Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fes, Morocco

Fes is a feast for the senses.

Heaping trays of olives.  Cow’s feet, camel meat, cages of chickens and pigeons.  A cardboard box brimming with fuzzy baby chicks.  Buckets of slimy striped snails.  Kittens gathering below the butcher’s counter, waiting intently for errant scraps of meat.  Glass Coke bottles filled with homemade orange blossom water beside big baskets filled with fragrant white flowers.  Vendors grabbing oranges from heaping wheelbarrows-full, pressing fresh juice into rinsed glasses.  Sausages on skewers, jars of preserved lemons, wooden spoons, leaning stacks of blue and white pottery.

Pointy leather shoes in a rainbow of colors.  Heaps of figs and almonds, bunches of mint and cilantro.  Hunched over old men shuffling their way through the crowd, donkeys loaded with goat skins headed for the dyeing vats or gas cylinders headed for kitchen cooking.  Carpets hanging in the alleyways, mirrors framed in camel bone, stacks of petite glasses for tea.  A man with a wheelbarrow full of pots.  Girls filling buckets and bottles at the public fountain.  Boys weaving through the crowds with uncooked bread dough on wooden boards, headed to the communal ovens.

We’re staying inside the medina, the old town, circled by fortress-like walls and more than a thousand years old.  Driving through the ville nouvelle, the “new town” and then getting dropped off at the edge of the medina was like stepping back in time.

Our bed and breakfast accommodations are in a riad, an old stone house built around a central courtyard open to the sky. There’s beautiful pieced tile floors everywhere, different patterns in the courtyard, the stairwell, our room.  Carved wooden furniture, a mirror hidden behind hinged doors, punched brass lanterns hanging from the ceiling casting a mosaic of shattered light on the walls.  Our room has a wood-beamed ceiling and shutters that open out into the central courtyard, where potted palms and an orange tree are growing. The simple woven blanket at the foot of our bed is exquisite- stripes of threads ranging from silky to velvety, and in the most beautiful shades of blue and turquoise  (I’ll be taking one of these home with me- I’ve already been asking around in the markets for prices on similar pieces).  I am in color and texture heaven, frantically taking mental notes for our own home.

Our first night in Fes, the riad owner, a stern looking French woman with unruly hair who speaks zero words of English, led us wordlessly to a sidewalk table overlooking the endless stream of people pushing their way through the medina.  A songbird in a cage nailed to the wall above the kitchen doorway chirped loudly.  Before we placed our orders, the waiter plunked down complimentary dishes; one of green olives marinated in spicy flecks of red pepper and lemon rinds and one of shriveled black olives.  We sopped up a dish of beans in a sauce of cumin and tomato using sesame-coated puffy round bread.  Mohit had a steaming tagine (a terra cotta dish with a conical cover used for braising) brimming with lamb kefta in a delicious oily paprika and fennel sauce.   A street performer did back flips right in front of our table.

We spent our days in Fes getting lost amidst the ancient alleyways of the old town.  The medina is a maze of narrow cobblestone paths wandering haphazardly between high windowless walls.  The walls are punct- uated with occasional heavy wooden doors, some sized for midgets, some large enough for an elephant to pass through.  We could only guess at what was hidden behind most of them.

We wandered into a historic medersa (an Islamic center of study), into its beautiful mosaic courtyard centered around a fountain and ringed by dark rooms with carved wood ceilings.  We got suckered into a carpet shop, and sat sipping mint tea while men unfurled berber rugs and kilims we could never afford at our feet.  We stopped for lunch and joined the locals (all men) at a tiny table in an alleyway to eat meat on skewers and fresh pressed OJ.  

We climbed onto the rooftop of a leather shop to peer out over the vats of dyes to watch  men climb about barefoot to process animal hides and wool.  We watched as long as we could, but the stench of rotting animal parts and the pigeon droppings and cow urine used to tan the leather was overwhelming, even with the sprigs of mint we'd been handed to hold in front of our noses.  We got lost on our way out and paid a boy to show us the way back to the busy markets.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing. I mean all your entries are amazing. But this one truly is one for the senses. I want to go!!