12 March 2013

Majorelle Garden

In 1947 a new garden was opened to the public in Marrakech - it was the result of much hard work by a French artist named Jacques Majorelle who painstakingly devoted his time and energy to landscaping a plot of land he had acquired. Since that day, the garden named after him, the Majorelle Garden, has seen thousands of visitors from all over the world pass through its doors to admire the beauty that lies within.

Not only is the garden a work of art in terms of the numerous cacti, succulents, herb gardens and tropical plants to be found here which hail from all over the world, but also by the extensive use by Majorelle of a beautiful cobalt blue colour which he has used to great effect in the buildings, paths and archways - and even in painting some of the pots. This colour has become known as bleu majorelle - Majorelle Blue. Now one can buy paint in this colour from one of the shops on Rue Majorelle which runs alongside the garden - and I have recently seen advertised that nail varnish too is being produced in this colour under the YSL brand!  (I must admit to being very fond of this colour, so it's no hardship to me to see it on sale everywhere I go, but I guess that may not be so for everybody!)

Jacques Majorelle sadly died in 1962 following a car accident and the gardens were allowed to fall into disarray. However, the Majorelle Garden was acquired subsequently by Yves Saint Laurent, the fashion designer, who set about transforming the garden back to its former glory and into making it the beautiful place it is today.

I haven't visited the gardens for quite a while, but armed with my new camera, I am visiting today, looking for the numerous photographic opportunities I know I can find here amongst the amazing displays of plants and foliage, interspersed with fountains and waterways. I am trying to capture something of the light, colour and textures surrounding me. In fact, I need say no more...I'll let my photos do the talking.....Hope you like them....

The memorial to YSL. His ashes are scattered within the garden.

Within the Majorelle Garden is a room dedicated to the artwork of Yves Saint Laurent. There are photographs here of all the various pieces of art which YSL produced, one per year, based on the theme of 'Love'. Here's a selection of them....

If you ever have the opportunity to visit this wonderful garden, don't forget to buy the combined ticket and gain entrance to the Berber Museum located in the grounds. It was actually the painting studio of Jacques Majorelle and re-opened in December 2011 to house the museum. Here you will see more than 600 objects from all around Morocco depicting the Berber culture, from the mountains to the desert. There are weapons, leather goods, carpets, items of fabulous jewellery, clothing and lots more besides. Be sure to pay a visit!

02 March 2013

Sharing cultures

When an invitation is given to an event that mixes cultures, I am always keen to attend - especially if the cultures in question are British/North American/European/Moroccan! So it was that yesterday evening hubby and I joined the traffic from Tahannaout into Marrakech in the rush hour (hardly the M25!) to visit the school where we delved into the basics of darija, Moroccan Arabic, last June. We were met by Khalid, our tutor, and Mohamed who was to be our speaker for the evening.

I'm not sure who was more nervous, our speaker or the 20+ people who had gathered to hear his words. The 'audience' comprised other students of darija, either current or past, but all of us having the same goal - we want to know more about this great city of Marrakech where we have all ended up living and gain more insight into its culture and what makes it tick! Also with us were the teachers of the school, who were only too willing to share their own experiences and thoughts with us.

Clare makes the mint tea

The evening started with a time of mingling, making new friends and re-acquainting with old friends, accompanied by a huge pot of harira, traditional Moroccan soup, which was placed on a low table and promptly served to us all. Along with the harira we were served dates and the most deliciously sweet shbakia. I have it on good authority that the latter are Moroccan sesame cookies, folded into a flower shape, fried and then drenched in honey and orange flower water. Often they are served with harira during Ramadan to break the fast and also on days of celebration. Tonight must be a celebration! Feeling replete after this hearty supper, Mohamed poured us all some refreshing mint tea and we settled back onto the couches to enjoy what was to come.

Harira, dates and shbakia

Mohamed pours the tea in the traditional Moroccan way

Khalid serves us

Mohamed had been given the brief to talk about the history and culture of Marrakech and as such had prepared a presentation on this subject. However, as in the best laid plans of mice and men....it was not to be. As he started to share a story with us about the seven saints of Marrakech, his presentation changed....he began to talk instead from his heart about his city in which he grew up and his perceptions of life in that city and how it has changed over the years. We all sat, spellbound.

The spell was broken by the question 'What do you think of when I say 'the culture of Marrakech?' We answered by brainstorming 'mint tea', 'sunshine', 'hospitality', 'humour', 'friendliness', 'tangia', 'great food' amongst other things. It made us think, what do we mean by culture? There ensued a conversation about the Marrakech of old and Marrakech as it is now...the Marrakech where Mohamed grew up surrounded by craftsmen, storytellers, tradition...the authentic Marrakech many of us came here seeking...in comparison to the Marrakech of the guidebooks and glossy magazines which all too often portray a cultural side to Marrakech that has unfortunately now vanished.


Mohamed told us how he, as a teacher in high school, sees that young people still have a love for the culture of their city, but at the same time they want more freedom and this can sometimes create a cultural conflict. There is a dichotomy that exists, an ongoing tension, between on the one hand, retaining the authenticity of Marrakech as it was in the not-too-distant past, and on the other hand the need to cater for the increasing tourist boom. Alongside the boom, however, comes for some Marrakshi the desire for more money, for more of everything, for change and development, for progress. None of these things being wrong in themselves...but sometimes it can lead to leaving important elements of the past behind. Traditional Gnawa music is now fused with modern music, though it is still to be found 'underground', the Halqa circles of storytellers have now long since disappeared - to be replaced by a more modern version of the same, new 'acts' invade the Djemma El Fnaa - and demand more money from the tourists who watch. People like Mohamed are not averse to the growth of tourism and to moving forward as a city, but hand in hand with this goes the desire to preserve the past and to retain the culture that epitomises Marrakech.


Sharing the food

Teachers join us

The question was raised as to how we, as foreigners, should behave when living in Marrakech, what can we do to blend in and integrate? The unanimous answer given by the Moroccan teachers was 'learn darija'. Only by making the effort to learn the language of the country that we live in can we expect to engage in conversation and thus gain valuable insight into the very different culture that we now live in. A challenge for us all!

The important task of washing up!

The main message of the evening that has stayed with me is this: Whilst tourism is obviously very important to the economy of Marrakech, in order for the culture of Marrakech to be preserved, those involved in tourism must continue to embrace this culture and find ways to sustain it whilst moving forward into the future.