Saturday, April 30, 2016

FES, MOROCCO: BUYING A RUG (OR TWO)

You really haven't visited Morocco if you haven't sat through at least one "How We Make Our Amazing Rugs (And We Won't Let You Leave Until You Buy One)" presentation. I actually went to Morocco with the intention of buying a rug, so when Hassan asked if we were interested in visiting a rug co-op "to see how rugs are made" (rather than the actual purpose, which was "to buy a rug so I can get a commission"), we said "Sure!"

We went to what must have once been a very, very fine home in the Fes medina. Based on other pictures I've found on the internet, I think we visited the shop with the lovely French name of "Aux Merveilles du Tapis" (or "Wonders of the Carpet" in English). The inner courtyard has become a rug display area, and the high balconies of the second and third floors are perfect for hanging large carpets.


This building was originally owned by a Jewish family. I have in my notes that it was built in 1325 AD, but a date carved on the wall says 1359. Either way, it's ancient by American standards. Judging by the wall decor and the level of maintenance, those who have lived here for the last 800 years have been very wealthy. 
Every riad-style dwelling needs a fountain in the central garden, even if that garden is a garden of rugs:

Close-up of the center medallion. Note the Arabic script for "Allah" in the center:

More beautiful patterns:

Even the floor is beautiful. This looks like a great pattern for a quilt:

The ubiquitous carved plaster panels never ceased to astonish me with their originality and fine design:

Stairs, stairs, stairs. We climbed hundreds of flights in Morocco. I think the only elevator we ever saw was in our hotel in Casablanca on our final night, but even it wasn't working in the morning and we had to haul our luggage down four or five flights of stairs. Morocco is not a disability-friendly place, but all the stairs did give us lots of good exercise:

The shopkeepers took us upstairs to see some samples of carpet looms. We were told that the carpets are made by women who work mostly from home, two to three hours a day. One rug takes months, depending on the size, which I could understand as I tried to fathom how one is made at all on a loom like this:

Close-up of the warp yarns stretched tight on the loom:

The colorful weft yarns are woven through the warp to create patterns:

This woman is setting up the warp lines for a new rug. Note the earbuds. I wonder what music she is listening to? 

The beautiful carved plaster adornments are even found on the very top floor:


Looking down at the kaleidoscope design on the courtyard from the upper levels made me a little ditzy dizzy:

Here is the fountain seen from above. I wish I knew who the mysterious man in the white cap is:

We made it to the roof and were rewarded with a good view of the emerald green zigzag roofs of the University of Al Quaraouiyine (yes, that's 8 vowels to 4 consonants). It was founded in 859 AD, and according to UNESCO and the Guiness World Records, it's the oldest continually operating educational institution in the world (although that is disputed by some) and the first to award degrees.

The universities Bob and I attended, in contrast, were established about 1,000 years later: 1850 (University of Utah) and 1875 (BYU); and 1,100 years later: 1949 (University of San Diego).


The rug people really liked taking pictures with our camera, so here's another one of us with a different view of Fes in the background. The square building on the top of the hill behind us is part of the Merenid Tombs built in the 14th century. Just on the other side of the hill is a large cemetery. We visited the ruins and the cemetery later in the day:

After they had shown us all the beautiful sites, the rug sellers finally got down to business, sitting us down in an alcove, having us take off our shoes (so we couldn't run away could walk on the carpets), and starting the tea ceremony--until we said no tea. Then they brought us bottles of cold water and glasses.

They spread out rug after rug on the floor in front of us until they were several layers deep. The rugs were of various origins: Arab, Berber, Bedouin, Middle Atlas, Anti-Atlas, etc. 
 

(I know I took more pictures of the process, and at least one picture posed one with the man in charge and our new rugs, but they have disappeared into the great Photo Vault in Heaven, and this is all I have.)

At one point the rug seller asked me if I worked. When I said "Yes, I am a teacher," he kissed my hand and said, "Big heart but very little money." Then he got around to what he really wanted to know--what Bob did for a living--and Bob replied that he was also a teacher, which is not a total lie as he has taught a class at UCR and teaches at church occasionally. The rug seller looked a little disappointed. Surprisingly, he didn't kiss Bob's hand. Even more surprisingly, shopkeepers at future places our guide took us to also somehow knew that we were both teachers. Word of impoverished customers apparently spreads fast in Morocco.

After about an hour of ooh-ing and ah-ing and listening to the spiel ("Our rugs are much finer quality than anything you can buy in the souk" and "You will take your cheaper rugs home and find out that they are no good") and heavy bargaining, we selected two rugs (and still probably paid too much for them). Both are Bedouin products. One is an older rug made in the 1940s, and one is new.

The newer one is waiting for our kitchen remodel to be finished, but we have hung the older one in our living room. I love the colorful design and the sense of stars, mountains, and valleys. Its many intricate patterns will always say "Morocco" to us: 



3 comments:

  1. Yes, Moroccans are very prescient. I never would have paid that much for the rugs if I hadn't known that one was a gift to Caesar Augustus from Julius Caesar and the other was used by Muhammad on the night journey. I will only buy quality.

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  2. Ha! Love the teacher story. Those rugs are going to be something you love and enjoy forever.

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  3. Such great detail and good stories in this post--esp. in Bob's comment (I'm still chuckling). I also love all the detail in the photos of tile, etc. Such a decorated place!

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