Two Moons and a Ksar

Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

It’s funny how sights, sounds, and smells trigger memories, isn’t it? Tastes, too. When I photographed a blue moon the other night, a very specific image bubbled up for me.*

Perhaps, in a way, you could deem it a Proustian madeleine moment. Although I didn’t really eat anything.

Standing there, trying to keep the camera still as the small telephoto lens pulsated in rhythm with each of my heartbeats, I remembered a night in Morocco, in El Kalaa des M’Gouna, a night where I stood on a small hotel balcony, a full moon still high in the sky, illuminating an oasis molded to the beds of a trickling river just behind the hotel. It shimmered in the moonlight, unfolding like yards of silver silk cloth. Even in the moonlight, I sensed bright green garden plots and date palms joyfully sucking out the sweet, life-giving water, while inches away from them all was parched, dusty, and essentially lifeless.

Past the old ksar** rising from the red rocky dirt, the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains stretched out as far as I could see, gleaming white where the charcoal-gray horizon met the royal blue of the night sky. My old camera just could not capture the soul of it all. The truest photograph of that instant exists only in my mind, for sadly the moon resembles a pinhead and the mountains barely show up in the negative.

In other words, I failed to preserve the sense of smallness that comes from being in the desert.

Something lamentable happens when I try to grab on to moments like these. I waste them. I lose the sharpness of memory in the flurry of trying to keep it in some concrete form. I neglect to take the most important photograph, the one that stays in my mind, with details that I can bring out in the future, jewels to fondle and sigh over.

Memory, I think, can be like old ksars, made of mud bricks, abandoned when too much rain fell, left to melt back into the earth, leaving a trail of wanderings far more prominent than any written word.

Photo credit: C. Bertelsen

*I seem to have a thing for the moon – as it turns out, both of my given names refer to goddesses of the moon: Cynthia and Diane. I swear that I cannot sleep when the moon is full. So it is no wonder that I would be awake, looking at the moon.
**For more about ksars, click HERE.

© 2012 C. Bertelsen


  1. You evoked a fond memory for me – of mountains and a beautiful moon many years ago in Marrakech – a favorite city. Thanks for reminding me of good food, friendly people, and a lovely moon.


  2. Lovely post, Cynthia. I love El Kalaa des M’gouna. Have you ever attended the Festival Des Roses, rose festival, there? Any time I travel along the kasbah trail I stop in El Kalaa to purchase a fresh supply of the most fragrant rose cream and rose water.


  3. Isn’t it wonderful how we all of us have experienced that rush of profound wonder and recognition of simple, indelible beauty in just on occasion looking up and around from the straight and narrow. And, you’re right Cynthia, we capture those “truest” images in our mind and summon them up from time to time in response to some prompt, either of our senses or perhaps conversation or a reading. Why just reading this caused me to recall a couple images, including the same moon you saw and photographed.



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