Saturday, December 31, 2011

The garden that Jacques built. Majorelle.

Iit's New Year's Eve today but more important than that, it's the start of our second full day in Marrakesh. This time Soon and I arrived into the dining room at the right time for breakfast; there were already other guests waiting for their food to arrive. Mustafa was shuffling in and out room, carrying trays of hot drinks and food.

Mustafa is very serious and focused about his job.  He never smiles or talks to the guests but in slightly odd way, he's adorable especially in his uniform with the white gloves and fez.  Makes him look very Moroccan. I've been wanting to sneak in a photo of him but there's not been the right time.

Hassan was also mingling in the room. I decided to take the opportunity and have him follow up with the local tour company regarding our trip tomorrow to Essaouira. I really had no idea how we were going to get there. I gave Hassan my voucher that had the local contact information on it and he tried to call the number. No answer. He kept trying. Still no answer.

In the meantime, our breakfast had arrived and Soon and I dived in. Even though I didn't have dinner last night, I wasn't that hungry. But as usual, I still managed to stuff my face and I'm counting that walking about the town will burn off all the extra calories.


Hassan returned to the room and handed his cell phone to me.  At the other end was the local point of contact for our tour.  He reiterated what I had already read on the voucher, that they don't do pickups outside of the major hotels.  So, we would have to take a taxi to the meeting point and we had to be there by 7:30am.   Okay, thank you.

I asked Hassan to show me, on the map, where we had to go to catch the taxi.  He pointed out the location which was just actually a very short distance from the riad.  Of course, I just hoped we wouldn't get lost :-)

Aaron had text me earlier in the morning to say that he and Mildred would be hanging back and that they would meet us in Djemma el Fna at 3:00pm.  I think they preferred to just go at their own pace and not hold us back which was fine by me....as long as they were enjoying themselves.
"Off we go! " After breakfast but before Soon and I headed out, I dipped into Hassan's office and asked him to write down the address, both in English and in Arabic, the meeting location for the tour. I wanted to make sure we gave the taxi driver as accurate a set of directions as we could.

As we walked out of the riad, I suggested to Soon that before we head to the square, that we try and find the place to catch the taxi from.  Might as well figure that out now rather than waiting til tomorrow morning.

Cocky Soon decided to challenge me to find the place.  Like I can't read a map.  Sheesh.  I took on his dare, secretly hoping I actually wouldn't get us lost as I hate to lose.  Luckily, it was a simple route and we made it to the spot which was a parking lot in front of the post office.  Hassan said that taxis would be waiting there and sure enough, there were a few in sight.  But, I wondered if there would be any there at the bright and early hour that we would be leaving.  I guess we'll just have to find out.

We double backed towards the riad and headed down towards the square.  This time around, we actually made it there in one straight shot!  Helps when all the stores that you use as route markers are actually open!

The shops inside the souk were just coming to life.  It was nice to walk in peace.   Amazingly enough, the street was spotlessly clean despite the fact that next to street signs, the next most difficult thing to find in Morocco is a trash can.  I think cleaning vehicles of some sort work overnight to sweep and pick up all the garbage and haul it away. 

Off the main street, in the smaller side streets, I could see small restaurants and food carts serving breakfast to the locals.  Though today is a holiday back home, here it's another working day and like so many of us worker bees, people here also catch breakfast on the run.  If not for the fact that all the places we've stayed at have provided us with breakfast, I would be checking out one of the local places as well.  We have one more day at the riad where we will be served breakfast....maybe I can convince Soon to forgo it and give a local restaurant a try just so we have something different.   Fingers crossed.


Without any distractions (aka stuff to buy), it didn't take us long to make to Djemma el Fna.  As it was yesterday morning, the square is relatively quite at this time of day.

Though it had not rained, there were small puddles of water everywhere and trash cans scattered about.  The place was getting a scrub down and clean up. What a chore to have to keep this place clean!

Soon and I had decided that we would check out Koutoubia Mosque this morning.  Though we had our 48 bus ticket, it was really just too nice to not walk about at least not at the start of the day when we're full of energy.

We strolled across the expansive Djemma el Fna.  The place really is big and you notice it more when there are no people around.

There was plenty of traffic though on Avenue Mohammed V.  Fortunately, there's a pedestrian stop light so we just had to wait for it to turn green.
"KoutobiaThe mosque is fronted by a small plaza. It was pretty empty of people.  Of course, the identifying  element of the mosque is its minaret so plenty of pictures taken of that :-)

According to our map, there are gardens behind the mosque.  We decided to walk towards them.


On the one side of the mosque, there looked to be some tombstones.  Don't know if that's what they were or not.

Sure enough, behind the mosque was a garden but it was behind an iron fence.  There was no obvious entrance to the garden so we walked around in search of one.  We ended up walking back towards Avenue Mohammed V.   On the way, we did spot a gate with a pair of cars parked out front but the gate was closed.

We continued walking on Avenue Mohammed V, following alongside the iron fence.  It was a beautiful day for a walk and I'm glad we opted to skip going by bus.


"Who needs a cyber cafe when you have a Cyber Park?" t couldn't have been a 100 feet before we found an entrance to a park but it wasn't the gardens of the mosque.  Never mind, it looked nice so we entered.  A sign said it was Cyber Park.  A cyber park.  Being IT geeks, we were intrigued.  Have to check this out.

We followed the main path inside the park.  It was a very pretty little park, a nice bit of greenery in a city surrounded by desert.




 

 Scattered throughout the park were kiosks with touchscreens.  I couldn't see one that wasn't already in use so we never got a close up look at the screen.   I can imagine this place would be very popular with teenagers and twenty somethings.   Off to one side of the park was a building that looked like it was cyber cafe.  It wasn't full of people but there were some young ones inside.

The is probably the most progressive city park I've been in.  Says a lot about the forward thinking approach of the king and the local government.





The main path led up to a beautiful pool.  Thin pipes were shooting up small streams of water.  It was pretty and of course, it was the perfect spot for a photo op.  Soon was my subject.   Poor guy.  With the other two bailing out on us day after day, he's become the sole subject.  Thankfully, he doesn't mind.


A quick trip to the facilities for Soon and we were on our way out of the park.

Outside the park entrance, there was a rare sight - two signs, one with the name of the park and its technology sponsors and the other, the name of the street.  On the other side of Avenue Mohammed V stood Hotel de Ville which is City Hall.



"I'm too short! "With Soon standing a lot of inches taller than me, taking photos always requires me to get into position ahead of him.  Otherwise, this is the picture I get :-)

"And we walk.... "
We continued walking towards the place we kept referring to simply as Stop #1.

At the next intersection, we caught sight of a medina gate so we crossed the street to check it out.  According to the map, it was Bab Laarisa.  It was nowhere as Bab Agnaou so a couple of photos and we turned around and continued our way.

A quick check of the map and we realized we were about half way to Stop #18 which was were the upscale apartment/shopping complex was.  Not such a far walk after all and especially not so when you just happen to bump into a small souvenir shop.  It was the postcard display outside that caught my eye.  The twirled the carousel display around and actually found three that I liked for framing and hanging up in my house.  At 5 dirhams each, they were definitely in the affordable price range.  I took the three postcards and followed Soon inside the shop.  The guy had a very nice selection of small tajines.  Who knew that Soon would be interested in small tajines but he was.  I guess it shouldn't have surprised me.   He does enjoy collecting art work in the form of vinyl toys so he does appreciate design.  What does catch me off guard is that he often spots a nice looking item before I do!  I have to learn to use him as a spotter :-)

As nice as the shopkeeper was, we had to pass on the tajines.  I did not want to carry anything breakable in my pack for the rest of the day.  I paid for the three postcards and we went on our way.


A short way down the road and we had arrived at Stop #18.  This time, we decided to check out the shops which were all located on the ground floor of the apartment buildings.   I didn't recognize any of the names of the stores but a quick glance inside each store as I walked by said to me they were high end stores. You know, stores that have beautiful interiors, only display a few handfuls of items and might have a guard standing at the front door.  Where I live, those are usually the places I walk on by and so it was same here but not because they were expensive but because I can get the same items at home so no point buying them here.

A few blocks later and we had arrived back at the restaurant we had lunch at yesterday.  Neither of us was hungry so we didn't sit down for a meal. From here, we knew we only had about a 10 minute walk before ending up at Stop #1.

"Hop on " Back at Stop #1, we had a few minutes to kill before the Tour Oasis bus would arrive.  Our plan was to go to Majorelle Garden.  At first I had suggested we continue walking and according to the map, it would have been a relatively short walk.  But Soon was a bit skeptical as we had had our share of maps where the scale was not really accurate and so what we thought would have been a short distance turned out be far longer.  So, we opted for the bus ride to the garden and a walk back.

I put my wait time to good use by going back into the bakery shop.  This time, with Soon helping to pick out selections, we bought a small box of Arab style baked goods.  These I could pack in my backpack and we could have them as a snack later on.

We patiently waited for the bus to arrive.  There was a newsstand nearby that offered a bit of a distraction. Otherwise, it was people watching all the French tourists who are always fashionably dressed, even when on vacation.  I don't think they know the phrase, "sweat pants".

The bus came and we queued up to board. This time, we chose to stay on the first deck.  No point going to the upper deck just for one stop.

The bus pulled away from the stand and before we knew it, we were at Stop #2, Majorelle Garden.   Walking back is easily doable so that will be Plan A.

"A beautiful garden oasis " We were instantly back in the land of No Signs.  We got off the bus and there was not a single sign pointing us in the direction of Majorelle Garden.   Sigh.  But, the one good thing about being in a crowd is that you can always follow the group.  Of course, you're counting on the fact that they know where they are going.

We crossed the road and headed down a side street.   A short block walk and there was the ticket booth.  The sign said 40 dirhams for the garden and 20 dirhams for the museum.  We decided that since we had come all this way, that we would just go ahead and get a ticket that covered both.  I plopped down the money and got two tickets and change back.  When I counted the change, I realized that we only the ticket for the garden.  I guess I could've gone back and bought the tickets for the museum but ah....I couldn't be bothered.

Jacques Majorelle was a French born artist who settled in Marrakesh in 1919 to continue his career as a painter.  Here he acquire the twelve acres of land which would become the Majorelle Garden.  In 1947 he opened his garden the public. Following a car accident, Majorelle returned to France, where he died in 1962. in 1980, the French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the property and restored it. After Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008 his ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden; this place obviously meant a lot to him.

Although Majorelle's artworks have been largely forgotten, the garden he created is his creative masterpiece.  In fact, the special shade of bold cobalt blue which he used extensively in the garden and its buildings is named after him, bleu Majorelle....Majorelle Blue.  I love the intensity of the shade of blue.  In fact, I have a large standing cobalt blue glass vase, that I bought decades ago in Virginia, that is very similar in color.








"A secret garden " We passed through the  wooden door entrance into a small courtyard with a small pool and fountain.  The courtyard was covered with shade from the tall trees surrounding it.  What a tranquil  retreat.






Beyond the courtyard was a path that led around the garden.  Greeting us at the starting point was well tended collection of cacti.  You could see a lot of tender loving care goes into this garden.  The sand was perfectly flat.....no fallen leave or anything else to interrupt the perfection of the space.









Staying on the path, we continued to make our way around the garden.  Through the cacti, I caught a glimpse of the house.....the famous cobalt blue house with bright yellow accents.  A large curtain shielded the terrace from view.  Only in a place like Morocco could you have this colorful a place and it be admired by millions.











The path led to a covered arbor which ran alongside a shallow pool that had a raised fountain in the center.  It was all so pretty.


The arbor covered path led to two buildings, standing across a small patio from each other.

One housed a small gallery dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent as well the museum which holds the collection of Islamic and North African art that Saint Laurent and his partner assembled over the years.  Across the patio was the other building, a small gift shop.  We quickly checked out the gallery and then headed into the gift shop.

"It really is small world " I was looking around when all of a sudden, I heard a woman call out my name.  I turned around and of all people, it was the Japanese woman that we had spent the night with in the desert camp!  Her husband was standing nearby and had caught up with Soon.  We all marveled at just how small the world can be.  I told the woman that I had taken a picture of her and her husband (I presume he's her husband) on the camels and that if she gave me her email address, I would send it to her when I got him.  As she wrote down her email address, that's when I finally got her name - Yoshie.  A smart woman to boot, graduate of MIT.  They were such a nice couple.  We wished each other safe travels and said our goodbyes.

There was still more of the garden to see so we continued on our walk along the path.  For once, no signs were needed to guide us :-)


On the side of the art gallery was another small pond containing raised flower beds and pretty windows. That brilliant cobalt blue provided such a wonderful backdrop for the greenery and the yellow and white windows.






"House of Blue "Moving on, we came across yet another pool.  There's a lot of water in this oasis of a garden.   And we got another glimpse of the house.















The path we were on intersected with another one.  To our right, the path led to a grove of bamboo plants....









.....and to the left, it led to the house.  I read somewhere that the house is privately owned and that it's not opened to the public so all we can do is admire it from the outside.  I don't know when the house was built but it's definitely very modern in architectural style.....doesn't look remotely like any Moroccan building I have seen so far.  

The house is the highlight of the garden so there were lots of people milling around taking photos. I wanted at least one shot that was people free so I waited with camera up at the ready and snapped as quickly before the next person would enter into the frame.  I got exactly one shot!

Lucky for me, Soon enjoys taking photos too so he's never rushing me to go to the next spot.  We both took our time to capture photos of this charming, colorful house. I think the house painters went wild with their buckets of blue and yellow paint.  Every now and again, there we splashes of a structure that had been painted foam green.


Clay flower pots, painted in Majorelle Blue, bright yellow and red, were placed in various spots throughout the garden.  Who needs flowers when you have all these pops of color?


Leaving the house behind, we headed towards a small gazebo from which there were more views of the house.   It also offered the chance to sit and rest a few minutes and to preview the photos on the camera :-)


Off to one side of the gazebo was a small brick path....a rather assuming looking path. Of course, we had to check it out.  At the end of the path was a simple memorial to Yves St. Laurent.  I'm certain the small pillar holds some sort of significance.....will have to research that later.










Our path to the exit led through a grove of bamboo plants.  They seem oddly out of place here.  After two weeks of arid desert landscape, it was really nice being able to spend a few minutes in a lush green garden.  Thanks to Jacques Majorelle for building it and to Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé for restoring this beautiful little gem of a place.
"Hop on again"Back out the front entrance, we retraced our steps back to the main road and from there back to Stop #1.  The walk back wasn't as long as I thought it would be.  Even so, I realized that with the exception of about a 2 minute rest at the gazebo, Soon and I had been walking non-stop for more than 5 hours.   We wisely decided to take the bus back to Djemma el Fna and so we waited for the bus to arrive.

As expected, it eventually came.  We boarded and lo and behold, who did we see seated on the lower deck?  It was Aaron and Mildred.   It was too nice a day to sit inside so Soon ventured to the upper deck to see if there were seats available.  He waved me on up.

It was just a short ride back to Djemma el Fna through Hivernage and by now, we had already seen most of the sights.  This time, though Soon insisted that I take a picture of the Sofitel Hotel because he thought it was nice looking building and so I did.  There's no explaining him :-)


The bus deposited back at Djemma el Fna and we met back up with Aaron and Mildred curbside.  The two of them had done the same bus circuit again today and it was obvious from the plastic grocery bag that Aaron was carrying, that they also found a Marjane supermarket to buy some bottled water from.   The original plan was for the four of us to go up to the restaurant terrace and enjoy the views of the square from above.  Aaron said he wanted to go back to the riad first to drop off the bags and that he and Mildred would meet up with us later.  As they walked away,  I knew they weren't coming back because it was probably a long day for them and with Mildred's injured ankle, she needs to rest up.  So, Soon and I bid them goodbye and made our way through the square.

There's food calling us!!