Sunday, October 4, 2015

dear vincent

A lot has changed in twenty-one years, but one thing has remained ever constant— my love for Vincent Van Gogh. I still remember that day as though it were this moment, and though the little details of insignificant things have long since vanished, I remember with great clarity looking upon The Potato Eaters for the very first time. I remember the burnt umber, the brushstrokes, the face of the woman who I needed to sketch into my book beside the ticket stub. I remember the display of canvases that had been painted on both sides, I remember the vivid yellow of the sunflowers.

The night before Pedro and I visited the Van Gogh Museum, I couldn't sleep from the pounding in my chest. The excitement of a reunion was too much, and I wondered what I would feel when enveloped in all those colours and thick paint. I wanted to rush my breakfast, and hit the streets in a sprint.

We arrived just before 9:00 am, and there was already a long line winding outside the entrance to the museum. Anticipating this, I had bought our tickets online to avoid the queue, and when the doors finally opened, joy!

We were the second people to enter the Munch : Van Gogh exhibit that day— this for some reason, gave me tremendous satisfaction. Though I was so very thrilled to see the work of two great artists displayed side-by-side in such an elegant and thoughtful way (truly, the Van Gogh Museum is unparalleled), I was only really there for one thing— one person.

This is my pilgrimage; his palette and letters holy relics, and his artwork, oh his artwork! There is nothing like his artwork. Nothing like the dappled forest floors or weathered faces, or the invisible wind that shakes leaves and wheat— Naples yellow, ultramarine, ochre— nothing. I imagine the movement of his hands, the way he stood, the way he saw. I peer into each painting, my eyes getting wet.

And then, there it was, so much smaller than I remembered it— that wheat field. It had swallowed me whole and I got lost in all the movement. At fifteen, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life, and at thirty-six, I was still overcome. The memory of that day and this has entwined into something so marvellous.

So dear Vincent, thank you.
Thank you for giving us what such an eccentric has in his heart.

All photos were taken at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

three names

Last weekend I flew to Amsterdam with three names in mind: Vincent Van Gogh. This year is the 125th anniversary of his death, and the Van Gogh Museum is hosting a magnificent exhibition of his work beside the paintings and prints of Edvard Munch. With a long weekend and relatively cheap flights out of Casablanca, how could I pass this up?

We arrived late in the afternoon to a light drizzle and a pale sky. I hadn't been back to Amsterdam in twenty-one years— twenty-one years! I was fifteen, sketchbook in hand, flannel shirts and combat boots that I had painted the Greek gods and goddesses on.

And I was meeting Vincent Van Gogh again.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

lentils and mint tea

This has become my near-daily lunchtime ritual: lentils, harissa, wedges of fluffy bread, and sweet mint tea. Sometimes I mix it up with a ridiculously tasty minced meat and egg sandwich, a chicken tajine, or couscous on Fridays, but I always come back to the lentils— I suppose they remind me of dal a little.

Moroccan mint tea is a wonderful treat, and I've found that it is best enjoyed towards the end of a meal. It's so pretty to look at too— see the colour the sunlight turns as it passes through the leaves?

One could easily get lost in that green.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

shifting lines of colour

Nights are getting cooler in Rabat, and the last time we were in the Medina we spied a weaving shop that has been working its way into the front of my mind ever since I've had to switch from sheet to blanket. After loading up on the aforementioned art supplies, we made our way through bustling streets to the facade of the shop, which was decorated by many colourful striped woolen blankets.

Saïd and his brothers are fourth generation weavers— a source of tremendous pride. He explained with great passion how their hands bring together so many threads in order to create warmth, protection, and comfort for others. The weaving as he described it, is meditative— all time is lost between the shifting lines of colour.

He invited us into the ateliers behind the shop, where several different looms were being worked by the deft hands and rhythmic feet of the weavers— it was like dancing, the movements smooth and deliberate. Their grace reminded me of the days I spent as a glass blowing apprentice in Upstate New York, where I learned to spin iron tipped in molten glass, to become fluid and strong.

So many of the world's traditional handicrafts and art forms are slowly dying out as artisans age, and new generations enter lives of technology, consumerism and mass-manufactured products labelled with that "Made in China" sticker. They are growing up in a completely different world— and I know that it's so much more complex than I am able to express.

I try my best to buy locally, and if it's possible to shake the hands that made what I take into my home, then it's all the better. How wonderful it is to wrap a blanket around our bodies that was woven by a family who takes pride in giving us that warmth, and to know that the beauty they created will comfort us for many years to come.

horn of the gazelle

My shoulders, neck, and back decided to remind me that I am so much further away from my twenties than I'd like to think, and that carrying a load of goodies under a hot sun for a few hours was a bit adventurous. We were about to walk out the main Oudaïa gate when a woman called out to us and pointed down a path, indicating another exit. As we approached her, she sprung into action, grabbing my free hand and attacking it with pretty swirls of henna.

"Non, non, non, merci!" I tried to pull away but her grip was strong. She insisted that the henna was beautiful and she's really good at it, and as I kept pulling, she soon began the 'gift tactic'. Sometimes a gift really is a gift, but sometimes it's one of those 'well-now-I've-done-this-for-you-now-pay-me' kind of things, which I suspected this might be. The henna was cool on the back of my hand, and its scent brought me to my childhood somewhere between Dubai and Egypt— I almost gave in, but then Pedro saved me with a polite "Merci madame, un autre jour, inshallah".

These were the magic words that he had discovered would elicit an inshallah in response, and a backing off. She wiped the design off my hand with her thumb in a blink, and smiled with the expected inshallah. Next time, for sure— it just didn't seem to be practical at the moment with all the bags.

The path lead us to a lovely patio overlooking the Bouregreg, full of tourists and locals sipping mint tea under the cool shade of a trellis. Once we ordered our tea, a young man presented us with a platter of beautifully shaped cookies flavoured with almonds, orange blossom, lemon, and coconut. My eyes were greedily drawn to the long cookie with a pretty woven pattern pricked into its dough— this one he said, was called corne de gazelle. Horn of the gazelle? I had to have it.

Though it was a little on the dry side, and the less exciting-looking, nameless lemon-flavoured cookie was certainly the tastiest, I was captivated. I guess that's marketing for you!

doors of the oudaïa

Saturday, September 12, 2015

oudaïa blue

Oudaïa is almost as fun to say as it is to get lost in its maze of blue and blinding white. We took the long way home after a visit to the art supply store, my spine bending with the weight of several large tubes of oil paint tucked carefully into my satchel. There were canvases and sketchbooks, gouache, two wooden spoons, and a hand-woven blanket that also made their way into our arms.

But the blue, oh the blue... I could forget so much in that blue.

the bouregreg

The Bouregreg River runs from its source in the Atlas mountains to the Atlantic, and its waters have witnessed the movements of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and pirates over the centuries. Its placid green body separates the city of Rabat and the town of Salé, and it looks like the Salé shoreline is poised for some major development. We walked up the length of the river until we were standing opposite the pottery market, and noticed a long line of white boxes being constructed into apartment complexes.

The sun is unforgiving here; its harshness only tempered by the occasional Atlantic breeze and puffs of clouds. It carves sharp shadows that only soften into delicate lilacs and blues when it prepares its descent over the ocean. It has restricted my movements outdoors to early mornings and somewhere after five, and has quieted my appetite.

I feel like I haven't done much other than get up, go to work, and come home, and I'm hoping that once my home is in order and I've gotten into a rhythm with my classes and students, I can get out  and make some art. There are so many things I have my eye on...

I'm heading over to an art supply store today to pick up a few things.

Monday, September 7, 2015

before bed

As I stepped out onto the balcony to pull in the sheet that was gently swaying in the breeze, I caught the scent of the ocean. I inhaled deeply to fill my head with its saltiness, but the night also carried with it notes of garlic, cumin, and onions in some marvellous sauce that someone was about to enjoy. The sky was an inky blue, dotted with a few tiny stars that occasionally disappeared behind puffs of pale clouds.

It has been a month now, and I am still settling in— it's been a slow process. We are down to unpacking the last box, and things are beginning to take shape; our apartment is now becoming a home.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


After a mysterious bureaucratic adventure of signatures, stamps, queues, and inspections that Pedro had to suffer in the heat of Casablanca, we have our shipment! I feel like it's my birthday, unpacking and unraveling, excited to see what each cocoon of paper and bubble wrap holds— there's the beautiful mug my student gave me on the last day of school, the letters Suzi sent, my yellow t-shirt, the carved wooden spoons Paul gave us, the photos of our dear After School Artists in Nepal. Though there was something appealing about the minimalist lifestyle we have been living this summer, it is so wonderful to have all these memories in my hands. Our little apartment is a chaos of boxes and newsprint, but I couldn't be happier!

peeling white paint