Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writing the Sacred in the Fes Medina

The Fes Sacred Music Festival (June 7 -15) has ended and so has our Sacred Song, Sacred Story, Writer's Retreat.  A number of writers from Australia, Laos, Germany and Morocco, met each morning for writing workshops at Riad Rcif under the tutelage of Australian writer/performer Jan Cornall. Taking their inspiration from the Fes medina and the extraordinary music performances each night, they were working on poems, songs, prose pieces, film, novel and play ideas. Hooking up with the Fes Festival Fringe they found a perfect venue for reading their work at Culture Vulture's pOp Up Gallery in the heart of the souk where the passing traffic of locals and tourists stopped by to listen.
Below are some pics and a taste of what was presented there as well as other writings from the retreat.

Jess Stephens of Culture Vultures at the petite pOp Up Gallery

Some of our medina audience.

Jan Cornall

Medina Love

La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina

(audience is encouraged to sing this backing refrain, repeating continuously in gnawa/calypso rhythm, using any percussive instruments at hand)

(poet speaks)
I'm lost in the medina
and I'm beginning to glean a
meaning of finding my way back
to a rhythm
I didn't know
I had

La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, j'aime le medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina

In the medina
I've seen her, I meet her, I greet her, I sweet her, I treat her, I shove her, I pinch her, I steal her,  I feel her, I smile her, I try her, fry her,  I ask her, I tell her, I fake her, I make her, I take her, I trick her, I prick her, I ask her, I pass her, I trance her, I dance her, romance her, I step her, I find her, I lose her, I fear her, I steer her, I near her, I cheer her, I love her...

La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina

(poet freestyles in call and response to audience members who add their list of medina experiences followed by the chorus again)

In the medina
I scarf her, I chafe her, I leather her, slipper her, arghan oil her, spoil her, bejewel her, jellaba her, shoe horn her, knife sharpen her, embroider her, indigo her, I bake her, charm snake her, I carpet her, cushion her, I silk her, I milk her, noos noos her, expresso her, mint tea her, targine her, mosaic her, archaic her, I Sufi her, Jelala her, inshallah her, I brotherhood, motherhood, sisterhood, I love her!

La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina
La, la,la,la,la, j'aime le medina
La, la,la,la,la, love the medina

( poet and audience continue singing and fade into the medina sunset)

(C) Jan Cornall, June 2013, Fes.

Elisabeth Vongsaravanh

Elisabeth Vongsaravanh- jellaba shopping in Fes medina.

 Wahdi Fi Leile - Alone in the Night

What’s the meaning of the dark blue sky,
the swallows wings against the wind?
What’s the meaning of countless threads
without hands gently spinning them in?
A breeze of music soothes my skin
swallows my soul and the rhythm within.
I have no need to be any place better 
my up and down waves, like rhythm and rhyme,
are music playing on a dark blue night.
Wahdi fi leile, wahdi fi leile, wahdi fi leile

An animal in the fields of yesterday
shape-shifting to hide from eyes that
don’t see beyond. Go on with it, go on I say;
take my tongue and speak my words,
take my eyes and you see,
you can’t take my life,
can’t take it at all, for in my life,
you would be just as I am.
Wahdi fi leile, wahdi fi leile, wahdi fi leile
Is there a song as beautiful as death
then it’s the same song for life,
and maybe it’s not you l love, but the stars I see
in the dark blue sky that fills me with love as I lay
connecting the dots.
Wahdi fi leile, wahdi fi leile,wahdi fi leile
Shadows of your song follow me along
in a moonlit yard,
An animal in the fields of yesterday
Wahdi  fi leile, wahdi fi leile
shape-shifting to hide,
for in my life you would be just as I am,
letting shadows cover me from sight.
Love will remain a breeze of music
and we’re missing the rhythm within
as we lay
Wahdi fi leile, wahdi fi leile.

(c) Elizabeth Vongsaravanh June 2013, Fes.

Christine Colton and Elisabeth Vongsaravanh at Cafe Clock, Fes.

Medina Mystery

The comforting smell of leather and spices, the familiar stench of the cobbler’s glue, takes me back to the time I went to get my mother’s sandals fixed - the last time, in 1986 . . .  In the alleys - paint, varnish, street-food, grilled meat, baking bread - blends with death and dirt, garbage, urine and  mule-droppings. It doesn’t smell so awful. 

In the medina everything seems to exist in the harmony of contrasts and contradictions. Enter a blue gate, and come out on its green side.  Do it three times, you’ll be enlightened! Enter a tiny ragged doorway and find a tall palace of mosaics with space and roofs that open up to the sky. Lift a woman’s jiellaba and maybe, all she’s wearing is the latest Victoria’s Secret lingerie.

I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love with the music, the feeling of mystery - I know that to every patch of the surface, there is a depth waiting to be opened and explored.  I’m in love with you! With the essence of the maze, gathered behind walls guarded by black sparrows guarding their nests. 

Living in the medina is like living in a nutshell.  The alleys as wide as my outstretched arms, wall to wall, I walk within your walls. I walk, and I wonder where the vegetable gardens grow . . . All those fresh green enormous crisp bunches of mint, the tomatoes, radishes, apricots, peaches, sweet juicy pears, cherries, thyme, artichokes, melons, cucumbers, parsley, plums, and corn. Where are the lemon trees and the almond groves? When do the sellers get up to be ready for the hungry buyers coming for fresh greens? They seem to be there all day long, behind their luscious heaps of delicacies. 
From above, the view of birds flying over medieval rooftops featuring satellite dishes, and green tiles sprouting  thirsty yellow  grass, while emerald cedars, cypruses and dates grow in hidden gardens and beyond the hills of the sandstone city.  On the streets below,  children are running up and down like cats do. They fall, they cry, they laugh and they point me in the opposite direction I’m about to go. I assume they want me to get lost. 

From peace and quiet to crowded streets and shops and food, food, food everywhere. Small coffee shops pop up in between a lamp-shop and an embroiderer and  mules keep passing by carrying whatever is placed on their backs. They speak French too, hee-hawing ‘Attentiooooon!’  Another street opens, where a piece of wood is burning, smoking on the pavement as a cloud of  bees blocks the pathway -  no one seems to mind walking through confused crowd of bees.  So like everyone else, my daughter and I  pass through the buzzing bunch, completely surrounded for a split second. Their nest has fallen. Where else were they supposed to go?

As I walk I often find myself looking into the eyes of  people.  I’m curious about them. What’s on their minds. I know too little about Islam. I doubt that religion ever had to do with the true nature of people. I could have been born here. I could have grown up eating olives, herbs and Turkish delight my whole life. My mother loved wearing hats and turbans, and she was particularly proud of her little purple piece of muslin she would always carry around in her handbag for no reason at all. Maybe it was a gift from someone. I’ve never asked . . . She would wear a black turban with an orange broach going to the Sunday mass.   

At the beginnings of fashion, before World war I., the French icon Poiret introduced his collection of robes and turbans to the world. In every culture we blend and fuse, invent, distort and transform the traditional.  But we forget about the roots. If we didn’t, this world would be a better place. Everything that’s art brings us one step closer to peace. The sacred songs of Morocco, Andalusia, Armenia, Tibet, India, Syria, the Sufi rituals and dances, the drums, the orchestras of all cultures leads to one realization, that we all are connected through love and a spiritual thirst to be free. There are no words any more. There are songs and sounds that become the ivory of pain, as passion is let loose from a Spanish guitar. Don’t ask why . . . let’s just be here and stay forever in peace. 

My veins feel like empty transparent tubes intertwining inside my body. A slow transfusion of new blood, new thoughts, new life. Under the African sky, I imagine that the Moon is God’s Third Eye watching over me from above. . .

 (c) Elizabeth Vongsaravanh, June 2013, Fes.

Claine Keily

Inkala, Kinga and Claine Keily(reading) at pOp Up Gallery, Fes.

The Mute Gypsy

And I wanted so to sing
but the snow
was on my breath again
and so I stayed there
mute again and let
the winter take me
I shall remember this
and all the springs
before it
that taught me
if ungently
that we all heap snow in our
even before the honey season, and before
the flowers
for this is what
our mothers taught us

(c) Claine Keily, June 2013, Fes

Song of the False Gypsy

Take it then
my blood for wine
and the children with
clots for viens
like bitter apples
And it does not rain
And here take this
orchard empty
where the caravans
of love, no longer
come to sleep
I am tired of
emptying the night
from all the
fruit wagons I visit
I am tired
of dreaming life

(c) Claine Keily, June  2013, Fes.

Catherine McMahon

Catherine McMahon at Mokri Palace garden.


Guided through the medina my luggage rolling on,
Guided through the medina hearing late night Sufi songs.

Looking for orange, or green or blue or pink,
With Aisha's blond curls another vital link.

Gliding through the medina are pastries on her head,
Swaying through the medina, the donkey's calmly led
Noisy in the medina, wheels weaving on small ramps
Gardens in the medina, with softly glowing lamps.

We are many in the medina, we live and shop and play.
We are visitors to the medina, who might just lose our way.

Notes soaring, hands dancing, to stillness we are led
Flamenco, much applauding and different voices blend.

Gazing across the medina, after poetry is read
Sat dishes and washing, familiar as round bread.

Eight points to the star and fountain in its midst,
Wood carving and blue tiles because we are in Fez.

Crowds gather in the plaza, police are everywhere
It's a concert, not a riot and the festival is shared.
The entrance is narrowed, we squeeze and softly swear,
There's watching and some giggles at the clothes and masks we wear.

The rubbish in plastic the cats with care dissect,
There's more sorting around midnight, when orange men collect.

We're seeing just a little of the mysteries of our host,
We're descending to the medina and all that it evokes.

(c)Catherine McMahon June 2013, Fes.

Inkala Gisela Bleyer

Inkala reading at pOp Up Gallery

Hush baby hush
Hold onto my heart
Onto this heartbeat
My Angel
Together we'll soar
Can you taste the dust of our dry mother earth?
Can you touch the light of a rainbow falling?
Can you smell the song of little cicada
Praising the sun on a drop of dew?

Hush baby hush
Open your eyes now
And look at the sweetness
Of brown sister date
Open your ears now
And Hear the salt
In green brother olive
Together lets fly
My angel sweet
Together explore
This great gift of life
That we enter together.

Come now my baby
Together lets dream
Lets run with bare feet
Pounding the soil
Awaking the grain
To burst forth with  joy
To fulfill its purpose
Of growth in the heat
To be cut and grinded
To be burnt and consumed.

Like these grains
Now my angel
Together lets sing
Let's meet our own journey
And taste our own path
Lets discover some secrets
And let others remain
Forever Unknown.
Come little angel
Hush baby hush
Together lets travel
Together lets dream
Its safe to let go
Its safe to not know.

(c) Inkala Gisela Bleyer, June 2013, Fes.

Inkala, dressed for the medina.

Lost and Found in the Medina
Wandering wandering, upwards in the hot meandering lanes of the Medina. Relentlessly burning - there's no shade at this time of day! I'm in search of a hat I seem to have lost. I wind my way up the endless steps, avoiding the donkey's droppings and some garbage, watching for signs and landmarks I have memorized so that I might not lose my way in these labyrinthine alleys. This way and that I turn, searching for something I treasure that has seemingly disappeared. Does it matter or is it yet again time to let go?
Im feeling hot and slightly dizzy. There is an awareness of missing and lacking something. Yet  that is strangely intertwined with a desire to give and reach out, although I feel tired: an extra friendly smile and a few cheering words to the little chocolate selling boy in the corner who answers with an extra broad smile, a bright Bonjour! to the watchman with his newspaper at his habitual lookout. Later he will make sure that all the guests streaming by, up and down for the various concerts in hidden courtyards of the magical Medina are safe and well while at the same time he remains very much minding his very own business, languid and seemingly disinterested in the passersby.
"Bonjour Madame, welcome to you!" calls a man standing at the door of his cupboard sized shop. "Bonjour, Madame. What are you looking for?" ask two boys around the corner. "Nothing," I say, "I know my way." They smile.  "Ah that is good. Then there is no problem!" What was that one sentence Charles, my neighbor at dinner last night had said? "Mish mash kila?" I hesitantly ask, wondering if that was the one meaning there is no problem. I am not sure, but I say it anyway. The two young boys grin. "No problem, no problem!"
Out of every little shop rings "Bonjour, bonjour!" How strange that I should feel hot, restless and slightly irritated and the people of the Medina seem to know I could do with a cheer. Even the women I encounter seem to smile more than usual!
Entering the lane to the restaurant we had eaten at the night before I pass a stooped man, gesturing hunger. I will feed him on my return I think, not with money but food. My precious hat has not been found and so I start heading back, almost pressed against a fruit sellers cart by two donkeys heavenly laden with big metal containers protruding far over their sides. This weaving of bodies and boxes, carts and stalls, cats and mules in narrow lanes - there always is plenty of space however tight it may seem!
So there is the man, his shoulders hunched forward, his clothes sagging on his emaciated frame, his gaze averted and yet looking at me directly - and I look back with a nod of my head. He moves forward towards me and I gesture to the owner of the tiny restaurant with two tables inside: please feed him whatever he wants, I will pay. Agreement is instant, no further explanations needed. "Are Twenty five Dirham ok?" he asks.  "Yes, that's ok." He beckons the man to come and sit down. He nods at me as he shuffles in. I feel more peaceful now.
Further on I come across a man in a wheelchair I have not seen before. This one too I feel to feed, again with food and not with money. As I approach the owner of the stall laden with sweet pastries next to him I notice he already has one in his hands. Before I can ask him to sell it to me, I realize he is feeding the man in the wheelchair, who is obviously incapable of feeding himself. Such a sweet, loving and gentle encounter! It deeply touches me. We smile and nod at each other - no words are needed.
I continue down the alley. It is still so hot, still without shade. The walls on either side reflect the heat of the early afternoon back at me. Turning a corner I recognize another disabled man in a wheelchair. I know him immediately, although he is not in his usual location. I take out my purse to slip him my usual gift of two coins in passing with a smile and yet this time he reaches toward me with his arm waving uncontrollably. And then he tries to stand on legs that wont hold him to embrace me. Spontaneously I reach forward and hold him. For a fleeting moment memories of warnings surface about touching men, especially in Muslim countries, about the disabled people being considered defiled and untouchable. The moment is fleeting and gone before the thoughts take hold. The man holds on to me as best he can and I hold him. Just that. It is a deeply touching and very human moment.
In the distance a Moroccan man approaches, turns and looks away. It doesn't matter what he might think. He is not the one in the wheelchair and he is not a women throwing caution aside so how can he know what this moment is about? It doesn't matter.
Gently I pull myself away, slip the two coins into the uncontrollably shaking hand trying to take mine. I carefully yet firmly let go and slowly continue walking. A young woman passes me smiling. I turn around and she puts her hand to her heart. "Shukran," she calls, "Shukran!" We wave and smile. Women know.
With a last farewell gesture towards the man in the wheelchair I walk "home" to the beautiful Riad Rcif our group is staying at. I long to just sit in the peaceful rooftop garden. My travelling hat - a thing that had held many beautiful memories and therefore had seemed important to me has been lost. But it is just a hat and something far more precious has been gained unexpectedly: lasting memories of a deep connection with the Medina of Fez and its beautiful people.
(c)   Inkala Gisela Bleyer, Fes 2013.

Si Mohamed Abarda, Moroccan screen writer, with Inkala and Kinga.

Kinga Bisits, Karen Hadfield, Simo, Aisha at work on the rooftop at Riad Rcif

L-R Christine Colton, Claine Keily, Kinga Bisits, Jan Cornall, Elisabeth Vongsaravanh, Catherine McMahon.

Aisha, our fabulous hostess at Riad Rcif

You can find many more pics at Flickr
info re next years Sacred Song, Sacred Story retreat June 2014 here
and Moroccan Caravan January 2014 here