|July 23 2008
This morning we have our first breakfast in Fes. Our chef from the night before has made Moroccan crepes with honey, fresh squeezed OJ, store bought pasteries, jam, butter, coffee, and Moroccan tea. It is a very filling breakfast. As we are bruching our teeth, our guide Hamead arrives to take us on our tour.
We walk through the Blue Gate and through the quite streets to our car. Hamead drives us around the outskirts of Fes. He points out the different sectors and gives us there dates of construction. The cemetery is huge and brilliant in the color of stones used as markers. The Jewish quarters stones appear much more worn and of a more common stone. However, they are just as intricately worked. We stop at the 7 gates of the Royal palace, and spend a few minutes getting the requisite tourist photos and marveling at the intricate metal and stucco work.
We take a break in our sightseeing to visit a tile and ceramic artisan. The owner of the shop shows us the clay and tells us the process in which the clay is processed into tiles. Fes’s tiles are unique, because the region contains a grey clay instead of the more common red. Joseph quickly memorizes the temperatures it takes to make a tile: first firing 700 degree 14 hours, second firing after glaze 1200 degrees for 7 hours. This makes the glaze scratch resistant. To demonstrate the guide trys to scratch the plate with a coin and then has Joseph work the plate over: no scratches. We next see the way that they make the mosaics, and each of the traditional Morrocan patterns are explained. We watch as 4 guys work cutting specific shapes out of tile for a fountain that a French woman has ordered. We watch as the artisan puts the pieces in the mold for the fountain. Total time on the fountain 2-2.5 months. Total cost 12,000 euro. Then we found out that she had ordered the fountain to match a table she had purchased from them. We also watched several artisans applied the inks to the pottery and ceremics, all by hand.
The obvious next stop is the sales floor. No pressure to buy, but it seems there is always someone there to give you info on the piece you are looking at. We spend a lot of time looking around, and seeing if we can guess the patterns we see in the pieces after our short tutorial during the tour. Once our eyes have had there fill of the shop, we hop back in the car. We our headed to the site outside of the city, the tomb of ????
This site was very bland and run down. No descriptive sign, and no real road past the site. Joseph and I found a horse in the tomb, which belonged to the guard. It really did not seem a proper testament to the first dynasty of Moroccan rulers. That said, the drive up was wonderful. We saw the sprawling but tightly packed fes from above. We also went by some reed farms, which are used to make the roofs in Fes. The drive was enjoyable, although Bob would have liked railings on the outside edge of the switch backs.
Next into the old Medina. We walk to the Mosque and to our surprise get to look inside while standing on the threshold. We are even permitted to take photos. This flew in the face of all that I had read, but Hamead pushed me up onto the threshold. Once we had snapped a few akward pictures, trying to avoid any parishioners inside, we began our walk through the Medina. As we walked by a pharmacist, Hamead asked if we had been in a pharmacy yet in Fes. We answered that as yet we had not had a use for a pharmacy and were hoping to keep it that way. He laughed and said the pharmacies here are like herbalists. So we ventured inside walking past walls lined to the ceiling with jars of oil, powder, leaves, flowers, and such. We sat down and listened to the herbalist and then after being slathered several time with different oils and perfumes we made our way out. Bob and I thought we smelled like a house of ill repute.
We next walk to the doors to the religious school which has been closed due to restoration work. I had seen the college from the other door, and was amazed at how large the college was, since I was now on the other side. Our next stop on the tour is the Carpet cooperative. How can you go to Morocco without looking at a carpet. We went on the tour and Joseph even made a few knots in the carpet the ladies were working on. When she had finished showing Joseph how to make the knots she went back to work. She only used one hand to do what it took Joseph two hands to do. She also made 10 knots in the time it took him to make one. They wore cotton or wool guards on their thumb and index finger to protect them from burns. The next stop on the tour is a comfy seat and some Moroccan mint tea.
A new person arrives and begins to pile rugs on the ground, inviting you to touch and walk on them. Sarah Hohl can attest that this is a long process, and gracefully declining takes at least two glasses of tea and lots of smiling and head shaking. My favorite phrases are: “tighten your belt a little more my friend”, “we do not travel everyday or buy nice things for ourselves”, “you will have good luck”, and “I wish you many happiness’s”. Once out of this den of hand made rugs, we walked with Hamead through the medina and listened while he gave information on the history of the medina (some we had already heard that morning). As the walk progressed I knew we were approaching the tannery. The smell starts blocks away.
We arrived at the ????? Tannery, the one that has been shown on National Geographic and the History channel. This tannery is still using the process that was established in the 13th century, when the tanneries moved from Cordoba to Fes. Everything used is natural, and they have not bent to the use of chemicals as other tanneries have done. When you arrive at the door someone hands you a mint sprig. Anyone who has been here, knows that this is a necessity for most. I decided that I was going to endure the entire experience, so I declined my mint sprig. The smell really is terrible, it must be all the “pigeon poo” to quote our guide. The imagery is very colorful as you look down on the tannery from the rooftop above. I do not know if this diminishes the smell, but it was truly rancid. It could also be all the animal skins. Joseph took a couple of pictures and then sat down toward the middle of the roof next to Bob. I continued to shoot photos to see if you adjust to the smell, nope, or not in the short time we were standing there. On the way down we are shown the leather shop and then the sales floor of goods for sale. I tried on a pair of yellow Moroccan slippers, and Bob said I look like an elf. So, no slippers for me, truthfully they were not all that comfortable.
We left the tannery and we all smelled our arms and wrists, remember we had been doused in oil and perfume earlier in the day. As we walked to the restaurant, we stopped at the embroidery shop and watched the woman work. I guess they only work 2 to 3 hours a day due to the strain on their eyes. Usually 2 women work on the piece at a time with one outlining the pattern and the other filling it in. Once we had the ins and outs, the next step is the mint tea. We are getting good at the head shaking, and Hamead thinks we will have nothing to remember Fes by. I tell him we have plenty of photos. Just around the corner is our the restaurant. We get inside and look at the menu. It is not outrageous, but after only spending 180 Dh on dinner last night it seems crazy to spend 255 per person for lunch. Hamead says we do not have to choose the set menu, we can look at al la carte. This menu was not much better, the soup cost what one of our meals cost the night before. We tell Hamead, that we will not be eating here, it is too expensive and not our desired style.
As we are walking to locate something else, Hamead asks if we want something from a stall, we said that would be great. So he took us to the next stop, his “cousins” Berber rug shop, and then heads out with a couple people. 10 minutes later he arrives with fried fish, fried hearts, bread, and roasted chili pepper sauce. The shop inhabitants seat us at the table they have been occupying so that we can eat. Everyone liked the food until they asked me what it was. Once Joseph and Bob knew it was fried heart, they decided they really did not like it and that I could have them. I should have just told them something else, since they both were already on the second piece before they asked. Once fed, including an additional melon which Bob asked for, we were shown into the blankets room. We looked ate the rugs, blankets, and antigue pieces they had available. The tea was welcome after our meal, and we did not mind sitting and watching as they piled the rugs and blankets higher and higher on the floor.
You try and stop them, but they just keep going. Oh well, another glass of tea and out the door we eventually go. We walk to the entrance of another mosque and get to repeat our process of looking through the door. This time we are a bit in the way, since people are coming and going to prayer. The next destination was to the workshop of the artisan who did the 7 gates metal work. It was not much of a work shop, more of a retail sales shop. I hate to compare, but in Thailand you saw 3-10 artisans working on individual pieces. At some of our stops, you see just one person working and yet the store is full of pieces. Makes me wonder if the person is just a tourist show piece. A bit of a gripe, but a legitimate one.
We were done with shops and had visited everything on our list to see. Hamead invited us to tea at his house, since it was only a block from where the car was parked. He also wanted Joseph to meet his son Yusef (Joseph in Arabic) who was 4. The furniture was great, by furniture I mean couches. The rest of the place had seen better days, but it was still picked up and organized. It was also very pink. The location was good for Hamead, because his mother lived on the opposite side of the street (meaning 8 feet, if that, away).
We made it back to our hotel in one piece and Hamead parked us in the lot closest to the hotel. We paid Hamead, scrambled to find something from America as a gift for him, and then showered and relaxed. Dinner is served at 9, and this time chicken tangine. Not the greatest. But our chef is awesome and he even sampled some of the food.
That was our day. We fell into bed that night and anxiously awaited the next day when we had an early start. We had to be on the road early to make our last destination.