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Images and impressions from Morocco (part 2 of 3)

7 February, 2011 (05:44) | Living in Europe | By: admin

A one day excursion to Essaouira:


1) Essaouira Harbor, the setting for many shots in the Orson Wells film, Othello 2) Seagulls are active below the medieval battlements that face inhospitable, rocky offshore islands


We are staying in Marrakesh for two weeks, which includes Christmas, Mark’s (big) birthday on December 29th, New Years Eve, plus another 4 days in Marrakesh. We enjoy our first week kicking around the Medina recording sounds and images, haggling with vendors and visiting a few “must see” museums, ingesting incredibly delicious food and crumbly, blonde kif. We relax in our quiet riad, basking in the luxury of spending time together with no distractions. We have made a conscious decision not to worry about our Partners in Rhyme business or fret about the wellfare of our 2 dogs. Everything will be fine.

Today we decide to take a day excursion, to see a bit of the Morocco coast and get away from the musky Medina. We have an expensive private outing to the Sahara Dessert planned for Mark’s birthday on the 29th, so we decide to check out the Atlantic coast of Essaouira on the cheap, with a chartered minivan that drives us out there (its a 4 hour drive) with about 10 other people, lets you roam around (or take an official tour which is included for those interested; We are not). At a designated meeting place and time, late afternoon, we will be driven back to Marrakesh. The bus leaves at 7:00 am in order to get everyone to Essaouira before lunchtime.

Mark and I are both beach people, having been raised in California. We now live on the beach in Barcelona. Most of our vacations involve a beach, so we choose Essaouira because it sounds interesting. Orson Wells is said to have put Essaouira on the map by filming (and starring in) his troubled film noir production of Othello. He began filming in 1949 but it took three years to complete.

Black and white can create such stark images. I remember vividly the opening shot of that movie. I can still visualize the man being suspended in a metal cage above the jagged sea rocks below the ramparts. I read later that Orson played this character in black face in the location I am now taking photos of. But that one image is all I remember about the story, which I saw in my college days. I have a vague recollection of a dark murky story with tortured genius imagery and a storyline wrought with punishment and mental torture.


We learn from our minibus tour leader (Omar) that the costumes for Othello were made by the local Jewish Mellah, but they delivered way behind schedule. This led to some imaginative solutions; the famous scene in which Roderigo is murdered in a Turkish bath (the local hamman) was done because the costumes weren’t ready. Everything about Othello pointed to near disaster. Remember, this is a four hour drive, so Omar is trying to pepper the trip with interesting anecdotes. He tells us how Wells went through 5 or 6 actresses in the lead role and his crew was constantly changing due to circumstances beyond his control (lack of money) Wells financed this movie himself, often having to fly to other countries in Europe to borrow money from friends. The movie took so long to finish he had to dub the voices in the end to give characters continuity. Okay, I’m convinced. This trip to Essaouira is a good idea. Other than the blathering British family at the back of the bus, the drive is interesting.


Fleeting shots snapped from the minivan as we pass through village after village. I like the donkey shadow in the far right corner of the first shot.

I take several photos from the window of the van. Fleeting imagery of small villages and dusty well populated strips of what I presume to be towns, everyone bustling about to the souk to buy or sell things- Even in these remote nondescript towns everyone is motivated by money, greed, lust … all the normal things that drive all mankind. Burros, donkeys, mules are the most common mode of transport, which makes sense because I don’t see many gasoline stations along the way. Motor vehicle drivers must have to fill up in the city.

1) I love this image of a burro being led through a pink corridor by a woman – to me it looks more like an impressionist painting than a photograph. Maybe someday when I “retire” I’ll try to paint it. 2) A mysterious fire warms up what otherwise appears to be an abandoned hut in the middle of nowhere.



This image is unique to Morocco

About 2 hours into the road trip Omar informs us that in Morocco they grow Argon instead of Olives for cooking oil. If I understand correctly, goats are used to eat the nuts, poop them and then the inner hard core is taken, pounded and ground into a light oil. Evidently, we are to stop at a “female cooperative” which puts divorced women to work grinding and pounding the nuts. The whole “female co-op” for divorced and/or undesirable-to-Islamic-society women scenario is one that turns both Mark and me off. So we didn’t support the cause; the oil is expensive and neither of us would know how to cook with it. We’d rather spend our money on fun things.

A pushy little lady greets us as we enter, waxing poetic about the miraculous properties of argon oil, how it can heal everything from diverticulitis to liver disease to heightened cholesterol. We are escorted past a dull looking, hard working divorcee being forced to grind argon in a small hand mill. There are other oppressed looking women engaged in extremely hard work. At no time is there eye contact with these laborers. Maybe they are inured to tour groups gawking and snapping photographs as if this was the most exotic and elaborate process they’ve seen in awhile. I refuse to buy into this scene, it stinks of one of those tour guide arrangements designed to fill Omar’s pockets with a commission…

1) Goats blithely nibbling away on the branches of a knotted, spiny argon tree, similar to the olive tree but found only in this region. Goats help with the aragon oil cultivation by eating the bark around the nuts (or something like that) 2) This divorced woman was put to work grinding argon in a small hand mill. I wouldn’t want to be a female social outcast in Morocco, that’s for sure.

Mark and I loiter around outside until Omar and the group return to the van. The pushy lady tries to foist argon oil products on us to sample “for free”, but we become one stone wall, unwilling to even try this product, as magical, light and delicious as it may be… I’m Italian and olive oil is just fine. I bet argon doesn’t work well with garlic the way olive oil does…


1) Camel with a view 2) Anonymous man in black robes that catches my eye.

Finally, around 1:00 we arrive at Essaouira.

Boats docked in the Essaouira harbor, below the ramparts made famous by Orson Wells. Through these ramparts you enter in the world of the fishermen..

1) Essaouira Harbor 2) A sardine fisherman at work. Its not an easy life, but its an honorable one.

1) A girl climbs and reposes in a spot at the top of a rampart, taking in what must be a dramatic overview. I secretly envy her. 2) The gorgeous rocky coastline of Essaouira, and the ramparts that look out to sea.

Mark and I have approximately 4 hours to eat and explore the terrain. The rest of our bus has opted to take an official tour, but we’re here for the fun and the images, not to get a thorough education on the unique products and services of Essaouira.


We leave for a big adventure to India next week, and I haven’t even began part 3 of my Morocco blog, so for the sake a progress I’ll leave you with a few more Essouira photos and then move on…

1) Street stalls selling pescado, however I must insert that the fish in Morocco are nothing compared to Barceloneta . 2) Simple beauty.

We walked around and hung out on the beach mostly:

1) Dipping our feet in the Atlantic. 2) Swinging husband.

POSTSCRIPT: I have another blog in the making of our overnight excursion into the Sahara Desert, but in that we leave for India next week (for a one month trip), my blog on Sounds and Images of Morocco part 3 will have to wait a month or longer.