Beyond exotic, it is like stepping back in the medieval times and believe me they are not putting on a show, that is how they dress, they manufacture and sell things, in the most rustic, traditional and pure manner you can possibly imagine, fascinating, when you walk through the old medina ‘Fes el Bali’ your senses get sharpened in all imaginary ways, it is crowded but one doesn’t feel harassed or stressed, it doesn’t feel hostile or oppressive like a crowd of that size in narrow alleyways like its medina could feel, there is harmony in the craziness.
The heat combined with the level of humidity is overwhelming, I have experienced 48 degrees celsius with humidity that meant my clothes wouldn’t stay dry and breathing was difficult which helped me with one of my main objectives of this trip, to slow down, I felt like I could do one visit or activity per day but this only added to the laid back feel of it.
Absolutely everyone talks to you or they did to me, as a woman alone I was a rare specie there, when I say everyone I mean the male because you don’t see women or very few in the area of commerce and when there are some they are in the background, you mainly see them buying, walking about but they are shy and avoid interaction so it is the men you deal with but in Fez I felt at easy, they are not aggressive, they want to talk and charm you, they know their limits seemed like apart from few that after a stronger posture they would get it too.
One day I wore a Brazilian t-shirt and that caused a very positive effect, from then onwards, everyday I had to stop to talk about football and some other topics they knew about Brasil, I also wore a ‘Djellaba’ their traditional outfit for a couple of days and that awarded me compliments and smiles even from women.
Some people would approach you with a piece of information hoping they could be your guide unofficially in exchange of ‘some change’ , at first you think they are being friendly then you realise they will charge you for it, again that mixed feeling comes back and you regret being nice to them as they approached you and were nice to you only for interest but on a second thought you can’t help but understand they are only creating an opportunity for survival and from an interest point of view it is a great way to get guided through the very confusing narrow alleyways of Fes al Bali learning a little bit about the history or how the various manufactories work including for silk, rugs, leather and others. The quality of the guiding is restricted by the language barrier , they also take you to shops where they explain the process of everything in the hope you buy something which would also mean some commission to the unofficial guide, the English language of the salesman is normally really good and they don’t harass you too much if you don’t want to buy. At the end you give the guide some change and they are happy and you are happy to see them happy, to have had some nice interactions and learnt about some fascinating and original ways of doings things…
The senses that get particularly awaken while strolling across Fes el Bali are the visual and smells.
Visually you see the most beautiful garments made of cactus silk, high quality leather, beautiful djellabas, oh the jewellery my weakest point is at its best there but in the tent next door you would also see raw meat hanging, animal heads, intestines and testicles for show in the front bar and a little further down you would marvel yourself with colourful spices, herbs and as you walk along you also see beautiful and colourful ceramic, rugs you also come across little restaurants selling street food and then you spot some beautiful doors which lead you to stunning historical sites such as the Madrassas (Medersa) which you can visit at a small fee or mosques with you can’t enter if you are not a muslim.
In the medina you also find the tanneries, where they colour the leather again in a very traditional way using plants to generate different colours such henna, saffron, indigo, poppies and others.
The smells … ah the scents follow the visual across the whole medina which smells of mint, incense, leather, raw meat, grilled kofta, fabric, soaps, different essences, herbs, spices…
I guess the smell that stand out and the intensity one feels them is personal to certain extent, for me the smell of raw meat mixed with a certain spices used in Moroccan food just impregnated my nose, no matter where I went I would have the same smell under my nose, even in my bedroom in the evening, but it wasn’t a bad smell, it was just over powering and as smells are very important for me, this particular one represented all I had seen in Fes, the traditional way of doing things, less structured compared to modern societies, here where there are more acceptance and tolerance to what can be exposed to the senses, mixing the pleasant and the real!
I want to mention that at no point I felt disgusted or feeling of repulse, it doesn’t feel or look dirty and as I said there is an incredible unexpected harmony in how all of these function.
I liked the energy of Fes!