Diving into Fes with a guide

Trip Start Apr 04, 2006
Trip End Oct 23, 2006

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Morocco  ,
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Her name is Hatima & 4 of us girls had her for the whole day; cost 250dh per guide (that's $28 US or $33 Cdn).  Of course, the joke was that each of us paid her 250dh ... misunderstood our tour leader ... :-)

Short descriptions of our day (in no particular order):

Pottery Cooperative
Local clay (to Fes) is grey & it is all prepared by hand. After preparation, the clay is either shaped on the potter's wheel or made into plain flat tiles. For decoration, either the pieces are hand painted in a few of the 350 memorized patterns or completely glazed & the designs are created by chipping away the glaze with a pick axe & hammer. The finished look is that of a slight relief. The tiles are done in batches that are one of six colours of glaze. Then, they are decorated either in the "relief" style or made into mosaics following these 4 steps:

1. Shapes are drawn on the glaze with a white pen (like tailor's chalk)
2. Pick axe breaks the tile following the markings - this is a rough cut
3. A sharper pick axe & a more precise hit cleans the lines
4. The shapes are assembled UPSIDE DOWN on the floor (glaze side down) in a pre-determined design & the mortar is poured over it. And it's not as if you can turn over the piece before pouring to see if you made a mistake.

Silk Cooperative
The silk comes from the white fibres inside the cactus plant that looks like a giant aloe vera. I know, I didn't know that either :-) It is quite amazing because it looks like shiny nylon thread but it feels like silk. All the dyes used are from natural pigments - eg: yellow is from saffron; orange is from henna; blue is from indigo; etc. Naturally, I purchased several pieces of fabric that is hand dyed and woven. One piece is large enough to cover my bed & serves as a great example of all the types of colouring & weaving styles.

Embroidery Cooperative
A type of cross stitch (that does not really cross) is done on white cotton. It's not really cross stitch as the finished product is reversible. You cannot tell which is the wrong side.

Carpet Cooperative - Oh my gosh!!!
Rolls upon rolls of beautiful carpets were opened to us as we were sipping mint tea. There were wool, kilim, silk, ... oh la la ... . They say that you can't leave Fes without a carpet. I have left without one but it's not because I didn't fall in love with two of them (one in wool & one in silk). I did not budget for them; my budget is static; I couldn't see the money re-appearing by the time I got to Egypt ... oh, but the prices were hard to beat ... sigh ...

It is smelly but you can get through it by clutching a bunch of fresh mint leaves to your nose. The process is interesting. I think that all of the hides come to Fes to go through this process. Some of them stay here to be finished into sandals, bags, poof covers, belts, coats, etc & the rest are shipped all over Morocco to be finished. I exercised restraint & only purchased a pair of closed-toe slippers. Of course, our personal clerk was trying hard to sell me a jacket that was about 6ozs in weight & felt like butter. There is just no room in the backpack (smile). Sharon, between the silk scarves & leather coats - both in every conceivable colour - you would have lost your mind here!!! AND you would have been able to afford one of each in each colour.

Ok, so the great thing about cooperatives is that there is a guarantee behind the quality of the work. Silk is always 100% silk & wool carpets are always 100% wool, etc. The prices are fixed so there is no real negotiation as in the souks, BUT, for us foreigners, the fixed price is still ridiculously cheap. By supporting this business, workers can have regular wages. You will always find cheaper in the souks, but you'll never be sure of the quality because there is no standard or requirement for labels. At these prices, I encourage the support of the co-ops unless you are not shopping with authenticity in mind. Lastly, a note about the carpet co-op. They sell the wool carpets that are made on the premises by Berber women. The wool is local, handspun, hand dyed, & hand woven/knotted. The price is fixed per square meter in 3 categories - each determined by the number of knots per square meter. The co-op will also sell carpets that are 'antiques' - meaning that they are not currently made, but are high quality 2nd hand. These include other wools, kilims, & silks. The prices on these are all negotiable. If you intend to support a co-op, be sure to buy a Berber wool carpet (at the fixed price) before you buy one of the others. The Berber women only receive the money from their carpets when they are sold. So ... when you come to Fes, you must leave with 2 carpets (smile).

The Fes medina has over 10,000 streets - no joke! If any of you reach some point in your life where you are saying, "I don't know what to do with my life", then come to Fes and learn all of these streets. This city is said to be the cultural heart of Morocco - very, very true. I love it here! The creativity & the confusion that have been the same for centuries. I am quite aware of how small I am in the face of this place that has been standing & working in much the same way since the 7th century AD! "Fes is the most ancient of Imperial Cities and the most complete medieval city in the Arab World. It is divided into 3 parts - Old Fes: built in the 7th century; New Fes: built in the 14th century; Ville Nouvelle (new city): built in 1920s." One of the places that I will return to see is Qarrawiyyin - the oldest university in the world. It was built by a woman - Fatima - and, although it is closed for renovations, you can see the 7 doors around the perimeter. Each one is different & impressive to behold!

After a full day in the medina, the younger women in our group all went to a local hammam (bath house). It was explained that local meant very basic (bring your own stuff) & communal with local women. I loved the experience & will save the full descriptions for the women on my return home. It does not seem appropriate to discuss in mixed company - sorry guys. A bit of the female modesty of Morocco has rubbed off. There was just enough energy left to crawl into bed for a good sleep.
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: