Friday 30 April 2010

One's niche

I have at last found my aspirational target...

Thursday 29 April 2010


Marrakech, the place where my extended Moroccan stay began, offered white Atlas mountains and palm trees -- having done snow on the equator with Kilimanjaro I am in danger of getting blase about these climatic contrasts, but it was rather impressive nonetheless.

We stayed in a traditional ryad -- all arches, courtyards and cool cloisters.

It was made of mud brick, the most ancient of all man-made building materials, which I was surprised to see was still in widespread use.

I worried a bit about what would happen if it rained, but luckily it didn't. Judging from the inside I think it was fairly waterproof.  

The chap we rented it from claimed it was a  "ryad ecologique" although I wasn't really sure what that signified. I guess the traditional build goes a long way towards it -- but perhaps not the swimming pools and large flat screen TVs.

It provided a good base for our labours at the Menara Gardens where I helped-out with the REEP garden as part of the children's festival at Jardin'Art. We worked under garden designer maestro, Christopher Jordan. 

And built, Chelsea style, a show garden in 48 hours, ready for the onslaught of visitors...

I enjoyed running workshops for the kids. There seemed to be a pent-up demand for drawing, so with hundreds of coloured pencils and reams of paper we got them creating...

Wednesday 28 April 2010


I was lucky enough to meet and be entertained by a group of Sufi musicians while in Morocco. Under Sufi Master, Abdul, they played in our tent at the Jardin'Art and later in the evening at our ryad. They were superb and I was fascinated by this gentle, mystic tradition of Islam, about which I know so little.
The only Sufis I had ever come across before were Dervishes (of the whirling and non-whirling variety) the couple of times I have been to Konya in Turkey. The Essaouira troupe didn't whirl but they represent a long and honourable tradition of blending mysticism with musical virtuosity. The religious and musical heritage is  passed on by Sufi Master to pupil across the generations. Particularly poignant was the story from one of the group, the grandson of a slave, about the metal castanet-type instrument he played -- they were apparently representative of the iron shackles his ancestors wore.

     I need to learn more about this whole area and am keen to explore links with the Tarab tradition in Zanzibar (of which I feel but don't know, there must be some).

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Professor Adam

The reason I went to Morocco in the first place has receeded somewhat with all the ash drama. As Europe was closing down I was speaking to academic staff and students at Marrakech University as part of their Freedom Day.

Organised by Professor Hassane Darir, Freedom Day covered a broad range of topics from freedom in the cinema to socio-lingusitic freedom. It was conducted in a heady mixture of English, French and Arabic. After being introduced as "Professor Adam from Cambridge University Press", my talk Freedom on Camera seemed to go down well with the students who asked plenty of questions.

Afterwards we were treated to a very good lunch and further discourse. I liked the university. It was a very well thought-out modern building, crammed with plants, trees and green spaces. Studying there looked humane, even idyllic.


When the ash cloud struck and european civilisation was clicked into pause mode, we headed out of Marrakech for Essaouira. The space, coastal breeze and a less crowded airline office made it a very agreeable place to sit out the storm.  We stayed at Diana's house, set into the city ramparts facing the ocean.It was a perfect introduction to this fascinating place.

Of course the place that Essaouira reminds me of most is Stone Town in Zanzibar. The narrow streets, Arabic architecture, markets and blue seas are strikingly similar, even though it's the opposite side of the African continent, the Atlantic rather than the Indian Ocean.

I feel sure I will visit Essaouira again.
Breakfast "au terrace" with the morning sun and breeze from the ocean

And with the age old walls you can forget the odd volcano. 

Monday 19 April 2010

From beyond the ash cloud...

I am currently stuck in Morocco. The sky is clear and the sun is positively African. It is quite serene. The airport and airline offices however are quite another story...

Thursday 8 April 2010

Day 3

We're beginning Day 3 and I am already suffering from information overload as never been before in a British General Election. At 7 am doing the morning web crawl I felt queasy. Out there on the internet ocean the day's tsunami of analysis and comment is forming ready to engulf via media old and new. The trouble is -- as people in the USA know already -- it is comment built upon comment built upon comment. It doesn't matter whether it's tweeted, sms'd, social networked or rss'd in the end there is so little data of any substance. We are gorging a multi-layered club sandwich with no meat, if you will excuse a further metaphor.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Another sad loss

David Mills the American writer and TV producer died too. He worked closely with David Simon on later seasons of The Wire as well as a host of other great and gritty US TV drama. I will also remember him from his blog Undercover Black Man, which if you check out his family say will be kept availalble in his honour. You will also see a powerful eulogy from his nephew. He was a young talent to lose -- only 48 -- with so much left to do.

On The Wire, I was listening to the radio last night and the terribly clever John Lloyd (Blackadder and Not the Nine O'Clock News producer rather than the tennis player) had to watch the first episode as a "new experience". It was part of that series I've Never Watched Star Wars where people admit to never having eaten a salad or listened to Dark Side of the Moon and then do and describe said thing. Lloyd was initially apprehensive and then hooked. It seems a terrible cliche now but he said he found it difficult to think of any better television ever made. Coming from someone with his track record that's impressive.

Election Reading

I am reading Heather Brooke's new book The Silent State. Now is exactly the right time. She paints a very scary picture of how authority at all levels seeks to hide its activities -- whether nefarious, incompetent or run of the mill  -- from citizens. The only time the state shows any interest in voters' or taxpayers' opinons -- apart of course from the obsessive but secret snooping into every aspect of their lives -- is during the four week clamour of an election campaign. Once they have your vote, bugger off and don't ask any questions awkward or otherwise.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

A great loss

I was very sorry to hear about Corin Redgrave's death. Despite being an integral part ofThe Family he was still quite a one-off.

I first became aware of him through his politcal work. In the maelstrom of 1980s left wing politics he was the great star of Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party. His sister Vanessa brought glamour to the socialist drudgery of paper sales in the rain, threadbare demonstrations and endless factional meetings. But she continued with her acting career so always had an excuse to forgo comradely duties. Corin however brought true revolutionary commitment. He gave-up his dynastic duties on the stage, and no doubt a lucrative film career as well, for a life of political activism. He was a Trotskyite hero. If Corin beleived the revolution was iminent who were the rest of us to argue. I imagined him as National Commisar for the Arts in Britain's first Revolutionary People's Government.

The revolution still hasn't happened.  Later on in the 80s the WRP fractured into a variety of doctrinal shards (Trots always prefer arguing among themselves to actual revoltuion which involves practicalities like compromise and action). Gerry Healy it seemed was a sex pest and Corin -- rather quietly -- returned to the stage. That was where I next came across him. Unexpectedly. Me and a friend had got last minute tickets to the Young Vic to see Rosmesholm. We rushed in a minute before the non curtain went up. I didn't check anything just tried to marshall my limited knowledge of Ibsen. The play started and worked well in the YV's intimate round. Then Rosmer came on and something happened that I had rarely if ever seen on stage. All the cliches about electricity charged to life in megawatts. This unknown -- to me -- actor had remarkable presence. I almost wished away the first half desperate to get my hands on a programme to see who he was.

 When I found out it was CR I felt a bit silly. But I shouldn't have. He had no television presence then and in his previous life he was little seen outside the WRP inner circle. He preferred, like a good revolutionary, to build a reputation in the shadows rather than centre stage. I wished the second half of Rosmesholm could last forever. I was only a few feet away from genius. It proved that centre stage was where Corin really belonged.   

Thursday 1 April 2010

Another call to Africa

I have been invited to Marrakech University later this month to talk about Freedom in Film and TV...mmm big subject. Will have to get my thinking cap on over Easter. A spring trip to Marrakech, though, sounds just what the doctor ordered.