Tuesday, December 25, 2018
We had a latish breakfast. The breakfasts are really heavenly. This time besides the delicate omelet there was a small crepe, dainty as a lace handkerchief, a shellacked cushion of anise bread and another cushion of corn bread, all warm and fragrant accompanied by honey, butter, cheese, apricot jam, and strawberry jam. The usual fresh orange juice plus endless pots of coffee.
We walked out of the hotel’s tiled passages to the street and turned left to go to Tala ‘a Kbira. Again we were headed for the mosque. I can’t remember whether we never made it there the day before or if the doors were closed. This time the great doors were open and we had glimpses of the green and white tiled interior accompanied, as a flute might drift above a cello, by green branches, but only glimpses. The Karaouyine mosque is largely surrounded by the bazaars. One sees, about six feet up extending across the opening of passages into the bazaars from the mosque, metal or wooden bars. These mark the boundary of the horm, the area of sanctuary around the mosque.
Dodging carts loaded with brilliant oranges, stacked with tottering six-packs of soda, detritus from gutted buildings, donkeys heavily loaded with skins or anything else possible, we worked our way to Place Seffarine, an open area with an ancient tree, leaning, stunted and heavily pruned, where you are deafened by people pounding on brass and copper pots which they are fashioning into the required shapes. Accompanying this pounding were two men, one African with a grizzled beard, the other Moroccan and younger in striped djebllas wearing hats between pill boxes and turbans with tassels attached on long leashes which, as they pounded on their drums, they whirled happily around their heads for cash.
This square with its copper and brass pots, its stumpy old tree shedding bark in pale patches and the remains of the water clock on Tala ‘a Kabira became my two favorite locations in Fez. Seffarine, however, is an outrageously noisy place and difficult to tolerate for long. Also, it is a center of milling tourists, which is unappealing. We luckily took the wrong way out of the square and the tourists quickly evaporated. The nice thing about tourists is that they have a narrow track that they follow and once you step off that path you are immediately in another world. This was a shabby world of tiny shops reselling things slightly damaged, elderly men and women begging, children chasing each other and a number of miniscule restaurants around a small tree whose base was heaped with things that might be useful someday and a convention of cats. We took note of the location of the square and headed toward the tanneries in the correct direction this time.
As we came closer we caught whiffs of the tanneries. Someone carrying a bouquet of fresh mint stopped us and presented us each with a branch. This was a big help. The tanneries are, of course, heavily touristed and therefore the hassle factor is high. We climbed up a stair sniffing our mint with each step to look down on the terrible vats in which the skins are dyed. It is a colorful sight but a deadly occupation for the men who work here. Their lungs are eaten out by the chemicals and as they tread on the skins in the dying process they are poisoned through their skin by the dye. There is also a store on the terrace from which you view the pools of dye.
We walked further on to climb the stair to a second terrace, which gives a wider view. It reminded me of being in Bangladesh on the coast where barefoot men, with no protective clothing, take great, rusty ships apart with acetylene torches. There are jobs that are done by those with neither education nor options.
There were some charming yellow, little slippers on our way through the wind of streets haunted by the tannery odor but the asking price was ridiculous and we were going to have to inhale during the bargaining process.
Finding our way back through the alleys punctuated by little shops and huge iron bound doors, we came out into the Sefferine, not difficult to find, just follow the sound of pounding. We took a left to the tree surrounded by restaurants. I had a lamb tagine, delicious, while a complacent, black and white cat, sure that if she waited in well-mannered silence she would receive, kept her big green eyes fixed on every movement of my fork. Of course she received a little lamb. Allah will provide even to cats.
An elderly man with a fine bushy grey beard came begging and the women behind us bought him lunch. We gave him a little change. One of the fine characteristics of Islam is that people follow its tenants and give to those in need. On the other hand I find the brusque way Moslem men and women as well brush or even barge past you without a murmur of apology irritating after a few days.
Leaving the restaurant we circled and doubled back on ourselves three times until we found entering Sefferine plaza an embarrassment. Kathy figured the right way out and we climbed up Tala’a Kbira to cross over to Tala’a Sghira climb up more, and slip into the lane leading to our wide wooden doors.