Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our Meknes Story

Our first Moroccan trip with just the two of us. After extensive research and hotel phone calls, we hop on a train to Meknes for a 2-day vacation. We arrive, take care of the basics (such as checking into our hotel room that *includes a bathroom in our room), and head to Meknes’ medina.

I had read that many Berbers from the Atlas mountains come to Meknes to sell their wares, particularly carpets. Our first stop in the medina was a carpet shop. The shopkeeper took extra care to tell us about the different fibers (cotton, sheep’s wool, silk, camel wool), dyes (saffron), and quality (knots, texture). He offered a fair price for a beautiful carpet, and I became excited that Meknes might be the place to find a carpet for our home.

We find our way into a fantastic square with a tree growing in the middle, craftsmen working, and men drinking their coffee. In this bustling, pink space, we begin our disagreement about the carpet. I say, what an opportunity to buy a local handicraft that took 8 months of a woman’s life to make, and generations of a family legacy to cultivate. Tom says, that’s a lot of money- can’t we just get a smaller carpet? Agreeing to disagree, we pay for our coffee and mint tea, and wander to watch a craftsman use the damascened process for metal work- a specialty in Meknes.

Tom puts this room into perspective

A friendly Moroccan says hello, and before we know it, we are following him through the medina to a carpet shop selling his family’s work.  The shopping process in the medina is quite social, involving many cups of mint tea, viewing and discussing a spectrum of wares, and not mentioning prices until you have picked “the one.” Therefore, I am shocked when Tom accepts a cup of tea and begins allowing the carpet seller to share his inventory.

After saying “keep it” or “take it away” to about 30 carpets, we zone in on three favorites. Of course, our ultimate favorite is a crazy price, one that we could not bargain for reasonably. Tom settles the bargaining for a wool-cotton carpet that’s filled with intricate patterns in bright reds and yellows, and, laughing, I have my carpet and Tom likes it too.                                                                  
Our carpet is on the floor, left-center (other considerations are below and to the side) 

Tom and the shopkeeper

I wait in the shop with the shopkeepers while Tom goes to find a credit machine.  Wanting to find some good local eats for dinner, I ask the friendly Moroccan who led us into this situation about where the locals eat. Hassan (this friendly Moroccan) invites us to come to eat Kefta tagine with him and his wife at their home. We accept this honor, and again we follow Hassan (this time in the dark) into the winding heart of the residential medina.

We admit that at this point, both of us were a bit nervous, but we had a good feeling about Hassan. He leads us to a small space (slightly bigger than our living room) he shares with his wife, Fatima, and 4-year old son. Making sure to teach me this dish, Fatima makes the tagine in front of us. As she cooks, Hassan invites us to celebrate his son’s circumcision with the family as well as join in the upcoming feast of Eid. We leave bearing gifts from Fatima and the phone numbers of our new friends- perhaps we will join them in the near future!

See the blog post titled “Kefta meatballs and eggs” for the recipe and photos of Hassan and Fatima.


p.s. I can't resist sharing this picture of Tom on a rooftop in the medina!

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