Sunday, May 26, 2013

The El Glaoui Palace (Palais El Glaoui) in Fez [Guest Post!]

On a nondescript street in a quiet district on the outskirts of the Fez medina, I noticed handmade a sign above an unassuming doorway informing passersby that this was the entrance to “Palais El Glaoui.”

Sign above the door.

I was curious and interested, but surprised, because to the best of my knowledge El Glaoui had been in Southern Morocco.

You may recall that last summer Lauren and I passed through Telouet and visited the Glaoui Kasbah on the way from Aït Benhaddou to Marrakesh. I had heard of the Glaoua, but did not then know much about them, other than that they were the main topic of a book called Lords of the Atlas by Gavin Maxwell and that the leader of the Glaoua (called El Glaoui) had been some kind of powerful local warlord who had collaborated with the French during the Protectorate. Intrigued by the scale and decaying splendor of the Glaoui Kasbah, and with it being in as remote a location as Telouet of all places, I tracked down a copy of Maxwell’s book (by tracked down I mean I looked for it in the Peace Corps library a few times until someone returned a copy). Beginning in the late nineteenth century El Glaoui (first Madani, then his brother Thami, following Madani’s death in 1918) rose, through a combination of skills, circumstances, and ruthlessness, from being a relatively minor local chieftain to the ruler of an enormous neofeudal estate encompassing a vast swath of southern Morocco, effectively a state within a state, only to lose everything following Moroccan independence in the mid-twentieth century. Lords of the Atlas isn’t a great book, but there is not a whole lot of other English material on them. 

These two adorable puppies wanted to be my friend.

So it turns out that Thami, who as Pasha of Marrakesh was based out of that city, also owned this palace in Fez. 

A central courtyard.
Empty fountain in the central courtyard.
These doors (in the background of the photo 
above) look like they had once been brightly 
painted, but time and exposure to the elements 
have bleached them out pretty well.

Many of Morocco’s museums consist either of collections housed in former palaces, such as the Kasbah Museum in Tangier (primarily exhibiting archeological finds), the Jewelry Museum in Rabat, the Dar Jamaï Museum in Meknes (showcasing Moroccan artisanry), and the Museum of Marrakesh in Marrakesh (contemporary Moroccan art), among others; or simply museums where an old palace is the museum, such as the Bahia Palace and El Badi Palace, both in Marrakesh. And most of the publicly accessible areas in these palaces (excluding the El Badi, which is really only the ruins of that palace) are in fairly reasonable states of repair, often after some more or less extensive restoration work. I was only able to visit a few rooms of it, but the El Glaoui Palace in Fez, which was not listed in any of my four guidebooks, is interesting inasmuch as it gives an idea of what some of these restored palaces may have looked like prior to restoration, or if had they been left to crumble. 

The woman showing me around said this was the
courtyard of the harem. I have no specific reason to
disbelieve her but am reflexively suspicious when people
tell me things that strike me as potentially designed
to play into to Orientalist fantasies.
A collapsed walkway in what I was told was the harem.

The El Glaoui Palace also is the studio of Abdelkhalek Boukhars (aka Abdou), a painter and the guardian for the El Glaoui Palace. Abdou’s paintings, most of which are nonrepresentational and called to my mind Pollock, in the setting of the empty old palace I found pretty neat. 

Some of Abdelkhalek Boukhars's paintings.
While the El Glaoui Palace is not the first place I would suggest visiting while in Fez, if you will be there for a few days it is worth checking out.

One of several salon's off of the central courtyard,
I did not think to ask if it is still in use.
Some beautiful zellige mosaic.
More beautiful zellige.
Painted wood ceiling.
This dog has decided that I have visited the palace long enough,
and it is time for me to leave.
This is what the entrance looks like if you are looking for it. 
Also I added it to Google Maps here

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lights, Camera, Blog Post!

We've had a few power outages recently, so I think I have light on the mind! I've been accumulating a collection of favorite lamps that I've seen on my travels in Morocco and I think it's the right time to share them. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some of our newest projects

I mentioned a little while ago that we've been working on some exciting projects! One of those projects is a website that I built at the request of Peace Corps Morocco staff, to help promote Peace Corps and volunteers' projects with current and potential partners. Peace Corps Washington has fairly strict guidelines in terms of content and layout, so I didn't have a lot of creative flexibility, but I'm still pretty happy with the result. I actually finished the website at the end of last year, but the process of getting all of the approvals from Washington took a long time and it finally went live last week. Here's a  screenshot of the homepage, and you can check it out by clicking here!

There's more: This past weekend, Justin and I along with two local counterparts and close friends launched a project that has been in the works for the last 9 months or so. Unemployment is a major issue in Morocco, particularly for youth; according to a report that came out last year, 49% of Moroccan youth are neither employed nor in school. Although Justin and I are not in a position to address the lack of available jobs in Morocco, one thing that we realized that we could do was to help provide youth with the tools and skills to better equip them to find a job. So we worked with our friends to develop a workshop series on employability skills. We held the first two workshops this past weekend with sessions on creating/improving their CVs and the Moroccan versions of cover letters. We'll continue over the next 3 weekends with sessions on interviewing skills, goal setting and career planning, entrepreneurialism, conducting a job search, social media, and financial management. The first two sessions went really well, with participants asking lots of questions and expressing that they have already begun to gain new information. We're excited to see how the remainder of the program will go, and I'll post an update when it's over! Check out some photos from the workshops, and if you're interested, you can learn more on the Facebook page that we created for the program, which also includes some of the course materials.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

It Was a Very Moroccan Place [Guest Post!]

Sidi Harazem sits about 10 miles east of Fez. Like Moulay Yacoub, Sidi Harazem has mineral springs believed to possess healing properties (unlike Moulay Yacoub, Sidi Harazem is also a popular brand of bottled mineral water sold in Morocco). Sidi Harazem is a popular recreation destination among Moroccans. Very popular. Actually, when we visited it with my sister and brother-in-law on a Sunday morning during a school holiday the place was packed to the gills, and not including ourselves we saw a grand total of one person who, based solely on appearance, was likely not Moroccan.

Sidi Harazem’s overwhelmingly Moroccan presence contrasted sharply with many of the places to which we had gone the week before, most of which were blissfully uncrowded and where the majority of the visitors generally appeared to be foreign tourists. This of course was not the case everywhere. Active Islamic religious sites are generally not open to non-Muslims in Morocco* and since most foreign tourists are not Muslim the proportion of local-to-foreign visitors was generally higher in places such as Moulay Ismail’s mausoleum (which actually constitutes a rare exception to the general prohibition, though only Muslims may enter a central chamber) and Moulay Idriss. But no place that we had visited remotely approached the concentration of Moroccans at Sidi Harazem.

*I do not know whether this is the reason in Morocco, but the Ninth Surah of the Qur’an (called At-Tawbah) contains verses (17-18) which some people interpret as forbidding the presence of non-Muslims in mosques.

We had spent the previous week visiting places of exquisite beauty (to our eyes) and tremendous cultural and historical significance (in our perceptions), yet the locals were flocking to Sidi Harazem. To be fair, Sidi Harazem is certainly not without allurements; it is situated in some lovely hilly country and is very clean. But it just seemed, to us, rather bland and somewhat artificial.

Sidi Harazem has two mains areas. The first consists of a flat and somewhat featureless stone-like space, with grassy sections and cafes off to the side. There was a massive concrete structure (possibly a sculpture, though of what I cannot imagine) at the entrance and a fountain in the center. The fountain is less like the Fez medina’s beautiful Nejjarine fountain and more like a rectangular pillar with spigots sticking out. And of course there are pony, horse, and camel rides; people selling balloons; snails, for eating; and harsha.

Sculpture(?) near the entrance to Sidi Harazem.
Where it says "fountain" above, you could be forgiven for
picturing something that looks like this
(the Nejjarine Fountain in Fez) ...
... but the fountain in Sidi Harazem is more like this.
Seen here with people filling vessels with the water.
Not sure what he used to dye the horse's hair, but I prefer not to know.
This could be the only living camel within a hundred kilometers.

To reach Sidi Harazem’s other main area you walk downhill, first past a big fancy hotel (not obviously occupied when we were in Sidi Harazem except for the cows grazing on its grounds) with a high fence, presumably to keep out the common folk, then past some carnival rides, including a disturbingly fast-moving (to us) Ferris wheel. The second area has more cafes, a second fountain, a larger grassy open space, and a group of shops catering to Moroccans, many selling cheap souvenirs. Football (soccer) matches and families picnicking or relaxing shared the grassy parts. Further down and off to the side there are two swimming pools, sparsely occupied while we were in Sidi Harazem.

Cow grazing on the grounds of a large, fancy, 
and not otherwise obviously occupied hotel.
I'm pretty sure this Ferris wheel was breaking the speed limit.
In some ways Sidi Harazem reminded me of Ifrane, a town in the Middle Atlas which the French developed to resemble a faux-Alpine village (it also houses Al Akhawayn University). Lauren and I will often ask young people in Tiflet what their favorite place in Morocco is, and Ifrane is the most frequent response. We visited Ifrane briefly on January 1, 2012, on a daytrip bus excursion with some of the youth of Tiflet. I did not much care for Ifrane, I found it expensive and artificial, even though it is pretty, well maintained, and clean. But for many young Moroccans with whom we speak, their idea of a great day is to take a bus to Ifrane and stroll around. Similarly, for many Moroccan families, a fun day out is apparently to pack the family, a pressure cooker, a Butagaz tank, and lots of empty water bottles in the car and then go to Sidi Harazem for a picnic (and to fill the water bottles with the special water).

Forgot to bring your empty water bottles to fill at the spring?
They've got you covered.

I do not at all mean to say or imply that they’re wrong or to mock, belittle, or denigrate  this idea of a good time as inferior to mine, it’s just a different notion of what constitutes fun. I don’t think it’s not a matter of accessibility, because there’s a lovely (and free to enter) botanical garden in the middle of Fez (Jardins de Boujeloud aka Jnane Sbil). We poked our heads in at the Jardins de Boujeloud when we walked by and while there were certainly people there, it was nowhere near as crowded as Sidi Harazem, which requires more effort to reach. And the entrance fee to most public monuments and museums in Morocco is only 10 dirhams (about 1.20 USD), which I cannot imagine covers their operating costs and is almost certainly less than the cost of the gasoline required to get to Sidi Harazem (gas is very expensive in Morocco). So this really seems to be a matter of preference.

Big grassy area used for football and picnics. 
The makeshift structures on the left provide shade for picnickers. 
It's not a picnic without a pressure cooker and 
Butagaz (a tank of cooking gas, the blue thing).
Please forgive the metal bars in the frame, 
I took the picture zoomed-in through a fence 
from a distance, to avoid seeming extra creepy

Then again maybe I shouldn't find it odd that Moroccans would not flock to their monuments. I lived in New York most of my life and only visited the Empire State Building for the first time (and the Statue of Liberty for the second) in the summer of 2011 in anticipation of leaving for Morocco, and it’s not like we spent every weekend at the Met. My friend Badr (who, by the way, loves Sidi Harazarm) and I have talked about the idea of Morocco that the Moroccan National Tourist Office promotes – camels and deserts and belly dancing, even though this idea bears little resemblance to the vast majority of Morocco. So then foreigners (myself included) come to Morocco and go to museums housed in old palaces, take tours of the medinas, and head down to the desert pursuing a certain idea of Morocco and wanting to experience authenticity, and these certainly are facets of Morocco. But in a way the experience of visiting Sidi Harazem gives a more accurate idea of contemporary Morocco (and Moroccans) than many of the other places we have been, and I was especially glad that we were able to bring my sister and brother-in-law there to share it with them. Even though none of us were thrilled by Sidi Harazem, it was a very Moroccan place.

Mmm...still warm.
Feeling healthier already. 
Though we were later informed that one must
drink several liters of the water 
(while still warm of course)
to enjoy the supposed health benefits.

Without knowing anything about this guy, I'm guessing that, 
in decreasing order of likelihood, this t-shirt is (a) intended as a joke,
(b) a political statement (not endorsing terrorism), (c) something the 
wearer thought looked cool without noticing, understanding, or caring 
about what it said, or (d) meant to be taken at face value (very unlikely).