Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018
We decided to go further afield, to the area known as Fez el Andalous, which meant coming down Tala’a Kbira and crossing the river. I am not sure which bridge we crossed over. Unfortunately the river has had a concrete channel created for it, making me think of the Los Angeles River which is more concrete than river, but the Fez River in its present state is a major triumph of a local young woman educated at Columbia and Harvard, Aziza Chaouni. She was the driving force, which helped the local government to turn the river from a lethally polluted sewer into a now largely un-littered stream. It had been covered over with concrete because its fumes were so noxious. Not only did the raw sewerage of the Medina flow into it but all of the chemicals from the tanneries, infiltrating the water table. It may not be a green place yet but it is a triumph none-the-less.
The buildings around the river are recent and are decorated with modern tiles that are cheerful and brilliant against their tan background. This was also the area of the university, a famous institution in its day. It has not returned.
El Andalous, or al Andalous is an area settled by Andalucians, Moslems who left Spain in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella reconquering Spain declared it an exclusively Christian country.
We walked up the hill to the Mosque Andalous, which we could not enter, through streets that felt totally different from those on the other side of the river. There seemed to be more space, more air, a lighter sense of life here. People talked or shouted greetings to each other. They seemed in less of a hurry. We walked into the court of something, probably a mosque, where a woman motioned to us that we could not enter but gave us each a small, white candle as a consolation prize.
We came back across the river. Climbing up Tala ‘a Kbira, we came to a shop we had noticed in our previous perambulations because its lamps were more interesting than most. I have been enamored of the Moroccan pierced brass lamp and the Moroccan stained glass lamp since I first saw them. I carried one of the stained glass variety all the way back to the US with me on my first trip to Morocco in 1960. Unfortunately, it was squashed by the heavy plaster cartouche it was attached to in my Brooklyn house when the cartouche detached itself from the ceiling one night and descended via the electric wires of the lamp to the floor. The shop was large and full of lamps casting, from their piercings, flecks of lights like swarms of insects to dance among the shadows of the shop. Kathy bought a gorgeous one shaped, most unusually, like a doughnut, that when not on looks unpierced but in darkness when illuminated casts a complex and delicate dance of patterns shinning from its piercings.
Kathy asked the older man who was obviously in charge why his lamps were better. He told her proudly, “Because I employ designers.” He also said that he designs many of them himself. The workmanship is quite fantastic.
I showed him the card of the jewelry shop we had seen with our guide. He drew a map, which amazingly we were able to follow. They remembered us at the shop. I searched out the green necklace; Kathy, still feeling dubious about the quality of the moonstones looked them over again. There are seemingly endless cases displaying necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.
We both bought after bargaining quite well. I got him down the equivalent of a hundred euros.
We had a late lunch at the Clock Restaurant, on the top floor with views out to various solid, square minarets. I had an excellent couscous with delicious roast chicken that looked as though it had been lacquered. Getting up those stairs to the roof was a real haul but worth it.
We walked home through the familiar streets but on the lane, Derb al Horra, that took us from Tala’a Kbira to Tala’a Sghira a man stepped out of a door way and motioned us in. This is one of those situations where being two is a godsend. Alone I would never have followed the man, in working clothes and his better dressed companion into the dark entry way and corridor that led into the house. The companion asked for an entry fee of about 2.50 U.S. The better-dressed man tried to explain to us in French where we were and what we were looking at.
What we entered was an old house, in a terrible state of abandonment and decay, called Dar Ba Mohammed Chergui, Chergui for short. It was straight out of Omar Khayyam,
“They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:”
Well, maybe not the Lion but certainly that Lizard and all his relations. The garden was hip high in grass and smelled of jasmine. The fountain’s tile work was barely discernable, it was so engulfed in weeds and white banks of jasmine. A few orange trees laden with glowing globes struggled against the encroachment of their wilder neighbors. Some windows were broken; others still shown with brilliant reds and yellows. A chandelier dangled its wires, its arms askew. Shutters, ceilings, walls were painted with entrancing designs or vases of flowers. Archways were filigrees of white honeycombs or exuberant stalactites of many colors. Everything was vivid with color and design.
With limited French we understood that the house had belonged to a man with three wives but it had been bought by someone from Qatar who could not get money into the country to fund the renovation because of “political” problems. We later saw a huge poster advertising a new hotel to be constructed from the Chergui and another mansion. It certainly will be grand if it ever happens. In the meantime the Lizard is in possession.
We were greeted at our hotel’s outer door by our plume-tailed friend. I begged permission for his entry. He came and sat with us over tea.