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Published: October 27th 2011
we are in olive heaven
We enjoy visiting Muslim nations for many reasons and one of them is lying in bed quite early in the morning listening to the call to prayer, the first of five times each day. In the quiet of the early morning the sounds of prayer bellow out of the silence of the night to awaken the dawn of a new day. The sounds are enthralling and calming. Our experiences have demonstrated that the Muslim people are kind, generous and peaceful no matter what you read in the press. A few bad people have made it difficult for many thousands of kind people whose mission in life is to work hard, love their fellow man, and to make a better life for their families.
Fes is a complex city made up of an intricate labyrinth of twisting and turning alleyways where one can explore the famous souks. We are told there are more than 5,000 markets in this area and we suspect that number may be too low. Fortunately for us we had Abdul as our guide to show us the way or we might never have found our way out. Born and raised in the area he knows them
scoop them up!
well as he played among these souks as a child. To say that it would be easy to get lost would be a gross understatement. The streets are so narrow that there are no autos, trucks or even motorbikes. All the supplies are brought in by cart or donkeys, and they work those poor beasts way too hard for our liking.
The souks (markets) of the medina are in five distinct sections of pottery, linen weavers, tanners, metal workers and rug makers. Fes is the intellectual and artistic capital of Morocco. The finest artist and craftsman are in this area of the country along with some major universities. If you intend to do some shopping while in Morocco, make this your stop.
Our first stop was to see how the pottery is made. It is an extremely labor intensive hand-made process. We were able to view each step of the process from taking the air out of the clay, shaping, and drying it, to finishing, firing and painting. As you might guess the last stop on this educational adventure is the gift shop where they do their level best to sell you the pottery of your
dreams. They also make mosaic tables, which are intricate works. A table seating six to eight people will set you back $4000 U.S. We would love to have one of these Moroccan tables but right now we do not own a house so it was not a good idea. You’ll be happy to know if you come this way shipping is included in the price of the dining room tables. These artists are amazing to watch, as they are incredibly adept at their trade in how they file, chisel and shape each piece to fit together to make some dramatic designs. We found a tangine that we could not live without.
The second stop was the metal workers who deal in brass, copper, silver and jewelry. We were able to watch the artist as he created a lovely brass tray and watched how he etched the design into the metal. No one will be surprised to find out that a small piece of jewelry found its way home with Merry Jo. After she had bargained the price down well over 50 percent of course. Our guide complimented her on her skill and said she would make a fine
Take a ride on a magic carpet……In Morocco you can select from thousands of colors, designs and sizes. We were surprised that even though the price included shipping it was higher than we were expecting. In Morocco, no one pays the asking price. It is expected that you will negotiate a good price for yourself. We were not in the market for one of the amazing carpets so we did not dicker but thought the starting prices were high. The Arabic carpets and the Berber carpets have two distinct styles and designs. Both were equally wonderful.
If you are looking for a new leather jacket or any leather product the tanneries of Fez have much to offer. We climbed several flights of narrow stairs to the rooftop where there shop is located to view the complicated process of drying and coloring the hides. The smell is not very pleasing so they provide you mint leaves to sniff while you are up on the roof. The view of the city was amazing and the process of tanning the hides was educational. It is hard and dirty work. The tanners, potters, and metal workers were all
plying a trade that is handed down from generation to generation. The person working in front of you could easily be the 10th or more member of a generation in the same trade.
We explored the linen weavers and discovered that this is the only area where the prices are set and no negotiation is possible. The work is intricate and magnificent and sadly I only left with a scarf. There were many pieces we liked but just weren’t sure we had a place for them.
Next, Abdul wanted to know if we would like to find a restaurant where we could sit and eat lunch or would we like to do as the Moroccans do. This was a no-brainer of a decision. There was no way we could not pass up that opportunity. He took us to a butcher where he bought some lamb, where they then ran it through the meat grinder with onions and a few spices. Once it was made into a ball they tossed it in a plastic sack and off we went to the griller. Abdul left the meat with one of his friends to cook while he took us to
making mint tea
a local coffee house. Up the twisting, winding staircase to the top he found us a bench to sit on. He ordered us some mint tea and left us to rest with two bags of olives he had purchased in another shop. We sat mesmerized by all the locals who come into the coffee house and placed their orders. The Moroccan barista brewed coffees and simmered the teas. The process is essentially to fill the glass with fresh mint leaves and cover it with steaming hot water. We were excited to be having a real Moroccan experience. If you wanted sugar in your tea, they literally hacked a piece from a rather large block of sugar. This place has undoubtedly been around for a couple of centuries. You won’t find this kind of action at Starbucks!
Soon Abdul returned with our lamb grilled to perfection in a bread pocket. He tells us this is where he and his friends come for lunch. We enjoyed sitting and talking about his work, life and family. He has a friend who lives in Miami, along with the daughter of a friend so we talked a little bit about America.
fresh purchases daily
Moroccan town has an old Jewish medina (city) where the Jewish community congregated. After the state of Israel was established, many Jewish families left Morocco for better opportunities, while others immigrated to France. Abdul pointed out that you could recognize the old Jewish shops as they had their businesses on the ground floor and their residences above. Most have balconies.
Our last day in Fes we woke up to pouring rains and yet we didn’t really mind because we have seen a lot in the past few days. The idea of sitting around enjoying our ryad sounded like a good idea. Mustafa came to pick us up at 10am as planned and we asked if we could postpone our outing until 1:30pm because we were hopeful the rains would stop. This area hasn’t had any rain for months so the locals were happy to see it come. They make reference to the fact that rain brings life. Soon things will be green again.
Mustafa took us to see some healing hot springs and drove us to see the Medical University as he knows we are nurses. From there we went to a wonderful town called Bhalil
where we had the most pleasant surprise. We were introduced to Mohamed Chraibi, the tour guide for Bhalil who is famous in the Moroccan Rough Guides and the Lonely Planet. Bhalil is a town where ancient caves have been turned into homes and we were invited into his home for tea. Mohamed is a clever and humorous character, who entertained us with stories, singing and a tea ceremony. We enjoyed mint tea together and he told us a bit about these cave houses. He is definitely and ambassador of good will and we strongly recommend you pay him a visit if you are in the area.
After our stay in a most beautiful ryad, we move on to our next adventure….
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