The Fes Medina: Tangles of Stone, Leather and Shimmering Bronze

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Thursday, a friend and I headed to Fes stocked with chicken and cheese sandwiches, Paprika-flavored chips, multiple cameras and ambitious plans to explore Fes’s vast hillside medina.

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Fes’s medina is a hot tangle of narrow streets populated with stone- and bronze working stalls, determined pack donkeys and sleepy cats. Thanks to its farm animals and tanneries, the place is infused with a sweet, rotten and overall pungent layering of smells that would drive Perfume’s murderous Grenouille wild.

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Entering a madrasa (Islamic school), we stepped out of the medina’s stifling chaos and into a peaceful, ornate courtyard.

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The curling designs on the school’s walls and wooden doors seemed restless, and were as mesmerizing as a bonfire.

DSCN1651 We continued through the medina. While watching for potentially murderous donkey carts – which sometimes forced us to jump into unmarked, dark doorways and attentive shopkeepers’ stalls – we examined stacked bottled rose – and orange blossom water:

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Fermented animal fat:

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Roosters singing praise to the narrow slats of sky above.

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And queer Bible mentions:

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 We found dusty stonemasons finding Islamic designs in luminescent slabs:

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And beaded Berber jewelry sold by a man who’d traveled across the world, as he happily proved through his excellent English language skills and a picture of him posing with a kangaroo.

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Then, we found cactus silk, an agave plant derivative spun mainly in Morocco, in a large, elegant shop. (Some people say that cactus silk is simply a scammy, price-increasing term for rayon, but my fellow traveler has seen it being harvested and says it’s real.) As my friend bargained with the shopkeepers over iridescent blue bedspreads and traditional poufs, a shy employee showed me how to use his loom.

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The Fes medina should only be explored in short bursts, as it can quickly sap even an experienced traveler’s energy. After a couple of hours running around the labyrinthine streets, my friend and I were quite exhausted. We decided to make one last stop, though, at the tanneries…

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Next Week: Sweet Mint and Sharp Smells at Fes’s Whiffy Tanneries

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