Friday, June 11, 2010

Festival in Fes

I love an outdoor summer festival. Not even that picky on what type of music-expose me to something new, hopefully, as well as enjoy old favorites. Well, we got a lot of the former, but w/Ben Harper cancelling last minute due to “excruciating pain from an extreme accident” (word has it that he dislocated his shoulder skateboarding in an empty pool), none of the acts were ‘old familiars’. The World Sacred Music Festival staff (most of them new this 16th year of the event) did what I thought was a terrific job rallying to get replacement acts to satisfy the angry crowd that paid a lot of money (in $US equiv) to see Harper.

But I get ahead of myself. Saturday afternoon I met up with Randy, as well as Cortney and her Mom (visiting from the US), to stay at Maia’s place in the medina. Cozy, but perfect, with salon space to relax, rooftop deck, mini-kitchen for breakfast, etc. We went to one of the cheap sidewalk cafes for a quick dinner before heading to the “Harper” concert. Got our seats, ran into some friends, had a coffee under the beautiful twilight skies before it started. The concert begins with a very lukewarm group-pretty formulaic string music-Randy captured it best by describing it as lounge music. Uh oh. Crowd’s gonna get pissed. Wait. They’re done after 20 minutes and clear the stage. Hamdullah. Then the main (replacement) act comes out. Amadou and Mariam from Mali. The crowd knows them. Both blind. Fabulous. Crowd on its feet dancing the entire show. They come back for a 20 minute encore. Bravo. Nice rally from the Harper disappointment. Clear skies, stars are out, ramparts of Bab Makina lit up dramatically, backup singers/dancers, awesome percussionist. What a fun night. We make our way to the Batha Hotel (pronounced bat-ha) for a drink with Jess and friends to celebrate her 40th bday. Wind our way back to Maia’s in the wee morning hours, and surprised at how many people are still up and around in the medina. Must be a festival weekend.

Fortunately we didn’t have to be anywhere early. Australian friend Colleen is back in town w/a group of 3 women for her next month-long tour of Morocco, so a bunch of us meet for a late coffee. Good to just sit and chat, catch up, watch the Boujeloud parade. (The café where we met is just inside Bab Boujeloud-the northernmost entry of the old medina, and the #1 tourist entry into the medina). As we’re saying our goodbyes, dear Colleen pulls me aside and tells me she has something for me. Rather, for the women I work with. Seems she made some bags out of prayer rugs she bought in Marrakech last year and sold them w/the profit to go to a garden in Agdaz. Well, when she went through Agdaz w/her last tour group, the guy she knows wasn’t around, and she didn’t want to leave 500DH w/just anyone, as it probably wouldn’t make it to the garden. So she decided instead to donate it through me to the REK women. This is great-promised her photos of how the money is distributed, and know what I want to do with it. For 150DH each, I can purchase 2 Natural Dye Workshop handbooks in Arabic (Amina Y paid out of her own pocket to have it translated from English) for both the Adwal and Asalah Cooperatives (both were at the Saturday morning workshop w/Amina, and rec’d no written materials-just had to memorize the “recipes”). I’ll still have 200DH left over which I can give to the new Women’s Assn for them to buy a sign to put out by the transits so people know that they’re open for business (something we’ve already discussed that they need to do). That will be 3 different organizations touched by Colleen’s generosity. “Thanks be to Ellen.”

Later I made my way to Café Clock (needed a clean bathroom) but by that time Cortney, Linda and Randy have had enough shopping, so we meet there for lunch. Afterward we’re slowly shopping our way back to Maia’s when I run into a friend-stop to chat-what are we up to-are we going to any of the concerts? Oh, yeah, we’ve got tickets for the one that starts in ½ hour at the Batha Museum. Oops, need to go! I have my ticket, so head back up the medina to save us seats while the others go to get their tickets and meet me there.

The Batha Museum is another lovely venue for a concert. Fits several hundred people, but an intimate setting nevertheless-under the spreading limbs of an enormous oak tree in the immense courtyard, shading the seating area. We are treated to the music of a blues group from Zanzibar. Love the instrumentals, could have done away w/the female vocalist. Once again Randy hits the analogy on the nose-the woman’s voice reminds us of the high pitched nasal vocals of Berber music-and very little of that goes a very long way. Oh well, great setting, nice afternoon, interesting music. Batha Museum-check!

Randy (god bless her parents) has also thought ahead and bought eggs, so we don’t need to go out for dinner before the evening concert. We take a glass of Linda and Cortney’s bottle of wine up to the rooftop deck, and run into Eric. Eric is Maia’s long-term boarder (she has 3 mini-flats in her riad), and since we’ve all stayed at Maia’s place numerous times, have heard about him, but this is the first time any of us has met him. Cortney’s shocked. She sat next to him on the plane from Casablanca to Boston last Xmas. Saw him again on the street in Fes. Ran into him at Café Clock. Same guy who’s been living at Maia’s. We all decide that she’s meant to know him. Too many random meetings-something else seems to be working here.

We get changed and head back up to Bab Makina for the evening performance. But what a trek it was. I think ½ of the medina population was trying to walk down T3la sgira while we were trying to walk up and out of the medina. Felt like a salmon against the current. Maia’s place is down pretty far in the medina. It was a river of bodies coming at us for ½ hour. And those going our direction were on a Sunday evening stroll. While we were trying to get to our concert. Somehow we kept our sanity. Just in time to walk through Boujeloud Square, which was filled with Fessians out for the evening.

See, music festivals like this one, have tickets priced out of the range of most Moroccans (except the very wealthy, usually affiliated w/sponsors, who come dressed to kill), so the paid events are mostly Europeans. However, for each of the 10 days of the festival, there are at least 3 concerts in large venues that are free to the public. With the beautiful warm weather, the crowds have come out in record numbers. So great to see this for the people of Fes. (Last year, poor publicity and miscommunications led to small crowds at a lot of the free concerts).

Last night’s paid concert was themed Africa Spirit. Soufi group from Zanzibar. It was ok. Wouldn’t want a steady diet of it. Glad I didn’t go to the Soufi festival, as this performance was enough. Then they’re replaced by the drummers from Burundi. They were terrific-hit 3 of 5 senses-sound-bouncing off the Bab Makina walls; visual-their dancing, jumping, colors-stimulating; the feel-of those drums-in your chest. What energy. Great. You can see how they might get into a trance with the rhythm and dancing. Randy and Linda head back a bit early, but Cortney and I stay to the bitter end. Find a way to walk around Boujeloud Square that is still going strong w/another band playing.

Today we make our way to Rabat-I’m helping w/training this week and Cortney’s mom heads to the airport tomorrow back to the states. I have time to run some errands-bootleg printer cartridges once again for my printer, get the leather strap on my purse re-sewn by a guy doing shoe repair from a box on the medina alleyway, and spend a frustrating 2 hours trying to find a bank that will change DH to Euros. When Kristen and I arrive in Paris late next Saturday night, we have to immediately pay the remainder of the apt. rental plus a hefty security deposit. No way that kind of $$ would be available to us that late when we get in, so I’ve been exchanging DH as I can pull it out of ATMs so we’ve got what we need when we land.

Interesting observations: During the concert at the Batha Museum yesterday, they paused their music during the call to prayer. Today, the shopkeeper where I was waiting to buy my ink cartridges, would not ring up any sales during the call to prayer (mind you, he was listening to it on the radio!). OK, whatever.

Then the 3rd bank I approached today wouldn’t let me exchange my DH for Euro’s because I didn’t have my “permanent” Carte de Sejour. That’s kinda like a green card-to work in the country. I have my application, but that’s all I’ve had (w/exception of 6 weeks) since I’ve been in this country. I think since I had a run-in w/the Chief of Gendarmes in my town last year, he’s tried to “punish” me by not giving me my permanent card, and instead I have to go in to see them and renew the application every month. So how can I control what my gendarmes do, the bank guy can see I’ve been here 20 months, but no dice. I end up going to BMCI (which is where my PC account is through), and my cash exchange transaction is done in a matter of minutes, no problem. Hit me on the forehead-why didn’t I start there? Oh well, we have the Euros we need right away, so money exchange? Check!

Hopefully I can get this posted tomorrow at the cyber. Wednesday for sure, as I’ll then be at the PC office.

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