I arrived last night in the swarming, honking, neon-lit mess of life that is Fez.
The excruciatingly haggled taxi I shared with a mother-daughter duo from the bus station to the medina (we were accused of being “cheap like Berbers”—is racism usually an effective bartering technique?) deposited us at the gates to the 1200-year-old medina, what the guidebooks call the entryway back in time, into another world. After eight hours on a rattling first-class bus through plastic-littered landscapes and vast expanses of mountains, forests and fields, it felt like I had been belched into a place where millennia collided. I was swarmed in the frenzied, electric chaos of humanity—and, as always, I loved it.
I grabbed a room in the first cheap hotel I spotted, a simple space not much bigger than the double bed that occupied it. The wooden shutters were thrown open, revealing the light and noise, the smell of strange spices and the hum of motorbikes, the grit and life and incessant sea of people on the throughfare below. It didn’t matter that the threadbare room was only 80 dirhams (about $10) a night; I wanted it for those windows.
I knew it would be noisy (why one should always travel with earplugs), and I’m sure the novelty of the hustle-bustle will wear off, but so far, I’ve loved sitting hunched over my notebook on the lumpy mattress, staring out through the wrought-iron bars at the street—my own private perch, where I can spy like a secret, and take it all in.
I closed the shutters around 11pm last night, with stereos still bumping, engines groaning, dogs barking and cats crying and men shouting intermittenly. The glass of the shutters had been crudely painted over, so some of the street still got in, a thin illumination reminding me where I was. My earplugs only slightly muffled the medina din.
When I woke, I took out the earplugs and just laid, listening to the street as it arose, stretched, came alive. Birds shrieked in a high-pitched panic; a voice boomed from a loud speaker, wailed in prayer. Metal shutters rattled awake and voices called to one another; somewhere, a rooster crowed. I wiggled the warped wood apart; the smells of cooking meat and mint burst through. I sat and stared from my bed at the ancient city, its beaten streets and ashy rooftops, its sand-colored crumble of stone on stone, its endless passing of colored robes.
I had arrived in the heart of it, and was ready to join in.