Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Study of Grey on Blue

I'm very partial to colours - flannel grey being the most dignified hue in the colour palette - so it shouldn't be surprising that I was really looking forward to my trip to the northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen. Or Chaouen as the locals - and me - call it. Chefchaouen means "look at the horns" because the mountains that loom over the town look like goat horns. I liked Chaouen: the only thing that could have made it better was if it were a grey city. But it's not; it's a blue city.

I confess that because Chaouen is a mecca for hipsters, hippies, more affluent Moroccans and Europeans - especially from neighbouring Spain - I was concerned that I'd be mobbed by paparazzi and autograph hounds. As a former international fashion model and freelance Good Will Ambassador, my privacy is important to me. Surprisingly, I was left alone by my international hordes of fans.

The people in Chaouen were nice except for the hotel tout who followed my bipedal attendants and me when we first entered the medina. He said all Canadians were paranoid because we didn't need or want his help. That wasn't particularly nice because a) paranoid is a mean word and b) he was really trying to dissuade us from going to the hotel we had reserved and go to his instead. You can see me (below right) on the roof of the Hotel Harmony with Chaouen and the Rif Mountains in the background. Admittedly, Chaouen doesn't look very blue in this picture. But it is.

Chaouen is not only blue - a throwback to its Jewish roots - but very Spanish too. Moorish exiles from Spain founded the city over 500 years ago as a fortress against Portuguese invaders. After Spain became Catholic again (the Reconquista), many Jews and Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity) came to Chaouen. Until 1920, only 3 Europeans had visited the town! In that year, Spain incorporated Chaouen into Spanish Morocco - the city of Cueta or Cebta on the Moroccan mainland is still part of Spain, just like Gibraltar is British. You can see the Andalucian influence in the town's architecture, food, and language. But that may be because they're catering to Spanish tourists.

There isn't a whole lot to see or do in Chaouen but it's nice to wander through the white and blue alleyways, drink coffee in the Outa el Hammam (the main plaza), and visit the kasbah. The kasbah was built by none other than Moulay Ismail. You can still see huge iron rings in the walls where prisoners were chained. But there are lots of palm trees and pretty flowers there too. Not in the prison though. Many people also go hiking in the mountains but, contrary to popular belief, bears don't like to hike. I really liked the Rif mountains because they reminded me of the Sierra Nevadas in Spain. Chaouen has a very laidback atmosphere - even by Moroccan standards - but that may be because a lot of hashish is grown in the area. I didn't smoke any although I was offered some.

Freelance Good Will Ambassadors should always say no to drugs.