Monthly Archives: May 2014

After the fires/May 2014

The lingering smell of smoke from the terrible fires in San Marcos (about 7miles east of us) has evaporated.  The breeze swept away the film of burnt ash that covered our patio. What a sinking, heartsick feeling to stand on our rooftop terrace and view the macabre fireworks lighting up the string of nearby hills around Cal State San Marcos, about 7 miles away. The university was evacuated, and their commencement ceremonies put off for a week. Couple that with incessant TV coverage of the worst hit areas around us, and you get the idea: San Diego County suffered.


 The dramatic episode brought to mind our long ago honeymoon: I insisted on taking Owen to the Moroccan oasis of Ouarzazate (now Morocco’s “Hollywood”). It must have been at least 115 degrees in the (non-existent) shade. Not only did we battle burning “chergui” or “sirocco” winds similar to California’s Santa Anas, but in Morocco, they carried clouds of ravenous locusts. Ha! Memories!

Events like the fires help put things in perspective. I am always amazed at the equanimity of newly homeless homeowners. “We’re alive, our family is safe, and so are our animals. That’s what’s important. We will rebuild.”


Would I react the same way? I don’t know. One thing is for sure, I am REALLY going prepare my emergency suitcase, just in case. If you were told to evacuate NOW, are you prepared?  What would you put in the “grab and go” boxes before a hurried escape?


 A touch of spring lingers. A mockingbird wakes us up each morning with a concert of chirps, obsessed with its need to attract a mate. The bird, like homeowners with burnt out houses, take the long view. I will try that approach!




Estebanico/Al Zemmouri, “our” hero, the man from Azemmour


I realized recently that I have never posted anything about this fascinating figure who hails from AZEMMOUR, where our riad, Dar Zitoun, is located. Not only that, but the story of Estebanico/Al Zemmouri’s  extraordinary achievements reach the shores of the Gulf of California. His name is inscribed at the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego (CA) as one of the earliest explorers of the American southwest. Better yet, how could it be that this man, a Berber from Azemmour, was killed by a Zuni arrow just outside the pueblo of Hawikuh?

Bronze bust by sculptor John Houser/The Twelve Travellers

I talk briefly about our local hero in a chapter of Mint Tea and Minarets, but my husband and I wrote an in-depth story several years ago for Saudi Aramco World magazine (a magazine on Muslim culture, free for the asking.) The nine year odyssey of this extraordinary Berber, a forced convert to Christianity, and that of  his fellow  “travellers”, three Spanish conquistadores who walked from Florida to the Sea of Cortez, is what makes La Relacion  by Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, one of Al Zemmouri’s companions, a book difficult to put down.

In early 2002, my husband and I retraced Al Zemmouri’s steps by taking a trip to Hawikuh, near the Zuni pueblo in northwestern New Mexico. Our hero’s exploits will soon be immortalized in El Paso (TX) with a bronze sculpture by sculptor John Houser who has been commissioned  by the city to create larger than life renditions of the twelve most notable explorers of the American Southwest.

Our story appears here:
Vol. 53, #2

Saudi Aramco World : Esteban of Azemmour and His New World ……

Esteban of Azemmour and His New World Adventures
March/April 2002

“From famine-stricken Morocco under Portuguese military occupation, a young Muslim man was sold into Spanish slavery, given the name Esteban and taken with his master on a disastrous expedition to the New World. With a handful of others, he survived for years, was enslaved again by local Indians, won fame and respect as a healer, learned six languages, escaped, guided …”

So begins our story:

“In the spring of the year 1539, a tall black man lay mortally wounded by Zuni arrows in the village of Hawikuh, in what is today northwestern New Mexico. If he prayed in his last breaths, he surely addressed God
as “Allah.” How did a Muslim come to visit—and die in— New Mexico in the early 16th century? I had never come across such a figure during my university history studies
in the United States, nor had I read of him in French history books at the lycée in Casablanca, Morocco, where I grew up. I heard of him only quite recently, by accident. . .

. . .whom we know today thanks to the lengthy, detailed memoir of conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, which carries the title La relación y comentarios del governador Alvar nuñez cabeça de vaca, de lo acaescido en las dos jornadas que hizo a las Indias (The Account and Commentaries of Governor Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, of What Occurred on the Two Journeys That He Made to the Indies).
Al-Zemmouri’s town derives its name from a Berber word for “wild olive tree.”

The story of this Zemmouri inspired us so much that we wrote a screenplay . . .



WGA Registration Number: 1507267


Any producer interested in reading the screenplay, please get in touch! Hope springs eternal!