Sitting on a bus heading south to Fes, watching the lovely Moroccan landscape whiz by, I got lost in nostalgia for this place that seemed, as I said, so familiar yet so new. There were fields of lush green with sprinklings of patches of brightly colored spices and picturesque lakes, farmers, mules, shacks, baskets of harvested vegetables, and kids running around avoiding their daily chores.
Nothing can prepare you adequately for getting out of an enclosed vehicle to what is “Fes”. Nothing except, perhaps, a previous visit. It was sensory overload for all 5 senses. Clusters of old buildings, little shops, people, crowded markets filled with dried fruits, meat, live chickens, nuts, bread, jewelry, shoes, leather… Basically anything you can think of is around every corner. People are always out walking around, most women cover their heads with simple scarves. I found it all extremely fascinating.
Moroccan cuisine is worth it’s own full blog. But as I have proved to be horrible at writing as of late, we’ll cram a bit into this one! As I said, all 5 senses were overwhelmed during my stay, but mostly taste and smell for me. I was greatly impacted by the new combinations of flavors I experienced there. In my opinion, Moroccan cuisine should be #1 in the world! Think amazing tea made of fresh spearmint and loads of sugar, heavy flavors of saffron, cinnamon, honey, almonds and other exotic spices and things. They used crazy contrasts of flavors to create depth in a dish.
One night we decided to splurge and visited the 4 star restaurant/hotel, Le Maison Bleu, in Fes. For about $40 each, we immersed ourselves in a complete cultural experience: they served us pre-dining spirits, appetizers, a few delicious main dishes, dessert, live traditional music, and wine. It was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever enjoyed. And man, I still dream about that dessert of orange blossom cream and filo dough. Uff… and the famous pastella.. a scrumptious mixture of cinnamon, powdered sugar, and seasoned meats in an empanada style of dough (think chicken pot pie, sort of, but much much better!). I vividly remember the smells and tastes and the feeling of being in the old palace like hotel, a refuge from the bustling city outside.
So, basically, my trip to Morocco was more like a gastronomical tour… that’s what every trip ends up being like for me! No better way to get to know a culture than to sample authentic local food. It just amazes me that such simple plants give us delicious flavors in themselves, but when mixed with other plants, spices, and foodstuffs can create a divine, harmonious medley of enjoyment.
Ooohhh, thank the Lord for food and flavor!
Caution: The following may seem as unbelievable as “The Never Ending Story”, and it really did seem like the never-ending story at some moments. However, please note that all of the events truly happened. This is just a recounting of real events.
It started out as a normal trip to the grocery story. We had our grocery bags, we had our wallets, but we forgot the list. Upon going back to get the list, I stick the key in the lock and turn it. At the precise second of starting the action I felt something a bit off, but continued to turn the key anyway. When I reached the point at which the door should have opened, I pulled. Nothing. I tried it again. Still nothing. I looked over at Beth- “it won’t open…”. Try again… you can guess what happens. Nothing. So Beth takes the key and tries. No dice. What the heck is wrong with the lock?! The key was fine- it entered and came out with no problems. But it was like the lock was stuck.
Thoughts started racing through my mind. “I don’t have my cell phone!” “Where do we go at 8pm at night? Nothing’s open!” “What the hell do we do?!” “”Who do we call? And how do we call them?” “I don’t even know how to begin to explain this in Spanish!” “This can’t be happening. It’s just a dream.” Well, it did happen. And it was happening. At 7:43 at night on January 27, 2009.
We stood there, perplexed by our situation, still wanting to believe the door would open. The only thing I could think of was to try and find a locksmith asap. Doesn’t Spain have Triple A? Apparently not. So we walk to our little neighborhood tool shop to talk to the nice, little, old man there that Beth met last week. Luckily he remembered her. But how the heck do you say “locksmith” in Spanish?! Stumbling through our description of the problem we start to get a little more panicked with each passing moment. The man and his wife finally understand we need a “cerrajero” or locksmith, but they say “Good luck trying to find one at this time of night… everyone’s gone home.” Blast.
I think it was the desperate look on our faces, but whatever it was, he decided to follow us around the corner to help us try to open the door. His face was as surprised as ours was when it didn’t work. Then, a ray of light! As we were standing there, the old man suddenly turned from our ground floor apartment door towards the street and yelled “Guapa!” (Pretty girl!). Beth and I looked and saw a hunch backed, rustic man in his 40’s coming out of the building across the way. “Guapa! Vente pa’ acá!” (Pretty girl, come over here!) We realized then that the “pretty girl” was actually the man who was walking towards our building.
“Este es un cerrajero.” (This man is a locksmith.) WHAT?!! You’re pulling our legs right? What a coincidence! Actually, I know it’s not deep down, but seriously, this man literally just appeared out of nowhere, came out of the woodwork. The old man leaves us with our new helper. He takes the key and tries, then dashes out the door and yells up to someone in the window upstairs. He runs back in with some tools and gets to work. Then another guy comes in and they start talking back and forth in fast, slurry Andalusian accents.
They run in and out a few more times to set up shop outside our door. For the next two hours, brothers Fali (nickname for Rafael) and Jaime (HI-may) completely manhandled the door using tools I never knew existed and long railroad-like stakes to drive the middle of the lock out.
All the neighborhood was out in the street watching the foreign girls get their door beat down. Since there was only 1 lock and 4 of us, Beth and I ended up talking with Jaime most of the time while Fali worked the lock. This little man ended up being the neighborhood gossip, catching us up on all the inside scoop, from the lady that lives in their building who likes cats and feeds the wild ones in the city, to the “girl who was a girl, and wasn’t a girl” that lived in our apartment a while before us.
To ease our desperation, Beth and I decided to bring back some beers and sandwiches from the bar across the street. Entering the bar full of all men, we knew that they already knew what was going on… however none of them came to help us. We got some beers in plastic cups, told the barman to put us a variety of little sandwiches on a plate and promised to bring the plate back when we finished. Then, back to the “shop”, where we enjoyed conversation, sandwiches, and beers with our new friends. Man, only in Spain.
2 hours later they had made a little bit of headway, but still could not get the lock out or the door open. Finally, Jaime took the hammer, knocked the lock, and it went loose! HOORAY!!! They performed quite a job on the door and surrounding plaster walls. So when we finally walked in our house with a newly found appreciation for it, moldy walls and all, we found pieces of plaster and lock all over the floor. But who cares!! Home sweet home!
Now we just have to communicate all this to the landlord….