Search this blog

January 10, 2011

Morocco Part 3: The Medina

The Fès medina, a 1200-year-old market, was my favorite part of the city. Thousands of tiny, winding paths are lined with stands heaped with scarves, pointed-toe slippers, hand-embroidered tablecloths and caftans if you go down one street; olives, nuts, dried fruit and spices if you go down another.


We went to the medina our first day in Fès, and I was extremely grateful to have our pack of strapping Moroccan men to guide us through the maze. We were so exhausted from (not) sleeping chez Charles de Gaulle the previous night that without them we likely would have gotten lost and trampled by the donkeys used for transport in the tight passages.

Fayçal seemed to know everyone in this city, and we stopped several times to greet various family members and friends. One of his cousins hopped the counter of his three-foot-wide caftan shop to lead us into the fez shop of another relative. Along with the city's eponymous tasseled caps, there were felt hats of all sorts of colors and styles. After making our purchases we headed upstairs to the factory, where we got to see the fezes being made in real time.


Emily and I returned to the Medina by ourselves a few days later, and the absence of our escorts was sorely felt. As an obvious Westerner, I felt like I had a bullseye on my face. "Coucou!" "Bonjour!" "Where you from, beautiful?" and, surprisingly: "Hola!" rang out from every corner as we sauntered along. "Not for buy, just for look!" they promised. "Where you from? America? New York City! I go there one day, Inch'Allah! Welcome to my country. Come inside. Very good price."

Once you showed the slightest interest in something you were doomed to at least five minutes of politely extricating yourself from the situation, so I tried to only stop when there was something I actually had intention of buying.

Emily, though, was the bartering queen. A trinket might be advertised as 80 dirham. Emily would offer 40, insisting that they had quoted her the tourist price. The vendor would clutch his heart and wonder aloud how he would feed his family, and then go down to 70. Emily would go up to 50, final offer. The vendor would dither and Emily would start to leave. "OK OK OK!" he would yell, with a hint of panic. Then he would turn to me, shaking his head. "Your friend is Berber."

And then they would offer us some mint tea.


Not everything in the medina was as deliciously fragrant as those heaps of spices and olives. There were also live chickens and cock-a-doodle-doo-ing roosters, along with the heads of various beasts strung up on butchers' hooks. If you're squeamish you're going to want to skip the next picture.


BRAINS! And lettuce over their tongues. I don't know about you, but that surely whet my appetite.


I like to show this picture to my students and tell them it's my new boyfriend. It takes them awhile to figure out it's a camel head, and then they laugh uproariously. OK, they only giggle a little bit. OK, three of them cracked a smile. But those three thought I was HILARIOUS.


If you're a long time Francey Pantser you know how much I love a good creepy mannequin, and Fès did not disappoint. It was like Christmas for creepy mannequin lovers (in fact, it was Christmas... for everyone). The problem with drawing attention to yourself by, say, taking a photo, however, is that you'll have shopkeepers descending on you like bees to honey. So I only got this excellent shot of the Child Barbie Shawl Revolution before running away.

Next time, next time. Inch'Allah.

No comments:

Post a Comment