles out of our way (I was sure there was another road across the valley from Salé but I was wrong), only to come back and find that the roads were open but full of people trying to jog. We wove through crowds of marathoners, in awe once again of the planners of this event. Surely they might find a compromise, where one road would remain open and the marathoners wouldn’t have to compete with cars for the road? But then, where would be the sport in that? we realized, as we swerved around a red-faced, sweating man who was just trying to cross the four-lane thoroughfare.

We were in a hurry because we’d arranged to meet friends at the beach. We finally got our own car, and that means Donn has been able to make surfing once again a regular part of his weekends. We got to the beach after everyone else but that was okay; come on, it’s the beach.

Almost the first thing I saw, besides the sun sparkling on the waves, were the puppies. There were 3 adorable puppies needing a good home. Needing, I tell you. We didn’t end up bringing one home, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on the part of the twins, let me tell you.

Donn and Abel went surfing. The rest of us boogie-boarded. The current was strong and relentless, with a fierce under-tow, but the whitewater was fast enough to give some really fun rides.

There were lots of Moroccans at the beach. We saw some horses (mercifully under control this time) and a group of men playing soccer (football!) on the hard-packed sun. Most Moroccan men were in swimsuits. Moroccan women fell into one of two groups; one group were in teeny-tiny bikinis, and the other frolicked in the waves fully clothed. Neither group actually swam, although that might have been thanks to that ferocious current.

Yeah. I wouldn’t want to do that either. And no, I don’t know what they did afterwards, if they sat in their cars and dripped all over the upholstery, or if they somehow managed to change. I imagine the former, since I didn’t see any modest changing huts, and I can’t imagine a woman who goes swimming in head-to-toe clothing being comfortable changing behind a towel held up by a friend, or between two car doors.

Is it getting too late to post this? Never mind, here’s a gratuitous cute-puppy picture, which will make you forgive and forget all:

gratuitouspuppy

Also, a picture of my new couscous platter, just because, even though it doesn’t really fit with the rest of this post:

lemonavocado

And here’s Abel, on our balcony, my little shaggy surfer dude with his Very Own Surfboard (it’s Donn’s old one, broken in half and repaired) in the background.

shaggysurfer

The auto route between about Casablanca on one end and Marrakesh on the other reminds Donn and I of that long stretch of I-5 in California, where the last of the Cascades have petered out and run into the flat earth, and the world and sky are all tawny gold and too bright and hot. The main difference that I could see was that in California, one rarely sees a shepherd taking a herd of sheep across an overpass, or watches a man in a faded djellaba ride a donkey and lead two cows across another one. But really, what a logical use of overpasses.

We did eventually make it to Ouarzazate. It’s an absolutely charming town, a mix of ancient castles and modern hotels and apartment buildings, all caked in that same red clay. Our hotel, Hotel Fint, had a turquoise swimming pool surrounded by wicker chairs and loungers tucked into cozy nooks created in a garden-like setting.

guyoncouch

poolwithswimmer

The lounge had free wi-fi and was very inviting.

fintlobby

That first night, we went to wander the streets in search of a good restaurant. The hotel has a buffet but by 9 p.m. all the best dishes were picked over. We picked one that looked charming from the outside and wasn’t too expensive (about $8-10 per person), the Douriya. It was even more charming on the inside. We climbed three steep flights of stairs to sit out in the evening breeze on the rooftop, and watched in some bemusement as our waiters ran up and down all evening. The food was fantastic; eggplant salad, grilled tomatoes, chicken brochettes marinated in saffron and cilantro, a lamb and apricot tagine. There was so much food that we couldn’t finish it all. The owner was really friendly, brought us complementary mint tea, and kept stopping by to chat. It was the highlight of our trip.

restoexterieur

lanternatresto

restointerieur

Ouarzazate isn’t that big. The town itself can be seen in an afternoon; you tour the studios, you traipse through the medieval casbah, you browse the artisanal section of tiny shops with aggressive merchants. We planned to relax in the morning and then see the town in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Ilsa, Donn and I succumbed to some mysterious bug. Could it have been swine flu? More likely water that we were unaccustomed to, we decided. Thanks to our years in Mauritania, we figure we can handle desert water, most of which is actually really good (the problem is usually the receptacles, old pipes, etc, that bring the water to your room). But then, why did only 3 of us get sick?

Unfortunately, most of our time in Ouarzazate was spent lying in a darkened hotel room, regretting the tea and toast we’d attempted for breakfast. It was short-lived. By evening we were feeling better. Luckily, our friends weren’t sick so Abel swam and Elliot was able to go with a couple of other teenagers (and oh how the phrase “a couple of other teenagers” still delights his soul) and tour the studios, where he saw sets for all sorts of movies he’s not allowed to watch yet, and got to climb a siege tower in Jerusalem (Kingdom of Heaven).

We wanted to stay longer, but had to get that rental car back. We were really sad as we climbed in our car and headed back over those mountains.

Ismail was waiting to greet us on our return. We were careful to emphasize that we’d drunk tap water, as we didn’t want him to quarantine us. So, when Elliot came down with it later in the week, we just didn’t mention it to Ismail. It’s really not worth it. But it turned out to just be bad luck that had us sick in Ouarzazate.

One thing emerged clearly: we need to go back. All we need is an excuse. Who wants to come visit?

casbahatoz

We interrupt our overly-long and involved description of what was actually a very short trip to Ouarzazate to discuss confiscated goods. Eileen over at Bearshapedsphere started a group post inviting anyone who wants to participate to share their best customs stories. I’m sure between us, we can add some good ones to her collection. Also, you’ll want to go read the ones she’s posted, especially some very funny ones about a hot-sauce sampling customs official and a guy who accidentally gave his wife a foot-long serrated knife to take though customs. Here are a couple of mine:

Many years ago now, Donn and I and our friends Ed and Jeanni planned an extensive backpacking trip into the wilderness north of Jasper, Alberta. It’s an area known for bears, and we were going in late September, so as part of our preparations we invested in some fairly-expensive bear mace, which our research told us was not available in Canada.
The four of us and all our packs, bags, food, etc. crammed uncomfortably into our Nissan Sentra and set off. We spent the night with friends in Mount Vernon and hit the border about 10 the following day. The customs agent rattled off his normal “alcoholfirearmsdrugs?” (the effectiveness of which I’ve always wondered about. I mean, who is going to respond, “Yes, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to come clean.”) But, for the first time ever, he added “or mace?” to the end of his question.
We admitted that we had mace. It’s not for people, we explained, it’s for bears. We told our story. The customs official was not sympathetic. Neither were we. We were not prepared to give up our mace.
We were taken into a small office, manned by a sharp-faced woman with faded blonde hair and no hint of a smile. We pleaded our case. She told us that mace was illegal in Canada, and that she would have allowed us to bring guns across the border if we wanted real protection from bears.
“If a bear attacks you, you can shout at it,” she told us. “You can bang pots and pans or blow whistles to frighten it. You can shoot and kill it. But you may not mace it.”
“You mean I’m allowed to shoot a bear and kill it, but not just stop it from harming me?” Donn said in disbelief. “That doesn’t make any sense. That’s just ridiculous!”
“Is it not my business to make sport of the crown,” she snapped back, which we had to admit was the best line we’d ever heard from a customs official.
We lost, of course. We actually, stubborn as we are, got back in the car and drove to the Sandpoint, Idaho, border crossing, where we had the same problems. Before that day, we had never been asked about mace; since that day, we have never been asked about mace. But they won. They kept our illegal and expensive mace. And the first thing we saw when we walked into a backpacking supply store in Jasper was a huge display of…you know what’s coming…bear mace.

When we were moving from Mauritania and on our way back to the US, we really got hassled. In the Casa airport here in Morocco, the customs official confiscated Abel’s lego swords, claiming “It’s your government that makes us do this.” Yeah. Way to take out your dislike of Bush on the 10-year-old, who was in tears as we boarded the bus to take us out to our plane. Best of all? Lego has discontinued the “Knight‘s Kingdom“ line, so they couldn’t be replaced. And, as I pointed out to Donn, one could do a LOT more damage with the flimsy plastic knife we were given with our meal than with the tiny dull plastic “sword.”
It just wasn’t a good trip for the twins. In JFK, our family was “randomly” picked for a special search, the whole family. The zip on Ilsa’s beloved new-to-her boots got stuck, and the customs woman, growing impatient with my efforts to unstick it, brusquely broke it and yanked it off. Ilsa shuffled off in tears carrying her broken boot. They made her unpack her carry on and rifled through her stack of books (she had about 10 with her, I think). Because naturally, that would be where we’d hide the…what exactly? “Welcome to your home country,” I muttered grumpily at my distraught children.

Probably my fondest customs memory, though, is of my mother trying to smuggle Welsh butter into the country. My mother is about 5’1” and has never had so much as a parking ticket in her life. The summer that I was 17, she and I went to my cousin’s wedding in Wales, and on the way back she decided to bring Welsh butter and bacon with us. Of course we got asked about it. Mum feigned innocence. She would have been about 60 at that point, but I swear she fluttered her eyelashes at the customs official, and her voice went up about an octave in range. To no avail, of course. The customs official had specifically asked about dairy products, so she surrendered her beloved butter. He didn’t mention meat though, so we didn’t mention it either, and managed to bring home the bacon after all.

Even along the auto route in Morocco they do not have, as yet, the endless blur of strip malls and traffic lights. Here is a field of poppies, sheep, a man in a faded blue hat to shelter him from the sun; there is the road, and on the other side the apartment buildings rise up sharply, line upon line, twelve stories high, their roofs bristling with satellite dishes and antennae.

In the fields, people are working. Men and women, dressed in djellabas with pointed hoods or with bright scarves tied around their waists and their heads, bent double. They work with pointed hooks, scythes, sweeping and cutting the field by hand. They gather fistfuls of hay and pile them on donkeys or carts or on their own backs, where they carry them. They are doing an honest day’s work, earning their bread by the sweat of their brow. I ponder this as we whiz by; I showered this morning and am still drinking coffee from my travel mug. The window is open and a fresh morning breeze blows in. If I think about it I can smell my perfume and the mousse to tame curly hair that I use. I could be a princess, visiting royalty, so different is my life. It is rare these days, in the West at least, to see manual labour like this. We put in an hour or two gardening and feel good. Even someone working as a landscape architect is on an entirely different level than these people with their stooped bodies and dignified faces.

For the entire 8 hour drive we will see people working the fields, long after we have left the auto route behind in a blur of flashing windscreens and toll booths. On steep mountain slopes, we will see sheep grazing and catch sight of their shepherd tucked into the shade of a small overhanging rock. Gazing down into steep rocky valleys, we will see brown rivers, and women scrubbing clothes in reds, yellows, brilliant blues and greens. Up steep paths zigzag donkeys barely visible under the pile of green stuff piled onto their backs and sides. Often I see women similarly laden, and once a young woman with a child on her back and over the child the pile of sticks and green plants, his tiny face and feet incongruous amongst the mass.

I don’t have pictures of these people. For one, we didn’t stop the car. For two, they don’t want to be photographed by me, my car throwing up a plume of dust as we skid to the roadside, me popping out with a digital camera, my children in the back seat playing Nintendo or listening to their MP3 players. It feels a bit too condescending to them, too “here we are on display for the rich white foreigners.” So although my intentions are good, I don’t photograph people much. Maybe someday, I’ll get a camera with a long lens, or I’ll spend some time in these mountain villages where the flat-roofed houses seem to rise naturally out of the rock’s strata, and be able to photograph my new friends. In this fantasy I have learned to speak Berber, which I think we all know is unlikely at best, and I have been accepted as an equal, also unlikely. In the meantime, I paint word pictures, and you will have to imagine their patient dignified faces carved by exposure to sun, wind and stars.

bluewoman1

This is a tourist route. The road is made dangerous by the enormous buses, by the aggressive drivers of 4x4s who are used to conveying Germans and French and Italian tourists on their wild adventure to see an actual sand dune, meet an actual nomad, sip sweet mint tea under a tent. What fascinates me is the way the local people use it. I’m sure it is a godsend to them; that where before a hemorrhaging woman would have died, where before children had no chance to learn to read and write and have a chance at a life beyond a tiny hamlet of 10 houses, now the villages are all connected to Marrakesh, which is rapidly becoming quite a large city.

Also, the road brings commerce. At every hairpin turn a tiny shop is set up, perilously built out over a sheer cliff. Each tiny shop sells exactly the same things; a selection of couscous platters, shards of alabaster, and quartz geodes in amazing, sparkly, reds and whites and purples and golds and greens. If by chance there is a hairpin bend without a shop set up, there will be a man standing, his hands full of a big geode that he opens like a watermelon to show the deep red flesh. As you slow to navigate the turn, he will shout “20 dirhams!” at you and will often begin to run towards your car, so eager is he to make a sale. (Note: if you stop he will claim to have shouted “220 dirhams!” but you can bargain him down. We got small ones for 20 and one big one, for our bookshelf, for 40).

mountainshopone

wares

geodes

We don’t stop at all on the way in but we do on the way home. We tend to stop at places with miniscule, turn-out sized “parking lots” on the mountain side of the road (as opposed to cliff-side), so I don’t have pictures of the ones that overhang  the precipices. But don’t worry; I will. One thing emerged clearly from this weekend: We want to go back.

christmasvalley

ruined-tower

The name, in and of itself, is like a bad comedy routine, some pale imitation of Abbott and Costello doing Who‘s on First. Where? Where’s-zit-at? Wherezizat? Ouarzazate!

where
The town is located where the Atlas Mountains begin to fall away to the arid wastes of the Sahara. It calls itself a desert town, but it is not the desert I‘ve known. On the edge of town, a lake shimmers in the sun, and the breeze is cool even in early May. An ancient Berber town whose origins lie in the old salt trade of the desert, it has in recent times become a tourist destination. It is where films like Hidalgo, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Babel were filmed. The light is flattering; strong yet slanted. Within 30 minutes, you can be bogging down in sand dunes or winding your way through snow-capped mountains.

With May 1st (Moroccan Labour Day) falling on a Friday this year, we decided to take advantage of the long weekend to see a bit of our new country. We planned months ago to go with friends, hopefully in our own car. Although we ending up having to rent a car, we headed off bright and early on Friday morning. I had my usual issues with Ilsa’s version of packing to be gone for 3 days…

packing

I made her take out all but 4 or 5 books.

It takes 4 hours of auto route (read: freeway) to get to Marrakesh. You can see a line of snow-capped peaks in mid-air from quite a distance away. They float, far above the hot rocky plains, seemingly sketched on the empty air. From Marrakesh you turn left and head into the end of the Atlas mountains. The road coils its way up through fields of poppies and pine forests into snow-capped peaks and waterfalls tumbling over barren black rocks. We had heard tales of this road, of the lack of adequate guard rails and of enormous buses and trucks with aggressive drivers sailing around the steep curves, but nothing had prepared us for its beauty, for its red rocks and green grass, its slopes covered in wild lavender and eglantine and daisies. (Note: that was pretend. I don’t really know what the purple and white and yellow flowers were. But didn’t that sound better? If I end up doing a real travel article, I’ll find out official names) We drove past rivers and through tiny towns, one street wide, made of the local red stone. We drove along narrow roads on the sides of steep slopes, eyeing bright carpets spread out to dry on the black rocks far below at the bottom of the valley.

I have much more to write but it was a long drive home and I’m tired. More to come. Also, I was recently paging through one of Donn’s photo magazines, and they had an entire story about intentionally blurry photos. I found it very inspirational, as I took pictures out the window of a moving car. Also that article has given me an effective tool to use against my mr-professional-photographer-perfectionist of a husband. Blurry is the new sharp! I told him.

Our rental was brand-new and didn’t have AC. Good thing it was us. Our AC never worked in Mauritania, where desert temps are usually well above 100 degrees F, so we handled it with grace and wild hair, as usual. But my hair was never as bad as this guy’s…

baskethead

SNOW!

mountaintop

SNOW!

snow

And some yellow flowers that I didn’t even attempt to identify…but aren’t they lovely?

yellowflowers

More tomorrow…insha’allah!

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