Nina S. Pearson's notes and photographs on life as an expat and seasoned traveler

Archive for ‘April, 2012’

Berber Living-5

Berber Living

I heard the name Berber from an Algerian friend, as she said the Berber people was very European looking instead of North African/Arab looking, I was wondering who they were and how they looked.   As I visited Morocco in February, the word Berber popped up a few times; but who are they?    According to Wikipedia: they are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley.   They are distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. However some thought that their descendants are of mixed origins, – including Oriental, Saharan, and European. So maybe that is why they look like this:

Berber woman, who was our host for morning tea in the Atlas Mountain

Berber woman, who was our host for morning tea in the Atlas Mountain

Today the Berbers mostly reside in the Atlas mountains, with a different type of architecture and decoration to those in the cities of Morocco. Their houses look like this:

Berber's house

Berber’s house

The term for this kind of architecture is ‘mud architecture’.   Village Asni is the first large village on our journey out of Marrakech.  Up close this is what it looks like. Picture of this can be seen on my previous post on Moroccan Landscape.

Yes, by the look of the picture, it shows that electricity is already there, but when I look inside; it’s still very basic.  There are no such things like ca ooking range, or microwave or a simple electric heater.  Daily activities are like the olden days, using charcoal and cooking traditional Moroccan Bread and Tajene in a clay pot.

We were lucky that we took the option within our tour to visit one of the Berber houses. Where they served us their famous Moroccan Tea and their ‘bread’.

Below photograph, inside the ‘mud house’, is their living room where they eventually performed the ritual of mixing mint tea in front  their guests, (which was all 20 of us). Together with the tea, also served was Moroccan Bread.

Preparing the Moroccan Bread while they allow us to explore their house.

Preparing the Moroccan Bread while they allow us to explore their house.

The living room inside a Berber house, where later on they entertained 20 of us, 'foreigners'.

The living room inside a Berber house, where later on they entertained 20 of us, ‘foreigners’.

On winter days, this is where they are having their sauna

On winter days, this is where they are having their sauna

It was here that I found out that Moroccan Tea is different from any other Arabian Mint Tea, where normally I can find anywhere within the Arabian countries. Here the process of mixing tea when the water is still very hot, like our host demonstrated here.

Proudly showing off her skill of pouring tea into tea glasses several times before she served it to us.

Proudly showing off her skill of pouring tea into tea glasses several times before she served it to us.

To the Berbers, obviously, the process of mixing tea together is sort of ritual. The outcome…. I would say, for those who are not tea connoisseurs, maybe the same like any other mint tea, but to me… it was very nice.

Last but not least, they also like their pet....

Last but not least, they also like their pet….

The street on the township of Al Akhawayn University, doesn't look like in Morocco at all

Moroccan Landscape

All the time my image of Africa was desert like, Morocco was not an exception. That image was still with me when I browsed the internet looking for a Tour Agent that could take Keith and I to Morocco. Their pictures uploaded were almost always showing touring across the desert by camel with a Tuareg man in blue leading the camel.  When I chose my trip to explore Morocco, it didn’t take me to travel around all of Morocco, this holiday trip was to take me to “the Imperial Cities” which only included the Northern and Middle Part of Morocco, it didn’t include the Western Sahara bit. However, included in this trip was an overland bus trip from Fez to Marrakesh, which covered about 585 km crossing the country (as shown on the map in my Morocco Holiday). Here, I experienced landscape changes, from very green vegetation, almost subtropical forest to a rocky and desert vegetation, lifestyle of the people also changed, from farming to sheep rearing only, but never desert!

Sheep rearing along the main street that connected Meknes to Fes, as I took this picture from our bus.

The almost 600 km trip was covered in about 8 hours, which for some people was surprising, a friend on the trip was saying, that such a journey should have been done in 5 and a half hours only…..

Olive plantations along the road from Fes to Marrakesh

Well, I think there are a lot of issues here, one may think we are traveling in a big intercity bus, where there are speed limits as well. As we are traveling in a group, there are some people who didn’t like to drive fast. Yes, as I sat behind the driver, I can see almost everything on the road, from donkeys crossing, to turtles crossing, from a moped to an overloaded old fashioned truck carrying wheat. And one should not expect to see a three lane highway with smooth tarmac, it’s only a single narrow winding road, just like the road connecting Jakarta to Surabaya (in Indonesia), passing through all the small villages along the way, the difference being, more of rice fields in Indonesia instead of olive tree plantation in Morocco.

Village of Asni as seen from Ourika valley, at the foot of the Atlas mountain

Up in the mountains, the landscape is totally different, there are small villages with different architecture: the traditional ‘mud architecture’ and further up the mountains, there is still snow and even ski resorts.

The street in the township of Al Akhawayn University, doesn't look like in Morocco at all, until you see the sign post in Arabic script.

Atlas Mountains in early March, covered with snow, while down the hill, it's spring already

More picture on Morocco on my Facebook Page

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The King Hassan II Mosque

King Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco and claims to be the 2nd largest in the world;  it is only behind the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Designed with Moorish influences by French architect Michel Pinseau, the construction began in July 1986 on reclaimed land, — almost half of it from the Atlantic Ocean and part of its expanse of flooring is ocean-viewing glass. Granite, plaster, marble and wood were all sourced in Morocco, with the exception of its Italian granite columns and glass chandeliers. Moroccan artisans produced the Mosque’s beautiful mosaics, stone and marble floors and columns, plaster mouldings and carved wooden ceilings. King Hassan II Mosque has space for 25,000 worshipers inside and another 80,000 outside. Whether it’s true or not that this is the second biggest mosque in the world, the 210-meter minaret however, is the tallest in the world and is visible day and night for miles around.

Inside the mosque, viewing lower floor and the balcony to accommodate more people

The Controversy

As it is a modern mosque, it has to have a modern touch, which are electric doors, a sliding roof, and lasers which shine at night from the top of the minaret towards Mecca and of course it was built to withstand earthquakes. How do the Casablancans feel about Hassan II Mosque?   Well, On one hand, they are proud that this beautiful monument dominates their city. On the other, they are aware that the expense (estimates range from $500 to 800 million) could have been put to other uses. To build the mosque, it was necessary to destroy a large, shanty town section of Casablanca.  The residents did not receive any compensation.

The main praying area

However, to look at the other side of the story, as it now fully operational, Casablanca could also be proud, they manage to clear the shanty area and become a tourist destination and generate money.

Everything is detailed: wall, columns, doors, ceilings, etc.

My view:

Do we need a large and big mosque for a country of 36 million people or a city of around 3.6 million population? Compare this with the not very famous Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta (with population of 15 million people), the capital of Indonesia that can cater for 120,000 worshipers at a time, it never claimed to be the largest mosque outside Saudi.   Another interesting fact I found in Wikipedia about large mosques, certainly Hassan II Mosque was never close to being number 2 largest mosque in terms of capacity or area.

You might like my other post related to Casablanca:

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Rick’s Cafe

The ‘Lobby Card’ of the movie Casablanca where Rick’s Cafe Americain made famous…., taken from Vincent’s Casablanca Poster

Rick’s Cafe was made famous in the legendary movie, Casablanca. The movie was set in this particular cafe. I thought Rick was a myth made famous in the movie. however, my other half insisted to go to Rick’s Cafe, “There must be a Rick’s Cafe here…;”

When we talked to other travelers, we found out that there is Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca and it’s called exactly that Rick’s Cafe Casablanca, instead of Rick’s Cafe Americain as in the movie.

As we went back to Casablanca at the end of our tour, we visited Rick’s, and I have to give top marks to the architect that resurrected the place into the legend of the movie, everything was similar to the movie, and what made it more alive was the decor, the white drapes, the palm trees in pots, the shade of the pendant lights…. everything was just like my imagination of the colonial style and Mediterranean atmosphere, similar to the movie.

What made it even more special was that I met Lennie Bluett, the guest pianist who has a connection with the movie and was there to celebrate the 8th year anniversary of the cafe… Believe it or not we stayed in the same hotel and we kept bumping to each other. What I missed is that I was not quick enough to ask for his autograph or take a picture together….

Left: picture are not so good, but that is the entrance to the bar. Right: interior decoration wise: romancing the colonial style by having white drapery decor and a bit of skylight to some sunlight in.

However, I managed to take pictures of the interior decoration of the whole restaurant:

As we enter the main dining room, the friendly waiters are there for us.

Main dining room as seen from the Islamic colonnade.

Nicely set dining table

A display of the local wine

They also did not forget to play the movie – Casablanca – in the Cigar Bar, in the upstairs dining room

You might like my other post related to Casablanca:

You might like my other post  on Morocco:

More picture of Morocco on my Facebook Page

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