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Posts from the ‘Marrakech’ Category

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 6: Sunset Fuchsia

Marrakech is a city so abundant in its palette of colour that I have been able to successfully craft my tale of our trip there by reference to its vastly diverse tonality. Starting with the rose colour which characterises the city walls and the majority of its ancient buildings, and exploring the golden ochre of its crumbling palaces and the stunning blue of the Marjorelle Gardens, my colour-focused posts reached a peak when they entered the multi-coloured world of the Souks which beat at the heart of Marrakech’s ancient medina. But to end the set, it felt appropriate to go back to the pink hues which started it all, not least because this specific shade of pink was cast at the end of the day, when the sun cast a glorious new hue over the city.

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While the city is most definitely pink, it was enchanting to watch how that pink developed and transformed as the various stages of the day unfurled. In the morning the pink was dusky and pale as it warmed up gradually with the rising of the sun. At midday the baking sun made the pink luminescent, fiery and peach like. And when the odd cloud came over, the pink was more mauve and moody. But only once did we see the greatest transformation of all. It was after a huge storm ended the day, refreshing us all, but casting a fierce spectacle of rain and lightening across the city. Just as it was nearing its end, the sun plummeted to a level beneath the clouds and as it did so, its refracted light reflected off the clouds and back down onto the city to create a vivid kind of fuchsia pink lighting which literally filled the city. The result was almost eery, as spaces such as our Riad, which were decorated by a very pure white marble, were immersed in a beautiful shade of cherry-blossom. It was almost as though the clouds had rained rosé wine, and we were all swimming in their fruity waters.

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The drama and the beauty of the moment was one I will long remember, and is a fitting tribute to this incredible trip, a journey which tantalised each of my senses to a degree never experienced before.

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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: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue

The gift shop adjacent to the house of Jacques Majorelle was very chic. As touristic destinations go, it was very chic indeed – a true boutique – which exhibited all of the hallmarks of Yves Saint Laurent, the subsequent owner of this dazzling blue house and gardens. When, amongst the spectacular YSL pieces and beautifully crafted bottles of exotic Moroccan inspired perfumes I saw a pyramid formed from little cans of paint, my heart skipped a beat. It was Majorelle blue! And while the paint is clearly intended for outside use, I knew as soon as I saw it that with this actual authentic blue, I would paint a work dedicated to the garden: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue!

The resulting work, posted here, focuses on the wonderful geometry of the 1920s construction at the heart of the gardens, whose cubist architecture reflects the trends of the time, while the arabesque and arches are truly Moroccan in character. But of course the real star is that ravishing colour, that blue so iconic amongst gardens. But as for the  diverse array of cacti which, in reality, almost hide the house, whose wavy, almost quivering shapes are like the hattifatteners of Tove Jansson, vibrating in the moonlight… these I confined to illustration in shadow, hinting at their presence, but not allowing it to dominate. It was a controversial choice for a garden so famous for its abundance, but in this painting I wanted the house, and the colour to shine. Not the plants.

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The Majorelle Gardens in Majorelle Blue (© 2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache and Majorelle blue on paper)

I have no idea whether the idea for painting garden walls this resplendent shade of blue came first from Majorelle or is more deeply imbedded into Arabic culture, but it’s funny to observe how entrenched this colour has become into the idea of the Moroccan garden. For me, the place was a true highlight of our Morocco trip, and this painting a highpoint of my Marrakech collection.

© 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 5: Majorelle Blue

This post commences with a warning: You are about to be bombarded by blue. An intense, electric, ultramarine blue which defies the senses and energises the mind. And when the more natural colours of citrus and verdant green are set against it, they too become alive, as though infected by the sonic grove to which this blue vibrates. The result is a panoply of vivid colour, a palette so strong that these photos should not be viewed with a hangover. But rather, with a clear head, get ready to revel in this most glorious colour of Marrakech, a shade which has defined the idea of the avant-garde garden paradise, ever since it was first used in the Moroccan garden of French artist, Jacques Majorelle and later the home of one Yves Saint Laurent. This is a post dedicated to the colour so synonymous with its creator and his lavish Marrakech garden that it was named after him: Majorelle Blue.

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The Majorelle Garden is one of Marrakech’s most popular sites. No doubt the legacy of YSL –  who recovered the abandoned masterpiece of fellow ex-patriot Majorelle in the 1980s and returned it to its former glory – is a prime attraction. But beyond the YSL gloss, which adds understandable glamour to this secluded, leafy space, this is a garden which packs a punch from its entrance. The blue, a mix of cobalt and ultramarine, is so vivid that it cuts through the plants whose dense foliage attempts to cover it. In the garden, every possible type of prickly cactus and tubular bamboo fights to fill the light afforded by the dappled space, and yet they are a mere chorus to the protagonism of the blue. Yes, it allows the green of the plants to sing like a true maestro, but it does so complacently, knowing itself to be the true star.

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While the walls of a waterlily pond (like Monet’s garden on acid) and an adjoining Arabic waterway are given over to this blue, it is the house itself, with its cubic form and intermittent splashes of vivid yellow, which really give the blue its stage, from where its monologue can be radiated throughout a lush garden punctuated with yet more splashes of prominent blue, yellow and orange. Pots and urns do not escape the paint treatment, so that the whole garden becomes unified in colour. It’s as though no plant nor path has been allowed to escape the treatment of a designer intent on creating a cohesive catwalk show. This is a garden choreographed to sing out, to impress. And it does so with aplomb.

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Predictably the garden is always awash with visitors. Their backpacks and chattering inject the colour harmony with unwanted clashing tones and a strident cackling which punctuates the calm which ought to dominate this cultural space. For this reason my photographic dedication to the Majorelle Garden concentrates more on the details than the overall space. But in those details you can see the effect of colour and contrast, as that magnificent blue comes face to face with its colour wheel opposites. The result is a true spectacle of colour, rarely dared to be seen in so naturally abundant a green and thriving garden space.

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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. 

Moroccan Norms survey the Souks of Marrakech

Anything we can do, the Norms can do better, and more often than not as soon as we explore a new part of the world, the globular footprint of these gelatinous characters follows in our wake. Marrakech may be a surprising choice for these travel-fond creatures, especially given the relative unavailability of bubbly wine which a recent trip to Siena confirmed was their favourite source of sustenance. But given that their second favourite pastime is buying their way around Norm-World’s most interesting shops, the utterly diverse product-packed labyrinth of Marrakech’s Medina Souks is a pretty suitable choice for the Norms.

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Moroccan Norms Survey the Souks of Marrakech (Pen and ink on paper, © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017)

But of course visiting Norms are not the only blobs to gather in the Norm-Souks, and in today’s illustration, you can see the Norms who are also resident traders and local shoppers alike. Whether it be to breathe deep the perfume of rose essence and moroccan spices, to touch the silken thread of magical carpets, or to gaze in wonder at the sparkling brass pots, lanterns and lamps, the magpie Norms are naturally attracted to this Aladdin’s cave of exotic emporiums. And is this packed street, framed by horseshoe arches and plied with plenty, it is not hard to see the attraction. Happy shopping Norms!

© 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 

Marrakech on Paper: Tea at the Café de France

As The Daily Norm’s great Marrakech series continues, I am feeling as inspired to create artwork reflecting the trip as I am to share those special holiday moments with you on this blog. Looking back to one of my earliest posts, you will remember me telling you about our very fortuitous tea at the emblematic Cafe de France; fortuitous because of the luck we had in arriving just as the best corner table became free with its perfect view of the bustling Jeema el Fna square. Having since painted one of my favourite afternoon spots – the terrace at the Riad 19 La Ksour – it was perhaps inevitable that I would follow it with a depiction of that other great afternoon experience at the Cafe de France. After all, with its amazing sun set view, its charismatic zig zag floor and tiled walls, and the sun blinds up ahead creating cosiness to its well-appointed terrace, there were plenty of details at the Cafe de France to capture as I went about immortalising the occasion.

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Tea at the Café de France, Marrakech (2017 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

The result is rather complex for a collection of gouache paintings otherwise characterised by their relative simplicity, but it makes for a fine addition to my collection of holiday illustrations, and another way in which our Marrakech trip will be long rooted in the forefront of my imagination.

© 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 

Marrakech Moments: Cocktails at the Mamounia

Marrakech is a place of extremes. In the Medina, its ancient heart, you could so easily be transported back 200 years as donkeys and horses take the place of cars, and chickens, cats and small dirty looking children roam the streets. Yet outside the old city walls, you’ll find an airport, brand-spanking new, so shiny and dazzling that it makes Heathrow T5 look like an interim solution. But what marks the extremes more than anything is the evident wealth gap which exists in the society. No more obvious is this than at the Mamounia, one of the world’s great old hotels, situated just beyond the main Koutoubia Mosque but so different from its surroundings. For while the dusty streets outside are filled with beggars and tradesmen scraping to make a living, inside the hotel you find a world resplendent in its lavishness, with levels of luxury perhaps higher than I have ever seen before.

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No wonder then that the place was not easy to get into. One grumpy doorman at first refused us entry, since he obviously judged our joint worth to be far less than the average guest. But a confident swagger, sunglasses donned and a second attempt got us through the grand entrance. We were after all determined to visit the hotel. Not only is it renowned as one of the most luxurious in all of Africa, it was also the location for some of the most famous scenes of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, where Doris Day sang her famous hit, Que Sera Sera for the first time.

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Once in we were understandably dazzled by the sheer extent of the opulent interiors and  expansive gardens which we were able to enjoy to full while waiting for a table to become free on the elegant terrace of the Italian Bar. In those grounds, so large they were used to film scenes from Alexander, we found tennis courts, pools, loungers aplenty, herb gardens, Arabic lounges and an entire wall brimming with bougainvillaea. There was even a pavilion at the garden’s centre just built for afternoon tea. But we had cocktails on the mind, and when our stroll was over, our table lay in wait, and we quenched our thirst with a well earned G&T and a Strawberry Daiquiri. It wasn’t the cheapest of occasions, but it was a hallmark moment of our trip. While it may have been a very different world from the city of Marrakech just outside its mighty walls, there was something about the grandeur of this 92 year old hotel which made us feel very at home.

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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.

The Colours of Marrakech, Part 4: Multi-coloured Souks

Winding, uneven, disorientating streets, packed with every kind of sight and sound and smell. A maze of chaotic, pulsating brilliance, cross crossed with shards of light as the boiling heat penetrates awnings made of grass and bamboo. These are the Souks of Marrakech, the utterly mesmerising completely confusing labyrinth of tightly packed market streets which sit at the heart of the city’s ancient Medina, and of its inhabitants. For trade has always been central to the functioning of Marrakech, which grew up around its perfect positioning for business with Spain and the rest of mighty Africa. Today the Souks remain the ancient location for the thousands of craftsmen eking out an existence selling their handmade wares, and easily the most fascinating place to visit.

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The Souks are intrinsically beautiful. Packed with gold and ivory, leather and metalwork, great piles of spices, others of candied fruits, stalls loaded high with magical carpets, they are a real sight to be seen, as well as to smell. But be under no illusion. A visit to the Souks is an endurance test and a hard often intimidating slog for any westerner (since, lets face it, we stick out like a sore thumb against the more traditional dress of the locals). Wherever you go, you draw attention. Many see money, others see a nuisance, but almost everyone will want something from you and every 5 seconds you will need to handle an approach or a plea. Walking along those precariously narrow streets is no stroll in the park – locals use the same narrow lanes to drive like maniacs on mopeds, weaving as they do so in and out of poor donkeys, still heaving along heavy carts like a rewind back 200 years, and chickens who meander around clucking, unaware of their forthcoming bloody fate. For those on foot, you must get used to jumping out of the way, being careful not to fall into one of those precariously balanced spice piles as you do so. Then there’s the merchants. Catch their eyes, and like spiders they will ensnare you in their web. Look at their produce, take an interest in their wares, and they will lure you further still until the trap closes in. Try to get out without purchasing something I dare you! And don’t even think of looking at a map. Suggest for one second you are lost and you will be surrounded by mischievous teenagers who will try to persuade you to take them on as a tour guide. Their tricks are well known. They will get you all the more lost, taking you deeper into the Souks, before demanding money for your release.

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It all sounds rather terrifying, I know. And going to the Souks is never exactly comfortable. But there is something so utterly mesmerising about this magical world that you cannot help but go back for more and gaze in sheer wonder at this incredible picture of a wonderfully different life. Until you go to the Souks, you will never truly appreciate what is Marrakech, nor Morocco. This is where the cultural differences are at their most extreme. The authenticity of the scene makes the so-called Moroccan shops in Southern Spain look like a sham. And the beauty of the place is such that you will want to photograph until your camera battery is exhausted – but be careful with this too. The locals hate being photographed and those less shy will demand money for the privilege.

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So those are the Souks that ensnared our souls, scaring us aplenty but which provided the most memorable experiences of our trip. And we came away with some Saharan pottery, a metal lion, a miniature red tagine and some orange blossom essence. Not bad, especially as we were required to barter as part of the process, something which is inherently uncomfortable for the polite English. Long will I remember this maze of plenty, its exotic smells and hardened people. Most of all I will remember the multiple colours which characterise this dazzling place.

© 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.

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.