When a large group of street musicians walk down the narrow alleys of the old walled city in the heart of Fez, Morocco they are like street sweepers. They push everything in front of them from wall to wall. You can either shrink into an indentation in the wall and try to let them pass or you can walk into the middle of the band and have your ears shattered by the high-pitched horns and pounding drums.
I chose to walk into the middle of the musicians and photograph. Maybe I was annoying them because it seemed like some of those horns were held right next to my ear on purpose. I was swept slowly along within the din for several blocks until we came to a small plaza where they could spread out, where this photograph was taken.
This was a celebration of the birthday of Moulay Idriss II. (He was the son of the man who conceived of Fez as the capital of his kingdom. The medina (old original walled city) was completed in the 9th century.) The street celebration was also a wedding ceremony. The combination gave it a festive exuberance. After I returned to my hotel I could hear them playing for several hours as they walked through other parts of the medina.
I had spent the day with a life-long resident of the old part of the city. I hired Abdulah as an official guide through my hotel. He was born in a house near the hotel and had spent his 60+ years navigating the narrow streets. He had taken me down alleys through the maze of centuries of culture past all manner of vendors. We had visited a tile and pottery cooperative, the leather works, the oldest operating university on the planet, and of course I was given the opportunity to tour the rug cooperative and buy a rug (I declined the rug). After our long day of walking he was ready to be done, but then we got caught up in the street celebration. I could have tried to stay with him and exit the alley quickly before the band reached us. But it was too tempting to wade into the chaos and photograph. This was my third day in Fez and I had gotten over my initial intimidation and culture shock. It was time to mix in.
Stereotypes and cultural pre-conceptions once again had proven inaccurate and superficial. I had been treated mostly with friendship. I had been respectful and was treated with respect in return.
On the first day there had been several young guys (who pester everyone who enters the medina) that insisted on being my guide and helping me find a better hotel than the one I was going to. I was thankful that my hotel had signs along the streets so that I could tell them, “No, merci”. My crude French helped because Morocco had been a French protectorate and French is still a common language of business. Taxis can not enter the medina alleys so you are deposited at a gateway with your luggage and just have to dive into the stream of mules, hand carts, street-hustlers, vendors, tourists, and beggars. The main “streets” slope downhill through the heart of the medina to the river. They are bulging with people. It was quite interesting.
I am glad that I got to see this celebration. The happy wedding couple seemed truly honored with their combined festival.