Return – Festival Man: A Novel, by Geoff Berner

Ramblings of the past escapades of a drunk musical director who enjoys partaking in drugs to help his decision-making as he chases the ‘next big thing’ by looking at peripheral extremes of music is the Festival Man. It’s 140+ pages of antics set in Canada makes for a quick and entertaining read.  I appreciate that the story is set within the Calgary Folk Fest. Pick it up to support Canadian artists!

“Calgary is big, and it’s getting bigger all the time. The people who run Calgary would give Jane Jacobs an aneurysm, if they ever met her, but they don’t run in the same circles. Calgary believes in ’50-style suburban-development sprawl. If you see it from the air at night, its lights and grid make it look exactly like a massive Pac-Man game laid out flat on the dark screen of the prairie, and the high price of oil is making it ever-expanding, like a flood, but a flood of garbage.”


National Palace of Pena, Sintra

The bus windows fog up, taking away more of our view than the morning drizzle. Quietly our bus makes its way up the steep slope and tight turns that lead us to our reward – National Palace of Pena. The colours of the castle punctuate the hill, but we’re forced to imagine the view. The valley fog provides a mystical back drop for our unguided exploration. Pena does its palace label justice providing color, tile work and plenty of ‘pretty things’.

Despite the fog and drizzle we take advantage of the vast park surrounding the palace and visit the High Cross, Duck House, Horse Stables, Goats (“little tiny ponies that make delicious cheese”) and the Valley of Lakes.



Morrocan Food – Yummy!

Food is a huge part of the travel experience and Morocco hasn’t disappointed us! Traditional Moroccan delights that we’ve enjoyed include:

  1. Tanjine – this meal is named after the clay pot it’s cooked in, which looks like a birthday party hat but functions like a slow cooker.  Typically the dish includes meat surrounded by a variety of vegetables and even fruit like dates or nectarines.
  2. Dates – they’re a popular and available choice. Sold most everywhere you’d expect and wouldn’t (eg. roadside on a mountain pass)
  3. Brochette (French for skewers) – available with various types of meats (ie. chicken, beef, mixed). This is a go-to item on any restaurant menu.
  4. Couscous -they know how to cook this right!  We had a number of deliciously fluffy and light couscous dishes.
  5. Mint Tea – you wouldn’t be eating Moroccan without heavily sugared mint tea, poured into a small glass cup from a metal kettle at a height that gives it bubbles. Sometimes delicious, and sometimes all you taste is the sugar.

Recommend – Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Nick and Amy Dunne tell the story of her disappearance in this thriller/suspense novel. The writing switches back and forth between the husband (Nick) and wife (Amy) allowing for an interesting and engaging unfolding of the truth.

This book gets a ‘recommend’ simply because I couldn’t put it down and ploughed through it in a mere 6 hours.



Sounds of Marrakesh

It’s late.  Through the ornate window grate I am given visual few clues to the time. The sun sets by early evening and the dim lights keep the stuccoed wall its permanent colour – salmon pink. All I have is the intermittent sounds of Marrakesh.studio_20161105_152253

On the first night here I made a futile attempt to drown out the noise with ear buds and music. It was clear this would be a losing battle. I resigned myself to reframe the situation and listen to the music of the city.   The instruments include mopeds, voices and language of many, cats, garbage men, calls to prayer, the opening of doors and the occasional unknown. The undistinguishable murmur of the Jemaa el-Fnna square and nearby streets full of shops provide background into the night. But these aren’t late night activities and soon are removed from the orchestra.

Tonight we start the song with a handful of mopeds and an animated discussion among friends. Perhaps sorting out plans for the night or next day at work?  That’s the fun part – I get to fill in the blanks. The sounds only tease my brain, push it down the creative path. Arabic sounds extreme to my ears, either animated or aggressive,with little context to place it correctly in a category. Mopeds zoom away and the chatter quiets. The screeching of fighting cats and clipping of heals on the roadway take turns breaking the silence of the night.

Another verse comes – the garbage man. Each night the road is spotted with small bags of garbage, and each day we awake to a spotless street. This amazes me as the noise made sounds like creating a mess, not cleaning one.  Glass smashes, plastic bottles are crinkled and the garbage is sorted into a wagon that ungracefully moves down the street. The essential sweeping is too soft to hear.

It’s too late for a call to prayer, which are a clear reminder we’re not in Kansas anymore. The call is rarely the same and here in Marrakesh sounds overly animated like a boisterous play-by-play sports announcer.

Tonight my friends add to the music of the night as they cheer watching Game 7 baseball (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World  Series). They sit on the roof top patio and their trips down the metal stairs to use the loo mix with the common street noise of someone fumbling with a key to open a squeaky and loud metal door. Although I can’t spatially place the metal noise I recgonize not everyone is coming in to join us.

Ultimately, the sounds of the city do as intended and send me to sleep.



Re-Read: The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

The novel is narrated by the Don Tillman, an “oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.” Professor Tillman is an eccentric fellow whose life is guided by extreme logic and structure.  His world is thrown into upheaval by Rosie – a feisty women on her own quest to find her biological father.

Rosie Project is ranked as a re-read because:

  • it’s a feel good read –  light-hearted and entertaining. It will have you smiling at the oddities of human nature.
  • the story has that everyday vibe to it. You belive that Don and Rosie could be real people meeting and getting to know each other.
  • in an approachable and entertaining way it highlights where logic and emotions conflict. We can all appreciate why people, and love, are complicated.

What is love? The crux of the story, human relations and that funny thing we call love, are at the forefront of my mind these days. Thus, the story hit a chord with me and reminded me that:

  1. We don’t know what we want – As part of Don’s quest (aka the Wife Project) he develops a survey to find a compatible partner. As he spends and enjoys his time with Rosie,  he comes to realize the flaw in this approach: “it dawned on me that I had not designed the questionnaire to find a woman I could accept, but to find someone who might accept me … Claudia had told me I was being too picky but Rosie has demonstrated in New York that my assessment  of what would make me happy was totally incorrect” (pg 202)
  2. If you really love someone, you have to be prepared to accept them as they are – We’ve all heard this before, however it’s far easier to apply.
    ” ‘Don. I’m impressed, but …. changing to meet someone else’s expectations may not be a good idea. You may end up resenting it.’
    I didn’t think this was likely. I was learning some new protocols [social interaction], that was all.
    ‘If you really love someone,’ Claudia continued, ‘you have to be prepared to accept them as they are. Maybe you hope that one day they get the wake-up call and make the changes for their own reasons’ ” (pg 206)
  3. Love is not logical – “3. An inability (or reduced ability) to empathise is not the same as an inability to love. Love is a powerful feeling for another person, often defying logic.
    4. Rosie had failed numerous criteria on the Wife Project, including the critical smoking question. My feelings for her could not be explained by logic. I did not care about Meryl Streep. But I was in love with Rosie” (pg 236)




Saffron and Surfing: Taliouine and Taghazout

Following our Sahara Desert adventure we headed northwest towards the Atlantic coast.

Taliouine is a small town (less than 6,000 residents) in the heart of saffron country. Saffron flowers (which are a crocus – similar to back home in Alberta) grow in the area with the help of irrigation. The purple flowers are picked as they bloom before sunrise. They are then taken and manually the three small piece of deliciousness are extracted. The saffron is air-dried and packaged for sale.  Most saffron is sold through cooperatives. We visited the  Museum of Saffron Cultivation and Souktana Cooperative to learn more about the product, buy some and enjoy some tea. Our attempt to see purple fields of saffron fields was unsuccessful (as it’s the season for picking), but we did enjoy the landscape and valley.

Our accommodations were in the town’s kasbah (fortress) which as been converted into an auberge (french word for inn). It was fabulous with an internal courtyard, tasteful rooms and traditionally cooked meals.

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Taghazout is a smaller coastal town known for fishing and surfing. Upon arrival you get that bohemian feeling with a mash-up of locals and visitors (complete with stereotypical hippies living out of vans) and lots of restaurants and surf shops. Most shops offer package deals (surf and stay). We were blessed with an apartment overlooking the ocean – what a gift!

Surfing is a ton of fun and a lot of work. You quickly see how one gets a fit surfers body if you’re doing it everyday! Our instructor from Surf Berbere did a great job of getting us started. Not shockingly,  the boys with their past board experience, took to surfing quickly.  I enjoyed my day of basics – balancing on the board on my belly, catching the wave, and almost getting up. Certainly it peaked my interest and I’d give it a go in the future.

Driving into Taghazout it’s clear that the place is changing. Prior to the town there is a giant swath of obviously resort style development: manicured boulevards, paved parking lots with lights, new low rise dwellings, cranes and a Hyatt. Plus, the signs advertising untis for sale and the pending golf course. It would be interesting to come back in 5 years time to see the impact of this investment.

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Return: Kitchen Confidential – Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain is a chef with 30 plus years experience and notoriety, including books and television shows (ie. No Reservations).

The book is a collection of stories and perspectives he’s gained through his time in the restaurant industry, mostly in New York City. Certainly the man has had quite a lot of adventure during his career.  Often he’s been facilitated by liquor, drugs, the desire for money and questionable decision-making.  Through it all he does have a love for food that has provided him enough drive to make a living as a chef.

This book was suggested as a good traveling book from a buddy. It is an easy and entertaining read should you be interested in food/restaurants/chefs or not. If you picked it up on the run at an airport it would entertain you for a long flight. While interesting I found the order of stories unnecessarily scattered in time and place. The book (some of which was previously published) is simply a platform for him to document his perspective based on his experience.

The most useful part of the book was his opinion on necessary kitchen tools (Chapter: How to Cook Like the Pros), which include:

  1. ONE good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable in your hand” – it doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy and should reflect the care you’re willing to give your knife at home in the kitchen. Suggested brand: Global (vanadium steel)
  2. offset serrated knife. It’s basically a serrated knife set into an ergonomic handle”
  3. Stockpot, saucepans and thick-bottomed saute pans – they don’t have to be new, consider buying from a restaurant shutting down

To refresh those of my book review scale, each is categorized as either:

  • ReRead  – a really great book. There are too many books out there to read, thus few warrant a second go.
  • Recommend – a good book that I’d suggest to friends
  • Return – a book that I’ll likely forget about

Alice the Camel

Think of a hot desert animal and you’re likely to think of camels. Prior to coming to Morocco, we’d been told they’re cranky animals that spit and bite. Thankfully that wasn’t our experience. We appreciated the efforts of our Arabian Camels (aka dromedary) treking through the Sahara.

We started our trek from Mhamid with a 2 hour camel ride. That’s about all you need to understand what it’s like. Their awkward gait makes for a bumpy and swaying ride. The key is to be loose and go with it. The more your fight, the more uncomfortable it is. There is a saddle of sorts – it provides a u-shaped cushion around the hump to sit on and a metal structure to hang onto (and strap loads to). Want to know how comfortable the saddle is? Ride a bike for a few hours straight after you haven’t done it in years – the bike seat hits thus same tender spots on your butt. You definiately want the handle when getting on/off the camel. They bend front legs first, thus lean back and hold on or you’d noise dive over them!

Due to what may have been a communication error, day one was the only time we rode. The next three days we walked along with the wonderful beasts carrying our baggage, water, food and camp set up.  The camels are guided by a rope attached to either a nose ring (camel at the front of the line) or their mouth (rope located similar to the bit on a horse bridale). During that time we noticed:

  • all the work camels are male (aljamal). The ladies (naqa) are left to make more baby camels
  • they are trained to follow the instructions provided by the rope and camel dudes. One of the ropes came untied thus allowing a camel to be free from the set. He ended up stepping on the rope, and just patiently waited to be attended to.
  • nylon rope are the camel dudes best friend. They use it to tie the camels together, afix the saddle to the camel, tie their legs when at camp, etc.
  • to prevent the camels from wandering too far they tie their legs. Over night they tied their front legs together, about a foot apart. The camels can shuffle around. During our windy lunch break they tied the camels front feet to its upper leg. They could awkwardly get up and three-legged hop, however they tended to sit and stay put. Only one did the hop – to be able to eat from the tree
  • camels eat most anything, including any food leftovers and fruit rinds.

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S is for …. Sahara Desert

Drive off the end of the road in M’hamid Morocco and your into to the top of the Sahara Desert (the world’s largest hot desert). A simply amazing places to spend 4 nights/5 days taking in the natural beauty and Moroccan way of life (aka lots of tea).

Sky – the horizon in the desert is vast. I’ve never seen so clearly the multitude of stars in the night sky as in the desert. Certainly the stars would be essential to aiding travel over long distances with very few visible landmarks on the ground.  With almost 12 hour days and nights we’d see the moon high in the sky as the sun rose.

Scarfs – we all learned how to tie our scarfs on day one. Besides being a local fashion accessory their functionally is exceptional. They’re great for sun and sand protection. The locals use much longer scarfs that could double as rope for all sorts of practical applications: strapping goods on a camel, putting a bucket into a well for water, etc.


Sand – yep, there’s a lot of sand in the desert!  It’s so soft and fine (like flour) compared to the nicest beaches I’ve been too!  When it blows it gets in every orifice you have and you just deal with it.  Our guides were superb at managing to avoid getting sand in our omelettes (full props to them!).

Sun – our days were reasonable, at par with very hot summer days back home in Canada (a dry plus 30-35 celsius). A light breeze and scarf helped keep the temperate comfortable during our 2-3 hour desert treks. We walked; the camels carried our gear.

Stones – the compliment to all the sand are the many stones of all shapes and sizes. Like most things in the desert they served a purpose; piles were used as markers. On the highways piles serve as pylons or warning signs for road issues. Stones include fossils from days gone by!

Silence – the most striking thing about the desert was how quiet it was. Laying out on a sand dune to watch the stars you heard nothing but the beating of your own heart. It was amazing in a way I can’t capture in words!  However, this also means that you hear every noise when it’s made.