About Being Present & Being ‘The Artist’

KasbahGardenGateWithTourist
Me in the Kasbah (castle) garden.

Post the First Blog Post

After having finished and launched the first post from Tangier, a peculiar sensation hit me. It was as if I had achieved something major; and in the aftermath following it somewhat felt like it granted me a break. Like time off within my already holiday like artist travels.

All of a sudden I sensed a change that permitted me to focus more on drawing for the pure sake of drawing – as opposed to drawing for the sake of illustrating writings about my first impressions of Tangier. For the first clear-cut time during my trip I experienced I was beginning to be present where I was – without the meta-layer of narrating everything I encountered.

 

Talking and Walking With A

In the meantime a very kind German woman named A, had arrived in my dorm room. She was very pleasant and easy to talk too. Also we were able to connect, as she later put it into words as we said ‘so long’ three days later ‘on a deeper level than the usual superficial talks that often occur in hostels’.

We walked around together exploring different parts of the city more thoroughly than I had during my time alone. For example we went on a walking tour with a self-proclaimed guide that introduced himself as Abdullah. There are many such guides around the Tangier Medina and near the Kasbah (the Castle area) that start by just wanting to help you find your hotel or a museum or something,  but end up giving you a grand tour and asking for money.

GuideAbdullahWithFotoofHimandJimMorrison

As Abdullah first just small talked about how he had been an acrobat in his youth and travelled in both Germany and Denmark, how he had six children and four grandchildren, he soon started to want to show us a nearby sundial, and I became hesitant to follow, having been warned about these types of ‘guides’.

A leaned in and whispered in my ear, that she also knew this guy would take us for a spin and ask for money, but she was okay with this, and I could follow along if I liked. ‘Why not’, I thought and tagged along, as Abdullah told us tale after tale about creative people having lived and worked over the ages in the Kasbah area.

The Clash wrote the song ‘Rock the Kasbah’ on the other side of that door, behind that door Matisse lived, behind that door Velázquez, here the Rolling Stones stayed and here Jim Morrison. At this point Abdullah even pulled out an old Polaroid from his wallet, showing us his young-self standing beside Jim Morrison in the flesh, on what looked like one of the narrow streets of the Medina.

GuideAbdullahandJimMorrison

We also went to the Kasbah museum, studying the mosaics there and strolling through their garden. In general A and I sat or walked and talked and talked. It was pleasant. Once she had jumped on her train to Rabat and the continuation of her further Moroccan adventures, I found myself the loneliest I’ve felt on my trip so far. Even lonelier than when I was sick as a dog in the hostel in Madrid. I found it unexpectedly hard to decide what to do; hard to know what I really wanted. Where should I go?

One place wasn’t hard to go too, since I had to go there for practical reasons – namely a new hostel; since I had two nights to spend in Tangier after the first hostel reservation ran out, and before K came and we were to stay in a homestay that I had reserved with a private room for us.

ViewMountains
View from hostel roof terrace

The new hostel I was to stay in just two nights was located in the Kasbah area, much higher than the first hostel, and so although their roof terrace did not show the harbor much, as the other hostel’s had done, it showed a magnificent outline of mountains in the distant horizon. The view took my breath away every single time I gazed at it.

 

The Art of Being Present & Drawing Daily

After some time I decided to stop worrying so much and just go to the places I already knew and liked. To go there and just relax, drink more mint teas and take the time to just draw what I saw around me. This was when I began to be more present, rather than constantly narrating everything like a weird translation of life into story going on non-stop in the back of my mind.

I choose to try and teach myself to remember how all of this, this whole trip, was my own idea for the sake of me doing what I wanted – which was to be creative and travel. With these thoughts circling in my mind like some self-help book mantra, I started going back to the same cafés and restaurant to draw. As I went back the following days to the same places and did my drawings, I soon attracted the attention of the people working there.

 

Café a la Anglaise

One of the lovely cafés I repeatedly returned to was called ‘The English Café’ in French (Café a la Anglaise). Here I had been several times including once with A. One afternoon I sat down and for the first time started drawing the platter with mint tea in front of me.

This soon sparked the interest of the older gentleman that I believe is the owner. I had met him on all my previous visits and he was always very kind and welcoming. Soon everybody in the café where interested and came to see my sketch.

There was a young man and two young women. I later found out the young man was the elderly gentleman’s son, one of the young women was his daughter and the other young woman was always in the open kitchen behind the counter booming with fresh fruit and herbs, so I concluded she was the chef. After having observed my drawing for a while they all became very impressed.

The daughter and I started a conversation about art. It turned out she was also an artist, doing big acrylic paintings in wonderfully vibrant colors. Later I saw the paintings showcased in the room above the main café area on the ground floor.

We talked about how art was like a language that can touch anybody and convey emotions very well. As I kept sketching, now starting on the chairs and sofa in front of me, the elderly gentleman began joking about being sketched next – sort of in an ironic way, but I took him up on it. He sat very still, a bit stiffly but with a smile in the corner of his mouth, as I sketched him as fast as I could – maybe as to have an excuse about imperfections, if it turned out not to resemble him at all.

When I showed it to him, he got so happy about it he practically ran upstairs to show it to his artist daughter. Soon after I heard the daughter burst into a happy laugh. They both came down to tell me how great they found the portrait. After showing it to his son and also to the woman who seemed to be the chef, who both got equally excited by it, the elderly gentleman and everyone else started taking photos of it.

sdr
The elderly gentleman at the nice Café a  la Anglaise.

Then they all went on their phones, perhaps to share the picture of the drawing, all the while laughing and smiling. I believe they send a picture to the gentleman’s wife maybe, as he kept repeating in French ‘pour la petite femme’, meaning ‘for the small woman’, which I’m guessing might be a loving way to refer to his wife.

I was very moved to see just how happy the sketch seemed to make them, and I decided to offer the sketch to him. This made him even more thankful.

This first encounter with such an appreciative reaction of my art and the gift of the drawing itself, honestly astounded me a bit. I must admit that I left soon after this encounter; feeling if not embarrassed, because it also made me proud, but somehow it still felt quite vulnerable. As if they had seen a part of me, that was very personal. It was touching.

And motivating! It set my drawing speed on fire and I sketched on and on. Much in the same way that I wrote and wrote at lightning speed, after I had that first awkward conversation with F at the cinema Riff about cultural appropriation.

 

A Cliff With a View

I walked to a cliff a few days in a row; a cliff I had first discovered together with A. More than a simple cliff side, it was actually an ancient Roman graveyard in smoothed over stone with rectangular grave-holes cut into the rocks in different places.

Most notably the cliff had a great view of the shore; all the way to one side towards the Tangier harbors and all the way in the other direction along the coast until it curved out of sight. Also straight ahead Spain looked to be only an arm’s length away.

Many locals gathered here to watch the view. Teenagers were listening to generic pop-rap songs and laughing too loud like the Spanish speaking teens on my plane to Madrid, older people sat calmly in silence, families with small children took selfies and love-struck couples sat holding hands.

RedScarfWithFriend

Oceanview

Each time I came I started sketching like mad – the view, some people and especially one regal looking young girl, with a bright red head scarf and a cool handbag. She had come with a girlfriend her age, to sit and chat while enjoying the view.

RedScarf

 

The Street Restaurant on Place of the 9th of April

As they days went by, I got more used to the enthusiasm people showed me when seeing my drawings, but I still became equally motivated by it. At the street restaurant I first visited with the young woman R from New Zealand, I also returned regularly.

Food

One day I did a sketch of my lunch, which they found very interesting. Everybody hidden away deep in the kitchen inside the street restaurant’s ‘hole in the wall’, came out to have a peak and they all smiled and congratulated me on my work.

Then the two servers, who had sheltered R and I from the homeless beggars that first day, began exclaiming how they would like to be sketched too!

The first guy, who later revealed himself as J, was slim with glasses and he was the one doing most of the serving; while the other guy, that I still don’t know the name of, was a strongly build much more serious looking fellow with a big beard, who mainly pushed away intruders or tried to persuade people to come eat there. First I sketched J, who got extremely happy. As I offered the sketch to him, he talked vibrantly about how it was for his mother and how happy she would be.

dav
The server J.

Then I sketched the serious guy, who stood still as a pillar with a face as serious as someone attending a funeral while reluctant to cry. He had his hands on his back like a soldier, and he only released a sign of emotion and smiled, but a broad smile at that, as soon as I showed him his sketch. Like the server J he was also very thankful to receive the drawing. As I left shortly after, they both encouraged me to come back very soon.

dav
The other server/guard.

 

People at Cinema Rif

That same day, later in the evening, I went to see a movie at Cinema Rif, only to stumble upon a cool event where you could print your own poster of the cinemas program of the month with Barbara Streisand on. The printing process was with an analog ink print thingy in wood. It was great fun but the queue was long and I hate queueing, so fueled by all the enthusiasm I had received, I started sketching random people among the crowd, fast as I could.

Later a girl with big curly hair came to chat with me, asking me about my sketching. Over two years ago, she explained, she had tried to do some drawing, but nobody cared, so she guessed she wasn’t any good. I described how I had been drawing since I was a child, and that I had been lucky since both my mother and grandmother had always been practicing art a lot, so it was a natural part of my everyday life since childhood.

FastSketchesofPeopleWithF
Fast sketch with ticket salesman F with his red hat included.

‘Ah’, she exclaimed, no one in her family painted, she told me. Now she was studying technical engineering in Tangier. Shortly after this conversation the movie Funny Girl with Barbara Streisand was to begin. She said she had never been to a cinema screening before. I was shocked. ‘Has she ever even truly lived yet then?’ I thought to myself.

Cinema is such an integral part of my life, and it has always been so. My mother always loved to watch movies, most often the same nineties action movies for long periods of time, but we still saw movies most nights and she often took me and my little brother to the cinema as children.

The kind technical engineer student decided to try the cinema and bought a ticket too. She only stayed for 45 minutes, but I’m still flattered she dared to try it, just because I was so enthusiastic about it.

 

The Juice Bar

Juice

Another place where I returned several times to sketch was at a juice bar also on a sidewalk on the place of the 9th of April. In front of the juice bar’s sitting area, there is always sitting different people with buckets of work stuff in front of them.

German A explained to me one morning we had breakfast there, that they were signaling what line of work they were in, waiting to be picked up by someone – one guy had bundles of wires in front of him, another guy had paint brushes  and –buckets stacked.

Other people that were sat down near there seemed to be homeless. I didn’t want to stare to much at any of them but managed to sketch a few of the people sitting next to some of the big flower pots, that stood scattered around on front of the square with some white flowers and a small palm tree in each one.

JuiceManonBox

On the left of the juice bar was one of the entrance arches of the medina. After a few days of sketching there, I got recognized as the person who draws. This became clear to me when one of the young guys working there welcomed me with some artistic movements of his arms – it seemed he didn’t speak English or French, but this was his sign language for ‘hey, you’re the one doing the drawings’, and I just nodded quite proudly, ordering my preferred freshly squeezed juice with pineapple and ginger.

JuiceView

 

K Arriving

The day before K’s arrival I felt butterflies starting to form immensely – it was like a whole colony had moved in. Reminding me how wonderful it would be to finally see him again, I mean really see him! Not only in video chat.

Something made me a slightly nervous though. The homestay I had booked for us, and pre-paid for, had something written in fine print that I hadn’t noticed until recently.

It said that the homestay could in some cases request to see a valid wedding certificate. This troubled me, since K and I aren’t married. On the other hand it didn’t say that a valid wedding certificate was mandatory for couples staying there; it just said they ‘might’ ask to see one. So if they asked for one, and we said we hadn’t got one, they couldn’t reject us – right?

This worried me increasingly, so I decided that I would just tell them a little white lie: that I had arrived before my husband, since he had important work in Denmark. Therefore I would check-in in advance, but he would arrive later that day. With this story about my hardworking husband I hoped they wouldn’t ask too many questions or demand any certificates.

Luckily they welcomed me openly with no objections, as I checked in alone, explaining once again how my husband would arrive later. The mother of the family running the homestay was very kind and served me some peach juice and vanilla biscuits while I waited for the room to be ready. She asked what my husband worked with, and I answered he was a philosophy professor.

This impressed our host and she remarked that he must be of a good family then. I confirmed this. This was of course another white lie, but one still not very far from the truth. K had recently finished his master’s degree in philosophy and society studies and currently searched for a job as a philosophy and society studies professor in Danish high schools. ­­

On two occasions I heard the doorbell ring, and hurried down to see if it was K arriving from the airport. The first time I felt very silly. After hurrying down the three flights of stairs from our room and to the front door, nobody was on the other side and I just stood there staring in disappointment; for quite a while.

Then the husband of the family passed by, stopping in his path shortly after only to return back beside me and ask cautiously, ‘if I had my key?’ Maybe he was trying to understand why I was standing there like a fool, staring out the doorway. ‘Yes’, I answered, closed the door and went back upstairs. Luckily the second time the doorbell rang, K was finally here; right on the other side of the door as I opened it and it felt almost like a magic trick. First you look, nothing there, then you look again – your boyfriend from Copenhagen appears! Wauw.

I felt so happy instantly and it struck me how a sense of calm came over me. The same room as I had been impatiently waiting in moment earlier, rapidly felt more like home. After he had put down his bag in our room, the son of the family we are staying with knocked on the door to give us some fruit and yogurt.

We went up on the building’s roof terrace to eat it, but there we only found one plastic chair. ‘You can sit on my lap’, K said with a smile. I didn’t hesitate to take him up on that. As we sat there in the sunshine, eating our yogurt and sharing an orange while he occasionally wrapped his arms around me, I felt more at ease than I have since before I left for Madrid.

The Café Hafa by the seashore, that I had been drawing a fast sketch in while sipping too hot mint tea the day before, quickly seemed more pleasant, when I was there later that evening with K. I guess I really understand the saying ‘home is where the heart is’ now, because every single place we went that I had been before alone or with people I met at hostels, now simply became better and felt more comfortable. To sum up K made me more present and at ease every place we went.

View from Restaurant Hafa sketch

 

Epilog

I’m going to end this blog post on that note, since I want to focus exactly on this ‘being in the present with K’ for the next few days before he leaves.

I will write you all next week – when I will depart for my next destination: Valencia in Spain!

So long, dear readers!

Yours

Cille

 

 

 

 

 

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