Saturday, June 21, 2014


Ahmed is about as tall as he is wide. He's balding, sports a scruffy mustache and looks smarmy -- and he probably is smarmy as rumor has it he was once in jail for murder but had the resources to pay his way out and set himself up as a card-toting official guide. Rumors are the lifeblood of Bab Boujloud so who knows if it's actually true. But looking at him and watching him operate, you can imagine how such a story got started.

I've never actually seen Ahmed nab any tourists for a guided tour of the medina but Lord knows he tries. He gives off an air of someone entirely untrustworthy and no tourist ever seems to fall for his patter. And yet, it must work from time to time because every morning he is outside the Blue Gate, scurrying to and fro as fresh tourists emerge from taxis and vans, holding doors open for them as they emerge and displaying the oversized, laminated badge he wears around his neck to proclaim his status as an official guide.

Watching Ahmed from the vantage point provided by one of the numerous cafes near the mosque is rather like watching a comedy routine unfold. His short legs seem motorized when he spots a prospective client and rushes from one end of the wide road to another to be the first to encounter the newly arriving tourists. He has lots of competitors about but he often seems to get to the tourists first. I watch him start his spiel as tourists try to get their bearings and either ignore him entirely or politely try to extricate themselves from his attention. They look over his head, which is not hard to do, confer with one another, pull out their maps and shake their heads as they attempt to walk on. Ahmed follows them for a bit, continuing to talk the entire time until the tourists can gain enough distance from him to make it clear they are not going to employ him for the proffered tour. Within two minutes, max, the tourists separate from him and enter through the gates unattended. Ahmed, never deterred, invariably turns on his heels looking for fresh prospects. Like a windup toy set on a flat surface after the key has been turned to its full capacity, Ahmed propels himself towards the next petit taxi turning the corner to open the door -- maybe even grabbing hold of the tourists' luggage to make sure they have to stop and talk to him.

Say what you want about Ahmed, he's a spunky bulldog and an integral part of the colorful cast of characters that populate Bab Boujloud. I never get tired of watching him.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Ranting Woman

To me, she looks like a quintessential someone from New York. I would say she is in her fifties. Every time I see her she is purposeful but not at all hurried. She is well-preserved and attractive, and there are elements of her style that make me think of the 1960's. She wears a scarf and hides her eyes behind black retro sunglasses. She has a pale, noble profile which I study as discreetly as possible because she also perpetually carries a scowl on her face. And sooner or later, I have learned, she will break into a rant. The rants don't seem to be directed at anyone in particular and you never know what's going to set her off. I've never witnessed anyone taunting her into her verbal outbursts which surprises me because she puts on quite a performance once she really gets going. But something gets her going every time so I try not to draw her attention. And because I don't know where she is looking with those large, black sunglasses on, I take care to study her from a distance. But I can't resist keeping her in my peripheral vision as she passes in front of me.

Today I saw her twice. The first time was in the late afternoon as I sat in a cafe enjoying a visit with a friend. I pointed her out to my friend and made a comment on her likeness to a New Yorker. My friend laughed as the woman passed on by. I didn't mention the rants.

About an hour later I was on my own and headed home when the ranting woman emerged from a doorway and stepped right in front of me. I was so close to her and she had her back to me so I could really study her. I hung back for a little while, curiousity mixed with caution and a healthy respect for the energy of anger she exudes. As soon as I decided to make my move to pass her, she started to talk to herself. Or was she addressing me? I murmured a peaceful greeting as I overtook her and she returned the greeting, barely breaking stride as her monologue continued to get underway. I passed on by without incident.

I can't understand a word she says but I understand the admonitory tone and I feel the anger behind it all. I secretly applaud her as she speaks up and presumably speaks her mind. The ranting woman could be mistaken for any number of nationalities (for me it's a woman of Italian descent living in the Bronx) but she happens to be Moroccan. That's why I admire her public expressions of her anger at something -- made up or real, it doesn't change my opinion. I like her free and consistent expression of her anger and indignation. It's rather rare here in the old medina of Fes.