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Key to the City

A Dang Inspiring Walk Through the Fez Medina

Key to the City BY leah bhabha 07/24/2018

You know a destination’s special when you start planning your next trip as soon as you get back home—which is what Lucia Perluck did after visiting Morocco as part of an artist’s residency in the northern city of Fez. Her jewelry-designer brain latched onto the work of the Berber tribe, but her love for the bustling Medina of Fez, a central walled area in the town and a Unesco World Heritage Site that was founded in the ninth century, also stuck out. It is, as Lucia says, “where all the action takes place,” and she’s here to give us a guided tour—with a little help from the famous French-American author Anaïs Nin, who was equally enamored in her day.

 

“Just before leaving for my first trip to Morocco, I was in a local bookstore and stumbled upon a collection of short stories by Anaïs Nin—one of which was called “The Labyrinthine City of Fez.” It’s nearly impossible to give a written tour of the Fez medina that can be followed along on a map—the ancient, walled city center is way too winding, with millions of side streets and alleyways to discover—but with her atmospheric prose, Nin is able to navigate the unnavigable. Written over fifty years ago, her descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of this place still ring true today. I particularly like this line: ‘To watch hands at such delicate work is to understand the whole of the Moroccan character—patience, timelessness, care, devotion.’”

 

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“We’ll start our tour towards the center of the medina, in the dyer’s souk. One of the things Nin mentions in her narrative is allowing her shoes to be colored by the brightly-hued dye that runs down its cobblestone pathway. You can follow in her footsteps and do the same or opt for a more intentional dye-job for just $3, like I did.”

 

“From there, I suggest following the clanging of hammers to Seffarine Square where you’ll see coppersmiths hard at work.”

 

“Walk down any artery that branches off the square, and you’ll pass by engravers working on intricate chandeliers fit for mosques, tool-makers, and woodworkers—all in tiny stalls that make NYC studio spaces feel lavish. As you continue on, dodging donkeys carting heavy loads of carpets, countless tour guides will ask to bring you over to see the tanneries.”

 

“You might want to take them up on this because they know where to find the best aerial views of the stone dye baths that look like a giant watercolor kit from above. If you’re lucky, you might catch an afternoon leather trade where sellers gather in an open area to sell their pelts to eager buyers.”

 

“If you’re getting hungry, a few options have popped up since Anaïs’s time in Fez. Café Clock is the local expat hangout, serving lamb burgers and lassis but also the traditional tagines and couscous. Nothing beats home cooking in Morocco, though, so if you make friends and are invited to a meal, be sure to go! At the very least, mint tea is an offering not to be passed up that often leads to a great conversation. Hotel Batha is great for an adult beverage (which can be hard to come by).”

 

“There’s not a lot of jewelry production inside the medina, but there’s lots of shopping to be done in the many museum-like galleries sprinkled throughout the city. Keep your eyes peeled for traditional Berber fibulae and Tuareg designs, and you’ll surely be enchanted and inspired.”

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