Tuesday, 20 December 2011

To Fez

The ferry was packed. Lots of foot passengers, bus tours and returning Moroccans for the holiday (which we were unaware of at the time)I spied a MEC logo and spoke briefly with a fellow from Calgary traveling with his family. Elke stood in line and waited as it inched forward and the customs guys stamped passports.
All around me folks were snapping pictures through the salt sprayed windows, I figured I'd catch those sights on the return voyage... Apparently I'm a slow learner. Those opportunities when they arise need to be acted upon in the moment. There is only this moment.
A walk, a taxi ride and onto the train to Fez. More dirty windows not conducive to picture taking, I gaze out at the landscape. At one point some young boys heave rocks at the train breaking through the window in the next compartment and shattering the glass in the corridor. Yikes!

I see much garbage lining the tracks in every settlement, mostly plastic bags and bottles. Otherwise an amazing landscape, hills with folks herding sheep and goats, lots of rocks, triangular piles of hay covered in tarps or cob, donkeys loaded down with piles of hay or pulling carts loaded with people, kids playing kickball.
We follow a river up, the water a turgid brown. It winds around back and forth under the tracks, deeply etched into the grey and red soil. The vegetation marks it's passage; shrubby trees and grass, some olive orchards and occasionally citrus irrigated by the seasonal flood.
A fellow gets on and wants to know all about us, wants to help, calls ahead and arranges a place to stay, in a Riad including pick -up by the owners daughter!
He also shares with us the story of Eid Al-Kabir "The Festival of Sacrifice" One of the most holy days in the Muslim calendar. Actually three days, where family returns home, a sheep (mostly) goat or cow is slaughtered respectfully in accordance with Abraham's obedience to God.

In the morning our "friend" from the train sends around a fellow who brings us to the tannery where we are plied with mint tea and shown around.
Up on the roof we can see the piles of skins, bigger piles of drying wooland vats for soaking, dying and I'm not sure what else.

Working our way down we enter the showroom through a rainbow of bags, shoes and jackets.

How hard is it to resist this sales pitch? on our first day?
I do manage to stop myself from buying more than one pair of shoes.
Our guide then offers us a tour of the Medina. Moving quickly, luckily for me, past stalls loaded with jewelry, ceramics, spices, lamps, carpets, djbellahs, shirts and shoes, big baskets of live snails, chickens, goat heads

and everywhere they call out "Ali Baba, come see , the very best, cheap prices etc" A few stops to see carpets on the loom,

pottery painted, embroidery and a Riad being renovated.
After a few days of wandering we did manage to achieve some sense of where we were. Although frequently some young fellow tried to take us on a tour, his hand out at the end for payment.
I felt a compulsive energy around those Medina shops, the desire to purchase certainly encouraged by a mix of the exotic, colours, scent, and the insistent banter of the merchants. Unfamiliar to the process I found myself feeling both embarrassed at my "wealth" and offended by their assumption of it. Realistically we had enough "stuff"to carry around already and yet ... those beautiful plates, that exquisite jewelry, those mind blowing patterns painted on wooden panels or woven into the carpets...

I restricted myself to photographing as much as I dared, later regretting not being more insistent or pushy myself to record the beauty. Although, always in the back of my mind, I had a sense of taking away something that belonged there.
The preparation for the holiday celebrations impacted us dramatically when we went to the bus to arrange a tour south to the gorges and the desert. Suddenly it was not happening, all the buses were full.
A passerby overheard our conversation and dangled a carrot... A grand taxi (Mercedes) south with 4 others leaving that very night...Do I want to imagine, much less experience, myself jammed into a car for an 8 hour drive with 4 others PLUS the driver? And of course , all our "stuff"?
We had another pleasant evening with our host at the Riad

watching Turkish soap opera dubbed in Arabic drinking mint tea and in the morning took the train to Marrakech.

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