Posted on October 30, 2018
An inspiring place to write is always top of my list when choosing accommodations. When traveling with children to Florida beaches, I’d book stays with pretty ocean or pool side patios where I could work before they woke up. Writing for me is a sacred space, and to do so in an Edenic location makes my heart sing.
But like Amanda Wingfield, despite all my “plans and preparations,” things sometimes went awry. My 2013 trip to Costa Rica to write like Hemingway in a Caribbean jungle was rattled off course by an earthquake and ER visit. On the 2016 Girl’s Trip to Tuscany rather than writing in a vineyard villa the flu or pneumonia forced me to bed. I then finished the week like the walking dead. Spring Break 2017 in the Dominican Republic I was to write on a terrace by the sea. Instead, a man hiding in the jungle in a mask marred my sense of safety for the two months I had left to teach in the country. God protected me and I’m forever grateful, but I’d discover in Morocco over a year later that like Michael Myers in the Halloween film, fear had stowed away in my luggage to stalk me.
I felt him, faintly, in the distance when I met Moni in Madrid on my way to Marrakesh but thought I was just rundown from a rough interim teaching gig or exhaustion from the last two years. Seeing her would be good medicine as would be seeing Kate and Jasna in Morocco where, before, I’d felt so free. But while making my way one afternoon back to a hotel I was reviewing, I thought I was lost. Though I’d shopped and riad-hopped for two years in the medina, turning onto a deserted street–like the stretch of beach where the man grabbed me–I became terrified. I hurried on–as it turned out, on the right route–and turned down another deserted alley where I knew the hotel entrance would be. When a man on a motorbike turned down the same street, I began stabbing my key, hands shaking, to hit the hole. I stumbled over the threshold and pulled the bolt behind me. In my room, I shook and cried. Was this what people call post traumatic stress?
The next trigger was when I went to Caroline’s. Kate said she’d see me settled but couldn’t stay. We took a taxi to a part of the medina we weren’t familiar with, then were told by the driver we’d have to walk the rest of the way. A young man heard us talking about the hotel where we would get the key and pointed down a narrow street. Though the hotel was there and the riad just around the corner, by the time we unlocked the door I was racked with anxiety.
Two of Caroline’s friends from London stopped by to give us the tour. They said they were staying next door until the next day and while Marylynn, a flight attendant, chatted with Kate in the salon, Martina, a hair stylist, took me up three more floors. She unlocked each gorgeous bedroom and the stairway to the roof.
“Caroline said to choose the room you like best.”
“They’re all so pretty,” I managed to say. I tried not to start crying. And failed.
“I apologize. Something bad happened to me in the Dominican Republic. I love Morocco. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Caroline was so sweet to offer me her home. I wish you two were staying here. ” I was thinking, I AM VERY, VERY AFRAID. I DON’T WANT TO BE ALONE. Somehow, she knew.
“Listen. We will be right next door. You can wave to us from the roof.” She kindly smiled and nodded, shaking her curls and, now animated, pointing to the neighboring restaurant.
“We are going to dinner there and you will join us. We leave tomorrow so I have to do a bit more shopping. My daughter’s getting married and I need to buy some things to take home. Relax and we’ll be back in a couple of hours. We’ll have some Prosecco on your rooftop and head over. Tell me what you’d like and I’ll make you a reservation. We’re having lamb. Do you know tapping? I’ll show you how to be free from those bad vibes.”
And with that the three women were gone. Caroline checked in by phone to be sure all was well, and I unpacked and shortly Martina and Marylynn returned. We talked children, travel, tapped, and toasted the sunset. Then laughed, a lot, over dinner. They were fun and so very sweet.
Posted on June 21, 2018
From the moment I walked into Riad Melhoun, I was treated as an honored guest and friend. Maybe I loved the experience of this stay because the blend of Arabic- Andalusian architecture and music felt so familiar after living in Morocco and visiting southern Spain often. Like Santiago who traveled from Andalusia to Tangier in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I’d journeyed to this mysterious country where dreams and destiny converged. As I was warmed by the traditional welcome, mint tea, I gazed into the shimmering pool which reflected a silver service, an exotic hookah, and a woman forever changed by two years in this place.
Maybe I loved Riad Melhoun because it, too, is a reflection of art and history– wood carvings, stucco, and design inspired by the Bahia Palace nearby and the Medersa Ben Youssef.
Maybe it was being shown to the superior Amessan suite, making any woman feel like a princess with the canopied bed and decorative doors opening exclusively to the courtyard pool. On the second floor were seven other sumptuous rooms.
Maybe it was the attention to details–matching tile sinks, arched doorways and alcoves, stain glass windows, bedding, lanterns, soft robe and slippers, and a spacious shower.
Maybe I felt at home because I wrote for hours under the arbor on the rooftop. Being outdoors is paradise to me despite insects that love lush gardens, too. If you enjoy camping out as I do everywhere I go, repellent is a suggestion.
Truly taking pride in the details, the staff plans excursions with guests. Though I stayed on the property, Riad Melhoun delivered my Big 3–beauty, adventure, and new friends.
I met guests waiting for the sunset on the rooftop, like this gentleman from China who showed me how drones work.
As the night grew dark and lanterns were lit, I went down to dinner and found my table set at the end of the pool. Thrilled, I took my seat. On the pristine cloth, to my delight, were red rose petals. Again I thanked God for blessings as I’d done that afternoon in the memoir I am writing about moving to Morocco. It’s called Roses in the Desert. As a solo traveler I am accustomed to eating alone. Here I felt special and with attentive staff never felt alone.
The next morning I found my place on the rooftop. Local honey is loved here by Moroccans, tourists, and bees.
Riad Melhoun has a spacious spa where massages and hammams can be booked. I had missed hammams, Morocco’s signature treat, so enjoyed one before leaving. This ritual originated in public bathhouses separated by gender for those with no indoor plumbing to bathe weekly. Women socialized here. Recently on tour with a local guide in Tétouan, I learned the three most important mainstays of the medina are the mosques, hammams, and bakeries.
I love private hammams performed by a lady who instructs clients to disrobe and lie on the hot stone bench in a marble room with dry heat like a sauna. She poured water over me from a silver bucket and smeared me on both sides with savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil). She left me ten minutes to relax allowing the heat and oil to soften my skin. When she returned, she scrubbed away the top layer of dead flesh (which peels off in rolls) with a kess (a mit akin to sandpaper). Next she covered me in argan oil by Sens of Marrakech (a local, organic, fragrant line of products), and left me again to “bake.” She returned, washed my hair and rinsed my body. Finally she massaged lotion into my then-baby-soft skin. She wrapped me in a robe and sat me down in a cooler room for mint tea.
The only problem was, I felt so relaxed after the experience I could barely walk downstairs. Thankfully, I was packed up so all I had to do was tumble into a tuk tuk to be whisked away to another adventure. so thankful Riad Melhoun was a dream come true.
Thank you to Manager Mr. Mohamed and his wonderful staff for their hospitality. As always, the opinions here are my own.
Posted on June 11, 2018
Stepping from a tunnel of the Medina into a passageway to a massive door… crossing the threshold into a lush courtyard garden flanked with singing birds… climbing the spiral staircase to three levels of heaven. Exploring Riad Dar Kleta is a magical adventure. Being inspired by the creativity of its owners, Julien and Francoise Gaumont, who treat guests like family, is unforgettable.
My friend, Kate, and I were greeted with mint tea when we arrived, asked to name whatever Moroccan dishes we wished to have for dinner, and told to relax. “You are home,” said Julien.
So many choices… to sprawl on the lush, shaded couches of burnt orange and earth tones overlooking the courtyard, to nap on wine-colored sofas by a cacti garden, to wind up the second spiral staircase to loungers for watching the sky change colors at sunset.
Posted on June 6, 2016
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Growing up southern, I’d hear my Mama Sargeant and Grandaddy say when they greeted the grandkids : “Give me some sugar.” A couple of weeks ago, I exchanged eighty-eight kisses Moroccan- style, one on each cheek, with forty-four sweet girls as they excitedly entered the Project SOAR gates as they do every Sunday during the school year. My students and other volunteers were all smiles and laughs, too.
Last week the last session ended the season for summer break, but sadly, for me, it was another marker of the end of my season in Morocco. Lord willing, or as Moroccans say, Inshallah, I will be teaching students in the Caribbean when Project SOAR resumes in the fall. I will miss the girls, my students who love working with them, and the wonderful people who started and sustain Project SOAR. I am forever grateful for the hospitality shown to me by Maryam and Chris and the opportunities to teach their son, Tristan, and to serve Douar Ladaam girls. I believe in Project SOAR’s mission to “empower underserved Moroccan girls through art, sports, and health education…(and to) help keep girls in school, breaking the cycle of girl marriages and early motherhood, and preparing girls to have productive and fulfilled futures.”
From afar I will continue to invite others to get involved in person or through financial support. Though it is time to be nearer my family and leave Morocco, a country I have come to love the last two years, I will carry this place, these people forever with me in my heart.
Posted on May 28, 2016
Last Monday the temperature in Marrakech reached 108 Fahrenheit/42 Celsius making it the hottest day so far this year. Here pools can be enjoyed year round, but in May when temps typically range in the 80s and low 90s, the burning question expats and tourists are asking is where to find a cool pool. In my Southern -Girl -Gone- Global Guide to Marrakesh I will feature the best pools and, of course, hospitality in town. A Mermaid in Marrakesh, I love doing this kind of research.
At the end of March I returned to Morocco from spring break spent in Italy, packed away the down jacket I’d been wearing, and grabbed my bathing suit. I was treated to a pool and spa day at Four Seasons Marrakech. Truly, the name of the world- revered brand couldn’t be truer than in the Red City. Here spring, summer, fall, and even most of winter, there’s nothing but blue skies, green gardens, and birdsongs. I relaxed by the Quiet Pool…a peaceful place for adults.
Four Seasons Marrakech offers a safe haven and the best of all worlds… a place to gather with friends and family…a romantic retreat…a space of one’s own. The 5-star luxury resort is designed with the serene, palatial gardens of the Palmeraie yet is only minutes from the magical medina, Marrakech landmarks, and New City of Gueliz. Here tourists– especially solo travellers– concerned about navigating a new city will feel secure and experience exceptional service for which the brand is known. Expats living in Marrakech seeking a way to spend a birthday or simply self-care day can choose from many services the spa offers.
A single mom for twenty years, I decided to fly to Morocco when my children left the nest. Such a move two years ago could only happen after learning self-care in increments. It began, when single again, I went to movies alone, then restaurants, then a B and B annually in the Tennessee mountains. It progressed as I went to Ireland and Italy with people I’d never met, then culminated when I went to Costa Rica alone and later landed here. Four Seasons is not only for weddings, honeymoons, or anniversaries. It offers a way to celebrate the sacred relationship we have with ourselves. Currently the pool day package for guests not staying in the hotel includes lunch–a starter, entree, and dessert ordered à la carte–and pool use for 800 Dirhams/$80 USD. For further information contact Concierge.MRK@fourseasons.com.
Years ago I began taking the advice found in Veronica Shoffstall’s poem, “Comes the Dawn” (printed below). I wanted–and would still like–to be be married again, but until that person comes along I don’t wait for a honeymoon or husband to enjoy beautiful escapes, to live the life I’ve been given. Shoffstall writes, “Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” In Nashville I once had a garden of fifty roses. Here, I enjoy them, too.
Thank you to Four Seasons Marrakech for a wonderful pool and spa day. As always, the opinions here are my own.
Posted on February 7, 2016
Making a grand entrance must have originated in Marrakech. Crossing that first threshold from the manic Medina into a roofless riad respite– blue skies or stars above—is a moment no one ever forgets. I am still thrilled every time I follow surreptitious streets snaking through the medieval city… duck archways and dodge motorbikes, donkey carts, and darting cats… then knock on a heavy wooden door that slowly swings open into a secret, peaceful place.
But for me, entering the world of Riad Emberiza Sahari was epic.
One of those surreal experiences when so much of what my heart loves to see, hear, taste, and touch materialized like magic. Here classic French Elegance, Hollywood’s Golden Age Glamour, and Desert Dreams meet…a rhapsody in blue.
Welcomed warmly by owner Alexandra Richards, I could hear past the streaming foyer fountain Mancini crooning “Moon River” to a chirping courtyard chorus. Named for the Emberiza family of birds indigenous to South Morocco and considered sacred in Marrakesh, the boutique hotel that took two years to renovate was guarded by these feathered friends. They had comforted Alexandra who moved from Melbourne and found the process, like other expats building a new home in a foreign country, fraught with frustrations. A Barrister of Queen’s Counsel, the highest appointment and level of professional recognition in Australia, the Human and Civil Rights attorney is, no surprise, a strong, smart Leading Lady of her new life. But she is also a woman of beauty, style, wit and grace and reminds me of Big Screen legends like Lauren Bacall and Faye Dunaway.
When I asked what moving to Morocco taught her, she replied:
“One thing I have learned here is to ‘never say never and never say always.’ I believe Talleyrand said this of politics and war. I would say it of everything here.”
To a musical mix of Moroccan, French, and Frank (Sinatra), I wandered the riad as slowly as the turtles who live there, delighting in the details—gorgeous artwork, antiques, bedding, and baths. As I climbed the stairs to tiered terraces, then the rooftop, I could imagine Truman Capote working or Holly Golightly playing here. Riad Emberiza Sahari is a venue for artists’ retreats, weddings and social gatherings, solo or romantic escapes, and the ultimate girls’ getaway. Offerings include excursions, cooking classes, massages, yoga, or meditation.
Posted on September 19, 2015
The earth laughs in flowers.–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Flowers are restful to look at. They have neither emotions nor conflicts.–Sigmund Freud
I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.–Charles A. Miles
Had Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé not fallen in love with Jardin Majorelle on a visit to Marrkech in 1966, one of the most famous gardens in the world would have suffered the fate Joni Mitchell lamented in “Big Yellow Taxi”: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Slated to be a hotel complex, the property was saved by the Parisian clothing designer (whose ashes are scattered in the rose garden) and his partner.
The pair pledged to complete the vision of Jacques Majorelle, a fellow artist who created the space. Mission accomplished, the urban renewal breathes life into city residents and tourists. I recently wrote of my love for gardens. I’m so grateful for this one, located just down the street in my neighborhood in Gueliz, where I find shade, shelter, green space, in the midst of a frenetic city.
The painting studio of Majorelle was convereted into a Berber museum, educating expats on the natives of Morocco, and an irrigation system installed. A legacy of art and beauty, Jardin Marjorelle is the result of one who planted, two who watered, and God who grew a creation all now enjoy.
All gardening is landscape painting.–William Kent
In 1923 French painter, Jacques Majorelle, bought land in Marrakech. He had studied architecture and was an avid amateur botanist. He was also influenced by his father, Louis Majorelle, a famous furniture designer, and the Art Nouveau movement which took inspiration from nature.
A garden must combine the poetic and the mysterious with a feeling of serenity and joy.–Luis Barragan
The composition of his masterpiece includes indigenous plants and those he gathered from his travels across five continents—palms, agaves, cacti, weeping willows, jasmine, agaves, cypress, and my favorite, cascading bougainvilleas. A paradox of serene stimulation, bursting blooms against the buildings’ primary colors—yellow and ultramarine, now known as “Majorelle blue” –energizes while the green of fauna, ripples across ponds, and whispers of fountains calms the soul.
Though Majorelle’s art exhibitions were appreciated world wide, Jardin Majorelle is considered his greatest achievement. Sadly, however, his life did not end with the serenity he gave others. An accident that took his leg and broken relationships led to financial burdens which forced him to sell much of his land and open the garden to the public for entrance fees. He died before seeing the culmination of his vision, never knowing future owners would finish what he started. Still Majorelle said of his passion project: “This garden is a momentous task, to which I give myself entirely. It will take my last years from me and I will fall, exhausted, under its branches, after having given it all my love.”
Since moving to Morocco I’ve wanted bougainvillea to spill over my balcony. Though I see it everywhere climbing buildings several stories high and have asked locals where I can buy blooming plants at least 3-feet tall, they’ve all said it is best to plant small cuttings without flowers. Finally, I felt heard. I showed a Moroccan friend exactly what I want in pots perched on a riad rooftop. I showed him the size and color, repeating I don’t want to wait… I want beautiful, large plants now, not knowing how long I’ll be here to enjoy them. He nodded, agreed, and produced three single vines. Each spindly…bud less… only inches tall. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree version of what I’d envisioned. Disappointed, I thought, I’ll probably be on another continent by the time these bloom.
But then I decided to do it the Moroccan way. No hurry. Plant. Have patience. Wait and see. Teaching should have taught me this. Whether or not I see the fruits of my labor, I’ll tend. I’ll love. I’ll bloom where I’m planted, believing life–in whatever season–is beauty.
Posted on September 9, 2015
Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Let the beauty of what you love be what you do. ― Rumi
It is very, very difficult to feel sad for long in Morocco, because you can never be alone in Morocco. You are surrounded by beauty…It really is a place, I think, that nourishes the soul.–John Pittaway
A picture from Persian poetry, gorgeous girls in red swung open a heavy, studded door. They beckoned me over a threshold for refuge from the dust, glare, and chaos of the Kasbah. Immediately taking my overnight bag, their attention turned to relieving me of the burden my face and body still carried.
“Welcome. Please sit. Would you like some tea?”
Like Dorothy, swept into a black-and-white Kansas cyclone, then dropped into Technicolor Oz, I had been disoriented by a painful situation but, upon landing in a dream, became distracted from it by beauty. The terra cotta maze of the medina had morphed into a sanctuary of ruby, aqua, green and gold.
By dinner on the rooftop under a full moon, I was fully settled in the Rahma suite (Arabic word for compassion)– able to breathe; to let go; to accept, see and savor the gifts of kindness and peace around me. Not only had the girls turned back my bed, sprinkling rose petals on the duvet and in the tub…not only had Fadoua fed me fresh Tabouleh, the best Lamb CousCous I’ve had, and Celebration Orange and Chocolate Cake which, trust me, is reason alone to celebrate…but Sana, at my request, stopped serving and sat down for a chat over dessert.
The next morning the moon was gone. The sun met me on the rooftop instead. After breakfast and a read in the jacuzzi, I told the girls bye. I left again grateful for the kindness of strangers-now-friends. I remembered John’s words of a 2-year planned renovation that took five years instead. So true of life in many ways: “Anything is possible…It was an interesting journey..a way of learning.”
A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases…it still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.–John Keats
What a difference a day makes. Thanks to Riad Hikaya for the stay. As always, the opinions here are my own.