Friday, March 30, 2012

Off The Surface

A story of scrub. A sense of belonging..... and an arugula salad

 I slide into my red, goat-leather baboosh slippers as if hugging an old friend. It's Dusk in Marrakech and I have barely arrived to my room in time to turn around and head back out. Around a few corners and down narrow pathways. I arrive to a familiar place, and strong rumbling surrounds me as I walk down the staircase leading below the earth's line. Two women, barefoot, in sweat-soaked clothes, walk us down even deeper. Double wood doors open up to a room of steam and dark marble. The sound of running water is constant and our naked bodies are directed to either end of the room where marble benches await. 

In my commitment, and well lets face it, complete obsession with the culture of hammams, it is always the first thing I do when arriving to Morocco. This is an ancient tradition of pouring water and communal bathing, a time to strip away and scrub down to the raw of things. I adore it. To be surrounded by warmth, in water and in trust. The trust in the hands of a beautiful Moroccan woman, whose fingertips are reminiscent of shriveled raisins. She moves effortlessly with eucalyptus soap, buckets of tempered water, and a rose-soaked towel to rest on my eyes. I release completely, the weight of my body that of a deep savasana. I succomb to the water.

In Morocco, every city and village has 3 elements available for it's community- Mosque, fire and water.

The call to prayer is sung 5 times a day from the mosque, as everyone faces east towards Mecca, praying and with gratitude in unison. The communal ovens are managed by men who work from early in the morning to bake the barley bread among wood-fire. The element of water comes in as the Hammam. 
Women of the community may have the mornings for a hammam, or every Monday and Thursday (for example) and the men will take the off times. Women peel off the layers, and come together for scrub and connection, gossip, and unity. Abrasive mitts take to skin like baboush take to feet, and the transformation begins. Layer by layer, peeling off and washed down the marble bench.
 My mind goes cumin, dates, and mint tea.                                                                                            

It is Springtime in Morocco, and the hammam is my spring-cleaning. Out with the old and off with the surface. I'm also convinced that it may in fact be the ultimate remedy for jet lag or hangovers.... just sayin'

Marrakech dinner of fish pastilla - fish, vermicelli, preserved lemon, chili pepper, and red cabbage. A glass of French rose, and greens from the garden. The arugula is flowering now and carries a sharp bite and peppery edge. It goes beautifully with the salty-tang of preserved lemon in the pastilla. A salad dressing of grapefruit juice, olive oil and aragon oil is simple and completely complimentary to our local salad greens. 

Morocco has always had a very special way of blanketing me with intrigue, magic, and awakening my senses. From clean skin and scrub, to spiced coffee and bitter-sweet arugula. I am forever at the mercy of your beauty, and what still awaits to unfold.

Shukran Bisef.