Nouvelle et Medina
arrived in Fes early Sunday afternoon, just as the city was waking from
its lunchtime torpor. The train ride from Rabat was smooth, we all rode
first class- glad to enjoy comforts we don't really indulge in back home.
The tough part was getting one year's worth of luggage (times nine people)
on and off the train in the two minutes allotted at each station for transfer
of people and belongings. Everyone had a slightly harried look as we stood
at the station, waiting for the American Language Institute affiliate
to come and pick us up.
Language Institute in Fes) runs a comfortable language program for both
Moroccan and foreigners to study English and Arabic. Classes are held
in the old living quarters and bedrooms of a 19th century townhouse, replete
with mosaics, plaster carvings and marble floors. The courtyard adds to
the general "Moroccan dwelling" image- lush gardens and tempting
fountain. Long classroom hours invite reveries of Moroccan lifestyle and
peacefulness- careful investigation of wall carvings reveals an interesting
surprise: Hebrew characters attesting to the Jewish heritage of the previous
occupants. A little unnerving when you know that Morocco lost most of
its 350,000 strong Jewish population to emigration, the creation of Israel
and the fear of persecution after the 6 day war. Today,Morocco is home
to 7000 Jews, hardly enough to attest for centuries of 'peaceful' cohabitation
of Jews and Muslims.
living quarters for each of us was a simple process. Aside from one courageous
fellow (Kenneth) who asked to live with a Moroccan family we all sought
refuge in promises of comfort or authenticity. Those who chose comfort
were walked to a nearby apartment, shockingly huge and empty. Amy, Bonnie
and I were to spend many a night there trying to fill the furniture voids
with the sounds and warmth of our voices. Those who chose authenticity
were sent to the Medina, where they settled in the rooftop bedrooms of
a restored townhouse. Each bedroom had been tastefully redecorated- carved
iron windows, mosaic tiles, earth walls and the playful light of terrace
living. Allessandra, Elias and Jessica took possession of their temporary
castle, occasionally inviting us victims of 'modernism' into the peacefulness
of their picturesque surroundings.
differences between these two living styles epitomizes the chasm that
separates the Medina from the Ville Nouvelle (new town). In the Ville
Nouvelle, modern Moroccans drive modern cars, with modern horns, in modern
streets with modern shops. Even the business hours are modern- with shopkeepers
closing businesses on Sunday (the Oh so Christian Sabbath day! Christianity
oddly rhyming with modernity on this side of the Mediterranean).
adopted Jon and myself, easing our progress through the Medina. He brought
us to all places we asked for, protected us from runaway mules and stubborn
mule-drivers, helped us down tricky stairways and barked loudly at anyone
who threatened to distract or annoy his prey (for prey we were, source
of his daily nourishment and income).