May has been a busy and exciting month in the New York City art milieu. The early part of the month saw the opening of the hotly anticipated, brand new Whitney Museum on Gansevoort Street. Earlier this week, the contemporary art auctions took place at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, with Christie’s achieving its first billion-dollar week ever. Currently opened on Randall’s Island is the fourth annual Frieze New York Art Fair.
If you drive along the FDR Drive, you can see the gigantic serpentine tent across the East River, seemingly hugging the river. This climate-controlled tent is about a quarter of a mile long and is over 250,000 square feet in size. There are nearly 200 prestigious galleries from all around the world, exhibiting the works of living artists. I spent yesterday afternoon walking around the fair, but I could have spent many hours, if not days, more. There was so much to see and so much to take in. I took so many photos of my favorite works, but pared them down to just these few. The show runs for four days, ending tomorrow. You can buy tickets online at FriezeNewYork.com.
Happy Mother’s Day! We had brunch at my house with my mother, my two grandmothers, a few sets of aunts and uncles, and assorted cousins. The weather was perfect and the food was plentiful. This has become an annual tradition in our household. Far from expecting breakfast in bed, my mother is usually up very early, setting a beautiful table, arranging flowers, putting out food, and getting ready for no fewer than twenty people to descend upon our home. This is why we celebrate our mothers: for all that they do for everyone, all of the time.
I was curious, however, how this day came to be. After all, it was not based upon a religious holiday nor did it commemorate a historic event or pay homage to a famous person. It was the idea of a West Virginian woman named Anna Jarvis who wanted to pay tribute to her mother, upon her mother’s recent death. Ms. Jarvis’ mother had worked tirelessly during her lifetime to help improve the lives of others. The younger Jarvis organized the first known Mother’s Day celebration in 1908, which was a resounding success. She spent years lobbying government officials to declare it a holiday and, finally, on 1914 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Anna Jarvis was soon repulsed by the commercialization of Mother’s Day by floral companies, candy makers, and other businesses. She believed that their efforts undermined the true purpose of the holiday, which was to intimately celebrate one’s mother, without the interference of greedy companies. Her efforts were unsuccessful, though, and the holiday remains as commercial as ever. Without ever knowing Anna Jarvis’ story, our family has always tried to make our celebration a family event at home, without an emphasis on gifts and other commercial purchases. I look forward to many more Mother’s Day celebrations in the future.
and… a pic of me and my mama:)
The Atlas Mountain range runs through much of Morocco. There are three sections of it: the High Atlas in the central part of the country, the Middle Atlas in the north, and the Anti-Atlas in the South. Marrakech stands in the shadow of the High Atlas Mountains on its north side. The peaks, the tallest of which is Jbel Toubkal with an elevation of 13,671 feet, provide a beautiful snow-covered backdrop, year-round and separate Marrakech from the Sahara to the southeast. The snow-covered peaks contrast sharply with the palm trees and the red-earthen buildings of the city.
We took a scenic hour-long drive from Marrakech into the mountains en route to the luxurious Kasbah Tamadot, owned by Virgin founder Richard Branson, for lunch. Driving through a lush river valley, past Berber villages and various fruit orchards, we arrived in the rain, at our destination. Marrakech gets about fifty days of rain a year, and we managed to be there for three of them. The Kasbah is magnificent, the food was delicious, and we managed to enjoy our time there, despite the inclement weather. The drive was beautiful and helped prepare us for our longer foray through the mountains, the following day, heading south toward the Sahara.
Driving along the mountain road and through the mountain pass is not for the faint of heart. The road, with a single lane in each direction, rises nearly 7500 feet above sea level, taking travelers through the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass which separates the northern and southern sides of the range. The vistas are gorgeous but the road is dangerously narrow and winding. Drivers travel excessively fast and I found myself closing my eyes regularly as we narrowly avoided head-on collisions with cars traveling in the opposite direction. Alas, four and a half hours and a queazy stomach later, we arrived at our destination just beyond the town of Ouarzazate.
Heading further south, in a rugged four-wheel drive vehicle, along the Algerian border, we headed to our campsite in the Sahara Desert. Sahara is the Arabic word for desert, so calling it the Sahara desert is actually redundant. The Sahara covers about one quarter of the African continent and is nearly the size of the United States. It touches or extends across ten north African countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania. The part of the desert that we were in is in the westerly part of the Sahara. The scenery on the drive is exquisite with interesting rock formations and plateaus. We passed shepherds herding their dromedaries. If you are like me, you never knew that the one-humped, Arabian camel is actually called a dromedary. We arrived at our desert camp amidst rising and falling sand dunes that were picture perfect. As the sun set in the evening and rose again in the morning, the color of the putty colored dunes took on an orange cast. They seemed to go on forever and it felt that we were alone for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. It was intensely windy the evening that we camped out and we worried that our tent was no match for the wind. We wrapped turbans around our heads, as we noticed the nomadic shepherds wore. When night fell, it was pitch black, which was perfect for stargazing, but not much else.
Approximately halfway between Marrakech and the Sahara Desert, through the Atlas Mountains, near the southern town of Ouarzazate is an old Berber village called Ait Ben-Haddou. Entering this fortified village is like taking a step back in time several hundred years. In fact, the authenticity of this village, otherwise known as a ksar is the reason why several movies have been filmed here. It was designated a UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) world heritage site in 1987 because it is a well-preserved ksar with many of its architectural details still intact. It requires maintenance, though, because, over time, the wind conditions of this region erode the earthen material that the buildings are made of. This particular ksar was important because it is located along a trade route that was once heavily traveled between Sudan and Marrakech. Very few people reside here any longer because, in recent years, many have been moving to newer, more modern homes. While it is mostly abandoned, some merchants still sell their wares to the tourists passing through the area.
A visit to Jardin Majorelle is a must, while visiting Marrakech. It is the lushly planted, brightly painted garden that was designed by the French painter, Jacques Majorelle in the early twentieth century. It fell into disrepair after his death, but was restored by the designer Yves Saint Laurent and his boyfriend Pierre Berge. Many of the structures on the property are painted in a hue of cobalt blue, aptly named Majorelle Bleu. It is an eye-popping color and, in my opinion, it is the reason that the garden has become so easily identifiable. There are over 300 specimens of plants in its twelve acres, including cacti, bamboo, palm trees, anthurium, and bougainvillea. Yves Saint Laurent loved Marrakech, especially this beautiful sanctuary that he called home.
A country may be beautiful and it may be fascinating, but it is its people who make it warm and inviting. Fortunately, the people of Morocco are friendly and, therefore, hospitable. From the alleyways of Marrakech to the deserts of the Sahara, we encountered many affable Moroccans. Eighty percent of the inhabitants are Berbers, the ethnic population of Northern Africa. The official language is Arabic but many people speak Berber and French, as well. They work as farmers, shepherds, craftsmen, manufacturers, and miners. People are religious, yet tolerant. They wear traditional garments such as djellabas, which are hooded cloaks and gandoras, which are caftans, but others wear western clothing. I love capturing the faces of a nation people, because it makes their culture and lifestyle come alive for me.
Marrakech is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and it is easy to see why. Flying in by plane, the first view that visitors see is the old part of the city bathed in a beautiful rose glow, standing in stark contrast to the snowcapped Atlas Mountains in the distance. The buildings of the Medina, or old city, and the 12 miles of rampart walls surrounding it are built using a reddish earth. Stepping through one of the impressively large, beautiful gates is like stepping back in time a few centuries. There is a marketplace, otherwise known as a souk, with miles of narrow alleyways. The alleyways house endless stalls that sell typically Moroccan wares such as rugs, spices, lanterns, leather goods, and a wide array of other items. There is a large square called the Jemaa El Fna where snake charmers and entertainers engage tourists with their many talents, food vendors cook up typical, delicious Moroccan dishes at inexpensive prices, and people mill about, enjoying the excitement of the late afternoon and evening activities. Near the entrance to the Medina is the Koutoubia Mosque, which is the largest, tallest, and most important mosque in the city. Fine examples of Moroccan tile work are on view at the Ben Youssef Merdersa, which is a Quranic school dating back to the 14th century. One could spend days meandering around the souks of the Medina, soaking in the views, aromas, and the excitement and never grow tired of it.
My visit to Cape Town was a wonderful experience for so many reasons. The city and its surroundings boast some of the most spectacular beaches and coastlines in the world. The climate at this time of year is nearly perfect. The mountains that form a bowl around the city, especially Table Mountain, are breathtaking. Additionally, we enjoyed seeing penguins, seal, ostrich, baboons, and buck, in the wild. The Stellenbosch Winelands are reminiscent of Napa Valley and Italy. The colorful neighborhood of Bo Kaap is bright and cheerful and the houses along the coast are beautiful.
However, it is hard to separate the Cape Town that I have described from the realities of its ugly history under apartheid rule and the extreme poverty that still exists for so many today. Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years, much of it on Robben Island, right off the coast of Cape Town. He was released in 1990 and helped dismantle the apartheid rule that he fought so hard to end. He became the first black president of South Africa a few years later. Black people were given the right to vote, as they should have had all along. People of different races were no longer subject to strict curfews or relegated to certain neighborhoods. Much has been accomplished but more needs to be done. There are far too many people living in poverty, in shanty towns without running water. The unemployment rate is way too high and violence is rampant in some areas. South Africa is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and it has an active tourist trade because of its beauty and wildlife. These resources need to be put to better use to improve the lives of those who need it most. The past 25 years have brought a lot of positive change. Let’s hope that the next 25 years continue to bring more.