My Easter Sunday began at 4:30 AM, when I was woken by the eerie call of the muezzins all across the town calling their faithful to prayer. We have of course heard the call many times since arriving in Morocco, but I haven’t yet been able to just sit and listen to it without a myriad of other sounds and input layered over it. So I laid in bed and listened to this strange chorus until it finished, wondering at the kind of devotion that makes people get out of their warm beds that early and put their heads to the floor in obeisance.

The sudden silence when they all finished was kind of stunning, which amplified the beauty of one tardy muezzin’s song, which continued on into the space left behind by the others. This one took his job with pride, sliding on a lovely musical scale up and down as he proclaimed his God’s greatness. What a fabulous way to start the morning — although I was very glad when I fell back asleep quickly and was woken again by birdsong a full three hours later. And then again by the sound of construction starting up next door, as Sundays are a work day like any other here. So much for a nice quiet lie-in.

I needed the extra rest because yesterday was a day of epic adventure, in a week of equal excitement. Our host from the first place we stayed in Fes helped us to transfer to the next, sending our luggage ahead with a couple of guys and lagging behind with us as we slogged our way through the crowded medina.  Never have I nearly been taken out by so many assorted objects as I have here: large raw sausages stuffed with God knows what kind of meat, huge canisters of gas, donkeys bearing massive loads of sodden animal skins and piles of boxes, a Fassi hearse (i.e. a wooden stretcher, which our guide explained was to take out the dead), guys running along the street with arms full of brass teapots and plates, and of course loud scooters and even trucks, up closer to the gates. Walking takes on a whole new meaning here.

We successfully deposited our bags in our new riad, which is a gorgeous old house surrounding a garden courtyard. The suite Gabe and I are in is bigger than our whole flat in Lisbon, and the rooftop terrace overlooks the entire city, including the nearby tannery, where you can see the men clambering around the dye pits just as well as the tourists who pay for the same (much smellier) privilege. We didn’t have much time to stop and enjoy it though, as we soon set off yet again through the medina, this time in search of the car park and our host’s ancient old BMW convertible, which was the only car he had functioning at the time.

After we had all done our best imitation of getting in to a clown car and applied the necessary scarves, hats, and sunscreen, we set off to see Meknes, another of the ancient imperial cities, and Volubilis, a Roman city. We rattled over dusty roads, drawing many a stare from the people we passed, as I think perhaps a convertible full of white people is not an every day sight here. But as we stared back just as intently, no harm was done.

We got too late of a start to see much of Meknes other than the famous mausoleum and the prison, which runs for 7 kilometers underground. The latter was a fearful place, and we could imagine all too easily what it would have been like to have been piled in there along with thousands of other people, dark, hungry, and afraid. The electric wall sconces and holes in the ceiling, which were added to let in light in recent years, didn’t do much to dispel the impression. Our guide told us that these were added and most of the tunnels blocked off after one Moroccan family lost their way and died in the labyrinth. Probably an apocryphal story, but again, all too easy to imagine.

After that gruesome site, we piled gladly back into the car (this time with the top up, as it was growing cold) and went on to see what we could of Volubilis before dark. I’d read about the site in advance, so knew it was one of the largest Roman ruins this far south in the world, but I was unprepared for just how extensive it was. The walls reached for what seemed like miles, with columns springing up randomly throughout, and beautiful mosaics sprinkled around the floors.

At the same time, I couldn’t help  but think what it would have looked like had they made a better effort at preservation. The same sultan who built Meknes also used the miles of tunnels under it — and the prisoners housed therein — to carry bits of the Roman ruins off to make his capital, and then of course the Victorians came in and “restored” a lot of it later on. More recently, a desultory effort has been made to keep people off the ruins, with a few ropes thrown in to keep people from actually walking on the mosaics. But there was no effort to actually preserve them from the weather, either rain or sun, and I’m sure in twenty years it will look nothing like what it did now.

We wandered there for at least an hour, puzzling over what the mosaics depicted and laughing at the stork who had built his nest on one of the columns. He (or she?) sat there, completely impervious to the people and magnificent ruins below, as if to say, “Romans, sultans, tourists, they’re all the same to me.” I liked its attitude.

Soon it became too cold to stay out any longer, so we turned back for Fes, climbing up and over the rutted mountain roads just as dark fell over the fields of massive old olive trees. We arrived back at the riad, frozen through and tired, well ready for the gluttonous Moroccan dinner that awaited us. And soon thereafter, bed, where I slept like a Roman colonnade until woken by the muezzins’ call.

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