I originally thought of going to Fes Saturday, but when I awoke to rain, wind, and a Mid-Atlas chill, I decided to wait until the weather cleared. Cleared is something of a misnomer, but clearer did indeed arrive with Sunday morning. Still, clouds were rolling by as I walked out the campus gate and toward town to catch a grand taxi, having not found any small taxis near the university exit due to the absence of the students on a four-day holiday.
At the bottom of the hill, just a couple of blocks from centre ville, I saw two gentlemen preparing to board a bus that was headed in the direction of …Fes. On impulse, I decided to take this less-swishy version of between-city buses. Good choice. Plus, these “normal citizen” buses are less expensive. Only 15 dirhams. The seat was comfortable and I didn’t get car sick because the bus itself was lower in height and so didn’t sway so much from side to side. The ride took across two plateaus where crops were bursting with green vitality. The recent rains have done so much for the crops although the early year scarcity means that some crops didn’t get a great start. As we gradually descended, the carpet of rocky outcroppings interspersed with plowed and growing fields gave way to larger expanses of leafy, sprouting, verdant farms.
And I saw the Moroccan miracle of spring – Amid the youthful, thin, waving stalks of wheat uncountable numbers of small, red poppies. So glorious a sight is only available before the grain and other crops are tall enough to cover the spring fling of wild flowers. While the poppies are my favorite, such an unexpected vibrancy in a rarely colorful land, pinks, yellows, marigold orange, white, and purple blooms also make an appearance, pleasing the eye for brief seconds as the vehicle races by. When I lived in Settat, I used to walk in the country this time of year, passing through the fields and their massive bouquets of glorious flowers. Arrived at the Mahatta Tauriqia (Bus station – also grand taxi station but not for grand taxis to Ifrane) at around 12:30 – the trip taking about an hour and a quarter from Ifrane.
I asked a waiting small taxi (In Fes they are painted red.) for a ride to Bab Boujuloud. He told me that the Bab was just about 200 meters away, so why waste the ride. In fact, a Bab was 200 meters away, but not the one I sought. Still, I went in, past the ancient walls 15 feet thick and into a sort of courtyard. Two men were squatting by one of the walsl holding a bird. Its chirps were audible and, at first I thought that it was a bird they had captured for sale. My assumption was wrong. Looking like a victim of the Pacific Gyro, the bird, a starling (not my fav but I have compassion for all winged creatures even if they were transplanted by an idiot from England.) was caught up in a pernicious web of thread and plastic, all wound tightly around its leg. The men were working laboriously to free the bird without injury. An added problem was the dead carcass of a young chick, also snarled in the fibrous mess.
At last, frustrated by the determined web, one of the men wanted to gently burn the tangle away. I asked them to wait as I fished for my nail clippers. I handed them over and watched as he applied them to each tiny piece of fiber. At last, though they were making progress, I couldn’t look any longer at that tiny corpse dangling seemingly from its mother’s captured foot. I wouldn’t want the clippers back after its grisly task anyway, so I told them to keep the clippers and I headed into the medina.
First stop, coffee and a petit pan, since I’d yet to breakfast. The rains returned to drip down on shoppers, and I sipped slower in hopes of it passing. It did somewhat and I passed through Bab Boujuloud and into a maze of alleys. One of the things I noticed was that artisan shops which had lined the main alley have given way to clothing and shoe shops, scarf sales and perfumeries. It is still a fascinating place, but the gnarled hands of men working an ancient craft are gone, well, diminishing. So are the donkeys, although as narrow as the lanes are, and therefore unuseable by motored haulage, the donkeys may last a while longer. I actually got bumped by a passing donkey cart because my ears weren’t attuned to the warning call.
The walk was largely a matter of dodging rain drops, taking quick refuge under awnings, and watching out for the spills of make-shift plastic varieties that dumped a bucketful every 10-15 minutes. Briefly I recalled my visit to the Morocco Mall in Casablanca, a vast modern fantasy world of high-end shops, Starbucks, and creature comforts. The souk in Fez isn’t anything like that on a rainy day, but it is still worth doing. A couple of scarves, a pair of earrings, lunch of chicken tagine, a small bottle argane oil, and long silver chain later, I was ready to go do more regular shopping at Marjane (Wal-Martesque).
Carless, I grabbed another cab, shopped for just the items I could reasonably haul, stuffed them in my goufa (plastic fiber reuseable shopping bag) and took another taxi to the grand taxi stand where I bought the front passenger seat (counts as two) and had an easy ride back into the mountains. When I arrived, winter had returned with sleet and wet snow flakes. The half mile to my apartment from the main gate was daunting so one of the shuttle buses gave me a lift. Sigh.