Through Jade's Eyes

This blog is about the fictional character, Jade del Cameron (, and the historical time period in which she lives.

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Location:, United States

I'm the author of the Jade del Cameron historical mystery series set in 1920's Africa. Lots of action, intrigue, mystery and a dash of romance. Follow me at *The audio link (view complete profile) is an interview by Baron Ron Herron (9/17/2009, Santa Barbara {CA} News-Press Radio, KZSB, AM 1290

Saturday, June 28, 2008


[NOTE: Monday’s blog is appearing early due to travels]

The time consuming and smelly process of curing Moroccan leather hasn’t changed much in the generations that have practiced it. It’s an all-male guild, as Jade discovered when she passed through the tannery in her 1920 adventure, The Serpent’s Daughter. Last week, we looked at the tanning process. Next comes the dying.

Skins that have been cured are hung up to dry (photo 1 below), awaiting their trip into the dye vats. And there are a lot of choices for colors, all using natural dyes. My own guide in 2006 listed several for me.

Red from poppy flower

Orange from henna

Green from mint

Blue from cobalt

Black from kohl and

Yellow from saffron

It takes five to eight days for the dyes to completely penetrate the leather and produce the desired deep, rich hues. As in any of the processes, the men often get into the vats with the leather to better work their material (photo 2 below)

Finally the skins are hung again to be sold to the leather workers for making slippers, saddles, pouches, puffy ottomans, and other goods.

In the following video you can see the workings of the tannery. Be sure to watch for the big washing wheel.



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Monday, June 23, 2008


Moroccan leather was the finest quality leather which bound innumerable books in the past. In fact, the soft goatskin mainly used for bookbinding, was simply known as morocco. Often dyed a rich, pomegranate-red color, the binding felt cool and smooth in the reader’s hands, making the holding of the book part of the pleasure of reading it. Few people knew the labor that went into making that leather. Jade discovered a little of it in her trip through the tannery district of Marrakech in The Serpent’s Daughter. Very little had changed in the several thousand years to her 1920 adventure and very little has changed since then. These are jobs passed on from father to son in one of the most traditional guilds.

Both Fes and Marrakech have ancient tanneries. While Jade’s adventure took her through those in Marrakech, the photographs here are from my trip through Fes. (photo 1 - above)

Uncured skins from goats, sheep, and a few other animals come by donkey to this district and enter a series of mud brick vats in the long process towards making leather. First, the skins are washed in vats to remove any remaining blood. Lime and salt are next rubbed onto the back to remove the wool and hair. Any wool is saved, and boys trample the wool to soften it. (photo 2)

Skins spend seven days in the white vats, filled with lime and salt water to disinfect the skins. (photo 3)

After this, they enter a large wooden barrel of water for washing. (photo 4 -in center)

The next step is processing in natural ammonia. Animal urine and pigeon droppings make up the bulk of these vats although eucalyptus flowers add to the mix. Following this, the skins are washed again.


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Sunday, June 15, 2008


Morocco’s souks have modernized. After all, the residents of Fes and Marrakech don’t live in the past. They expect to see watches and radios and CD players for sale. But a good deal of the souks are still traditional and one can get a feel for what Jade experienced in her 1920 adventure, The Serpent’s Daughter. So this week, I want to give my readers a chance to see some of this for themselves.

One area of the souks belongs to the metal workers. As can be seen in the above photo, copper pots and knives can be found here. While many of these goods are no longer made in this district, it’s not hard to imagine the clang of hammers on metal as the smiths enlarged a pot or put an edge on a blade.

Spices were sometimes sold for food and sometimes for medicinal purposes. In the second photo, notice the different spices and herbs for sale. But note also the cage of turtles on the bottom right and the lizard in the cage above it. Today these are sold for pets, but at one time, a chameleon might be sold as part of a charm instead of something good at catching insects. To really experience this shop, open a jar of cumin and inhale that fragrant scent. It's what I do when I want to recall Morocco.

Butcher shops sell a wide variety of meats including horse, rabbit, chicken, ducks and geese, mutton (sheep) and beef. In Jade’s time and in the ancient times before that, a butcher would be certain not to salt his meat because jinni shun salt and the jinni, appearing as humans, might be his best customers without his knowing it. As can be seen in photo four, the kitty would like a share, too.

Leatherworkers made saddles and bags, and Moroccan leather was and still is, highly prized. Many an old book was bound in red Moroccan leather. Some of those beautifully crafted bags can be seen hanging to the left in the souk stall while a lad carried two metal lamps down the street. Look to the right and notice the tiled entrances to someone’s home. Now imagine stepping out your door every morning to the aromatic scent of leather.

[Note: This week’s “Monday” blog is appearing Sunday evening as I’m on the road to give some writing workshops on Monday and Tuesday.]


Monday, June 09, 2008


In the United States, we are used to large stores. We enter through a main door, and wander through aisles, browsing a variety of items for sale. Souks are very different from our shops. They’re very small, possibly the size of a walk-in closet. Perhaps the best image is to imagine think of the craft booths at a fair or festival. Imagine something that size bordered at the back by walls and roofed over. The buyers walk down the narrow streets, with these shops on both sides.

Behind and above these shops are residences. Just as in the “old days” a grocer might live above his store, the shopkeepers in the souks lived near their shops. The shop owners Jade talked with when in 1920 in her third adventure, The Serpent’s Daughter, were descendents of the original shop owners. The shop, the residence, the craft, all were handed down from father to son for generations.

Hence, a leatherworker’s father and grandfather were leatherworkers just as a silversmith learned his art and trade from his ancestors. In the modern photographs (taken during my own 2006 tour) for today’s blog, you see a sampling of some of the variety seen in the souks.

As you tour the photos today and next week, try to imagine the aroma of spices, the scent of leather, the squelch of something undefined under your shoe, and the combined voices of shoppers haggling with the shopkeepers.

(Photo 1) Barrels with mounds of spices for cooking to the left and clothing to the right.

(Photo 2) Good luck charms for sale:
Hand of Fatima

(Photo 3) Olives in varying stages of ripeness for sale. Green, then yellow, red, and finally black. Note lemons wedged in between the olives.


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Monday, June 02, 2008


In Jade’s third adventure, The Serpent’s Daughter, Jade searched for clues to her mother’s kidnappers in the souks of Marrakech. She found herself in a labyrinth of narrow streets, some covered with reed roofs . . .

. . . others bridged by the second story. Everywhere within these streets are small closet-sized shops, loaded with foods, clothing, jewelry, charms, herbs, animals, saddles, lamps, and rugs.

In Jade’s time, each of these items would have been clustered into a particular district such as the herbalist’s district or the leather-worker’s district. While many of the shops are now far more eclectic, those district distinctions still hold to some extent. For Jade, it became a way of retracing her steps based on sounds and aromas since the streets seem to branch and connect without any discernable plan.


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