Travel Around Morocco using Zohra’s Ladder and Other Moroccan Tales by Pamela Windo

Need a good travel guide to Morocco? Then look no further that Zohra’s Ladder and other Moroccan Tales by Pamela Windo as she guides us around some of the more lesser known and hidden parts of the country. From the Souk to the Hammam, this is a real insider’s tour…..

Your guide - Pamela Windo
Your guide – Pamela Windo

Take this book with you as Pamela shows us around – (The places and stories in the book they refer to are mentioned at the end of each answer)

BOOK

You start your prologue with the line “Landscape or its absence, is the setting for our lives”  – can you expand upon this?

If you were born and live in a big city, instead of a landscape of green fields and trees, mountains and streams, you have towering buildings, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks. When I wrote: “landscape or its absence,” I meant whichever “landscape” you have shapes your lives. [Prologue]

You were born in England and now live in New York but it was North Africa which claimed you, when you went to Morocco to be alone and write. How do you think your experiences have shaped you?

I went to Morocco with the idea I would hide away and write a book. What I found was a lifestyle and culture that brought echoes of my childhood in England—before the consumer cult took hold, and the simple things of life were still valued beyond money. In Morocco, I gradually let go of all my ideas and ambitions and listened to a different rhythm in which people live in the present moment, in close connection to other people, whether family or strangers. [STORIES: Rabiah’s House; The Street Cleaner’s Clothes —

In both these stories, I loved the house I was living in; one was in a working-class neighborhood in Agadir, the other in a quiet neighborhood in the Medina of Marrakesh.

An impressive home in Morocco (C) Simon Russell
An impressive home in Morocco (C) Simon Russell

The bathing ritual you describe in An Afternoon at the Hamman is very evocative – the smell of the room, the feel of the sludge clay paste you put in your hair. What are your lasting memories of this early experience?

My first experience of the hammam was in a local one, not in one of those designed for tourists in a chic hotel.  I felt shy but was immediately put at ease by the relaxed atmosphere… the women were of all ages and clearly felt neither shame nor embarrassment at being naked except for a pair of knickers. Veils and djellabas and scarves are worn in the street to hide women’s bodies from men’s lust. In the women’s hammam, those disguises are left in the lockers. All I felt was acceptance and friendliness, and a serious intent on getting clean, especially as most of the women didn’t have hot water, let alone a shower or bath, at home.  I was shown the ritual and helped by whoever was nearest me, and quickly noticed that all the women had the same tried and tested traditional toiletries…. No need for anything fancy and expensive.  [STORY: AN AFTERNOON AT THE HAMMAM]

You write of the difficulty of becoming accustomed to things you take for granted such as regular post and the freedom women have in the West. What could we learn from the women of Morocco however?

The hammam in particular showed me the strength of the sisterhood the women share… the scrubbing of each other’s bodies and rinsing of each other’s hair.  But mostly I saw this solidarity in their homes, in which they reign over the men. Women neighbors come in every day to help grind the almonds, to do a mammoth wash, or make a huge couscous. Young girls watch their mothers, and learn how to cook and help with housework without complaint or excuses. By the time they marry, they are excellent cooks and take pride in the traditional dishes they present to their family. I found that women of all ages possess innate self-confidence that comes from self-acceptance.  I once complained that I had no bosom, and received this response: “You are the way Allah made you. It is wrong to want to be different.” [STORIES: An Evening with the General’s Wife; Zohra’s Ladder]

The Golden Amber Dunes of the desert. (c) Pamela Windo
The Golden Amber Dunes of the desert. (c) Simon Russell

Your descriptions of the golden-amber dunes of the desert  are so evocative and immersive. The landscape is one of colours and contrasts. Was it difficult to capture its expanse and full beauty?

Yes, it was difficult to describe the country’s beautiful and varied landscapes. I always felt a jaw-dropping awe that left me speechless…or rather wordless!  But I think that is precisely why we seek out these landscapes – to be stunned beyond words. This must be why they say “a photograph is worth a thousand words.” Even so, I had to try. [STORIES: The Desert Sky; In Search of the Argan Tree]

A souk at Night (c) Pamela Windo
A souk at Night (c) Simon Russell

Street life in the Medina is a daily theatre. As if the day spent in the Souk. What aspect of life there did you find the most fascinating?

Daily life in the souk – Yes, to me it was a “theater” – the constant crowds were like a river streaming madly in all directions, a lack of order that creates scenes that are both spontaneous and magical –sleek Mercedes cars and mangy mules missing each other by a hair’s breadth; exotic enticing aromas mixing with the stench of animal and vegetable debris.[STORY: Pilgrimages to the Post Office; Observing Processions; The Days of Ramadan]

You immersed yourself in all aspects of life – the religion, the bathing rituals, the food. What have your continued to include in your life now?

I think that what have stayed with me most since I left Morocco are the people’s kindness and hospitality, and their insistence on authentic connection with others. You must stop in the street to say hello, even if the person is just an acquaintance; you must look the person in the eye to acknowledge them, and touch them with your hand, or with a kiss on the cheek. You must ask after their health and their family’s health before you take your leave. Of course, the music and dancing have stayed with me too, and perhaps the main thing that has remained a part of my life is the Moroccan cuisine – I am always cooking couscous and tagines for family and friends. [STORY: Lunch with the Sheikh; Baba Halou]

With many thanks to Pamela for taking the time to show us around and showing us a side to Morocco we’d never seen before. We’re off to the souk now for some authentic Moroccan tea. See you later!

Pamela Windo – http://www.pamelawindo.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pamela.windo

Simon Russell – http://www.simonrussellphotography.net/

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The Saffron Trail – From Cornwall to exotic Marrakech – Rosanna Ley

saffron

Why a booktrail?

Even the name sounds good to us – Scent of Saffron and a trail to Morocco! Yes please! Don’t read if you’re hungry though…

Story in a nutshell

From Cornwall to exotic Morocco, this is a journey on so many levels as two young women become friends and find that Morocco will change their lives in many very unexpected ways.

Nell has just lost her mum, a mum who has been hiding things from her and which she now wants to find out. She grew up on a  saffron farm in Cornwall and is recently married but her mother’s death haunts her so her husband offers her a trip to Morocco and a cookery course which she uses to explore her past

Amy on the other hand is a photographer who goes to Morocco to capture the sights sounds and smells of an exotic land. Amy is also searching for the truth – this time about a postcard she found on her Aunt Lillian’s mantlepiece from her missing son Glen.

Morocco reveals many secrets thought buried in the sands…..

Place and setting

Marrakech Riad Lazuli - http://www.riadlapis-lazuli.com/ Where the cookery school is to be held. This is a real school so we’re off! Plage Tagharte Glen sees Essouria for the first time and marvels at the sandy moon crescent shaped beach Taliouine where the saffron is gathered for the cookery school Meknes olive and mint from here Fez Citrus fruits from Fez
Marrakech
Riad Lazuli – http://www.riadlapis-lazuli.com/
Where the cookery school is to be held. This is a real school so we’re off!
Plage Tagharte
Glen sees Essouria for the first time and marvels at the sandy moon crescent shaped beach
Taliouine
where the saffron is gathered for the cookery school
Meknes
olive and mint from here
Fez
Citrus fruits from Fez

From the beautiful evocative cover to the aromas and fragrances within,  this is a novel which if you shake it hard enough, there will no doubt be spices, saffron which come tumbling out from its pages.

Amy and Nell’s journey is one of discovery – of the city and its culinary marvels for one. The cookery course is as much a delight to read about as it must have surely been to taste –

‘During the next few days we will be seeking out local ingredients such as saffron from Taliouine’ she said. ‘Olives and mint from Meknes, Citrus fruits from Fez. And we’ll be discussing the history of Moroccan cuisine”

That Morocco and the saffron fields there might hold the clue to her past is something she can’t wait to explore.

There is a lot to explore about the cuisine and food of the country too – do you know the legend in folklore about why a crocus has a golden middle? What else is a tagine if not just a cooking pot? What is the art of Zellige? Morocco is a maze of labyrinth streets and a melting pot of cultures and fragrances….and these secrets and more to discover.

Marrakech was a riot of souks and spices, colour and noise. it was fun but it was crazy.

Then there is Aunt Lillian’s postcard on her mantelpiece sent many years ago from her son Glenn. Interspersed throughout the modern day story was the story of Glenn as he travels the world in the 1970’s and eventually settles in Morocco. Glen’s story reveals his and Lillian’s early life and the two Moroccos are carefully contrasted – this is the Morocco that Jimi Hendirx is said to have visited, the city of adventure for Glen and his friends, of a whole world away from the Vietnam war..

Despite the focus being on Marrakech and Essaouria, not  to mention early scenes in a Paris bookstore – Shakespeare and Company? Cornwall also takes a leading role in the story and the saffron farm on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall where Nell grows up helps to explain her wanderlust for Morocco now.

Bookish musings

Whatever you do, don’t read this book if you are the slightest bit hungry! I did and well I had to raid the fridge for anything exotic I could find. The next day I did pop out to buy some Moroccan food such was the pull and attraction of it from this very novel.

Like a series of ingredients all mixed together bubbling away in a tagine, take off the lid and boom – you’re in Morocco, eating, tasting, hearing and feeling the pulse of the city. From the dusty streets and the ancient walls, to taking your first aroma of saffron, this is a book which I am now going to use as a springboard for learning more about what I can do with the tagine someone bought me last christmas and those broken tiles I’d collected from my travels.

I was swept away by the stories and legends contained in this novel. There is so much to this story that at first the cover and blurb might not do it justice. This is no flowery story but a deep and meaningful search for the truth in to family secrets.

Once again Rosanna Ley has transported me to a whole new world and inspired me to read more  about Morocco and its vibrancy.

Utterly and totally recommended for a literary travel experience of a lifetime!