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The Colours of Marrakech, Part 3: Palaces of Gold

Not everything in Marrakech is pink. Masterpieces are carved out of a rich ochre stone with such intricate geometric embellishment that the stone itself seems to resemble sparkling, resplendent gold. This is the side of Marrakech from Sultans past, when the excesses of power and wealth produced some of the masterpieces of the world’s historical architecture.  The Daily Norm is no stranger to some of Islam’s most stunning architectural inventions, having indulged last summer in the jaw-droopingly extravagant craftsmanship of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. But in Marrakech, the journey continued, as ancient masterpieces unveiled themselves within narrow doorways in the crowded Souk, and from amongst the crumbling remains of former palaces. These are places both preceding and inspired by Granada’s famous gem, and no less beautiful in their masterful conception. Some are now in a very bad state indeed. The Badii Palace is a mere shadow of its former self. But across them all one common thread remains: the colour of ochre, butterscotch, Gold.

The Medersa Ben Youssef

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The photos on this page are dedicated to three such buildings which we explored during our trip to Marrakech. The Medersa Ben Youssef is perhaps the most extensively and impressively decorated, especially when you consider that it was an Islamic College rather than a palace. Its walls literally weep with honeycomb-like carvings and elaborated horseshoe arches, while perfection in symmetry imbues the space with a finessed tranquility spoilt only by the tourist hoards which inevitably occupy the space.

The Saadian Tombs

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Packed with tourists was likewise the trend exhibited by the Saadian Tombs, a complex of some 66 royal tombs which sounded like it was going to be substantial in the guidebook, but was actually little more than a single room preceded by a huge queue and whose entrance was forbidden. Rather tourists were granted a brief glimpse at the tomb room through a very narrow roped off doorway, and the brevity of their indulgence was kept carefully in check by a security guard who looked none too pleased by any such attempt to linger beyond a couple of photographs hastily composed. But it was worth the ill treatment: the tombs were stunning. I have never seen such a highly decorated space so compacted within a small area.

The Badii Palace 

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But perhaps our favourite of these golden palaces was the Badii Palace, which is funny really since it was also the least attractive in terms of decoration or embellishment. What took some 25 years to complete and was said to have been one of the most magnificent palaces ever constructed is today a mere skeleton of its former self, having had its riches brutally scrapped by a conquering sultan when he decided to move his centre of power elsewhere. Nonetheless there is a definite poetry in what remains, and an impressive sense of the scale of the original gauged from what is left behind. Best of all are the elegant storks who love to nest on the crumbling site, and probably made for the best photos of them all.

The Badii Storks 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marrakech on Paper: Rooftop Afternoon at the Riad La Ksour

Our trip to Marrakech would have been half the experience were it not for the utterly comfortable, sensationally stylish and perfectly hospitable experience of staying in the Riad Dix Neuf La Ksour. Despite being located mere steps from the bustling Souks and the main Jemaa El Fna square, as soon as you walked through the discreet doorway into this traditional Moroccan home, it was like entering into a kind of parallel universe, where a haven of utmost tranquility ensnared the senses and provided complete rest in the very centre of Marrakech.

Like most Riads, La Ksour follows the traditional set-up of these ancient Moroccan houses, focusing around a cool patio garden with a pool at its centre before ascending to a resplendent roof terrace from which the views of Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains beyond were all that they were promised to be.

It was on this roof terrace that we loved to pass an hour or so of each day, especially in the morning to hear the first early call to prayer, or later in the evening when sunset turned the pink city even rosier than usual. However under the sun of the mid afternoon, my favourite retreat would be to head for a lovely covered canopy on the terrace where an abundance of cacti and other succulent plants grew in ancient looking pots of every shape and size. The resulting corner was so cosy and green that I would never have known that around me temperatures were ascending to desert highs, and instead I would settle down there, usually alone, with my diary to hand, and write my account of our Marrakech experience.

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Rooftop Afternoon at the Riad La Ksour (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

This little painting, created with gouache on paper, captures that quaint corner and the moment in mid afternoon when I would enjoy it most. Painted in the same format as my Honeymoon Suite series of 2015, it represents a continuation of that collection, and of that same blissful feeling which made our original honeymoon travels so unique.

Thanks to the team at the Riad Dix-Neuf La Ksour for making our stay so comfortable, pampered and safe. You made it for us, and this painting is dedicated to you.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 2: Garden Green

There is something altogether very earthy, sandy even about Marrakech. Known as The Daughter of the Desert, it is very evident that the city is only a few hours away from the Sahara. The very rose tint of its original mud built walls sing of the harmony of deep, mineral rich desert tones from which the city arose. And yet a view across its skyline also betrays the odd peppering of green, where palm trees sway amongst houses and the prayer towers of mosques are embellished with shiny green roof tiles. And of course the Arabic countries are no strangers to the beauty of green spaces, since it was them who were the engineering geniuses behind the stunning gardens of the Alhambra in Granada, and most of the Southern European irrigation systems which followed. The Medina of Marrakech is nevertheless more about its dusty maze-like streets and multi-coloured souks than gardens, but through one small gate in the heart of the souk is the opening onto a true marvel of a garden, so hidden away that you could easily miss it.

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Appropriately named, Le Jardin Secret, the origins of this lavish garden hark back to the second half of the sixteenth century, when the Saadian Sultan Moulay ‘Abd-Allah commenced upon the urbanization of what is now the Mouassine district of Marrakech. Having decided to build his palace and gardens on this exact spot, the turbulence of history resulted in a series of handovers from one ruler and influential man to another until eventually, in 1912, the property then passed into the possession of the Fez of al-Hajj Muhammad Loukrissi, chamberlain of Sultan Moulay ‘Abd-al-Hafiz. There he lived until his death in 1934 when tragically the palace and garden fell into disrepair. Fast forward three quarters of a century, and the restoration of the building complex and gardens began.

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Today, Le Jardin Secret is a true garden gem which is all the more precious because of its relative rarity in amongst the city bustle of the Medina. Containing two main garden sections, one tropical and the other more traditionally Arabic in its geometrical layout and planting, both gardens offer and exquisite haven of calm. Accompanied by the trickle of long, ground-level ponds running with water, and by the song of the many birds who revel in the natural abundance of the place, an hour spent in Le Garden Secret has all the benefits of several days in a health spa. Running your hands through the grasses, watching bees as they pollinate the purple and white flowers, and gazing as a gentle breeze alters the dappled reflection of tree leaves against vibrantly painted red and olive green walls, it is a truly stunning place.

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Being, by name, secret, it is also relatively quiet but no doubt that will not remain the case for long. For what better way to break away from the manic hive of activity of the Souks than to seek refuge in this perfect profundity of green in the heart of the Rose City.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Marrakech Moments: Tea at the Café de France

Every city has an iconic café. It’s not always the fanciest, or the most expensive or the most beautiful, but it will be the place with history, with a notorious clientele, and a spot beloved by locals and tourists alike. In Marrakech, that place is the Café de France. Located at the bustling heart of the Jemaa El Fna, the iconic market square at the centre of Marrakech, it is simply the perfect ambience to take a Moroccan mint tea and watch the world go by.

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But as with all such iconic places – we’re talking the level of Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Caffé Greco in Rome – the best tables are hard to get. When we arrived in Marrakech, a very friendly steward in our Riad told us that the most sought after table was the one up on the first floor terrace of the Café in the most south western corner, with a perfect view of the Koutoubia Mosque at sunset. When we arrived at the Café de France, it was so crowded that we would have been lucky to get a table at all, let alone get the table most coveted of all. But suddenly, as if by magic, and at the precise moment when the lingering clouds of the afternoon cleared and sun rays flooded the terrace of the café, the very same corner table became free and we swiftly occupied it, and soaked in its very enticing view.

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The recommendation was correct. It really was the best table. From there we could enjoy the sunset, the Koutoubia tower, and the bustling Jemaa El Fna square at this time when it transformed from day time market place to a huge open air eatery and evening performance venue. There is where the stories of ancient sand dunes and shifting deserts are told, where serpents uncoil out of baskets and monkeys are trained to dance. This exotic space is the centre of the city for a reason, and we had the very best view of it, from above.  Determined to enjoy the table, we took endless photos, reflected upon the ever changing view, sat back, read, and enjoyed a perfectly fresh mint tea. An iconic moment fit only for the café of all Marrakech cafés.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marrakech on Canvas: Rose City Rooftops

I always find it interesting to observe a city from above. It offers something of a backstage perspective on people’s lives; the washing hanging out to dry, the old furniture dumped up on the roof forgotten, or the private pride which may be someone’s roof top garden, hidden from view from the streets below. I have already said that Marrakech is a city of extremes, and that somewhat bipolar personality extends to its buildings too. While the city has become a hotspot for those seeking Arabian luxuries in marble clad spas and lavish Riads, it is interesting to see that so often that extreme of wealth and aesthetic perfection extends to what is seen only. Viewed from the roof, you see the city’s theatre for what it is: those posh patios are mere smoke and mirrors. What you can’t see is the back yard, barely built, with crumbling plaster and propped up with rough wooden supports. There too you can see the roof terraces strewn with weakly installed cabling and rusty satellite dishes, with age battered plant pots and pink plaster facades left to crack and fade in the sun. Marrakech from above is a fascinating mess, a hodgepodge of unplanned construction and time-weathered dilapidation. But unifying it all is the rose-tinged colour of the whole jumble of construction, together with the occasional beautiful mosque tower which punctuates the scenery.

Rose City Rooftops

Rose City Rooftops (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

This enthralling city vision was the inspiration for a small painted study which I completed just a few days ago. Focusing on a very small cut-out of a wider landscape, it is an almost abstracted focus on the criss-cross of tumbling, crumbling pink blushing walls, together with the satellite dishes and cables and old plants peppering the scene. It is characteristically Marrakech. An unplanned mess which exudes beauty as a result.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 1: Rose City

Colour, smell, thunder, stares, snakes, spices, the sound of birdsong, the call to prayer. Morocco is a country of extremes and its dazzling city of Marrakech all the more so. Those extremes began as soon as we entered its airspace, as desert planes and mighty big African clouds overhead gave way to one of the most sparkling fancy airports I have ever set foot in. A further transformation manifested as we took a taxi into town. On the left, a modern city, its roads neatly paved and lined with illuminated orange trees. On the right an old city crumbling, smelly, loud, maze like. Children begged around our legs, women enveloped in veils eyed us suspiciously and the use of donkeys in the place of vehicles marked a return to centuries past. Marrakech is different from any place I have ever visited before, and the next few weeks on The Daily Norm will bear testament to our time there; a trip which tantalised each of the senses and engendered the thrill of the different and astonishment at everything we saw.

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A focus on the visual is what will shape my tale of Marrakech, as I take inspiration from the colours which were visible in such extremes across the city. Known as Rose City, by far its most prominent colour is the peachy shade of soft terracotta which characterises its ancient Medina. Stemming from the red tint of local stone and mud, the colour is a naturally occurring bi-product of the city’s quasi-desert location. In fact the rosy hue became so synonymous with the city that when in modern times concrete started to replace traditional mud construction methods, the former French rulers decreed that all such buildings must be painted in the same colour of pink.

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The result is a city almost universally sculpted from rose, a place where nature itself provides the rose-tinted glasses through whose sheen Marrakech can be seen to glow a warm shade at all times of the day. But as we will see from later posts, the city’s characteristic hue changes as it reflects the light, and when an intense sunset reigns in the skies, the resulting reflected pink is like nothing I have ever seen before.

But for today, and by way of introducing to this incredible Moroccan city, I give you photos of Marrakech in its most iconic warm terracotta glow, ranging from sunrise in the morning to full sun as the baking semi-desert conditions almost cooked the city streets below. This is Marrakech, Rose City, Daughter of the Desert, and it’s going to be a wonderful Daily Norm ride…

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Norms in Siena

Readers of my post a few weeks back will remember my reaction, close to ecstasy, when I sat with my Partner in the Piazza del Campo in Siena at sunset and sipped upon a frothy prosecco and savoured several balls of stracciatella ice cream as around us the bustling city relaxed and wined and dined its way into the end of the day. In their parallel little world, the Norms enjoy very similar tastes to myself – who frankly could not – and sunset in Siena suits them down to the ground.

The Norms love ice cream. Its soft roundness reminds them of their dulcet gelatinous forms (not that Norms would go as far as eating themselves, perish the thought!). They adore prosecco too, the bubbles increasing ten-fold the bounce which characterises their unique Normy gait. But best of all the Norms are number one fans of the sunshine, which warms their blue blood and makes them glow like high wattage lightbulbs. That’s why, in this happy little depiction of the Norms in Siena they all look so very healthy and content. Saluti to that!

Norms in Siena

Norms in Siena (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

London, Rediscovering My City: Battersea Park

It’s no wonder I was moved to paint the great green expanse of Clapham Common in my new painting, Green in Common. Spring really has been a verdant one in England, and while sunshine has been somewhat lacking recently (remind me to make an official complaint to the Met Office about that), when its rays have shone down upon us, we have been afforded an ideal opportunity to enjoy what England does best: its green and pleasant land. And while London may be the country’s greatest urban conglomeration, there is certainly no shortage of green space to enjoy. Just look at my posts on Wimbledon, Richmond and Hampton Court, and that’s just for starters.

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Recently we discovered that there’s a no less worthy green expanse even closer to our home in the form of Battersea Park. Since I had long ago dismissed it as something of a mediocre patch of land next to the river, I had no idea about the treasures which were hidden inside. These began just metres from the entrance with a set of swirling, curving boating lakes interlaced with cosy pathways crossing and edging the water, designed to make the visitor feel lost in a great wetland well out of the city. With not a straight line in sight, these beautifully cared for wetlands are every bit the reserve of a booming wildlife habitat as they are the favourite haunt of visitors who sat picnicking in the shadow of sculptures by Henry Moore or romantically boating upon the lake. Our romantic stroll was no doubt enhanced by the bubbles we sipped at a surprisingly chic café by the water’s edge. This set us off in fabulous shape to explore the rest of the park, which included vast flower beds bursting with tropical plants, tulips in every conceivable colour, and all number of paddling pools and picnicking areas much frequented by visitors and Londoners alike.

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But the pièce de la résistance had to be the riverside walk, which contains probably the most distinctive feature of the park: a beautiful, sparkling Peace Pagoda. While it looks as though it has made its way from some ancient civilisation in the midst of a Thailand jungle, it was actually erected in Battersea in 1985 before soon becoming the park’s most iconic landmark. From its dazzling raised portico, you get the perfect view of the Thames, and my favourite bridge, the Albert Bridge. Dainty and elegant, this Thames favourite leads a perfect bath over to Chelsea, where we were promptly persuaded to while away the rest of the afternoon. Happy days.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Green in Common

Sometimes it’s the simple things that are best in life: It’s a well known philosophy, and one which one does well to remember in this world of plenty, of multiple-distraction and rapid pace technology. Living in Mallorca it was a sensation I knew well, as my favourite moments would be sitting on a sunny bench besides the harbour side with a book and my beloved by my side. No music, no gimmicks, just the sound of water and the bobbing up and down of boats. Now I’m back in London, I feel the same when I’m enjoying the great expanses of green which we city dwellers are so fortunate to have on our doorstep. Right where I live I’m a mere stroll away from Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common, Battersea Park to name but a few. And in those spaces one can strip back the protective urban layer and enjoy the simple pleasures.

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Green in Common (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Such was my inspiration for this piece, my first completed work on canvas since I returned to this mammoth city, an urban conglomeration so large that perhaps this small painting speaks in protest. Inspired by the sight of a vast beautiful tree, I planned a work for which this simple landscape of trees and clouds would form the backdrop for a more dramatic tree portrait. But when I walked away from the canvas, with the protagonist still unstarted, I revelled in the simple beauty of this mere line of trees. So I declared this painting finished: my ode to verdant simplicity, and the moments I most cherish, wherever I happen to be.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Norms in Tuscany

Take a ravishing view of rolling Tuscan hills, a freshly patterned blanket, the distinctively shaped Chianti bottle, a ciabatta loaf, a crostini tart, and of course some good smoked cheese and pesto, and you have just about the best picnic set up in the world (with the exception of course of Glyndebourne, but who can compete with the crème de la crème). Mix in an iconic vespa (for transportation reasons as well as Italian chic) and you’re set. Or at least the Norms are set. For while we may have left Tuscany, the Norms are continuing to chill in Italia, to revel in the seductive landscape, indulge in the region’s plentiful wine production, and live la bella vita in a way that the Tuscans do best.

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Norms in Tuscany (picnicking with a view of Volterra) (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen and ink on paper)

Here are the Norms enjoying just that same perfect picnic we have described, with the addition of a good book (coincidentally Proust…like me!), a view of Volterra, a good snooze and even a visit from the region’s favourite mascot, the furry cinghiale. Looks pretty darn idyllic to me.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com