Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trip to Fez

On Tuesday we went to Fez.

The autoroute goes north (well, more like northwest) along the Atlantic, then we left it to take side roads inland. We drove through the cities of Rabat and Kenitra, both choked with traffic. I have figured out the rule of the road here, no matter what the law says. It's simple: if you want to go in a direction and there's room there for your car (or bike or motorbike) at least approximately in that vicinity, then you just go. The first one to get there wins the space. Picture a left turn where cars don't line up to turn left, but swing around to the right of the car waiting to turn, and then others go to the right of that one until you have a thick knot of half a dozen cars waiting to turn left. Naturally, the one that makes the left turn first isn't necessarily the one waiting there longest: it's the one who sees an open space and takes it first. This is either enraging or funny. I'm at the point where it's funny.

North of Casablanca, as opposed to south where we were before, has enough of a different climate to permit many more shrubs and trees, particularly eucalyptus. Unlike the south, there were no rocks in the soil. The "route nationale" we took was gorgeous, especially when we got to about 50 km from Fez. Not a tree, but smooth, gentle fertile hills covered with olive groves and brilliantly golden fields from which wheat had already been harvested: wheat for cous-cous, probably. It looked like Napa Valley, said Rick. It also looks like the hills between Spokane and Pullman in eastern Washington, but far more golden. Every inch of land was taken up with growing things. It was a long trip, though: 7 hours to go only about 300 km, but much of that was the city traffic in Rabat and Kenitra.

Fez is a big city, about a million people, although many live in "la ville nouvelle," the new (= French) city outside the walls. The main part is the medina, or old city. Both of these parts are enclosed in thick walls, as are all the medinas of the towns we've visited so far. The third part of the city is known as the Jewish quarter, because the Jewish population lived there. Now it's more shops, and the Jews have moved to the new part of the city, to Casablanca, or to other countries. I have not picked up any animosity at all to Jews, by the way, although I've been on the lookout for it. Fez is over 1,200 years old, founded in 789.

In the morning we took a "petit taxi" to the medina. Every city has its own system of petits taxis, but each city has its own color for them. They are ubiquitous, cheap, and not air-conditioned, the latter an important factor with weather in the 90s. The market, or souk, is the oldest in the Arab world. The souk is huge: about 1 by 2 miles of labyrinthine alleys lined with shops and old buildings where many thousands of people live. I was told there are 9,400 lanes in the medina. No cars, thank goodness, but hand-wheeled carts with goods piled high, donkeys with goods in saddlebags, and thousands of pedestrians shopping or browsing.

We saw people manufacturing tambourines, weaving cloth on a hand loom, skinning leather (we also went into a courtyard where the fur was removed first from the hides: smelled awful!) and making beautiful designs on brass. We went into a restaurant just to look. The tables were in a courtyard three stories high, but each story was 12 to 15 feet high, with railings around the sides. The ceiling seemed to be 50 feet high, in cedar beams. Everywhere you looked was decorated with mosaics in different patterns, intricately carved cedar, and similarly carved masonry, a riot of patterns and colors. At the entry was a mosaic-lined fountain presumably for rinsing your hands before you eat.

It is Ramadan, as I've said before, and as was true in Casablanca in Fez people thronged around the food stalls piled high with every kind of food imaginable. There were chicken sellers who tied a foot of each live chicken with a line of string so it couldn't wander away: you can buy the chicken for your dinner live. Or pigeon, or duck. On the other hand, you can buy it already dead and carved, but there is no ice for preservation. Hygiene, such as it is, is maintained with the seller swishing the flies off the meat. There are hindquarters of lamb and beef hanging out in the open and attracting flies, and plates of different kinds of fish. Oh well, it's cooked before it's eaten ...

Every few hours you hear the muezzins calling from the mosques through very loud loudspeakers, and afterwards you get glimpses of men praying in rooms off the alleys, lined up with their backsides in the air.

Driving back we saw, as we had coming from the south, many dozens of people selling produce at the sides of the road. The prosperous ones had makeshift stands with roofs for shade, but most filled four or five buckets with figs or grapes or prickly pears and set the buckets out perpendicularly to the road. Another 50 meters, another row of buckets. Times 20. There were fields full of ripening melons and grapes. We bought a yellow melon ("melon jaune" in French) which for a reason I don't know is almost always painted with a circle in red paint around the stem end. That's for tonight's dessert.

Tomorrow we fly to Paris and home on Monday. It could be that the last post to this blog will be from Camano Island when I get home next week, since I didn't find a cyber cafe near the apartment in Paris. It will take me a while to process everything we've seen and experienced! It is getting time to get home, although I have to say that if Sylvie and her family invited us to spend another month here, at the pool and on the veranda, we'd be hard pressed to say no ...

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