Fes el Bali

People often wish they could travel back in time. I’ll let you into a secret: you can. Book onto a RyanAir flight to Fes, take a threadbare taxi through the concrete blocks of the new town to the crumbling walls of the old town, duck through an archway, squeeze your way past a donkey or two, and you’re there. Smack bang in the Middle Ages.

Sure, there’s the odd mobile phone, a few too many tourists wearing jeans and sporting DSLRs, and the red liveries of Coca Cola bottles lined on shelves, but for the most part you could have stumbled onto the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Old prune-faced men in brown robes falling to their feet, tiny scrawny stray cats snatching goblets of gore from the earth beside butchers’ stalls, shop sellers levitating amidst ceiling-high piles of pointy yellow slippers, beaten brass pots, dates and raisins. There are no cars because there are only two roads; instead there are alleyways, snaking off to left and right wherever you go. Some end in picturesque doorways, others get dingier and narrower as walls close in above them, kept apart by wooden beams.

It’s a coquettish place; all half-spotted this, glimpses of that. Ornate doors closing on the emerald insides of a mosque, a woman disappearing into her house with a chicken in hand. It’s the kind of place that it’s well nigh impossible to become a part of quickly, easily. It isn’t Paris, where you can sip coffee and a cigarette in a cafe down a cobbled street, and pretend to be French. Here, mint isn’t bought by the packet but by the wheelbarrow, oranges are priced by weight not quantity, and bread is cut into wedges like cake. Walk through Fes' archways, and you enter a place preserved; from cars, from outsiders, from time.


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