Morocco Part 4 – Journey to Fes

In June, 2003 I travelled to CasablancaMorocco for a 4-month gig at the Hyatt Regency.

I’m re-posting the blog, a total of 6 posts, that I created and posted during the course of the gig in 2003.

During my time there I was able to travel a bit, even though I played 6 nights a week in the Bar Casablanca.The trains were very efficient. In late July I visited the city of Fes.

It is interesting that I originally learned about the Casablanca gig while I was having dinner with a friend, Vicki Bogolin, at a restaurant in Arlington Heights. The piano player at that restaurant happened to be Lynn Hilton, whom I knew from hanging out at the Wonder Bar in downtown Chicago. When I said hello to Lynn, I mentioned that I hadn’t seen her in a while. She said she had been busy working overseas, and, by the way, they were looking for somebody for a gig at the Hyatt in Casablanca, Morocco!

I told Lynn I would love to follow up her tip, so she gave me the contact info, and I ended up booking the gig myself! By coincidence, Vicki had a close friend from high school whose daughter, Miriam, was studying in Morocco! Miriam was a very brave, bright, 20-year-old Jewish girl who spoke Arabic and lived and studied in Fes. She also travelled around Morocco a bit, often by herself! I met up with Miriam when I went to Fes.

Here is part four of the original six blog posts, which posted on August 1, 2003–enjoy!

Ally in FesFes is an historical Moroccan city four hours plus by train from Casablanca. It’s northeast of Casablanca, so it’s inland and the temperature is much hotter–middle to high 90’s as oppossed to high 80’s in Casa. The vendors occupy the many, narrow lanes of the old Medina, and it is still today a lively place for buying and selling for locals as well as tourists.  I only spent a few hours there, but it would have been nice to have a few days. I’d like to go back there for at least one other visit.

[Picture here shows another street in old Fes]

I was lucky to have a connection there: Miriam is the daughter of a friend of a friend (but we’re all friends now!) She is there with other American students studying Arabic and the Moroccan culture. A few of the students stay in a living quarters in the old medina.  Their home has very interesting architecture and decor, as you will see in the pictures.

I arrived at the Batha Hotel, which is just outside the medina, at about 3:00 Sunday afternoon, July 27.  A boy came up to me and asked if I wanted a tour of the medina.  His name was Mustafa–he spoke perfect English and looked to be about 9 years old. I said no since I was about to meet somebody.  He asked if I wanted a tour the next day. Because of my past experience with another Mustafa, I was reluctant to give him any hope.  He said, “Big person, big price; small person, small price” and said he charged $5 US for a half-day tour.  (The professional guides charge about $12–independent guides are illegal)  He said a complete tour of the old medina would take 3 days!  Other kids were trying to get my attention too. Another younger boy said, “You from America? America no good!”  Mustafa gave his little mouthy friend a lecture in Arabic–I would like to know what he said! The other kids were blatantly asking me for money, but I only offered a small tip to Mustafa–which he refused! This kid had such poise & maturity he won me over, but I didn’t get to tour the city with him.  Miriam showed me around Sunday, and I didn’t see Mustafa near the hotel the next morning, so I walked around the Medina myself. Somehow, I didn’t get lost!–but I only saw a very small part.  Then I took a 1:00 train Monday so I could be at work Monday night.

Here is a short video–a collection of short clips from before my Fes trip

More photos

Steve in old medina
Entering the old medina
Tile design in Miriam's house
Tile design in Miriam’s house
Miriam's front door
Miriam’s front door–after winding through many dark alleyways….
Inside Miriam's house
Inside Miram’s house

street outside medina[Photo here shows the] street in front of the [Batha] hotel.  At the end of the street, you take a left, and you’re suddenly in another world of the old streets of the medina.

On the right, which is directly across from the hotel, there is a cafe where I spent some time on Sunday. As in the cafes in Casablanca, the men–I’ve never seen ladies in a Moroccan cafe–sit in a line of chairs outside the shop facing the street watching the people (especially the girls?)  Someone said it is a sign of the high unemployment in the country.  I had a taste for coffee but I couldn’t find a seat outside, so I reluctantly took a seat inside where it was hot, dark & smoky.  I asked for cafe au lait and got a delicious serving in the typical small juice glass (not quite the quantity of Starbuck’s!) It was very hot and humid, and I wished I could have been sitting outside.  In a few minutes, the volume of the TV, perched above the entrance door, went up, and a man in an Arabic headress was ranting and shouting, in Arabic, on the TV screen.  I believe the TV channel was Al Jazeera.  I couldn’t imagine what this TV guy was so vehement about. I waited for the TV picture to cut-away to another scene, a police scene or something, so I could maybe understand a little of what he was ranting about.  But no cutaways, just the angry,shouting face.  I hoped he wasn’t calling for a holy war against the west, or asking viewers to kill the first American they could find. I looked at the open door–I was about 12 feet away and could be out in about 3 seconds, I figured.  Then I looked around the room, and the men were all unconcernedly watching the TV and were all very calm.  It was like being in a roomfull of my uncles. So I peacefully enjoyed my coffee!
View of Fes from rooftop
View of Fes from Miriam’s rooftop
Hotel Batha
Hotel Batha, just outside the entrance to the medina.
Steve in courtyard of hotel
Not bad for $33 a night!
Medina in the sunshine
Medina in the sunshine.  Many of the alleyways are far below the ground and don’t see this much sunshine.
Craftsmen hand-making clothes
Craftsmen hand-making clothes. Hand made items from Fes are exported to other cities in Morocco
scene in Fes with Arabic sign
Scene in the modern section of Fes.  I don’t know what the sign says.
Burro in medina alleyway
The alleyways are too narrow for cars, so the burros are used to deliver merchandise to the vendors.
Back at the Bar Casablanca with guests from Malaysia and Hong Kong
Back at the Bar Casablanca with guests from Malaysia and Hong Kong
With friends Chantal and Serge
Visiting with my jam session drummer, Serge, and his wife Chantal.  They’ll soon go back to France and I hope to visit them on my return trip.
With fellow employees at Hyatt Hotel
Awatif & Houda are hostesses at the Casablanca Bar and Dar Beida Restuarant.  Ragab, an Egyptian, sings with the Arabic orchestra in the Hyatt Hotel’s Dar Beida Restaurant.  The restaurant serves native Moroccan food and is very popular.
Fes on Morocco map
Location of Fes on map of Morocco
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