Our total time in Fez is less than 60 hours! Decisive action is needed to ensure we see the town during our beat-the-clock scenario. Advice from gone-to-Fes friends and guidebooks give the same message: count on being lost in the labyrinth. We decide to hire a guide! To give Jen a bit of a respite, we choose an English-speaking guide. The cost with him AND a cab to drive us is 600 dirhams ($75-ish) for 3-4 hours. Very cheap when split between five people. (yep, Roger is down again with the “Moroccan misery.”)
Before we officially board the tour bus, we are approached by a group of Fes teens working on a film documentary on International Women’s Day. As Americans, we must fall into the extra credit zone. The students are particularly interested in how the men feel about IWD. Willie and Smiley finally get their celebrity moment to talk about women. Because Arabic seems to be the official language in Fes, each of the youth have their question written in Arabic and English. With the camera rolling, they interview in English. When they finally get to asking Jen and me what we think of IWD, Jen plugs Hilary Clinton’s work in establishing women as leaders. Both the IWD celebration and the students investigation of it is fascinating (my over-used tripping word)!
PALACE: When he’s in town, King Mohammed VI stays at his Fes place…palace! When he’s not there, family camps out to keep it livable. It’s also the accommodations for any visiting dignitary. Unlike the White House, the locals have no idea of what the inside looks like. The public is not invited on even a mini-tour of the castle. They are only invited to enjoy the ‘Gold Doors’…which are actually bronze and cleaned with lemon juice. Also noted by our guide and the guidebooks, MVI selected his bride from Fes. The town prides itself on being more culturally and intellectually refined than other Moroccan cities. Fascinating!
THE JEWISH QUARTER: Much like Marrakech, there is a “Jewish Quarters.” The phrase feels politically incorrect but it’s historically accurate. The neighborhood is noted for its terraces overlooking the streets. For the Muslim homes, a courtyard is within the home walls and not visible. For the Jews, their fresh air access is hovering above a street side. The terraces overlook merchant stalls selling shoes, scarves, snails, figs, nougat… to high end jewelry. Fascinating!
Fes is hilly! Within the medina, we are getting the souk work-out: walking up and down rugged corridors and climbing up uneven and steep staircases. I definitely feel it in my knees and hips.
CERAMICS: We bus out to the ceramic trade school. Apprentice craftsman spend five years learning the intricacies of mosaic tiled creations. We learn a particular mosaic pattern that we have seen repeated in many locales has deeper meaning. The colors stand for a place: green = Islamic nation, blue = Fes, white = Casablanca, red = Marrakech, yellow/black = Sahara. We see about a dozen men chiseling away at their objects. One guy chisels out a heart and gives it to me. Undoubtedly, it’s a gesture designed to entice the tourists to buy the house goods. It works! We all make purchases in the showroom. No mosaic tile but individually hand-painted plates and bowls. I’m particularly intrigued with a plate designed with Arabic words. It’s 500 dirham ($50) which my good sense (Bill) confirmed was too much. The ceramic guy continued to haggle with me to get it. This country is one big Let’s-Make-A-Deal game show. Fascinating!
LEATHER: We learned that ‘virgin wool’ is sheared from a live sheep. Regular wool from the deceased. Virgin wool is much softer! Who knew? The tannery is within the medina. The corridor walls encircling it keep the stench off the street. We climb several stories to observe the man-handling animal hides. We receive a sprig of mint to put up our nose to help with the smell. 125 families ‘co-op’ this particular tannery. The men do the animal skin prep… shearing, skinning, boiling, drying, dying… truly disgusting work! Apparently, pigeon shit is a key ingredient for transforming animal hide to human jacket. I’ll never look at my wallet the same. The women folk do the stitching. Fascinating!
Our guide was ready to keep going and seemed disappointed when we cut it short after four hours. We blamed Roger but it really was the torturous souk work-out that sent us to our corridor’s pizza joint for Americana respite of pizza and wi-fi! Later that night, we headed to the Sofitel Hotel. The guidebooks suggest it is the best place to see the view. Eh, it’s nice but in comparison to our other experiences not so fascinating!