Learning to fly in Tiznit

Berber musicians outside of Tiznit, Dec '09

Dreams have always been an obsession of mine, and my “dream” has always been to go to Morocco. It’s not surprising then that my first night in Morocco I had an amazing dream, one for the ages really. A lucid dream, and one of the most powerful I’ve had. From my journal of 12/18/09:

… tiled patio, very elfin. I wander off by myself and a voice tells me, “you are dreaming”. Awake within the dream I waste no time and immediately try to fly. Jumping into the air I kind of stick there, as if suspended in some kind of thick matter. Using my arms in a swimming fashion to take me higher, I have to fight at first as if gravity were slowly giving way but not without a struggle. I swim laboriously through the air but gradually get my dream wings on and slowly gather speed. I fly to the treetops, aware that I have limited time before I lose my lucidity, so I have to strike while the iron is hot.

I am aware that I have been afforded the chance to view all of Morocco, or as much as I can before I lose hold of the lucidity. I head up toward the clouds, exhilarated to be able to do this. Amazing and splendid vistas of mountains and deserts and tiled buildings greet my eyes as I fly fast and far, the whole country laid out before me for my eyes to feast upon. It’s all coming at me so fast – vivid and colorful and intense and rushing into my cerebral cortex at a speed that is impossible to process. Like a video game that expires when the coin runs out, at last everything begins to wind down and my thoughts are, “I am losing it – it is going away!” That sad feeling of the circus leaving town pervades me, but passes and is replaced by a deep gratefulness. Choukran!

Orientation meeting at Tiznit Cultural Center, 12/19/09 w/ Mayor Joe Curtatone & the Governor of Tiznit

Thanks to an appearance I made on SCAT TV where I played sintir and spoke of my connection to Moroccan music, I received a scholarship through the kind auspices of Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone’s office. Big up to Janice, his assistant, who pulled some strings for me. Along with about 25 other participants in the University of the Middle East’s CPLI program I went to Tiznit, Morocco in mid-December. I would represent the musical side of the delegation and work with some local musicians, which I greatly anticipated.

Typical architecture outside of Tiznit, Dec '09

After arriving I soon learned how challenging it would be to move this Leviathan of a group around from point to point, difficult enough with 40-50 people (when joined by the Moroccan participants) and made especially tricky by that pervasive aspect of “Moroccan time”. It was a fine bunch of folks, however, and for the most part everyone handled the constant delays with humor and aplomb. The phrase that one hears repeated a thousand times a day is “in’shallah” or “if God wills it”. This is a very important philosophy to grasp in order to understand life in Morocco. It can be used as an excuse for “maybe I’ll show up, maybe not”, an aspect that pissed off Omar, who was the one Moroccan in the Somerville office of the UME. For the most part, though, it conveyed a sense of submitting to forces greater than oneself and accepting whatever happens as being part of a Divine Plan that doesn’t always take into consideration our petty human desires and concerns.

Blue door, Tiznit, Dec '09

After a travel day of more than 24 hours we were treated to the first of what would become de rigueur huge feasts, most lasting three hours or more. There was no such thing as a “quick bite”. Unfortunately, the luggage of “Mr. The Mayor” (as he would good-naturedly be referred to, poking gentle fun at his interpreter) didn’t make it. Word had preceded our arrival at the hotel and a new suit was made for him, the first example of the royal treatment that he and the whole group would receive. Police escort, anyone?

Woman's Cooperative giving workshop on making Argan Oil, Tiznit, Dec '09

Tiznit has a population of about 54,000 and is an old, walled medina town south of the Souss Valley and beyond the western end of the Anti-Atlas. I had been hearing about this town, sister city of Somerville, through my friends Ahmed and Latifa who live in Cambridge. They connected me with relatives in Tiznit who would prove shining examples of Moroccan hospitality.

Visiting a local artist's studio in Tiznit, Dec '09

The Hotel Idou Tiznit would be our home away from home for the week and it was quite lovely. The days began early and ended late, and sleep was sacrificed in pursuit of fitting everything in. The purpose of the trip was to establish cultural and civic bonds between the cities and to share experiences unique to each. To this end we visited schools and other sites, and as part of the artist group (along with Cynthia, David and Pauline, three visual artists from Brickbottom Studios) I visited artists’ studios and took part in the creation of a mural with some young students, one of whom spied my sintir and ended up rocking it for a long time, quite the aspiring maalem, he.

Spontaneous sintir jam at high school site visit in Tiznit, Dec '09

I was partnered with a couple of teachers who also happened to be musicians – Idris and Brahim. Both were the warmest, hippest, and most generous cats you could hope to meet. And funny. I count amongst my favorite times the late-night hangs that Idris organized, when we headed deep into the medina for smoky jams in the tiny studio of his artist friend. Everyone was very supportive and encouraging of this white guy from Boston who played the guimbri. It was kind of strange to be playing this indigenous instrument that I had spent countless hours attempting to master back in the US – now in Morocco, playing it for people whom you can’t fool. My education had stepped up to the next level… (to be continued)

Mural project at Tiznit high school, Dec '09



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~ by delfblog on March 10, 2010.

2 Responses to “Learning to fly in Tiznit”

  1. Thanks for sharing some of your adventures with us. A few years ago I spent 10 days driving through the sahara and your stories bring back lots of memories. I’m looking forward to all the new Club D’elf songs that I’m sure to come.

  2. […] Bassist & leader Mike Rivard received a 2011 Somerville Arts Council arts fellowship grant, which he plans to use for the purchase of a new sintir. His trip to Morocco in Dec 2009 is detailed in several blogs, found here, here & here. […]

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