And so, after a slow and contented day of studying and folding clothes on the terrace, I settle onto my bed with some postcards and off-brand Nutella (Mister Choc is where it’s at). A light ocean breeze and the sounds of water, echoing voices, and the distant city float in through my open window; hundreds of windows and street lamps flicker on as dusk falls across the hazy blue sky.
I flip backwards in my notebook to page 239 (I number the pages, yes, but only the even ones), and re-read the jittery handwriting scrawled across the next few pages: hasty reminders of what we did in Fez, what the van smelled like, to-do lists, thoughts on the book I just finished, thoughts on music and research, practicing Arabic writing. I fidget a little bit, take a deep breath, and wonder when I’m going to start actually writing about Fez in this post about Fez.
I’m very zen today, can you tell?
This is some of Fez, viewed from one of two 16th-century fortresses built by the Saadian Dynasty (I think).
Fez is comprised of three parts: the Fes el-Bali (the old city), Fes-Jdid (the less-old city), and the Ville Nouvelle (the French-built new city). Fes el-Bali is believed to be the oldest, best-preserved, and most complex medina in Morocco. Rickety wooden scaffolding crisscrossed many of the narrow streets through which we wandered to help hold up the ancient walls.
We arrived on last Friday afternoon, which meant that we promptly ate couscous in a sort of cross between a house and a restaurant in Fes el-Bali. And now, I’m going to tell you about our visit all out of order.
Fes is known for its artisans, who manufacture a myriad of things, and particularly for its enormous leather tannery. Yes, we visited them all! We met weavers who wrapped turbans around our heads,
and pharmacists who smeared creams and perfumes on our arms.
We visited the leather tannery. We either haggled relentlessly, or gently rebuffed their offers to sell us things for a lot of money. The whole thing tasted like tourism, which is a distinct flavor we encounter from time to time as we stay here longer and travel more. أنا طالبة, we say, I’m a student. I live in Rabat. I’ll pay 10 dirhams for that. What? That’s practically charity!
We visited the tannery during a rather bothersome time of day for photography. Alas. That’s what the tannery looks like!
We visited what used to be the residence of a wealthy Jewish family in Fez; now, it serves as a museum/antique shop, tucked deep in the winding alleys of the medina. It was a bit of a cultural and historical overload, with so many beautiful things crammed into one place.
There used to be a large Jewish population in Morocco, but now there remains only about 5,000 in the entire country; most emigrated to the newly established State of Israel in the wake of the second World War. The Jewish population in Fez remains only 500-strong, the traditional Jewish quarter inhabited mostly by Muslims.
Also, Aslan lives in Fez.
We visited one of the oldest Koranic schools…EVER.
Me, in one of the oldest Koranic schools ever.
Fez is generally more traditional than Rabat, and there is a much larger ex-patriot population. It’s a confusing mix of more prevalent religious sentiment and more aggressive catcalling; though I loved it, I felt also very glad to be living in Rabat, rather than Fez. Near the end of our stay there, a few of us decided to try to find all the worst/most politically incorrect/most culturally insensitive/ugliest/most stereotypical postcards we could, and perhaps it speaks measures that we didn’t have to look that hard. It was a lighthearted way of recognizing the sometimes perverse nature of tourism in an “exotic” country, which both bolsters the economy and stereotypes its peoples and culture. Strange brew. We also met some French people, and couldn’t help but notice also an attitude toward the French as casual vacationers in their former colony…
I will almost certainly return, because it is a beautiful city, but I feel much more at ease in Rabat. I’ll return to eat at Café Clock, which is the best restaurant I’ve been to here in Morocco. I’ll return to look, but not to buy—a word to the wise, most of the things you can buy in Fez are available for a lot cheaper in Rabat, or probably any city. The leather and everything, yes (except it seems easier to find flats with decent soles in Fez)! Unless, of course, you’re heading for the ceramic artisans we visited on the outskirts of the city; I bought a necklace from them. That was some cool stuff. Speaking of ceramic artisans, here’s one making a tile:
Boy, these blog posts take a long time with all these pictures and this internet. I think I’m going to call this one quits. We visited an ancient synagogue. We drank to Melissa’s 21st birthday in the hotel bar running low on alcohol, we drank to Carly’s 21st birthday in a restaurant just after our return to Rabat. We learned. We saw. We talked. We ate. We slept. We sent postcards.