Suitcase and World: November 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rabat. الرباط

I had not planned on visiting Rabat on this trip, dismissing because I thought it would be another boring capital city, full of government buildings and not much else.  Boring.  Then, as fate would have it, our original flight from JFK to Morocco got cancelled and now Soon and I are leaving one day earlier which gives us an extra day to explore Morocco. Since we don't want to explore Casablanca without Aaron and Mildred, I had to come up with another plan for spending our first day. After finding out that Rabat is only short one hour train ride away, it made sense to go there.

I still wasn't convinced about going until I started to read up on the dynastic history of Morocco.  As I quickly learned, Rabat along with Fes, Meknes, and Marrakesh make up Morocco's four imperial cities.  So, I now stand corrected.  It is an interesting city and I am now very much looking forward to spending time, albeit not much, in Rabat.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fes. فاس

When I mentioned to my friends that I was planning to Morocco, all of them replied that I had to go Marrakesh. I think that's because it's the city that most people would associate with Morocco but for me, my eyes could not get over the images I had seen of Fes. The medina with its alleyways so narrow that donkeys are the main form of transportation, souks overflowing with all sorts of ware from colorful leather babouches to canisters topped high with spices, men hunching over vats of dies in the tanneries that Fes is famous for, and the beautiful Moroccan tiles which seem to be used to adorn every surface. Fes has been that magical place that I associate with Morocco. So no surprise that we'll be spending time here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dynasty. سلالة حاكمة

Coat of Arms of the Alaouite Dynasty
It goes without saying that the cultural heritage of a place is rooted in its past so for me, it's important to understand a bit of the history of the country that I'm visiting.  I don't think that you need to have an encyclopedic knowledge but at least some understanding so you can better appreciate even the snippets of culture that you experience when visiting a country.

Morocco has quite a history - shaped by a succession of Arab and Berber dynasties.

"In the very, very beginning "
From what is known, the Phoenicians were the first to establish trading posts in Morocco around 1100 BC. By 200 BC, the Phoenician empire slowly ended. Around 0 BC, a Berber kingdom was established in the northwestern part of Morocco. Half a century later, the Roman empire imposed direct rule over the region which was then called Mauretania Tingitana. After two centuries of hard resistance from local rulers, the Romans were forced to withdraw. By 429 AD, Mauretania Tingitana was occupied by the Germanic tribe of Vandals, and by 533 AD, Byzantine rule was established in the coastal north and northwest. In 681 AD, Islam was first introduced with the arrival of Ugba Ibn Nafi with a 5000km trek around the country. He was defeated two years later by a chieftain, and his Muslim forces were forced to leave the country.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ifrane. إفران/يفرن

On our way from Fes to Marrakesh, we'll be passing through the Atlas Mountains and one of the towns we'll pass along the way is Ifrane ("e-frahn"). I had never heard of the place before so I Googled "ifrane" and was surprised by the images I first saw. The town didn't look remotely either Moroccan or African; the buildings were distinctly European in style and there was snow on the ground! Thinking I had made a mistake, I redid my search but this time adding the word "morocco" to the search query. The same images came back. Now I was getting really curious.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Volubilis. وليلي

Ilove going to visit Roman ruins. To some people, they're nothing more than  rubble that used be a place where people once lived but to me, they are amazing places.

Every Roman ruin is different, just like every city and town is different.  Seeing the ruins gives me a small glimpse into ancient Roman culture which I have long felt was an incredibly advanced culture for its time.  For one thing, I have long marveled at Roman engineering skills.  Whereas other cultures built their towns and villages next to rivers and lake so that they could have easy access to a supply of water, the Romans hand built aqueducts and reservoirs to bring the water to their towns!  At Ephesus, they even had a toilet system!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Zillij. الزليج

Zillij (("zuh-leej") is the geometric tile mosaic work that is characteristic of Morocco.
Though zillij can be found in the art traditions of other North African and Middle East countries, Moroccan zillij is unique in the Muslim world. The lines in Moroccan geometry are straight as opposed to the curved lines used everywhere else.

"The beauty of Islamic art "  Zillij is an artform that reflects Islamic belief and tradition which believes that depictions of living things lead to the misguided worship of idols.  So, zillij design is typically a series of abstract  patterns utilizing colorful geometric shapes.  Zillij reflects a disciplined approach to space, line, and color and is intended to encourage the observer to reflect on the perfection of God’s creation. I'm not a Muslim so I can't appreciate the religious perspective but I can admire the art.  In my eyes, zillij is just simply beautiful.

Packing list. Morocco.

Another trip, another packing list. This has become old hat for me by now. In fact, when I come back from a trip, the clothes go into the washer and when they come out of the dryer, they're folded and put in plastic containers that hold just my travel clothes. So, when I pack, I just have to sift through the contents of the containers and pick out what I need. I have gotten this down to a fine art :-)

Since this is a winter trip, I will definitely need a warm jacket.  I have a feeling it will come into handy for our overnight trip in the desert.