we took a quick trip to marrakech morocco the other week. it was sort of a last minute trip and luckily we may have been the only people not affected by the great iceland ash cloud.
we met e’s dad there and stayed in marrakech for 3 nights and tried to get a good feel for the city and take in all of its chaotic yet laid back energy. it was my first time traveling to a muslim country, so hearing the call to prayer 5 times each day was different, especially the one at 4.30 am that woke me up each day. by the end of the trip the call to prayer was more like the soundtrack to morocco. another interesting thing was crossing the streets. they have faint cross walks painted, but no one stops for them and to cross the street you have to wait for a break in the traffic and then run for it.
the old part of the city has a giant square (djemaa el fna) with snake charmers, old ladies sitting on the ground, dudes with monkeys, fruit carts, scooters buzzing around, clown-like men with water for drinking in a leather backpack and brass cups attached to themselves, and other little groups of people huddled around. at night it gets even more crazy with open air street food venders and different circles of people huddled around. off the main square is a maze of streets that were built to confuse invaders. they are only about 5 feet wide, are full of little shops (souks) with aggressive salesmen selling every type of moroccan product you can think of, and to buy anything you have to get your haggle on. then once you’re done, the adventure begins, because you have to find your way back through the maze to the square.
another day we took a trip to the atlas mountains and walked to a berber village which was like we had time traveled except there were satellite dishes on the roofs. the village we visited was basically made from dirt and powered by donkeys. right next to it were large couscous fields, with snowcapped mountains in the background.
one last thing. moroccan dates are sooo good. i like dates no matter where i am, but in morocco they’ve got some really good ones. i ate so many dates while we were there.
morocco was a real trip to visit, and hard to describe with words, so maybe these photos will help…
a few weeks ago e’s mom was visiting and we went to a town about an hour away named golegã. it’s where they hold the national horse fair. apparently it is quite a big deal, and the main focus is the lusitanian horses. the town is all about horses. the houses in town have barn doors, there are horse signs next to the road signs, all children in public school are taught to ride, and there is a huge riding ring in the center of town.
golegã’s other proud moment in history revolves around portugal’s first photographer, carlos relvas (1838-1894). he built a crazy photo studio which was essentially a glass house with blinds on all of the windows (including the roof) so he could control the amount of light in his portraits. we took a tour of the studio which included a multimedia presentation with a trippy life-size animatronic version of carlos with projected video on his face that was so life-like it freaked a couple of people out.
also of notable relevance: someone who worked at our hotel told us we were the first americans that she had ever met, and the wine from the ribatejo region is good.
last summer each afternoon i kept hearing the same few pan flute notes out the window. it sounded like someone was walking around slowly playing the same notes over and over while rambling back and forth through the old streets of our neighborhood (i thought maybe it was zamfir, master of the pan flute).
just a month ago i learned that the person playing the pan flute was an “amolador” or knife sharpener. these skilled knife sharpeners push their bikes through the streets, playing a distinctive tune on pan flutes to signal their presence.
their bikes serve as a mobile workshop, with a sharpening stone mounted on the top tube, a tool box strapped to the back, and umbrellas draped over the handlebars. last week when i heard the amolador out the window i grabbed my camera and my knife and went out to find him.
apparently there used to be many amoladors in portugal, but with the advent of cheap knives and scissors it’s a dying profession which is too bad because it’s pretty cool. I found a popular portuguese saying, “quando há amolador, há chuva”: when the knife sharpener is around, it’s going to rain.
this amolador made my knife super sharp despite his less-than-cirucular grinding stone, and it only cost €2.50.