Wednesday, March 29, 2017


FIRST:  I want to thank everyone who responds to my blogs.  It really means quite a lot to me.  I get a very warm feeling of connection with you.  It makes a big difference, especially when I'm traveling alone.

SECOND:  I'm getting a feeling from people's responses that the lovely glow of my experiences here is convincing many of you to think of coming here.  But I confess I have neglected to mention the elephant in the room:  The status of women.

I haven't talked about how it feels to be in a country where so many women hide their faces.  It doesn't feel good!  So if you do come, expect to deal with your feelings about THAT.  

When I was in Agadir with Rosalia, it was different.  I was meeting and teaching strong, creative, outspoken young women, some of whom wear the hijab (headscarf).  I was getting to know Rosalia's  close women friends, some who wear hijab.  These are two highly self-selected groups of Moroccan women.  Even in Essaouira, Rosalia and I met a young woman in jeans (no scarf) who was a rapper that we were hoping to see perform.  

But now, in Marrakech, I only talk with men.   Sometimes I have a nice joking exchange with a man for a couple of minutes.  I have not dealt with a single woman shopkeeper.  Everywhere it's men, men, men, often telling me that they're selling goods made by a women's association in the bled (countryside).  They know people are interested in helping women and that makes their carpets cosmetics purses whatevers more attractive.  Maybe I should confront these men and ask why aren't WOMEN selling the goods if women made them?  Rosalia probably would!  (Yeah but part of me just wants to be on vacation.) 

I don't feel disrespected by the men here, but I know that's because I'm an old woman. And everywhere everywhere everywhere I look I see women in the full burka, with only their eyes showing.  Some wear gloves too, and it was really warm today.  I hate it.  It's hard for me not to hate THEM.  I have a visceral response, and Rosalia does too.  She tells me all the time it wasn't like this when she came here in 1988, that the Moslem fundamentalism has become much more widespread.  She feels every time one of her students decides to remove her headscarf, it's a victory for that girl's personal liberation.  She mourned when her good friend decided to start wearing one. 

As for me, the headscarf doesn't bother me visually.  For some reason, they all look like fairy princesses to me.  The politics of it are very abstract to me.

But the burka....  Not every one is a big black enveloping cloud.  They come in all styles and fabrics.  Yesterday I saw a group of people I'm sure were tourists from another Moslem country.  The women were dressed in modern pants and blouses.  Very summery clothes.  And they all had hats and full veils in matching prints.  One of them had a hat and veil with big red polka dots on white fabric.  The bizarre irony of concealing your identity with red polka dots... It got to me.  I wanted to scream at that woman, "What is WRONG with you?"  Maybe it's because I like polka dots so much.

Today I saw a woman in full burka walking holding hands with her very butch little girl who was wearing a baseball cap, t-shirt, pants, and cowboy boots.  Oh, do I wonder what that girl is going to do -- or be forced to do -- when she grows up.  

To see all these wonderful lively beautiful girls with their masked mothers... 

I know that many women feel they have no choice but to do it.  I know that some women DO choose to wear the full veil, as they're choosing to wear the hijab.  And I feel my own freedom personally threatened by every single veiled woman I see.

That's what's happening now. And what's the distant past?  I'm experiencing a little bit, staying in a 19th century Riadd.  Here's where I'm sitting right now:

This is one of the many pavilions in my riadd.  How many?  Five?  This is the most isolated one.  I came here because there's a lot of noise in the central patio, where the restaurant is.  The only noise here is the splashing of the fountain. Blissful.  And in between pavilions, there  are little nooks everywhere.  Here's a couple of nooks.

Oh yeah, and let's not forget the terraces.  Here's the terrace where I sat and wrote my last blog:

One could say that Riadd Sebban is a complete world unto itself.  A graceful, comfortable, elaborately decorated world.  As well it HAD TO BE because the women of this very rich merchant family NEVER LEFT THE HOUSE.  Never.  Women lived in total seclusion.  According to Paul Bowles, who wrote in the 1950's, there was a saying:  A good Moroccan woman only leaves the house three times in her life:  When she's born (she leaves the house of her mother's body), when she marries (when she actually DOES get to leave the house and hopefully even has a good time but probably not) and --- of COURSE -- when she DIES!   Does that sound like a great way for a human being to live or WHAT??

Bowles has absolutely no critique of this saying, not being a feminist.  And then all the male writers about this culture complain that the women really ARE evil, that half of them try to poison their husbands, they're always yelling and irritable.  But why WOULDN'T you get just a bit irritable if you could never leave the house, even such a beautiful house as this?  Just thinking about it makes me want to poison my husband.  Fortunately I've never had one of those.

So here I am reveling in the beauty and luxury of my riadd, which was built as a prison for women.  Traveling in a Muslim Arabic country brings up a lot of troubling issues.  

But dammit, I still want to have a good time and tell you all the cool things I'm seeing and doing!  So here's an argan tree (only found in Morocco) full of goats eating the argan berries. We actually saw this on the way to Marrakech.

In case you haven't heard yet, argan oil (made from the berries found in the goats' dung after they've digested the tough covering) is the new wonder food AND wonder cosmetic!  Put it on salad, and it cures your diabetes!  Rub it in your skin and it banishes your wrinkles!  We've got goats and Morocco to thank for this great advance.    That's all, folks!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Rosalia and I went to Essaouira, three hours up the coast from Agadir, to stay for several days, by grand taxi.  The little taxis are confined to their particular cities.  The grand taxis can take you anywhere.  Rosalia went to great effort to arrange through Mohammed, her friend and city taxi driver, for a "really nice" driver to take us to Esssaouira (three hours away), come back three days later to drive us to Marrakech (three more hours away), wait in Marrakech while we had lunch at the historic Mamounia Hotel (turned out to be three hours), and then drive Rosalia back to Agadir -- all for $240!

Achmed, the driver, stopped in a small banana-growing town to buy us bananas and bread, an action that won Rosalia's approval.  "You see?  That's real Moroccan hospitality.  They just love to have guests!"

Rosalia and I met in 1980 when I directed her in Shaw's MISALLIANCE for the Bear Republic Theater in Santa Cruz.  Our first night in Essaouira was Rosalia's 80th birthday.  Eighty!  Rosalia lives on her own in Agadir, where she first was assigned as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1988.  She's lived other places since, but now this is her 10th year in Agadir.  "When I was in the U.S., I thought about Morocco all the time.  When I'm in Morocco, I never think about the U.S."

Rosalia teaches drama to Moroccan young people several times a week.  Once or twice a year, they put on performances, which she directs and produces.  She's recently added a class in journal writing.  Her great passion is theater, and she ignites that passion in others.

She does all this despite her rheumatoid arthritis, which makes it difficult for her to walk or use her hands.  When I had all the students write scenes, she wrote one talking to her body.  This was the first time she had ever spoken of her feelings about her disability to her students.  It was a liberation for her.  She wants to write more about it, and all her friends encourage her to do it.

Rosalia is extremely friendly to everyone, except when she loses her temper, which causes her to apologize.  She has many close friends: ex-students, fellow teachers, doctors who treat her, her helper Fatima.  I met them and they are WONDERFUL.  She enjoys her work, her friends, the good weather, Moroccan food, the beauty and perks of living in Agadir, facials at a fancy hotel. She appears to be unstoppable.  She moves slow, but she's unstoppable.

Everyone has heroes.  Rosalia is one of mine.

Oh yeah.  Essaouira.  At dinner at the Riadd (a former traditional mansion turned into a guesthouse), I told them it was Rosalia's birthday, and only a few minutes later they came out with a beautiful chocolate cream cake......

And it was frosted with her name!

Her passport says "Joan."

In all the restaurant birthdays I have celebrated, I have NEVER seen a cake frosted with the NAME of the birthday girl/boy.  And on a few minutes notice!
I was honored to witness my dear friend entering her eighth decade.

Oh yeah.  Essaouira.  A beautiful Arabic medina (walled town)... 

next to a small and vibrant port....

..... famous for the sturdy blue fishing boats they still make there....

..... and a crenellated fortress dating from the Portuguese occupation 100s of years ago....

Orson Welles fell in love with the fortress and the cannons.....

....... and filmed the opening of his film of Shakespeare's OTHELLO here, which led the Essaouirans to honor him with a park and a statue.....
..... a photo of which I cannot seem to find.  But now I have to see the movie, which begins with Iago hanging in a cage in the air over the rocky coast or SOMETHING like that.  

Our Riadd was in the Medina, filled with tiny winding streets and tiny shops and great big tourists, like myself.  Just around the corner from our riadd,  I spotted the Sweet Clock Hotel Literary Coffee.

Sweet Clock Hotel Literary Coffee.  It sounded like a magical incantation to me. I entered in search of Literary Coffee.  There was no coffee to be had, literary or otherwise.  But the amber incense, the chirping of caged birds, and the seedy elegance swept me away....

Yes, I felt the Sweet Clock Hotel Literary Coffee and I were meant for each other. Here was a place where great plays could be written!  But the young man at the desk seemed very doubtful that I would be happy leaving my 900 dirim a day riadd for a 200 dirim/shared bathroom Sweet Clock Hotel Literary Coffee. 

And then one of the residents of the Sweet Clock came wobbling through the lobby.  Very stoned and grimy, he looked.  And I realized that perhaps the desk clerk was right.  I inhaled my last breath of the sensual, disorienting fragrance of the lobby, and wandered back to my riadd.  On the way, I bought some amber incense, so that I can always transport myself back to Sweet Clock Literary Coffee, whenever I choose.


I've been here in Agadir, in the south of Morocco,  for 10 days and very remiss about not communicating with anyone.  I came here to visit my old friend Rosalia, who's been teaching drama here since 1988, and to teach playwriting and improvisation to the young people she's been guiding -- all in English.  

I have been BUSY teaching.  And, when not teaching, having long dinners with Rosalia and her wonderful friends.  And, when not meeting friends, talking and laughing for hours with Rosalia.  So not writing to you.

I arrived at the new Marrakech Airport, which just opened last year.  Had lots of time to hang out there.  It's the most beautiful airport I've ever seen!

It was designed by E2A Architecture (Zurich) to "create a space where the light comes in filtered by the arabesques that cover the windows and enriches the visual contact between the inside and the outside."

  • Give the world a modern vision of Moroccan architecture, not forgetting the traditions.  
  • Develop a friendly and safe space.
  • Through materials and techniques of past and present, apply a new modernity.
Well, this may not be what you thought you'd read in my blog about Morocco.  But when you spend seven hours hanging around a building, you greatly appreciate that it's a beautiful building.  I have never been inspired to take photos of an airport before, let alone google the architects.  Who seem to have done nothing else interesting.  So they were obviously inspired by the Moroccan building traditions.

You know, I don't think we in the U.S. consider lattice and arabesques often enough.  It creates a boundary and beautiful patterns of light and shadow.  My hotel room has a very simple masonry lattice wall separating the bedroom from the rest of the room and the light/shadow interplay delights me.

Look, I'm sorry if this first blog is disappointing.  I am exhausted from teaching so much.  Teaching is HARD -- a combination of preparation and performance and improvisation to meet the needs of the students.  It takes a lot more energy than performing, I'll tell you that.  When I perform, everyone sits quietly in rows while I do my thing, and then showers me with appreciation afterwards, both with applause and comments.  I think teachers should be applauded at the end of every class.  Teaching is DEFINITELY a very complex performance. 

Actually I did receive applause and appreciation after every class.   But I'm still exhausted.  

Well, in a few minutes Rosalia's taxi driver -- Rosalia has a friendship with every single person she deals with in her daily life -- is picking me up and taking me on a tour of Agadir's attractions.  And then tomorrow we take a Grand Taxi to Essouera (sp?), the hippie beach town to the north which has not been ruined by beach tourism because there's a horrible insistent wind that makes the beach unpleasant.  

So maybe another day or two before the next installment, where I'll talk about teaching, which was quite inspiring. If exhausting.  So here are some photos:
Rosalia in front of the Municipal Building

Selfie with extremely talented Drama Students at the American Language Center, whose motto is "English opens doors."
ALC Students with Rosalia