From your vantage point on the rooftop terrace of your pension in Fez-el-Bali, you hear the evening call to prayer echo out across the medina. Overhead, the sky is a kaleidoscope of swifts, swirling and churning as they perform their nightly roosting ritual. Down below, inside the ancient, high walls of the medina, the largest living medieval city in the world prepares for another night of commerce.
In the vegetable market, the cobblestones have taken on the essence of centuries of cilantro, crushed underfoot, reactivated now by the afternoon’s rain. Outside the Mosque, peddlers with arthritic fingers tie mint, verbena and sheba, also known as absinthium or wormwood, into fat bundles for tomorrow’s tea.
In the meat market, chickens lose their lives, followed by their feathers. The severed heads of goats look on as locals gather around grills and tuck into sausage sandwiches.
A butcher shop and a shoe stall share a wall; a row of leather slippers hung a quarter inch from a side of lamb marks the delineation between meat and apparel shopping.
Cheap souvenir hats for tourists are everywhere, but if you want a real fez, made of butter-soft felt and dyed a deep jewel tone, you’ll need to find your way to one of only a few, discrete stalls in a covered network of alleys specializing in traditional men’s fashion. Deeper in the souks, the ninth and twenty-first centuries collide in a narrow alleyway filled with electronics shops where mobs of young men with cell phones huddle elbow to elbow. Around the corner, women hold soap-like blocks of perfume up to their noses to make their selections between sandalwood, jasmine, rose, and musk.
Find your way back out, past the sweets, the scarves and the earthenware tagines. Catch a glimpse of the crescent moon in the zigzag of darkening sky visible above the medina’s winding walls. You’re almost home now. There’s the post office, the plaza with the fountain, and the café where you had coffee yesterday… You’ve been sighted. The café waiter recognizes you and waves you in to take the only two seats left. Boys and men of every age from five to eighty-five occupy the rest. At the heart of the medina, in the Medersa Bout Inania Grand Mosque, practicing Muslims point their prayer rugs toward Mecca. On the fringe of the medina, in the cafés at night, all chairs and eyes point toward the television as the last ten minutes of a soccer game count down.
Rooting for the home team,