90 days outside the Schengen area – Ourika and Essaouira in images

OURIKA

Snow in the Atlas Mountains

Man in traditional kaftan

Woman returning home after emptying was water

Women leaving after a gathering in someone’s home

Woman picking herbs at Le Jardin Bio-Aromatique

Tea at Le Jardin Bio-Aromatique

Dump truck

Wild dogs sleeping at a construction site

Men going home after market day

Berber man returning home after the souk

ESSAOUIRA

Place Tara

Friendly cat hoping for some sardines

Medina near our Riad

Pomegranate almond and fig almond pastries

Beach near the medina

Shop in the medina

Sunset at la sqala

Cat who just finished his tea

Camels on the beach near Ocean Vagabond Restaurant

Cafe cat

The loss of story – further reflections on the crumbling of perceptual boundaries

When I consider the lessons of our divestment over the past several years, the house on McCollum Street, the house on Park Street, Mama Ganache, a lifetime of acquisitions – I find I always return to the center: what I am, I take with me.

What I am has nothing to do with the things and stories that surround me. It doesn’t need even one suitcase to contain it, much less two. When nostalgia for what I had begins to fill me, wherever I am, I can go to my heart and feel at home with who I am, and that is enough.

Ceiling tile for sale on a street in Morocco

It’s where I find hope, where I can recover that sense of eager anticipation the Hathors recommend in these times of failing expectations and beliefs, the loss of story, and crumbling perceptual boundaries.

One of the seminal books of my hippie years was a typewritten channeled teaching called Season of Changes. I’ve forgotten the details of the predictions, but I’m sure they’ve been borne out or will be soon enough. It was a dark view of the future, full of cataclysm and apocalypse. Written in question and answer format, the last responses concern how to respond to the changes. As I recall, the advice most forcefully given was to practice meditation.

It’s comforting to imagine that more people than ever are doing that, at least in my own bubble. It’s less comforting to remember how tiny a percentage of the world’s population my bubble contains.

But it’s sound advice. When the now threatening storm of storms is full upon us, when that moment of personal and collective apocalypse that we all feel coming finally arrives, it’s the meditators who will be able to hold the rudder.

Storm coming in at our house in Cordes

Meditation takes you to your center, to the center, the one we all have in common. It takes you out of the chaotic whirl of stories to the place of no story, where energy is conserved instead of fueling the miasma of outer experience.

It takes you beyond imagination, beyond the limits of space and time, and beyond the singular focus of our culture on the physical: on acquisition (growth vs. maintenance), on hierarchy (dominion vs. sharing), beyond your own little bit of the apocryphal elephant.

Letting go of the world as we know it, the world of perception, this particular consensus reality, is necessarily heart-breaking. It’s painful to separate from the things and people and stories we love, and love is, after all, what it’s all about.

The tricky part is to connect love to the universal rather than the particular.

And that’s where meditation can take you.

Ninety days outside the Schengen Area – Le Jardin du Safran

After nearly three weeks in the big cities of Morocco, Tom and I headed to the mountains.

Atlas Mountains from the road from Marrakech to Ourika

Tom had visited the Ourika Valley in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains before, so we booked a room at in Tnine, the village he’d visited with a souk where the Berbers came by donkey. We planned to see that on Monday, the day of the week it happens. We arrived on Friday.

Our hosts in Morocco have been very hospitable, but Abdurrahman at the Secret Atlas is by far the most generous and friendly of them all. Using a translator on his phone because he speaks only Arabic, he served us delicious thyme tea on our arrival, told us about his family, and shared beautiful passages from the Koran that explained his exceptional hospitality. For 11€/night, we have a spacious bedroom, living room and kitchen. The extraordinary breakfasts Abdurrahman cooks for us each morning are a few euros more.

Tiles on the wall and floor of the Atlas Secret

Kitchen

The apartment is elegantly spare and spotless, the bed excellent, and views spectacular.

View from the Atlas Secret

We were a little surprised, however, to find that the Secret Atlas is in apartment building on the relatively busy street that connects the two parts of the village. On Airbnb, it’s listed as a “farm stay.”

On our first afternoon in Tnine, we explored the part of the village near the river. It was hot, the pollution from all the cars and motorcycles hung low, and other than offering a window into the lives of ordinary residents of the valley, there wasn’t much to see there.

Street scene, Tnine, Ourika

The next morning, we discovered that other than a couple nice places for tea or a meal, the other end of the village had little to offer either.

We looked on the internet to see what else we could do. Everything looked like it would require another expensive taxi ride. The taxis to and from Marrakech are a bargain because they’re shared by up to seven people, but to call one to go from point A to point B requires paying the fee for the distance traveled to where you are and to where you’re going at the full rate.

But wait. It looked like at least one destination was close by, and it was something neither of us had ever seen: a saffron farm!

Le Jardin du Safran is an easy walk from the Secret Atlas. We’d passed by the dirt road that leads to it the day before.

What an enchanted place! We found the front gate open.

Entrance to Jardin du Safran

A sign told us we were free to wander around but not to pick the fruit or flowers. Pretty soon the farm manager found us and took us on a tour that lasted a couple hours.

Pathways, Le Jardin du Safran

Synchronistically, we’d arrived the day before the four best and busiest days of the year: the saffron harvest. Every year, from November 4 – 8, when the flowers of the crocus sativa bloom, dozens of local women are hired to do the delicate work of pulling the bright red pistils out of the flowers, nipping off the yellow end with their fingernails just so, to produce the tiny strands of highly aromatic spice so highly valued throughout the Mediterranean, and the world.

Crocus flowers harvested the morning of our visit

Pistils

Instead of watching the women at work, we sat down on the stools around one of the round tables and learned how to pull the pistils out of the flowers ourselves! Then we saw the drying process and smelled the exquisitely freshly dried product.

Saffron before drying

The second part of the tour was a leisurely walk through the farm, where a wide array of other herbs are grown, and trees: olive, walnut, persimmon, pomegranate, date, apple, and argan for oil, all arranged around small square plots in which the crocus bulbs were planted. The day’s harvest was already picked, but a few flowers were left for the tourists.

Crocus sativa

Dates

Olives

Tom and our guide

Roses in November

There were also goats and donkeys.

Tomorrow we’ll visit another local farm, one that calls itself the bio-aromatique, organic-aromatic, farm. After today’s surprise, I can’t wait.

I guess it’s a farm stay after all!

Ninety days outside the Schengen area – sacred geometry in Morocco

It was in the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts in Fès that the thought struck me. The chaos of the crumbling medina, the vibrancy of the souks, the noise, the pollution, the exploding energy of the colors, and the sheer quantity of stuff –

Souk, medina, Marrakech

– is beautifully balanced by prevalence of the purposeful geometry, sacred geometry, everywhere.

That’s why Morocco is so enchanting.

Souk, medina, Fès, Morocco

Doorway, Marrakech Musèe

Wall, Palais el Mokri

Islam takes the prohibition of worshipping graven images seriously, and discourages figurative art. Like all of life, art should be dedicated to God, and God is only describable as essence. Geometry is essence.

Fountain, Palais Glaoui, Fès

Who can resist being centered by such design?

All my years of studying sacred geometry, beginning even before my Ganesh Baba days, and then Dan Winter and most deeply with Alice O. Howell, peaked at that moment in the museum. I stood at the center of a ideally proportioned room surrounded by mandalas, exquisite symmetry, perfect curves, rhythmic repetition, and profoundly satisfying rectangles and squares.

I wanted to take dozens of pictures, but photography was not allowed, so I was forced to confront the serene beauty of that room face on. It was transformative.

Since then I’ve consciously attuned myself to noticing and letting the geometry take me in.

Palais el Mokri

Medina, Marrakech

Palais el Mokri, Fes

Pastry, souk, medina, Fès

Even contemporary Moroccan design uses the elements of sacred geometry to create beautiful calm spaces, as exemplified by our current Airbnb in the new part of Marrakech.

Magical!

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Dining room table and chairs

Dishes

Bedspread

Gate to new apartment building

Light fixture in our Airbnb apartment in Tnine, Ourika

Tree of Life – reflections on the breakdown of perceptual boundaries

Did you see what the Pittsburgh murderer posted before his rampage?

I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.

Screw your optics. I’m going in.

Like so many others, this guy believes in a very different reality than most of us reading these words. In his world, the Jews he killed have been helping immigrants to settle in his country, immigrants with the intention to murder his people.

He lives in a different world, a world that is considered fictional by those of us who buy into another consensus reality, the one we call truth, or fact. His reality is consensual too, though a smaller number of people buy into it.

Not long ago, when there were three TV networks presenting news in compliance with the Fairness Doctrine, and just so many print publications available, it was easier to control consensus reality. Propaganda could be labeled propaganda, hate speech hate speech. Those who believed the propaganda and hate speech had to keep to themselves because of the labels applied by the believers in consensus reality. That isn’t happening anymore.

The perception of truth is always problematic. When scripture – writing – is labeled Truth, larger consensual groups form and wars break out. People who hold one Truth supreme clash with those who believe in another.

Now that we have the internet, and apps like Snapchat that disappear after messages are sent, and the dark internet, consensus is rapidly breaking down. Every small group forms its own world, the bubbles we live in. Consensus reality is under siege from all angles.

More than ever, Pittsburgh makes me feel that most forms of resistance are futile. The Tree of Life, primal symbol of all cultures, is under attack by an individual man who feels his kind is threatened. He doesn’t need to be part of an organized group – in fact he’s even more iconic if he’s a loner. To his fellow believers, he’s a hero, a martyr. Can we change what they believe? What resistance can be mounted against a sea change in the nature of reality?

More and more I’m coming to believe that it is only nature, a sea change, that can create a united human consensus: climate change.

Only when we are all pushing against the wall together to keep the sea out will we humans again agree on a reality.

I’m not a great believer in channeled teachings, but I like to think that I have a reasonably good intuitometer (thank you, Joe Abrahams). I do like this teaching:

The Hathors, an interplanetary intelligence channeled by the musician Tom Kenyon, advise that when one’s perceptual boundaries crumble and fail – surely this is what is happening now – not to visualize the future (that vision can only be based in the past), but rather to be still and to await the unknown with eager anticipation – and when action is required, to act in a way that will be of greatest benefit to whatever sphere you find yourself in.

Be still, await the future with eager anticipation, and when it’s time, push against the wall together.

Ninety days outside the Schengen area – the medina, Fès

For several days, Tom and I stayed in the Bird’s Nest, an upper room in Palais el Mokri, which is truly a palace, on a hilltop above the medina in Fès.

The view from our “dining room”

It was a little like staying at Miss Haversham’s place. Built in 1906 for the Pasha of Casablanca, his descendants are now restoring their magnificent inheritance, an enormous project, and renting out rooms on Airbnb. They’ll also cook for you, and bring very decent meals to your rooms.

The place is magnificent. Dilapidated, but magnificent – and worth every penny of the $23/night we spent to stay there!

Our dining room

The windows in our bedroom

Coming up the stairs into the Bird’s Nest

Doors in the Bird’s Nest

Looking out over Fès from our room. See the grass on the roof tiles?

Above the stairwell

Palais el Mokri is about a ten minute walk from the souks, museums, and restaurants of the medina, or old city, of Fès.

Here’s a peek into what we saw there:

The kitchen at Glaoui Palace

Fountain at Glaoui Palace

Artist at work

Pieces for sale

The souk in the medina

Snails for sale. Lots of them.

A man who was sitting on the ground shelling peas

A woman begging

Vegetables for sale

Dye pots

Newly dyed clothing

Street musicians

Supplies for making slippers

Cats are everywhere

Carrying a pile of empty sacks

Donkeys are common

Ninety days outside the Schengen area: Casablanca and Rabat/Salé

By early September, it became clear that the papers necessary for me to acquire dual Austrian/American citizenship, and in turn an EU passport, were not going to arrive before our Schengen visas ran out. I’d diligently supplied the set of required documents to the Austrian consulate in Los Angeles but at each step the rules seemed to change, and there were more hoops to jump through. Our 90 out of every 180 days spent in the Schengen area would be up by mid-October.

The Schengen Area is a zone where 26 European countries abolished their internal borders. It covers most of the EU countries, except the UK, Ireland and the countries that are soon to be part of the EU: Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus. Although not members of the EU, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein are also part of the Schengen zone.

Our 180 days began when our visitor visas were stamped on our entry to France in May to explore the possibility of living there. Every time you go through passport control, your passport is scanned and a computer tells the border agent your Schengen status, so there’s no getting around obeying the rules.

We decided to apply for long term French visas, and we booked a trip to Morocco.

Ocean view from Salé

Casablanca is a noisy, dirty, sprawling, port city in the midst of major reconstruction. We rented an apartment between the port and the center city, a few blocks from the area along the ocean where many big hotels have been built and many more are coming. We could walk to the old medina where we enjoyed an outstanding meal at La Sqala, and sat at a lovely cafe on a small park.

In front of Hotel Central in the old medina

La Sqala

La Sqala

Lunch at La Sqala

From cafe near Hotel Central, old medina

Though it rained a little, we walked for hours, checking out Rick’s Cafe, an elegant reconstruction of the movie set, and Le Cuisto Traditionel, an excellent traditional/modern fusion restaurant in the downtown area. We also visited the Hassan II mosque, which was incredibly enormous and struck me as soulless.

Rick’s Café

Le Cuisto Traditionel

Hassan II mosque

Mosaic tiling at the mosque

Next, we took the train to Rabat/Salé. Rabat is the capital of Morocco and Salé is the huge mostly residential city across the river from it, Oakland to San Francisco.

Our Airbnb apartment was in a middle class neighborhood in walking distance from the old medina, the ocean, and the tram to Rabat.

Tom relaxing in our spacious living room in Salé

Our street in Salé

Three flights up and down

Salé is clean, relaxed, and very friendly. The first afternoon we were there, we noticed some construction going on next door. From our fourth floor windows we could see a long tarp over the narrow street below.

That night – it was a Friday – a crowd gathered and a sound system was tested. It was a massive tent they’d set up. From 8 pm that night till long past midnight, our flat was filled with the voices of two men singing long, exquisitely beautiful prayers, interspersed with poetic speech. We fell eventually fell asleep, enchanted.

Morning view from our apartment

The next day was beautiful. We bought food at the neighborhood stalls and planned to stay at home, relaxing and cooking.

Vegetable stall around the corner

In the early afternoon, though, the tent filled up again, the sound system was turned up, and the celebration began. It was a wedding! The music was live and very loud. Western music would’ve been harder to take for such a long time, but still. In the late afternoon we took the tram into Rabat for a few hours. The routine noise of the busy city seemed wonderfully quiet to us.

Wedding tent

When we came back and Tom peeked into the back of the tent.

The wedding went on till just before midnight. Clearly, everyone had a great time – even without alcohol!

Over the next days, we made friends with the cashier at the local grocery store, visited the old medina, and sat at a fish restaurant across from the ocean enjoying an enormous meal.

Old medina, Salé

Cart near the old medina, Salé

Wall around Salé

We also explored the beautiful city of Rabat, a stunning combination of ancient and modern. Such an adventure! And now we’re off to Fes.

Almohad necropolis – 12th century

At the gas station near our place

Entrance to Chellah: Phoenician, Roman, and Marinide ruins

old mosque near Roman ruins

Cats are everywhere. These are waiting for the remains of eels near the mosque at Chellah

At the old medina in Rabat

Verveine

Spices at the old medina at Rabat

Living in Cordes – Stone walls

Cordes-sur-Ciel was built as a safe haven for people who lost their homes in the nearby city of Saint Marcel, which was razed during the Albigensian Crusade. Said to be the first of the bastides, it has five walls built in concentric circles.

(More about the history of Cordes-sur-Ciel can be found here.)

A neighbor recently told us that the stone wall across from our home is the unfinished fifth wall. Indeed, our house is just below the Porte de l’Horloge, the eastern entrance to the medieval city, which is in the fourth wall, built between the 14th and 16th century. Our neighborhood, quartier du Barri, is a 17th century suburb of the medieval village.

Cordes sits on a rocky outcropping, and is entirely built of local stone: limestone, sandstone, and dolomite. The houses are stone and the streets in the medieval village are cobbled. Walls surround every garden and line every street.

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There are walls upon walls upon walls.

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Living without a car gives me plenty of time to appreciate stone walls all around. One of the most delightful things about Cordes is its authenticity: it looks like and is a place that has been continually inhabited since the 13th century. The walls reflect its history.

They bring me peace, connectedness, and a sense of stability. They are the keepers of the stories.

I never tire of their variety, their richness, their complexity.

In a village of art, the stone walls are perhaps the greatest art.

 

Living in Cordes – Mornings

Most mornings I wake up before sunrise, open the shutters, roll out my rug and light a candle, and then do some stretches, breathe, and meditate for a while. When I open my eyes, the sun is up – or on its way up – and the view is so lovely, I try to save it in a photo.

These are some of the morning pictures I’ve taken. They begin in early August. The last one was taken this morning, the first day of fall.

Living in Cordes – Cats

Although it is a dog, a wonderful dog, who came to us almost immediately upon our arrival in Cordes, the village is better known for its cats.

Almost everyone in Cordes-sur-Ciel has a cat. And, like a mini-Istanbul, Cordes is home to many feral cats.

In addition to doing their regular work with the rodent population, these wild cats drink water from bowls left out for them and eat kibble sprinkled on people’s doorsteps. (Mocha is also a big fan of the kibble, and has to be convinced daily that it’s not for her.)

IMG_2018IMG_4010There’s an organization, Le Chat D’Oc, that catches, spays and releases, finds homes for, or keeps as many of the feral cats as they can, and individuals do their part, but there are still plenty of cats.

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Mocha, at this point in her life, is a rabid cat-chaser. She’s not great with certain dogs either, but I haven’t seen a cat that doesn’t run from her yet. This one was coming up the Pater Noster stairway very confidently – until Mocha gave him the eye.

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The next moment, he was gone.

Most of them keep their distance.

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This guy, who lives along the footpath where we take our regular evening walk, has been getting braver daily.

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I’m working on Mocha.

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to live here without a cat in the house.