FEZ PART 2
OUT and ABOUT FEZ
10-12th JUNE 2015
The day following our arrival in Fez we met with our guide Abdul who led us through the twisted alleyways of the ancient Medina. The colourful food market was first then we passed through an area where, like in Tangier, blacksmiths, tinsmiths and gunsmiths, knife makers, repairmen and recyclers worked and finally we visited the Chouara Tannery.
You might notice Abdul has only one arm. He lost it when he was six years old as a result of an infected broken arm following a fall from a donkey. From what I understood his arm became infected due to the maladministration of penicillin.
Many famous men in the Muslim world carry the name Abdul. I know this because some years ago I decided to read the Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z, quite an undertaking when I had 32 volumes to wade through. I never got to the end of A as there were too many Abduls to read about. Encyclopedia Britannica no longer produce a printed version of their encyclopedia, they now have an online version that costs so people including myself, head for Google or Wikipedia when seeking information and pay nothing.
It is often quoted that the information in Wikipedia is sometimes incorrect, however I find after cross-referencing the information that it is not often wrong, although sometimes many more words are used to explain a topic. If I find a difference of opinion between Wikipedia and other sources I say so in my text.
The Fez covered market is all consuming, it sucks you in. There are hundreds of stalls selling just about every conceivable item imaginable. The most crowded section is where mobile phones are sold. Abdul suggested to Bev she wear her bag on the front in this area as pickpockets work the crowded mobile phone area.
There were many food stalls and one that intrigued me was the crepe/pancake stall. We didn’t eat any as they were far too fatty for our liking.
The crepes above are nothing unusual but the device on which they were cooked is interesting.
The dome-shaped anvil on which the crepes were cooked was made from clay and inside at the bottom a gas burner was inserted. The thin pastry in the bowl on the right was draped over the hot dome and cooked. When cooked the crepe was removed and folded. To stop the pastry from sticking to the dome it was greased with animal fat.
Unfortunately I have no photograph of the crepe draped over the clay anvil as for reasons unbeknown to me Abdul purposefully steered us past the lady doing the cooking.
The carob tree is a native of the Mediterranean region and the beans when dry are used as a cocoa substitute. On our property we have two carob bean trees growing (one male and one female) and we often pick the beans from the female tree when they are ripe (dry).
The reference to St John relates to a story that John the Baptist survived by eating ‘locusts and wild honey’. The Greek word ‘locusts’ when translated may refer to carob pods. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, when the Prodigal Son was suffering spiritual and social poverty, he ate carob pods intended for pigs.
It is believed the word carat, a unit of mass for gemstones and the purity of gold alloys, was derived from the Greek word keration meaning small stone and refers to the carob seed as a unit of weight.
The use of cadoon pistils in cheese making needs a little explanation: The basic ingredients of cheese are milk, salt, microorganisms and a coagulating agent. Most cheese makers use animal rennet as the coagulating agent but some cheese makers prefer to use a plant rennet and one source is cardoon plant pistils as it imparts a special flavor to the cheese. Animal rennet is an extract of stomach enzymes found in the juvenile mammalian stomachs. The reason it is only in juvenile stomachs is because it helps digest mother’s milk.
Moroccan snails are cooked with various herbs and spices including pepper, cumin, ginger, liquorice root, thyme, tarragon, mint, oregano and fennel seed. They are cooked in their shells and the muscular foot and the rest of the snail’s organs within the shell are extracted and eaten whole.
My father often caught eels when he went fishing and my mother readily cooked them. Stocks of eels in Australia these days are in decline and it’s due to the general web of progress that has spread across the country. Road and housing estate construction and the draining of wetlands have severely interfered with eel migration routes.
Eels mate and give birth in the ocean and the young ones (elvers) return to an inland pond, lake or river where one of their parents grew to maturity. It is believed the elvers recognise the spot of their parent’s origin by analysing the water chemistry. To get to this spot they pond hop, crawling across open land, so if a housing estate or road is built across their route they cannot complete the migration and breeding cycle. The migration journey can take up to three years and only 1% manage to complete this migration and breeding cycle. If they happen to reach maturity they can grow to two metres long. In my young days eels of four kilograms could be caught but commercial fishing has taken its toll and eels of this size are no longer seen.
Chebakia is a traditional Moroccan pastry eaten at Ramadan. Chebakia is made from thin strips of dough shaped to represent a rose and is deep-fried until golden then coated with a syrup made from honey and rosewater sprinkled with sesame seeds. The stallholder invited us to taste a freshly cooked piece which we found far too sweet for our liking, however we did buy some and gave them away.
Being able to buy soap in this form is very environmentally friendly as there are no wasteful plastic containers to pollute the countryside or go into landfill. Customers simply bring along a container and have it filled.
Midway through our tour Abdul decided it was coffee/mint teatime and he took us to a specialist.
In front of the can with the red and green label was a charcoal fire heating a copper urn from which hot water was drawn. The coffee was made in the pots with handles and undoubtedly it was a strong brew (probably triple shot). Mint tea was a better option.
Through the window of the coffee shop I spotted a Berber water seller sporting an unusual hat worn only by people from the Rif Mountains. The water seller had a water bag made of goat skin and carried a brass cup from which he offered water to people passing. The water is cooled by the fact it seeps through the goat skin and evaporates thus cooling the bag. Water is drawn off into the mug. I noted that he gave the mug a wipe with a dry cloth every now and then.
One traveller reported that these men do get angry if you attempt to take a photograph of them without paying so visitors such as us have to either pay up or take a picture from a concealed location. There was a water-filled moat between the Berber and myself so I was unable to pay him.
I wanted some postcards of old photos of Fez so I went into a shop selling old cameras, film and photographic paper. The owner had what I wanted.
Little has changed in the Fez market since the previous photographs were taken. One change has been the repair and recycling of modern household items.
The Moroccans, as I mentioned previously, do not throw anything away. I suspect there is little trade in scrap metal as everything is repaired. The following images show the efforts of some of the creators, makers, fixers and recyclers.
The whetstone for sharpening is a slow revolving sandstone grinding wheel. Water is used to cool the blade being sharpened. If the wheel was to rotate at high speed there would be a chance of overheating the blade and then the blade would lose its temper. The word whetstone is a compound word formed from ‘whet’ meaning to sharpen a blade. Tempering is a heat treatment process, which removes the brittleness of hardened metal. For example, if a two-handed sword blade was too hard it could break when it came in contact with another sword, tempering could eliminate this to some degree.
The gentleman in the above photograph was the top gun stoner in the street and from what I understood he made sure that other stoners in the street maintained a set standard. It’s interesting to note the number of knives hanging on the wall behind him. I think back to the police statement in Tarifa Spain when I enquired about taking my Leatherman universal tool to Morocco. ‘The Moroccan authorities do not want knives taken into Morocco’.
The craftsman making scrapers (below) used thimbles as ferrules. Also note, no two handles are the same, innovation at its best.
Lazrak told me that pressure cookers need an occasional service. They need to have the safety valve checked and occasionally a new lid gasket.
Sue D, a regular reader of this blog, would love the Fez markets as she collects all manner of things associated with the kitchen.
In our modern throwaway world there is little call for a stall selling recycled pressure cookers and kitchen utensils. No longer are people prepared to ‘brivet’ through secondhand/recycled merchandise. Stalls like this serve not only as a place to pick up a bargain but for the stallholder it’s a way of filling in the day. If the gentleman in the above photograph didn’t have a stall to attend to each day he would probably be sitting alone at home. Coming out and manning his stall means he might sell something but, more to the point, it’s a social activity as passers stop for a chat and mates come and share a cup of tea.
In the market there were a number of gunsmiths specialising in antique reproductions.
The vyce with a long history might not be of interest to all readers but for me it has a fascination as I have spent hundreds of hours in front of a vyce like this one, although any vyce I have used has not had its jaws quite as battered.
Fortunately for me I was born during WW2 so when I came onto the job market in 1956 there were jobs available for all. Many Australian men had been killed in the war and therefore post war there was a manpower shortage. Not having done very well academically my job options were limited. I wanted to be a patternmaker (making wooden models of products to be cast in foundries) but my father suggested I be a toolmaker meaning I would work with metal instead of wood. In those days you took your father’s advice so I was apprenticed to AWA (Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia), a company manufacturing radio, television and communications equipment.
During my toolmaking apprenticeship (1956-1961) I made the dies for many of the AWA products. I worked on the dies for the volume control and the tuning dial knobs on the radio shown in the above photograph. Today these styles of radios are back in fashion.
The piece of wood that is going to be history in the Fez gunsmith vyce is the start of an ancient blunderbuss butt. A blunderbuss could be considered an early form of shotgun but instead of a cartridge being used all manner of deadly items such as scrap pieces of steel, stones, nails and shards of glass and small lead balls were stuffed down their barrels on top of a charge of gunpowder.
The following photograph shows a few finished blunderbusses for sale. I am uncertain if these pieces are working models, I would think they are for decorative purposes. The ones shown are a percussion cap type, not flint.
Of all the craftwork we saw in Morocco the piece in the following photograph was the most impressive. It was not stamped out in a press but punched by hand using small punches.
Bev and I are pretty hard-nosed when it comes to buying souvenirs but in the case of the hand punched bronze plates we couldn’t resist. Unfortunately the creator of the above pieces was not working on the day we visited the shop.
One place where the workers were on the job was the Chouara Tannery. In the past I have often said when standing at a historical site, ‘if only we could turn the clock back and see what was going on a couple of hundred years ago’. Well, today when looking down on the open air tannery we did just that but there was no turning the clock back.
The following two black and white photographs show what I mean. One was taken a hundred years ago and the second the day we visited. As you can see little has changed.
The tanning process starts with the workers cleaning and shearing the animal skins. The skins are then soaked in a brew of cow urine, quicklime, water and salt. The brew is very caustic and its purpose is to loosen fat and hair remaining on the skin. After three days of soaking the tanners again give the skin a scrape and then they are soaked again in a mixture of pigeon droppings that soften the hides in readiness for dyeing.
The tanner uses his bare feet to knead the hides to make them pliable. Sometimes the kneading process takes up to three hours of marching on the spot. The next step in the process is the hides are placed in dyeing pits containing vegetable dyes such as poppy (red), mint (green), saffron (yellow), indigo (blue), henna (orange) and cedar wood (brown). Olive oil is sometimes rubbed into the finished product to make the leather shine. After this process, which would be hard on the feet and extremely nostrilic, the skins are placed on a bed of straw and allowed to dry.
There is no doubt that the method of tanning skins as described would have a detrimental effect on the local waterways and although I didn’t actually see discharge water from the curing pits entering the nearby creek I get a feeling that local waterway was definitely contaminated.
After the tanning process is complete the skins are taken to the leather market where they are sold to manufacturers and skin merchants. The hubbub was intense as sellers and buyers haggled over the quality and price of the leather for sale. Leather buying and selling was definitely ’men’s business’.
Before closing this post I would like to post a few images relating to unusual items I found for sale and a few random photographs taken around Fez.
Galena is the main ore of lead and these pieces are ground to a powder and used for eye shadow. It has been used from ancient times not only for cosmetic purposes but as an anti reflective agent and a fly repellent. Desert people painted it around their eyes to keep flies at bay. Powdered mica is sometimes added to galena to make the eye shadow sparkle. Lead is a highly toxic substance and I would think its use as eye shadow could be dangerous to the users health.
I was hesitant to include the following photograph but that’s how it is in Morocco, nothing wasted.
I spoke at length with the camel meat stallholder and he couldn’t believe there are wild camels in Australia. There are no wild camels in Morocco, all are owned by someone.
According to a report issued by world health authorities camel products are safe to eat provided they are well cooked. Camel milk is also ok to drink provided it is boiled for an extended period. Prior to the report it was suggested camel products be avoided for fear of humans contracting a form of the coronavirus.
Throughout remote desert regions of Australia there are hundreds of thousands of camels. I have posted below an extract from Encountering the Past Part 1 when Bev and I were travelling across Australia at the end of our Part 1 Odyssey in 2013.
Camels: Nobody knows how many wild camels there are in Australia. Some say around six hundred thousand, others say nearer a million. All agree that there are too many. The number is expected to double in the next eight years. Camels are an environmental disaster as they pull plants and shrubs out by the roots and pollute waterholes. As a food source camel meat is lean and nutritious but unfortunately access to the meat is far from the markets. In the case of the camel, its isolation is the reason it has survived.
The very first camel to arrive in Australian came from the Canary Islands in 1840. This was a somewhat unlucky camel as it accidentally caused its owner’s death and was subsequently shot. Others arrived in 1860 to be part of the Burke and Wills expedition and in the next fifty years an estimated ten to twelve thousand camels made their way to Australia and were used as beasts of burden. When trucks arrived on the scene and started carrying goods the camels were simply released and the population has since exploded.
Head scarves, worn for mostly religious reasons, come in a variety of fashion colours and patterns. Bev sometimes wears a headscarf when visiting mosques or as a signal she is ready for a hair wash!
On the outskirts of Fez there was a working ceramics factory and of course being potters we couldn’t resist a visit. Clay was pugged (de-aired) by workers stomping in pits (not working the day we visited unfortunately) but there were decorators hard at it painting utility ware.
Each piece of this creation has been made by pushing raw clay into a plaster mould. The piece after removal is then bisque-fired to probably 900 degrees centigrade then painted with glaze and fired a second time to 1080 degrees.
The metal frame, although not in correct position here, is a pattern guide. Once the layout is complete the small unglazed pieces will be painted with glaze of varying colours then fired.
There was a row of young women painting plates such as the one above but we didn’t take their photographs for ethical reasons. All we could do was take a photograph of the glazes they were using.
These pieces are all hand painted, not decorated using decals (I dealt with decals back in the Lisbon posting when we visited the Lisbon Tile Museum).
This kiln is an updraft kiln where the gas burners point upwards through the floor of the kiln and the draw off of gases goes out through the top of the kiln via a chimney.
Finally we say farewell to Fez. Omar (the manager of Dar Lalla Kenza) walked us out to the main road and as we went we were still talking photography.
Omar was a likeable chap and well qualified in the art of photography and cine photography. When I asked him why he wasn’t working in his chosen field he told me there are limited job opportunities in this line of work in Fez and also his camera was stolen.
Omar started to press the shutter about seven years ago. Now he is in his final year studying English Literature at Sidi Mohamed Ibn Abd Lah Dhar Lmahraz University (if I have to write that again it will be SMLALDLU). Once he has completed his final year in English Literature he wants to study Cinematic Photography and pursue a career in visual arts.
Once out in the main thoroughfare we said goodbye to the nearby café owner and his children. Bev and I ate there on a couple of occasions and they were overwhelmingly friendly.
The young boys in the above photograph were most articulate and polite and were ecstatically happy we chose to eat at their establishment. The boys were learning the tricks of the restaurant trade. One of the boys is holding a map I drew showing the location of Snak Malak Cafe in relation to Dar Lalla Kenza Hostel. I suggested they get some copies made and take them to the hostel so travellers will know how to find them.
Many visitors to Morocco do not have the personal connection experiences Bev and I have had. The photograph above speaks words of connection. Look at the way Bev’s arm is draped over the young boy’s shoulder. We have exchanged Facebook addresses and we will follow these two young boys as they pass into adulthood.
The next posting will take us to Casablanca, a destination which has been on our bucket list for many years. We hope you come along with us. Please leave a comment and if you haven’t already clicked on follow do so and WordPress will advise you every time we do a new posting.
Readers intending to go to Fez be sure to check out Dar Lalla Kenza and the Snak Malak Café. We also suggest you hire a guide for a day as Fez is a maze and without a guide you will surely miss a lot of what the city has to offer.