TheWay to Fes
September 14, 2007
I always seem to do everything the wrong way.
I took the 11:17 AM train from Rabat to Fes. Uneventful. I sat there and watched the desert shrub lands turn into gently rolling hills, while an English girl sitting kitty-corner from me fumbled about in a vain attempt at making her way to short skirt cover a little more of her pasty white legs. She felt uncomfortable and self conscious. She made me feel uncomfortable for her. But I also felt happy for the Berber man sitting across from her. He was wearing dark sunglasses. He knew that he was privy to a free show.
As the train rolled on I spotted sparse and scattered patches of trees rising out of the hills in the distance. I am in the interior of Morocco now. It feels good to finally be on the inside of such a vast continent as Africa. I would always stare and this big odd looking shape in my beat up Rand McNally Student’s World Atlas when I was a little kid. “Africa is where black people come from,” my mother told me. I then mispronounced the name of the country Niger and smiled to myself that geography and nomenclature were finally coming together. My mother quickly scolded me for this impropriety and then taught me the proper pronunciation of Niger.
But those early map-gazing adventures do leave a lasting impression. I still love map-gazing, even when I am inside of those mysterious shapes. Perhaps part of the romance of travel is dreaming about it. And I would dream into those maps for hours on end. I brought a world atlas with me on these travels, but it quickly walked away from me in a hostel in Casablanca: either it was stolen or it feel behind my bunk and into oblivion. Either way, I am looking for another one.
Fes, or Fez, seems to be an immaculate, magical sort of place. I lost myself for hours yesterday in the winding corridors and crowded bazaars. I entered the old city in my usual “wrong way” method of travelling. I seemed to have walked miles past the main gate and entered the medina over a broken up aqueduct-looking structure on its lee-side. I was then able to walk in peace through the little neighborhoods for hours. This was the old time North Africa that I spent so many years dreaming about. This was the excitement of the “Arab Quarters” that I have always read about. The colorful paint and mashed together walls of the corridors were almost too much to handle- it was too perfect. I walked back into time and could not find my way back out again.
I got lost in these mysterious winding allies. For well over an hour I just tried to get out of the medina. But every way I walked just lead to a dead-end or diluted down into scarcely a crawl hole. The sun was beginning to set, and I did not think that I could manipulate my way out of there in the dark. So at first opportunity I ran through a gate on the opposite side of the medina than I wanted to be on and just walk the long road around the outside.
As I was walking around this ancient palisade, I began thinking of Mira and realized that I do miss her quite a bit. We have not had the opportunity to talk or email each other in over a week. She is working on an archaeology site in the woods of Upstate NY and does not have access to a phone or internet. So I wonder about her. I wonder if she is going to make it over here to Africa like we planned. I suppose my worries are natural. But I also know that they are unwarranted; I found a little diamond in the rough of Central America. I realized this and watched a show of a hundred little birds dizzily flying over my head. There quick moving little forms silhouetted in the dusk light over the ramparts. I knew that everything would be alright, for ever and ever.
I was told that Fes is a feeding ground for “guides,” touts, and carpet hustlers who are highly trained at scamming tourist. But I did not experience any of this, and found it a little peculiar.
Is there something odd about me that keeps even touts away? I began wondering. Do I emit some kind of person repellant that even a merchant is not immune to? I laughed about this aloud, but
my self-investigation became all the more worthwhile that night when I got back to the youth hostel in the Ville Nouvelle.
“I could not keep the touts away from me,” was mantra-call of all the tourists who were sitting around the courtyard.
“They just kept bothering me,” continued the chorus.
“Were you able to stay away from the guides?,” a Spanish boy with facial piercings and a dreaded trend-mullet asked me.
I must have been in a drastically different part of the old city. Maybe I just have a knack for finding places of “un-interest;” places that are so rotten, unattractive, and residential that it is a rarity for someone to ever chance a visit. Or maybe I just do everything the wrong way, as Mira says. But I would have gladly had the glorious day that I did have than that of any of the tourist, who were guided, touted, and bothered throughout their entire time in the medina. I think they were slightly envious of my un-burdened walks through the back allies of the old city of Fez. I would have been.