Thursday, December 26, 2013

Writers' Workshop in March in Morocco

Writer Christina Ammon

From March 10 to 17, American writer and adventurer Christina Ammon will be co-hosting Deep Travel, a writers' workshop in Moulay Idriss and Fez. Here Christina shares her initial experiences of Morocco 

I’ll be the first to say it: I’m an unlikely tour guide.

When I stepped off the ferry in Tangier in December of 2011, I didn’t even want to be in Morocco. How strange: Who wouldn’t jump to experience the Arabian Nights ambiance of Marrakech, to survey the infinite Sahara from atop a camel, and to indulge in savoury lamb tagines?

But as I lugged my suitcase off the boat onto the terminal platform, and looked across the Strait of Gibraltar toward Spain, I felt the pang of exile. I hadn’t arrived on my own terms. My EU visa had expired in Spain and Morocco was the nearest route to an exit stamp. My boyfriend would stay behind to repair our broken camper van. I would go it alone.

As I wandered Tangier’s cobbled medina, it wasn’t the touts and catcalls that bothered me, but the pure, simple fact of loneliness.

Christina at the location of A House in Fez
 I hid in a plush chair at El Minzah, once the watering hole of writers William Burroughs, and lost myself in the book, A House in Fez by Suzanna Clarke. While a jazz pianist played into the evening, I followed Clarke through her struggles to restore the crumbling walls and tile work of her riad in a country foreign to her. By the end of the book, Clarke felt like a friend.

Eventually I ventured back onto Tangier’s streets. What to do? I sat atop a camel and donned a fez for a photograph. I stroked Berber rugs and made faux friendships with guides. I was grateful to a kind waiter who made small chitchat and kindly carried my too-hot glass of mint tea two city blocks to my hotel every evening.

When word came from Spain that the truck was still not fixed, I moved on to Fez. There I sat alone in the cold center room of my hotel-riad and realized: I’d seen pretty mosques, studied zellij fountains, sampled dozens of different olives, but I hadn’t really had a real human connection in two weeks.

This was not the sort of travel that appealed to me.

And so I did something bold: sent an email Suzanna Clarke. I was surprised to get a quick response: An invite to dinner! That evening, over beef kefta I think they sensed my dislocation. When I arrived back to my riad and checked my email, there was an invite for me to stay with them.

I accepted and the next day they situated me in one of the rooms I’d read about in her book. I woke in the morning to sun slanting through the decorative wrought-iron window and a fruit tree so close it seemed I could nearly pluck an orange from bed. Together we wrote through the mornings over cups of spiced coffee, and in the evenings drank Moroccan mint cocktails while their cat purred by the heater. Day after day, I got word that the truck was still not repaired, but it was okay now. I was now wearing babouche slippers and a djellaba and dancing the time away with my new friends.

I ventured into the medina with newfound confidence. Fez’ harrowing network of 9,000 byways seemed less forbidding now, each turn now offering a story. Soon, I was penning articles for Conde Nast, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Oregonian, trying to capture all my discoveries—a charismatic local photographer, a winemaker, a big-hearted donkey veterinarian, a man passionate about the restoration of the medina, and a man who made the most magical spiced coffee.

Workshop hosts Erin Byrne and Christina Ammon

That first visit to Morocco was at the time a strange type of suffering, but ultimately about discovery. I’m happy to return to Morocco on entirely different terms—not to flee an expired visa and a broken-down truck, but to lead a workshop and a tour. This journey will be a special one, a potent one-week distillation of the gems it took me months to find.

Christina Ammon's Deep Travel writers' workshop, co-hosted with writer Erin Byrne and poet Anna Elkins, aims to share the best of what Morocco has to offer in the way of chefs, authors, photographers, and even winemakers in Fez and in Morocco’s most sacred city, Moulay Idriss. Other contributors include writer and photographer Suzanna Clarke, writer Sandy McCutcheon and photographer Omar Chennafi. 

To learn more about the workshop, which runs from March 10 -17, visit:

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