Two weeks in Maroc!

Marhabaan (Arabic), Salam (Berber), Bonjour (French), and Hello from Casablanca!  It has been a while since we've taken a big trip together, and we're happy to have you along for the ride. We are traveling this time with Abercrombie and Kent as our regular tour company, Tauck, no longer runs tours in Morocco. Here is the map of our itinerary:

We have about 2 1/2 days in Casablanca before the official start of the tour, and we want to make the most of it. So hop aboard; here we go!

Thursday, Dec 17, 2015
Yes...the country is called Maroc here. After a connection in Madrid, we are now in Casablanca, the largest city in the country. Its population is about 3.5M; about 12% of the country's total.  Our first impression as we were driven from the airport is that it looks like many of the other large Mediterranean towns we have been in (though it is actually located on the Atlantic Ocean), with the requisite palm trees lining the boulevards. Crazy traffic, with pedestrians crossing anywhere and anytime, and even walking in the street, but few motorcycles (a la Bangkok), and very little honking (a la Delhi). All of the buildings are in one of a handful of colors ranging from white to tan, so there is a drab homogeneity about it.

We finally got settled in our hotel, the Hyatt Regency on the Place des Nations Unies, at about 1:30, and were starving (the dinner on the plane was OK, but we had both opted out of the pre-landing breakfast since it was midnight on our body clocks). Most of the good restaurants here are only open for dinner (which starts at 8 pm!), but the concierge recommended one, Cabestan, which was open for lunch (until 3) and that had an ocean view (our hotel is about 1 mile inland). To get there we had to take one of the ubiquitous "petit red" taxis. From what we saw and experienced, most of these cabs would fail any kind of mechanical inspection and certainly an emissions test.

The restaurant was just past the Grand Mosque of Hassan II (which we will see on the tour) and near to the Morocco Mall, which according to the concierge is the largest mall in northern Africa! We will definitely not be checking it out. The restaurant is also next to the Phare d'El Hank (literally Henry's Lighthouse), the tallest and westernmost lighthouse in the country.

This is not a tourist place, as evidenced by the menu which was entirely in French (with no English subtitles). Luckily, Wendy was able to brush off her knowledge of French without benefit of alcohol. She ordered the fillet de dourade grille (grilled dorado on shitakes, pine nuts and zucchini); Wayne had the Blanc de Saint Pierre grille (John Dory over a paella risotto). Fantastique!

We cabbed back and began to explore the area around the hotel. It was 70 degrees as we walked down Boulevard Mohamed V (named for the grandfather of the current king), apparently a main shopping street with no auto access, only the street car line.

Though there were a few international brand stores we recognized, it was mostly filled with small, local shops, and many vendors selling their wares on rugs right on the sidewalk. The sidewalk on each block is a covered portico, making it shadowy and cooler; probably a good idea in the heat of the summer.

We saw one shop where a man was making sfenj; traditional Moroccan doughnuts.....

which are made of deep fried unsweetened yeast. When one is ordered, the vendor deftly makes a slit in one side, then he quickly slathers what looks like caramel into it, then rolls the whole thing in sugar and slips it into a paper sleeve. This is all done in about 5 seconds. Sadly, we did not taste one...yet.

After a while we sat down outside at one of the many tea shops lining the Place....

...ordered cups of hot mint tea (the national beverage), and watched the throngs of people walking by. There were all kinds of clothing, from very casual Western, to some fancy African, and of course traditional Muslim including hijabs on the women (though by our unofficial survey hijabs were worn by 100% of the older women and 50% of the younger). We also observed that nearly all of the patrons of the café were men (as you can see above). Since this was at about 5pm we assumed that the women were home cooking dinner.

We had intended to stay up until 8 to try to get back on some semblance of a normal schedule, but by 6 we were dead on our feet and had to do a faceplant on the bed.

Friday, Dec 18, 2015
Because we arrived well in advance of the tour start, we had previously arranged for a morning tour of the city, especially focusing on the Jewish history. At the appointed time we went to the lobby to find our guide, only to discover that it was Hicham, who is the guide for the actual A&K tour!! So we really got a head start on the rest of the group. We started out and he explained that the Jews have been in Morocco since Roman times. And from that time they totally mixed with the Berber and Muslim inhabitants. Unlike in many other countries, they were not limited to certain professions, nor were they ever confined to a ghetto. Sadly, there were some periods over the last 1,000 years where the different groups did not always coexist peacefully, but those have been few in number. The bond was certainly strengthened when the Jews and Muslims worked together to oust the French from the country. More on that below. During WWII, Hitler asked the king to turn over the country's Jews; he replied "We have no Jews here, only Moroccans." After the war however, when Israel became a state, about 90% of the Moroccan Jews moved there.

Hicham and driver Sayed (who miraculously avoided hitting anyone or anything a number of times) drove us around the city. One area was the Anfa section. Anfa is the original Berber name for the city; this is now an upscale residential area and the location of many consulate buildings. But, in the traditional style, in front of almost all of these is an outer wall with a gate, so you can't actually see the houses.

Our first stop was the Moroccan Jewish Museum. It's a small museum that contains some artifacts (most from the 20th century) and lots of photos of restored synagogues from around the country.

Next we went to Temple Beth-El....

...currently the largest active congregation in Casablanca. You'll note the chandeliers, which pick up the French influence, and the Berber rug.

Then we drove to the ocean, and walked along the promenade. Hicham told us that many families from Rabat and Marrakech come here in the summer, since they are inland and the temperatures can reach 120!

Back in traffic again, we asked him why there was still such a strong French influence (most signs and printed material are in French and Arabic). He explained that, though they were only in the country for 40 years, and were viewed as occupiers, the language and many customs took hold and have not been rejected. Indeed, even today, French is a required language in school.

We then stopped at Mohammed V Square. It is surrounded by many government buildings, including the courthouse and the governor's office. But, it was full of trash and not very inviting. The highlight (if you can call it that) were the water carriers.

Hicham explained that in the old days, in the very dry parts of the country, these men would go through the neighborhoods and sell water to the people. Today, they are just there for the tourists, and are happy to pose for a small fee. And we're pretty sure we've seen them before on The Amazing Race!

That was the end of the tour, as Hicham and Sayed were going to a mosque to pray. You see, today is Friday, the Muslim Holy Day. Many businesses close mid-day (and re-open later), as it is customary to pray and then have a family meal of couscous. In some Muslim countries, stores are closed all day on Friday.

We walked down Boulevard Houphouet Boigny and had lunch at the Taverne du Dauphin (John Dory for Wendy, clams with brown rice for Wayne; delicious but not picture-worthy), then again walked around the streets near the hotel. We did not go into any souvenir shops as Hicham told us "...they only sell tchotchkes which are not even made in Morocco".

Then back to the room to rest up for dinner.  But that and tomorrow's cooking class will be covered in the next post with the detail and photos our loyal readers have come to know and love.

Au revoir (and Shabbat Shalom) for now,
Love w&w

Mangeant a Casablanca

We promised a foodies' blog, so here it is. If you're more interested in culture or history than food and attitude, read no more and rejoin us on Monday.

On Friday night we ate at La Bavaroise, a French brasserie on Boulevard Mohammed V. Why not Moroccan food, you may ask? By this point in most of our journeys, we have been officially introduced to the  flavors, ingredients, and scents of our destination's cuisine. Yet our guide Hisham had especially recommended that we steer clear of the official cuisine until we arrive in Fez tomorrow (implying we would have enough Moroccan food to make an impression). Based on a discussion with my dance and Moroccan guru friend (shout out to Paula), I think this might have been code for "you'll have your fill of tagine later."  So, for the third meal in a row, we had French food.

The dinner at La Bavaroise was superbe. They greeted us with crustily warm French bread and very fresh and rich butter (unfortunately, the bread is quite good here). This was followed by an amuse- bouche of whipped pate-- devoured by the liver lover between us (not this writer). Our next course (shared), was described as a "tarte de gambas avec legumes"  (shrimp quiche with vegetables) but it was much more artful than that. Six perfectly grilled langoustines were garnished with delicate dill fronds, red leaf lettuce morsels, and julienned peppers. These were sweetly perched on a bed of carmelized onions nestled atop a laced cracker. Delicieux!   

This brasserie purports to have the best beef in Morocco, so Wayne chose friccasse de boeuf (the special du jour), and, because I couldn't imagine a plateful of red meat, I chose the canard avec pommes carmelisees .  Again, the presentations were magnifiques. And the flavors fantastiques! 

We rarely get desserts without sharing them anymore but calories outside the States don't count-- so Wayne ordered a chocolate lava cake with passion fruit sorbet--tres Bon!  I thought mine would be a simple butter cookie with fresh raspberries and a taste of vanilla ice cream. Au contraire!  The meal was great and easily half the price we would have paid in the States (the 10 : 1 exchange rate for dirhams notwithstanding).

Saturday, Dec 19

On to the Marche Centrale prior to our cooking class on Saturday morning. We've been searching for adjectives to describe the Casablanca vibe so far-- perhaps earthy and boisterous with a French accent? We consider ourselves market connoisseurs (and now have the photos from 6 continents to prove it). This was a great market but perhaps what differentiated it most was the very wide variety of fish, including a box of turtles for sale as pets and a vendor selling horse meat (for tagine?).  Also fascinating were the cafe tables set up for "buy your fish in the market, bring it to us, and we will grill it for you here" opportunities. A very different vibe from the "choose your fish from the case" in Santorini!

By 10:00am, it was time to go to La Toque Blanche-- our cooking school, famous for training chefs in global fare with a wonderful emphasis on patisseries. We could have taken a rickety old elevator up, but instead we chose to climb four flights of winding stairs. There we discovered that we would be having a private class (great news!) conducted entirely in French (challenging news )--and I decided I was up for it and would translate for Wayne along the way. In all fairness to A&K, our wonderful guide offered to stay to translate but we told him that was unnecessary. My skills were adequate enough for the class. With a few "vous  pensez que nous pouvons manger le tout?   (roughly, you think we can eat all of that?), my French was fine.

But let me set the stage first.  Think a combination of our dumpling class in Beijing (local color
punctuated by many small flying creatures), Bangkok (local charm with excessive amounts of food), and Athens (outgoing, generalissimo proprietress), all in an industrial cooking classroom with Arabic labeled appliances and you get the idea.

And because life is short, eat dessert first (or more properly, that's where the owner of the school wanted to start), that's where we began-- after an extensive Moroccan tea ritual. The demonstrator (who spoke primarily Arabic) must have sterilized the tea cups three times before actually pouring our tea!  Then, they served us the Moroccan cookies-- which was the proper hosting tactic and absolutely worth the price of admission (you don't want to know).

We were served four types of cookies--two (fekkas--almonds, sesame and  raisins-- comparable to Mandel brot/ biscotti and bahla) were characterized as "simple". My translation of our
trainer's explanation was that these are simple because the ingredients are inexpensive, readily accessible, and meant for everyday eating. The other two cookies, keab ghzal  (both gazelle horns-- one rolled in toasted sesame seeds) are served at weddings and are more expensive, more labor-intensive and, in our humble opinions, more delicious. I explained that we were particularly enjoying these because our 41st wedding anniversary was imminent-- but it was unclear whether the French words I strung together expressed that sentiment accurately.

As to the actual preparation of these tasty treats, several ingredients and/ or techniques stood out. Almond paste was ubiquitous-- as was orange rose water (though only a few drops). Our demonstrator used lots of sesame seeds. Perhaps most different from what we're accustomed to-- no spoons or mixers were used to blend the flavors; everything a main (everything by hand)! Indeed, we each took a turn mixing and sweetly kneading. Wayne scored higher marks in this endeavor than I did which amused our Arabic-only speaking demonstrator greatly.  Hands only wasn't the only technique that stood out; no cutting  boards either-- everything directly on the marble counter. Note to self: this is Morocco and not the States-- OSHA and the Health Department's reach does not extend here. Get over it!

I cannot count how many of the sesame cookies I devoured (think cooked almond paste rolled in toasted sesame seeds). But wait: almonds are proteins right? And seeds are healthy?

Anyway, the next several items (in rapid succession) were two tagines and a couscous dish. The technique for the tagines was similar-- apply a spice rub to the meat (chicken or beef for us, but tagines can also be made with lamb or fish), brown the meat with some vegetables, then braise in liquid (in the tagine-- hence name of dish) for 30-45 minutes. Then, garnish with appropriate flavors.
For both preparations, the rubs were comparable and included (but were not necessarily limited to): turmeric, pepper, saffron, cinnamon, salt, ginger, garlic, parsley, cilantro, and a new ingredient for us-smen (fermented butter). Now, a very important caveat here as something may have literally "gotten lost in translation." But, I am fairly sure our trainer said that smen is fermented for one year and buried underground. Benefit of the doubt, only one teaspoon of smen  was used for 2 pounds of beef or 4 pounds of chicken (and you can substitute unsalted butter). But suffice it to say that the scent was on a par with the dead (for four days) rhino we encountered in our South African safari 12-1/2 years ago. That is not a scent one easily forgets and we will not be ferreting out any smen  if we duplicate these recipes back home. The garnish was prunes and caramelized onions for the beef, and candied lemons and green olives for the chicken.


The couscous was a far cry from what we eat back home-- prepared with chicken and vegetables (and comparable spices including the, by now,infamous smen ). Most notable about this preparation was that the semolina was washed, steamed, and dried (seemingly grain-by-grain) three times!

We noticed that the cook doing the demonstrating was not moving forward with the final recipe in our packet, Seffa, which was a very simple vermicelli (for dessert); a preparation with raisins, cinnamon, confectioner sugar and a crushed nuts garnish. She did prepare this for us-- upon special request.

So, with all of these dishes underway, our trainer informed us it was time to eat. (We were still stuffed from the wonderful cookies but we felt obliged to cooperate.) They whisked away the cooking preparation materials (per above, no spoons and only a very few bowls) and set the table/ counter (replacing our wrought iron cooking class chairs with padded dining room chairs). Then, they proceeded to parade in with huge servings of the two tagines, the couscous dish, bread, mandarins, fancy French desserts and chocolates from the patisserie class running concurrently with ours, our leftover cookies from earlier, and two bottles of water. The sheer amount of food was frightening and, remember, we were still quavering from the scent of our newest (and least favorite) condiment of all time, the smen,  If you've read our past blogs, you know we (e.g., queue up Peru or Japan blogs) are willing to try most anything and quantity is generally not a concern. But this was different and truly excessive . And our trainer was pretty much staring us down. So, we gulped for air and filled our plates. The food was OK-- not unbelievably incredible. The trickiest part was when she asked what we liked the most (at least that's how I translated it). I genuinely loved the Seffa (kind of a Moroccan kugel-- maybe the Moroccan Jews originated it?) and the beef was ok. All Wayne could come up with as favorites were the chickpeas on the couscous and the caramelized onions-- and, of course the chocolate in the French pastries.

Dear readers: we may be heading for a real culinary adventure here if Wayne only eats chick peas and onions for the next 10 days!

We ended our most adventurous cooking class ever with a big thank you, a gratuity, the obligatory nice words in the visitors' journal, certificates of completion, and a plate of leftover cookies-- and we were on our way.  Would we do it again? Absolutely-- the experience was an absolute kick. Hopefully we won't need our Cipro, and the tagine on the road will be more memorable!

In the meantime, the official tour starts tonight. We feel as if we've been on tour for a week already! Tomorrow, we will visit the Hassan II Grand Mosque, then off to Rabat and Fez. Looking forward to that!  

Until we write again with love (and Tums),


PS: Just as a point of reference, Casablanca is at the same latitude as Phoenix. But the proximity of the ocean mitigates some of the heat.

Experiencing Morocco

This post covers 2 days, several hundred miles, and a cornucopia of culture.

Sunday, Dec 20, 2015
Today was the actual start of the group tour!
And it was a very strange itinerary: The three largest cities in Morocco are Casablanca (3+ million people), Rabat (close to 2 million and also the capital), and Fes (1.1 million; yes, it is Fes, not Fez, and, no, the people there are not known as "Fesants"). But we only spent 2 hours in each of the first two before driving 3 hours to the third!

Driving from the hotel in Casablanca, we passed several shantytowns of newly arrived Syrian immigrants...but all featured  satellite dishes. Our stop, apparently the only site worth seeing in town, is the Mosque of Hassan II, and it is indeed quite impressive. Depending on who tells you, it is the third, fourth, or seventh largest mosque in the world. But it does have the world's tallest minaret, at 60 stories high! It also has a retractable roof to let in more light and also cool the building in the summer (when Ramadan occurs) as there is no air conditioning. Our guide told us that they only open it 50 times a year, and magically it started opening just as we walked in. Fact or tour-guide-fiction? Who knows.

It can hold 25,000 worshippers, with an additional 60 - 80,000 on the plaza outside. Which gave us pause when we stopped at the W.C. on the way out and there were only 4 stalls each for men and women. Those must be some looooong lines!

For those of you who have been paying attention, you will recall that Hassan II was the father of the current king. So, despite its classical styling, it is really only 22 years old! It was built from 1987 - 1993 by 10,000 workers who worked in shifts 24/7. Obviously, this is the largest of the 1,200 mosques in the city.  

Then it was on to Rabat. There is a security checkpoint at the entrance to every big city in the country, although it seemed cursory at best, as all vehicles were just waved through. Our guide mentioned that these are staffed by gendarmes; security is their main focus. He also said that they, the military, and the police are the only people who can carry guns. Private citizens may have a rifle for hunting only, but there are stringent requirements including being fingerprinted. If only we had that at home......

Rabat gives a much better impression than Casablanca. The buildings have a more modern and well-kept look. No garbage in the streets. Many more parks and trees. Is this because it is the capital (political) center or is it because it is also the home to the Imperial Royal City, a compound where the royal family lives? Hard to say.  But even here, there were only three things we stopped to see in the 2 hours we were there.

The first was the gate to the compound.....
...which was guarded by representatives of 5 different organizations (military, gendarmes, etc.). We were allowed no closer than 50 yards. Flying above the gate was the national flag: a green 5-pointed star on a red field. The red symbolizes the topography...there is a lot of red soil throughout the country. The green of the star has religious symbolism, but with a twist. It used to be a 6-pointed star, but when Israel gained independence they decided to change to five points "to avoid confusion". And the five points makes more sense as it can be tied to the 5 Pillars of Islam. 

We then stopped for lunch at a lovely French inn, Villa Mandarine (so named for the many orange trees which line the streets). The guide said it would be a "light meal", but it was typical tour-group overload, with four courses of delicious food including the "Butcher Mixed Grill" plate that Wayne had:
C'est trop!!

Next we drove to the Hassan II Mausoleum (as we've seen many times, these monarchs sure like to build things in their own honor / memory!). He built it to house his own body and that of his father, Mohammad V. His grandfather and uncle are also interred there.

Facing the mausoleum is a courtyard with the remains of Roman columns which were moved here from Volubilis (we will go there on Wednesday); they are here just for decorative purposes, though the space serves as an outdoor mosque. Just beyond that are what's left of the 12th Century city wall and it's accompanying minaret; a large rectangular building. Unfortunately, as with many such ancient structures, it is undergoing restoration and is completely covered in scaffolding. Oh well...use your imagination:

Finally we went to the Kasbah of the Udayas. Kasbah means "fortress or citadel" (perhaps a cognate of "castle"?). This one is on the banks of the Bouregreg River (which was the lifeblood of the city) and was built in the 12th century. Basically, it was a fortified city surrounded by walls. Inside there were (and still are) beautiful gardens. Even today, about 240 families live there. It reminded us somewhat of the favelas in Rio with its narrow alleyways, but is much cleaner and in better repair. The walls on the inside are painted white and blue and many of the doors are also decorated.

Then it was time for our 2 hour drive to Fes. Along the way our guide told us many things about the culture of Morocco. One that stuck with us is that it is customary (in Islam) to name the first-born son Mohammad (or some variation) and the first daughter Fatima. Our first thought was that this must be hard on the teachers when all these kids with the same name go to school! 

We got to Fes around 6 pm, so it was dark outside, but the streets were still alive with people. We came in on a long boulevard (guess what its name is? Hassan II Boulevard!), that had a wide tree- and grass-lined median where many people were strolling and sitting on the benches. We drove past many boulangeries and patisseries and glaciers all filled with customers. There were many other brightly lit stores, too.

At last we got to our hotel, the Palais Faraj. This is truly an absolutely stunning place!  It is a luxuriously repurposed riadFrom our travels, sometimes the repurposed authentic properties don't work so well (ex: our hotel in Capadoccia which was charming but not comfortable). This property is awesome and highly recommended. We were greeted with mint tea and a platter full of those exceptional Moroccan cookies (cue up the sesame almond crescents!) and were escorted to our beautiful room where another platter of cookies and a plate of oranges awaited us.


Note the tile floor, the rugs, the ornate ceiling, and the sculpted walls. And the hotel is on a hilltop overlooking the entire city and the mountains beyond.
We had just enough time to freshen up and then...another meal! Hisham had told us that we'd have excellent Moroccan food in Fes. Wow, was he right. Any concerns we'd had about tagine or Moroccan food altogether (from our fly-  and smen-filled cooking class) evaporated as soon as the first dish was brought to the table. Plus, we were joined by Fatima Rhorchi, a professor of linguistics and women's studies at the university in Meknes, who clued us in on the role of women in Moroccan society and of all the advances that have been made in that regard since Mohammed VI ascended to the throne in 1999. But more on Fatima's perspectives in a bit. The food first!
We were served a 5 course feast-- and keep in mind, this is not Ramadan and we were not fasting all day. The first course was more of that wonderful bread with a vegetable soup (harira, often served to break the Ramadan fast) with honey cookies (chabakiya) and dates. The soup was tasty, but the little cookies were delectable.
Next, the first of two tagines, beef with caramelized and fried eggplant.

The beef was very tender and delicious and the eggplants were sweet. Really yummy and enough for an entire meal.
But, no-- next came the chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives and this one was beautiful and very delicious as well.

At this point,  we were beyond sated but out came the next course-- a deconstructed peach Melba-- Moroccan style (pastille).

To the best I could tell, this was built on a base of fried phyllo, with the next layer being a scoop of vanilla ice cream with peach preserves, then the final layer more fried phyllo dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Hard to serve, wonderful to eat-- though Wayne wisely took a pass. 

Finally, another platter of the rapidly becoming ubiquitous cookies, this time including macarons. 

We lumbered away from the table-- off to sweet dreams of tagines and cookies.

Before we close off Sunday, though, some of the salient points from chatting with Fatima. The current King is the first king in his line who is not a polygamist. His wife, a princess, is the first who is not from a royal line. There have been a number of other advances for women under his realm to date. Women are now allowed to divorce their husbands, and marriages need no longer be arranged. Fatima shared that most of the women currently wearing head scarves in Morocco are doing so to make a fashion statement (highly unscientific, but she noted that there are many short skirts worn with head scarves come summer time). She told us that these changes, though quite "radical", were done via the joint effort of the King and the ruling majority in the Parliament. And all without any violent, or even significant, push-back.

Monday, Dec 21
5:39 am
We are awakened by the first call to prayer of the day. There is a minaret very close to the hotel and the speakers were quite loud. Additionally the effect was magnified because we could hear others being sung across the valley of the city. We noticed that the call to prayer sounded different here than in Turkey. Hisham agreed that the Moroccan calls are more atonal than calls heard in other countries.

Our first stop on this mega-cultural day was the old medina / old Fes, the cultural heart of Morocco, and specifically the souk inside.   This medina dates from the 8th century and has over 9,000 alleys, and one could easily get lost and never be heard from again. The alleys are very narrow, with very few windows (as the windows of the houses all face inwards toward a courtyard). In fact, the only way things (goods, garbage, etc.) move around in here is by hand-pulled cart, or by donkeys! We saw many of them carrying heavy loads, and had to learn a new Arabic word: "Ballak".  This means watch out, and we said it many times as a donkey quickly came upon us (from either direction) or we looked down and saw what the donkeys had left behind.

The souk is the market area, what most of you think of when you hear the word "bazaar". The people who live in here can get anything they want, from meat of all kinds, to vegetables, to clothes, brass lamps, and even Galaxy S5 phones! The sights and sounds (very crowded!) and smells (god only knows what we breathed in) were almost too much to behold. All told, we took over 100 pictures during our walk. We include a few here to give you a sense of it; later we will create a slideshow of the rest and publish that in a post after we get home. And yes...that is a camel head between front of the camel meat butcher shop!

Next, we went to the obligatory carpet shop dog-and-pony show with the hot tea, the theatric unrolling of a dozen or more rugs, and the explanation of how they're made. There were many interesting rugs, both in the Berber style and in the Arabian style. Some of our group made purchases, of course. And this was all done in a magnificent house dating from the 14th century!

Then we went to a tannery. This was a new experience for us. We were shown (from the rooftop of the building) how the worker take the hides, wash the skin off, soak them in lime vats for several days, dry them, then dye them.

They do all this for about $1.50 a day, and because of the physical work and the chemicals, their life expectancy is 50 years.
Then we went inside the shop to see the purses, slippers, jackets, etc. that they had for sale. We were told they use 4 kinds of leather: from cows - the worst quality (who knew!?!) mostly for shoes and things like saddles; then sheep - very oily and slick; then camel - very high quality; then goat (especially kid), which is the smoothest and softest.
After a quick look around, one of us bought a beautiful jacket and a purse.
Then, time for lunch (it was actually 2:00!). We walked to a small inn / restaurant, again in a very old riad. We were served Moroccan salads, what we would call tapas (or the mezzes that we had in Turkey). There were several kinds of peppers, beets, two kinds of eggplant salad, tomatoes and cucumbers, French lentil salad, Moroccan carrot salad, marinated cauliflower....we think that's all! Needed a wide-angle lens to get it all in!

Next they brought out a tagine with spicy beef meatballs and poached eggs (kefta), and a vegetable tagine:

Dessert was a plate of orange slices with cinnamon and mint leaves.

It was a lot of food, but because it was mostly vegetables, it was not overly filling.
Then we went to a small synagogue, Aben Danan, which dates from the 17th century. The Torah is actually written on gazelle skin!

Our final stop was to a pottery factory, where we got to see how they actually make the ceramic tagines! Also, how they meticulously hand-chip the glazed tiles to make the wonderful mosaics that are all over the country.

Got back to the hotel after 5 and decided to skip dinner tonight. Too much today to digest!!!

Tomorrow, it's on to Meknes and the Roman ruins of Volubilis, both UNESCO Heritage Sites.

w & w