Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pictures of Fes, Morocco

Austin in the sweat box Second Class train to Fes.  We tried to find the First Class car!

Fes: the view from the hills above (as with all pictures, click to enlarge).

This palace gate is only about 30 years old, but it took three years to make.

Austin at an old gate above the city.

UNESCO is subsidizing the repair of the old Medina walls.

A potter at a tile factory.  The wheel is foot-powered.

A typical street scene.

Tiles are made, baked, glazed, baked again and then cut to shape with a hammer-chisel.

The cuts are precise, and go into tessellated designs.

Cut free-hand with a simple hammer-chisel, the pieces are as precise as a clock gear.

The tiles are assembled into patterns upside down inside metal racks.

Austin with a finished product -- a tiled table.

In Morocco, a lot of tiles go into walls, floor, and doorways such as this gate.

Intricately carved plaster is everywhere, and the work is still being done today.

A camel head shows what's being butchered -- and it's proof of freshness.

The dye pits of Fes are more than a 1,000 years old, and in continuous use.

Sheep hides, dyed yellow, will be turned into shoes (babouche).

Bread --  a staple food consumed in massive quantities.

A donkey with a muzzle made from a large plastic bottle.

A gravestone carver.

Guinea hen, rooster, and eggs -- a typical market meat and egg scene.

Propane canisters are moved in the Medina by mule and hand cart.

The Medina streets are too tight for cars.  My shoulders touch left and right.

Austin leads the way.

Austin and I in front of the Blue Gate.

Austin smiles despite the heat.

Musk melons are a staple food and colorful.

A very nice olive man.  Morocco's olives are terrific!

This hand cart is packed with eggs all the way down.

Another narrow street with dubious construction.  You learn to trust in Allah.

Austin in front of wood used to fire bakery ovens.

There are lot of fruit stands, and they are always colorful.

This mule had been given a smashed watermelon to eat, and he seemed to love it!

Our hotel, Dar Melody, was an old house with three guestrooms and breakfast in the courtyard.

The door to the hotel was as wide as the street -- and no sign on either one.

Following Austin into the labyrinth.

Narrow streets, crumbling walls, and a cats cradle of overhead electrical wires.

Another mule hauling propane in the Medina.

Turkeys await their fate, while a fresh goat head advertises the meat of the day.

Coke goes everywhere in this world -- here by three-wheeled motorbike.

More fruit.  Morocco's oranges are the best in the world.

More typical tourist pictures, this time from Fes, Morocco.

Austin and I took a taxi from the top of the old Kasbah in Tangier to the new train station, where we boarded a train for the five-hour trip to Fes.  We had tickets for the First Class section of the train, but we were a bit flummoxed trying to find it and there seemed to be no one to ask.  We finally got on the train, found seats (there were plenty) and settled in for the ride, which was hotter than hades, as there was no air-conditioning. It turns out the air-conditioned First Class coach was the very last one on the train -- and there was only one coach! We learned that lesson the hard way.

On the trip from Tangier to Fes, the land got a lot more arid, and I was surprised to see hay bales and a few tractors (John Deere and Massey Fergusons). Morocco's agriculture seems to have just started down the road to automation. Automation makes sense with wheat (and the wheat fields were big), but I am not sure it makes sense for anything else other than, perhaps, hauling some good to distant big city markets.

Along side the train tracks we would occasionally pass massive stacks of old rail that had recently been pulled up and replaced. King Mohamed VI is clearly pumping a lot of money into building national infrastructure -- not only in the ports around Tangier, as we had seen, but also in the railroads. I explained to Austin that one unique feature of this trip was that it could be done by train at all; there are almost no trains anywhere else in Africa, and most of the track that does exists simply connects a port to a mine or forest, without any attempt to tie the people and the land together.

In Fes, we found another new train station, and we also finally found a taxi cab driver that did not seem too intent on ripping us off (everything is a price negotiation in Morocco). He called our hotel on his cell phone, and they told him where to drop us off. When we pulled up the crowded and chaotic parking lot outside one of the gates, we were met by the female half of the two owners (both French) and their son, who guided us through increasingly narrow streets, and past a few piles of garbage, to a simple door without a sign. The doorway itself was less than shoulder height to me, but once inside, it was quite fabulous. 

Fes and Marrakesh now have quite a few of these small "boutique" hotels crafted out of old houses (called "dars" or "riads" depending on their design).  This place was substantially redone, and we had Internet, a massive bathroom, two bedrooms, and air conditioning. Perfect!

The owner of the hotel gave us an enormously complex map, and explained to me in French the broad layout of the Medina. The short story is that nothing in the world is more complex than old Fes. There are several thousand dead-end streets, few street signs, and the streets are narrow and quite crowded. This, I knew. The real problem was going to be getting back to our hotel. She said she would drive us to the other end of the old city, point out a place where we could have dinner, and that after we had looked around on the "main street" there, and had dinner, the restaurant owner would hail us a cab outside the Medina gate, call her on his cell phone, and she would come out meet us again at the parking lot. And that's exactly what we did, and it all came off without a hitch. A small miracle.

The next morning, Austin and I hired a guide and a taxi.  The guide spoke English, which was good for Austin as he does not speak French, and we took the taxi out above the city to get a panoramic view of the modern city (built about 30 years), the "new" city (built around 1500), and the old city where we were staying (dating from the 9th Century). We then went to a couple of palaces, a tile and pottery manufacturing facility, a forgettable museum and garden, the leather dying pits, and then a small parade of "artisan craftsmen" which, in fact, were small demonstration facilities tied to stores where we were worked over good in an effort to get us to buy something. We got away with only a few small purchases (nothing not on the list already), and we called it a day. It had been a very good day (especially the tile place), but I did not want a guide on Day Two to lead me around anymore. As complex and intimidating a place as Fes is, (and I assure you it is the most complex and intimidating city place I have ever been) I wanted to walk it alone and without paying someone who I sensed was part of the you-buy-my-product hustle.

The next morning Austin and I headed out alone.  I stopped to take detailed notes of every left and right turn out of the hotel until we got to a recognizable gate (a landmark). Would I be able to find our way back?  Hard to say! 

We walked a lot -- getting lost a dozen times, and circling back on ourselves at least as many times. 

Fez Bali (old Fes) is a true labyrinth, and the widest streets are too narrow for a car (though mopeds fly through the larger passage ways). As always in every Moroccan city, store owners and touts called out trying to get us to turn our attention to them. The trick is simply to keep walking and to never reveal your nationality or say too much in any one language (I often grunted in three or four languages to keep them guessing). Going out without a guide was better as far as I was concerned -- we saw less predatory shop owners, got to stop and talk to a wood-turner, and could dawdle a bit more for photographs.

Two or three of the more memorable scenes that stick in my mind about Fes were children swimming -- in one instance in a hole filled with drainage water seeping from a burning trash pile, and another in the wash water from the dye pits. Ugh! It was hot, but seeing kids swimming in what is essentially sewage water is always disturbing. Also disturbing were a number of kittens runover in the street by fast mopeds. Cats and kittens are everywhere in the old parts of Moroccan Medinas, and though I saw them being fed and petted, the lack of spay-neuter, combined with the crowding, filth, and lack of veterinary attention, means most cats do not have long lives. Finally, we saw honey being dumped over honey-soaked pastries, which would have been fine if the honey was not trapping bees and a few flies in the matrix. Surely a screen case could have been built over the wares?

I love Morocco, but a return visit reminded me, once again, how much we Americans take things like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), building codes, the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission for granted. In Fes, the ammonia (used to strip hair and fat from the hides) and raw dye from the tanning pits is dumped, unprocessed, into the local river, where it's either a "red" day or a "blue" day, a "green" day or a "brown" day, depending on what is being dyed.

What about the fish? What fish? There have been no fish in that river in more than a 1,000 years.

The number of beggars that are crippled or blind is a silent testimony to what happens in a country without OSHA, a health care system, or a social service safety net. While fruits and vegetables are plentiful, and the meat is as fresh as this morning's dew, there are no health inspections other than those you make with you own eyes. Austin now knows why I always order meat "well done"!

Of course, there is always a certain amount of filth everywhere in the developing world -- par for the course in countries where animals are butchered next to defecating donkeys, and live chickens flap and crow only a few feet from pastry vendors. That said, Austin found the whole scene a bit overwhelming, and I cannot blame him as Fes is a bit overwhelming for most everyone -- including most Moroccans. This is a very old Medieval city that is simply too tightly packed and too complex to fully comprehend.

If you are not overwhelmed by Fes, then you must have missed seeing the city!

Pigeons await their pie -- pastilla.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chew Toy Survivors

This is Lucy -- a picture taken tonight with the camera phone showing two of of the chew toys that have survived her pretty strong jaws.

Lucy only likes the rubber dumbbell a little, which is what it is still intact, but she LOVES the Galileo bone which she will spend hours chewing on and which has survived a lot of serious dental attack.

The Galileo Bone is heavy -- so heavy that if she drops it on the floor, it sounds like a hammer has been dropped. I think if she were to drop her bone on my bare toe, it might break a digit. That said, whatever it is that makes this bone so heavy is also what makes it Pit Bull Strong.

Highest recommendation for the Galileo Bone as a Pit Bull chew toy that will go the distance and which this dog, at least, loves quite a lot! 

The wear you see here is all the damage she has been able to do in 8 months. 

A Kong survives about a day with this dog and cannot be left in a crate with her for fear she will break off a piece and swallow it.  No danger of that happening with the Galileo bone!

Tangier Pictures

Austin on the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier.

Roofs of Tangier with satellite dishes for TV.

Austin in front of a door, upper Kasbah, Tangier.

Advertising from the early 1970s, when Tangier hoped it would be a "jet set" destination.

Babouche -- the universal shoe of Morocco.

Street urchin selling live chameleons and desert tortoises.

Outside the old walls of the Kasbah.

Cats everywhere.  They are often fed, pregnant 100 percent of their lives.

Moms and kids are the same everywhere.

Big-eyed red fish in the market.  Not sure the species.

Austin and I in front of the house I lived in as a kid -- now for sale.


Another roof scene.

Typical scene -- woman and child and gate to the old medina.

Sign at the main Bab, or gate, of the Kasbah.

Typical market scene.

A narrow street in Tangier is a wide street in Fes!

Local dog. No collar does not mean it is not owned or fed.

A child playing on the stairs off a small street.

A vegetable stall.  Pictures of things are less intrusive than pictures of people!

Massive red fish with teeth in fish market.

More typical tourist pictures, this time from Tangier, Morocco.

Austin and I took the ferry from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier and I was a bit surprised to find out we were the only walk-ons; everyone else was in a vehicle.  Almost everyone on board was a Moroccan returning from Spain or France, and a few prayed on board.  Nothing too dramatic other than several of the young men on board had longish beards and the demeanor of Pakistanis, and it occurred to me that these Moroccans were a byproduct of the mosques in Europe.  Most Moroccan men do not have beards, and most Moroccan women do not wear veils.  These young men were aping Pakistani fundamentalism taught to them in the Saudi-funded cross-polinated mosques and madrassas of Europe.  Thankfully, that was about the last I saw of this kinds of thing -- it was not much in evidence in Morocco proper.

Getting off  board in Tangier was a bit of a shock as Tangier was nowhere to be seen.  Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot?!    It turns out that Mohamed VI, the King of Morocco (he took over from his father, Hassan II, about 12 years ago) has built a series of commercial ports around Tangier, and the one we pulled into was 35 kilometers from town.  Yow!

The taxi ride to Tangier was actually quite good -- Austin and I both got to see a little of the countryside, and I could point out the Berber women going to market in their distinctive hats with brims supported by four, thick, rope-like strands of colorful yarn. Austin could also see construction and transportation quite different from what he's used to. "Is that a house?" he would ask pointing to a small crumbling building. Yes, it was, every time. As for the donkeys and mules pulling carts, they were everywhere, and clearly an unremarkable feature of the countryside. He was clearly not in Virginia anymore!

As we got closer to Tangier, it became self-evident that a lot had changed in the last 40 years -- the coast road close to town was packed deep with massive gleaming white offices, hotels, apartment buildings and modern housing developments for foreigners. The taxi cab driver explained it with two words: "Miami Beach," and indeed it looked the part.

Of course, old Tangier remains as it was, and that was where I was going. The cab driver took us to the top of the Kasbah and through the old gate, and our hotel was just a few hundreds yard farther on -- a very nice place that my brother and his kids had stayed at a few months earlier. Our room had windows overlooking the old Medina walls and we could see the fishing boats working their nets close in. A roof top terrace served tea, coffee and orange juice whenever we wanted. Perfect!

Austin and I hit the bricks pretty quickly, and Austin was pretty as he has never been in a city where walls are crumbling, where people are dressed in non-western garb, and where the smell of undevelopment pervades -- a mixture of four-stroke engine exhaust, sweat, washwater tossed into the street, rotting vegetable matter, broken sewer pipe, wool, and fresh donkey shit.

The narrowness of the streets in the old kasbahs and medinas of North Africa is always a bit intimidating, as is the fact that non-Moroccans tend to stand out a bit, and there are always a lot of people jostling about and seething intensity to the whole thing, and sometimes a little resentment too -- tourists may have more money in their pocket than a rural Moroccan is going to see in a year.

The heat and humidity was pretty oppressive -- walk a few miles and you ended up pretty soaked, and the kasbah in Tangier has a lot of up and down as it is built on the side of a steep hill as is a lot of Tangier.

The meat and fish market

It was Ramadan, of course, which means no one could eat, or even drink water despite the heat and no one could smoke either. It does not help that August has some of the longest days of the year, as well as the hottest. By 6:00 pm things in the street felt pretty tense as people scurried to buy food and get home so they could eat when the call from the mosque began.

Austin got sick late in the day on a first day in Tangier -- typical ecoli stuff of the "Montezuma's revenge" variety, but he was OK 18 miserable hours later. It was not going to be an easy night in any case -- a mosque was only a block from our hotel, and the loudspeaker calling us to prayer was aimed right at our room.

The next day I hired a local guy for an hour in order to take us to the old stadium and from there to the house I lived in when I was a kid -- less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The house looked very much as it did 40 years ago, only now it was for sale. Our old gardener and cleaning lady, who lived in the basement of the house and conveyed with it when we rented it, had died, but their now-adult children still lived there, though no one was home when I rang the doorbell.

Austin and I had a rather large lunch in a restaurant, and we went up and down and all over the Kasbah and down to the fishing boats and even to the old "yacht club" where we once had a 24-foot sailboat. Not too many sailboats now, but the fishery looked prosperous and the fish market was groaning with every kind of fish as the straights of Gibraltar is always running rich with tuna, swordfish, sole, shark, and pretty much everything else. Vast parts of the interior of the Mediterranean may be over-fished and decimated from pollution, but Morocco's water are cleans by the Atlantic.

All in all, and despite Austin's bout with the flu, I had a great time in Tangier, and though Austin was a little dubious of North Africa (he like London, Paris, and Madrid more), it is a place he will remember as it was far outside his comfort zone.

Wait until Fes, I thought. There's a city that's even outside my comfort zone!