Red gold.

In recent posts I’ve discussed blue gold and black gold.

But, what is red gold?

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Well, Cleopatra bathed in it.

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And, Alexander the Great used it as shampoo.

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It comes from a delicate flower grown from a bulb.

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It is the most expensive spice in the world.

 

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Of course, it is saffron.

I’ve you’ve ever eaten bouillabaisse or paella, you’ve no doubt had saffron. Or saffron couscous. Divine.

Saffron is the most expensive spice by weight in the world precisely because it is actually the dried  stigmas of a little purple perennial crocus flower that must be gathered by hand during a harvest that lasts just a couple of weeks in the fall.  There are only three stigmas per blossom.

It takes about 75,000 flowers to yield a pound of saffron.

Fortunately, a pinch (about 20 threads) is usually all it takes to impart saffron’s distinctive yellow color and vaguely metallic, dried alfalfa hay and bittersweet wildflower-honey flavor. Saffron is featured in Spanish and Indian cooking; it’s often a major component of curry powders; Iran, Greece, Morocco, and Italy also harvest and use saffron, too.

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The best source I can suggest is a (another!) BBC documentary on saffron grown in Morocco and Spain.  I found it fabulous!

 

 

Here are a few pictures of the autumn saffron harvest in Morocco.  While you can see why it is so labor intensive to harvest these crocus stigma, the sad truth is that these Berber families reap only a small percentage of the prices paid.  It is the same old story that has haunted the spice trade since time immemorial: the middlemen take all the profit.

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Next time you price saffron in your market, you’ll know why the price is high.

Update: April 9.  I just heard (on the BBC so you know it’s true!) that saffron reached England 2000 years ago when Phoenicians brought it to trade for tin.  Never mind the Medieval spice trade!

 

 

Let’s go to Marrakech for a minute!

I recently watched the 2015 Nicole Kidman film, Queen of the Desert. The movie chronicles the life of a fascinating Brit, Gertrude Bell. It’s a beautifully produced film and features some interior shots of the world-famous hotel in Marrakech, La Maoumania.  One thing always leads to another, and thanks to the internet, we can make a quick trip to Marrakech.

I highly recommend the film, as well as Morocco.  I was lucky enough to spend a month there a few years ago and I loved it.

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http://www.mamounia.com/en/intro.htm

What to buy in Morocco!

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Need some shoes?

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Or, maybe a carpet?

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How about some ceramics?

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Here’s a better look at some the designs from which you may choose.

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Maybe a ladies garment to wear in public?  Feel free to pull one on over your head as this customer is doing!

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Here’s a better view to tempt you.

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Maybe you need new trim for your draperies?

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A second look.

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You have many choices.

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And many formats.

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Maybe it is metalwork you are after?

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Want some lighting made from leather?

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Some of it is even suitable for outdoors.  Hi Seddik, you’re looking very handsome today!

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Large scale lighting.

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Lighting for small spaces.

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And, don’t even get me started on the silk scarves!

And, the last picture for today, come to the next shop over if you want some decorative metal pieces to spice up your place.

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Yves St. Laurent Garden in Morocco

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One of the many jewels in the crown that is Morocco is this incredible garden once owned by

Yves St. Laurent.

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The Majorelle Garden (Arabic: حديقة ماجوريل‎) is a twelve-acre botanical garden  in Marrakech. The garden is home to 15+  bird species that are native to North Africa, as well as many fountains, and a notable collection of cacti.

Yves St. Laurent Garden in Morocco

This incredible masterpiece, although best known as St. Laurent’s, was actuallydesigned in the 1920s and 1930s–when Morocco was a French protectorate– by the expatriate French artist Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962).

 

 

To the left is one of Marjorelle’s better-known paintings.

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You actually might be more familiar with Jacques Majorelle’s father, the art nouveau master-eboniste, Louis Majorelle (1859-1926).  Below is one of his exquisite furniture pieces now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore:

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Majorelle’s  orientalist watercolors have been largely forgotten today (many are preserved in the garden’s collection, though not on view when I was there), this gardens is unquestionably his creative masterpiece.

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The special shade of bold cobalt blue, which he used extensively in the garden, is named after him; the color is known bleu Majorelle in French, or, in EnglishMajorelle Blue.

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Yves St. Laurent owned the garden from 1980 (with Pierre Bergé) until the fashion designer’s death in 1980.  St. Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden as his final request.

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And now, I am going to get back, so you can view pictures of this amazing place on your own. Please note that, as usual in garden design, water plays a large role here.  In the photo above, you are looking at a shallow white-bottomed basin.

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You might be entertained to know that the photo above got me kicked out of the little shop that is inside the garden now.  I was only trying to get a picture of the windows in the clerestory, but the fact that I dared to take any photos at all got me escorted out!  It is run by some French people; need I say more?!

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M’a ssalama  (مع اسلامة)       [Good-bye in Arabic {I think} ]

Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Sahara Desert, Morocco.

Exactly two years ago I was traveling through Morocco. This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip. I am in the center of the picture, wearing a the brown turban, being helped up the steep hill of sand by one of the camel drivers.  You can see our camels resting on the left side, about mid-way up.

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This was one third of our caravan.  We went to the top of this ridge and watched the sun set.  It was a truly awesome experience, as in the real meaning of the word awesome.

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Love the contrast of high and low here as this woman caretaker sits in watch on a plastic chair, inside a typical–if palatial–Moroccan courtyard.

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On the opposite side of the courtyard was the entrance to a mosque.  A bunch of men were inside, having left their shoes out in the hallway.  Non-Muslims are not allowed inside.  No women, Muslim or not, are allowed inside either :-(  Not fair.

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Henna tattoo artists are everywhere and for a few bucks they will give you a temporary tattoo in a floral design. The henna comes out of a tube and has the consistency of icing in a bag.  You let it dry for about an hour, then wash the paste off and you are left with a great tattoo that lasts about a week.  I had one done on my hand and my ankle.  Loved them!

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Marrakesh

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I mean really what is more beautiful than the tilework and lanterns in this courtyard?

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I mean really!  These lanterns at dusk were so beautiful.

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The interior of a typical spice shop.  Is this what Columbus was looking for in 1492?  Think so, though technically he was looking for India not Morocco.  But, these are the items he wanted!

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This is a breakfast buffet.  Unbelievably beautiful!

Ciao for now! More Moroccan pix coming soon.