Spring Reflections.

Spring Reflections.

Walking home last week, I watched an old man staggering towards me on his cane just as the bottom dropped out of his shopping bag. He muttered ‘merde’ and four little bottles of beer rolled along the pavement – I rushed to his aid and picked them up as he showered me with gracious thanks.

He then asked if I would walk him back into the shop to find him a new shopping bag, a request that I happily accepted before continuing on my way.

As I began writing this, an ancient woman was chain smoking slim cigarettes at the cafe table beside me, turning to stare in my direction from time to time while muttering something about my shoes.  Her copy of Le Monde was covered in what was once gateau au chocolat, and in order to get the attention of the waiter – who she kissed four times each time he arrived at her table – she would smash another wine glass on the pavement.

Spring has arrived and Paris is incredibly warm, which appears to be getting to some people.

It has made me feel reflective, and just yesterday I pondered the fact that I am afforded so much enjoyment through watching old people in Paris (and all people for that matter) – with one of my favourite characters being another ancient woman who dines each night at Cafe Louis Philippe on the Quai de l’Hotel de Ville.  Half asleep at all times she sits in the same seat each time with her Great Dane and sometimes, her adult son.  

Last summer during a night of cocktails in the courtyard at Hotel Costes, one of the chicest women I ever did see sat in a velvet chair, immaculately presented with three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels sitting on both her lap and at her feet.  When I turned to see what the racket was behind me that threatened to drown out the cool sounds of jazz filling the beautiful, buzzing courtyard, I found her snoring so loudly it could probably be heard across the channel in Dover.

Paris is a city that awakens all of the senses but usually maintains a relative sense of calm.  Despite sirens that whirl on seemingly never ending rotation, as police cars whizz through the open boulevards and narrow streets; the jackhammers that sound through limestone next door and the shrieks that filter through the night air as revellers make their way home from cafe terrasses- the grandeur that is the architectural makeup of this city wraps its arms around the greatest of characters and the seemingly regular – leaving space to explore and be completely at ease with oneself, as millions of people do things such as sleep in chairs, bustle along streets, take hours to bring the bill and just be lost in unique degrees of apparent anonymity.  

In the days following my return from Morocco almost two weeks ago, I was reminded of just how magnificent Paris is at this time of year.  Blossom flowers cover the limbs of  trees, pollen drifts as aimlessly as the many flâneurs who wander along the Seine, and the cafes overflow with locals and visitors who drink up the rosiness of dusk.  The steeliness of winter is replaced with evening shadows of chalky pink bouncing from the endless limestone walls – and my favourite part of Spring, the days are long and warm.

The past week has seen catch ups over lunches and dinners with new friends and old, where I’ve shared tales and photos from Morocco, and on Sunday morning I boarded the metro for the Puces de Vanves – an endless flea market filled with more brocante than I will need in a life time.  Just as I planned to leave, I was overjoyed when I happened upon six linen napkins hidden under a pile of bedsheets and monogrammed with the initials P.A.

Paris has as a way of delivering the sweetest of surprises, and at times when I think I’ve found my way, a new corner emerges.  Just as when I feel all is lost with my spoken French, I find myself confidently nattering in places like a Drougerie in a far flung corner of the city, or the tech section of the B.H.V.  

This weekend I will fly to Athens where I’ll meet my parents on the eve of my 39th year.  Full of Spring contemplation, I think the first two lines of Tolkien’s ‘Song of Aragorn’ sum up my reflective musings as I weave situations into words while staring blankly at my suitcase;

‘All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost…’

Just as all the change emerging from this Spring is partly engineered and the rest remains a complete mystery.  I don’t normally feel quite so at ease with birthdays as another year is added to the tiny speck on the horizon that is my life.

But, this year feels different.

Pictured:  Monet’s beautiful garden at Giverny, pictured on a day trip last week.

Basket Case.

Basket Case.

There was such an argument going on.  Well not an argument, but a series of shouts all centred around a mobile phone. Who did it belong to?  Not me, I assured the cashier. All I really wanted was a salad sandwich with ham and cheese and a bottle of water, and no I didn’t leave my telephone on the bench of the Boulangerie. Not mine.

After five weeks of tajines and too many breakfast crepes, on my first day back under a perfect blue Parisian sky I was ready for a baguette with lettuce and mayonnaise, jambon et fromage. Walking out of the Boulangerie leaving the shouts behind me, I smiled as I was reminded of the vigour that Parisians use when they speak, before I headed to the banks of the Seine where I found the Bouquinistes bathed in sunlight, their books and botanical prints neatly arranged along the walls that line the river. Little chairs were dotted under Plane trees standing tall along the pavement and I sneezed, just as an old man introduced his three dogs to me; one is four, the other five and this one, six. ‘À te souhaite,’ he offered, as I reached for a tissue as pollen drifted under my nose.

In Morocco, people young and old sold me more packets of Kleenex than I’ll ever have a need for in an entire lifetime, and I have been grateful for these endless packets of tissues this week as I’ve ‘a tishooed’ my way around Paris in perfect spring conditions.

On Sunday morning as our aeroplane chugged over the Strait of Gibraltar towards Spain, I also needed a tissue for different reasons, but with my bag in the overhead locker and the seatbelt signs on as turbulence drove us sideways, I opted for sunglasses as I gazed down to the ocean, watching wistfully as Tangier slipped away from view.

From the madness of Marrakech, to the beauty of Berber Lodge, the endless winds of Essaouira and the ancient bones of Fès, I spent my first couple of weeks in Morocco whizzing around in taxis and rumbling through the countryside on long train journeys, before reaching Tangier for my final two weeks in a country that I had mixed feelings about, but was fast becoming attached to.

Tangier was different, in ways hard to describe. Had I stepped off a boat in it’s port, alone and with no sense of direction, it may have been an entirely different experience. Or not. I will never know, because I didn’t sail there. Rather, I took the 2.17pm from Fès and as our train approached Tangier at dusk I felt an overwhelming sense of happiness, different from any other feeling I’d felt for a very long time.

The two weeks that followed not only inspired me, but I also felt a great sense of belonging. Lunches were enjoyed, endless cups of coffee were had in the company of new friends and situations such as a trip home from Sunday lunch in a van with no doors, provided me with very happy memories. There were also plenty of long nights comfortable in my aloneness, in a beautiful apartment on the Rue d’Italie. This was made possible by Serena, a special person who had known me for no more than 24 hours when she made the offer of her otherwise vacant home, on the eve of her leaving for Spain just five days into my stay in Tangier.

During those nights I pondered spending more time in Tangier, and found comfort in the noise on the busy streets below as the night sky drank up the softness of dusk. Early mornings were filled with an orchestra of call to prayer competing with the morning crows of roosters.

Seemingly thousands of them.

I skipped home each evening with a smile on my face following interludes with the florist, the man at the vegetable stall and the European grocer who saved my life with a bottle of rosé from time to time, allowing a glass to be savoured with a biscuit and cheese for dinner. Lunches of cous cous and chicken were had at Darna, the women’s association of Tangier, and long walks were enjoyed through the endless gardens and parks that overlook the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by old villas and the crumbling  masses of ancient buildings. The sheer sight of these structures infected me with a desire to charge through the gate and set to work. Immediately.

Morning coffee was always entertaining, ‘who might turn up today,’ I’d wonder, as I meandered through the Gran Socco, past the Cinema Rif and up to the Café de Paris, where Jonathan and his divine friend Christopher and other characters deeply woven into the fabric of Tangier, would chatter away, and I’d buy more packets of tissues.

Following an entertaining first weekend with Jono – who displayed kindness, friendship and hospitality beyond any possible measure for the whole two weeks – I enjoyed a happy couple of days with a wonderful woman named Maggie, who took me into her home and was hilarious and inclusive for the duration of my time in Tangier – inviting me for dinner from time to time and always touching base when she was out for coffee. With ten days remaining, I settled into the apartment on Rue d’Italie where on Saturday mornings, a beautiful housekeeper named Khultum would arrive at 9am, barely flinching when I greeted her in a towel and with sign language and smatterings of French, our only means of communication.

One day after lunch with an energetic Italian woman who has called Tangier home for many years, I was introduced  to the stalls of Charf on a seemingly never ending unsealed road behind the Hilton Hotel lined with Berber huts filled from head to toe with cane and raffia.
Monica laughed as I was driven almost mad as I stepped sideways through stacks of chairs – I was becoming a basket case in a hut full of baskets.
How I’d love to fix up an apartment here I thought, as I drifted off to sleep later that night.

At coffee later in the week I found myself talking to Dominique, a Frenchwoman who told me about her new life in Tangier after taking an apartment there in October last year.  I listened with equal measures of both intrigue and caution after Morocco had seen me hit with a bout of wanderlust that was proving hard to shake. Following coffee, we went for lunch together and she asked why I would even hesitate, my mind seemed made up and I could make a great life in Tangier fixing up an apartment and documenting the whole experience.

The evening before, an entertaining Moroccan man with boundless energy and a crooked smile had turned the latch on an apartment in a beautiful building situated in what was once the old European quarter of Tangier.
A bath sat unplumbed in the bathroom and in each room, holes glared at me from almost every wall. A day later I returned to reinspect and found myself further enamoured by the bones of this building and the potential that it holds.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

On the eve of leaving Tangier, I handed over a brown paper envelope containing a months rent and the promise that I’ll return at the end of Ramadan to begin painting the walls.

I will be forever grateful for the guidance and friendship shown throughout what was a week full of decisions. There was much laughter as I became more and more befuddled, but questions were generously answered with careful consideration, invaluable advice and understandable caution. I know that I have made a decision that is not only important to me, but a decision that is wholly mine. Not without the added bonus that is the happiness, kindness and hospitality that I found from the minute I stepped off the train in Tangier.

As Rick said to Ilsa in the 1942 classic Casablanca, ‘We’ll always have Paris,’ and I look forward to splitting my time between the two, and sharing the story as it unfolds.

Pictured: beautiful blossom outside Shakespeare and Co., Thursday morning.



Birds sing, branches sigh and darkness drinks up the red wine of sunset.
Muhammad ibn Ghalib al – Rusafi (d. 1177)

Five weeks ago, I set off on an adventure I’d long dreamed of.

My fascination with travel began the moment I left school, where I boarded a plane from Australia and set off for a year in England. Throughout that year I found places such as Paris, and Rome and Athens and all that is beautiful and brimming with history, on a continent so far from home, but one that felt incredibly familiar right from the moment we first met.

A few years later I made my first of many visits to India, on another continent, where I became enchanted with not only the colours that were associated with even the most dreadful situations, but also the sounds and the smells and most of all, the deep seated history that quite often haunted me with each corner turned.

In India, it became clear that millions of people had trodden the same path before me and while nothing was original, it also wasn’t contrived, and I tripped over my feet as things happened with such rapid spontaneity that I often felt as if I was in a dream.

Each time that I leave India, I feel an indescribable feeling, as if I’m leaving a piece of me behind.

In Josephine’s Istanbul apartment all those years ago, we spoke about the beauty of India and the fashion in which it simply captures the heart in ways that are often hard to explain – we agreed that India has made it difficult for any other place to size up to when it comes to measuring magic. When we spoke of Morocco, she urged me to come here – ‘you’ll find bits of it there’.

One afternoon, I told her about an old friend of our family, ‘he lives in Tangier,’ I chirped, ‘has done for years’.

Her aeroplane mask slowly moved away from her eyes, when no more than ten minutes later, a documentary about Tangier came onto the television screen. Michael Palin spoke of a city where eccentricity is celebrated and where for many decades, expatriates have lived amongst locals in a fabulous fusion – for years and years they have trodden the cobblestones of the Grande Socco, and most are now considered locals themselves.
On the television screen, a rooster trotted along the top of a sofa in a room full of books as his master spoke of his love of Tangier.

‘That’s Jonathan,’ I said to Josephine, as she lit another cigarette. Her eyes flashed blue as they did in rare moments of happiness, before she pulled her aeroplane mask away from her face, pretending not to be intrigued. ‘You’d better go to Morocco,’ she told me, after I woke her from what I thought was a deep sleep. One eye cocked, she’d watched the whole thing from a gap in the left corner of her mask.

Two weeks ago, I left the north eastern Moroccan city of Fès and its (often) haunting winding cobblestoned alleyways that can frequently lead to nowhere. In Fès, I found scents belonging to seemingly no one wafting under my nose, as ghosts from a thousand different pasts danced ever present through it’s medina; a wonderland set amongst medieval Marinid architecture, vibrant souks and old world atmosphere. I happened upon rich academic history when I stumbled across the 14th century Bou Inania as well as the Al Attarine, while searching for a celebrated leather store that I’d written into my travel notes.

At the end of my stay in Fès, a blind man whose eyes flashed white drove me to the train, wishing me good luck in Tanger as we neared the station. ‘Inshallah à Tanger, bon voyage à Tanger Madame, Inshallah’.  Little did he know, I was nodding at his Inshallah’s for different reasons and to this day, I still don’t know how he can drive a car for a living with so little vision.

The train trip from Fès to ‘Ton- jee’ is five hours in duration, which includes a one hour stopover in Sidi Kassel- a tiny little village where I found birds chirping on cables overhead, pausing their chatter only to flutter into the distance as the 3.07pm to Marrakech rumbled through the station.

The landscape began to change as we neared Tangier at dusk. Rolling hills were rich and green and my eyes danced as I counted rows and rows of gum trees, which soon turned to olives, before the great mass of white wash that is the city of Tangier loomed in the distance. I felt it’s lure, well before I’d stepped off the train.

Jonathan Dawson towered over everyone on the platform at the train station, his hair combed back and a neck tie arranged with precision, lead to a smart coat and trousers, finished with shoes so shiny that I could have used them as a mirror. ‘I didn’t need to even try to guess which one was you,’ he said, linking his arm in mine, ‘you’re the image of your mother’. To return the compliment with ‘you’re also the image of your mother,’ would have sounded rather odd, but I remember Jonathan’s mother with such fondness and she too was tall, handsome and utterly charming.

Walking towards a 35 year old Renault parked at an angle at the edge of the station, we were met by Tariq, a divine man who has been nothing short of completely helpful since the moment I arrived- just yesterday he took me through the instructions of my mobile phone card, where he tried not to laugh at my pathetic attempts at understanding instructions in Arabic.

‘Do you mind if we go straight to drinks,’ Jono asked, as Tariq heaved my suitcase into the car in the same moment that I stepped into a puddle of mud. ‘Not at all,’ I replied, ‘even though I look like a gypsy’. ‘You look ravishing,’ he assured me, as we chugged through the traffic and into the distance.

And suddenly, I was being introduced to what felt like a thousand new friends in a beautiful flat, high above the medina, on the eve of the Easter weekend. One woman took me through the importance of using ‘tu, not vous,’ when speaking French in Morocco, ‘you’ll sound provincial and silly using formal Parisian french,’ she warned.  The following day at a wonderful, intimate lunch at the beautiful Tangier home of an English interior designer, a writer visiting from London chuckled when I told him this tale, ‘oh, I’d rather be provincial – all the more reason to stick to vous,’ he laughed, as I admired his beautiful three piece green linen suit. Well, he’d been eyeing off my gold socks in church – where on earth did I find them?

With Jono going through what he calls ‘a catholic revival,’ he’d marched off to the cathedral on Easter Sunday, and I made my way to St. Andrews, the ‘English church’ in comfortable shoes, gold socks (I’ve got ten matching pairs from Paris, and brought them all to Morocco) and a mental list of people I needed to say hello to – ‘you’ll see so many people there, do send my love,’ he told me as we parted ways after coffee.

Not certain how I’d know ‘everyone,’ having arriving in Tangier less than 48 hours earlier, I walked through the beautiful gardens of the English church, bathing in the sunlight which threw teasing glimpses of warmth through palm fronds and other types of  greenery above. Headstones were littered throughout these pretty gardens, where I read names more suited to the births deaths and marriages of a British newspaper than a town in North Africa.  Moments earlier, I’d waded through a market outside the gate of St. Andrews run by Berber women selling vegetables.

The church was packed full of Tangier locals and their Easter guests, and Jono was right, I did recognise almost everyone – kisses were planted on both cheeks during the moment usually reserved for ‘peace be with you,’ and hymn 179 was sung in a thousand different accents.

As I began preparing for this piece, I read somewhere that Tangier is a city that clings to Europe, just as much as Europe clings to Tangier. When we arrived at his apartment on my first night here, Jono led me out onto the terrace with Birdy, his feathered dog who began life as a humble rooster. ‘You have Spain over there, Gibraltar there and the coast of Morocco over there- where else in the world can you see three countries from such a tiny vantage point’.

Each morning, woken by the Birdy’s crows and the second call to prayer, I sat on the terrace enjoying coffee as I felt myself becoming lured, stitch by stitch, into the magic of Tangier.

Multiple lunch invitations have ensued, and phone calls overheard in the streets of Tangier might be heard to end with cries of ‘lots of love – do pop by for a gargle if you’re still here on Wednesday’.

Jono’s self named ‘racketty old flat’ is a minefield of books and artworks, all carefully arranged with the same easy style as his outfits. Birdy dines on left over pudding and salty snacks at the end of lunch, and a fire burns in the library where Jono tells the most hilarious tales. One evening, we bonded over a shared hatred of tinnitus, a ringing of the ears we discovered we both suffer from, which keeps us awake at night and frustrated during the day. That same evening, as I wept with laughter at one of his ridiculously funny stories, Jono handed me an antique hearing aid made of brass which looked like a horn more suited to a brass band. We cried with laughter as I held it up to my ear and could hear properly again, while Birdy attacked my gold socks with such ferocity that I thought I’d lose a toe.

For many years, Tangier has attracted the wild, the talented and the wonderful from all corners of the globe. It only takes a coffee with Tangerian friends, or a visit to a churchyard, to see and hear of plentiful names (many of which leave me in complete disbelief), who have trodden this path before me.  Some stories are hard to believe and others, quite regular.

On Tuesday, following coffee with another new friend who I have come to greatly admire for his courage and brightness, kindness and wit, we walked home together after an hour of rain, as the sky cleared momentarily.  He bumped into a Moroccan friend outside my front door whose eyes lit up when he introduced me, explaining that I was going inside to write – ‘make sure you write something nicer this time,’ the stranger advised. Laughing, I asked if he’d read what I’d written before, ‘no, but you can always write nicer,’ he finished.

Just as birds sing, branches sigh and darkness drinks up the red wine of sunset, Tangier, and Morocco as a whole, continue to teach me the importance of now, and the moments that will follow.  I will be forever grateful for the kindness and humour shown by each and every person that I have met here. When I asked in advance if I could write him into this piece, Jono responded with ‘of course, you must write whatever you like, its been so wonderful having you here’.  I would write everything, but I’d need a thousand pages and I think a little bit of the magic needs to be left to the imagination.

I feel that this is the first of many séjours to this city, and each day I trip over my feet as things happen with such rapid spontaneity that I often feel as if I am in a dream. And, I know when I leave Morocco, in particular Tangier, I will leave a piece of me behind.

If Birdy had his way, it would be my big toe.

More to come.

Pictured: Easter lunch at Veere’s.



I know exactly how I came to be in Fes- the story is over a decade old, with the first chapter being written in a light filled flat in Istanbul.
Sheepskin rugs adorned every chair, vegetable dies bubbled in copper pots atop the stove in a tiny kitchen where jars full of wooden spoons lined every shelf.  Throughout the flat, looms of wool were bundled into corners amongst bookshelves stacked with books from here to infinity.

Many years ago I sat in that breezy apartment as the credits to East Enders rolled, before Michael Palin appeared on the BBC. Gazing out the window, I admired Topkapi Palace in all its glory across the Bosphorus river, and the call to prayer was in its early stages as Palin spoke of his love for Tangier and the expatriate community who have made lives there.  ‘You just need to go to Morocco,’ Josephine shouted at me from across the room, her aeroplane mask sliding down her face as her hand rolled cigarette dropped ash onto her sweater. ‘It’s different you know, you’d like it- Fes in particular,’ she added, before falling back into a deep sleep.

I watched the entire Palin documentary nodding in agreement, I had to get there. As the show came to a close, I tugged on Josephines sleeve ‘wake up,’ I begged, hoping that she wasn’t dead.

When I met Josephine Powell, she was about 86 years old. Two years later she did die, and I sobbed very real tears after learning of her death when I read her obituary in one of the international newspapers.

Born in 1919 to wealthy parents, Josephine was raised in New York by her stepfather, following the death of her mother when she was very young. As soon as she could, Josephine left New York with the International Refugee Organisation where she was adopted as ‘a mother’ of the Western Mongolian Kulmuks, after her post Second World War efforts ensured that a group of Kalmuk refugees were not returned to face the wrath of Stalin, rather, resettled in New Jersey.  She was the god daughter of Dame Nellie Melba, a godmother she never met, but one who sent her a pearl each birthday.

Josephine was strong willed, and I was in my early 20’s when I met her with more lines on her face than the average road map. We said our first hellos at the arrivals terminal in the Istanbul airport after I stepped off a plane from Italy, flustered because my bag kept rolling off the trolley and she was showing equal signs of bother because an official had just told her that she wasn’t to smoke in the airport. ‘They’re like a cool glass of water these Turkish people, don’t even begin to try with their language,’ she warned, dragging on a hand rolled cigarette in her bank manager’s very smart Audi, as we swept out of the airport and towards her apartment.

Initially terrified of this tiny woman with a gigantic spirit, I spent the following three months sleeping atop a chest of drawers with a goat hair rug as a mattress. For hours each day we would sift through her collection of photography and artefacts and at five thirty each afternoon, we’d religiously watch East Enders just as the fourth prayer for the day was beginning to sound from the mosque down the hill.

Prior her life in Rome, followed by Istanbul, Josephine kept a room at Hotel Kabul – making frequent trips in her Land Rover from Afghanistan’s capital to Rome, with her beloved Belgian sheepdog Sila by her side. Each night as I sipped a tea cup of red wine, Josephine would bark across the room ‘I hate that stuff, it makes me jaundice,’ before patting the edge of the sofa inviting me to ‘sit here’. She had a wit as brilliant as her memory, and her accounts would sometimes go on for hours.

I learnt of her love for photography, something she became renowned for, ‘I’m an amateur who found a camera and just started snapping. David Talbot Rice came for dinner in my flat in Rome and discovered pictures floating in my bathtub’. Before too long, she was on a mission to a Byzantine mosaic – a triptych of the Madonna and child- resulting in the first volume of many photographs which would soon be published in coffee table books that would later adorn grand homes, just like the one she’d escaped in Central Park West.

‘Early on, I learned the art of being invisible from the actor Alec Guinness at a party in Positano. He found me sitting alone, I was always alone, and he told me that you just keep being comfortable in your aloneness and no one will ever notice you’.  Josephine adhered to this advice for the rest of her life.

On her travels, Josephine became loved and trusted by Anatolian women who would invite her into their homes for dinner and a bed, where she would carefully study the weft and weave of their carpets. The dyes were made from vegetable matter and the patterns were a nod to their culture. There were no words, just stories from their lives – an occasional feast here, a battle there.  Josephine’s story, is not dissimilar to an Anatolian carpet.

She was proficient in many languages, ‘I’ll never speak Turkish,’ but French, Italian, Spanish, Pushtan, Farsi, Arabic, Russian and German are just a few that I can recall. ‘I collected so much along the way,’ she’d sigh, before setting me to work on more drawers full of tools, Ikats and carpets.

Towards the end of what was once the Soviet Union, Josephine was camped in the middle of nowhere with Sila. A group of young boys woke her as they rifled through her bags attempting to steal her Rubles – ‘go home to your mother,’ she shouted in a dialect only too familiar to them. They sprinted into the depths of the night and she slept tight, ‘never underestimate the power of language,’ she mused one night, as we sifted through more photographs.

The door to Josephine’s flat was like a turnstile, with visitors from far and wide eager to get an audience with this unassuming anthropologist, ethnographer and photographer.

Her enormous red telephone would ring loudly and often, waking her from a deep sleep, aeroplane mask across her eyes and hand rolled cigarette hanging from her lip. She knew the power of no, but this didn’t reduce the amount of visitors. There were journalists, explorers, weavers, academics, old friends and new contemporaries. There were also very few people who were close to Josephine, she had a way of keeping her distance, but when she was in the company of someone that she admired or liked, her piercing blue eyes would twinkle in a way that I can barely describe.

I loved seeing her blue eyes light up in rare moments of complete happiness.

There were young boys who were students at the university in Istanbul who would intern for Josephine, completing tasks such as filing and work on her computer. ‘They don’t appreciate their Anatolian past, it’s all washing machines and white goods these days’. One boy, who she referred to as ‘Big Foot,’ in relation to the size of his feet, was her most frequent helper.  He would arrive most days, his feet tripping over her beloved rescue cats (which she’d rescued from her balcony), fondly known as ‘C1 and C2,’ simply because one was a cat, and so was the other. ‘I have big feet as well,’ I commented one day from the top of the ladder leaning against a bookshelf, as I listened to her arguing with Big Foot. ‘Not as big as his,’ she replied, before sending him out to buy her more tobacco.

The day that C2 went missing, was also Big Foots wedding day.

I arrived home from the bazaar with an extra large garbage bag full of tobacco sourced from a man who brought it into Istanbul from a little village near the Black Sea. Josephine would roll cigarette after cigarette in the most beautiful papers decorated with Arabic watermarks, sealed with the dab of her finger.

When I walked in the door, I found her distressed because she was not only reluctant to go to the wedding (she wasn’t comfortable in large, organised crowds) but also, C2 was nowhere to be seen. We hunted through the garden calling his name at the top of our lungs, before returning inside to prepare an outfit for the wedding.

In a home full of colourful Ikats and a plethora of ceremonial costumes hanging from hooks and over doors, Josephine left for the wedding in a Hawaiian shirt given to her by a foreign correspondent friend, teamed with a pair of grey flannel trousers and her sandals.

Josephine and C2 returned home later that night, both within moments of each other.

We sat up for hours as she gave me a full account of the wedding.  It had made her feel sad and she wanted to cast her mind back to a world far away from the present day.

An old tattered Kodak box sat high up on the top of a bookshelf. ‘That’s the one,’ she gasped, cigarette hanging from her lip, as I climbed the ladder and pulled the box down. For the following four hours she walked me step by step through Afghanistan, Iran, Morocco, Kashmir and the plains of Anatolia.

At one stage, a photo of a much younger Josephine appeared in the pile. ‘Ah, those were the days,’ she smiled before a little tear fell down her cheek.

Weeks later, as we waited for my taxi and said our goodbyes in her little flat, she sat beside me and flashed those beautiful blue eyes before handing me the most magnificent  Ikat that she had pulled down from the doorway leading into her kitchen. ‘It’s a man’s wedding costume,’ she explained ‘silk, and the colours are set with egg whites’.

I treasure that Ikat as much as I treasure the three months I spent with her.

I began writing this piece last week in Fes and I finish at the tip of North Africa, in Tangier.  Each day on this trip throughout Morocco, I have thought of Josephine. On long train journeys and frantic taxi rides, on walks through the souks and endless, ancient monuments and mosques and particularly when I’m sitting alone, I remember her words about being comfortable in ones aloneness and I smile.  I remember her blocking the world out with an aeroplane mask, cigarette hanging from her lip, but in photos taken when she was younger, Josephine was just as anonymous riding a horse through Iran, or driving her car from Kabul to Rome.

‘They’d hear about me and try to find me, but I was always one step ahead’.

This one is in memory of Josephine, wherever she may be in the world.

Pictured:  Josephine as I remember her, taken by Jurgen Frank and published in Cornucopia Magazine.