Managing the Manic and Magic of Morocco

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISH IN STYLE BLUEPRINT HERE

Morocco is a dizzyingly diverse country in North Africa whose culture is steeped in Berber, Arabian, and European influence. Perfectly tiled and color drenched, Morocco arrests the senses and has quickly become an obsessively Instagrammed globetrotter’s destination. The massive, varied terrain -- as beautiful as it is difficult to navigate --  is laced with jewels of towns and experiences. But the same raw grit and energy that make up Morocco’s unique charm can also create certain obstacles and frustrations. It’s important to manage some expectations and do a little educatin’ before your Moroccan magic carpet ride.

NOTE: Our itinerary doesn’t begin to cover the whole of Morocco, but we found it was a common one: Days 1 and 2 - Marrakesh. Days 3, 4, and 5 - High Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert. Days 6 and 7 - Fez. Day  8 - Chefchouen and Tangier. Day 9 and 10 - Paris and return home. I've only covered those parts of the country, so these tips are born from that experience.

  1. Have a plan. Use a guide company. Many will do everything from the half-day tours in the major cities, to airport transfers, to camel treks, to desert glamping. Ours did. This way, you’re dealing with one contact at one company, and all the charges are consolidated and easy. I wouldn’t try to do Morocco on your own unless and I wouldn’t bite off more of the country than you can chew. It’s a big country, and a lot of our time was spent getting from city to city. Be flexible and expect a few alterations to your plan.

  2. Waze? No way! I read a lot of reviews that certain popular restaurants in Marrakesh were tough to find and you simply cannot grasp how true that is until you’re there. There are thousands of tiny alleys stitched together to comprise a maze-like medina (center city) and it’s very easy to get turned around. In many cases, you can ask your hotel to walk you to dinner, and for the restaurant to walk you back.

  3. Don’t expect a party scene. Yes, many places cater to tourists and serve alcohol, but 99% of Morocco practices Islam and alcohol plays no part in their religion. Many hotel restaurants and bars have booze, but even some very trendy restaurants in the major cities didn’t serve it.

  4. Buy a guide book. (we used Fodor’s Essential Morocco) and rely on it for history and recommendations. Some of the tour guides we had - while warm, smart, trustworthy, and excellent behind the wheel - spoke very little English. They don’t offer up the “on your right you’ll see _____” type of facts along the way that many of us are accustomed to. If you want to know something, ask your guide or look it up yourself. As someone who loves to seek out the local, off-the-beaten path spots, I found that Morocco is a place where the top TripAdvisor ratings were generally spot-on.

  5. Consider venturing out to the mountains and desert. It was my favorite part of our trip. The deep gorges, star-filled deserts, and craggy mountains were truly breathtaking, and offered a welcomed respite between the Marrakesh and Tangier, the cities with which we bookended the trip.

  6. Bring a wifi hotspot. We got one from SkyRoam with unlimited data (it connected to the Moroccan cell towers) and it saved us a lot when navigating and researching.

  7. Be firm and say no. Locals in the major cities feed off the eager tourists ready to buy rugs, leathers, jewelry, lamps, and more. But they will hound you in the medina and the main squares, intensely and abrasively at times. Just looking at or walking past someone will incite a barrage of beckoning and hollering. Walk away, say no politely and firmly, and move on. They'll ask for money just for a picture (expect to see snakes, turtles, monkeys, parrots, and horses - not all treated well). When on guided tours, know that your guide is taking you to certain vendors, restaurants, and demonstrations because he or she commissions what you buy. Don’t be guilted or bullied into a purchase. Have fun, learn what there is to learn, and move on to the next thing if you don’t want to buy something.

  8. Learn to haggle! You can usually get people to come down to 25-50% of their starting price. Know what you’re willing to pay before you start the haggling process and walk out if you can’t get the price you want. They may call you back in multiple times.

  9. Bring TP everywhere. And always have coins on hand for the bathroom attendants. A little louder for the people in the back. BRING TP EVERYWHERE.

  10. Cash is king. Get ample cash whenever you see a legit-looking ATM.

  11. Modesty is encouraged. Women - it’s not required, but to make yourself a little more comfortable, covering your legs and shoulders is a good rule of thumb. Expect catcalling nonetheless. Ignore it and walk on. It will happen.

  12. Learn a few basic Arabic phrases (and French!)

  • Hello (Peace Be With You): Salam Alikome (salaam a eleikum)

  • Thank You: Choukran (shokran)

  • No Thank You: La Choukran (la shokran). This one is useful when you have a bunch of street vendors hassling you to buy something.

  • Watch Out: Balak. Although you won’t use this yourself, you’ll most likely hear this in the medinas and souks (outdoor markets). Often yelled by a local with a mule, motorcycle, or cart and loosely translates to “move, or I’ll run you over”.


My last piece of advice is to not let any of the above tips squelch your desire to visit Morocco. Go with the flow and relish in its manic and magic - they’re a package deal you don’t have to haggle for.

A Meditation on Rural East-African Paradoxes

Originally written as an outline for a speech in Sept 2011

1. They have so much, yet they have nothing.

In Ntagacha, Tanzania, a mud hut is home to a multi-generational family with only a few goats, a small plot of maize, a jeiko stove, and a few dulled, dyed congas to call their own. The three-year-old boy who doesn’t know his birthday is toting his newborn sister on his back, responsible for her care most of the day. Their thick calloused skin is caked in the dusty orange dirt that covers most of the country. Stomachs swollen from not getting enough; breasts sagging from giving too much. But they give and give and give... to visitors, guests, passersby, mzungus (that’s us—the white people) before they will take anything for themselves. Is it not counterintuitive that this degree of selflessness exists within a people who barely have enough to keep themselves alive? 

2. They’re disconnected, yet so connected.

They are a people always in motion, yet so still and peaceful. They don't run, scamper, "hustle" through life like we do through our concrete jungles. They walk. They smile. They greet everyone who passes. Some look as if they have no particular destination. Maybe the market in the next village. The hut of the neighbor whose chicken just laid eggs. The impromptu worship service at the church on the hill. The funeral of the eight-year-old boy whose emaciated body was swallowed by malaria. They orbit in continuous motion through, to, and around different points on a grid of dirt paths that slice through rolling green hills. How is it that they know each other better than we do? Because their face time is face time. Not an iPhone app that pixelates truth and filters emotion. 

3. One African man told me, “God gave Americans watches but no time. He gave Africans time but no watches.”

We look at their world—their “developing” world—and see an absence of things. Of technology, food, roads, water, electricity, clothes, and all of the comforts we think we need. All the clutter. All the noise. What would happen if we cleared the clutter from our lives of ridiculous excess? What would be left would be not an absence, but an abundance of what matters. What they have. Simplicity, happiness, fellowship and generosity that knows no bounds. They use and cherish the resources they have instead of ruthlessly accumulating more. It’s often hard to comprehend how so much smiling and laughing and touching exists in one of the most impoverished places on earth. Meanwhile, we - the people clinching iPhones and designer coffee with lacquered fingernails - We are the ones with scowls on our faces.

Mini Review of East Nashville's Cafe Roze

The team - "It's the people who do Jack's Wife Freda in New York!" When I heard this uttered of the new Cafe Roze, I was in. NYC chef and Nashville transplant Julia Jaksic's easier-to-get-into concept opened recently at the previous Porter House Bistro address. Amply-staffed and buzzing with energy, the waitstaff were friendly and knowledgable about the menu. 

The space - is loud. VERY loud. Once our ears adjusted and a particularly rambunctious table closed out, it got a little quieter, but don't expect much privacy in this cement building.  On first glance, Cafe Roze checks off everything in the New Nashville Restaurant Starter Pack: The black menu board with the little changeable white letters. The chalkboard sign perched on the sidewalk. The dangly bulbs. BUT it's evident that a lot of attention to detail was paid... the pewter pinks and muted greys throughout, the succulent-lined granite bar, the black-and-white ceramics... all create an Eastern European feel - stark but inviting.

The food - Dainty, but delicious. I had the hearty "Savory Oats" bowl and Whit had the "Simple Breakfast" (both pictured below). We ate every bite of the flavor-rich and good-sized portions. The bottomless drip coffee was some of the best coffee I've tasted in Nashville (Revelator Coffee).

Check out Cafe Roze: 1115 Porter Rd  |   8 a - 4 p  |  Dinner service coming soon

Trask Brand Ambassador Article - Leiper's Fork

Note: This article was originally published here. I was part of their brand ambassador program that has since been discontinued.

My favorite part of Nashville isn’t even in Nashville. It’s 25 miles south of the city. It’s a tiny little two-laned slice of pastoral paradise nestled in Williamson County. It’s Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee.

This town is a quintessential escape from the neon lights and reverb of the “big city.” It’s quiet, tasteful, natural… humming to a rhythm that’s persisted almost 4,000 years. The tribes we know as Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Shawnee rooted themselves in this area because of its thriving land, fresh water supply, and other natural resources. Just as The Fork gave abundant life to Native Americans all that time ago, it feeds and sustains us today in a different way.

Something about the town feels magical, as trite as that descriptor sounds. It’s the perfect setting for experiencing art in all its forms. Strings of lights dangle above me, contrasting with the luminous stars a bit further above. A fire crackles in one of the half-dozen or so handmade firepits for sale in the driveway outside of Copper Fox Gallery. Wooden adirondack chairs encircle the fire, occupied by locals, Nashvillians, and out-of-towners alike, most clutching a glass of wine or a koozied beer. The plucking of stringed instruments resonates in the crisp air… a little more audibly whenever the door to Puckett’s Grocery opens.

Dozens of shiny motorcycles are lined up in front of the now-obsolete gas pumps outside of Puckett’s, refracting light and spitting sputters into the clean air. The lunch line at Puckett’s is still expectedly long, filled with patrons hungry for a meat-and-three plate and some live music. This time I’m among those who get impatient and resort to the equally delicious Joe’s Natural Farm Store and Cafe a couple shops down. Bandana napkins, pomegranate tea, and good vibes are included. Bring your own wine.

And no trip to Leiper’s Fork is complete without some retail therapy. A heavy and smooth aroma of leather overwhelms you as soon as you open the door to West & Company, a new Trask outfitter, the owner proudly told me. The tightly-packed displays of turquoise jewels, colorful textures, studded boots, and giant flavored candles could take an afternoon to navigate. The store appeals to every sense, just as Leiper’s Fork does.

I savor and cling to the absence of crass development here. It’s reminiscent of my four years in Lexington, Virginia. Mom-and-pop shops and eateries dot the one main street. Most have been there for decades, some years, and one’s new — an outpost of a popular restaurant in Nashville’s Green Hills. But everything blends in perfectly no matter its age. It’s for this reason that Trask fits so perfectly into the Leiper’s Fork scheme. My Trask shoes and bags feel instantly classic, no matter how new they are. I feel their comfort and personality before they even make their way from the thick cardboard box to my eager feet. Before they even begin to tell their story. They only gain character with time and mileage, not sacrificing the importance of quality and heritage along the way. My Trask products fit into my life just as all of these things–inanimate and breathing–fit into the landscape of Leiper’s Fork. Locals say that The Fork is “strangely perfect, and perfectly strange.” It’s a bounty of beauty and excitement no matter how many trips I make. I’m thankful that my Trask boots keep taking me back.

Trask Brand Ambassador Article - Barcelona

Note: This article was originally published here. I was part of their brand ambassador program that has since been discontinued.

Having spent a week in Barcelona twice in the past 14 months, I’ve become a self-deemed guru of its cuisine, culture, and hotspots. The city is one of my absolute favorites in Europe. It’s coastal, it’s warm, it’s vibrant, and best of all it’s WALKABLE… with the right shoes. On my most recent Spanish excursion, the only shoes I packed were a pair of tennis shoes for the occasional jog, and three of my favorite pairs of Trask boots. They took me countless miles… up and down the sparkly tree-lined La Rambla, around the trippy and colorfully-tiled Park Guell (a Gaudi creation like none other), through the halls of the Picasso museum, and along the beachside boardwalk.

You can almost taste the spicy, Catalan energy in Barcelona. I would start each morning with a cappuccino, fresh orange juice, and a chocolate croissant at a nearby bakery across from Mercado de La Boqueria. A daily stroll through La Boqueria was a must – the market touches each sense intensely and the seafood section is not for the faint of heart. I might munch on half a pomegranate, oogle at the hefty price tag and size of the ostrich eggs, or give in to the temptation of a 1 euro Estrella beer. In an afternoon, I might head to the beach and watch the surfers, reflect inside one of the gargantuan and beautiful basilicas, or stroll on La Diagonal – the high-end shopping area in the “new town”. It was always difficult to stay still in the city. My feet were always moving.

There are so many different parts and energies to Barcelona, it can feel like four cities in one. My favorite version is the tiny, narrow grid of El Borne neighborhood. This is part of the “old town” and is peppered with wine bars, hole-in-the-wall tapas spots with cured meat hanging in the windows, and mom and pop shops for just about any product or craft you can think of. It always struck me how important quality is in the Catalonian culture. Thought and care goes into everything from the seafood selection sitting on ice, to the coffee beans being poured into the grinder, to the leather being molded, cut and colored at the shoe shop.

Trask steps into this world perfectly. I felt proud to be displaying pieces of American style and culture in a country so far away. I was comfortable, current, and made a statement in each of the city’s pockets. Many Spaniards even complimented me with big smiles, gestures and points toward my feet. As Spring nears, I’m in that exciting, restless, trip-planning mode again. I can’t wait to see where my 2015 adventures (and my Trask wardrobe) take me.

Trask Brand Ambassador Article - Music Row

Note: This article was originally published here. I was part of their brand ambassador program that has since been discontinued.

My Trask shoes have had their work cut out for them recently. They’ve roamed all over NYC, they’ve trudged through the muck at Bonnaroo (and recovered beautifully). They’ve pressed the gas pedal of my little Ford Focus for hours on end. They’ve tapped along to probably a hundred concerts and they’ve scaled the fire-escape staircase to my Music Row office probably a thousand times. They’ve been a crucial piece of ammunition for my hectic Spring/Summer in Nashville and beyond.

If you give “personal projects” an operational definition of “activities to which I devote my non-workday hours”, you’ll find my time really blends together. This is more intentional and important than negative and stressful. It’s amazing how relevant everything is to managing musicians. I’ll see a print ad in the latest Nashville Scene and think that font would look killer on the next t-shirt. I’ll hear a promotion a boutique is running and think “Hey, we could we do this with concert tickets!” I’ll hear a pop song on the radio and think They should cover that in the tour bus and upload it to YouTube. My goal every day is to find creative and impactful ways to get the music to the fans and the fans to the music.

I like to constantly be in “discovery mode”. Not necessarily in country music, but in the genres I personally love: rock, bluegrass, and electronic among others. “Discovery” means learning about different artists, diving into their catalogues, evaluating their online presence and fan base, listening for similarities in other artists, and going to see their live show. This used to be an esteemed job title back in the day – A&R (artists & repertoire) – and still is at some of the bigger labels. But with the growing accessibility of music and information, everyone in the business is “A&R” to some degree. And every fan is, too.

My findings manifest themselves in a few different ways. I post a weekly Tunesday playlist of four songs (usually new, sometimes not) I’m currently digging. Historically, labels released new records on Tuesdays, hence the name. I also “scout” acts for an agent in town. I’ll go see a show and report back a list of subjective and objective observations. Like “They sound like Mumford and Sons’s red-headed stepchild” or “Frontman makes really weird/abrasive gestures on stage” or “The whole crowd knew all the words to that one song” or “Could potentially sell out the Ryman in two years”. This helps the agent decide whether to sign the band or not, and it’s a great way for me to connect with other managers and industry folk who are also interested in adding new clients to their rosters.

In the midst of all the warm-weather hubbub happening in Nashville, there is also a bleak development sweeping Music Row… literally. Many of the old, historical, cozy little houses-turned-offices are being bought up and demolished to be replaced with apartment complexes, bigger office buildings, and hotels. My company runs out of the 50-year-old RCA Studio A (Ben Folds’s studio). Nashville is up in arms about the prospect of losing such an important landmark. I’ve been trying to educate as many people as possible about the studio and its rich heritage. Ben Folds says it best in this letter: “My simple request is for…whoever the next owners might be of this property, before deciding what to do with this space, to take a moment to stand in silence between the grand walls of RCA Studio A and feel the history and the echoes of the Nashville that changed the world….Listen first hand to the stories from those among us who made the countless hit records in this studio — the artists, musicians, engineers, producers, writers who built this rich music legacy note by note, brick by brick.”

Trask Brand Ambassador Article - Winter -> Spring

Note: This article was originally published here. I was part of their brand ambassador program that has since been discontinued.

Anyone who’s looked at a colorful radar map or a 20-something’s Instagram feed in the past few months knows that this has been a particularly unrelenting winter. The snowfall and blistering winds drive on even as we approach May and those rare perfect 70-and-clear-blue-sky days are teasing us like the boy who cried wolf. Nashville has canceled school left and right. Drivers have all but completely abandoned the roads at the sight of one flake. I’ve always thought it silly to complain about something so uncontrollable as the weather, but I think we could all stand to shed some layers.

Winter fashion, to me, is beautiful. It’s simple, sleek and neutral. A pair of boots, a bag or a wool coat become statement pieces. The cold weather calls for a specific type of creative expression. Colored tights, fur hats, and southwestern sweaters are a few of my favorite personal touches to add to a likely all-black outfit underneath. However, when winter and spring begin to mix it is energizing. People begin to feel the change. For me, this means a denim vest, leather bag, airy and colorful trapeze pants, boots, and an extra-large scarf to wrap up in at night.

Trask’s Shelby bootie is the perfect example of that transitional staple. The stitching and tassel adds a simple and quirky touch to the smooth, camel boot. There’s something so flattering and confident about a heeled bootie. In the photo above, I’m on set at a photo shoot with one of our artists, Jon Wolfe out of Austin, TX, and photographer/director/producer extraordinaire, Mason Dixon. We began at 6:30 am (to catch the light and mist that comes with sunrise) out on a creekside farm in the picturesque rolling hills of Franklin, TN. The weather went from can’t-feel-my-fingers-why-am-I-holding-this-huge-reflective-shade cold to swelteringly hot. My Shelby boots took me through the adventure in stride, and my Kaylee leather bag actually became our makeup artist’s tool bag. She almost didn’t give it back!

But the “winter to spring transition” is more to me than packing up the down jackets and boots and bringing out the bathing suit box. Spring is the light at the end of this seemingly never-ending tunnel. It’s that first small shoulder tan line. It’s that first unbearable allergy attack. It’s that sigh of relief from my toes when I can finally justify splurging on a pedicure (and I can finally slip on my Trask Keira sandals). It’s the festival lineup announcement frenzy. It’s trip planning. It’s the excuse for jumping happy-hours Monday through Friday.

Trask Brand Ambassador Article - INTRODUCTION

A Note from Trask: We searched far and wide to find individuals who influence the world in an authentic way. People who embody the strong and independent nature of Trask and who embrace all that life has to offer. These people are chefs, musicians and artists from some of our favorite locales across the country. We are proud to announce Zoe Yarborough as an ambassador of our brand who will share how she lives her inspiring lifestyle. With that, we’ll let Zoe introduce herself…

My name is Zoe Yarborough and I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. I went to an enormous public high school and then on to a tiny private university, Washington and Lee, in Lexington, Virginia. Those four years spent tucked away in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley afforded me an eclectic and inspiring group of friends from all over the country. I studied English and creative writing, but found the common thread of music naturally weaving its way into my coursework. I played keys in a band from time to time, took courses on music history, and I even wrote my English thesis on how music affects the art of writing memoir.

During college, you could find me climbing up the side of a mountain, in the WLUR 91.5 FM studio where I held a weekly radio show, or sitting in the window of Lexington Coffee Shop, where 90% of all my scholastic and creative productivity occurred. After graduation in May of 2012, nearly every one of my best friends and sorority sisters transplanted to New York City. I wasn’t drawn there as they were, but I knew I wanted a vibrant, young city where I could surround myself with music. I chose Nashville, Tennessee– or, as the onlooker might call it, Music City, USA. I eventually overcame the feeling of being landlocked and more than a road trip away from the East Coast, my friends, and my family and quickly fell in love with this town.

After a short stint in the marketing department of a floundering toy company, and a longer stretch of hostessing, nannying, and job searching, I finally landed a job at a small, dog-friendly artist management company on Music Row. We have a roster of bands and solo artists whom we guide and advise in nearly every part of their careers as musicians. Of all moving parts that comprise “the biz” (and there are a lot), management is the most hands-on. We’re the liaisons between the artist and everyone and everything else. I work on everything from creative promotions, to merchandise design, to web content, to tour logistics. I even get to spend some time on the road with our artists. I also scout bands and write music reviews on the side. The industry is high-energy, ever-evolving, fluid, connected. So is Nashville.

I am constantly inspired by the gumption here. It doesn’t start and end with musicianship – everyone is passionate about their work and eager to hear about what drives others. Sometimes I take a step back and think about how cool it is that my passion also happens to be what pays the bills. Nashville is small enough to feel accessible and comfy, but there are so many little nooks and corners to explore. The Trask brand fits seamlessly into the landscape here. Equal parts rugged and elegant, easy and bold. It is perfect for the work-to-play, on-the-go lifestyles of Nashvillians. Though I miss the people and places on the right side of the map, this is home and where I’ll hopefully build a fruitful, industrious career. I’ll still hold meetings at my neighborhood coffee shop, find a trail to hike on crisp spring Saturday, and share my music with the world in new ways.