posted Wed, 03 Aug 2005
Steve and I arrived in Fez last night on the train. Yes, it is the city of the red hats. We have seen exactly one man wearing a fez.
Megan is not with us. She had to work. Part of her work included going to a reception at the embassy for the Peace Corps, to which neither spouses nor friends, even friends who are former Peace Corps volunteers and co-founders of the M’town Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Association, were invited.
The tannery in Fez is amazing. It’s really interesting to watch a craft as it has been practiced for over a thousand years. The Rough Guide to Morocco has to make it political, of course. They say, …there could hardly be a more pointed exercise in the nature of comparative wealth. Like it or not, this is tourism at its most extreme. I read that and thought, “What is wrong with watching someone doing honest work? I earned my money doing honest work. I don’t exploit anyone. I didn’t exploit these guys. If you feel so guilty about your money, that’s your problem. Go do penance elsewhere.”
Was I happy about this?
No I was not. I even brought a really cute pink dress with embroidery and beading and my lovely pink sparkly shoes to wear to said reception but now I will not get the chance to dazzle the Morocco US Embassy personnel with my high fashion ensemble. Fine. Their loss.
Instead, Steve and I are having a high time in Fez.
So, some of our – well, my, anyhow, finest time has been shopping. We got to see the Crazy Hassan show at the rug museum/store. Your guide will call a place a “museum,” but that’s really a code word for a place that sells something.
That’s OK. This place had gorgeous rugs and Hassan was hilarious.
He was more than that. As Steve pointed out today and as Megan has pointed out before, Hassan is one of those really smart people in third (or second, as Morocco is) world countries who has done the best with the opportunities he has had. He never got to finish school, but speaks five languages fluently. He has picked them up from his work with tourists. His English is excellent and almost unaccented.
He is funny in English. Those of you reading this who speak another language know how hard it is to be funny in a foreign language. You have to have truly mastered the nuance of the language in addition to the culture to be able to make jokes in it.
He is a master salesman – selling rugs for thousands of dollars. The guy could sell anything – except he really had a passion for the rugs – for their history and for their art. There was a little bit of the BS artist in him, but not much. He knew when to stop. And when he did, he would murmur, “Thank you very much.” The guy had seen an Elvis movie or two.
The Bodacious Redheaded Pediatrician had asked me to buy Judaica for her. Turns out there aren’t many practicing Jews left in Morocco, but according to the owner of an antique shop we visited, the Jews were in Morocco before the Arabs were.
“They were Berber Jews,” Hakim explained. “They were nomads, so they didn’t have a place to put the mezuzah. So they wore it around their neck.”
He showed me the Berber mezuzah necklace and other Berber and Sephardic Jewish silver antique items, including the hand of David and the tool for turning the pages of the Torah. I didn’t want to spend so much money without consulting Ilene first, though.
Meanwhile, the conversation turned to where we were from and what we were doing in Fez.
“My wife works for the Peace Corps,” Steve explained.
No one yet has heard of the Peace Corps, so this statement has been a conversation ender every time.
Hakim was different.
“Oh! Then you know Bruce!” he said as he whipped out the business card of Megan’s boss, the director of Peace Corps Morocco.
“Yes I do,” Steve answered. “How do you know him?”
“He shops here all the time,” said Hakim. “If you are a friend of Bruce, I make a good price for you.”
So Ilene, here’s the plan. I bought the Berber mezuzah and an antique Sephardic mezuzah (both pewter -- $100 for both). Steve and Megan will be returning to Fez, where they will photograph other items in Hakim’s store, email the photos to you, then you decide what to buy. He has some gorgeous things!
OK. I am here at an internet café while Steve watches our stuff at the train station. Our train has been delayed 80 minutes. The internet connection has just gone down, so I will have to print this post and re-key everything tomorrow. This is the worst keyboard I have used in a long time – the keys stick. It’s a good thing it costs only 5D an hour – about fifty cents.
I better get going so I can find us some food for the train. We splurged and got first class tickets -- $10 instead of $7 – for the return trip of 3.5 hours. On the way here, we almost didn’t find seats. They sell tickets without regard to availability of seats, I think. It’s worth a little more (I hope) for traveling in luxury. I would settle just for not having someone’s armpit in my nose.
UPDATE: The train was delayed even longer than 80 minutes for leaving and then once we were on it, the delays continued. The trip home took five hours instead of three. Lovely.