Posts Tagged ‘fes’

Ognjen writes:

May 7, 2010



I missed two days of my stay in Jerusalem, along with a visit to Ramallah and a barbeque with Palestinian artist colleagues. Volcanic ash from Iceland is to blame. I believe that volcanic ash from Iceland contain traces of swine flu as well as the hair from Yeti’s fur. Something called Eyjafjallajokull cannot simply pour out plain dull ash and particles of volcanic glass. As if it weren’t enough, Eyjafjallajokull is exactly 1.666 meters high. The Number of the Beast! Do not try to stop planes with something exactly 1.666 meters high and named Eyjafjallajokull ! All traffic on land should be stopped as well, visits to Jim Morrison’s grave should be prohibited and three or four nuclear bombs dropped on Eyjafjallajokull as a measure of precaution. Alternative solution: Chuck Norris should be invited to piss into the crater. I cannot be the only one to have a solid opinion on this matter. Is there a man on this planet who has suffered H1N1, whose flights have been delayed due to the eruption of an Eyjafjallajokull and who has seen the Yeti? If so, I would love to meet him.  (21st April 2010.)



The taxi driver who took me from the Ben Gurion airport to the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem knew everything about the world and the cosmos we belong to. He had the stance of a street erudite, and didn’t hesitate to talk every step of the way about genesis, molecular biology, climate change and the art of seduction. He talked incessantly and a lot, burying the small car under piles of words. “Where are you from, my friend?” he asked. “Montenegro” I answered. “Well, of course! Hasta siempre comandante! Ecuador, Columbia, Venezuela, Montenegro!” he said . “I’ve been there!”, he said “You live in the most beautiful country in the world! And your women…! You are a lucky man!” he continued. “Thank you! You are right!” I said, deciding this time to not be proclaiming my Mediterranean pride. When I asked when he visited Montenegro he explained that he toured “the most beautiful country in the world” in 1979, while sailing on a British merchant ship named Aurora. I asked him what specifically he was he doing on the ship and he spoke proudly, self-confidently and quietly: “I was the captain”.  (21st April 2010)



On my return from Casablanca I spent three hours at Istanbul’s airport, drinking the good and expensive Efes beer. A boy in the national costume was selling ice cream. A lady from England was explaining how she should have gotten more ice cream for her 4 Euros. Waving her hands, she kept pointing her finger at the white cream, folded in abundantly decorated circles. As she was passionately explaining how much she appreciates her money, the boy persisted in pointing at the notice board, repeating one sentence: ‘Your last call madam!” Four Euros and an ice cream were enough for the lady in Adidas sneakers to forget reality. I thought that I wouldn’t be sorry if she missed her flight, and moved on. A group of yellow hats overwhelmed the airport hall, holding British flags in their hands smiling dissent enough of any stupidity. The guide’s hat was the biggest and the yellowest. The ugliest. The writing on their hats said: Let’s forget. Oblivion as an assignment and a desirable state. I wondered what it was they wanted to forget, and I wondered where they are going to forget what it is they were wanting to forget. “Where are you traveling to, madame?” and beneath a brink of her yellow hat the mouth spoke: “Jerusalem, Palestine, Ramallah”. I imagined an ad in the Sunday Times: Come visit where blood shedding conflict happens! Forget the stress of your work place, the subway jams, your pet’s indigestion! I wished the ice cream would be 400 Euros.  (24 th April 2010)



Azdi works for 250 Euros a month. Azdi is the guardian angel of my four room/five star/beautiful roof terrace hotel. Azdi’s three-year old daughter’s name is Mersiha, Azdie’s young wife is Farah. The hotel is located in the heart of the Fes medina, and is their only home as well as their job. Three hundred sixty five days, twenty four hours a day. While beautiful black-eyed Mersiha sits at the door step, Azdi and Farah manage the jobs necessary to make guests feel at home. Toilet cleaners, handymen, breakfast makers, polishers of beautiful ceramics, bag carriers, stealthy walkers-along of the half-business smile. They sleep in a small room in the attic. Azdi says that the French owner comes once in three months, looks around, yells a bit, signs some papers and disappears.

At the Istanbul airport I bought a bottle of my favorite whiskey Cutty Shark. Somebody had misinformed me that alcohol is unavailable in Morocco and I believed him. Some time later, the fine local reds convinced me I was wrong. As I sat on the roof terrace with my Slovenian friend and photographer Jaka, I decided to ask for some ice. Azdi was happy he could please me. He took a nicely decorated metal bowl and led me to a dark room at the first floor. A neon-lit bowl saw his pleased smile. He slipped on a rubber glove and slowly pushed his hand into bowels of a Sharp refrigerator. He acted like surgeon, carefully and with passion. I was expecting a handful of diamonds. However he pulled out ice and then, while it was smoking under the neon light, he said passionately, kissing the tips of his fingers: c’est bon! c’est du bon glace! He said it as it was the finest wine, the loveliest treat, some rare spice. Little Mersiha and Farah stood at the door. I asked them to come closer. Mersiha walked over, reached for the ice cube from her father’s hand and put it delightedly in her mouth. She mingled that coldness, smiling, with her parents. I thought: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father brought him along to discover ice.” I also couldn’t help but think how wrong our dear Tolstoy was. He should have said, „All unhappy families are alike; every happy family is happy in its own way”.  (25th April 2010)



It always feels good to think that there is a person on the other side of planet reading, for example,  Hugo von Hofmannsthal, at the same time as I do.  On my way to Casablanca, after I mentioned that brilliant Austrian, my Malaysian friend Eddin placed Hugo’s photograph in the New York Times Book Review in front of my face. I believe we were the first people ever, on the planet Earth, to stare at Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s photo on the road between Fes and Casablanca.  (26th April 2010)


Walking in Cemeteries: Fes

April 30, 2010

The white-washed tombstones gleamed against the steep green hill, inviting us to climb up and share their view. But the graves were set close together, and in the narrow spaces of earth between them, purple thistles with spiny stems flourished. Dina and I had no choice but to step on the flat tops of the tombs, and the sharp edges of the thistle leaves scraped our bare ankles.

Wherever I go, I try to walk in a cemetery. The departed are good company, and in crowded cities they often have valuable amenities to share—open sky, benches, beds of blooming flowers. The cemetery on the hill outside the old city of Fes offered a rare vista of the medina and its walls.

We were settled comfortably a little more than halfway up the hill near a grave enclosed in an iron “cage” when a man entered the cemetery and climbed toward us.  Middle-aged, well-dressed, he wore glasses and carried a small camera. His expression was serious. We both felt slightly apprehensive. Perhaps he intended to upbraid us for using someone’s resting place as a park bench.

But just below us, he stopped, leaned on a gravestone, and commiserated matter-of-factly about the thistles. “It’s overgrown because it has been closed for years,” he explained, “although you can still be buried here if you own a plot.” He looked out at the hillside. “It’s not the responsibility of the families to clean the graves,” he added. “It’s the city that should do something.” He gestured to the top of the hill. “I am trying to get up there. My mother is buried there. My whole family, in fact.”

He told us he was a Fassi, a native of Fes, but worked as a socio-economist in Larache, a port city near Tanger. Although his father had moved in with a sister in the Ville Nouvelle, they held on to their old house in the medina. It was still completely furnished, and when they gathered for family visits, they stayed there.

Below us, near the entrance, men were replastering a little square house with a pointed roof—an entrance gate or a tool shed, perhaps. No, the tomb of a saint. The little building was the tomb of Saint Lissane Eddine Ibnou Al Khatib, he said. A Fassi poet, physician, and theologian. “And philosopher,” he added, seeing me take out my notebook. “Be sure to write philospher.” Lissane Eddine means literally “tongue of the religion.”

He pointed out the nearest gate in the ancient wall. “The government calls this gate, Bab el Sharia,” he said. “The Gate of Religious Law. But no one here calls it that. We Fassis call it Bab el Mahrouck. The Gate of the Burning. This is where they used to put people to death by burning them alive. And decapitate them, too!”

In response to my question about funerals, he replied that he had recently buried someone close and told us about the prayer a person should say when death was approaching, the washing of the body, the prayers at the mosque and then at the cemetery, the dried figs and bread the family hands out at the cemetery, the honey and butter they serve at the house to those who come to give condolences. When I asked about the women, he said that only men came to the burial. The women came to the cemetery on the third day to say prayers. The name for this ritual comes from the Arabic verb “to separate.”

“Do you picture your family in Paradise?” I asked.

“Of course,” he answered without hesitation. And then glancing up at the top of the hill, “Yes, they are certainly in Paradise.

“You know that the Koran,” he said quietly, “gives images of Paradise from the dreams of desert nomads. The Koran speaks of water, women, fruit, and green vegetation. But,” he added softly but firmly, “Islam was made for everyone and for all time. Paradise is presented in the Koran as the dreams of men—men living a hard life in the desert. I am educated, but observant, a believer. Yes, Sufi.” He paused and then went on. “In the Koran, there are phrases for another era and phrases for all time. We must distinguish between them.

“For example, the Koran says the sun moves across the sky. Now we understand that the entire galaxy is moving. Since Galileo we have understood this. Man is swimming in the sky, and around us, everything moves, everything turns.”

When I thanked him for his explanations, he gestured dismissively back toward the medina. “The guides—they have memorized some facts. They point out the architecture. But this is not what matters. What matters, and this they do not understand…what matters most are ideas.”

And with that he asked to take our photograph. Dina laughed about someone wanting to photograph us for a change as we posed, smiling. We didn’t ask his name, nor did he ask ours. After we said good-bye,  he resumed his climb through the purple thistles toward his mother’s grave.

Fragrant Moments in Fez by Gary Nabhan

April 27, 2010

Down the alleyways of the medina, past the souks, we wander, either beckoned by the hints or bludgeoned by the assaults of aromas far too potent to let pass without honorable mention:

The dank, musty rotten air of sheep, goat, cow and camel hides being dunked in enormous tubs full of natural dyes— indigo, henna, blood meal, saffron, sage—and as the meaty tissues absorb these colors, minor wonders are revealed.

The smoky, char-grilled fragrance of lamb kabobs which have been dusted with spices—cumin, cinnamon, onion, oregano, garlic and thyme—then put on skewers over a grill that sits on a meager wood fire; as the meat heats up, its juices drip into the red-hot coals, which sizzle and steam and exude more of their olfactory magic.

The barbershops wedged in between the other shops, with hardly enough room for a chair and man with clippers in his hand, but oh how they blast their presence to the world through the oud-like strumming of rosewater, the delicate kanun-dulcimer chiming of orange blossom water, the violin-like bowing of musk-infused aftershaves, and the clanging castanet’s of rubbing alcohol dowsing the razor cuts.

The butcher shops that feature on sturdy hooks the recently-severed legs, ribs, loins and heads of camel, bull, ram and kid, while blood still dries on the knives and cutting boards, and the already-warm meat gets even hotter in the eighty-degree sun, offering perilous clues to the fact that deadly microbes have already begun their perverse alchemy…

The incense burning in the charcoal braziers in front of the herboristes and pharmacies Berberes—frankincense, myrrh, candlewood—as well as the apple chips, cherry wood, bergamot and mint bubbling up through the hookahs sucked on by old men in the sidewalk cafes playing backgammon and shooting the breeze.

The slow baking of tajines in their pyramidal clay pots, where toasted almonds and sesame seeds, stewed prunes and boiled mutton combine with ginger, pepper, coriander and salt to waft us a little closer to heaven.

We don’t know how our noses can hold for much longer the promise of paradise rising from these myriad scents that are surging up our flared nostrils.