Political Views, Pandemonium, and the Preservation of Roman Glory

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by Christopher Benson

The weekend before last was a journey I’d long been waiting for, Fez and Volubilis.  We were also in Meknes for a bit but we were all exhausted from the schedule so I’ll just say it’s a fine city to take a nap in.

Fez is famous for its leather, and I was happy to support the industry.  I purchased a messenger bag of sorts that still reeks of pigeon excrement and cow urine, each ingredients in the Fez tannery process, so I know it’s good.  We had an assignment to discuss politics with the locals and discovered that most common Moroccans are decidedly supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Islamist politics in general.  Our taxi driver said “Islam and democracy are married” (I think).

According to the anthropologist Clifford Geertz suqs are markets where information is scarce and unreliable.  Everyone in it is trying to overcome or manipulate the resulting ignorance, and nowhere was this truer than Fez’s suq.  Here one shopkeeper (a god of suq knowledge) gladly helped us bargain with another and a random man guided us to the inner depths of the tannery free of charge.  On the other hand, I overspent on my bag because the shopkeeper I bought from offered 1200 dirham and I only dropped it to 650 (when I may have gotten 500) and random men stood near the tannery entrances asking for money to enter.  Another fellow tried to sell us a wandering street kitten for 10 dirham (a dollar).  Chaos, but I like it.

Volubilis is the site of the best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco.  Several Latin students in the group (myself included) enjoyed pretending to understand the mosaics or attempting to read a few surviving Latin inscriptions.  While not quite America, a visit to ancient Roman ruins was still a welcomed little vacation from drowning in Arab culture.  Regardless of the distance in time I still feel I understand people under the Roman Empire more than regular Moroccans, but I enjoy the challenge.

My Meknes Experience

Together we equal the glory of one Roman infant.

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