Wait ‘til you get there
During the first two days of our trip, we were told over and over again: Don’t buy any jewelry, or pottery, or anything like that here (wherever ‘here’ was). Wait until we get to Fez. That’s where you do your shopping. Which is what we were about to do (go shopping, that is), having arrived in that city the previous afternoon, after escaping the attention of the only Jew in Meknès and re-boarding our bus. Of course, we needed a local guide, and the fellow Cindy selected had grown up in the shuk and could probably find his way around the 5000+ streets and alleyways blindfolded.
First stop: Poterie de Fez. Here we were shown the entire process of making pottery, from stomping on clay to painting the finished product.
And, this may come as no surprise, but they even have a store on the premises where you can buy stuff, anything from little cups to ornate ceramic fountains – just right for your salon, assuming it’s big enough. You don’t have to bargain: everything was 30% off the listed price. Actually, because our guide was someone they knew, for our group it was 40% off. (There motto might be: You do the shopping and leave the haggling to us.) We walked away with a small tea set (for me), a little bowl with a Berber design for friends who were caring for our cats, and a decorative bowl that Barbara wanted to hang somewhere (?) in our apartment, which did not survive the journey back to The Land.
Lest you think that we did nothing but improve the local economy, there was nothing to purchase at our next scheduled stop.
Not much for me to do there, so I stayed outside, which was fine by me. For someone who had spent countless Sundays photographing the flea markets in the side streets of Brighton Beach, this would be a wonderful opportunity; I could wander around photographing to my heart’s content with no one to bother me.
Some of you might be wondering, if there is no longer a Jewish community in Fez (and there isn’t), who’s taking care of the cemetery? Answer: the Muslims. Why? Because the Muslims inherited the pagan Berber customs of ancestor worship, so keeping any cemetery intact is to them praiseworthy.
OK everybody, back on the bus. Time to head over to the melach to visit the ibn Danan synagogue, which is almost as closed for new business as the cemetery. By way of contrast, the surrounding streets in this quarter are bustling with activity. (No Jews around – except for us, of course.)
Thanks to our guide, we were able to find our way to the metalwork shop, our next destination, where they have lots of things for sale, most of which were beyond our budget.
And then on to our final stop, a workshop where they make leather goods. Now, if we would have had trouble finding the metal workshop, this place would have been impossible – even with the Moroccan version of Wayz. For we were now in the shuk proper, and if there are 5,000 streets and alleyways in the shuk area, we must have passed through most of them on our way to the district where the tanneries are located. (You’ll notice two different signs noting that ‘Maimonides slept here.’)
I look at it this way: the pottery I could certainly afford. The metal work? Somewhat out of my price range. Leather goods? No way. The proprietor did his best to entertain us – even if he wasn’t Jackie Mason.
While he was giving his spiel, I was looking out the window at the men softening leather in vats of pigeon poop.
Who wants to buy? (leather goods, not pigeon poop) I’m not in the market for a leather coat made from the belly of a camel. This was the only place where one of the salesmen tried a little too hard to sell me something. (I’m not buying a leather coat; I’m not buying a leather coat; I’m not buying a leather coat.) He finally got the message and let me alone. Not so the hawkers outside the store, who were selling wallets, three for ten dollars, six for ten dollars, none of which were made from the belly of a camel. I could understand the vendors’ sense of urgency. It was getting late in the afternoon; there probably wouldn’t be many more tourist groups coming by. They were trying to make an honest buck, even if their merchandise was a little dubious. But who needs six ersatz leather wallets?