Yella!

by

Holy Allah in a pita pocket, is it hard to leave Israel. Not just because it’s fascinating and after a mere three days you’re yearning to soak up more. I mean it’s literally tough to get out of the country. Security at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv was a surreal, two-and-a-half hour experience. Every single item, in both my to-be-checked suitcase and my carry-on bags was removed, handled, scrutinized, and swabbed with a wand. (I would have folded with greater care had I known another set of eyes would bear witness to my exploding luggage.) Unfortunately, the side pocket where I’d shoved my laundry was an area of especial interest, earning about four go-throughs. Then there was the body check, in a private curtained booth. My personal security woman (who was very young, and businesslike, but quite pleasant throughout our time together) passed the wand over me thoroughly, then patted me down, then ran her plastic-gloved fingers through my hair, and then finally, in order to confirm that it was indeed just my metal zipper and not some intimately stashed bomb or drugs setting the wand screeching, politely asked me to pull down my jeans. Hey, she didn’t even take me out for a drink first.

The irony: After all that painstaking attention paid to my belongings, they failed to arrive in Morocco along with me. But the next morning, as I sat to a breakfast spread in Fes—the name refers to a pickaxe of silver and gold that the founder of the city used to trace its outlines, back in the 8th century—sipping strong coffee and gazing up at the skylight and tiles and intricate stone latticework and painted wood carvings adorning the atrium of the riad, all at once, incongruously and wonderfully, Frank Sinatra singing “I’ve Got the World on a String” softly piped in. (Of all the gin joints in the world…no wait, that was Humphrey Bogart. And Casablanca. But still, Frank somehow was an oddly appropriate petit dejeuner accompaniment.)

Soon after, we hit the medina in Fes el Bali, winding down several of the labyrinthine 9,500 alleyways. Fes is to Marrakech what Jerusalem is to Tel Aviv—soul versus glitz. The multilingual street signs now featured French instead of Hebrew, along with the Arabic and English. With the smell of cloves and cumin singing in my nostrils, the taste of chickpea cake on my tongue, calls of “Balak!” warning of donkeys trying to pass ringing through the air, babouches and kélims beckoning (“I have a very romantic price,” lured one tout), and hands of Fatima everywhere doing their part to ward off evil spirits, I found myself blissed out nearly to tears. And the lost luggage was forgotten, or at least, forgiven. I would buy some Argan oil and camomile/lavender essential oil to keep me smelling fresh and feeling moisturized until my toiletries found their way to me.

From writer and traveler Susan Orlean:
“I love the jolt you get from travel. I love the freshness and surprise of being in a new place, the way it makes even the ordinary things seem extraordinary and strange. It makes me feel extra-alive.”

(Point of interest: While I longed to photograph the people, most don’t want their picture taken, because they believe that it steals their soul; you have to request permission first. I asked one elderly man standing in a doorway, the afternoon slant of yellow sunlight hitting his face, and he waved his hand and shook his head—calmly, as if he’d been asked this before, but firmly. Similar to the buildings being so ornate on the inside, but plain on the outside—because the spirit is considered more important than the appearance.)

(Also: The last photo below is called a “harem window”—women can look out without being seen. More on the hiddenness of women in my next post.)

Yella, allons-y—let’s go.

tannery


Hand of Fatima—closed, like an olive branch, Tunisian influence


Shrine to Moulay Idriss (great-grandson of Prophet Mohammed and founder of Fes)

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6 Responses to “Yella!”

  1. BK Says:

    Wow. I’m kind of blown away by this post. First, there’s the detail and the insight. It’s not ordinary and is quietly astounding in its clarity and detail. Then there’s she subtle wit and humor than weaves in and out so gracefully as to not call attention to itself but yo make you, the reader, pat yourself on the back for noticing it. THAT’s generous and good writing, to be sure. Thank you Sarah Saffian for this post. I traveled. I saw. I felt compassion. Kudos.

  2. Margie S. Says:

    I loved reading this. It was as rich with image and color and feeling as if I was there. It made me wish for more….

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    • sarahsaffian Says:

      Motorcycle Lens: Apologies for my delay, but I only now read your comment from back in February. I’m unclear what your question is, exactly: Are you asking about the blog itself? If so, it was through the International Writing Program, which invited us on this delegation to Israel and Morocco; i.e. I posted on the blog, but didn’t set it up myself. But it’s all through WordPress, which is easy enough to navigate. If that’s not your question, please post another comment to clarify. And thanks much for your interest! All best, SS.

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