Monday, July 30, 2012

Fes, Morocco June 2012

Fes, June, 2012

Of all the cities in Morocco that I was looking forward to, Fes had to be the second one that I most wanted to visit.  It is home to the oldest Souq in Morocco and one of the oldest in the world.  It’s been a functioning market for over 800 years.  I enjoyed the train, as it is clean, run well, and air conditioned.  It was also practically empty... though not quite empty enough.    I had been warned by guidebooks and by trusted people in other Moroccan cities that the touts in Fes were the worst in all of Morocco.  
As I boarded the train to Fes from Casablanca, I found a car with no one in it except one older man.  He got off after a couple of stops and “Farud” entered.  Farud spoke pretty good English and when I asked him he said that he had a restaurant in Tokyo...which didn’t explain how he knew English...  even showed me a picture of his Japanese wife, who looked about as Japanese as most Moroccans do.  He was a very fast talker and asking a thousand questions a minute.  Very assertive.  
  “I do not like this guy!”  I said to myself.  
  “Where are you staying?” he asked.
I knew of a Riad that I was not staying so I told him.
  “I have an American friend who just opened a brand new Riad.  Very clean.  AC... Wifi”
‘No thanks,” I said, “I’ve got one.”
“How much you pay?” he asked.
“25 Euro a night,” I replied.
“Too much.” he replied with a dismissal of his hand.  “My friend can get you a room for 1/2 that.”
“No thanks!” I assured him, unfortunately he had gone stone deaf.
“Here, talk to him,” he said as he handed me the phone.”  
"Hello?" I said, not sure what I was about to get into.  Maybe the ear piece had knock-out powder on it.  
"Yes, this is Jason!" the phone replied..." I have a brand new riad... with ac, wifi, and very very  clean." 
   At least that is what I think he said, as his accent, (and it was not a Brooklyn accent) was so strong.   I finally convinced him that I was not interested and he wanted to talk Farud.  At the next stop, without so much as a "goodbye, see ya, have a nice trip" he got off the train.
I was so sorry to see him leave...NOT!
    Fes is suppose to be on everyone's agenda to visit, but I saw very little that made me think that if I had skipped it, I would have missed much.  Maybe I was tired. Maybe I was hot.  Maybe not.  
    As I left the train station to get a cab to my riad, a 40ish man approached me and said he worked with the Morocco Tourism Dept., and showing me a badge that was a 3rd maybe 4th grade forgery at best.  The conversation was rough and I won't go into great detail except to say that sometimes, kindness is perceived as a weakness.  He kept wanting me to go with him to his cab which was not at the train station.  I kept telling him that if he had a cab, bring it to the train station.  When he would act like he didn't understand, I'd start to walk away from him. At one point he grabbed my arm and I let into him.  He continued with the "come... we go to my cab!"  I  continued to ignore him and found a very old man who actually DID have a cab at the train station.  I negotiated with him, all the while the man is screaming at the old man, as if I belonged to him.  The old man tried to ignore him and told me to get in the cab... "Where is a friggin' cop?!?!?!" was all I could think.  
    So I'm sitting in the cab and I look out the back window and see the guy pushing the old man around.  "That is i!,"  I thought. I got out and the old man was taking my back out of the trunk and told me to find another cab. I did, and actually even got a better price, though I felt sorry for the old man.    Welcome to friggin' Fes!!

The red cab is the one that gave me a ride to the Riad and eventually I walked from there to the Souq.  The cabs all look like they've been to hell and back.  The gate in the background is the very beginning for the Souq and is remarkably preserved to be over 1000 years old.  

    This old man is delivering gas to the restaurants in the Souq.  I felt so safe knowing that he smoked, the people he delivered to smoked, their customers smoked....Let's all get blown up together!!   Yet, it all seems to work.
    I visited another tannery in Fes, mostly because I met someone who had said that it was even better than the Marrakech tanneries.   Also because I got a 12 year boy to be my guide.  Okay, he got me.  I never asked him to be my guide.  He just walked in front of me and, as we passed different "points of interest", he would say, "This is where to buy spice!"  and "This is place to buy almonds", and so on.  This is looking down into the outdoor tannery.  It's where they dye the leathers and is incredibly stinky.  I don't fully understand it, but this is where pigeon poop is used in the process.
    As much as I appreciated his useless banter, he was totally unnecessary.  At the end, after the tanneries, I gave him 5 dirhams, but...  (remember this is Fes) some older and bigger kid came and the kid gave him the dirhams.  "Fine" I thought, "If that's how you want to invest your money, so be it."   Then he came back to me and asked, er... demanded more money, and I told him no.  Little language barrier here, but "NO", is pretty universal.  The older kid tried to explain.  I laughed, "REally, you are trying to explain that I should be part of your scam??"  Scram!     Man, I love Fes!!    Oh did I mention that it's 110 degrees?
    To get an idea of how big these "pots" are, look in the NE corner to see a man working under an umbrella.  It's good to see that his union is looking after him and got him some shade!
    Speaking of the riad... (I really need to work on these segways), Here is what it looks like.  It's four stories with a balcony on top for hanging laundry.  I nearly scalped myself... twice!!.  Once on the balcony when I didn't duck for the third ibeam and once going into the manager's office to pay.  Why her door was only 5'11" is beyond me.  
     My room was not something that I would recommend to anyone but it did have one saving grace that the nicer rooms did not have... AC!  God bless whoever invented AC.  He must have been one "cool" dude!

To get to the riad, was a bit of a maze, but once I found it, it was fairly easy to get to the Souq and back...  go out the door, turn right where the huge dog droppings are... go to you see a Coca-Cola sign and turn left, then right at the little hole in the wall shop that I bought my water in, turn right again where the fountain is and left at the huge pothole... and viola... the Souq!
      I wanted to see another part of Fes so I headed in the opposite direction of the Souq.  I passed a private school complete with an artificial turf for it's soccer field.  Soccer is one of those sports that's much more fun to play than to watch, though with the Euro Cup, it's been more interesting to me.  Still.... widen those goals!!!!
   As I began my decent back to the riad, I came across this kid selling apples in really cool looking baskets.  I asked him if he minded if I took his picture and he gave me the okay.  A few minutes later, as he's pushing the cart, one of the baskets breaks open and apples were rolling down the hill.  I helped him pick them up and it made me think of the story of the lion and the mouse.  

This is a picture of what appears to be Morocco's Declaration of Independence complete with the names on it.  Makes me think of what happened to these guys who signed it.  They didn't get their independence from France for another 12 years after this manifesto was signed.


A nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.  ~Elmer Davis

You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.  You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.  
~Erma Bombeck


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