Some Tough Love from Our "New" Home

Friday, September 26, 2008 | Fès, Morocco

Bab Bou Jeloud is a central entry point to the old medina of Fes and two of its principal market streets.
The ville nouvelle of Fes, constructed by the French in the early 1900s, was designed with typically French flair. A few blocks from ALIF, where Jacqueline and I are studying, wide, palm-lined boulevards intersect around fountains and flower beds. The French built their city beside the old medina, with a comfortable buffer separating the two starkly contrasting towns, not that they could ever be confused anyway.

Maps of the Fes medina give the impression that the street layout was carefully modeled after a plate of spaghetti. The circuitous zigzags and meandering dead-end lanes that once might have foiled foreign invaders are today equally effective in foiling my attempts to get to class, meet friends, or find groceries. As I continue to explore, I'm finding the look of the place quite different from Damascus in many ways. To me, it resembles the Kasbah of The Battle of Algiers more than it
resembles any place I have seen for myself. Its architectural treasures and storied history (dating to the 9th century) have earned Fes's old city a listing as a UNESCO world heritage site. So while Fes may be our new home, it certainly isn't new by any other measure.

* * *

Our own little neighborhood of Ziat (زيات), tucked between the bustling BatHa (البطحاء) area and the medina's southern wall, seemed so sleepy and mundane when we arrived, but has since come to life.

In the past two weeks, we have learned that the neighborhood is distinguished for its overabundance of screaming infants, blaring radios, mosque loudspeakers, and kids playing "throw the rock up and down the stairwell." The fact that the whole neighborhood is made of stone and tile only enhances the almost 24-hour symphony of clamor.

Ryan, Jacqueline and I are making do though. Nothing like a little tough love to make you really come to appreciate a place.

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