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Sahara

Day 6: Fez

Fez, Morocco 
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Street life in Fez. The low-tech medina is an intricate network of small businesses that has functioned, without any great change, for the last 1000 years. These hides are on their way to a tannery.
Michael Palin - SaharaI step out on my fifth-floor balcony. All the trees in Fez seem to be clustered in the hotel gardens below me. Three enormous jacarandas, wispy casuarinas, orange and lemon trees, fat, spreading palms and amongst them a great congregation of birds, rushing from one tree to another, perching, pecking, preening and darting away. It occurs to me that they may well be birds from Lincolnshire or the Wirral down here for the winter. They recently tagged an osprey that had flown from Rutland Water to Senegal, over 3000 miles, in twenty-one days. Which is a lot quicker than we're going.

Like Chefchaouen, old Fez was a security-conscious city. Until 1912 and the arrival of the French, no-one could enter without a pass, and even then they would be expected to conduct their business and leave within forty-eight hours. The city gates were locked at sunset and those who failed to abide by the rules would likely as not end up, along with others who fell foul of the law, with their heads on spikes outside. And all this well into my own father's lifetime.

As was their wont, the French built their own separate new town and left the medina alone. Thanks to this enlightened, if crafty, policy, it remains, according to my Cadogan guidebook, 'the most complete Islamic mediaeval city in the world'. It's also a mysterious, labyrinthine place, enclosed and secretive. I need an interpreter. To interpret not just the language but the city itself. Which is how I meet Abdelfettah Saffar, known to his English wife as Fats and to his friends as Fettah.

'Like the cheese,' he says with a well-worn smile.

He has a house in the old town, which he's been restoring for three years, speaks impressively good English, once lived on a houseboat on the Thames and at one time designed a Moroccan-style bathroom for Mick Jagger's house in Richmond.

He's shorter than me and about twenty years younger, with a neatly trimmed black beard, white djellaba, bare feet tucked into a pair of babouches, backless yellow slippers, and an efficient black briefcase.
Fez, Morocco 
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Donkey bearing radishes. No motor vehicles are allowed in.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 6
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Fez
  • Book page no: 32

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