I was hired by an agency in Morocco to photograph various properties and attractions for their marketing materials. The Mediterranean is such a beautiful blue, and the sky can be fantastic too. (Did you know that the name “Cerulean blue” comes from Latin caelum, which means sky?)Nonetheless, it’s been an off-and-on cloudy/rainy week, so we hit the right day for photographing here: sunny, with some interesting clouds, set off by that deep blue sky.
We wrap up our three months of travel this weekend. Our last new country is Morocco, where we’ve been this past week. It is, of course, different from Europe, especially in terms of navigating the Muslim/Arabic culture. But there are similarities as well, due to its proximity to Europe, and its history as both a Spanish and French colony. It has not been uncommon for me to speak in four languages (Arabic, English, French, and Spanish) in the same sentence in order to communicate with people here.
My preconception of Morocco as a desert country has been rocked by the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean, the astonishing glory of the Riff Mountains, and the quilted beauty of the rural agriculture. And while it is definitely a Muslim country, it is known for being both secular and moderate. It’s not Taliban controlled Afghanistan, that’s for sure. There is a confusing variety of costume here, especially among women. I see everything from western-dressed women in pants and blouses, to the average hajib-scarfed woman, to a full eye-slit-only black burka. (However, I saw far more burkas in Hyde Park in central London in one afternoon than I’ve seen here all week.) Add to that the striped outfits of the Berbers, the tasselled-hat outfit worn by water sellers, and the variety of overcoats (kind of like burlap sacks with pointy hoods) and hats worn by men, and it’s quite a fashion show. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the creators of Star Wars picked up many of their costume ideas here.
We took a drive out to Chefchaouen, a famous little walled city of blue-painted buildings in the Riff Mountains, and had a lovely drive through the countryside.
I’m in Algeciras, at the southern tip of Spain, right across the bay from the rock of Gibraltar, and across the Mediterranean from Morocco. For a few days, I’m photographing an intercultural arts exchange here, and it already feels like I’ve been with these people more than the 24 hours I’ve been here.
At one point, while photographing, one of the gals came in from plein air painting, and told us that a procession was about to start from the Catholic church a block away. So I walked over, and discovered a visual feast, which I enjoyed for the next 45 minutes. It was a processional of the children headed to First Communion, replete with marching band, officials, and a big shiny float.
… St-Pantaleon’s Romanesque church is built out of the living rock and consists of three naves; the central part dates back to the 5C.
Surrounding the church is a rock necropolis, most of the tombs of which are child-size. This necropolis was most likely a sanctuary of grace; there are other examples like it in Provence. Children who died before they were baptized were brought here by their parents, they revived–according to the beliefs of the period–for the duration of a mass during which they were baptized, they then died again and were buried here.
Intrigued, I visited the site twice, since it was only 4km from where I was staying. The church was small, and the first time I went, in the evening, I didn’t even see the necropolis, but only the small cemetery with large, newer tombs.
The second time, in the morning, I found the necropolis to the side and back of the building. It is as Michelin described: graves carved right into the rock, a few adult-sized, but most the size of a baby.
Dry stone architecture is about as old as mankind. Anywhere stone is abundant, people have built habitations with it for mellenia. It’s common the world over.
But to be able to drive down the road (or dirt path), and see these abandoned structures through the brush is fascinating. And if you’re doing it at dusk, it’s downright spooky.
The hillsides around Gordes are covered in scrubby, rocky terrain, with olive and oak trees and underbrush. Almost everywhere you turn you see dry stone walls, some newer, most old and decrepit, marking off ancient boundary lines, sheep pens, paths, and more. And if you look long enough, you begin to see structures–some standing (and some impressively large), some partially collapsed, some piles of rubble.
My curiosity piqued by my own explorations at dusk and dawn, I went to the local Bories Village. In the early 1970s, this old village, abandoned at the beginning of the 19th century, was restored. Most tourist attractions in the world focus on historic locations originally reserved for the rich and powerful: palaces, mansions, grand cathedrals, political buildings, etc. This one focuses on the hardscrabble life of the common rural villager, and attracts 100,000 visitors a year. (And the odd thing is: with no souvenir shop, you can’t buy a thing there.)
There isn’t a lot of information about what life was like for the inhabitants of these huts, save for a few household and farming implements. But you can gather a lot from observation: the soot and creosote coating the interior walls of the houses indicate a lot of smoke, coughing, and lung cancer. Even in the hot sunshine, the interior of the buildings was very cool (and some were damp with ground seepage), so it must have been freezing in the winter, especially with the howling Mistral winds. They probably had a lot of welts on their heads from bumping them on the low doorways, and a lot of bruised or crushed fingers from laying so much stone.
As much as the silent history enclosed within these ubiquitous walls and structures, I was fascinated by their shape, the inward curve of the walls, the rugged poetry of their lines, the indelible weight of time.
A little street shooting at Fontaine de Vaucluse, Provence, France. The texture of aged stucco and stone are part of the charm of the area (and, indeed, of any part of the world that builds with these materials). Add to that a young lady whose clothing choices match the surroundings, and a few flowers, and you’ve got a picture.
The hill towns are beautiful here, perched over the Luberon Valley. The narrow streets make for some interesting driving and enjoyable exploring. Here are a few images to give you a flavor of the countryside.
A wierd photo, you say? Well, thank you very much. Isn’t the moon and sky beautiful? And the light on the metal shopping carts? I couldn’t pass it up, in the parking lot of a Super U. Don’t ever expect to be able to shop for anything past 8pm in France. Most places close even earlier.
This is Gordes, the hill town just up the road from where we are staying. It is listed as one of the most beautiful places in France by someone or other, and they weren’t lying. It’s pretty impressive. My favorite parts are where you can see the remains of the rear walls of old homes, carved out of the sandstone. I love to explore.
A borie (actually a replica). These abound in the hills where we are staying, and visited at night by moonlight are fascinating and spooky. I hope to explore more; you can read about them here.
The pool and garden at our little hotel.
And another strange image from our hotel.
Some images from the walled city of Carcasonne, France.