Secret Villa, Zaouiet Ben Sassi, Marrakech

 
 

We're staying outside Marrakech in an architect's former residence near La Palmeraie. Quiet and secluded, the home is constructed entirely of earthen and reclaimed materials, with built-in furniture accented by the current owners' collection of Berber textiles, furnishings, and art. It was cleverly designed around native cacti and a permaculture farm, looking out onto mountains, palm fields, and the minaret of a local mosque. The cool stone walls and tile floors need no air conditioning or heating- the owner holds weddings, anniversary parties, and traditional Moroccan feasts here, turning the pool into a buffet area and seating guests on the roof.

 
 

Marrakech is not what I pictured, but I feel at home, like we've lived here awhile now. The countryside and cats and blooming cacti and goats running around and children playing happily in the street past midnight make me smile. Retreating to a minimalist villa in the middle of nowhere makes it that much more enjoyable.

 
 

Every morning, I have goji berries, oranges, and almonds with mint tea on the daybeds. At night, we eat market vegetables in the rooftop dining room as lanterns twinkle against the High Atlas. We packed one small carry-on for two people, but we didn't need it all.

 

Here's my travel wardrobe and toiletry list:


Summer Travel Capsule Wardrobe- Marrakech


  1. Two dresses- one linen, one cotton
  2. Two linen t-shirts
  3. One cotton cardigan
  4. Two scarves- one linen, one silk (to tie in my hair), gifts from my husband and father-in-law
  5. One pair of jeans
  6. One pair dressy sandals and one pair secondhand flip-flops
  7. Bikini
  8. Sunglasses (similar here)

Packing List: Toiletries and Cosmetics

  1. Wooden and natural rubber brush
  2. Alep soap
  3. Bamboo toothbrush
  4. Sunscreen
  5. Hand-knitted hemp washcloths
  6. Safety razor

 
 

I wanted to travel without buying anything new. My sleeveless dresses fall past my knees, so I use the linen scarf and cardigan to hide my shoulders and collarbone. It's not necessary to cover your head or ankles, and these days, native Moroccans wear crop tops and short shorts- still, it's respectful to stay covered, except in the villa, where we're totally alone. I've only worn the linen dress so far; if I don't use the red one this summer, I'll refashion or sell it.

Before visiting, I read on TripAdvisor that streets were dirty and badly paved. Streets are worse in Paris and Cleveland. I walked around and climbed Toubkal in flip-flops. Lots of Moroccan women wear high heels- we even saw one lady hiking a waterfall in studded wedges!

Security at Orly was kind of a joke. I took my razor blade through, though I wouldn't recommend it- sugar waxing, either at home or Charme d'Orient (Paris' most zero-waste spa), is probably your best bet. My Moroccan friends warned me to be careful with cross-contamination- even inherently gluten-free foods, like vegetable tagines, are cooked in porous dishes that may have held couscous. Anticipating this, I packed a big bag of blood oranges, nuts, dried fruits, and apples to snack on. Our Berber neighbor never saw blood oranges or goji berries before, so I offered her some, but she didn't like the taste :) I promise to catch up on posts this week, including where to stay, eat, and visit in Marrakech! This post contains Shopstyle affiliate links. If you click on them, I make a commission. Thanks for your continuing support!

Paris to Go

Water Only Update, One Month Later


 
This post has been updated. Click here to read the updated post.

I am so pleased! At first I was afraid no-poo would be gross, but my husband and passengers seated next to me on the plane assert that isn't the case. "You don't have a smell," says my friend Nathalie, who thinks my curious non-scent is weirder than water-only washing. I'm only using water on my face, too, which does wonders for horrible, Paris-induced cystic acne and closed comedones (that magically clear up whenever I leave town). Previously, I resembled a beginner's gluten-free pie crust, all flaky and bumpy, like a topographical globe.

My mom says that in Korea, there are generations of women who wash their hair with nothing but plain water. They comb their hair and scalp every day with a special brush, and they don't smell. Their hair looks bouncy and shiny and clean. I think the secret to water-only washing is scalp massage: Scrub the dry scalp as if shampooing, for a minute or more, then spread your fingers at the roots to pull oils, running them along the length of hair. Repeat before brushing, twice daily or more, if you have time for it. I have an adversarial relationship with haircare products, so this feels very gratifying. It's cathartic, pouring a big pot of cold water all over your head and scrubbing away. It's psychologically cleansing.

A few years ago, I could have never imagined a beauty routine consisting of only water, a bar of soap, and a few pats of baking soda for deodorant. Now, I'm satisfied opening the bathroom drawer to see so few grooming tools- a shiny stainless steel razor, pretty wood brush, washcloths purled at home. Right now I'm focusing on beautifying from the inside- not my personality, because that's never going to get better- but eating lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking two liters of water a day, snacking on legumes, nuts, and good fats, eliminating all animal products except honey, and sprinkling superfoods (chia, goji, acai) liberally, like salt. I wash my face twice a day, splashing with cold water, massaging, then exfoliating gently with a hemp washcloth. And I sip mulberry tea first thing in the morning, which is a very Korean thing, I've heard (my friends call it "highway tea" because I gathered the twigs and leaves from the side of I-90).

I promise, you can go no-shampoo without being disgusting, or turning into some crazy off-grid foraging nature warrior. You can still lead a normal life, even in a cosmopolitan city like Paris- I went to Le Meurice recently for a gluten-free financier, and for the first time in a while, a girl told me she liked my hair. "I only use water," I announced proudly. "Really? I thought that made hair greasy, but yours looks quite dry!" she said, sincerely. Clearly, I have a long way to go. But I think if you build up to water only- trying clay, aloe, rye flour or yogurt first- and regularly brush and massage your scalp, you won't have a nasty detox period and can enjoy the benefits of a cheap, truly chemical-free beauty routine. Don't put anything else in it, except maybe some lemon juice for flyaways and a little oil on the ends. Just protect your pillowcase with a silk scarf or towel at night :)
Paris to Go

The Simple Wardrobe, Part V: Coats

 
Coats, both secondhand, Céline (similar) and Louis Vuitton (similar)

An unwarranted criticism small wardrobes sometimes get is they're impractical for four-season climates or extremes in weather. I have one word for that: Cleveland.

Paris doesn't get much snow in the winter. It's less frigid than the Rust Belt. Nevertheless, I know cold. There's a reason Forbes named Cleveland "America's worst winter weather city." I've had frostbite three times- where I come from, this is a rite of passage, like getting your ears pierced- and walked across a frozen Lake Erie more times than I can count. My parents lived in New England, other family members in Alaska, Chicago, and New York; all agree the winters I shoveled snow and trudged to school in for two decades are the worst they've ever encountered. Cleveland is the only city where I've experienced every season in a single day. 

The thing is, in many harsh (Western) climates, people have cars to protect them from the elements. In Paris, you have nothing. Sometimes I'm outside six or more hours a day, shuffling through rain and slush. I'm not complaining- there are people sleeping in puddles on Rue Cler, I know I have it good- but moving here, I realized the winter gear I relied on growing up didn't cut it when I actually spent time outside. My salt-encrusted coats and ten-year-old winter boots were useless against the vagaries of commuter conditions.

The hunt was on. I needed two coats: one, a professional-looking rain coat that wouldn't soak me to the bone, washable, long enough to cover all my skirts; two, a warm, dressy winter coat that wasn't black. Since people are likely to see me in a coat 280 days a year, I wanted something that wasn't merely functional, but beautiful, statement-making. It had to be just as practical for shivering outside a café as patrolling with an ice squad on the Mongolian steppe.

I found the green coat in the first thrift store I visited: barely used, heavy waxed cotton to protect from cold and drenching rain, with a delightfully tacky monogram lining. It was two sizes too large and the sleeves were too long, so I hesitated. The owner lowered her (already piddling) price and punched a few more holes in the belt to tighten it. I rolled the sleeves up and left. I've more or less lived in this coat for three years- I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

Winter coats are more difficult to pin down. Many styles hit at mid-thigh or waist, but I didn't want a visible gap between my boots and my hemline. I was picky about fabrics, too- no synthetics, and I wouldn't budge on secondhand. I refused to consider the leather-sleeved olive combo coats literally everyone I know wears, or doudones I've seen tear easily on the Mètro. After a fruitless two year brick and mortar search, during which time I simply layered my trench over a $12 thrifted coat and bore the cold, I went online. The pale color was risky, but a season of shoveling, tobogganning, travel and commuting proved it an excellent choice. Instead of resembling a sleeping bag, it's gathered around the smallest part of my waist, flaring softly over the hips. Only an initiated few recognize the designer and season (I had to Google it), which make it feel refined and discreet, instead of an adsorbate of trendy mass-produced generics.

As usual, this information is likely useless to anyone whose lifestyle differs even slightly from mine. Most of the French women I know have a trench, doudone, and wool coat, plus a cropped jacket (like a leather blouson) and several tailored blazers. My friend Claudine has a hooded raincoat, trench, and wool coat with a fur lining that snaps in and out of each one, and my friend Kanika wears a cute cape among other toppers. A long time ago, I got some good advice to spend comparatively more on a coat, because it's one of those garments you wear often and don't usually have many of, so it should render multiple services. Obviously I'm a fan of fully lined options, which are warmer and more durable. In the spring and summer, I wash and hang each coat in a canvas garment bag in the closet, airing them periodically. You can cut a hole in a clean old sheet for a hanger and drape it over the item- just don't use a plastic drycleaner bag, says the FIT Institute's Valerie Steele. These yellow garments and encourage mold.

I'm still working on pictures of all of my outfits; the example above shows why I barely post any. I would like to say my photos will improve. Sadly... they probably won't  :( 

Read the rest of the simple wardrobe series:

Paris to Go

Giving Up the Vacuum, One Month Later

 
 
 

What better way to follow a post about how I don't use shampoo, than with an update about how I don't vacuum my apartment? To be accurate, it's actually been seven weeks since I last vacuumed. Three guests with severe cat allergies visited since then- none so much as sneezed, and they all ate and drank here. It looks pretty clean to me. My neighbors are happy, pleased by unprecedented peace and quiet. Kar and Toffel are especially appreciative. Yesterday, I spilled their food all over the floor, which they ate before I could pick it up.

My husband still wants a Roomba for the sheer novelty of it- he wants to dress our cats up in costumes and let them ride around the apartment. Until then, cleaning is easy. We've had a few nasty messes, including broken glass, an explosion of cat litter, and a bag of flour I untied and dropped to the floor. Typically, I'd lug out the unwieldy vacuum, plug it in while Kar and Toffel ran around panicking, and let the machine deal with the bulk of the mess. Yet, no matter the attachment, it always left trails of debris behind, and I couldn't vacuum broken glass, which needs to be dropped off for melting. Sweeping shortens the process. Corners and edges are cleaner, and the apartment is overall less dusty.

I'm not ready to give up the vacuum permanently- I live in fear of what-if situations, like fleas- but I enjoy not being dependent on an appliance, especially one made almost entirely of plastic. With EU restrictions targeting vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, blenders, and other household items, there's never been a better time to see how many energy-sucking appliances I can live without. For tips on how to clean carpet without a vacuum, click here.

Paris to Go

No Shampoo

 
This post has been updated. Click here to read the updated post.

I hate no-shampoo. The method isn't the problem so much as my execution of it- baking soda for two years? What was I thinking? Nevertheless, it's a long and confusing process, and there's a lot of misinformation on the internet (which I spouted) that can lead to embarrassingly damaged hair. I've learned a little bit from years of experimenting, and though the crazy, wiry lion's mane above is far from aspirational, it's better than my previously limp, straightened locks. There's not a trace of grease, my curly texture is starting to come back, and my naturally reddish color is finally returning. For anyone thinking of starting a no-poo regimen, here are some of my missteps and wins.

Disclaimer: I'm not against good hygiene. In fact, some people (well, many people, including my husband) accuse me of being obsessed with cleanliness. Did you catch Anthony Bourdain's last show in Korea, where one woman said Koreans like to be "the cleanest possible people"? I want that, really I do! Shampoo just never worked for me, even as a child. It left a waxy coating that never quite seemed to rinse out and made my scalp bleed and shed in literal sheets. When my mom took us to hairdressers, they'd praise my sister's beautiful curls, then unanimously tell me to stop washing my gross, brittle hair. My grandma hated the way I smelled after shampoo so much, she stuck my head under the sink and scrubbed it with water only, which left my scalp nicer and hair fresher than ever before. For a year or two I alternated between water, baking soda, and mayonnaise or egg instead of shampoo. Sometimes I'd coat just the scalp in Noxzema before rinsing out. Here's what happened to my hair:

  

It was long, thick, shiny, perfectly curled with no products, silicones, or conditioners, so, when I first visited Paris, I didn't bother washing with anything more than water.

 

A vigorous scrubbing and rinsing made it look healthy and shiny. Why I thought using shampoo again was a good idea, I can't remember. I guess I wanted to be like everybody else- it was a status thing to smell like Garnier Fructis, or whatever. The same old problems returned: mutant dandruff, blood everywhere, incomparable frizz. I tried co-washing with a silicone and paraben-free conditioner. The results were okay. I smelled nice, and my hair was still strong and fairly healthy, albeit a bit dry. Moving to Paris changed everything.

 

This is what happens when you try shampoos and conditioners specially formulated for hard water. My hair looks lifeless and bone dry, but it's actually covered in grease in both pictures. I lost prodigious amounts of hair, to the point that a bald patch the size of a Marais apartment appeared under the canopy. It was time to get serious about quitting.

DIY honey shampoo worked well, but was too expensive to be sustainable. It made my hair smell like a baguette- celiac disease is somehow harder when every time you turn your head, you get a whiff of a freshly baked loaf of bread. Fresh aloe was the best alternative. Take a big leaf, split open, scoop the insides into a cloth, and squeeze into a bowl. Apply to dry hair and scalp, leave on while you shower, and rinse, scrubbing well. It lathers somewhat and leaves hair clean, fresh-smelling, and moisturized; it's also effective against hard water buildup. However, aloe leaves are expensive in Paris, and I can't always find them at the marché. Enter baking soda and vinegar.

I should have known better. My hair was soft and shiny because the method destroys keratin. It didn't help that I straightened and rebonded my hair, which eventually turned grey, leaving fuzzy buildup in the brush. I couldn't risk rye flour, tea rinses left hair limp, and shikakai or Alep soap caused weird waxy patches, which no amount of parting and scrubbing could remove. Since shampoo bars didn't rinse out in Paris' hard water, I raided the pantry. Egg yolk, yogurt, or coconut milk and aloe vera worked phenomenally at removing dirt and buildup. My hair stopped falling out and began growing again. I replaced aloe vera in the coconut recipe with the same amount of lemon juice or honey, to great success. Still, I need those ingredients for cooking. They aren't cheap enough to use indefinitely.

Fed up, I scrubbed my hair and scalp with distilled water. I have yet to see how this works in the long run (it's only been two weeks), but my husband likes my hair, which is starting to regain some of its original body and shine. It's not greasy or waxy, and people are commenting on noticeable growth. To prevent dandruff and odor, incorporate scalp massage into your routine. Wash hands, turn your head back, and scrub the dry scalp vigorously for one minute. Spread your fingers over the base of your head, as if pulling the oils from your scalp, and distribute along the first two inches of hair, one minute or more. Repeat before rinsing with distilled / boiled water, or brushing with a wooden pin brush. I'm not styling it, just brushing and wearing a ponytail sometimes.

I've been against water-only for so long- I couldn't see how it got hair clean- but shampoo and other detergents merely create surface tension, so removing dirt and oils kinetically makes sense, I guess. I'm so desperate at this point I'll try anything, and the results are good thus far. I'm collecting rice water to try on my next wash; meanwhile, I wear a silk scarf to bed and change my pillowcases twice a week, washing them weekly. My advice for anyone starting a no-shampoo routine would be to wash with aloe or egg first to clarify (I think coconut milk only works on thick, dry hair), and possibly a tiny bit of baking soda to remove residual silicones. I would also advise them not to listen to anything I say, because I have terrible hair.

Paris is the perfect place to experiment with no shampoo, though, since it seems many women (at least, the ones I know, or have read about) wash their hair once a week anyway. Any advice for me? Do you think it's really possible to quit shampoo without being gross?
Paris to Go