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Gilly Smith

Five Days in the Desert. Chapter One

The Moroccan Sahara. It sounded impossibly romantic on a wet Sussex autumn afternoon as I packed my bags for a writer’s retreat earlier this week. I like the idea of not knowing quite what to expect from my travels, although packing for an early autumn mystery weekend in Florence which turned out to be in Berlin had put me on my guard as I hauled my dusty suitcase out off the attic again. Shoes: Flip flops? Boots? What do you wear in the desert in late October?

I knew there would be a party at Cafe Tissardmine. I’ve known Karen Hadfield, whose retreat it is, since she was a singer on Melbourne’s fringe arts scene in the ’90s. Even if she had given it all up for the stars and solitude of the desert, I knew that she’d have pulled together some pretty good people for a 5 day retreat. I might even take perfume.

Arriving in Marrakech for a day and a night before the 10 hour trip to the desert, I checked into a pretty little riad in the middle of the medina and realised that chic was the way to go this year. I hadn’t packed chic. I wouldn’t need it anyway; the unfeasable heat of that Marrakech afternoon is almost forgotten two days later as the unseasonal rain and thunderstorms of the Sahara has reduced my exotic wardrobe to jeans and a smock top. I even borrowed a jelaba for breakfast this morning.

But there’s something rather nice about being with glamorous artist types who are more concerned with keeping warm than sartorial oneupmanship. Ditching the lippy is more likely to attract the muse around here, whether it’s over a dinner of spiced beef tagine or an evening trip to the sand dunes to watch the sunset. The Berber muse, it seems, is into comfort as Day 2 produces a mandala created by the group, a bit of yukele playing and some serious writing already.



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