Farewell, Fes...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | Fès, Morocco (map)

The newly refurbished Medersa el Attarine sports ornate plasterwork and cedar carvings.
It was supposed to be our final visit to Fes, a city with which I now feel we share a long and tarnished history. In truth, it was no more than half a year, rendered longer by the harsh weather and still harsher social climate (which I've described before—see "Running the Gauntlet: Street Harassment in Fes").

Jacqueline and I visited the few friends we have left in the city, poked aimlessly around the medina for an afternoon, and picked up a few cheap gifts. Long under renovation, the 14th-century Medersa el Attarine (مدرسة العطارين) was newly reopened, so we checked it out, too. Staying with our friends Jon and Jen was, as always, a highlight, but during the hours on our own in the city, we soon ran out of activities and sights.

What has changed in Fes, since our departure? Almost nothing. Well, there is the new fountain in
the center of the Ville Nouvelle's main traffic circle. Its jets pulse and its neon lighting strobes in time with the music beamed across the circle by tinny loudspeakers. (In a city rife with unemployment, crime, and other ills, this is apparently the government's idea of a worthwhile project.)

Before we hopped on the train, Jacqueline managed to get roped into promising to return for yet another "final" trip next month—one last effort at collecting data in Fes for her Fulbright project.

But I said my goodbyes for good. No tears shed, nor nostalgia suffered for our one-time home. I have gained confidence this year, and no longer doubt my gut: Fes is a city plagued with too many people, too little education, too much greed, too little law and order—and I no longer feel bad saying so.

Instead, I realized as I stood in the medersa, marvelling, I will leave Fes today with many unhappy memories, but I will look forward to returning some distant day, when the city has grown up, its volatile social mix has stabilized, and the experience it offers the visitor has finally evolved to match its reputation.

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