I forgot the tannery!

The ancient tanneries are a major attraction in Fez, and we visited them yesterday as part of our walking tour. They have used the same tanning methods for hundreds of years, involving the water from the river than runs through town, as well as natural pigments and lots of pigeon guano for its acidic effect. There are no chemicals used at all in the process.
When we entered the area of the tannery, a man stationed at the doorway handed each of us a sprig of mint. I looked confused, so he mimed holding it under his nose and inhaling the fresh scent. Uh oh. Reality began to dawn. As we ascended the stairs, the smell became stronger. At level three, Sadiki left us in the hands of a tannery worker, and we continued to climb. As I crushed the mint in order to mask the smell of death, I was reminded of the children’s nursery rhyme, Ring Around the Rosy. I clenched my pocket full of posy, but to no avail. The view was spectacular when we reached the terrace, but the stench was overwhelming. I snapped my photos as quickly as possible, held my breath as long as I could, and just at the point of retching, I ran for the exit. Craig, meanwhile, smelled almost nothing.
I abandoned Craig to his photos, and went in search of clean air. What I found instead was an incredible array of leather products. Unerringly, I headed straight for the most expensive product line: lamb skin jackets in all shades of butter-soft suede. By now, we have gotten quite good at bargaining, so by the time Craig remembered that I was shopping unchaperoned, I had gotten the price down about 20%. I let my son-of-a-Berber husband move in for the kill.
We left the shop and traveled down another flight of stairs, with the salesman trailing us, saying hopefully, “We take credit cards!” Just before we exited, he cracked and agreed to our lowest offer, 40% less than the original asking price. To show that he was a good sport, he threw in a little change purse for free.
I thought I was safe from the revolting smell of the tannery as we resumed our walk, but unfortunately there is another set of vats, with yet another opportunity for stunning photos. More mint leaves, more gag reflex kicking in. More therapeutic shopping, this time a beautiful hand-stitched goatskin purse. It is good that Craig realizes he must sacrifice for his art.
We also visited the shop of a family of weavers, who have four looms set up in a former merchants’ inn on the caravan road. Because the Muslim faith forbids any representation of living beings, all the patterns are stripes or geometrics. They work with cotton, wool, and vegetable silk, which is a fiber extracted from agave cactuses. Again, all the pigments are natural and made from such elements as saffron, indigo, and snails.
In talking with the weavers, we learned that an intricate pattern of various colored stripes can take the weaver two full days to create one meter of cloth. Considering how labor-intensive the work is, by American standards they were giving away their fabrics.
We were happy to help support this dying art, and purchased a stunning piece of cotton/silk fabric in blue, rust, gold, and other earth tones. We’re looking forward to putting it to use at home, to remind us of our wonderful trip to Fez.




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