Our first day in the medina yesterday. It was… impressive. Luckily since it was Friday, most of the crush of people cleared out around midday to go to prayers, so we could explore the streets without completely being overwhelmed.

We were promised a guide by our hosts, but after we’d waited more than two hours for him to show up (“He says five more minutes, shwiya shwiya”), we decided to take off on our own. We’d only walked for maybe ten minutes before he caught up with us on the street – we knew it was him because we’d been told he only had one arm. And one arm this man did have.

He set off down the street at a rapid pace, barely stopping to make sure we kept up, saying something about catching up with a bus load of Spanish tourists. We found them in a palace off the main street, and dutifully went in and looked around as much as we could. When we went back onto the street, the one-armed bandit was gone, his faded red fez nowhere to be seen. We’d been ditched. Oh well.

So once again we headed out into the streets on our own power. Sensory overload was indeed the right description for it, but in a good way, as long as you could duck into a quiet museum or café to catch your breath every once in a while. The food section was the craziest, as we walked by before prayers and it was still in full swing. We saw the famed camel head hanging from the butcher’s stall, but much worse was the stall where you could get a freshly slaughtered chicken. I had to avert my eyes rather quickly.

Amazingly though, we managed to find some of the main things we were looking for. “Let’s go to that Café,” we agreed, and then suddenly, the tout standing on the street was for that café. Perfect! Not only that, but the water clock we were also looking for was right above it (although you couldn’t tell it was such from looking at it.)

The rest of the afternoon continued more or less like that – we kept happening upon great things that we hadn’t even known to look out for. We stumbled upon a spice stall that was recommended in one of the guidebooks I have for Fez, which of course I’d forgotten to bring along with us yesterday. He very proudly showed off his picture in a dirty, battered edition of the book, and I lamented the fact that I wouldn’t be able to get his autograph. But he sold us some amazing spices, which made for a fragrant experience every time I opened my bag all day.

We also happened upon a museum of woodwork and art, which was in a lovely cedar-lined building and had a tea house on the roof terrace. The head-scarved ladies working there adopted me, saying that I looked like a movie star, and giving me a hug and kisses on the cheek when we left. They were wonderful.

In fact more than anything I am surprised and impressed by the warmth of the people here. There are plenty of touts and people longing to part you from your money, but mainly they are just interested in talking, or practicing their few words of English. The little spice guy, the women at the museum, even people on the street – they always return my nod or smile when we catch each other’s eye, and I get the distinct impression that they are more used to being treated as tourist attractions than as people.

When we stopped to consult the guide book at one point, an old man selling stamps at the stall behind me pulled out a chair for me to sit on, and was totally thrilled when I told him we were from America. “Oh, America! Very good!” he said. It was a relief that he didn’t curse us soundly.

Our hosts are equally warm and welcoming, if slightly fluid in their interpretation of time and logistical arrangements. Last night I found myself in the inner world of Moroccan life, inside the courtyard at the center of the house, where the women rule. I had henna done on my hands and leg, and I suddenly became the center of attention for every female in the house: the wife, the cook, the nanny, the little street urchin that ran errands (who also had her hands done, and proudly shared my spot in front of the heater as we dried), and of course the henna lady herself.

At one point I had three ladies bent over my leg inspecting the progress, lifting it so that the girl could reach around my ankle. I have never felt more pampered in my life! Until of course the wife decided that I also needed my nails done to offset the henna, and gave me a French manicure with flowers dotted on my nails. I think they look better than they did for my wedding!

So that was our first day in the medina. Exhausting, exhilarating, and wonderful.

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