Friday, May 11, 2007

Impressions of Fez

David Margan files another story

For the last few weeks The View from Fez has had the pleasure of hosting Australian television journalist David Margan. Plunging headlong into the life in the Medina he spent hours watching, listening and chatting with both locals and ex-pats. What he found was sheer pleasure tinged with exasperation at the enduring orientalist fantasies. Here is is his final report:
It's the color of dust. Heavy with the weight of history

It sits in a broad valley and as you approach past yellowing ramparts you hear its multilayered din, its dynamo hum. One million people live in its dars, riads, and rooms interlocked and overlapped in an Escher parabola, woven with arteries of movement, curving, cobbled skeins of sound. A rustle more than footfalls, greetings, discussion, debate, community formalities and the chatter of commerce. Sultans, princes and kings have wandered its labyrinth, now I trod around donkey dung and struggle to meet the dozens of greetings with but a nod, a wave, a smile.

There is the Hill of Mice, a gut busting climb for those fresh from the flatlands. The climb quickly evaporates into the Corner of a Thousand Cats that takes you down to the lane of A Thousand Thieves. And trust me, these places earn their names as a seething mass, like foam laced surf, surges into a passage too narrow for its momentum. This short lane is packed and everywhere people are on mobile phones, stolen of course, fresh from tourists, pilfered electronics everywhere. Then to the calm of a square and a brew of tea glass stuffed with mint and, as always, sugar.

The Medina has a ferocious intensity and an ineffable calm.

They co-exist its simply you who make the difference.

So sit and see, before you become lost in the desperate western obsession with travel as movement and acquisition.

For the white eye trained on macadam mundanity, the order of things and place governed by committee and map. This Medina may seem like some medieval riot , but no, there is an ancient primal order here. All based on God.

It all starts with the mosque, small, large, simply local, they're the hub from which the order radiates. First there are the tradesmen of light and knowledge, the candle makers and booksellers then God's perfumers, the incense makers. Next there are clothes and babouche, shoes symbolized by the yellow leather slipper. Thereafter whole streets of artisans each devoted to their intergenerational specialty, rugs, metal work, wood work, leather and trades of all sorts, alleys of knife sharpeners hunched over individual and ancient wheels of stone, leg pumping endless revolutions with the fluid dexterity of liquid rubber.

These collectives souks have always been here, their rituals maintained in perfect order.

"This is old, this is hand stitched not machine, this, this you will never see ever again, I could sell this for much more, but for you…"
The commerce of tourism has added new factory-produced objects based on the old – kilms carpets and the universally popular Berber jewelry – shining bright with primitive allure

Another group of overstuffed tourists appears led as always by a man in black djellaba. Tall, suave and with the confidence of money, he is the indifferent shepherd on constant commission as he leads his lambs to another photo opportunity and an overpriced tajine or trinket to prop up another desultory conversation back in the land of the dead.

The passing beasts of burden the tourists constantly photograph to freeze frame quaintness have more brains than them.

But don't mistake rubbish and poverty for things alien, this city has stood for hundreds of years, water flows, toilets work and every night, mysteriously, the rubbish disappears.

It is mysterious place only because of our ignorance and the pleasures of myth and imagination; to read its history and watch its ways is to discover it is simply a living city like any other. Simply watch the gaggle of school kids running, laughing, teasing grins as broad as the sky; the girl walking slowly immersed in animated intrigue, its no different from the village green, town square or road in your town.

Poverty is the only desperation and night comes.

Suddenly a distant wind is joined again and again by a giant turbine of beseeching – the regular call to prayer from the Allah's guardians. Five times while sun and moon pass it comes and then is gone, its last notes fading into the night sky.

This is Fez. Morocco. Fez now… and may it continue to prosper and grow – insh'allah.

The first steps of the long journey back to Australia

Words: David Margan
Photographs: Samir



Anonymous said...

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that a lovely older model IBM Thinkpad? ...swoon

Anonymous said...

It is indeed. Heavy, solid, dependable and most of us use it rather than the desktop upstairs.

Mind you, our other computer has a French keyboard and Zany's has an Arabic one.

Anonymous said...

It is good to see sensible writings about our country and beloved city of Fes. Please take my thanks for the works you do here. My Fassi friends also like to read you many times.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mustafa,
Thank you for your kind words. We are happy you and your friends enjoy the blog. Although it was started to make visiting Morocco a little easier for foreign visitors, we are now visited by many peole who live here.

Although the blog is read in more than 150 countries about 25% of our daily vistors are Moroccan.

Thanks again.

timothy said...

I am in honor to be researching Fes. The subject of a journalistic travel piece at The Brooks Institute of Photography, focused on preservation and music. I am there may 27-june12 2007 inshallah. I am an american-muslim, parents live in Riyadh, KSA and I am working on a personal travel story on the Fes Festival. I was guided here by curiousity, love, and trust. I have been working on Hurricane Katrina documentary films and now FES is my guiding light and inspiration.
I offer my greatest appreciation and thanks in advance. My photography is a means of meditation for me, a way to communicate with out words. I cannot express my love through words only through action and non-action. I seek to produce sensible, honest, strong and beautiful images of this sacred location. Any assistance would be eternally apprectiated and returned w/ my images.