‘Life is so ironic, it takes sadness to know happiness, noise to appreciate silence and absence to value presence.’
I’m not sure who wrote this, but I stumbled across it recently when I was digging around for my passport number. It made me think about the true meaning of sadness, silence, and absence, and how they actually differ from their opposites; happiness, noise and presence.
The Venezuela Cafe for Lovers of the Sea is a magical place. Nestled into a long courtyard below the beautiful gardens of the El Minzah Hotel in the heart of Tangier, palm fronds sway and banana leaves stand to attention. Kittens hunt spiders in webs laced with mildew when they’re not playing bashfully or fighting over raw chicken handed to them lovingly by an old man, who wears a woolen hat and is in charge of the coffee machine inside.
The walls of the courtyard are lime washed in the prettiest shade of pink and little grey stools are scattered around the place. There is a small mosque down the end of the courtyard near the mens lavatory.
The only lavatory.
The cafe has become a favourite place for morning coffee, especially with winter in Tangier being particularly warm this year. Young boys play Parcheesi, which in itself fascinates me. A quick visit to Google explains that Chess is the game of Kings, and Parcheesi, the game of Emperors. Moroccan pop plays on a tinny sound system resting on the edge of a table where a yogurt pot is fashioned as a leg stabiliser.
Outside in the street, ancient men sell fish bait, which would probably explain the name of the cafe. We’re a long way from Venezuela in Tangier, but I can only conclude that the lovers of the sea are the fishermen who vie for a handful of bait while I’m drinking my coffee in the courtyard.
The cafe is a place where one can feel contemplative, peaceful and absent from the outside world. It’s a heavenly, and the name is a constant reminder of the quirks, nuances and surprises I experience each day in Morocco, with both language and people.
Recently, Twinkle Toes told me a story about falling asleep while he was warming some bread. ‘I had to race into the chicken when I woke up four hours later,’ he advised earnestly, finishing ‘I thought I would burn the house down.’
The chicken, I assumed, was the kitchen, and he giggled when he described the bread reminiscent of piece of black coal when he flung the oven door open.
Last week, still laughing from the chicken and kitchen, the following email turned up in my inbox from Fay, at ‘Love at First Bite,’
We can certainly do a unicorn cake for you with confetti cake inside. There are a couple of options with the unicorn cakes depending on which option you would prefer. Option one – a fondant iced cake with a sugar unicorn on top (see image of similar attached) £88. Option two – a buttercream unicorn cake with a unicorn horn and piped swirls (see pic attached) £75. Option three – alternatively we could do two dozen unicorn cupcakes which would be £60 – £2.50 per cupcake.
If you let us know which option you prefer we can get that booked in for you.
Best wishes, Fay
I read through Fay’s helpful options with a smile on my face, knowing from the first line that the email was not meant for me at all – unlike Lucy, I don’t have a four year old, nor do I particularly like unicorns. I was rather taken with the idea of a confetti cake inside, but concluded it could make me feel a little bit sick.
One person who probably would appreciate a buttercream unicorn cake, or maybe even option three of two dozen unicorn cupcakes, is my oldest school friend Skye, who has a penchant for pink and all things sparkly.
Skye turned 40 on the 3rd of February, and in the lead up to this important milestone, her husband Lachie had emailed to see if I’d come out to Colorado in the guise of her fortieth birthday present. I agreed, provided I didn’t have to dress as a unicorn. Or, a Barbie.
On Friday the 14th, I arrived in Denver after a flight to Madrid, a transfer in Frankfurt and ten hours in the sky following. ‘Eric’ met me in a car larger than my flat in Tangier and the following four hours were spent nattering about all things Trump and the U.S of A. What Eric didn’t know about the world, wasn’t actually worth knowing about.
Endless diners flashed past blinking neon lights with a cozy appeal, as we made our way over the pass towards the tiny little alpine town of Crested Butte. I found myself blinking with exhaustion but smiling in my own little ‘Welcome to America’ moment. Surprisingly for many, I had never been to the United States, and hadn’t really planned to in a hurry.
I was suddenly a long way from the Venezuela Cafe for Lovers of the Sea, but overjoyed when Skysie jumped out of her truck (also bigger than my flat in Tangier) and we fell into a huge delirious and happy hug. Eric even got one from her, which led to a happy dance in his double breasted suit teamed with white shirt and red tie, along with black shoes more suited to an accountants office than the bed of snow that blanketed the ground around us.
We had a short drive home and the chatter was non stop. Skye’s husband Lachie poured a long awaited Pinot Noir when we arrived, and it didn’t feel at all like a year ago that the three of us had last shared a bottle of wine.
That night, I fell into a delightful bed covered in red Valentines chocolates left for me by the ever charming Jimmy, the baby of the family who is now 8.
I woke the following morning to the view out my window which boasted a valley decorated with fir trees stuck like toothpicks into giant cupcakes of white, fluffy snow. An enormous fat fox lumbered past the window as the sun peaked over the mountains in a stunning, warm hello.
Before too long I had two little bodies in my bed, Jimmy and his brother Archie, who is also my godson, and they quizzed me on life in North Africa.
Is it hot?
Do they speak English there?
Do you like it there?
Can you swim there?
‘Yes, of course,’ I answered to every, single question, before they set off for school.
Each morning, we’ve repeated the same routine and it is incredibly special to be back with the two little boys who I love like my own, along with their parents who have been nothing but the best of friends to me for a very long time.
Life in Tangier doesn’t really require much wet weather gear and I was the butt of all jokes when I arrived with my standard five pairs of white jeans, one for each day, and a big down jacket to be worn over my uniform ironed shirt. I’ve been teaming the latter with Lachie’s snow boots as I penguin walk everywhere, desperately trying not to acquire an injury that will require surgery.
On Sunday, Skye and I went cross country skiing, something we hadn’t done since our outward bound year when we were fifteen; our faces were frozen stiff and we gasped for breath, not because of the altitude or the freezing air, but because we were paralyzed with laugher for the entire afternoon. Squeezing into a spare ski jacket over a pair of my pristine whites, we took off and I secretly hoped that I wouldn’t have lost my knack on the nordics, but that was not so. I found myself clompy and ungraceful as slim limbed outdoors types wearing fanny packs, glided past me on the long, beautifully groomed track peppered with firs.
In this part of the world everyone is alarmingly friendly, and as we crashed at our lunch table after finally making it up to a sweet little yurt that doubles as a bistro, we devoured the freshest tomato soup followed by coffee.
‘Could I please have a cafe latte,’ I asked the woman behind the counter.
‘Hells yes you can,’ came her response, ‘double whipped cream or just clotted,’ she queried with a burst of enthusiasm I found hardly normal.
At this point, Skye took a picture of me looking very much like my great Aunt who had a decent sway back and used to peer down her nose at people.
‘Just milk, thank you,’ I responded gently, confused and perplexed as to how a simple white coffee would require cream, while also wondering how offering such a thing could almost cause her to double over with happiness.
As we walked outside, further belly aching laughter eventuated after we discovered that our nordic skis, the same as everyone else’s nordic skis, had become lost in a neat line of nordicness.
‘Let’s take a picture of us both,’ I suggested, gasping for air as Skye doubled over. Skye was always a pretty little thing at school with a ribbon in her hair and fresh faced skin void of any makeup. At forty, she looks exactly as she did when I first met her when we were 13, not a day older. The picture we took depicted me looking more like a viking than ever, or perhaps the previously mentioned great Aunt with the decent sway back, and Skye, like a small man who might be named Wayne and who drives a forklift for a living. Her eyes had completely disappeared, as had our will to even try and contain ourselves.
Gliding home, we chatted as we found our feet and pulled ourselves together. I smiled as we edged closer to the finish – it was just like we were back at school 25 years ago.
Just as happiness will inevitably outweigh sadness and noise will always surpass silence, it is true that it can often take a long absence to truly value the present moment. Nothing in the world can beat time spent with old friends, and the past week has been magic.
We all just took up from where we left off.
I will be forever grateful to dear Lachie, who made this little gathering happen in our fortieth year. Last night the three of us sipped on wine and saki as we feasted on the most delicious Japanese dinner, reflecting on many things, and later on in the bar after dinner, we admired the dance moves of an over enthusiastic ski bunny.
As we rumbled up the hill in the town shuttle, I captured a picture of us all, laughing and fresh faced. It could easily have been taken all those years ago when we first met at school.
This weekend, I will return to the Venezuela Cafe for Lovers of the Sea. It is inevitable that the kittens will chase spiders in webs laced with mildew, and the boys will play Parcheesi as they always do. Spring is on its way, so I imagine the sun will shine as I sip my coffee and contemplate entering another decade while reflecting on a really special week.
As Forest Gump said, ‘life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’
Well, if thats the case, this week has been constant Turkish Delights. My favourites.
Speaking of favourites, this blog is dedicated to my godson Archie. My only godson, and the most recent subscriber to pinningmywords.
He got me at my own game the other night when I said ‘goodnight, my favorite godson,’ to which he replied, eyes rolling, ‘and your only. And you’re my favourite godmother Pin. And my only godmother.’
For now, it’s bye bye Crested Butte and hello, glorious Tangier.