Fez by Foot
Today we walked around the Medina in Fez, the old walled city. If you’ve never been in an old city, you need to imagine a place with not a square inch of public dirt or grass. The cobbled lanes have narrow low gutters on either side, and shops and doorways rise up right from there to three- or four-story homes and other buildings. There is stone everywhere; there are no gardens or grass until outside the walls. There are places like this from France to Zanzibar; I don’t think that anywhere in America is like this, but the North End’s narrow lanes start to come close.
We meet Abdul, who asks whether we mind two young Dutch women joined us. He hadn’t committed to them, but we don’t mind, so we meet up with them and start on our walk.
We tour a tannery, which has been tanning hides and dying them in the same ways more or less since the eleventh century. (There have been some improvements, e.g. moving to pigeon guano from animal urine as an acidic solution used after soaking the hides in a mix of limestone and water for a few days, because the ammonia in the urine caused too much eye irritation in the workers.)
Ryan buys a belt at the leather tannery, and when Abdul tells us what a fair price is, I use that knowledge to conclude that a fair price will be around half what we will first be offered.
We see the oldest university in the world, right in the middle of the city. These are the things that are left out of American history books: the oldest university in the world is in Africa, and was teaching algebra (an Arabic word), astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, law centuries before Oxford and Cambridge influenced Harvard and Yale. The oldest university in America might have been started by men wanting to ensure that women’s voices were silenced in public, but the oldest university in the world was founded by a Muslim woman and had been teaching for 778 years before the Puritans put a woman on trial because she threatened their influence.
We go carpet shopping. This is an interesting experience, and we end up buying a few carpets. (Well, technically I buy carpets and Ryan buys a double-sided embroidered rug.) We drink a lot of mint tea as we sit and judge carpets shown to us, and it reminds me of when I studied abroad in Turkey: my professor said that shoppers buying expensive leather jackets and other goods would sit and have tea while they conducted business, and I thought of the day that I would be sitting having tea shopping in a bazaar. Today is that day.
Based off my knowledge of belt prices, the history of each of the rugs (where and how it was made, deducing how it came to be in inventory), and the cost of shipping, I determine what I will be happy to pay for what we were looking for.
‘You are Berber—no, you are worse than Berber,’ he tells me, along with making it perfectly clear to Ryan that I’m trying to cut off his hand, his arm, his heart.
When Rachid isn’t willing to meet my price, I have no qualms about leaving without the carpets I like, because it isn’t like I’m suffering without them in my house.
But he ends up walking out with us, and invites us up to the office to discuss shipping. I make it clear what my final offer is for all three rugs including shipping (spoiler: the same price I had named downstairs), and he asks Ryan outside to discuss the matter.
(We’re still not sure why he did that—there were some cute sexist things previously, like Rachid offering to trade me for rugs, and me making it clear that that man who’s able to make that agreement is back in America, and that Ryan and I are just friends. The best we can figure is that Rachid sensed I was more intractable than Ryan, and perhaps he could talk Ryan up, but Ryan just reiterated the price I had stated.)
So we mark our rugs so we’ll know they’re the same ones when they arrive, and head to couscous for lunch.
Abdul meets us after couscous and tells me that Rachid told him what a good bargainer I was. ‘Did I get a good price?’ I laugh, ‘Yeees!’ Abdul laughs along with me.
We stop by a weaver’s where I buy scarves as gifts and employ the same practice. ‘She is not American,’ another Abdul, helping us, tells Ryan, ‘She is Berber.’
Who knows. Maybe we’ve still marvellously overpaid for knockoff goods, but I know three things:
- At least the carpet co-op is government-backed like the pottery co-op we visited yesterday
- I’ll get to regale houseguests with my only favourite class of story, the ‘Conclusion: I’m awesome’ story
- I think what we paid is fair, especially considering the great privilege I have in life as a white American
We stop by a few more places to return back to our hotel for some rest, Jidenna tiny desk concert, and lamentations over the Jets inexplicably leading the Patriots right now.