Today I got to know the medieval marketplace that is the medina in Fez. This is a town notably less touched than its contemporary counterparts by time, Western influence, Hollywood movies, and Facebook.
In Fez, farm animals wedge through crowds of people in narrow streets, and seeing your dinner’s severed head resting on the counter of your friendly neighborhood butcher is a sign of freshness, not grossness. Many trade in blue jeans in favor of a hodgepodge of traditional Mideast/North African-inspired gear, including one robe ensemble that I hadn’t seen before now, and that I can only describe as something the people who built Stonehenge probably wore. This is an endless maze of fruit and vegetable stalls, what you funky hipsters might call a “farmer’s market,” and people wielding tools that I thought only robots on assembly lines knew what to do with these days. They’re busy tanning leather, bending and banging on heated metal, making shoes and bags from materials so raw they’re still red in the middle, and spinning string out of the very fluff.
And they know motherf*#ker.
Unlike most of the rest of the world I’ve seen (and heard), English is not the second language here. Beyond a smattering of phrases that don’t really go beyond the act of buying and selling, there’s little English spoken at all. French, because of some vague colonialist history that I haven’t entirely Googled yet, has stuck around through the centuries, and remains the 2nd language of choice. And anyone who has ever heard my story about what I inadvertently asked a waiter for in Paris once knows that I shouldn’t attempt to parlez-vous anything outside of “hello” or “goodbye” or “do you speak English?” So Arabic and French, and I’m sufficiently lost in two translations.
But somehow, rising above the language barrier like Samuel L. Jackson on a serpent-filled 747, is the “motherf*#ker.” Apparently, this word has moved up the linguistic rankings of things to say when you can say very little. Rosseta Stone, chapter one. I’ve heard it uttered by many an ESL-er (English as a Second Lagnuage…er) and, because of their accent and inflection, never in a cool-sounding way.
I met an Italian backpacker on the roof of a hotel in the city who just emerged from several weeks of solo soul-searching in the Atlas Mountains. He expressed shock at his reflection upon return to civilization – his very dark tan, big, scruffy beard, tattered clothing – and, while kindly fumbling through this description (really, it’s my fault for not knowing Italian), he admitted that he’s been out of practice with English. And casually, without hesitation or doubt, in the middle of conversation, he dropped motherf*#ker. This is a guy who described, in broken English and a thick Italian accent, how he, just yesterday, trapped and ate a squirrel with his bare hands.
This motherf*#ker is beyond me.
Back in the olde city of Jerusalem, in one of the winding alleys within those ancient walls, a souvenir vendor called a colleague a motherf*#ker for taking a picture of his merchandise without then buying some. And today, well after dark, while I was making my way through the never-ending suq toward my hotel, I was clung to by a young “guide,” or a local who wants to show visitors around, with or without (without) asking for this service, to some place he receives a commission for luring tourists to, and of course a generous pile of Dirhams, a thankful tip from said tourist. This guide was more persistent than the others I encountered today and he became angry when I tried to shake him. And do you know what he called me?
Yeah, you do.
And this is what am I coming away with from Fez with, other than a bright red and be-tasseled Fez hat (I know, but how could I not?) Motherf*#ker.