Fez, brass knick-knacks and camel heads

Posted on January 13, 2015

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So many friends had said to me how much fun I would have in Fez that I was psyched to get there and explore. It is a booming tourist destination with its ancient medina bursting with textiles, tanneries, pottery, camel meat with a head signposting the butchers and brass knick-knacks. It is the new Marrakech but with all the charm of the old days.

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I’d forked out a bit more for my riad as a birthday treat to myself. I was staying three nights in a gorgeous 14th Century former palace come former art museum now restored just short of seven years by an Italian/Moroccan architect. It came recommended by a mate.

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The journey from the desert to Fez was epic. I have had shorter flights. I did pass the wonderful area of Ifrane which is home to the Barbary macaques and cedar trees sprinkled with snow, but there was not a monkey in sight.

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Thirteen hours later the bus chugged into the city. It was dark. I don’t like arriving somewhere new at night but there was little choice on this occasion. The riad had said they’d send someone to collect me to guide me through the narrow streets which can be overwhelming when you have not quite got your bearings yet. Plus it is not safe to go out at night alone especially as a woman. After 20 minutes of fannying around the city my driver finally found me sat crumpled up on the stairs to the bus station wearing a furrowed-weary brow and a “fuck-off don’t hassle me I’m in no mood” kinda face.

I have been out of the news loop for three days. As soon as I hit wifi my phone went berserk. I learnt about the Paris attacks. I was stunned. No TV access I logged on to see the latest online. Morocco and Algeria do not have a good relationship mainly due to disputed territory issues. There had to be an angle I could file from here, even if it’s just an Arab/muslim reaction.

“Ok bed, think about it tomorrow it was almost 11pm,” I said to myself. I dosed up on meds, took a hot shower to warm up and crashed into an enormous bed with a ridiculous amount of pillows.

At 6am I bolted upright, grabbed my ipad and fired off an email to work. I offered up a live phone interview on Moroccan perspective to the Paris incident. This is how I travel and this is how I feed my adventures when there’s story, sightseeing it put on hold temporarily.

I needed to get hold of newspaper and talk to some locals in the cafes. Easily done. I would pound the medina later. At breakfast I chatted with the owner, cautiously about the attacks and his opinion about the magazine and how it portrays Islam. He was hugely defensive and a tad aggressive but provided me with a lot of great information without even trying.

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Friday the medina shuts down due to Friday prayers. So I intended to tick off the other sites and just get my bearings around the narrow streets before the chaos starts up again. I’d also take some photos so I could send work.

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Although the medina was quiet, the men of Fez were out in full force. It’s hard to spot another woman and Moroccan women don’t really go out on their own. They are either with a female chaperon or with a man. What I wasn’t expecting was the full-on assault of aggressive pestering towards a single non muslim woman. I’m pretty well travelled and can handle most things but five hours of being hassled, followed and goaded wore even me down. A couple of times I lost it and had to use the F-word which they were not expecting.

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I was not warming to Fez at all. I managed to speak to a couple of worshippers, who were a little cagey about Paris but said the Imams were all concerned about muslims being demonised and a rise in islamaphobia. I bought a newspaper printed in French and headed back to the riad. Once inside I met a wonderful Italian woman my age, from Piedmont who lives in Milan. She translated the necessary articles for me and we chatted over tea. She was also sick of the hassle. We agreed to go out together the next day. I bounded up stairs to file.

That night I went downstairs to get some water for my meds and unexpectedly met a wonderful Australian couple from Brisbane. The wife asked me if I was journalist as she’d heard me speaking to my new Italian friend earlier. One question and that was it. We ended up talking and laughing for three hours.

What a difference a friend makes. Ms Milano and I went to the Jewish quarter together after breakfast and enjoyed the rays sipping cafe nouss nouss. She was headed back home via Marrakech that afternoon so I decided to hire a guide for half a day.

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With a man by my side and a well known person to the area i did not hear a squeak from anyone. I was able to walk around, take photos, sample street food and soak up the atmosphere of the medina. I even bought a rug for my flat although I have no idea how on earth I will get it back home.

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In short Fez can be fun, but don’t do it alone if you are a woman, you will go bonkers!

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