Friday, May 27, 2011

Images from Seville

The Alcazabar from the extensive gardens that surround it.

Inside the main courtyard of the Alcazabar

Layers upon layers of finely carved decoration that manages still to have a restrained air

The Torreador stands close to the bull as it charges. A feat of skill and courage that needs to be seen to be believed - but only if you have the stomach for it)

The bull fight has enormous pageantry and tradition, and its colour and
drama can be seductive.

The wonderful old ceramics manufacturing building that now houses the city's contemporary art collection

The procession for Pentecost Sunday which winds through the narrow laneways, is accompanied by a full brass band playing appropriately dirge like music and can be heard for blocks away.

Youths spend time practicing to manoeuvre the heavy framework that underlies the highly decorated Eucharistic procession. We wondered what they were doing, and put it down to an Islamic thing, since their heads were covered in shawls that looked like Berber headwear - until we saw the above procession, that is.

Strollers on the bridge at Sunset in Seville

The Plaza Espana - a decorative, non functional folly containing ceramics at their most mixed and gaudy, still delights. Here the boats to hire to row a circuit of the "moat" around the construcion.
A large architectural structure found in the middle of nowhere, with no reference in the guidebooks, which covered the student protest now growing in Seville as well as Madrid. we think it was near one of the Universities.

Seville as seem from the bell tower of the Cathedral

The main, highly decorated altar of the Cathedral. A more constrained version of Spanish baroque

The facade of the cathedral

Hearing the “Clip clop” of horses hooves as they trot the cobbled pathways across the whole of the historical centre - the "Sound of Seville" for me.

Endless Nights of eating and drinking – how do the locals do it? (And could someone PLEASE put that young , screaming child to bed at once!)

The most beautiful Alcazar I have ever seen. Complete, well preserved with stunning gardens creating an oasis in the middle of the city and a place for a romantic stroll, complete with peacocks..

Warm nights walking through the park, home to our Hostal.

River cruise at sunset – water is silver, silence prevails, and the air is fresh.

Walking the Triana district and eating fish by the river

Political contemporary art was far too didactic for my tastes (is it visual art or political commentary??), but timely for Spaniards, considering the student occupation of the main squares across the country.

Trying to find eggs for breakfast –we did on the last day!

Why are there no real tomatoes left in Spain??? (“Tomate” just doesn’t cut it!)

I agree with Ernest Hemmingway that Bull fights are “a wonderful Nightmare”. The colour, the drama and the courage. The way the animal and the human dance together and eye each other off. I know animal rights people have every right to complain, and I was very conflicted about the bulls being killed, whilst respecting the tradition that started this, but there is some magic there, as well.

Barrio Santa Cruz and the Jewish quarter are wonderful places to get lost in.

The best food really can be in the tourist areas. We had the two best Tapas meals outside our hotel!

Three Days in Madrid

Students Protesting in the Plaza del Sol, which we passed daily on our walks to museums. The numbers grew rapidly from just a few with home made signs, to a large media scrum

Getting up close and personal with the fabulous exhibition by Leon Golub in the almost more fabulous cultural space in the Parque Real.

The interior of the almost deserted cafe at Reina Sofia. Seems the locals and tourists flock mostly to see the older, Name art. So what's different???

Loved this sculpture at the entrance between the old and new buildings at Reina Sofia, which is to my mind the best gallery in Madrid

Graphics in the Mercado, an experience in itself (rather like Simon Johnstons)> Quite Beautiful to stroll in and salivate

The gardens and cafes at the entrance to the Palacio in front of the Palace Real

The Cathedral near the Palacio Real (main Cathedral in Madrid). It is decorated in bright colours and modern designs and makes a wonderful change from all the other beautiful but traditionally decorated cathedrals visited on this trip.

View of Madrid from the Cupola of the cathedral

The Palacio Real, complete with headless dummies on Flamenco dress. Would be great to say this was a modern art installation - instead, it was another chance to take money in exchange for a photograph.

Creative Graffiti in Madrid town

A landmark in Madrid - The Circulogico

Trees in the Parque real - Alice in Wonderland, Anyone???

In the Foyer at The Prado Museum (Colour co-ordinated!)

They start them soooo young in Spain! This was a school group taken out for the day to the Prado - I'm guessing the kids were about 4 years old! So tiny. If we don't even try until they are in high school, how will our kids ever develop the same love of the arts?

Arrived via the very human sized airport at Marrakech, into the groovy designed one at Madrid. Good connections and a helpful cabbie had me in town in good time to walk the many narrow streets and explore the plazas, sit in the Plaza Santa Ana and enjoy some tapas before hitting the sack.

Over the next few days we took in most of the Prado Museum, The Chardin exhibition and Heironymous Bosch being the stand out for us as well as a happy visit to Velaquez’s “Las Meninas”. Again, racing past Rubens to see Tintorettos needs some rationalising, and in the end we did our tastes and the museum proud, being very disciplined in what we saw. I also saw most of the later art in the Thyssen Bournimisza Museum, a private collection made public which boasts an excellent Monet and Van Gogh, but mostly interesting because it presents some good works of a wealth of artists that may never make publication in art books. The German Expressionist Painters and the Fauves are very well represented, Pechstein being the rediscovery of a great artist, for me.

I also took two broken visits to see the art at the Reina Sofia, a truly magnificent building (being a former palace, as most of these museums are) with an outstanding modern extension which seems to house only the library and the café. I like their style! We spent some time in front of Guernica, which didn’t disappoint, as well as in the surrounding rooms which present studies and sketches and other related finished paintings and information. I then explored the rest of the museum, with Juan Gris being the re-discovered artist, as well as cementing my astonishment at Picasso’s output as well as versatility and willingness to experiment throughout his life.

The student protests, centred in Plaza del Sol, are growing at a great rate and I wonder whether Spain will be next in the revolution stakes. I think Daniel would fit in well here.

Other places of interest we visited were the Palacio Real, which for my mind, leaves Buckingham palace for dead in decoration, creativity, and sheer capriciousness –every room had a different theme, no “reserve” here – and its armaments collection. Never would I have imagined that Knights in armour could look so good, in delicately carved and well designed and engineered metal made by the best European craftsmen, Silversmiths etc of their time, from Italy and Germany. It would have been a truly awe-inspiring sight to be waving madly in a crowd, as those knights, astride their prancing, jangling horses, marched by. The horse armour was exceptionally sculptural and beautiful, and the lances unexpectedly long! Ouch!.

I also explored the Cathedral and the park Real, with the Crystal Palace floating near the duck pond, and saw an outstanding retrospective exhibition by Leon Golub in the beautiful palace building at the opposite end of the walkway.
We have still to find, great tapas mixed with great wine – local knowledge needed in this capital of Tapas.

If Madrid is about its art, it didn’t disappoint, although sometimes, too much art is just that. I need to rest my eyes…and some more modern art!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Day 13-14: Essaouira

Nimble fishermen navigate the blue boats in harbour

the Fish markets. We chose our fish then proceeded to the restaurant where they cooked it for us. BBQ Squid - Yum!

Fish on display at the markets

Boats fill the port, awaiting the next morning's outing. The Auction is on in the afternoon

Our Riad - another good room, where everything works, even the shower (a little too over zealously - the whole room is wet!)

Armaments stores now house shops selling the local craft specialty - wood work

Canons line the ramparts

One of the ubiquitous cats of Morocco, here a very healthy one, due to the
proximity of the fish market.

Colourful doorways are also very rustic in this town

We left after breakfast for Essaouira. The narrow streets of Essaouira are ideal for casual exploration. Their size discourages cars, and as we walk through the town it feels as though little has changed since the days of sea pirates. It is a mix of religiously conservative Arabs, French and German tourists, and groovy young locals wearing designer gear. Apparently jummy Hendricks wrote purple haze whilst staying on one of the local islands, and there is a square and garden named after Orson Welles, who made the movie, “Othello” here and spent many months )years?) painting the area as well. It is one of North Africa's most attractive venues and soon we find ourselves slipping into its easy-going rhythm, glad of the escape from frenetic markets. The fishing port, filled with indigo blue and aqua painted boats, is a serious commercial operation and it was fun to observe the daily catch and its subsequent auction. Elsewhere there are numerous shops and several fine art galleries along with a wide variety of restaurants.

We visited the fort where canons still poke through the ramparts, on to a magnificent view of the ocean and rocks beyond; walked along the extensive wall, where the arched armaments store rooms now house woodwork, saw the most astounding overlaid woodwork table that took the cabinet maker 6 months of his life; and caught the sun on our shoulders due to the wide French designed streets.

A quick snooze on the calm beach and it was time for dinner. We had our best meal here, at a waterfront restaurant, great service and wine, for the princely sum of about $35AUD, by far the most expensive yet. I even tried Sea Urchin for the first time and was suitably impressed with its flavour.

Today is a bit of a lay day – I intend to look at the galleries to see what the state of art is here, which is supposed to be the centre of painting for Morocco. I’ll also catch the fish auction and eat at one of the best local restaurants, Elizirs, full of 60’s memorabilia and, from what I saw when making the reservation, some decent art.

Day 10: Skoura-Ait Benhaddou

Fresh Chickens anyone?

The view from the pool at Ait Ben Haddou

Dr Berber, myself and the pink waiter - I gave him desert Berber head wear, he gave me a man's style. Lots of laughs and sad to be leaving.

One of the many kasbahs on the road of a 1000 kasbahs

Hollywood meets Berber at Skoura - a bit of a culture shock between the authentic and the touristy, but a stop on the way is necessary in all this driving.

Our guide shows us the way life was in a Kasbah - at least for the women.

Light plays on the wall of the courtyard or Riad as it is known. Fruit trees and planted for shade.

Knock off time for the extras at Ait Ben Haddou

The real town of Ait Ben Haddou - back to the hawkers but 188 steps to the top was worth the view

View over the area from the ramparts

After a ceremonial "head scarf tying competition" between myself and the "pink waiter" and some more laughs, we said goodbye to the M'goun valley and set off on the fabled 'Road of 1000 Kasbahs'. Our first stop is at Skoura Oasis, home of several privately-owned Kasbahs, where we visit the splendid Kasbah Ameridhl with its extravagant decorations and mud-brick fortifications, and early kitchen and craft implements. The most intriguing was an antique wooden lock that is a pice of sculpture in iself and something I would love to buy if only my 20kgs bag limit would allow.

Continuing our journey we reach Ait Benhaddou, one of Morocco's greatest paradoxes. This place is home to a list of movies made here, including the fight scene from Gladiator where a buffed Russell Crowe proves his manhood in the arena and becomes a favourite of his slave master. Scenes in Star Wars were also shot here, but I wouldn't know, being the only human on Earth who hasn't seen the movies (or four). However, Hollywood aside, it is still, in its own right, one an interesting sight in Morocco with a superb collection of mud-brick kasbahs are without equal. We enjoyed a walk through the old town, waving at the extras from yet another Egyptian movie being shot here, whoo were "storming" the fortress and riding horses towards iconic gates that are used in amny movies, but which open on to nothing. (The Egyptian economy is almost built on its export of movies to the Arab speaking world).

I braved a swim in the pool, which has the most amazing view over the valley, but the roofing and planting of trees was not enough to shelter me from prying eyes - the waiter that just had to walk back and forth along the pool, the man who almost killed himself on the roof of a nearby building trying to get a look - so i quickly dressed and returned to the hotel. I guess it's nothing more than might happen in a SYdney building site, and even though I decided it was their behavioural problem, nt mine and that I was just doing what's natural, it does make me uncomfortable. I think it is sad, for many reasons, that females are so covered up that men will do anything to get a look at a woman, to touch her etc. Frankly, it's not natural.

had another dinner of salads, tangine and fruit.....

Day 11 and 12: Ait Benhaddou-Marrakech

Some of the spectacular scenery en-route to Marrakech

Our Riad in marrakech. Initial delight was tempered by the lack of electricity during the evening, followed by no internet and then no water! Oh the third world!

Trolleys are the only way to negotiate the alley ways in the medina in Marrakech

Shoes shoes and more shoes. And yes, I paid to much for a red pair that I love

Natural, hand-dyeing of the wools for weaving into rugs and scarfs happens in the medina. I was tempted to buy some pigments, but didn't want a spill in my suitcase.

Lanterns hang on the wall near one of the souks in the market

Boxes for carrying gifts to the groom or bride, during the wedding ceremony. It used to go on for days, but the prohibitive expense means that most young people resrtict the celebration to only one day.

Monkeys in the box, awaiting their turn to please the crowd - at the end of a chain. No donations, here!

A business man leans close to hear his fortune told in the market

The market comes alive at night where stalls cook traditional Moroccan food to order.

Every square inch is taken up with sale-able goods.

Natural medicine is available at many stores. I tried the cold cure - it works like a Cold and Flu tablet on speed. Dried me up like an old witch - water, water please???

Spice mountains are also at the market in Marrakech

The concubines quarters, close to the owners bedroom

Tassles of all sizes hang from the roof in a souk

Fine stitching is a feature of many cloths, this one in the museum

Colourful locals, colourful fruit and veg

Berber dancers who busk in the square at marrakech, approaching a tourist

Finally, the Water Carrier

The Square on a quiet Thursday afternoon - the night comes alive as this ia almost the weekend for the locals

Pavillion de la Menara - I found where the locals meet! Olive groves surround the building, and more than a few young lovers were spied holding hands and talking ernestly amongst the trunks of the trees.

The celebrations with the other Peregrine group

We drove for several hours through the winding roads of the Atlas, bound for Marrakech. Again, the scenery is astounding, even through the threatening, leaden skies, and we stopped for photos in jaw dropping locations. The country changes so much! On arrival in Marrakech we cheked into our beautiful Riad hotel, the mirror, bed head, wardrobe and chairs were attention grabbers with intricate metal work inlaid with stone and I’d love to take them home. As soon as we were settled, we headed into the famous Jemaa el Fna, the great square, one of the largest public spaces in the world and unique to Marrakech. Every night it comes alive with snake-charmers, musicians, story-tellers, fire-eaters and hundreds of small outdoor restaurants, though to take a photo can cost as much as 200Dirham each – so the sneaky photography trick of buying a meal in one of the restaurants with a view from the terrace was employed. Everyone seems to be in on the “photography charge”, even veiled ladies. It’s a much easier square to navigate than Fes and the Great Minaret (third largest minaret in Morocco) serves as a handy land mark.

After breakfast the next day, we met our Marrakech local guide and set off on a morning tour of the old medina. We visited the beautiful 150 room Bahia Palace, a splendid mansion built in 1866 for a former slave who had risen to become Vizier of Moulay Hassan Government. The palace for his 24 concubines was handily located to the royal quarters, as was those of his four wives. He ruled Morocco whilst the king’s sons grew to majority. He was eventually ousted by the French who decided to take over the building for their administration. We explored the tranquil inner courtyards, fragrant with orange blossom, and the many salons and chambers that make up this elegant home. We continue to the Marrakech Museum, itself a former palace, which houses a fine collection of Moroccan art and sculpture – saw my first painting displays, some good, some awful, all abstract (yay!)- and we then walked through the streets of the old medina as we make our way back to the Jemaa el Fna. I found the place to buy the Marrakechi (black and white) and Berber hats (wool with geometric shapes) to add to my collection, and the castanets that may have to wait for our return to Marrakech in two days.

After lunch and more spy photography, I jumped the hop on- hop off tour bus to get a better understanding of the city, stopped at a few places and then returned to the Riad, a little tired. The rest of Marrakech seems to be made up of salubrious hotels made from former Riads, being the embassy houses of former foreign diplomats. All in all, Marrakech is a bit disappointing, perhaps from expectations raised by friends who have visited here, or perhaps because of the length of time I have been travelling. For me, Fes had a more exciting Medina, and the countryside is a better experience because of its people.
We celebrated two birthdays and the last night of the other Peregrine group with Pizzas and red wine (we are all a bit ired of the lack of variety in Moroccan food - at least as we know it.


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