I took a four-wheel-drive out into the Chebbi Erg. This is about 50 clicks east of Erfoud in central Morocco. It’s a bump or two across a roadless gravel mirage until you come to the beginning of the Sahara dunes. From there you’re looking at about fifty days by camel to Timbuktu.
Ibrahim met me at the Chebbi Erg. He’s a 16-year-old Berber boy who can show you around. I’m looking to level my mind in these dunes.
Funny thing when you travel. Maybe you’ve noticed it too. The imagination inflames but somehow you can become more inert. Getting in and out of hotels and restaurants takes its toll. It’s difficult to stop the forward motion — the map drags you around. There seems more to see than you can comfortably take in, and not enough time to think about it. I call it “travel dazzle.”
Needless to say I have antidotes: Silent, private spaces between good friendships. Netting out the fleeting ideas with notes. Holding, without prejudice, visuals with the use of a camera. (My digital camera on low-pixels keeps 2600 images) Effecting speedy mental downloads by riveting attention as well as allowing environments to simply talk. Being prepared to draw. Stopping to feel the preciousness and the privilege. Staying connected with fellow-travelers and with home. Leveling out the old alpha-waves with the use of dunes or water.
Call us dreamers, slowpokes or loners, we artists have to be a bit different. On these voluptuous dunes, in a stunning late light, I see once more that we all have different needs, and we need to be differently absorbed. Self-absorbed? No, just absorbed. An artist is a person who’s willing and able to take the time to be absorbed.
Esoterica: Ibrahim comes from a nomadic, camel driving, extended family of fourteen that’s currently living about twenty clicks further into the desert. He’s unschooled, unable to read or write but he is very wise. He sleeps under the stars, collects and polishes jet-black fossil ammonites and sells the odd one to travellers. His mind is steady — leveled perhaps by the rolling dunes. He takes his time speaking and he can speak in many tongues. He, too, is a loner. He tells me I don’t have to go to Timbuktu.
Art of conversation and gesture
by Jan Zawadzki
While traveling in the Atlas Mountains with my wife I was offered two camels in exchange for her. I thought about this for a moment and decided to hold out for six camels. Anita insisted she was worth at least twelve. The ensuing argument eventually involved the entire marketplace and went on for hours. During this time we were offered many gifts and treats and invitations. The capacity for these Arab gentlemen to hold down an argument was a treat for the ears. Though I could not possibly understand what was being said I got the distinct impression I was hearing the art of conversation and gesture. Hey Mustafa… if you’re reading this I can only wish that the breath of a thousand camels be forever at your back…
History of moderation, tolerance
by Jennifer Davidson
Your letter was forwarded to me by one of your subscribers. As my husband is Moroccan and we have lived in Morocco, my friend thought we would find your topic of Majorelle and your ruminations on your visit to Morocco interesting. Interesting, indeed. I do not know what corner of Rabat you visited where you did not see women and where you were viewed as an “infidel.” This is a wholly incorrect depiction of a busy, European-influenced, cosmopolitan city. Whether in the modern section or the old souk, women are in strong evidence, working, shopping and enjoying their lives. Did you not visit the university? You would have seen that 50% of the professors are women. Did you not stroll down the main avenue? You would have seen fashionable young working women going about their day.
Furthermore, as Rabat is the capital of the country and the home of a multitude of embassies, the citizens of Rabat, young and old alike, are used to seeing people from all around the world. I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone viewed you as an “infidel.” Don’t forget that prior to the creation of the modern state of Israel, Morocco was home to one of the world’s largest concentration of Jews. This is a country with a history of moderation, tolerance and the ability to weave the influences of the Arab world, Europe and Africa into their own fabric.
Lands of contrasts
by Chaim Bezalel, Stanwood, Washington, USA
My wife, Yonnah, and I lived in the Middle East, in Israel, for more than a decade and we still have a house there that we try to visit every year. Otherwise, we live in the US Pacific Northwest. Every year when we return to Israel, we try to stop off in another country on the way, usually in Europe, so we are both dual-citizens and constant tourists. We uphold the value of first impressions. Delacroix’s visit to Morocco, though relatively brief, had a tremendous influence on him and on European art. And yet, there is also another kind of perception which comes from a longer and closer experience of a place. This is particularly true of the East, including the Middle East, where concealment is considered an art in itself.
There is something so seductive in the culture, the religion, the architecture, the dances, the landscape of the Middle East that it has captivated many a missionary, many a soldier, many a diplomat. I appreciate that in your depiction of your visit you have made mention of both the beauty and the ugliness that exists there, and everywhere, but we feel that the contrast exists there especially.
Language induced inertia
by Alan Dorrell, Loughborough, UK
Your letter about travel dazzle rang an immediate bell. Five weeks ago, I returned from a ten-day trip to the Castille area of Spain. Since returning, I refuse to describe it as a holiday/vacation. Perhaps this will only be completely understood by your other British correspondents. It was my first self-organized visit to Spain (done mainly through the Net). I spent one full day each in Arebalo, Avila, Segovia and Toledo. For the first three nights I based myself at Arebalo, a lovely little town in Castille y Leon. The remainder of the time, I slept in a comfortable Hostale Residencial in the centre of Madrid. I visited the Prado Art Gallery twice, the second time to see the newly opened Manet Exhibition.
Furthermore, I was enabled to travel easily due to my own recent studies of the Spanish language. Nevertheless, at this stage in my studies, when I returned, I felt such mental inertia as you appear to describe, as though I was no longer aware of all that I had done, seen, read, listened and spoken about, in another language.
It took about a week to get my head together and now I’m enjoying reminiscing about my trip. I shall soon complete a painting of a knife-grinder I met in Avila. His equipment is an adapted bicycle. Actually, he spoke English about as well as I speak Spanish and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation.
Mind soothing device
by Linda Saccoccio (Radha), Santa Barbara, CA, USA
>You mention the idea of keeping one’s sight on the horizon to keep a clear perspective. Or viewing your life and the lives of others at the end of the day from the distant hill. You mentioned bringing your awareness to the dunes or water to move beyond the overload of traveling. It is impressive what these practices can do for the mind and nervous system. They immediately begin to calm and soothe so that one can approach things freshly and clearly. It is a form of detachment in the best sense. I also would like to add the quote, “Coincidences/serendipity are God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Draped her bed like a souk
by Violette Clark, Canada
When I traveled back to Morocco at age 19 I was unaware of Jacques Majorelle and his amazing garden. You really make me want to go back and visit this jewel! What I remember most of Morocco and in particular Marrakesh were the smells and the incredible visuals! The smell of sweet mint tea and spices being sold by the vendors bring back vivid memories. Wandering around in the souks checking out the colourful jalabas and the glistening copper and brass items being sold by merchants…the skeins of colour-drenched yarn hanging from the rafters. In fact I was so inspired and transported by the visuals that I have draped dyed fabrics from the ceiling around my bed to mimic the hanging yarn in Marrakesh. Another of my remembrances is having been invited to an Arab’s home with my male companion. I felt uncomfortable being invited to eat in the living area of the home while the women were excluded and banished to the kitchen. The home was pretty primitive… with dirt floors. Our host was honoured to have us…we ate on the floor feasting on camel meat and cous-cous (I’m a vegetarian now and you couldn’t pay me a thousand dollars to eat camel!) It tasted wonderful!
Mind travels along
by Lyn Cherry, Maryville, TN, USA
I feel a particular interest in North Africa, as my late father served with the British Army in the African Campaign during the Second World War and I was raised on his descriptions of the Sahara. At the present time my mobility is physically limited, but my mind can travel with you to this colorful, wondrous place. As you write, I can smell the spices, the ordure of camels and donkeys, the perfume of flowers. Sitting in my air conditioned home, I can feel dry desert heat, hear flies buzzing, and feel the chill of the night air. With regard to Ibrahim, in my ignorance, I thought most desert people wore white or black! The photograph makes my fingers itch to take up brush and watercolors and try to match that pungent blue.
Bumping into old friends
by Dave Edwards, Blyth, England
Gerti Hilfert, in her letter Blue-Green Feng Shui, remarked how you make art history much more interesting than many college lecturers do. Speaking as someone who didn’t go to college, Painters Keys is like an open university where we can study art at our own pace and the quality of the information is excellent. It is also a meeting place where artists can exchange theories and techniques and learn from each other. I have personally contacted many artists, whose work I admire, via this site and all have been very helpful and friendly. It is interesting to find letters to Painter’s Keys from people I have contacted; it’s like bumping into old friends in the street.
In response to the Green and Yellow article, here in England, when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, my mother taught me that “blue and green should never be seen.” She also believed, superstitiously, that green was unlucky and so I never wore green clothes. Now, as a middle-aged adult I wear lots of green. As green contains blue I think they harmonize nicely. Maybe God had the same idea when he made the grass green and the sky blue.
“It was a yellow divorce”
by Anne Copeland, California, USA
One of the more interesting facts about the color yellow is the correlation between a yellow kitchen and the divorce rate. One therapist reported that out of 90 couples he was counseling, 75% of them had a yellow kitchen, and this is where all of their fighting occurred. So he did an experiment and sent them home to paint the kitchen blue and then to report back their results. In 6 months only 1% of the 90 couples had divorced and the others were doing better.
(RG note) That would mean that only about .97 percent of one couple actually divorced. Perhaps a stronger yellow as previous kitchen colour might have got it up over one percent and it could have been a full and proper divorce including all parts of the couple.
Two woman in pink
oil on canvas by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2003.
That includes Sharon Simpson who wrote, “I have really enjoyed these latest letters. Perhaps because I have spent 5 months in Morocco. Your friend Ibrahim must be one of the ‘Blue People.’ Your photos are beautiful and will make amazing paintings.
And also Mary Jean Mailloux, of Oakville, Canada wjo wrote, “When I was in Morocco one of my hosts took me to the mountains along the Atlantic just northwest of Sale (near Rabat) and I took some photos of Berber farmers who worked there. It was really not permitted for the women to have their photo taken, but they made an exception for me.”
And Carolyn Smith, Victoria, BC, Canada who wrote, “I’m dreaming with you. What a privilege to see these awesome images. You captured Ibrahim in a way that makes me think that, no matter what has gone before him, the people, the camels, the hopes, the dreams, one more will try, youth is not wasted on the youth, it is because of youth we live on forever.”