Posts Tagged ‘plaster carving’



Note: so many people have been asking about the photographs – I’ve combined some in a book called Blue: Photographs from Spain and Morocco.

Part of the plan on this trip was to visit Mark’s sister Dana and her husband Bishop who live in Sevilla.  We awoke way too early at Dar Jand to catch the early ferry.  Andrew kindly walked us through the medina down to the port where we boarded the fast ferry to Spain, watching Tangier recede in the distance.  Arriving in Tarifa, we took a taxi to the Comes bus station, which turned out to be two bus benches and a shed.  Hmmm – we had a couple of hours, lots of luggage and nowhere to go.  There was a small café across the street so we maneuvered everything in there and settled in, buying tapas  (not very good) for lunch and several coffees to justify taking up their space.  By the end, we were almost best friends.  Which was not easy because no one in Spain seems to speak anything but Spanish!  We’re used to people in Europe and even Morocco speaking several languages.  We kept speaking French, which was a little odd because English is our language, but after two weeks in Morocco, it just came naturally.

We both grew up in California with a large Hispanic population, but every Spanish word we knew evaporated.  Even the easy words!  Nonetheless, we made it onto the bus and were met in Sevilla by Dana and Bishop, who of course speak English.  We walked to their apartment, which is centrally located in the heart of Sevilla, easy walking distance to the historic core of the city.  They had a great array of tapas for us – olives, cheeses, and what is said to be the best ham – the Iberica Bellota – made from pigs who forage for acorns.  We were hungry and grateful for the munchies followed by minestrone soup.  We chatted a while and they walked us to our hotel, the Amadeus Musica.

Sevilla street

Dana and Bishop’s apartment is on the third floor of a modern building – the third being the top in this case.  The living room has a floor to ceiling window so it feels light and airy.  Many of the streets are lined with orange trees and we were there at just the right time to enjoy the heavenly aroma that is like no other.  The oranges are bitter, used for making marmalade, and that’s why they don’t get stripped from the trees by the populace.  Because otherwise who could resist?

We settled in and collapsed until they picked us up for a walk around the Santa Cruz barrio, the old Jewish quarter.  Bishop is a font of information – he really ought to be a tour guide because he knows every bit of the history and every detail of the architecture.  We just couldn’t take it all in.  We hadn’t expected our two weeks in Morocco to be as arduous as they were, so our brains were mush.

Note on the Amadeus Musica – our hotel.  There were instruments everywhere and each room had a CD player with a whole raft of opera CDs.

Interior Hotel Amadeus Musica

Alley our hotel was on

The streets were packed that night.  ‘Twas St. Patrick’s Day, heartily celebrated in Sevilla.  Of course – why not? Any excuse for a pint, funny green hats, and a party.  We settled for ice cream (at least I did) and early bed.  The promenade was just getting going, but we don’t seem to be able to stay up late anymore, and even 9:00 p.m. is a little early to be out on the plaza. Also, my stomach was hurting and I was getting a blister.

In fact, after two weeks of no ailments large or small, in Sevilla I had a bad stomach, a blister on top of a toe on my left foot and underneath another on my right.  My knee (I have condromalacia patella) flared up and every step was agony.  That made it hard to truly appreciate that amazing city.  And it was beautiful, relaxed and comfortable.

Giralda at night

Plaza by the cathedral

We visited the cathedral, which doesn’t have a name other than the Sevilla Cathedral.  It is built on the site of a mosque and the minaret is the only part of the mosque that remains.  The first 2/3 of the tower is the minaret from the 1100s, but when the Christians prevailed over the Moors, the mosque was converted to the cathedral and the top of the minaret to a bell tower called the Giralda and topped with a weathervane.  It’s the largest gothic cathedral in the world, complete with flying buttresses.

Flying buttresses, Sevilla cathedral

Here’s some information on the interior, and I’d like to credit the source but I don’t remember it, although judging from the translation it may be a brochure I picked up:  The most spectacular part of the interior of the Seville Cathedral is undoubtedly Retablo Mayor, the golden altar of the church, the main chapel.  This masterpiece was designed by the Flemish master Peter Dancart who worked 44 years on the reliefs, since 1482.  The altar was finally completed in 1564 with other artists.

Christopher Columbus was buried in this church and his tomb is impressive.

Christopher Columbus tomb

There is also a crown with 11,000 jewels and the largest pearl in the world (forming the body of an angel),

Crown with largest pearl in the world

as well as a beautiful reliquary depicting the crown of thorns and said to contain a piece of the true cross.  Although I have no idea how one would verify that.

Interior, Sevilla cathedral

We had a late lunch of sorts and the best part was the menu.  Some of the translations reached a new level of hilarity:  “in a mess of mushrooms of season” and “small cauldron of deer” being two examples.  If you click on the photo, it’ll enlarge.  Then just arrow back to return to the blog.

Hilarious menu

Another place we visited during our three days, as I limped along, was the Real Alkasar, a former Moorish fort that became a royal palace (the upstairs is still in use as such).  The Alkasar is one example after another of Moorish plaster carving, tile work, and carved wood.  It’s truly beautiful.  The best part is the gardens – which we couldn’t see because I could not walk at that point and had to get off my feet.

Tile detail in Alkasar

Interior courtyard Alkasar

Exterior of Alkasar

Front wall detail

Detail of wood carving in Alkasar

Blue plaster carving Alkasar

Ceiling detail Alkasar

We also enjoyed the Plaza de Espagna, which was built for the 1929 Iberia/America exposition and is now used as government offices.

Plaza de Espagna

Plaza de Espagna

There are insets along the curved wall (first photo) for each section of Spain.  I think they are equivalent to counties.

Dana, Mark and Bishop

Plaza de Espagna

Fans for sale at Plaza de Espagna

Maria Luisa Park, a short walk from where we stayed, is enormous, full of birds and blooming plants, shrines, fountains and pools.

Maria Luisa Park

Maria Luisa Park

Maria Luisa Park - retouching a tribute to a Spanish writer.

In one plaza, kids feed the pigeons, but they are not ordinary pigeons.  They are Paloma doves, all white, and live only in Sevilla.  They were a gift from the Philippines during the 1929 exposition.

Paloma doves

The public transportation system in Sevilla is excellent.  There are busses, streetcars (electric trains) and bicycles.  All over the city there are bike racks.  You buy a card, kind of like a subway pass, and when you need to go somewhere, you insert your card and grab a bike, leaving it in a rack at your destination.

Bicycles that can be taken from one rack and returned to another

I wish we had things like that here.  In the United States, our transportation systems were built around the automobile – at least in the wide-open spaces of the West.  Some of the big cities like New York, Washington D.C. and others are compact enough to have good subway systems, but the cult of the car isn’t letting go yet in the West.

Sevilla is where flamenco got it’s start and it’s THE place in Spain to see a flamenco show, so we did at a little place called Los Gallos.

Los Gallos

Judging from the backdrop on the stage, I think Los Gallos means the fighting roosters or the roosters.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the two-hour show was magnificent.  Accompaniment is not only guitars, but men clapping their hands in the most wonderful rhythms, making different sounds depending upon how their hands strike each other.  The costumes are extraordinary and the dancers – well, I don’t see how they could have been any better.  From what we could tell (not understanding the words when there were songs), it’s all about flirtation and lost love, or having been done wrong by a man.  It was a great way to cap our last evening.

It was time to go to Barcelona and Gaudi-land.  Dana and Bishop met us early and we took a cab to the train station.  We said our goodbyes, which was kind of sad, and hopped on the bullet train to Barcelona, our last destination.

To Barcelona on the high-speed train


Marrakech: Part Two- the journey continues


Sunday, March 6

This was our only complete day in Marrakech and we thought we’d see more with a guide.  So Mustafa met us at the riad at 10 (we are not early birds) and we ventured into the medina.  First he took us to the Madersa Ben Youssef, a Koranic school founded in the mid-14th century by Merinid Sultan Abou el-Hassan.  It’s one of the biggest in the Maghreb (western North Africa) and holds 900 students. The building itself is unaltered from the original design and it is magnificent.  The details of the carving and tile work are boggling.

Detail from Medersa ben Youssef

The rooms to house students are very small, with three students per room.  The imam has a nicer and bigger room, but not by much.  The rooms have “Berber” ladders – a series of holes caddy corner that you insert a round bar into, then take the one you just stepped off of and insert it in the holes above you, and so on.  Like you’d expect to see on a challenge on Survivor.  That is how students accessed their storage space.

The main courtyard has an ablutions pool, and then the mosque – one for the men and smaller ones for the women on either side.  The rooms are arranged so that some are utilized in winter and others in summer to avoid extreme cold and heat.  There is so much that is important and unique about the decorations and of course, I hardly remember a thing.  Too much information compressed into a short time.

Mustafa then took us through the Berber souks.  While shopkeepers in the Arab souks close up their shops at night, they don’t do that in the Berber souks. They have a gate that is locked at each end and guards are posted during the night.   Souks may seem haphazard but they’re organized by merchandise: the jewelry souk, the leather goods souk, etc.

Metalwork in the Berber souk

Mustafa said that all the goods in the medina were made in Morocco.  The king decreed that there would be no “made in China” or anywhere else because the medina needs to stay authentic.  That may be a UNESCO requirement.  I know Jemma-el-Fna is a World Heritage Site.

We bought a coffee table and I’m sure we paid too much but how do you know?  We’re not there long enough to know the market and we have to bargain.  We did buy for less than half of what was originally asked, but still, who knows?  If the table holds up I do think we got a good price.  And what matters is we love the table.  We went upstairs to the workshop and like all the workspaces in the medina, it’s small and primitive by our standards, yet beautiful work is turned out.  There was one fellow up there sawing out table legs.

Our table

The whole bargaining ritual is just that: a ritual.  We stand around and look, talk casually, while the owner points out this and that.  Finally we get around to what we might like to purchase.  The owner runs around and comes back with a rickety plastic chair with a broken arm, and a saggy little straw stool, so we sit.  We talk about the table, he thumps it to show how sturdy and good it is, we see the photo of King Mohammed VI in the workshop and at his desk with this souk owner’s work, and Mustafa tells us this shop does the highest quality work in the medina.  We actually believe him because we can examine the wares ourselves, and I desperately want a large, exquisite trunk with a simple pattern of triangles, for which I have no use.

And so it begins in earnest.  A price is proffered by the owner, in dirhams and including shipping to the U.S.  We react in horror, discuss with each other and make a counter offer which is as ridiculously low as his price was high.  Anguish all around ensues.  The table is thumped some more to show its soundness, the mother-of-pearl inlays are praised for the precision work, and we agree it is excellent.  But we cannot begin to consider the price.  He offers another price, not much lower.  We counter somewhat higher than our original.

The game is on.  Mint tea is offered and we decline.  Mark and I decide what our final offer will be and finally we make it.  It is declined so we get up, thank him for his time and for showing us his fine work, and we walk out the door.  He keeps lowering the price but not to what we want so we continue on our way.  And then he’s there saying done and shaking our hands and we are half-scared that we paid too much.  And certainly, Mustafa will get a cut from the owner.   We get our coffee table, which we actually needed (or at least wanted) and we like it, but we are beset with doubt.

Undyed wool being wheeled into the medina

Undyed wool being taken into the medina


Dyed wool hanging out to dry

Onward to the Saadian tombs, which date from the 16th to 18th centuries.  When the first Alouite king, Moulay Ismael, ascended the throne in the 1600s, he was intent on destroying evidence of all the dynasties before his.  (The current king is from the Alouite dynasty, still in power.) Moulay Ismael, with significant encouragement from the French protectorate, walled off the tombs instead of destroying them since he didn’t want to disrespect the dead. In 1917, the French protectorate opened the tombs to the public.  Mustafa said that preserving history was the only benefit of the protectorate.  Kind of like Mussolini who didn’t have many redeeming features except that he preserved the Roman ruins.  This information comes via Mustafa, who is probably correct.

On the way to the Saadian tombs we passed the King’s residence.  Previously I mentioned that Mohammed VI stays in residences, not the palaces.  I must say that the residence is huge – is there a difference in anything but name?  I took a picture and Mustafa ran around a corner, literally.  He said that the guards dressed in red meant that the King was home, and he’d seen cameras confiscated for photographing the guards.  He didn’t want to be associated with a tourist taking photos.  I got my photo, kept my camera, but only photographed the normal guards, not the ones dressed in red – and they are far away.

Either the king or queen's tomb

Tile detail from the Saadian Tombs

After visiting the tombs we were tired and had used up our three hours with Mustafa, so he left us to lunch and we took a petit taxi to the Majorelle Gardens.

Majorelle Gardens

Majorelle Gardens

What a surprise!  Yves St. Laurent visited Morocco, fell in love with it, and established a residence with gardens that are just amazing.  There is a little memorial to St. Laurent in the gardens, but mostly they are full of bamboo, cacti, all kinds of plants, pools, bridges and benches, plus color – vivid blue, yellow and orange planters.  The colors ought to be garish the way they are used, but they are not.  They are stunning. The entire effect is amazingly tranquil and it was well worth taking a petit taxi out to the area.  We had tea and some cornes du gazelle (wonderful almond pastries shaped like gazelle horns) in the little restaurant in the gardens, relaxed, and headed back to Maison Do.

Detail, Majorelle Gardens

Detail, Majorelle Gardens

We were totally exhausted and washed out, but we walked through Jemma el Fnaa and saw that the huge empty area we saw earlier was being turned into outdoor restaurants and eating stands.  Just like that, from nothing to restaurants with tables, chairs or benches, sinks, cooking areas, etc. in a flash.  This happens every night.

Restaurants in Jemma-el-Fna?

In the evening, instant restaurants!

When we went out later for dinner, the square was abuzz – packed with people, festive with music and vendors throwing light sticks into the air in bright colors, all the snake charmers and other diversions. There were many food booths selling snails and people standing around eating them by the dozens.  Also, I realized that the huge carts of oranges all over Jemma-el-Fna are for orange juice.  Moroccans drink lots of orange juice and almond milk.  We were so tired, but determined to go back to Oscar Progres for dinner.  Finding it at night was not the same as finding it in the day but finally we did and had a dinner we enjoyed.

I find I am saying  “we were tired” frequently.  Traveling at the pace we are used to doesn’t seem quite as doable at 64 as it used to be.  It’s as if, all of a sudden, it’s been decreed that we slow down and consider tours instead of planning for ourselves.  But we pushed on.

Next – to the South and kasbahs, camels and dunes.