To get the most of Fes, we request the return of Mr. Bojangles (our tour guide is a Moroccan Sammie Davis Jr) to lead the brat pack through the medina. It’s the second day of the souk buns-of-steel work-out and Smiley has dropped two dress sizes. Just walking through the medina gives you a wonderful sense of the-day-in-the-life-of- the Fes folk. People greet each other with kisses, one on each cheek and repeated. Men hold hands as they walk. And kids are everywhere. School has classes in shifts so there are always children on break. There aren’t any parks or playgrounds so they play in the corridor. We see a lot of small children seemingly unaccompanied by a parent. There is a strong sense of ‘it takes a village’ as merchants oversee the kids’ activities. The current youth fad is a faux-hawk. Boys have their hair spiked up with gel so the girls abuse them as “poules” (translation ‘chickens’). All ages of kids are carrying large trays of dough to the local bakery. Families use their own recipe to make bread and then send it out to be baked.
The markets are full of fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, and milk. Nothing is refrigerated. Every *edible* meat part is available for purchase including hoofs. There are big buckets of live snails. I’m intrigued with the bounty of nougat. Big colorful piles of the sweet candy are uncovered and protected by flies and bees. For the amount of food exposed to open air, there really aren’t that many flies. Just enough to keep me nougat-free, date-free, and fig-free. Dang!
MOSQUES: The Muslims pray five times a day. All the ‘calls to prayer’ are announced on a P.A. system. We’ve gotten use to it since our initial 4:45am WTF experience on Day 1. If they aren’t working, they go to a Mosque for communal praying. Each time, an individual performs a cleansing ritual either at the mosque or at home. Women and men have separate rooms for praying and non-Muslims are not allowed to enter those chambers.
CAFE CLOCK: We lunch on the terrace at Cafe Clock. The restaurant boasts a camel burger. I’m game! I order it up. It’s tasty! The seasonings have a tasty zest. The meat itself is just a little tougher than beef. I also try the date milkshake. It’s date and milk and shaked? It’s not ice cream based. A little too sweet and milky for me. The service as with all our restaurant experiences has been friendly and efficient.
TANNERY THE SEQUEL: We go to the biggest tannery in Fes. Our host lets us know that the tannery is owned by the government. The company was taken over five years ago during financial difficulties. It now strives to be the biggest hand-crafted leather manufacturer. The tannery operates 7 days a week. Camel skin is the best quality and sheep skin is the least. The dyes are all natural, like red – poppy flowers and yellow – saffron. Yellow leather is the most popular because of slippers. Interestingly, our host travels to and from Chicago because his family sells leather goods in Joliet. I purchased a poof… sheep skin. I’ll need to compare poof prices upon my return.
WEAVING: Mr. Bojangles takes us into a looming business. It looks like an abandoned building but it’s a functioning business. A weaver explains the process using silk and wool. We then hit up the ‘gift shop’ which is just colorful piles of scarves. The price is cheap and the quality exquisite. Not wanting to ‘out’ anyone’s purchase that may be a gift, I’ll just give a comparative example. I purchased 5 scarves in Fes for just a little more than the one scarf in Marrakech. In addition, I was wearing that scarf and my weaver informed me it was made in China out of synthetic. 🙁
FES & GESTES: In a riad on the next block is Cecile Houizot-Nanot’s restaurant. It’s like eating in her house. A cozy and relaxed vibe. Our dining area has a computer and stacks of household stuff. There is a free roaming cat and our server has a bit of sass. Perfect for our last night in Morocco. It’s a pre-fixe menu with five courses for 150 dirham ($18ish). It’s also BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze). In Chicago, that is the preferred methodology for dining because it keeps the cost down. In the Medina, and in Morocco in general, finding alcohol is a quest all it’s own. Oh, we always struck gold but it requires more creativity and strategy. Luckily, we have the motivation and the drive!
Before he left us, Mr. Bojangles said farewell with individual wishes of ‘long life to the Americans.’ When planning this Moroccan adventure, we had taken pause because of the conflict in neighboring countries. Our family and friends feared for our safety. We decided to make the journey anyway. Aside from the snake uncharmers, overzealous vendors, and a punk hisser, we found the people to be gentle and kind. Despite a language barrier and cultural differences, we heard over and over ‘you’re welcome’ as a greeting, not as a response. ‘You’re welcome!’ ‘Thank you, Morocco!’