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Alice in Marrakech owners Abdellatif Hadji and Dawnette Tiler-Hadji. Photo by John Darling

New Plaza store an express lane to Marrakech

For centuries, Moroccans have been creating enchanting geometrical art that has adorned homes and halls — and is now is available on Ashland’s Plaza at the stunning new, quaintly-named Alice in Marrakech store, where Freddie’s Clothing used to be.

The couple who own it, Dawnette Tiler-Hadji and Moroccan immigrant Abdellatif Hadji, met while waiting tables in high-end restaurants in San Francisco. They opened the shop on Dec. 2. It’s name uses the French spelling for Morocco’s fourth largest city, Marrakesh. They are raising their daughter Zahra, 9, who attends Walker Elementary School.

It’s probably safe to say nothing has ever assailed Ashland shoppers with such jaw-dropping aesthetics, from the most modest bead bracelet on up through ceramics, wrought iron, fabric, tiles, dishware, lanterns, tables and even doors, some crafted of wood, tin, inlaid bone, accented by henna stain — all executed by craftsmen they know and buy from personally.

“I’m so pleased to find this in Ashland,” says local resident Alicia Mesco, “because it further promotes the beauty and understanding between Morocco and this culture. I’m blown away a store like this happens to open where I live. It brings back such memories of their legendary hospitality, especially to children, when we traveled there.”

Abdellatif fell in love with America while on tour with the Moroccan judo team. Dawnette fell in love with Morocco and its art when they traveled there in 1995 to meet his parents — and he fell in love with “gorgeous” Ashland a dozen years ago and announced, “We have to start our business there.”

The shop’s name comes from Dawnette’s grandmother, who raised her in California on tales of Alice in Wonderland, she says, but it was confirmed by this town’s love of Alice, as they found hiking trails with names like White Rabbit and Red Queen.

The couple were wholesale importers of Moroccan art but chose to shift all efforts to their retail Plaza store. Abdellatif believes it’s the only such store in Oregon, with the nearest ones being in San Francisco and North Hollywood — where similar goods, he says, fetch vastly higher prices.

The store offers a liberal stock of Judaica — Morocco has a sizeable population of Jews — including a (working) shofar, menorah, pots with Hebrew lettering and many items adorned with the Star of David, says Abdellatif,

Canadian Myra Giberovitch, a Jew, admired a tajine, used much like a stove-top ceramic crockpot, noting, “It’s wonderful to find this here. I know the history of Morocco and its Jewish population and it’s so nice to see a store of a different culture here.”

With her, Ashlander Ray Barry says, “This is such a surprise. You just put the whole meal in it. I’m hoping some delicious ethnic cuisine will follow.”

Abdellatif explains the impact of the art, “It’s Moorish. Everything is geometric. There are no animal shapes. It influenced Spain and then Spain influenced Mexico. You won’t find this kind of art in the Mideast. Morocco has been occupied by so many cultures and is a melting pot.”

You can spend an hour at one small section of the shop, letting your eyes take in, not only the art, but the uses of many objects, for instance, a small, two-part ceramic dish, one part for the olives and one for the pits. There’s a small ceramic object of many tubes which could hold pens on your desk or toothbrushes in the bathroom.

Giant, shallow bowls show rich, algae-like hues from minerals found “on the road to Timbuktu,” which is south of Morocco a few hundred miles. All, he says, are “labor intensive, with skills passed on from grandfathers and ancestors before them — and each is unique, as each is a one-time creation of the artist.”

Many of the craftsmen sell only to this couple and, he notes, “There are pieces here that you’ll never find anywhere else.”

Abdellatif displays a large, globular metalwork lantern, sticking an incandescent bulb into it to show the intricate work that could only have been carried out with scores of hours of handiwork. He mentions fabled cities they come from - Fez, Safi, Casablanca, Tangier and, of course, Marrakech.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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