Saturday, November 10, 2007


At last, my faithful readers - and oh but I have been testing your faith this week, with my long silence, have I not - I have a new address, a new life, a new blog for you to visit...

Now, you must be patient with me. The artwork hasn't actually happened yet, but it will. And my new camera hasn't arrived yet, but it will. And my wifi connection is very slow and needs to be upgraded to an official, paid, account, and it will. Patience. Patience.

Please be kind and update links and so forth, tell your friends about Passementerie, tell me how to improve it, tell me what you would like me to post about, tell me your favourite colour.

Goodbye from A Year in Marrakech - I hope you have taken something beautiful about Marrakech away with you from this blog, or at least useful. I only hope I can achieve the same for and from Paris!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bloganthropology and falafel

I am sitting here by a tall window that looks out on a courtyard of mature trees, diligently working my way through a raspberry pastry of epic proportions. Beside it, awaiting my attention is a pain au chocolat the like of which I never seen. I'm not sure I have the strength. Well. Perhaps I should be brave. Perhaps... oh dear, I just can't. Not even in the interests of bloganthropology (the careful study of other cultures for the benefit of a blog). Perhaps it is not such a blessing that we have a truly wonderful baker almost directly beneath our apartment...

Yesterday, we failed completely to acquire food due to a combination of exhaustion and the bank holiday, although we have high hopes for today. As soon as DHL puts in an appearance with the Famous Huge Lamp we will be going for some food reconnaissance at Rue Mouffetard, which holds one of the oldest food markets of Paris. While most people relish the idea of eating out in Paris, we are quivering with anticipation for eating IN. The sort of food to which places like Fallon & Byrne in Dublin had accustomed us was a little thin on the ground in Marrakech, and living in the Medina as we did (and without a car, of course) required trips into the Ville Nouvelle for the supermarket whenever we required something that the markets of the Djemma could not provide. I'm not a big fan of the meat on offer in Morocco, so my husband being a vegetarian was not a problem, but here in Paris, vegetarianism rules out the vast majority of the restaurants. It's not that the veggie option is a bit pathetic, it is that there simply isn't one at all on most menus, although the wonderful restaurants around the Rue des Rosiers are the exception with their huge arrays of falalel, hummus and other delights.

Please don't think I have forgotten about the new blog for Paris - I am waiting for the banner, and as soon as I have that, it will be up and running and I will post the link. I'm hoping for Monday the 12th right now and in the meantime will continue to post here. Original photographs will be back next week when my shiny new camera arrives.

Fabulous leek picture with credit to - I like leeks. They are also healthier than pain au chocolat.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


My loves, we woke up this morning in Paris! I don't know how it happened... I think that the lugging and the heaving and my husband plaintively asking me how on EARTH I saw fit to buy two rugs the day before we left Marrakech must have been a dream, because I woke up this morning between Frette sheets in a very cosy bed and looked around my Latin Quarter apartment with Maryam's Muse on the mantlepiece and a creamy Moroccan wedding blanket on the wooden floor by the bed, all peace and serenity. My husband tells me that I slept for just over eleven hours and that I must have been exhausted, but I don't think *that* can be it. Clearly we arrived here by magic.

Thank you, Maryam, for the loan you made us yesterday morning - we could never have done it without him!

Victor Vasnetsov. The Magic Carpet. 1880. Oil on canvas. The Art Museum of Nizhniy Novgorod, Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia

Monday, October 29, 2007

Time is ticking...

Oh readers, I know that on my second-last day in Marrakech I should be a) doing something worthwhile and b) posting about it, but really I am too excited/anxious about Paris to think about Marrakechness or to bestow any uniquely insightful pearls of Moroccan wisdom upon you today.

I am excited for all the obvious reasons (including the new Paris blog). I am anxious because there are many little things that need to be done before we leave - indeed I need to do most of them right now. I need to ring DHL, email my new landlord, email the old tenant (again - why didn't she reply the first time?), go on the French IKEA website and order a bed, wonder how to arrange telephone/internet in Paris in the quickest possible manner and find out if did or did not cancel my husband's flight from London to Paris next Wednesday and if they *did*, rebook it (although not, this time, with ebookers).

In the meantime, our house is full of workmen as our landlord tries to fix all the little problems before he leaves for his exotic life abroad again, so we have scuttled off to our usual hideout. I leave you with a picture of Bab Fteuh, which takes you from Place Bab Fteuh, which is just off the Djemma el Fna, to Rue Mouassine and our little world.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Before digital cameras...

In my possession, I have thirteen postcards that I bought here in Marrakech in the gift shop (and I use the term loosely) of the Medersa. They are reproductions of postcards from 1910 - 1930 and I had been meaning to do a blog post about them and get pictures of them up here when my camera died (I promise you faithfully that I will be getting a new one for Paris).

Then today, in an unrelated frame of mind, but inspired by a fabulous art deco door-handle that I spotted on our way though the Ville Nouvelle, I did an online search for Art Deco Marrakech to see if I could do a post on that subject, but I found something even better for you to look at!

It's a *huge* quiz on a noticeboard where the poster has put up positively hundreds of beautiful photographs and postcards of Morocco from the first half of the last century for you to identify. Well, whatever your chances of identifying them are, the thread is most definitely a visual feast of a world that you can still see peeping through the mopeds and mobile phones of Marrakech today.,12330,page=1

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Our last week...

Today is Thursday and we have less than a week to go here and I am feeling very pro-Marrakech indeed. Maybe it's the light rain we have had on and off today, the coolness in the air or the pomegranates and roses in our kitchen but today is a good day to be in Marrakech, I think.

This morning we got up to a chilly, rainy morning and after breakfast and pooching around for a bit I announced that we were going into the Ville Nouvelle for brunch at Kechmara again. And that after that we were going to have lunch in Grand Cafe de la Poste. And you know what? That's exactly what we did and it was wonderful. We have been very bad in recent weeks about hiding in our lovely hourse instead of going out and walking around the city as much as we should have been and to wrap up warmly (although all the tourists were wandering around in their usual - and not always flattering - skimpiness) and march through the Medina, out Bab Laksour, through the huge city walls into the Ville Nouvelle.

I tried to buy some of those perfume bottles, by the way, but they were a little overpriced, I thought. It turns out that most of the bottles in the shops along Rue Mouassine are recycled Western perfume bottles that have had the metalwork added to them. Some were pretty, but the Gaultier ones were just strange. Anyway, I decided that three euros was about right and although he came down from fifteen to six, I wanted five bottles and wouldn't budge up from five euros each. So I left it - I'd rather hold out for real bottles anyway, rather than recycled ones.

And yes, I had nutella crepes again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Frozen toes.

Well. I picked a name for the new blog, but I'm keeping it a secret for a few more days. The last two hours have been spent registering the domain name and setting up the blog. Tiresome things, like putting in all my info, entering the links of all the blogs I read on Google Reader and picking a colour scheme etc. take *forever* and my birkenstocked toes (seen above) are completely frozen from sitting here in this chilly sitting-room. The new colour scheme, incidentally, is monochrome - black text on white, with grey bars to either side. There will be lots of photographs and images on it, so it's not as though the whole experience will be black and white. What do you think?

Apart from that, this morning I woke up from a dream that awful people I didn't like had gatecrashed a dinner party to my husband bringing me a cup, nay a pot of Lapsang Souchong. A good start, don't you think? Of course, he had to get me into a good mood, and quickly, because this morning was the morning we had decided to go to DHL and have our huge lamp (do you remember the huge lamp?) shipped to either Dublin or Paris, whichever was cheaper. Turns out that Paris was cheaper, although cheap wouldn't really be the first word to spring to mind. Nevertheless, we sent it off and we now have one less thing to worry about on our *very* early morning flight out of Marrakech next week.

After that, we had brunch in Kechmara (Nutella crepes!) and made our way home, marvelling at the heavy traffic. Our housekeeper informed us later that President Sarkozy is here today and lots of roads were closed.

Well, off I go to thaw out my toes.

Monday, October 22, 2007


I have been sitting at this desk too long and have done no work! I am supposed to be writing a chapter and although it is going well, I keep being lured into wasting time on the internet and frittering away hours doing things that I *tell* myself are practical - researching things about Paris, keeping up-to-date on other blogs and buying winter woollies on ebay, but you know as well as I do that as delightful as the archives of Petite Anglaise are, or as diverting as searching for cashmere on is, it still doesn't *quite* count as PhD work, does it?

To add to the gloom of internet guilt, it is a lovely afternoon outside (thirty-two degrees) and I could be sitting on the roof and reading about Gide (or indeed, reading Gide himself) with a glass of wine, but instead I have wasted the day sitting not just indoors, but in a very dark and frankly, chilly room, as we are not blessed with wireless here and I am tied to this room if I wish to, well, waste the day online.

However, all is not lost. With a burst of superhuman determination, as soon as I hit the "Publish Post" button, I am unplugging my little ibook and taking it upstairs to our sun-bathed sitting room where I can lounge on our lavender couch and gaze idly at the contrast between the blue sky and the pink bougainvillea. At least then I will be wasting time sensibly.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I know you're out there...

Readers, I need your help. When I move to Paris at the end of this month, I will be closing this blog and starting a new one and I need a name for it. Something chic, simple, non-location-specific and relevant to an academic girl's interests in fashion, interiors, food, culture and literature. I like texture - grosgrain, velvet, brocade - and I had thought of things like "Grosgrain and Velvet", for instance.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The post of the bath...

It has to be said that I love baths with a passion. Oh such a passion. It has been a point of almost daily heartbreak for me that we do not have a bath here in Marrakech, although there are certain moral issues to such wanton water wastage here in North Africa and particularly in Morocco where there has been a drought for the last decade, but such issues aside... I miss my bath. Of all the glories of our new apartment in Paris, the fact that it has that longed-for tub almost brought tears to my eyes, but still, it has to be admitted that even through a claw-footed, cast-iron Victorian bath is rare in the average Moroccan household, they have certainly dreamed up a few rather fabulous alternatives.

Now, I must first disabuse my romantic readers of any notions of scenes like those above. Unfettered orientalism completely aside, it does rather seem as though Debat-Ponsan, Bouchard and Ingres were just looking for rather tenuous excuses to paint naked girls in exotic (i.e. sexy) environments. But it has to be said that the luxury of some of the hammams here in Marrakech does make one feel rather like one of these extremely clean young ladies by the time they are done with you.

In Le Bains de Marrakech I was steamed, soaped, and blissfully scrubbed to within an inch of my life and slathered with mud and left to steam a bit longer before having bucket after bucket of hot water poured over me to wash the mud away. At Les Jardins de la Koutoubia I had a similar experience, albeit in far more luxurious surroundings, and delivered by a girl so tiny that she had to stand on the edge of the fountain to reach to pour the hot (and cold!) water over me. You leave both relaxed and invigorated and cleaner than you have ever felt before in your life. Practically any luxury hotel here in Marrkakech (and most of the non-luxury ones too, for that matter) feature a hammam somewhere, even though it does seem that saunas and Western steam-rooms are unusual, and even if you are staying in the cheapest of the cheap, eighteen euros will see you scrubbed and steamed in Bains and twenty-five or thirty in Jardins. Who needs Clarins?

If you simply must have more, then you must surely buy The Book of the Bath.

Bernard Debat-Ponsan, Scene du Hammam
Paul-Louis Bouchard, After the Bath
Jean Ingres, The Turkish Bath

PS: I have added a few more blogs to my list on the right hand side of this page - do give them a visit!

Friday, October 19, 2007

On choosing your perfume first...

Well, perfume is a recent thing for me. I always avoided it, reluctant to partake in a mass Chanel sillage down Grafton street (and if you don't know what sillage is, go here). Finally, I caved and started to look for the right scent, eventually alighting on Burberry Brit for the warm vanilla spiciness of it. But I had to have more. Still avoiding Chanel, I found Flowerbomb, just as it was released. But then I got snobby about it and have since flitted around smaller perfume houses like Penhaligon's (Artemisia), L'Artisans Parfumeur (Safran Troublant), and Rancé 1795 (where to start?), although it has to be admitted that my favourite evening perfume right now is back in the mainstream:Hermes Eau des Merveilles, full of peppery warmth.

However, pretty as all of these bottles are on my dressing table, I feel that they could almost be hidden in the drawer and replaced by, or decanted into, the gorgeous bottles that you can find everywhere here in Marrakech. They are prefectly decadent, marvellously delicate and there must surely be *no* limit to how many you could have cluttering up every available surface. I confess that I haven't taken the plunge yet, but I will certainly have five or six of them in my suitcase when we leave here. Oh so much more accessible than Lalique, don't you agree?
L'Orientaliste, Rue de la Liberte, Marrakech

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Indulgence and a catastrophe

Today I allowed myself the greatest of all indulgences - I got us two tickets to see Paquita at the Palais Garnier in December. Won't that be marvellous? But what to wear? A long dress? Cocktail? Bear in mind that I love dressing up...

In other news, my camera has died. Completely an utterly. It was sick for a while, but now it is just plain dead - it won't even stay turned on. And worst of all, it is entirely my fault for letting sand get into it at Essaouira.

(Images with thanks to Paris Marais, Candida Hofer and

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

'twas brillig... (two posts in one day!)

As I have mentioned before, I love reading my hit statistics and seeing where my readers are and how they found me. Many of my hits come from quite mundane google searches - Acima supermarket (I get that a lot - twice today alone), restaurants, and wifi in Marrakech and so forth. Some are a little more unusual, such as Marrakech neo-colonialism.

But best of all has to be fact that yesterday, two separate people, on opposite sides of the Unites States, found my blog by googling "Oh frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!" Isn't that wonderful? I wonder why? If either reader comes back and sees this, please do tell me if there was a particular reason, such as a competition, or if it was just a marvellous coincidence.

Although I assume that all of my readers can recite Jabberwocky from memory, for the benefit of the one of two of you who can't...


Lewis Carroll

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

To make up for all that sugary excess...

... we went fruit and vegetable (and egg) shopping today in the Djemma el Fna. Unlikely as it may seem that the Djemma or its environs has anything of any use to real people (and it is sometimes hard, even for me, to see past the glitter of all the tourist shops), on the Eastern side of the square, there is a proper food market, which is where we generally go to get our fruit and vegetables rather than hiking out to Acima on the bus.

Today we got exactly what you see above: pomegranates, avocadoes, artichokes, green beans, oranges, apples, limes, aubergines, courgettes, carrots and eggs. All for about eight euros. And we can't tell our housekeeper that we paid eight euros for all that because she would be horrified and tell us in no uncertain terms that we were had. Sometimes I really love Marrakech. I wonder how much all that will cost at our nearest open-air market on Rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wanton indulgence

The tragedy is that I forgot my camera. Today in Cafe 16 in the Ville Nouvelle here in Marrakech I was presented first with CARROT ice cream on cream cheese on a slice of breton baguette. Then my main course was accompanied by a scoop of basil and lemon ice cream. Then I had a desert of... oh it was so pretty... rose and lavender ice creams and tragically a third, the name of which I have now forgotten - perhaps Laura remembers from the other week?

Who needs Paris?

(Image sadly not from today, but with thanks to Cucina Testa Rossa)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Marrakech aesthetics

In all the distraction of travel between Marrakech, Dublin, London, Cambridge and Paris over the last couple of weeks, I have been blogging in quite a random way - more online diary than what I really mean this blog to be doing. I will indulge myself for long enough to confess that today is my 29th birthday, although mortifyingly my father thought that it was my 30th, and this only when he called me for the third time today, having forgotten that it was my birthday the first two times. Today has consisted of Valhrona chocolates, more spa joy, a bit of work this afternoon and in a minute we're going to have some champagne upstairs and then go back to Jardins for dinner at their Indian restaurant.

Anyway. Moroccan decorative art. The Moroccan tendency to excess comes across beautifully in craft, although of course this is hardly a great secret as the roaring craft trade here attests - metalwork, leatherwork, pottery, embroidery and woodwork as well as "fine" crafts like zellij and tadelakt abound in Marrakech. Of course, after spending more than a couple of weeks here, it is impossible not to suffer from a bit of a craft overload, and our intially huge planned shopping list was cut back dramatically. However, one thing that it is impossible to get bored with is the beautiful tiling that you see everywhere. These pictures are from our house (the first two) and our landlord's beautiful home next door alone. The tiles in the third picture are *everywhere* here, but my favourite is the black, green and white pattern, I think. Which is yours?

I also couldn't resist putting in a little picture of the knobs on the window beside the desk here. Aren't they pretty? Little leaves.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

And... back in Marrakech again!

What an international jet-set life I seem to lead these days! We had a late flight back last night, which gave us a full day in Paris. Just as well, as before we headed out to the cemetery for our picnic, we checked one last online resource for accommodation and found something which seemed pretty perfect in print and was even more perfect in person when we went to see it in the afternoon! Wish us luck!

The flight was a slightly late one, and I got to spend the journey doing that oh-so-undignified head-bobbing thing that you smirk at when you see other people doing it on trains and planes as they fall asleep. It was just coming up to midnight (Marrakech time, 2am Paris time) when we landed and got straight onto the airport bus and watched the hundreds of people pouring out of the airport and getting into rows with taxi drivers instead of just joining us on board.

For those of you who are planning trips to Marrakech, and I know that some of you are, DO consider getting the airport bus into town - it leaves every hour, on the hour and is only 20DH each (30DH if you get a return ticket) and does the circuit of all the big hotels before ending up at the Djemma el Fna - just tell the driver where you are staying and he will tell you if the bus will take you there. It is *such* a pleasure NOT to start a stay in Marrakech with a blazing row with a taxi driver, followed by the disgruntled feeling that you were still probably ripped off. There is no reason on earth why a petit taxi should cost a penny more than 60DH (well, really about 20DH but you haven't a hope of getting them down that low) from the airport, or a grand taxi more than 100DH (again, it should probably be even less).

Arriving alone one time I told the grand taxi drivers that my top price was 50DH (they wanted a hilarious 150DH) but that I was equally content to wait the 30 minutes for the 20DH bus. They glowered at me but a few moments later grumpily picked up my bags and loaded them into a car without any explanation to me at all. This was provided by the presence of two other solo travellers sitting in the car already, who had clearly refused to pay less than 50DH each either. As grand taxis operated rather like minature buses, this was quite acceptable and certainly saved me 30 minutes of sitting on a kerb on a very hot night waiting for a bus. Westerners are accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to any kind of transaction (except perhaps ebay...) but life in Morocco becomes a lot easier when you learn to just state what you want and what you will pay for it and then wait patiently and politely. Even though this will naturally be of no avail if your price is genuinely too low, it will get you a lot further than fussing and getting stressed.

And seeing as I am in a "how to handle Marrakech" mood, let me say it again, DO NOT GIVE MONEY, CHOCOLATE OR ANYTHING ELSE AT ALL TO CHILDREN HERE. It teaches them contempt for their families, for working for a living, for honesty and exposes them to exploitation and abuse. I know my readers are not here for a lecture on how to conduct themselves in the developing world, but this gets to me so much. If you want to give money to the children you see begging in Morocco, please give it to a registered charity which knows how to get the money to right right places, instead of contributing to the problem yourself as I see people doing every day here.

and while we're at it...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Feeling a bit better now.

After my post last night we went out for dinner and it really is amazing what a bottle of wine and a good night's sleep will do for ones equilibrium. The plan is to take the Montparnasse apartment if we are offered it, and if not, then we show up on the 23rd of October for one week in a short term studio let and get cracking with FUSAC magazine (which comes out the next day) and every other accommodation listing available (thank you Lisa!), including the noticeboard at the American Church here. Much calmer now. The thought of handing over in excess of two *thousand* euros to the agent of the other apartment we viewed yetserday was just too much for our delicate sensibilites. Can you imagine?

Today we are about to leave the two suitcases we brought in a storage facility until we get our apartment, go to a couple of shops and put together a picnic of some kind and betake ourselves, suitably wrapped up, to Pere Lachaise cemetery for the afternoon. I feel vaguely anxious about not trying to do practical things, but we're *moving* here before the end of the month - Printemps, Ladurée and the dépôts-ventes can wait.

(Image with thanks to Savoie in Paris)

Friday, October 12, 2007

In Paris...

Well, the agent said "come to Paris!" so we spent a million euros and did. Then he said "to be honest, I think the landlord is going to prefer the other couple who looked at it". And we said "oh". We didn't like to ask if he was going to make a donation to all the money we spent getting here, but we thought it.

So now we are sitting in our hotel room (because we have been walking around all day, which was very nice, but now we're tired and are having a break before going out to Chez Georges for drinks) and wondering how to handle this. My parents would say "We know! Forget Paris and move back to Dublin!", but we are not disheartened yet. What is bothering us now is how to time our move. If we don't get the fabulous (and it really was fabulous) Montparnasse apartment we saw today, should be abjure agents and their exorbitant fees altogether and do it on our own? We could. It would be a LOT cheaper, too - no agency fees, you see. But FUSAC, the expat magazine that has all the listings for apartments comes out on the 23rd of October and then the 7th of November. I would like to come here, take a short term place for a week or two and get the edition on the 23rd. John says we should get it on the 7th. A small quibble, and not really worth even discussing, but I feel disrupted and would like to be in here as quickly as possible and back to work, rather than dragging all our stuff to Ireland for a week and then dragging it all to a studio in Paris while we look for a real place. It would be mid-November before we were in somewhere and just the thought of it all exhausts me.

This was supposed to be a pretty post with pictures and macaroons, but all this is on my mind, so that's what you get to read about instead.

Consoling comments are much appreciated. Oh, and if you are an American lady who works on an oil rig and has an apartment in Paris she is trying to let, pick the Irish academic couple, please!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pampering *shallow post alert*

It is a little blush-making that so much of our lives here in Marrakech has centred around the Jardins de la Kouboutia hotel, a luxury hotel about a five minute walk from here, but I'm not sure what we would have done without it. It was the first cocktail bar that we discovered within an easy walk of our house (we have since found others, such as the glorious terrace of Cafe Arabe), it was our main source of internet for a long time having both an unsecured network and quiet salons in which to hide, undisturbed, for hours at a time, its swimming pool was a our refuge from the heat of July and the restaurant fed us (indifferently, it must be admitted) after these swims. The other night we discovered that all along, it has had an Indian restaurant, which while not very good by Western (or indeed, Eastern!) standards, is a rare treat here in Morocco. But best of all is the spa.

Yesterday I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself (something to do with the enthusiasm with which I threw myself into the task of getting through all that champagne) and felt that I couldn't possibly work, but instead needed to be pampered. I thought for a moment and then got out my brochure for the Jardins spa and booked myself in for a Clarins body treatment - more or less this one, I suppose, in its combined form. What followed *may* have been one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me. I was exfoliated, washed, massaged, oiled, moisturised, anti-cellulited, firmed and spritzed to within an inch of my life and it was *fabulous*. And, this being Morocco, it was also relatively inexpensive. I've had other treatments in that spa (hammam, massage, pedicure) but this was the best spa treatment I've ever had.

Now, if I could just find the address for the Clarins Institut de Beaute in Paris...

(Image thanks to Maroc Sejour.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Well, seeing as my husband has given the game away...

I was planning to keep it a secret until the last moment, but John mentioned it on his blog yesterday, so I thought I had better come clean - we're leaving Marrakech. On the 1st of November we are taking a one-way flight from Marrakech to Paris, where we plan to stay until next May and I can't WAIT. After all, no matter how much one likes Marrakech, surely the prospect of Paris is irresistible? There are many reasons for the move - it's a little expensive to go home and see my parents from here and I would like to see them more often, we have completely failed to learn French here and John plans to do a full time course at the Alliance Francaise, we get a little bored here without a Marrakech-specific occupation and I do feel a little worn down sometimes by the difficulty of just leaving our own derb without receiving offensive comments from any teenage boys who happen to be loitering about.

We both love cities and drifting about between cafes, bars, shops and parks (and indeed, the drifting is just as much fun as the arriving) but drifting in Marrakech, although it has its own pleasures, is very different from drifting in a Western city (for one thing, the doormen of Brown Thomas in Dublin have yet to accost me on the street with "Bonjour, hello, hello, just to look, HELLO, HEY! HEY!!!!") and sometimes we dream of wrapping up warmly in velvets and tweeds and being *ignored*. Oh, the bliss of it.

Also, a lot of women love living in Morocco, even me, but even the most die-hard advocates of living here must admit that it can be heavenly to walk down the road in, say, London and be ignored by EVERY SINGLE MAN you pass. The only people checking you out are other girls and they're just interested in your shoes. It's great.

So, we're off. Although I know it would be more economical to search for an apartment in the local press when we arrive, I would prefer to have it sorted out before we get there, if possible, so I have been using agencies in my search for the perfect apartment, although when I say "using", that might be a little optimistic as I have been getting replies from about one in seven emails, which makes me wonder why estate agents bother having email addresses or enquiry boxes at all. I have been emailing rather than calling in order to save myself the mortification of having my appalling French met with complete incomprehension on the telephone.

Of course, moving to Paris brings other challenges. I plan to keep blogging (if we manage to get an internet connection in our apartment-to-be) but naturally I'm going to have to change the name of the blog. And probably the colour scheme too. I am completely open to suggestion on these matters, so do post comments if you have any ideas.

The other challenge is the fact that last time I came through Duty Free, I stocked up on champagne, Cointreau and wine and as we can't carry it with us, we have three weeks to get through it... O the harshness of a life that requires you to get through several bottles of Moet & Chandon in a limited time... (*maybe* we'll pack the Cointreau)

PS I google-imaged Paris to see if there was a picture that I could "borrow" for this blog entry, but the only thought I came away with is that Paris Hilton is very thin indeed.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oh dear.

If you are reading this then you are very loyal indeed, after such a long silence! We have had the busiest month in the world - guests back to back for three weeks and then a weekend in London which turned into a week in Ireland with my parents.

Having guests was marvellous in that it made us leave the safe confines of our house and actually explore the souks again. We went to Essaouira twice (staying at Riad de la Mer again each time - it's like having our own house there), Imlil and various places in Marrakech that we hadn't bothered visiting before, although I can now tell you that as pretty as the Menara is in the photos, it is actually crashingly dull to visit. Still. We couldn't have known that before we went. Even though there aren't that many "sights" in Marrakech after you've seen the Medersa and the Saadian tombs, the main thing that Marrakech has to offer is the pleasure of just wandering around aimlessly, dropping into cafes for restorative tea and discreet glances at your map to find out where on earth you've ended up, and trying to avoid being mown down by mopeds and donkeys. Oddly, many visitors here deny themselves this pleasure either by getting the hell out within hours of arrival, like the suspicious German girls John and James gave directions to (why ask directions from people if you're not going to believe them?), or by allowing themselves to be herded about and ripped off by a guide for the day before, you know, getting the hell out.

Anyway, after our wonderful visitors, we flew to London to hear Joanna Newsom (above) play in the Royal Albert Hall, which was fabulous. She is even more adorable live than she is in her recordings - we were afraid that we had cooked up a personality for her up to which she would not be live and that we would then be disappointed for something really not her fault, but no! The following day, after a quick run to Topshop for woollies to help us along with the fact that London was about 20 degrees colder whan Marrakech, we went to Cambridge to see a beloved friend who had been away for a very long time indeed. While there, I discovered that my Mamma wasn't so well, so we took our leave of our friends and betook ourselves to Dublin, where we have been for the last week and last night we arrived back home to a wonderful discovery - the Jardins de la Koutoubia hotel, such a part of our lives here in Marrakech for its unprotected wireless, generous helpings of nuts and olives with its cocktails and its pool, is also home to a quite passable Indian restaurant! How could we not have known this before? Well, we know it now, and they will be seeing a lot more of us in future - possibly even starting this evening...

Speaking of food, Ramadan has had very little impact on our lives apart from the addition of "cranky" to the list of moods and sales pitches displayed by shop owners here - apparently it is not being able to smoke that gets to people more than the eating and drinking part. It ends on the 12th of October, I believe. The streets are a little quieter during the day though (and completely deserted when the evening siren goes off) which makes moving around a little easier.

(Image of Joanna Newsom from Online Grapevine with thanks)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Frustration (nothing to do with Morocco)

I am very frustrated right now and my husband is out of earshot, so I am complaining on here instead. WHY is it that when I search for Gide on the MLA and, while trawling through it, joyfully find an article on Gide and Bowles, YET when I do a keyword search for Gide Bowles NOTHING COMES UP? And there are THOUSANDS of records for Gide and I do NOT want to trawl through them all, but it seems as though that is exactly what I am going to have to do. At least the man who wrote the Gide/Bowles article (which is in French, and thus slow reading for me if I can get my hands on it) is English and wrote another article on the two of them in English, presumably on the same material.

Looks like I'll be spending a bit of time in the library on my London trip next weekend when I go to hear Joanna Newsom in concert. Oh well.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Am I secretly in Ireland?

Look carefully at the pictures above. Do you notice something? Look again at the second picture. Now what? Nothing? Do you not see how the stones are... shiny? Wet, even? Yes - it is RAINING here. For the second day! For two days it has been cool and overcast here in Marrakech, with intermittent warm, heavy drops of rain, which leave a deliciously tropical scent on the air. Now, when I say "cool" apparently it's been in the early thirties each day, but right now (at eleven in the morning) it is only nineteen degrees, which is positively frosty. Sadly, we have a guest arriving on Saturday who is gasping to get away from London, and might not be as impressed at an overcast and rainy Marrakech as we are, but I'm sure the weather will be back to normal by the weekend.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A kasbah in the mountains

We have just returned from wonderful Imlil, just south of Marrakech, tucked high in the Atlas mountains. After some brief squabbling about hiring a car, hiring a car and driver or getting the bus, I suggested getting a grand taxi all the way, and this is what we did, with remarkable ease and economy.

A little over an hour later we arrived at a fabulous little village arranged along a curving road - the end of the road, we discovered - after Imlil, you're into donkey tracks and little else when it comes to roads. We were met by a man from the Kasbah du Toubkaland led up a steep hill, along tracks winding through trees and rocks, eventually coming to this...

I will leave you to look at their website for more interior pictures of their lovely (but *very* overpriced) accommodation, but what really sells the the Kasbah has to be its unforgettable views, perched as it is on a hill surrounded by mountains with only a narrow gap, through which you eventually arrive back at Marrakech.

The air was crystal clear, it was windy and sunny and clambering through the rocky, tree-filled glades with grass (grass! in Morocco!) and small waterfalls and streams was positively heaven after months of urban centres, dust and traffic both in North Africa and Europe.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Air-raid sirens and all-night parties

Well, we’re definitely not in Kansas any more. Ramadan has just started and Marrakech is transformed. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, which appears to be 4.30am to 7.30pm, and do you want to know how I know exactly when the fast starts and stops? The siren. It would seem that among the blessings of our home’s location, we can count our remarkable proximity to the siren that goes off during (or right before or after) the call to prayer at what seems to me to be a rather ungodly hour of the morning and then a more civilised hour in the evening. It sounds like an air raid siren and it is very, very, VERY loud. Perhaps I will feel less kindly to being woken up so early in the morning as Ramadan progresses, but right now it gives me a tremendous sense of excitement and am I am very aware of living in a foreign country.

I don’t particularly want to go into an exegesis on my (mixed) opinion of Islam (although the fact that I live in a Muslim country can at least indicate that I feel no particular antipathy towards the religion, even if I wouldn’t choose to move to Iran) – apart from anything else I know that at least two of my readers are in a professional position to give a far more informed sketch of the relationship between Islam and society – but sometimes Islam’s sheer exoticism is both alluring and exciting. I don’t mean theologically, but the trappings of the religion can be so beautiful and dramatic, with stunning architecture in mosques and medersas, music that can take your breath away sometimes, such as the Friday afternoon call to prayer from the Koutoubia mosque whiche lies close to our house and a sense of national piety which, while it is a little difficult for me to accept sometimes (I am agnostic), rather puts modern Catholicism (my own culture) in the shade.

Lent seems a little… limp in comparison to the complete fast (no food, drink or cigarettes) that goes on here, from which only children, the elderly and ill, pilots and presumably medical staff are excused, although in fairness to Catholics, the minute the sun sets they don’t all hit the streets and party until the morning, which is apparently what happens here. We were wondering about how people fuel themselves for the day, and innocently asked Moulaid if people get up briefly at 4.30am to have a huge breakfast and then go back to sleep and she laughed and told us no, when the morning siren goes off, people go home and go to bed – they will have been partying for many many hours by then, and will not emerge until very late in the morning, which explains the ghostly desertion of the streets yesterday morning.

Well, Ramadan or not, it is my lunchtime, so I leave you to go for a rummage in the fridge.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Advantages of guests continued...

It has to be admitted that we have developed the habit of hiding in our house most days, rather than going out and exploring, so having a guest here who we feel we must impress with a) our city and b) our casual confidence in navigating it has forced us out of our beloved house and onto the streets...

Yesterday we explored the northern medina - we saw alleys, gates, cinemas showing Arabic zombie movies and small boys taking unbaked bread to the district's communal oven. Today we are going to the Menara, and on Sunday we are going to Kasbah du Toubkal. We should have guests over more - this is great!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No blogging. PhD-ing instead.

If you have anything to tell me about Gide and Greek tragedy, do let me know.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Today, back in Marrakech, we brought our guest with us to Acima. This was as much of a cry of pride as necessity as I think it is safe to say that most travellers find public buses a bit of a challenge when outside the first world, preferring taxis as a bit more reliable in terms of actually getting to the place you want to be. As such, our conquest of the Marrakchi bus system was a moment of great joy and pride for us, even though we quickly realised that it is a particularly idiot-proof system, the majority of buses leaving from one place, right by the Djemma el Fna, and at least half of them going by our favourite places. Still, buses here have made our lives a lot easier and have eradicated the need to argue with taxi drivers who refuse to turn on the meter, try to charge you fifty dirhams for a journey that should cost about seven and the DRIVE OFF when you try to haggle. The bus fare is a flat 3.5 dirhams, buses are frequent and drivers are friendly.

Yet somehow, our guest was not completely bowled over by either the ease of the bus experience or our treasured Acima supermarket. He quite calmly took these wonders for granted and puzzled over why we seemed to expect more enthusiasm and wonderment. Oh well. *We're* impressed with ourselves.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Oh dear...

Because John and I have been very selective in our eating out habits in Marrakech, gradually abandoning all so-called mid-range places in favour of either the very cheap (i.e. low expectations, but generally pretty solid fare, such as El Bahia, which I am sure I have mentioned before with their respectable mains and fabby yoghurt) or relatively expensive, such as Kosibar (which I spell differently every time) and my favourite, Grand Cafe de la Poste, we have more or less succesfully avoided culinary disappointment since we arrived.

Alas, I cannot say this any more. Buoyed up by our success at La Licorne we ventured confidently in to Sirocco last night. Fair traveller, if coming to Essaouira in the near future and feel tempted by this appealing-seeming establishment, I have one word for you - don't. The only thing that was tolerable was the wine (trusty Domaine de Sahari Reserve) and the tapenade. Tasteless soups, even more tasteless tagines with overcooked meat so bland that it took us rather more time than it ought for us to distinguish between the shark and the chicken. We left our meals all but untouched, finished the wine and made our escape as quickly as possible. I was under the impression that enough expats live or make repeat/extended visits here to make restaurants consider the benefits of return custom and accordingly provide edible food, particularly at the mid-range, but not Sirocco.

Oh well. There is still the fabulous La Cantina Mexican restaurant with the best vegetarian options in the town and the equally wonderful (if slightly less exciting from a vegetarian's perspective) La Licorne.

Apologies for the continued lack of photographs - we have cameras with us but no wire to connect them to the computers.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Essaouira again

We are still in Essaouira and have decided to stay an extra day because it is so lovely here - last time we were here, during the height of the hot weather in Marrakech, it was very cold indeed - extra blankets on the bed, heaters, wearing every scrap of clothing we had brought at once; this time it is breezy, sunny and warm and John and James have even been swimming (not something which would have held any appeal here last time).

My trips to Ireland and England were very very busy and exhausting - all the more so because our lives in Marrakech are so very quiet and relaxed. We get up in the morning, study, read, write and chat and sometimes venture out into Gueliz for lunch or a trip to the supermarket but that is pretty much it. This, of course, leads to a rather dull blog-reading experience for my readers, with anxious articles about shopping and interiors composed in an attempt to mask our Moroccan inactivity.

Of course, as I have mentioned, we have guests with us for the rest of the month and must at all costs hide from them the fact that we rarely leave the house if we do not absolutely have to, and must therefore bring them to all sorts of exciting places while casually pretending that this is what we always do. Oh if only they did not all actually read this blog. Still, whatever deception we practice on our guests, my family, friends and readers will have the satisfaction of a little variety when they come here to find out what I have been doing, starting with our few days here in Essaouira.

Yesterday the tide was in but John and James cheerfully stripped off and swam the short distance to the ruined fort that lies drunkenly on the beach here before coming back into town to eat grilled fish at the port, sleep it off and then go out for a long, slightly boozy dinner with a couple of bottles of excellent Moroccan vin gris at La Licorne, a fabulous and gorgeously located restaurant right under the sea-facing ramparts of the town. After a short conference with the chef at La Licorne, my husband had his first good tagine ever, which must surely endear Essaouira to him forever - John is vegetarian, an unnatural concept in this country and as a general rule resulting in the most boring food imaginable while I tuck into all sorts of fishy wonders. However, La Licorne had a meaty tagine on offer with all sorts of dry fruit and nut delights and the chef was applied to to adapt this for John and it was delicious, or so I was informed.

Today will involve more swimming, eating and sleeping, I imagine and when we are back in Marrakech and I am reunited with my computer I try to put up some photographs.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Essaouira again...

So sorry for my continued silence, my faithful readers (if there are any of you left). I got back from the UK very late after my flight was delayed in Gatwick. I didn't mind the delay too much as I was reading the gripping Atonement - go read it right now, if you have not already. I got home to be met by John and our friend James, who is staying with us for a couple of weeks and just about had enough energy for cocktails on our terrace before going out for dinner and afterwards falling into bed for a few short hours before leaving for our early bus for Essaouira, which is where I am now. However, my husband is standing over me as I write this, as we must leave immediately for a long walk on the beach, to which I am looking forward immensely, so I must go, but promise that I will be back if not later on today, then tomorrow morning.

Go read Atonement in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I am here

Normal service will resume tomorrow.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Interrupted service

I'm going to London and then on to Cambridge today for a conference and will not have my trusty ibook with me, so there won't be much in the way of updates for the next few days. If I see an internet cafe I will pop in and do the needful, but I think you're just going to have to wait until I am back in pastures... well, pastures dusty on Thursday to hear from me again. In the meantime, you can amuse yourselves by thinking of the following...

Avoca (where I bought a pretty dress and necklace on Friday)

The Gate Theatre (where I saw Private Lives last night - indifferent performance, fabulous costumes as always from Patrick O'Brien, one of which is at the top of this post)

The Unicorn (where I had a delicious lunch with my parents on Thursday)

Friday, August 31, 2007

You know you're back in Ireland when...

After spending yesterday running around doing (and eating, and drinking) a thousand things, and then spending today doing much the same thing (although without the drinking this time) and discussing the wonderful world of immigration with no fewer than four taxi drivers (Irish-born taxi drivers are almost universally racist and think that Polish/Chinese/Nigerian people who only hang out with other Polish/Chinese/Nigerian people, eat Polish/Chinese/Nigerian food, go to Polish/Chinese/Nigerian places of worship and drink in Polish/Chinese/Nigerian pubs are both sinister and COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from Irish emigrant workers abroad who only hang out with other Irish, eat Irish food, go to Irish places of worship and drink in Irish pubs) and the strong and weak points of life in the Republic of Benin with another (who although from Benin, recommended Ghana).

And after all this, I find myself sitting on the couch, watching Midsomer Murders (yay!) after having had a bath and dinner (in that order, and dinner was Indian treats from Marks and Spencer) but with a rapidly developing head cold. Poor, poor me. I feel very sorry for myself indeed, in the way one does when one is slightly ill with something most certainly not lifethreatening in any way.

Oh well. I will do my best to survive and spend the next twenty-four hours tucked up with a hot drink (perhaps even Beechams?) and the three Georgette Heyer novels I got today in Hodges Figgis.

Oh so many parentheses. It is very odd how Marrakech fades into unreality so quickly whenever I leave it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On the move again

Well, I'm back in Dublin for a few days - visiting my parents, seeing friends, getting some academic work done and doing a little bit of shopping before going on to Cambridge for a conference next week.

Dublin's attractiveness needs no advertisement from me, but I do think that the picture above of Front Arch at my university, Trinity College Dublin, is particuarly nice. I will be doing my shopping a few paces to the south of Front Arch, at Brown Thomas on Grafton Street. My father's speech at my wedding last year even mentioned my close relationship with Brown Thomas, Dublin's best high-end department store, and home to my favourite bed-linen, Frette. My husband doesn't quite understand my fixation with sheets - after all, I only ever buy completely plain white or cream ones, so it isn't even as if my love for sparkly things can even be blamed, but I'm sure that some of my readers at least will understand my dedication.

My three days in Dublin will be very busy, Frette aside. Coffee with some very dear friends, lunch at the Unicorn with my parents, drinks with another dear friend (I seem to have been very lucky on this trip and am catching almost all of my favourite people here) and then Friday, more of the same really, as well as rummaging in the attic for the few things which have been inevitably mislaid somwhere along the way. Wish me luck...

(Images from, and frette)