Monthly Archives: October 2012

Casablanca and Rabat

It’s a cold Sunday in Amsterdam. I’m bundled in a sweater and sipping hot tea, trying to remember the warmth of the sun that I enjoyed last week during a work trip to Morocco. I spent most of my time in Casablanca, but took a train to Rabat for a meeting on Tuesday. Both cities were amazing. Bright colors, thick air, and a bustle of activity as people prepared for Eid al-Alha (the Feast of the Sacrifice).

My best part of the trip was the food. Each meal began with an array of dips and bread as an appetizer, which ensured there was never much room for a main dish. The craziest part was certainly the taxi rides, careening through the streets with people, cars, and horse-pulled carts coming from every direction and a driver screaming out the window. It was just a first glimpse of the country and I hope to someday return and visit the smaller cities and the countryside. Working with great people and getting local tips was a good start though.

And a few shots from Instagram. Clockwise from the top left: An Arabic stop sign in Casablanca, a morning view of Casablanca, a colorful lantern at Riad Zitoune, and a doorway to the medina in Rabat.

weekend links

Weekend Links is a collection of the interesting bits and pieces that I’ve come across on the streets and online. I hope you enjoy them as well!

1. Looking forward to my first visit to Morocco, a work trip that will take me to Casablanca and Rabat (picture above by Chrissy Hunt)
2. Anticipating the opening of the Diane Arbus retrospective next week at Foam photography museum in Amsterdam
3. Listening to Elaine Scarry speak about Beauty and Justice
4. Noting recipes from this list of 20 scrumptious pumpkin recipes
5. Loving the images of England’s Isle of Purbeck from Marte Marie Forsberg (pictured below)

reading lists and recommendations

How do you end up reading certain books? Do you get recommendations from friends or tips on social media? Do you keep an ongoing to-read list? Or does a cover catch your eye in a bookstore? Every since I began using Moleskine agendas, I’ve kept a list of books to read on the last page and am constantly adding tips from Twitter, recommendations from friends, or the titles of interesting books I see in stores. I recently created a pinterest board of books I want to read and am constantly looking for new titles. Here’s a list of what I read over the summer and how I came across each book.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A story about a group of students at an English boarding school as they grow up and slowly learn that their lives are destined for another purpose. I enjoyed reading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day and watching the film adaptation of Never Let Me Go, so I thought I would be enamored with the book. But I found the writing was a bit stiff. It’s not often that I’d recommend a film over the book, but that’s the case here.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I finally had my chance to read the latest from one of my favorite authors, which I gave to Marcus for Christmas and had to wait for him to finish. In the books of Murakami, I know I will always get a dose of the dark, mysterious, intriguing, and perplexing. 1Q84 is the story of a parallel world and parallel lives, with a threatening cult thrown in the mix. I know people who found parts repetitive, but I thought the pace of the book reflected the rhythm of music, one of Murakami’s recurring themes. I didn’t want it to end, and that’s the best recommendation I can give.

The Tower, The Zoo, and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart. A very pleasant read about a man with a deep sadness who is put in charge of the royal menagerie. Sweet, but not frivolous. This had been on my to-read list for a while after seeing a recommendation in an issue of Real Simple. Check.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. I heard an interview with the author on NPR last winter and was naturally drawn to a story that attempts to intertwine the characters from a book by one of the greatest authors. It’s an engaging novel from a murder mystery point of view, but the characters were nothing like the characters of Pride and Prejudice. I spotted this book in a bookstore in Bath and thought I would see what it would bring.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. A look at the lives of two women in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mariam’s life is a struggle from the start and when her father forces her to marry an older, cruel man, it only gets worse. A few houses away, in another world, Laila lives a life of happiness with her parents. When her family is killed, Laila and Mariam’s lives are brought together and they become stronger as they struggle together.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. My favorite Austen book about the story of a second chance. I’ve read it a dozen times and will a dozen more.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. This book begins at a university with three students exploring the limits of sanity, which was written so spot on that it made me nostalgic for my undergraduate days. The students leave the comfort of higher education and the real character development begins. I can’t remember when this book landed on my to-read list, but I finally got my hands on it thanks to the lovely Ellen.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. A story set in New York at the end of the 19th century. The beautiful Lily Bart belongs to a society bent on pleasure and centered around money. This book is almost as good as The Age of Innocence. My younger sister and I have been reading American classics together over the past year and this was a gift from her.

If you’re interested in more reading tips, here are some previous posts about books I’ve read: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I’d love to hear recommendations from you!

Lottie Davies: images from Syria

I first discovered the work of London-based photographer Lottie Davies through her series North and have come to admire the way she captures other places and people. A few weeks ago, I was revisiting her portfolio and spotted her images of Syria taken in 2007. A striking contrast from the images we currently see coming out of Syria. I asked Davies to take us back to that trip, the people she met there, and her approach to photographing them and their land.

What led you to work in Syria in 2007?
Lottie Davies: Actually it was a very personal trip – my father is very interested in early Christian architecture, and Syria (Aleppo particularly) was a cultural hub during early Christianity. He wanted to visit the area and learn more about its history, so we went together and split our time between his explorations and my photography. For a female photographer in an Arab country, it was the perfect combination – travelling with my father was considered extremely respectable, so we were welcomed everywhere, and unusually, my father was able to meet women because being with me was considered appropriate.

What was your impression of Syria and its people?
Lottie Davies: Syria is a beautifully verdant, thriving place. The countryside is green, the earth dusty and warm. Aleppo bustles with markets and people selling clothes, SIM cards, and plastic trinkets alongside jewelry, spices, and traditional foods. It is a mixture of medieval fortified city and modern trading centre; ancient temples sit next to apartment blocks covered in satellite dishes. The country’s position means that it has been a meeting point for cultures and peoples for many centuries and that is still very evident in its daily life.

Your images often focus on the people within their cultural context. Why do you take this approach and what did it reveal in the Syria project?
Lottie Davies: I find the differences between cultures totally fascinating, the subtle differences which develop in different climates, different geography, and within different religious and social contexts. That’s what human society is about; how we live together and organize our interactions on a family, local, and international level. I try to approach each project with that in mind, so that I can learn about other cultures and understand the subjects of my photographs better. I feel it is important to at least try to understand someone’s cultural context if you are purporting to represent them.

In Arab countries, welcoming visitors and inviting them into your home is considered extremely important and part of everyday life. My father and I were invited to have tea, coffee, lunch with total strangers who fed and watered us and were genuinely interested in getting to know us. Arab hospitality is famous, of course, and I was struck by the difference to Britain, in my experience. We are so suspicious of ‘foreigners’ here, the last thing we are likely to do is invite a total stranger from another culture into our home and give them lunch and ask about their opinion on the war in Iraq. In Britain, we are much more private. I think we would consider it an imposition on their time, might oblige them to eat with us when they would probably rather be on their own, would we have the right food, we would worry that we would offend them, and let’s face it, we can be fairly xenophobic when the mood strikes.

For me, and my work, the experience was about being open, and just seeing what the day would bring. I had no particular preconceptions about the place or its people, I was simply curious. Of course, at that time there was no war, and although the state had a fairly tight grip on the population, it was beginning to relax (hence the relatively new ability to watch non-state television like CNN and the BBC) and there was no obvious sense of state control. The people I met were just people along the road who live around Aleppo, whose day to day concerns were their family, their jobs, their livestock, what they would eat for dinner, just like the rest of us…

What are your hopes for the people of Aleppo and Syria?
Lottie Davies: Clearly I hope for an end to the conflict as soon as possible, and thereafter peace and self-determination for the Syrian people and others across the Middle East. If I were to go back to Syria and meet those people again, I would wish them Allah yafrijha alekum, which translates as ‘May God free you from your troubles’.

weekend links

Weekend Links is a collection of the interesting bits and pieces that I’ve come across on the streets and online. I hope you enjoy them as well!

1. Seeing autumn everywhere (pictured above the artwork of Meral Sarioglu)
2. Imagining what it’d be like to vote Dizzy Gillespie for President
3. Reading 10 Things Americans Can Learn from Amsterdammers (via)
4. Award-winning book cover designs from 2011
5. Viewing the fascinating photo project people and their breakfast by Jon Huck
6. Putting Lola Bikes and Coffee  on my list to visit next time I’m in The Hague (via Petite Passport)
7. Tips to for homemade limoncello coming from Nostrana in Portland

Lola Bikes photos by Arthur Wieffering

Prior Park Landscape Garden, Bath

One last post about our road trip through the UK to highlight the Prior Park Landscape Garden and the beautiful Palladian Bridge. Built in the 18th century, the garden is located south of Bath. It was designed by Alexander Pope and Capability Brown (great name!) with funding from Ralph Allen. Arriving when the garden opened for the day, Marcus and I had the place to ourselves. The entrance is at the top of hill and the path leads to a clearing with a view over the garden and Bath in the distance. A winding path took us through the foliage, past a herd of grazing cows, until we reached the bottom of the hill and the bridge.

The Cotswolds, part II

We returned to the Cotswolds for the remainder of our trip for a second round of rolling hills and sunny weather. Our base was a bed and breakfast in Gloucester, a town with fantastic pubs, easy access to nature, and an impressive cathedral.

The highlight of the Gloucestershire region was the Forest of Dean, an ancient woodland said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien while writing Lord of the Rings. Wandering among the trees, you could almost sense the motivation for the Ents. We made our way to Woorgreens Lake, but had to take a detour when we came across a wild boar and her piglets scavenging for food.

The next day, Marcus and I visited several nearby towns, such as Cheltenham and Painswick, centerpieces of the Cotswolds charm. In the morning, we slowly made our way to Bath to return the rental car and then took the train to London for the last night. For as much as we saw, there is still much more to explore.

Our fantastic UK road trip has been over for about a month now. I spend a lot of time planning for each holiday and when it’s over, I can’t help but start planning for the next. What are you upcoming travel plans?