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A Closer Look : Marrakesh

SO you guys, I recently had the opportunity to go on an amazing trip to Morocco. Novella Royalle flew me out to shoot with some of my really great & talented friends, Easton Schirra and Spencer Byam-Taylor. It was two weeks of non-stop chicken tagines, kitties, beautiful cities, and taking photos. I tried to write as much as I could along the way, and here’s part one of the diary. I love Morocco.

I was arriving from New York and had traveled for more than a day, finally arriving in Marrakesh, Morocco. Well, technically arriving from Frankfurt, because there were many layovers along the way. The doors of our small airplane opened and immediately hot, dry air pooled inside the cabin. It was an exciting feeling, and I thought that if Morocco were speaking to me, it’d be saying “welcome. You have arrived, let the games begin!”. Like some sort of Hunger Games movie. The reason that I say this is because I had arrived alone, with a phone on empty battery (but didn’t have reception anyway), and had no way of contacting Easton and Spencer, the photographers that I’d meet up to shoot with. “No biggie, I’ve been to Africa before, it all works out” Is what I kept saying to myself. I walked down the steps of the plane, and for a brief second imagined myself as Angelina Jolie, or some sort of movie star woman descending from her private jet. That thought quickly dissolved into the next thought, which was the fact that I felt like I was inside of a giant hair dryer. Because it’s true – the air was hot and dry, thankfully not humid, but also a little ‘nostril capping’. Have you ever stuck your head out of the car window? Or tried breathing in one of those saunas at the gym? Now, combine both. That’s what it was like!

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The inside of the airport was actually incredibly modern and beautiful. It was a big white dome with triangular cut-outs that let light seep in, forming soft angelic spots on the ground. I wondered why the airports in the U.S. never paid attention to more detail. Detail for the eye, as I like to say. I made my way past baggage claim ( I traveled with carry-ons this time, hellllooooo never checking in a bag ever again!) and like some sort of scene in a movie, like The Hangover where the random friends meet up in strange amazing places, there were Spencer and Easton! Hurrah! I exchanged some money into Dirhams (100$ = 1000 Dirhams), we found our taxi bus outside, and we were off to the hotel. Mind you, there were these incredible succulents and cacti along the rim of the airport, us Angelinos would have DIED! They were absolutely perfect.

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We arrived at our tiny, perfect, little hotel room in Marrakesh, at Hotel Toulousain. The courtyard of the hotel looked like a secret oasis ; jungle-like vines were gently dangling down at different heights, with little birds whirling and zooming in and out of view. A turtle or two could be seen slowly shuffling on the pebbled floor, and little breakfast tables, maybe two or three, were spread out in such a way that the hotel appeared to be almost private. It was relatively quiet, and maybe we really were alone, who knows. Our room was completely covered in blue tiles, with a cute white archway to the small bathroom. After spending a day and a half traveling, being able to lay on a bed and take a shower was a luxury. We slept there for a night, and in the morning we were greeted with the most delicious breakfast. In Morocco, but also in Tunisia, where I’d been before, breakfasts are made up of bread, crepes, jam, cheese, orange juice, and maybe a coffee and tea. It’s very sugar dense but it’s also pure and delicious. That morning I hadn’t yet adjusted to the diet, so I had some orange juice and the sweet attendant brought me a bowl of what tasted like the best milk I’d ever had. It tasted like it came from the udder of a goat, milked that very morning, cold and whole and fresh – not some “skim” milk with antibiotics. It tasted pure, and I felt like some sort of kitten. Simply enjoying her bowl of milk, and receiving nutrients all the while.

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Marrakesh was vibrant and mysterious. Beautiful too, of course.  After our first night in the Hotel Toulousain, we moved to a Riad in the old city, closer to the Medina (market square). Riads are homes-turned-hotels. They’re hidden behind tiny little wooden or metal doors, within labyrinths of clay red walls. It’s amazing ; we’d see these little doors everywhere. They looked heavy and they were always very short. We’d knock on them, and a few moments later they’d open – as the heavy doors would slowly swing open, a palace! Heavenly oases with plants and a pool and luxurious statues. You’d never know from the outside. It’s like magic. Like something from Willy Wonka. And then the walls of the city! We’d walk and walk, turning corners, without ever knowing what we’d see next. Maybe it would be a big tiled mosque, or maybe a donkey carrying a golden chest that looked far too heavy for its tiny legs. Over the next few days we shot in front of pink clay walls, bought a few souvenirs (I bought some baby shoes because hey- I’ll have a baby probably sometime in this life and why wouldn’t I get he/she a pair of moroccan shoes, and then Scott some crystallized Eucalyptus for his headaches) and ate many plates of tagine and chicken cous cous. I found that the smaller the restaurant, the better. Akin to family-owned goodness. Less touristy.

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On our last day in Marrakecsh, we visited and shot at Ben Youssef Madrasa, an old school for students that was built in 1570. It is one of the most visited structures in Marrakesh and also incorporates all of the traditional Moroccan art and craftsmanship – the use of colorful tiles, cedar wood, marble, and courtyards. Inside of the tiled school was a rectangular hole in the center of the courtyard, which felt sort of empty. There used to be a pool that lay there, and what a sight that would have been. We shot a few photos and then ventured out later in the night to see the night market, or Jemaa El Fna. It was ALIVE! During the day, the very same area was virtually deserted. As soon as night fell, BAM it came alive. Horses and chariots were clopping down the pebbled streets, younger teens were roaming, loud music was playing, smiling men with monkeys on their shoulders were everywhere, big crowds, snakes and charmers, chants and dances, it was all going on. It was as if I’d taken some sort of psychedelic and entered into this fantasy, colorful, magic, almost-scary world. The air was foggy and our vision couldn’t see past a few meters because of all the smoke from the massive barbecues. It filled the sky with clouds that looked like heavy fairy dust. Night time. This was when the cats would play. It was magic.

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If you have any questions about Marrakesh – certain experiences, rug prices, places to eat, just ask & comment below! Xo