17 August 2017

Fes, Morocco 2017

Fes redux! The city that most captivated me in 2005. Although this time we stay in a regular hotel, we spend little time there. Musicians in the lobby were largely ignored by passing guests (why?).

Our local guide Wafi takes us first to the old Jewish quarter, the Mellah, and its remarkable cemetery ... greeted by trees blooming with fragrant orange blossoms (sold in the markets for adding to food dishes). A vendor with enormous strawberries stands outside; we see these giant berries everywhere we go.
Someone special is buried here: Solika/Solica. Most tombs are simple, rounded white cylinders unlike hers. A man was huddled at her tomb praying, blocking the little doorway so we couldn't see inside the tiny space. Historical accounts vary, but governing authorities seemed to believe this woman converted to Islam and then recanted, so she was arrested and judged by sharia law. Originally from Tangiers, she was beheaded and buried in 1834 in Fes for refusing to declare she was a Muslim. She is considered a Jewish saint. (More: http://hatchuel-hatchwell.net/solika/solikas-full-story/)

From there we ambled across the street to (one of) the royal palaces. Dear King, sorry we missed you. Fabulous brass work on the doors. Then drove up the hillside to get a panoramic view of the city including the medina and another nearby cemetery. Muslims do not do cremation, so a great deal of space is taken up everywhere by burial grounds. There are fourteen gates into the old medina and something like 9,500 streets within!

Next to the tile factory. A leisurely time here: the process being explained, workmen demonstrating various steps from shaping to painting to kiln. Absolutely gorgeous products, mostly large and weighing a ton. No pressure to buy. Sipped mint tea with Mohamed and Doug while those purchasing made arrangements to ship items home. Stab in the dark: I ask Wafi if he knew of a fellow guide called Raschid? He knew a couple of Raschids but we both doubt think our guy of twelve years ago is still around. I explained how thoughtful he had been to follow up and visit our sick tourist in Meknes hospital, that his kindness would always be remembered.

It's time to plunge into the medina, entering through their food/meat area. Wafi shows us the "river" that feeds and carries away; it is now being treated. Not much uphill on our route al-hamdullilah nevertheless it's not easy to catch all the details Wafi is dispensing as we hustle along. We see a LOT of the 9,500 streets. Nothing looks familiar from before. Wafi points out architectural decor, various mosques. I score some of the well-remembered and sweetest clementines on earth.

We get to look inside the widely-believed "oldest (working) library in the world," Quarawiyyin (I beg to differ that the St Catherines Monastery library is older but this is not the time to bring it up). Only newly renovated but established in the 9th century, it holds some 30,000 ancient manuscripts. A wealthy woman from Kairouan (Tunisia) founded/funded it as well as the Quarawiyyin mosque and university.

Then to the oldest madrasa where we could climb to the second floor, admiring the magnificent typical Moroccan mosaics and tile patterns everywhere. Along our wending way we pass working souks brass, leather, wood, textile workers. Entertainers. We visit a wonderful old building of many storeys with random staircases and showrooms for weaving and carpets. Heather gets right into the weaving process with a woman at a loom.

Lunch at 2 p.m. finds us all starving at Restaurant Asmae. Generous servings, no matter what you order. It's becoming my habit to share with Doug or Mark or Mohamed. Lovely man pours tea and cookies after.
Next stop is the Coura Tannery where I do not join them because I recall going up at least four floors of narrow twisting staircase and being greeted by the overpowering smell of the dye vats. So I hang in the entranceway having a smoke with the boys who want to practice English. Being in the alley outside the door makes me prey for creeping souvenir vendors whom the tannery boys do nothing to discourage.
We end up at a clothing emporium where Wafi says goodbye and leaves us at their mercy. A grand scarf demonstration begins. You have but to mention an item and quickly dozens upon dozens of goods materialize to choose from. Or climb stairway after stairway to a display room. Oops, I mention caftans and get shown a zillion things I don't want. The pressure is relentless, exhausting. Thankfully the others in my little group are buying! I buy an ornamental tassel for an outrageous price. But definitely you need to experience the full-bore treatment at least once!

When we set off this morning we had no idea it would be such a jam-packed day. It felt like we saw everything but of course it's endless and mesmerizing.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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