Beauty and Perfection
Mountains tops are illuminated like folded velvet. Breakfast is served and the taxi driver is on his way.
I’m leaving today. Jean-Paul is wearing his favourite combination of bright blue sweater with a bright red scarf, he’s brisk and industrious as he starts his day by going through the papers in his office with a view.
It’s time to say good bye for now, so I grab a quick breakfast out on the terrace where the pancake lady is already anticipating the yogis and where by the side of the veranda, the shepherd’s son is playfully fighting sleepy sheep.
I said my goodbyes and Amir the taxi driver has just arrived as if he knew that I’ll be ready early this time. As we drive off, I observe the locals: plain long dark dusty robes that protect them both from freezing Winter winds and blazing sun. Eyes of tough Arab people fixed on eternity, expressing a lifetime of struggle and humility, eyes that have seen both beauty and hardship. And then there’s an occasional smile they send to me, deep lines are like rays of sun radiating from their eyes are suddenly erasing 20 years of age off these wrinkly faces, making them look youthful again.
This brings me back to the observation I made in the last few years: beauty does not equal perfection. Beauty can be rustic, rugged, stained, unexpected, impractical, plain, unpretentious, overwhelming, beauty can break your heart, beauty can stitch you back to wholeness again. I recall those times when I used to find myself caught in a moment staring at pattern of a hand woven rug or intricate line work on artisan pottery, when you marvel at that heartwarming smile of a stranger from a dramatically different culture yet so close and authentic that it melts those virtual barriers we have created in our heads to distinguish ‘us’ from ‘others’ and remind us that in our chests we have the same beating, living hearts that have never been affected by the illusion of separation.
But I’ve arrived now. Just caught myself saying à bientôt to the taxi driver. That’s probably just how soon I’m hoping to be back.
Strange Words and the Spontaneous Moments of Grace
I woke up almost against my will… The fireplace turned out to be more distracting than I thought. Halfway through my meditation, I ended up crawling out of my bed and moving the sofa so I could see the fire better. It kept igniting something deep within, kept connecting me to a strange kind of energy lives in the core of my being and excited, my mind refused to fall asleep.
The alarm clock was a surprise and struggling with an urge to stay tucked in, I slowly slowly began to make my way out of this delightfully heavy warm bed. My feet were the first body part to awaken, freezing cold floor didn’t leave much choice. I barely opened my eyes while quickly brushing my teeth and in one minute I was dressed up and still looking like a mess, ready to go.
I got out through the gate like a scared kid. There were vast plains sprinkled with scattered houses here and there, but predominantly what unravelled in front of me, was just a vast open space, rocky fields in terra-cotta and brown with barely a plant, barely a bird, barely a sound. I was there before sunrise, heading towards the majestic mountains as my fingertips continued to remind me that they needed better gear to enjoy the desert morning in February.
There is probably no equipment to capture the grandeur of the snowy mountain peaks at sunrise, no means to transmit the quality of changing pre-sunrise colours adequately, no words to communicate it across. There is a special feeling that floods your whole being, canceling out the thoughts, synchronizing the external silence with the internal as the whole world holds its breath witnessing this miracle of another day being born. As I kept walking on, I knew that there is nothing on this planet that can ever erase this ravishing moment from my memory.
Peaceful morning in our yoga room where I couldn’t stop staring at the star shaped ceiling windows again. I creeped closer to the fire place as we made our way into savasana. Oranges and orange cakes and orange juice and orange blossom tea for breakfast and there’s no more doubt which part of the world I am in! The rest of the day I spent exploring the labyrinth of this place, all the little gems that only reveal themselves only to the patient and the curious.
I am not ready to leave tomorrow, not ready to say goodbye to riads, souks, hammams, tagines.. This little chance to taste this completely new culture was so not enough. Practicing yoga solo on the rooftop in the evening and then sitting down on those colourful pillows for meditation, I had difficulty surrendering to the fact that it’s time to go, time to move on to the next adventure that promises to be very different and in its Nordic beauty, quite lightless.. I am soaking in all the sun I can to make it through as I am anticipating our next rendez-vous. I am listening to the sounds of the mosques, the strangely comforting sounds of escalating prayers reaching me from all over the desert, accompanied by the subtle noises of sheep flocks returning home for the night.
I’ll ease into my big leather chair by the fireplace tonight, cuddle up with a book, and wait for my couscous to arrive.. I’ll savour and save every little detail, every feeling, every fragrance, every vibration that this place triggers in my heart and will look forward to the next time me and Africa get to meet again. For now, I’m holding my breath as the last rays of sunshine caress the snowy Atlas tips beautifully distracting me from my evening meditation on the rooftop..
The pain is now gone and I hope it never returns in this form again.
It’s late at night and once again I’ve broken my resolution to go to bed early.. I am mesmerized by the fireplace in my room, all the lights are now switched off and I’m enjoying a little moment of contemplation and solitude, a sharp contrast from today’s symphony and sometimes cacophony of intense colours, smells, sounds, tastes that you can only find in Marrakech. Just like turning up the sound of a stereo, here it seems like an invisible force has just decided to intensify every single bit of stimulation that tickles your senses. This place is a new unexplored continent for me in every way, it is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It is not reserved, nor is it shy to show off it’s colorful exuberance: orange trees are lacing the main roads in the city centre, the life is bustling and Medina mosques frozen in time, are constantly inviting for a prayer; meals are cooking, carpets are being woven and enthusiastic street vendors are ever on a lookout for a naive looking customer.
As we return to the silence of our desert oasis, yoga room is already waiting for us, the fireplace is on and the sounds of the burning wood will be our music for the session. There is a window in the ceiling and it is shaped like the stars. So as we do our slow evening practice with Jen, we are watching the clear blue Winter sky change colours, transforming so gradually that it makes you wonder how come it’s suddenly twilight and by the end of meditation, the sky is in its full glory, with stars like gemstones and sparkling jewels, beautifying it to the fullest of its radiance, embellishing it beyond comprehension.
There is a grounding power that this place possesses: clay houses with eucalyptus ceilings and heavy wooden furniture bring about a sense of deep rest, the air is silent and the starlit sky is delicately overpowering every sound, every impression of the day.. And here in the vicinity of the Atlas mountains and Sahara desert, I promise both the sky and the desert are exactly the way Saint-Exupéry described in his Little Prince. Or at least, the way I always imagined it to be.
I love the sound of fire and fragrant eucalyptus wood picking up, trickling in my fireplace. There is something primal, primordial about the depth of the experience that is taking over me as I’m watching the fire, about being out here in the desert on a starry night, on a continent that probably gave birth to humankind. I feel a strange kind of transience of life and a yet a continuity of generations, a strong connection to all our ancestors who lived in these clay houses and have been watching the fire and the stars and the celestial bodies for thousands of years.
My body and mind are gradually surrendering to this moment of effortless beauty, preparing to fall into deep deep sleep. Here up in the mountains, the air is so fresh at night this time of year and the lights that the fireplace is casting onto the dark walls, make me feel like I’m being tucked in by some force of the universe, something ineffable that makes me feel safe and protected in this strange land of Berbers.
Day 1. The Intensity
I have arrived. I have finally finally arrived.. And I am almost crying and shivering sitting on this gigantic bed that was probably designed for another species. Or maybe I just got used to sleeping on the tiniest bed in the world and now a king size bed seems like utmost luxury.
I am surrounded by a palette that flaunts a multitude of colours in this beautiful little clay house. A strange and unexpected collision of cultures and eclectic mix of styles, a shockingly harmonious cocktail of contrasting flavours and fragrances and tastes and colours, a truly unexpected surprise for my Western tastebuds. Here the Muslim traditions meet the Berber ones and the French aftertaste is still lingering on; everything seems in its right place. Here in this clay and stone oasis at an altitude of 700 meters, February night is greeting me with a chilly yet welcoming breeze, the handmade lanterns are drawing intricate shadows on the walls, creating a story that only comes alive at nighttime, and the wood in the fireplace is ready to be lit up to heat up the clay walls of my little palace.
I see all of this beauty with completely new eyes. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to the African continent before, maybe because just a few hours ago I didn’t know whether I’m going to make it.
A mere few hours ago, as our pilot announced that we are starting our descent, a strange piercing pain sharply announced its presence just behind my eye and in a matter of seconds, grew in intensity to the point that I was losing my consciousness.. I got myself together and what was left of my strength, urged me to ask the flight attendant to assist me should I lose it before we land..
The noises, the passengers, the announcements and the air pressure all mixed up in a strange haze. I remember a concerned look of a man sitting across the aisle and then my new companion leading me to the emergency room. And then the bright lights blinding the sensitised eyes and doctor on duty taking tests and still unable to explain what just happened inside my head.
The driver was still waiting for me when I eventually made it to the meeting point. After briefly greeting me in French and mentioning that he was worried, he quickly picked up my small bag and we left. In an hour or so, the intensity of my pain started to subside, it was gradually letting go of its grip and my mind was finally re-claiming the clarity, yet there was still a soft pulsation behind the eye socket as a reminder of something intense. And now, after what could have been a stroke, just sitting on this bed and still being able to perceive and discern the physical reality again seems like a precious gift, like a second chance I’ve been given to walk this earth in a human form. A transient, temporary body is still mine to rent for a while and I have shivers on my back as I realize over and over again how amazing this journey is.