This will be a brief entry because I have at once too much and too little to say about our visit on Monday to Fez, one of my favorite places in the world. “Too much to say” because I could go on and on about how unique Fez is. In my lecture on the plane yesterday, “Fez: Islamic City,” I detailed the many ways in which Fez is a real, working, traditional urban center. “A time machine,” I called it, stepping into which transports you back a thousand years to how life was lived in most cities of the world. “Too little” to say” because I will not repeat the contents of that lecture here, other than to show one picture of an artisan caught in passing as he sewed embroidery on a djellaba:
What makes Fez so different from many other exotic destinations, is that nothing is contrived. This is how the three hundred and fifty thousand residents of this city live and work.
I was especially pleased that our travelers were able to see this. For the first time on the trip, we toured in the rain, but far from marring the experience, it seemed to enhance it. Everyone had the feeling that they were experiencing the city “as it is” with its people and its puddles. In three groups we did the mandatory circuit down the Talaa Sghira (the smaller main shopping street), and then digressed into back streets to visit some homes (dars) and garden-mansions (riads). We peered into the Qarawiyyine Mosque, walked through the metal workers’ souk, and sampled hot bread just out of the oven of a working bakery.
A highlight for me was seeing guides/friends from previous trips. The head of the guide team was Seddick Aassim, who served as tour director on the alumni trip I accompanied last year. Also present were the local guides, Ahmed and Cosmo, that I had come to know during Mary Jean’s last program here. So the whole experience was a reunion. My Moroccan friends seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them.
At lunch back at our exquisite hotel (the Palais Jamais overlooking the medina) I responded to requests and agreed to lead a small group on a personal tour of the city. I asked Seddick if he could appoint Cosmo to help me avoid losing someone in the crowds at markets and shopping streets. Highlights of our tour included a visit to Monsieur Driss, my favorite Sufi plate engraver. Fred Diehl, my fellow lecturer and Dr. Kin Lam, a traveler and oncologist from New York, bought beautiful small plates. (I received no commission!). Also included on the tour were a stop at the Perfumerie Médina in the henna souk (whose owner, Rachid, was interviewed during a visit here last year by my friend Richard Stamelman for a travel article Richard was writing on Fassi perfumes); a walk through the teeming and fragrant Bab Recif food market; a quick stop at the tanneries; and another at the weavers’ souk. Fred took this shot of our little group in front of my favorite dried fruit and nut stand (Cosmo is in the middle in his djellaba):
At this point, Cosmo had to return to assist with the larger main group, so I took over and on my own got us safely back to the hotel. Everyone agreed that, in retirement, I should become a medina guide.
Our gala farewell dinner took place in the evening. The expedition leader, Lynn Garrison, offered a wonderful summation of our journey,
Reviewing the many sites we had seen. Lynn observed that one of the things that made this trip so special was the enthusiasm of the quests/travelers. Since this trip was incredibly expensive, before we left I was worried that the travelers would be elderly and conservative (in spirit): that they might resist the adventure of visiting challenging sites or be repelled by the dirt and backwardness of some of the places we would visit. But just the opposite was true. Perhaps I should have expected that talented people willing to invest so much in a trip around the world would be enthusiastic travelers. They were. I wish I could show pictures of all these exciting people and convey the enjoyment of our experiences by so many of them. Perhaps an iPhone shot from two nights before, taken at our Taybet, Jordan, restaurant can convey something of this. Here are Joe and Kathi Costello who showed up at dinner with clothing they had picked up at Petra during the day:
At the gala, the flight crew was present, and during the cocktail hour, I snapped this shot of our Captain, Geirprúdur Alfredsdóttir. She’s on the right.
In a conversation with the captain I learned that she has 9,000 flight hours.
For the gala dinner, I was able to invite two Fassi friends, Abdellatif and Amal Jai. Here are the two of them, and me with Amal and the whole group:
The Jais joined my table for dinner. Following the mandatory performance by the belly dancer (who has put on a few pounds since I photographed her performance during last year’s alumni trip), . . .
. . . our evening ended as other table guests conversed with the Jais, asking about how they manage to fit in and perform the five daily prayers. It was a small seminar on comparative religion, with a first-hand report of experience by two devout Muslims. Just the kind of learning opportunity that travel provides.
Tuesday morning, we swept through passport control and security to meet our beautiful women cabin attendants in festive local dress:
As we got underway, passengers were invited to visit the flight deck, a treat no longer available on commercial jets. Here is a view of the instrumentation of our plane, the vista of the Atlantic out the front window following our refueling stop in the Azores, and the Captain, once again, in her flight outfit.
En route, the second captain, Magnús Brynjarsson, gave us some statistics on our flight. The earth’s circumference is 21,600 nautical miles, but with side excursions, we covered 28,813 nautical miles. We flew over six continents and spent a total of 70 hours in the air, 35 of them over oceans (the Pacific, Indian, and the Atlantic). We consumed 264 gallons of water and 110 gallons of alcoholic beverages, ate one 2300 pounds of food (I fear I ate a good part of that). All together, the cabin crew each walked a distance of 137 miles, and we consumed 85,000 gallons of fuel. That’s a lot of petrol, and a lot of carbon put into the atmosphere. Clearly, the world cannot afford to send very many of its citizens on a trip like this. But I am glad that such a trip exists for some, and I am especially grateful that I was able to experience it once in a lifetime. I’ve loved travel all my life. As I said in my opening remarks to the group, I’ve yearned to see places like Machu Picchu, Easter Island, and Angkor Wat since reading books like Kon-Tiki or watching news reports of Jackie Kennedy’s tour of Angkor’s temples. So this trip was a dream come true. I have put this effort into my travel narrative in the hope that by recording my first person account, others can participate in this extraordinary experience.