Djellabas, merguez and couscous - regular guest blogger Derek Workman can buy them easily enough only a few minutes walk from his home in Valencia, Spain - but it's not quite the same as being in Fez.
I was on my way home from a bike ride around Valencia a couple of weeks ago when I whizzed around a corner near my flat and there in front of me stood a lady of a certain age fully regaled in gelaba and fez. We have a large Moroccan community in my barrio, so it’s no surprise to me to see ladies walking the streets in the hijab – but a fez, that’s something different!
It was Juana, a pensioner well known for her cheery smile and high-speed walking pace when she’s out shopping. I hadn’t realised that it was the day of the Carnaval parade, and she was one of the organisers, all of whom, including the medic, were wearing fezes (is that the plural?) so they could be recognised in the incredibly flamboyant outfits the paraders would be wearing. (The Bolivians were way ahead of any other nationality in their stupendous outfits.)
The next day I was sitting in a café having a quiet chat with some friends, when a tall, tired-looking young man in his early twenties walked in. Picking on me as the obvious looking foreigner, he asked if I knew of a hostal nearby, which I did, and we went out into the street so I could point out directions.
In the small square outside the café were a group of six weary young men and one weary young lady, leaning against four old Renault 4Ls, covered in sand and stickers. We’ve got a beach in Valencia, but I don’t remember a sandstorm in the twelve years I’ve lived here. They’d brought it with them from the Sahara Desert, where they’d been competing in the 4L Trophy, a rally that had taken them on a seven thousand kilometre drive from their home in Soest, near Dortmund in Germany, through France, Spain, the heat of the Sahara and the bitter cold of the High Atlas Mountains in winter, to Marrakech, where they’d had two days rest and recuperation before beginning the long drive home.
I walked them to a local hostal, which is, strangely enough, run by an ebullient lady from Tetouan.
I live in in Ruzafa, the old Moorish barrio of Valencia, a mix of so many cultures that it probably merits its own United Nations office. Because we have a large Moroccan community it’s as easy for me to buy merguez, preserved lemons, and couscous as it would be in Fez. There is a wonderful teteria, that serves only teas and a splendid selection of Moroccan pastries, and was built stone-by-stone and cushion-by-cushion by Mostapha, to resemble a typical Moroccan home.
We’ve just finished fallas, the biggest fiesta in Valencia, and one of the biggest in Spain. Jam-packed crowds, screeching fireworks and raucous music until day-break. Ruzafa is one of the busiest parts of the city, with tens of thousands of people walking the streets at night, looking at the incredible street lighting decorations and the enormous statues that will go up in flames on the last night.
I took a stroll to the part of the barrio that has my favourite Moroccan shops. With the curling smoke from the barbeques, the light sparkling off glowing brass urns in the haima set up as tea houses, and glistening piles of freshly made Moorish pastries, I could have been anywhere in Morocco on a festive evening – where, frankly, I’d rather be.