EST. 2009

September 29, 2016

That Zurier Sky

THE FIRST PAINTING DILEMMA THAT REALLY ENGAGED JOHN ZURIER was that of painting the sky seen between two buildings, so that the entire painting would be nothing but an empty blue space. He found the task nearly impossible, putting it off for a long time, with his artistic concerns nearly unchanged since.

There's no evidence of struggle in his work though, which incorporate a delicate human touch into atmospheric depictions. The pale blue canvases from his Muuratsalo/Finland series evoke feelings of escape with glimpses of daytime sky. Notable in the paintings are wisps of unpainted canvas, seemingly suggestive of clouds. Zurier's other works, such as those in Night, are more densely painted, as if portraying the weight of darkness. The contrast makes his sensitivity to atmosphere even more apparent.

Hardly a fan of fleeting, electric sunsets, I am drawn to flat skies in muted tints. Light blues, I associate with flight. Grey skies, contemplation. That is, until a spell of cabin fever dawns and any glimpse of sky is a cure. A pale, blue Zurier may be a good indoor alternative.

Paintings from Muuratsalo/Finland by John Zurier,

September 14, 2016

That Desert Pause

IT'S THE KIND OF SILENCE YOU GET DURING A BLACKOUT, naturally, as La Pause chooses not to run on electricity. Sparsely luxurious, the retreat comprises traditional mud-and-straw lodges set on secluded mounds and slopes. A Berber tent cluster provides common areas for lounging and dining, with arid landscape views interrupted only by a Jerome Leyre sculpture.

Just over an hour's drive from the busy Medina, La Pause requires some bumpy-riding through parched, roadless and barren land, where local villages are said to have been driven out by lack of water. The complex is lush though, built around an oasis of palm and olive trees. The gardens grow grapes and such urban staples as rocket and alfalfa, which come with your meal.

Entertainment and activities of a very wide variety can be arranged, including donkey polo, rally car racing, calligraphy and meditation workshops, fire-eating and fantasia horse shows, among others. We opted to lounge and dine, as one can never have too much tagine or over-sprawl in a sun-dappled shade. The Agafay desert, just gazing at it, is quite phenomenal too.

It's trendy, and not a new trend at that, but I find it artful nonetheless to extract elegance out of what is otherwise rugged. Nourished by a little river, the only source of life for miles, La Pause embodies "less is more" and proves itself an unconventional escape from traditional luxuries.

La Pause, Agafay desert, Morocoo. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.



August 16, 2016

That Moroccan Miscellanea

I COULD HEAR THE WATER RUNNING DOWNSTAIRS. Where had that palm branch fallen from? The foliage looks just as lush. At the souks, we found ourselves under a hammam, where a worker paused to chant for us. He plucked a small string instrument, turning his head so that the tassel of his fez spun above it. I thought we would all go into a trance.

Zellige they're called: the enamel-coated terra cotta tilework setting little chips like jewels on the floor. Introduced by the Persians, they manage to be geometric and floral all at once. Our guide took my shoes and hid them in a bush. The Palmeraie was scorching and my camel was slightly unpredictable. Her name was Shakira. The other camel, Beyonce. I rode half an hour barefoot, thinking I had lost my shoes forever. How did he know which bush it was? They all looked the same.

The Bahia Palace was built for the wives and concubines of Ba Ahmed, grand vizier of Marrakech in the 1800s. It took fifteen years to complete, by craftsmen imported from Fez. Stretches of white, intricately dotted with greens, blues and yellows, covered its large courtyards and galleries, contrasting greatly with the strong salmon shades outside. The Saadian Tombs has its fair share of pink walls too, albeit less of a feature than the mausoleum's muqarnas made with pure gold.

We stayed at Riad Due in the Medina, where tall, nondescript walls conceal exquisite interiors. From the roof, you could see the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest Mosque in Marrakech, completed under the reign of the Berber Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur. Moroccan skies at sunset are on fire.

I'm not in fact intoxicated as I write this, though it might sound like I am. Marrakech was so saturated with heat, scent, sound and color, it was hypnotic. And my memory of it, episodic. As holidays take different forms, enriching its takers in different ways, this particular trip provided an escape from my life's new routines and requirements.

Dehydration may have contributed to the daze. One of our riad's hosts said sugar is good to help you stay hydrated though I did decline sugar in my mint tea a couple of times. I also survived what seemed to be the world's best carpet sales team, who dazzled us with layers upon unfurling layers of fine Berber handicraft. Women weavers from the Atlas Mountains design the carpets from imagination, crafting each one for up to decades at a time.

I've done a myriad of things in the past decades, though nothing nearly as precious as a handmade work of art. There are some whose lifetimes fortunately revolve around something so exquisite and singular. For the rest of us, it's a matter of finding gems in the miscellanea.

Bahia Palace, Palmeraie, Saadian Tombs, the Medina and Riad Due, Marrakech. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.



August 1, 2016

That Villa Oasis

WITH STILL OVER A YEAR TO GO UNTIL THE NEW MUSÉE YVES SAINT LAURENT opens in Marrakech, there's still over a year to wait until we can personally glimpse such creations as Catherine Deneuve's Belle de Jour dress or Naomi Campbell's Vincent van Gogh jacket. Until then, the neighboring Jardin Majorelle should more than satisfy.

Two distinct chapters comprise the garden's history. It was first the project of artist Jacques Majorelle, who cultivated what was originally a four-acre plot of land. A "passionate amateur botanist", he introduced cacti, palm trees, jasmine, weeping willows, bamboo, agaves, cypress, bougainvilleas and ferns, among other plant varieties from different continents, all around a villa he painted in vivid hues. His distinct ultramarine is today referred to as "Majorelle blue".

Following Majorelle's death in 1962, the garden fell to disrepair, set to be converted into a hotel complex. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé were on their first visit to Marrakech when they discovered it. "We were seduced by this oasis where colours used by Matisse were mixed with those of nature." wrote Bergé in Une passion marocaine. "When we heard that the garden was to be sold and replaced by a hotel, we did everything we could to stop that project from happening. This is how we eventually became owners of the garden and of the villa."

The pair named the site Villa Oasis, appropriately for the inspiration it would provide Saint Laurent for the rest of his life. And while it in fact sits on the border of a palm oasis, there's a lot of artistry sown into the garden and grounds, painting it not only with color but with shadows, sunshine, abundance and escape.

Jardin Majorelle, Rue Yves Saint Laurent, Marrakech. Photos by Lady San Pedro.