March 2, 2011
Morocco: Day 4
Today was a day of shopping. Our day began at breakfast, which was at 8:00AM. Naturally I got there at 8:20AM. The hotel we’re staying at, Riad Fes had a wonderful assortment of Moroccan baked goods for breakfast. Some of the same stuff was served yesterday in Chefchauen, but we were not sure what it was. The mystery was not solved today. Instead, we decided not to eat that. I just had a simple breakfast of a crepe with jam, croissant, orange slice with some cinnamon on it (if you haven’t tried a Moroccan orange yet, you are missing out) and a mystery bread like thing covered in sugar. All in all a good way to start the day.
We were up and out the door at 9:00AM right on time. I have to had it to Aziz, he magically appears right on time from wherever it is he is. Our first stop was to the medieval city and the Jewish quarter. Fun fact, that medieval city is actually called new Fes because it dates from the fourteenth century while the Medina dates from the ninth century.
We started off at the Royal Palace here in Fes. Aziz showed us the main entrance and its seven golden bronze doors. The tile work and the detail in the bronze doors is astounding. The best part is that the only polish those doors get is lemon juice. No chemicals have touched that. Aziz even says from time to time you can find the citrus seeds on the ground.
After taking pictures at the gate, we walked through the Jewish quarter. Aziz made a very strong point about how welcome the Jews were and are in Morocco dating back to the inquisition times. He also mentioned several times that some of the original Berber tribes in Morocco were Jewish, because they were in this part of the world before Islam reached it. While in that area of the town, we went to one of the oldest, if not the oldest synagogue in Morocco. I believe it dates from the thirteenth century I believe.
Once we left the medieval portion, we were on to the walking tour of the Medina. This was the part I was most looking forward to because I was told it was just a huge bazaar. I remember when I was in Egypt in 2000 how much fun I had with Nana and Uncle Mel walking through the Bazaars and haggling prices with the merchants. Now that I was here in Morocco with JoAnn (who is amazing at deal negations) I figured we could get some cool stuff and make some merchants cry while doing it.
God bless her, Miriam came along with us. Miriam is JoAnns eighty-something year old mother and is an absolutely delightful person. She is always so upbeat and up for anything. The only problem is she does need some help getting around from time to time. I was wondering how the walking tour was going to be for her. Luckily Aziz stepped up and Miriam always had an arm to grab if she wanted. She grabbed mine, dads and to a lessor extent JoAnn’s, but Aziz was her main man today.
Now I have to say I was a little disappointed in the Medina. It wasn’t like the Egyptian Bazaars I had been to before. It wasn’t just shop after shop after shop. It was more of a labyrinth with stores punctuating the sides of the pathways. That is not to say there was a shortage of stores. In certain areas, there were traditional bazaar style stalls.
The first little alleyway we went down was the meat alley. We say virtually every type of meat you can find in this country. We saw live chickens, decapitated goat heads, pigeons waiting to be cooked into Pastilla. We saw liver being chopped up (by the way, liver is disgusting… I had it in Paris, not here, but man is it gross). I wanted to take a picture of one of the sheep’s heads but the butcher said I couldn’t. Oh well… I guess I’ll just have to keep that memory to myself.
A lot of the time was spent walking around. After, Aziz took us to a traditional house in the Medina. The walls of the Medina are nothing special. I would have no clue if a mansion was behind one of those doors if it was another hovel like some of the shops. The place Aziz took us proved that point.
We walked down this alleyway, and into a side alley. After a few blind corners, we got to the entrance to the house. It turns out it was a carpet store. JoAnn and Dad had been thinking about getting a carpet, and it was a good place to kill a few minutes. We got a brief history of the house (dating back to 1315) and got to walk up onto the roof. From the roof, I took some incredible pictures of the Medina. Then we headed back downstairs to look at some carpets.
These carpets were amazing. The only other experience I had had with Middle Eastern textiles was when we went to a textile factory in Egypt. I remember those mainly because I got to tie a knot in one of those rugs. I’ve always wondered where that rug is now… Back to the point. Omar, the carpet guy, said he would be happy to show us anything we wanted. We must have looked at twenty different 8x12 carpets. Needless to say, we ended up leaving with two. Just as a side note, JoAnn was able to get both of those for the price of one…
All that negotiating wore us out so we headed off to lunch. Aziz took us to this restaurant that specializes in Moroccan food. A Moroccan restaurant in the Medina? So strange. A lot of the appitzers they brought us were the same ones I had last night. The same spiced carrots, the same tomato and bell peper puree. They did bring us some new stuff though. I tried fava beans and eggplant. My main course was yet another tajine, this time lamb. I really need to figure out how to make tajines. They are amazing!
After lunch, Aziz took us to an antique gallery. We weren’t planning on getting anything here, but boy were we wrong. The house was really neat and looked sort of like a really cluttered museum. Most of the stuff in the store/museum was from the Berber tribes of Morocco, and all of it antiques or old. The storeowner told us to be an antique it has to be over one hundred years old. Other than that, it is just old.
I looked around the store for a little while seeing if there was anything I could bring home to my friends. I saw some Hands of Fatima that would have looked awesome on a necklace, but they were over two hundred dollars. I like my friends, but I’m pretty sure I could find one that looked just like those for less than five. I ended up finding a really cool ring though. I had been thinking I wanted a ring for a while, I just didn’t know what kind of ring I wanted. The one I found I couldn’t be happier with. Like everything in that store, it is a talisman, meaning it is supposed to bring luck. I am actually wearing it while I am writing.
It is a silver band about a third of an inch wide. There is another band in the center of that that is black. On top of the black are fleur de lis. The cool part is the black band with the fleur de lis spins on the larger silver one. So basically I found a French/Moroccan good luck charm. Couldn’t be happier with the purchase.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, we got more stuff. That means we spent more time in the store. In fact, between that place and the rug store, we were running out of daylight and we still had to go to the tannery and the tile makers section.
Finally we got out and headed up to the tannery. JoAnn had come here before and she was saying how incredible the tannery was. Incredible is the right word. Basically it consists of huge vats of liquid that people put the hides in to die them different colors, only after the hides had been soaking in limestone vats filled with water and pigeon poo. Each color is produced naturally with plant pigments. The red comes from poppy plants, the orange from saffron, purple from the indigo plant, you get the idea.
The one thing that I know this blog won’t be able to capture accurately is the smell. I pride myself on having a sensitive sense of smell, but I don’t know if I can describe what the tannery smelled like. The one thing I need to stress is that in no way could one make the argument that it smelled good. In fact, when we walked in, the guy at the door gave us some mint leaves to sniff to hide the odor.
The place we went too was actually just a leather shop. It was huge, but they didn’t actually do any of the dying there. Instead, it had a perfect view from above to the dying vats below. We saw the men standing knee high in colored water dunking hides. We saw men with machetes scrapping the fat off the already dyed hides. We saw children playing and running along the edges of the vats. It was truly a remarkable site.
As I mentioned, it was a leather shop. The part we were standing at was full of their shoes and bags. I had never had a real leather anything until I went to Grenada and got my bag. I figured I would take a look at the coats here too. We walked upstairs and the guy showed us hundreds of coats in over thirty colors. I found a black one I really liked, but it didn’t fit me. The guy said that he could custom make it for me and it would be ready by tomorrow morning. And the coolest thing, it coast less than a coat would in the US. I got a tailor made hand stitched leather jacket for less than one I would buy at the Men’s Warehouse.
We ended up running out of time because we spent so long shopping so we are going to do the tile works tomorrow morning before leaving Fes. All in all, I do wish we had some more time walking around the Medina, but Fes is an incredible city.
Now its off to bed, then tiles and then it’s time for me to touch some monkeys!