One of the reasons we are taking this extended trip is to be able to take side trips to places that interest us, but never make into a week or two’s visit. In March we made two trips out of Lyon, one to Lausanne Switzerland and one to Marrakech.
Quick! What country is Marrakech in? Where is it? What do you know about it beyond the old Crosby, Stills and Nash song?
First, while you’re thinking about that, Lausanne was a visit made especially wonderful because we traveled with Tess and Ken, who had speaking and meeting engagements at two of the universities there. (Lucky them, getting to write off the trip.) Lausanne is EXPENSIVE! About twice the price for everything compared with Lyon. Even so, we took lovely walks along Lake Geneva admiring swans and the snow draped Alps, wandered through the steeply terraced vineyards between Lausanne and Montreux, visited an ancient castle and, most interesting, went to the Art Brut art museum and to CERN.
Art Brut was named and founded by artist Jean Dubuffet and includes paintings, sculptures and textile works “produced by self-taught creators firmly entrenched outside the mainstream, harboring a rebellious spirit and impervious to collective norms and values. These include psychiatric hospital patients, prisoners, eccentrics, loners and outcasts.” In other words, if you ever took an art class, you can’t have your work in this museum. It was fascinating. Lots of wildly imaginative works rendered in obsessive detail. No photography was allowed.
CERN, in suburban Geneva, is of course the home of the Large Hadron Collider. (I also wanted to visit the home of the ill-fated League of Nations in Geneva, but we didn’t have time.) Our tour was led by an engineer who could answer some, but not all, of our group’s questions. CERN is not a new facility or project, but has been around since 1954. It’s a collection of particle accelerators (which accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light) and incredibly sensitive and fast detectors that record the results of the collisions of those speeding protons and their debris. That data is then made available to scientists around the world. CERN is a data producer; they are not designers of the hypotheses or data analyzers (beyond the analysis needed to guarantee the accuracy of their data).
One piece of the tour included the question: why do we do this when there are so many more humanitarian and urgent issues? Their answer:
OK, on to sunnier climes. Or should I say Sunni—which Morocco is. But not initially an Arab country—Morocco’s history goes back to Paleolithic times, and their native peoples are Berbers. Arabs arrived later; Berbers are still a strong group, centering in the mountainous interior. (Their DNA is related to the Saami peoples of northern Finland and Norway). Thousand year old Marrakech, known as the Red City for the color of its walls and buildings, is about an hour away from the Atlas Mountains—we spent a day on the slopes of the Atlas mountains, walking among several Berber villages.
France took over Morocco in 1912 and held it until 1956. Most Moroccans speak Arab, Berber, French and some English. One odd thing the French did was make Mosques off-limits to non-Muslims. So while non-Muslims can visit mosques in Egypt or Turkey or Jordan, they cannot do so in Morocco.
Here are some photos of Marrakech. There really are snake charmers in the city square!
And acrobats and story tellers and palm readers, all among the vegetable sellers and silversmiths and leather workers and textile shops. The crowds are endless; donkeys are a common means of travel, being slowly edged out by dangerously speedy motorcycles. Much work is being done to repair the crumbling palaces and gardens. It felt wrong that they let us walk on their beautiful ancient tiled floors; I felt guilty that we were wearing down their heritage…