One is told that in cities like Fez and Marrakech the Hebrew quarter conceals flowery patios and gilded rooms with the heavy European furniture that rich Jews delight in. Perhaps even in the Mellah of Sefrou, among the ragged figures shuffling past us, there were some few with bags of gold in their walls and rich stuffs hid away in painted coffers, but for patios and flowers and daylight there seemed no room in the dark bolgia they inhabit. No wonder the babies of the Moroccan ghettos are nursed on date-brandy, and their elders doze away to death under its consoling spell.
THE LAST GLIMPSE
It is well to bid good-by to Fez at night—a moonlight night for choice.
Then, after dining at the Arab inn of Fez Eldjid—where it might be inconvenient to lodge, but where it is extremely pleasant to eat kouskous under a grape-trellis in a tiled and fountained patio—this pleasure over, one may set out on foot and stray down the lanes toward Fez Elbali.
Not long ago the gates between the different quarters of the city used to be locked every night at nine o’clock, and the merchant who went out to dine in another part of the town had to lodge with his host. Now this custom has been given up, and one may roam about untroubled through the old quarters, grown as silent as the grave after the intense life of the bazaars has ceased at nightfall.
Nobody is in the streets wandering from ghostly passage to passage, one hears no step but that of the watchman with staff and lantern. Presently there appears, far off, a light like a low-flying firefly, as it comes nearer, it is seen to proceed from the Mellah lamp of open-work brass that a servant carries ahead of two merchants on their way home from Elbali. The merchants are grave men, they move softly and slowly on their fat slippered feet, pausing from time to time in confidential talk. At last they stop before a house wall with a low blue door barred by heavy hasps of iron. The servant lifts the lamp and knocks. There is a long delay, then, with infinite caution, the door is opened a few inches, and another lifted light shines faintly on lustrous tiled walls, and on the face of a woman slave who quickly veils herself. Evidently the master is a man of standing, and the house well guarded. The two merchants touch each other on the right shoulder, one of them passes in, and his friend goes on through the moonlight, his servant’s lantern dancing ahead.
But here we are in an open space looking down one of the descents to El Attarine. A misty radiance washes the tall houses, the garden-walls, the archways, even the moonlight does not whiten Fez, but only turns its gray to tarnished silver. Overhead in a tower window a single light twinkles: women’s voices rise and fall on the roofs. In a rich man’s doorway slaves are sleeping, huddled on the tiles. A cock crows from somebody’s dunghill, a skeleton dog prowls by for garbage.