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Atay Maghrebi: Skala du Port, Essaouira

As I sat on the highest point of the roof terrace drinking coffee, I scanned around the view: flaking whitewash on all but a handful of buildings, rusting chimneys pumping out benign traces fire of black smoke against the hazy blue canvas and lending the whole town a sea-bleached aspect. 
I decided to take in high tide down by the Skala du Port, a place I had visited the year before.
The Skala du Port is perhaps the most obvious example of the Portuguese colonial history of the town they called Mogador. A castellated fortification, it joins the main wall around the medina, before holding out a protective arm against the Atlantic breakers around the fishing port and the shipbuilders.
From the top of the fortified tower, a mere 10dh to get to, the view looks towards the Île de Mogador and the ocean in one direction, and the medina tightly huddled past the rising smoke of the fish grills by the main square in the other.
Inside the harbour wall, there is a constant hive of activity as fi…

The Wren Boys by Carol Ann Duffy

As an English teacher it is impossible to escape Carol Ann Duffy. A couple of years back, a colleague in my department perhaps to rub this in, perhaps because of the story's link to Ireland, or maybe just seized by the Christmas spirit, bought me one of Duffy’s small seasonal poems, The Wren Boys, beautifully illustrated by Dermot Flynn.
The tale of the poem links to a rural Irish tradition that takes place on St Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas Day, whereby groups of people will dress up and go hunting a wren.
According to the various myths, the wren, or wran, is thought to have betrayed the Saint’s whereabouts to his captors with its song and to have cheated against an eagle in a flying competition.
The writing is wonderfully evocative of a cold, rural Christmastime: The old year, a tear in the eye of time; frost on the blackthorn, the ditches glamorous
with rime; on the inbreath of air,
the long, thoughtful pause before snow. The air is filled “everywhere musky with peat fro…

Atay Maghrebi: To Essaouira and the Atlantic

Leaving Marrakech, the landscape stays flat, except for a few distant outcrops of rock. The sensation of the inhospitality of the environment creeps up on you as the olive groves become fewer and further between and rough scrub runs away to the base of distant hills.
Eventually, the landscape starts to undulate as you pass through small towns like Sid L’Mokhtar, and, after two hours, Morocco simply runs out of land as the coach starts to plummet down to the Atlantic coastline and the peeling whitewash of Essaouira’s medina.

The morning started with the obligatory slices of sweet cake dipped into apricot jam, with a side of yoghurt and coffee. I had a chat with Merissa who was already awake and wearing sunglasses like she was nursing a hangover.
I packed up my bags and meandered my way out of the medina towards Bab Laksour to get a taxi.
Having learned the lesson last year that taxi metres are always mysteriously broken in Marrakech, I readied myself for a battle with the driver who…

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively

One part of my job involves me walking around other English teachers' classrooms and making sure that our younger students are getting the best from of our department. On one such ramble I saw a copy of The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively (1973).
The one and only time that I had previously come across the book was during Miss Appleby's Year 8 English class at Aylesford School, Warwick. It had been the focus of one half term's assessment, but now twenty years later, I thought it would make a good Hallowe'en book to read.
The story is set in the early 1970s and centres around a young boy, James, and his family who have just moved into a small cottage in the fictional Oxfordshire village of Ledsham.
The tale begins with workmen in the roof of the cottage converting the attic into a bedroom. As they are chipping away at the walls, a small green bottle, seemingly hidden behind the plaster, falls out and onto the ground, smashing in the process. 
Not long after thi…

Atay Maghrebi: Out of the Dark and into Jemaa El-Fnaa

The night time offers a wealth of opportunity and intrigue in almost any country, but when I'm somewhere where my understanding of the language extends to just a handful of phrases and disconnected words, I find it all the more enthralling. Marrakech genuinely quickens the pulse and widens the eyes by night, with the famous Jemaa El-Fnaa as its wildly arrhythmic beating heart.

After a day of perfectly idle wandering and preparing for my journey to Essaouira, I sat up on the roof terrace, ordered atay, read the ending of Alex Garland’s The Beach and waited for sunset.

During this time, a Dutch woman and a Belgian man sat near to me and started to talk about a range of subjects. Most of their discussion was centred around the regular banalities of two travellers who don’t know each other well and clearly don’t have a great deal in common.
Shortly before sunset, the Belgian man caught my attention as he started to regale his newfound friend with quotes from the Quran taken both ou…

Atay Maghrebi: 'Your Eyes Aren’t Moroccan' and Palais El Badi

Arriving the day before, I had rolled along the main road from Marrakech Menara Airport in the front seat of the transfer bus. All the way I had sat with a wide smile on my face as the familiarity of the scene unfolding before me was reabsorbed by my mind. 
There were the old men on even older motorbikes meandering along the side of the road, young women in hijabs racing along on mopeds talking into iPhones, and donkey carts dislodging there loads as they bumped along the thoroughfares. All this in bathing in the unbridled dissonance and a perfect cacophony of car horns.

The day had started with actual clouds in the sky and the sun somewhat subdued. Never one to intentionally miss an opportunity to avoid sunburn, I finished breakfast quickly and headed off towards La Place des Ferblantiers with the Palais El Badi as my ultimate destination.
Crossing the square, muted in the pre-lunch haze, a lady in a purple niqab approached and addressed me in French, "Bonjour monsieur. Ca va…

Atay Maghrebi: Bahia Palace and Reflecting in the Souks

During breakfast of orange cake, yoghurt, atay and the world’s sweetest apricot jam, the distant shape of a plane takes off carrying Ireland’s answer to Ali Baba back home. All around me are the chattering voices of a multitude of languages; French, mainly, but also a smattering of German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish, mostly belonging to females.
Having become really accustomed to the main thoroughfares of the medina, the ways in and out, and a few landmarks, I hear stories of being lost and confused.
J'ai tourné à gauche comme il l'a dit. Maar ik was op de onjuiste plaats. Sucedió tres veces más.

Last evening, after dinner, I had swapped numbers with Dee. The idea was to head to the Palais de Bahia (or Bahia Palace) together after breakfast, but there was no real sign of her anywhere.
At around half past ten, I received a message from Dee saying that she been up all of the night chatting to her dorm mate, a young Moroccan woman, but still wanted to come along.
So, a little l…

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

In need of an uplifting story to get 2017 started on the right note, Tom Michell's The Penguin Lessons seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
I was on the phone to a friend when I bought the book, stood in Hammersmith Broadway, craving a bit of non-fiction. I actually couldn't decide between this book and Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild so I ended up buying both.
In the mid-1970s, Tom Michell left the UK with a plane ticket to South America to start a teaching job at a private school in Argentina. The story starts when the author takes a stroll along a Uruguayan beach at the end of a holiday. Whilst walking he finds a horrific scene; hundreds of penguins, covered in oil and tar, washed up on the shore dead. 
A few moments later he notices some movement and spots a survivor; the penguin who names Juan Salvador: One valiant bird was alive; a single surviving soul lying on its belly and covered in tar like the others, but making little spasmodic jerks of its head and wings. Death thr…

Atay Maghrebi: The Saadian Tombs

Stepping out of the cool darkness of the shuttered dorm, into the shade of the courtyard and then up onto the bright reality of the roof terrace, I realized that Saturday morning seemed to have even more of a Sunday morning feel than Friday did. The hotel was silent save for the handful of people at breakfast and the usual group of sparrows dancing around, picking up cake crumbs from the buffet.

The massiveness of the pale blue sky would seem almost oppressive, were it not for the distinct outline of the Atlas mountains in the distance and a handful of minarets nearby. Only the occasional revving of a moped shimmying through the alleyways brings you back into your present.

Getting more used to the Marrakshi heartbeat, I decided to stick to my plan of going to visit something specific in the cooler morning air. Today, it was my full intention to reach Le Palais de la Bahia, or Bahia Palace.
Setting off, passing through the narrow passageways of the medina, a route with which I had fa…

Københavnske Dagbog: Min Identitet På Tværs @ Støberiet

Shortly after lunch on Friday 17th February, I headed over to the rather hipster Hackney-esque Papirøen, or ‘Paper Island’, for a coffee and chat with Pernille, a fellow lover of East Africa.
As is often top of the agenda these days in Europe, we discussed migration and the question being raised by one political party about what constitutes Danish values. It is interesting as it seemed to mirror similar discourse about British values that had arisen pre- and post-Brexit in the UK.
When the conversation moved on to discuss the diversity of my students in the UK, Pernille recalled a small photography exhibition that had just opened at Støberiet in Nørrebro, just down the road from what is affectionately called ‘Little Somalia’ and on my way to my friends’ apartment.
The title of the exhibition, Min Identitet På Tværs, roughly translates as ‘My Identity Across’ and implies a potential tension, or distance, between divergent aspects of young Danish-Somalis’ cultures.
According to the web…

Atay Maghrebi: Eating Snails and Adam's Tale from the Sahara

As the maghrib prayer was called, a small group of us were left watching the dust-blown orange sun setting and, as ever, it put on quite a show as it lowered itself below the tops of three palms in the middle distance.
The multitudinous adhans started as, one by one, the muezzins called "Allahu akbar… hayya'alas-salāh" in a rippling effect that hums across the massiveness of the sky over the hostel’s roof terrace. 
Save for the soft fizzing sound as hot atay hit the cube of sugar at the bottom of my glass, we were left silenced.

As with the previous day, there is a rolling cast of bit part players coming and going within the hostel.
Shortly after maghrib, I had wandered to the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Encouraged by my stolen guidebook, I had decided to brave one apparent local delicacy - snails!
The snails are sold at small stalls in the centre of the market place, slightly away from the larger food stalls in the middle and adjacent to a line of orange juice sellers. The propri…

Københavnske Dagbog: The Colours of Djibouti @ Davids Samling

When I arrived at the Copenhagen Backpackers Hostel, one of the first things that caught my eye was a leaflet for an exhibition called Djiboutis Farver or The Colours of Djibouti in English. The picture on the front was of a wall with a small window cut into it, the bottom half a dirty salmon and the top a washed out baby blue.
The name of the venue, and the leaflet, had slipped out of my mind until my friend Signe said over lunch, “I really want to visit the Islamic art museum.”
I asked her where it was and what it was called, looking for a chance to build on my exploration of Essaouira’s Museum in the summer. She made a noise that sounded a bit like, “dad’s salmon.” Then she spelled it out and it was the same place that I had been looking at the leaflet for.

After chasing the changing of guards around town for a bit and having a coffee in the Grønlands Repræsentation, I wandered towards the innocuous entrance to the Davids Samling Collection, opposite the Kongens Have or King’s …

Atay Maghrebi: The Koutoubia Mosque and Hotel La Mamounia

I didn’t really feel that Marrakech and I had got off on the right foot. This morning, after a really good night’s sleep, I had resolved to have a calm day, take in a few sights, and limit my spending to 200dh.
Perhaps most excitingly, it was my first Jumu’ah spent in a Muslim country. The day already had the feel of a Sunday morning in a Christian country and when I finally got out of bed the hostel was very quiet. By 8.30, there were only two others on the roof terrace.
Breakfast was, as expected, a bit of a bread fest, but there are also the options of cake, yoghurt, coffee, atay, pancakes, all accompanied by the worlds sweetest and thickest apricot jam.
I took my time eating and made the most of the sun’s mild temper to write the previous days misadventures into my notebook, accompanied by a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a pair of sparrows who insisted on monitoring my every move lest I drop a crumb.
I also reflected on how humourless I had been the day before. Plent…