Happy New Year!

The year is about to end and I am here writing my blog. I am with Haiko in Amsterdam after having spent x-mas with his family in Maastricht. I talked to my parents who are in Ubatuba, Brazil, with blue skies and 36 degrees at 5 pm. It is really amazing, I have never spent a new years eve there without at least some rain. Here it is 5 degrees, but it is not raining.

I tried to call my grandma the whole day. I was finally able to reach her now. She was very happy, traveling with 5 friends. As she put it herself, a group of girls ranging form 70 to 80.

My grandma, 83 years old, goes to the gym everyday, takes modern art classes, uses the net, and travels with her friends. She told me they had reserved a table in a hotel restaurant for 10pm. They will take two cabs, so that they can enjoy the night and have champagne.

Then I hung up, quite moved by her youth. And sitting here in the apartment of my brother in law, with not much desire to go out, i got moved thinking of the joviality of my grandmother. I had watched a program about Benazir (the other side of the story), read about the crisis in Kenya, and at the nicest moment of the day I did some yoga, and watched le cirque de soleil on tv.

The year before last year I spent New Year in a buddhist temple in NY. It was different. I had never been there. I did not want to be at a party. Haiko was in Holland, my family in Brazil,and my friends spread around the world. And I went to a buddhist temple. It was nice, I heard legends from Bhutan, and we meditated for peace.

We will go out soon… walk around the Jordaan quarter. We will watch the fireworks. And I wish I could meditate for peace. But with so many explosions this is a bit hard. Apparently they are to scare the evil spirits; to me, a bit ironic.

I find our new years, that do not follow the moon or seasons, a bit arbitrary… but I like the atmosphere of peoples’ new resolutions, and hopes.

I finish this year thinking of my grandma’s joviality. I finish this year thinking of the monk in that buddhist temple two years ago.

To each sound of the gong he said: positive thoughts for those we love…bong… positive thougths for those we dont know..bong… positive thougths for those we dislike….bong… and positive thoughts for all there is….

Happy New Year!

Through The South of Morocco

While we were planning our trip to Morocco, I stumbled on some information about a tour that went through the south of the country reaching the Sahara desert. I wanted to go, and Haiko agreed to it immediately; after all, he had already been on a desert safari (in the Thar desert between India and Pakistan) and had loved it. I was a bit apprehensive about it, because it was the end of the summer, the heat was certain, and the desert is a place from which most people run away. To spend numerous hours on a camel didn’t sound very comfortable either, and if we were to regret it, once in the middle of the desert there would be no way back.

So, in the first 3 days in Marrakech, we went around asking everyone we encountered about the trip. We heard everything, from ‘the desert is too hot now, around 48 degrees Celcius…’, and ‘it is really worth it’, to ‘it is tiring’ and ‘‘don’t waste your time”… As you can imagine, these comments did not make it any easier to decide. So when Brahim (Mounia’s husband) finally called from the desert saying it had rained and that it wasn’t so hot anymore, we decided to go.

With everything organized by Brahim, we left on a Monday morning and headed to the south. We, that is Adriana, Haiko, our driver Abdul and I, travelled by 4×4. Once I showed Abdul some interest in his views, he told us basically everything he knew about all places we went. The landscape, the colour of the earth, the wind, the houses, and people all changed along the route. The only thing that always remained the same was our meal options: tagine and/or couscous.

We travelled the whole day, passing numerous little villages. We journeyed through the hardest kinds of lives. Lives that seemed arid, difficult and poetic at the same time. And this, to me, was the greatest dichotomy of all; that so much hardship could be so astonishingly moving, in a beautiful and lyrical sense. A bit like a Salgado

exposition, where one never feels too good for feeling so touched.

The apex of this surrealism happened when we arrived at our riad in Zagora. It was a magnificent place, full of astonishing details, a feeling of Mali in the south of Morocco. It was beauty all around, from the mud coloured walls, the details in every pot, every window, door and corner. We strolled, completely mesmerized, a bit lost, and confused. We walked towards our rooms, but found a pool in the middle of a garden. There, in the middle of sooo much dryness, there was a pool for tourists… And there, in a mix of relief and guilt, we swam. We swam with the moon and stars in the sky at the mouth of the Sahara Desert.

The world

I can´t really remember when my passion for maps started, but it is definitely a long time ago. I am not talking about Mercator´s distortions and eurocentrism, nor about the arbitrary carving of the colonizers, but rather of that curiosity that emerges from seeing the name of an unknown city, river or mountain.

My mother always loved maps. She had different kinds and they were hanging on walls all over the house. Just as she would never let an unknown French or English word in a book pass without looking them up in a dictionary, she would not let the name of a city, region or river she did not know go by without finding out its exact location, latitude etc…

Still quite young , in the French school where I studied, I remember hearing my classmate Jerome say that he knew all capitals in the world. I found that to be absolutely impossible. That he would know all European and South American Capitals was fine, we all learned them, but all capitals in the world was unheard of. I still remember searching for the hardest place I knew and only being able to come up with Sri Lanka. To what he responded with ease: Colombo. It is true that at that time it was much easier with most of the ~istans~ still being part of the Soviet Union.

Later at university, Joss, my ex-flatmate, enrolled in a geography of Africa class, and she had to learn all kinds of information about the African countries. Since I was in charge of asking her questions I ended up learning a lot about it myself. Then I decided I should at least be able to place all countries in the map, and know their capitals, and for some time I even knew all Pacific Islands.

Then Joss and I decided that knowing capitals and countries was not enough, but that every week we should learn about a different place, about the governments, about the cultures, about the food etc… And in fact, while we lived together we learned a tremendous amount about different countries, not so much in the formal way we expected, but by reading novels, taking classes, and especially by meeting friends from abroad. And it still amazes me how some people get happy realizing you know something from where they come from. In the beginning, you expects a lot, and have grandiose dreams about what people should know about where you come from. They should know more than Rio de Janeiro, carnival and football; but when someone from Bishkek or Bandar Seri Begawan, knows three things about your country while you do not know where his country is (or that it even exists!), ytou become more humble.

I have a friend who says that you only actually learn about places by travelling. And I do agree that travelling helps, but i do not feel it is fundamental, nor that it guarantees you will learn about that place. After all, there are many who travel without wanting anything to change, and without learning anything at all.

Last night, I accidentily stumbled upon a site called Amores Expressos ( Express Love). It was a project by one of the most important Brazilian publishers to send writers to different cities in the world to spend a month, and later write a short story about love. I was outraged by one of the writers who was sent to India. She was discriminating, generalizing, and offensive; so ironic for someone who is supposed to write about love.

Later on I read about a 5 year old boy in Paraisópolis ( a slum in sao paulo), whose father taught him about numerous countries and its capitals. And the only thing the father had to teach his son was an atlas, a little blackboard and his good will.

And by reading that article I suddenly realized that my passion for maps comes from willing to learn about the other. My fascination for maps took me to study anthropology, to travel as often as I can, and to learn about different cultures. The maps, just as novels, and languages awake us for different lives in different places. And traveling, it is true, emphasizes that learning, but I do not think it creates the interest, or the desire.

I do not know where the interest for the world, for the other comes from. But I see it in the father, who shows the map to his 5 year old son. He shows his 5 year old the atlas of different ways of life, of different opportunities. This interest for the other is what seems to me the writer that got sent to India is missing.

And I do understand it, since not all trips are all that easy. Some take us to our limits. When I was in Hong Kong, for instance, I came back mentally exhausted, the synapses only started to happen when I was on the plane. Morocco took my body to rebel, but I soon realized that it was not against me, but in my favour. It was in name of a better integration between my body and mind, versus the old way of mind over body. And it is a pity that we so often close ourselves to the different, to the other, without ever realizing that we are in fact afraid of ourselves. Scared of letting go of concepts, habits, and ideas that we are used to, but that, in the end, are not even that much truly ours.


When I went to Slovenia last year to visit my friend Vesna, she took me to Croatia to visit her aunt. I have written already about Jelka´s kindness in my Brazilian blog, but I never got to write about an old lady she made us visit in the small village of Stankovic.

Stankovic is a small, one street village. Actually, the only road crosses the village in two. A village of approximately 20 houses, being Jelka´s almost self suficient. A bit after we arrived Darko, Vesna´s uncle, called. Vesna told him she was visiting and that she had brought a Brazilian friend. We woke up the following day with Darko arriving in his small red car, dressed in a Brazilian shirt, and eager to tell me Brazilian football players’ names, and the few words in English he knew. We went out with him the whole day. He took us to beautiful Dalmatian towns, and we took uncountable pictures of his car. Pictures he did not stop planning, or ever got tired of admiring in my camera. At the end of the day we went back home.

As soon as we arrived, Jelka asked us to visit an old lady who lived alone in one of the houses of the village. Jelka told us that the woman was a bit sad, and that our visit would bring her some joy. Jelka, one of the kindest persons I have ever met, visited the lady often, bringing her food, and cleaning her place.

We walked up to the house, and went through the front yard, while Jelka clapped and called the lady’s name. She called, and called, but there was no answer. Jelka went in, while Vesna and I checked outside. After 5 minutes with no answer I started to panic a bit, imagining us finding the lady dead. But I was wrong, a couple of minutes later she appeared. She approached, very old, walking slowly, hunched, and explained she had been to the neighbour’s house.

We went in, and the room, kitchen and living room were actually one and the same. While Jelka turned the oven on to warm up the house, the woman mumbled. I felt I was transported to another world. As if time had stopped, and went back walking really slowly like one of those monks who ring a bell to every step. There was not much light, the colours were yellowish, and the woman moaned. Jelka said kind things while Vesna translated everything to me. The old lady told her to tell me about her second husband whom she had been married to for 40 years, and had died now.

Eventually, Darko appeared. He explained he had new plans and that Vesna should translate them to me. Since he could not travel the world as Vesna and I could, he would do the same amount of km around Croatia. He would do that, he explained, even if he had to cross the country a thousand times. As his plans changed to an intercontinental trip that would take us to Russia, the woman attempted to remember in which countries of South America she had a lost son. Then the trip would reach China, and the woman tried to remember the name of yet another forgotten kid. Vesna did not know what to translate and I felt in a film.

And there, in the middle of a talk in another language, in another world, I could understand the tones, in fact I could relate to the humanity of it all. There in the middle of a remote village, no internet or tv, or good social welfare, these people were treated as people. In other places they would maybe be in homes, or professionally treated. But there they could live, more than that they were part of a society, they mattered to someone, and they had dreams

About Emotion and Criticism

We According to her, it did not matter how different the classes she chose for the semester were, at some point they always met at a point that united them all. I never knew if things were really all connected, or as Joao Carlos, an arts and communication professor, always said it was because of our repertoire that we are able to connect and appreciate things more or less. I later on married to a neuroscientist, and started to think of Joao Carlos’ repertoire as bases for neurological networks that connect the way they can according to the information we hold. There are days that my atheism and scepticism is strong and the neurological and evolutionary explanations are more than enough to explain those connections. Other days, however, I use these neuro-networks to connect Jung´s notion of synchronicity, with the mystic´s idea of connectivity, with the wanderings (that I have no way of judging) of quantum physicists. In the end, I still do not know the reason for those meeting points, but I could never deny that Joss was right, they always happen.

This point happened to me one of these days as I attended a concert by Paco de Lucia here in London. In fact, it happened afterwards, when I said goodbye to the friends I watched the concert with and carefully considered our conversation.

In the beginning of the concert, the guitar strings vacillated, teetered and some notes did not come out. I paid attention, a lot of attention to those faults. I paid attention in the emotion the man next to me felt to see his idol. I paid attention to the group of Spaniards who kept screaming ‘Maestro’ during the concert, to the people who filmed, those who took pictures, those who whistled… Enfin, I paid attention to everything but that moment. In the second part of the concert, I stopped looking around, and I finally felt the music. And as usual I was overcome by emotion.

On my way out, I ran into my friends. One, like me, had paid enormous attention to the mistakes. The other, a flamenco player himself and huge Paco de Lucia fan, did notice those notes as well, but to him it meant little. Paco had been great, his timing always perfect, his hand unexplainably fast. The emotion he had felt came from being in front of this man, who is the greatest flamenco guitarist alive.

And only when I came home I could finally understand that moment: the dichotomy between emotion and criticism. I realized that every time I let myself be taken by the emotion of being in front of someone or something I admire, I insist on minimizing my critical sense. I guess out of fear perhaps of finding a fault and not being able to admire it any longer. On the other hand, when I let my criticism go unchecked, I inevitably miss the moment. The problem I realize does not lie in criticism itself, or in the emotion, but in the idea that something must be perfect as a whole all the time. My friend was right, who cares if some notes did not come out? Paco is fenomenal!

Thé à la Menthe

One of my earliest childhood memories is one of a feeding bottle with chamomile tea they used to give me as a child. I still remember how I hated that tepid sweet thing. After thinking about it a lot I realized it could only have been given to me by Cre, my nanny. My mother would have never agreed to give sugar to kids, and my grandmother would have never called an infusion tea. In any case, in my childhood years I became traumatized by camomile tea, and hot sweet drinks.

I rarely drank infusions in Brasil, in NY occasionally, in Amsterdam frequently, and in London I drink infusions all the time. This change occurred mainly because of Olga, my Russian neighbour in Amsterdam, who often invited me to have a cup in her apartment. I liked her brilliant and pessimistic sarcasm far more than the tea itself, but by the end of the year I was hooked.

So when I was told that in Morocco, life circled around a mint tea pot pouring tea from high above I got very excited. Mint infusions were always one of my favourites, so I could not have been more delighted. However, this joy came to an end quite soon; more precisely at the time of my first sip. The famous ‘ thé a la menthe’ tasted nothing like the infusions I was used to. In fact, it did not even taste like the beverage Leila used to prepare when we lived in NY. It is true that she was often unsatisfied. She always complained it didn’t taste like the Moroccan one, but at the time I took that to be a bad thing. So when I finally got to Morocco I was not prepared for my first sip. As I drank I kept imagining the person who prepared it pouring more and more spoons of sugar into it. I was mistaken, however, as would become clear later on. In any case, after this first tea I never drank it again; that is, until our trip to the Sahara.

On our trip, as I have mentioned in earlier topics, I became friends with the driver Abdul. Being the only one fluent in French I had the unfortunate responsibility of all request and questions, but the privilege of all explanations. It is true that many of them seemed to me like mythical views of reality, like when he explained to me that women dressed in black because it was cooler. I thought this was impossible, but did not say anything. In other cases, I simply could not judge it. For instance, I had always imagined that the habit of drinking tea must have come from drinking boiled (=safer) water and from being hard to cool down a drink in the desert. Abdul told me however, that that was wrong, the real reason was that hot tea made people less thirsty. Eventually, after so many hours talking he asked me whether it would be fine to give his nephew a ride. We naturally agreed to this, and it was that ride that led me to my second tea in Morocco.

We stopped in the middle of the route, and parked the car on the side of the road. Abdul invited us to come out and follow him. We saw a quite simple house, and some very friendly people. We took some pictures, tried dates from the trees and eventually Abdul came to us and said ‘ you are quite lucky, they will serve you tea.’ With that much luck I couldn’t say that I didn’t want to drink it, and gathered the sweets we had brought with us to contribute somehow and joined them. A carpet was laid on the ground outside, and we sat down observing the ritualistic preparation. First came the boiled water and then some sort of powder (on the box it read ‘gunpowder’…). The water was poured in and out a couple of times before the tea was made. And then it came, a rock of approximately 16cm2 of sugar! We look at it in awe, Abdul crushed it down into the pot, which was about half its size, and poured some water in and served 4 glasses of tea. He still needed to make one more glass so he got some more sugar. And this way the mistery was solved, they weren’t spoons after all, they were sugar meteorites!

About the trip to Morocco

As some of you know, I finally went to Morocco this September. I have written about the meaning of this trip to me in other topics (mainly in my Brazilian blog), but I have never really written about the trip itself. I went to Morocco carrying two return tickets: one for 20 and one for 34 days later. I ended up staying the 34 days and I would have stayed longer, had a small (very small) sense of responsibility (and missing my husband) not started to .

As usual I got prepared the best way I could. I read the guides, romances, history, tips etc. Not so much to be prepared, but more from a desire of starting my trip as soon as the tickets were bought. And as usual every book said a different thing, every person had a different opinion. They were unanimous only in that I should dress modestly, with long sleeves and long pants or skirt, and that I should expect to be approached by everyone.

So the 3 of us (Haiko, Adriana and I) were prepared. We carried few clothes but they were according to the suggestions. We arrived at 9am in Marrakech. It was amazingly hot, there were numerous lines to go through immigration, and it took us a long time to finally get into Morocco. They took our data, and gave us an entrance number in order for the government to know where we were at all times.

When we finally came outside, Mounia , my friend, was waiting for us. I got emotional at seeing her after a few years. And most surprisingly she was dressed exactly as she did in NY: with a sleeveless top.

“But Mounia, we were told that we should avoid even short sleeves?!”
She smiled and said that that was silly, and that everybody dressed as they wished.

We entered her car, and went straight to her apartment. A beautiful and modern place decorated with her beautiful paintings in the centre of the Ville Nouvelle (the new town). Waiting for us was Hafida, Mounia’s childhood nanny, who had prepared a monumental breakfast. Mounia and I spoke French, Hafida and Mounia Moroccan. Hafida veiled to go out, Mounia did not. And right there in the beginning of the trip, even if I did not know it at the time, Moroccan life started to paint itself. A world of strong contrasts, of social and gender inequality unfolded before our own eyes. Inequality plasticized by the difference of languages. A world of mystery and disconcerting beauty always hiding behind heavy doors. A world divided between the religious and the modernizers. We had entered a world of enormous hospitality, amiability, but also of enormous social control. A world of antagonistic forces, kept by a king, who everyone seemed to love. His picture hanging on every public wall.

  • Mounia Dadi
  • is a painter and lives in Marrakech