Geometric patterns made by Moroccan zillij, mosaic materpieces, capture attention and mesmerize. For me, the facination with zillij is so overwhelming that it makes me love Moroccan artistic traditions. It also drives me to write and produce this blog. More
Up river some boys rinsed gold tea pots with an acid finish. Down river, a group of men pound animal skins in the water. The river that runs through Fes serves many purposes. None smell or look particularly beautiful.
“This pattern is called ‘The Spider’” our guide said excitedly while gesturing towards a zillige-covered wall. “The Prophet Mohammad was hiding in a cave from his enemies when a spider came and built a web over the entrance. His enemies believed he couldn’t be in the cave because the web was unbroken. This is why it is haram (forbidden) to kill spiders and why this pattern is called named after the spider.”
I found myself in a SUV driven by an American who was touring Morocco with his girlfriend from Chezh Republic. I assumed they were married and asked how long. “They aren’t married” my tour guide whispered “that’s why he laughed when you asked the question.”
We talked as we drove towards the Merinid tombs. “Moroccans sure like their walls, don’t they?” the man asked rhetorically. “They have walls around nothing. He told me” the American said in reference to our guide “that the holes in the walls are for birds.”
Riad 20 Jasmins is the reason why I skipped half of the Morocco Business Forum. I left the conference early on the second day to take a much needed nap. My room, the smallest and, ahem, least expensive room in the house, was towards the front of the building. I could hear medina life at all hours of the day and most of the night. People watching was off limits. My room’s window was above the alley, so all I could see was the small garden where black birds made a ruckus in the morning just after the morning call to prayer. Instead of napping I enjoyed the quiet of the riad when all other guests exhausted themselves with tours of the medina. I essentially had the salon to myself, wireless Internet access, and excellent examples of zillige tesselations, borders, and stars to contemplate.
I had a chance to observe artisans creating pottery and mosaics at a ceramics factory in Fes. You can see products and request estimates through the factory’s website at www.artnaji.net. The site also has information on the production process. If you click on the photo above, you can view my flickr photostream, which has more photos of the factory.
My guide tells me that the color of Fes is blue, but I say its grey. The color of Fes is grey like the clay used to make Fasi pottery and tiles; the grey of pollution and plaster work; it is the grey of the crumbling medina walls. It is a particular shade of grey that is more a complex taupe than a simple mixture of black and white. The color of Fes is the color of creative inspiration. With 50,000 artisans and 15% of the population working in the craft trade, Fes is a specialized source of human creative energy. It is amazing what can be made with Fasi grey.
The day began with a presentation by Rick Ortez, a Foreign Service officer with the US Commercial Service who participated in reconstruction efforts in Baghdad and worked in Jordan during the implementation of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The essence of his presentation can be summarized by one statement he made: “It shouldn’t be called a Free Trade Agreement. It should be called a Very Challenging Trade Agreement.” The establishment of a FTA with Morocco doesn’t mitigate the challenges of doing business between the two countries, it merely adds an incentive for both parties to work together to overcome those challenges.
The first day of the Moroccan Business Forum included introductions by the Wali (Mayor) of Fes, the Governor of the Fes-Boulemane region, and the US Ambassador. The Americans invited to a brief private session with US Ambassador, who spoke directly to concerns relevant to US businesses, such as energy costs, water availability, and low-level corruption.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), founded by the US government in 2004 to aid developing nations, awarded $111.87 million to Morocco for the development of artisan practices, architecture, and tourism in Fes. The program aims to train 50,000 master artisans in new design and production methods and expects to benefit 20,000 low-income workers in the Fez medina. The award is part of $697.5 million Millennium Challenge Compact with Morocco.
An agreement to release pre-Compact funding in the amount of $32 million has been executed and several major procurements related to the compact project activities are being prepared. I am looking forward to learning more specifics about how the projects will develop support and develop Moroccan artisans when I go to the Morocco Business forum in May.
I registered for the Morocco Business Forum, which is being held in Fes from May 8-10. Yesterday and had a brief chat with the forum founder over the phone. When I told her I was interested in artisan products, she said “I don’t know if you have heard of the Millennium Challenge Account. Basically, Morocco was awarded a sum of money to develop the artisan sector.” She also noted that representatives from the US embassy will discuss the US-Morocco free trade agreement and what it means for businesses and investors.
The vibrant colors and abstract ornament that characterize Moroccan design find voice in the many music festivals celebrated in Morocco each year. If you visit Morocco this summer, expect to hear the sounds of music in the streets as music festivals around the country celebrate diversity and promote peace. From Whitney Houston and Ziggy Marley to trance-inducing Gnaoua musicians there will be something for all musical tastes in 2008. Each festival includes an intellectual component with seminars and conferences exploring musical history and cultural diversity.