Adeal in his shop, with a deal for you.
The first thing my hotel concierge told me, gazing at the tattoos on my arms—a collection of mythological symbols from around the world—was that the only people in Morocco with tattoos were either in the mafia or—he searched for the words in English—“you know, like in Alcatraz.” He wasn’t exaggerating. For the next week I was asked dozens of times, sometimes in French, Arabic, English and Spanish, these two things: With a raised eyebrow, “mafia”? or with a conspiratorial nod, “Ex-con?”. At times, I would smile and shake my head negatively; at others, I would play along in the game and nod in the affirmative.
Some men pulled up their sleeves in camaraderie, displaying their own bodywork, which in Morocco is more akin to branding than tattooing—the application much more harsh; the result much less artistic. Considering that I have roughly 45 hours of tattoo work on my upper body alone—and not to mention that I’m 6’ 4”, roughly half a foot taller than most men I saw in Fes—I became something of a spectacle during my walks through the medina.
The most ingenious of these curious men attempted to pull me into his shop by telling me that he had a carpet that exactly matched the pattern of the striped tiger on my upper left arm. Good try, I thought, though I had no intentions of leaving Morocco with a carpet. Still, tattooed or not, one cannot walk through the medina without purchasing fine crafts, and I readily entered into the haggling process with shop owners. They would begin by demanding prices three times the rate an ordinary citizen might pay, only to eventually get talked down to twice that. The playful nature of the process is worth the purchase alone; “200 dirhams.” “200? I’ll give you 100.” “100? It’s worth 300! I’ll take 180” … and so on.
Once inside a store—remember, this is mostly an open-air market, more like large cubbies than malls—it’s hard to get out without buying something. The tact of the salesmanship would make any desperate used car dealer blush with humility. A friend who’d been here told me to visit Hamid’s Carpet Shop and say “hello”. This I did, and not three seconds after replying to my conveyed greeting, I was holding a piece of carpet to “view the fine craftsmanship.” I told Hamid I had no interest in carpets, but was interested in some scarves like the ones he had on the wall, but I wasn’t sure about the colors or sizes—he had scarves large enough to wrap elephants inside of, and I was merely looking for neck coverings for friends. Hamid said he’d bring more scarves from the weaver in the morning; it was too late now for such business, being after 9pm. “OK, but bring a lot,” I said, as I want to buy at least 10 for friends.” Well then surely the weaver would be available – we only need go for a 15-minute walk through the dark alleys. Fellow journalist Robert Hilferty and I tripped along behind Hamid, trying to keep up.
Suddenly we were there, having no idea where “there” was: Adeal’s shop (so fitting—his name is pronounced “A Deal”). Adeal appeared, drunk and seeming just enjoyed the company of his girlfriend, but he was ripe for haggling. Back at Hamid’s shop, we were told scarves were 50 dirhams, roughly $6, a piece. According to Adeal, the cheapest was 100 dirhams, and that was “a deal”. We haggled down to 900 dirhams for11 scarves. Of course, I had no cash and they didn’t take Visa, but the butcher across the street took credit cards, although his shop was closed. Adeal took us for a ten-minute stroll wherein we dutifully followed his inebriated form to an ATM and the deal, at this late hour, was finally completed.
The many times I wandered the sections of the medina I was reminded of New York’s Canal Street, where cheap knock-offs of Adidas and Puma sit next to faux Dolce and Gabbana handbags and wallets. But here men yelled out “50 Cent” and “Eminem” as I passed, toward their hip-hop wares, pop culture’s international currency. (It was hard to walk a few blocks without eyeing a 2Pac t-shirt.) In fact, the worst performance I saw in Fez was by a six-boy group dubbed Fez City Clan, a pack of teenagers borrowing all the wrong elements of rap (showing up a half-hour late, wearing sunglasses during the evening, playing the part of the masculine fool to cheesy, generic beats, and wearing glittering New York City shirts). Still, they were trying, assembling an image from what they knew of a city and an art form and making it their own.
We somehow found ourselves outside Adeal’s shop three days after our late night purchase. He pressed a blanket on Robert, a blanket Adeal was certain he saw him eyeing during his late night visit, but alas, this deal was not to be.
A narrow passage in the Medina