Introduction to Culture Vultures artist residency in Morocco

Call to PrayerIMG_0293

11 January 2014

39 hours from Montreal I arrived in Morocco after a very long journey and a very emotional few weeks. I arrived at the address I had at 3 in the morning. The doors were locked. The streets were silent and dark. As the cab drivers got back in their car three stray cats, a dog and a hooded old man each paced slowly toward me from different directions. I asked the cab drivers to wait with me in case I could not get inside. We rang the bell until someone answered. I had my room. A bed. No hot water. Sleep. I woke a few hours later to singing in a minor key. It had been wafting around in my dreams for some time and seemed to go on for half an hour.
I spent an afternoon exploring Fez and didn’t get lost in the medina because I didn’t venture deep enough to see the tannery. Breakfast under the blue gate was more stimulating that the entire month in Finland. Streets full of kittens, ornate man hole covers, handmade shoes, men with roosters, rabbits, pigeons, ducks and sheep in cages for sale, live and smiling. I met our host Jessica. She is wonderful. I want to be her when I grow up. She is from the Welsh town my family is from but now lives 30 min outside Fez and runs Culture Vultures on her own. There are five of us doing the residency. From Barcelona, New York, Montreal, Marakesh and Casablanca. We were all comfortable together right away. Little sleep. The first morning we drove passed olive groves and giant aloe plants and prickly pears and donkeys carrying vast hauls of fruit and a huge open blue sky to the village we are staying in. We awkwardly carried our bags up flights of stairs to our new home. A 4 story guesthouse with 24 hour running hot water, electric blankets, and a resident cook. We took ten minutes each to introduce our work and why we were here before setting out to explore. 20 inch green peppers and yellow pomegranates were piled high along the way. Coils of orange pvc tube reminded me of hoola hoops. I think I will buy some and make a hoop to take to Sidi Ali for whirling. We had brochette and tagines in a humble but beautifully tiled café across a pathway from a tiny fenced garden that belonged to the local cats. We found a taxi to drive us to Sidi ALi and were right away introduced to Rashid, a skeptic selling textiles, handmade candles, baskets and dried chameleons to offer to the spirits. We were feeling self-conscious and conspicuously out of place. Rashid was our safe man. He has a cozy spot in the back of his booth for us to sit. He served us tea and smiled at us. We tried to get our Arabic speaking friends to translate what he was saying about the spirits. This is where we would come if we were lost from the group or overwhelmed in the coming days. Across the tarp covered path was a pen of goats, some of whom had climbed up the wall and were nonchalantly perched as if causally showing off new designer jeans, smoking cigarettes and flirting with girls. A man from a neighboring booth had tea with us. We asked him what all the colors of the spirits were and what they meant. He explained that the red one invokes the Gin of the butchers. People who communed with him stab and slash themselves with knives in trance. If we did not want to meet this spirit we should not wear red. We all moved away from the red textiles hanging behind us and noticed that he was wearing a red sweatshirt. He left us for a moment and Jessica explained that we were lucky to have these men’s attention and that they would become very busy over the following week while pilgrims arrived to the mouseem. She explained that he could read our cards and that he was a powerful spirit guide sometimes invited to the palace. She had had an enlightening reading from him the previous year. He returned in red sweat pants and grinned. Christine went into his both, done up like a gypsy caravan. He melted lead into water and used it to read her fortune. As we waited a woman sat with us and put henna on our hands. She explained her connection to the gin Aisha. And how her husband did not believe in Aisha and did not support her life style as a participant in the Sufi ceremonies until the spirit came to him and told him to leave his wife. We later argued at length at the meaning of this story. We wandered into the market and I found where I belong. Booth after booth of dried lizards, porcupine and gazelle hides, snake skins, resin incense, panties, roots, serian rou, cosmetics, combs and assorted magic. Lights were turned on when we entered dark corners. Booths lined tunnels of ragged tarps to a shallow cave in the rock where candles were lit. I bought a dried woodpecker, a plastic comb with a spider web on it that looks like it was made for a 5 year old me. 5 x 18 inch long pork u pine quills I will use to write mantra, in blood if I bleed this week. The wood pecker is to be burned (it may be stuffed with incense like the chameleons.) I made such a big deal about the chameleons I will have to burn one later this week with the group. We are not allowed to take cameras into Sidi Ali so perhaps I will do a private ceremony on our roof that can be recorded. I lit a candle. The familiar feeling of the place (it’s like my studio/the inside of me) I decided that I am finally a vitologst. A term coined by Fiona and I a decade ago when we tried to learn magic and healing for our performance art practice and to force together science, spirituality and art. It seemed like a process that would take a decade to come close to attempting. It’s time. I realized what a vitologist is. I am not a healer but an interpreter. I interpret life. I put my candle in a tiny tunnel in the rock and it lit up the space inside. I am a teacher. If Aisha speaks to me in my dreams I must return to that spot tomorrow with an offering. That’s what the bird is for. We heard more versions of who Aisha is. Everyone has a different idea. Some say she was a person who came to the village and worshiped Sid Ali and disappeared. No one knows if she is dead because she always came and went. Everyone agrees she was beautiful and had power over men. She could make people fall in love. We retraced our steps until we were looking down on the spot where we had lit candles. Just by a spring where people come to cleans their souls. An old man approached us and offered us a plant from his garden. Artemisia absinthium.

We strolled back up the market and met the government official Jessica had told us about. A jovial man who shook all our hands and made jokes. His was the only mustache I noticed in town and it was a bushy one. He followed us to make sure we were not taking pictures. Afraid that we were journalists going to alert the world media which would have the festival dissolve into tourism. We feel like he will protect us from the festival as much as he will protect the festival from us. I bought a handful of resins to burn and a piece of ceramic shaped like the broken lid of a tiny tagine. I asked if it was for burning the resin. No, it was lipstick! Delicately placed in a heap next to a pen of live goats.

This place and the people here are full of magic and are friendly and welcoming to us. We found a car home and pulled cards from my German tarot app on the way home. I took a moment alone on the roof to look at the stars. I looked for my star which I do most nights. I couldn’t find it. The star is me and I am all right here. We scanned our hennaed hands and loot. We eat dinner and although exhausted debated if it was all real. My bed is warm and cozy. I can hear a pack of dogs barking outside.


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