The Hunt for Gregory’s Fez

AFRICA, GUEST BLOGGERS, MEMORIES — By on May 22, 2014 at 23:11

Story by guest blogger Leigh Lauck. Photos Copyright © Leigh & Matthew Lauck.

THIS IS THE STORY of two travelers driven by the need to hunt down a fez in a city called Fez. And a guy named Gregory, who really, really wanted that fez. The stakes, as in Red October, were high.

Are you perched on the edge of your seat?

My husband, Matt, his parents, Greg and Marsha, and I visited the city of Fez, Morocco for a week in 2009. We stayed in the medina, the old city, in a beautiful ruin of a palace (called a riad) that had been converted to apartments.

Wall detail at the riad, Fez

Wall detail at the riad, Fez

We had many adventures as goggle-eyed Americans wandering through Moroccan culture, such as our dinner with the Cheb family, who took us in, fed us, and introduced us to the Arab world’s answer to American Idol (see Dinner with Abdul).

After several days in Fez, visiting cultural sites and eating obscene amounts of tasty tagines (stews of spiced meat and vegetables), pastillas (flaky meat pies), and endless almond pastries, I began to notice a subtle change in my father-in-law. Greg’s eyes were wandering, inexplicably distracted from objects of splendor and deliciousness, and were taking on a strange and avid gleam.

I discovered the source of his yearning when I heard Greg mutter “I’d like a fez” as he gazed wistfully at two be-fezzed locals chatting in a tea shop. I remember meeting Matt’s eyes and seeing the understanding that bloomed there. Greg wants a fez.

We had been trying to figure out a gift for Greg, a way to say thank you for bringing us to Morocco. Now we had a mission: find and obtain the perfect fez for Gregory. At any cost. I nodded slightly to Matt, and he tipped his chin. It was a secret code, like we were spies. See? I told you the stakes were high.

Our apartment at the riad

Our apartment at the riad

Back at the apartment, while Greg and Marsha were napping, we tracked down a wide-brimmed hat Greg had brought from home. We needed an idea of what size fez to buy. Matt tried it on first and found it was too big. He looked at me meaningfully.

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Matt.

You see, I have, um, a rather large head. My dear husband was implying his dad’s hat just might fit my impressive noggin.

With a sigh and a wicked look, I put it on. Sure enough, it was a perfect fit. A little snug, even. It seemed that I was to be the model for Gregory’s fez.

That afternoon, Matt and I scoured Fez in the rain. We must have walked miles over the slippery cobbles, sometimes squeezing through alleys so narrow you had to turn sideways to pass. We ducked into many shops, but found nothing but cheap fezzes for tourists made of cardboard and felt. We agreed such shoddy examples were unworthy of Greg, and continued the search.

Berber Horse

Berber Horse

By evening, I was growing cranky. We were both soaked and shivering. What I really wanted was a cocktail, which is hard to come by in Morocco. We settled instead for mint tea in a cramped tea shop, and strategized our next move.

That’s when fate intervened. A kind stranger, overhearing our conversation, leaned in. “You are looking for a fez?” he asked, in clipped but perfect English.

“Yes!” we answered in unison, so eager we were scary.

The gentleman (who himself was wearing a truly lovely fez) jotted an address on a napkin. “Authentic fezzes,” he said. “Fez-maker to the king.”

Fez-maker to the king! We gulped down our tea and hastily thanked our deliverer. It was hard not to run through the streets.

Fez, Morocco - View from the Riad

View from the riad, Fez, Morocco

Within a half an hour, we were standing in an elegant shop filled with nothing but fezzes. Deep red fezzes that were almost purple; cherry red fezzes that looked good enough to eat. Silky black tassels and satiny linings on the inside. Proper fezzes. The Ferraris of fezzes. Matt began gathering them up like colorful flowers, handing them to me one by one, as I stood before a mirror and tried them on.

“This is it!” I was wearing a particularly lush specimen, and the fit was exquisite. I turned from the mirror, grinning widely, to find a throng of men had gathered around me. Their faces were not unfriendly, but I was definitely picking up on a tense vibe. My smile faded as the tassel fell across my eyes and tickled my nose. “Bonjour?” I said uncertainly, more a question than a greeting.

The men exchanged glances and shuffled away, leaving the shopkeeper, who was regarding me with a mixture of horror and pity. I looked at Matt’s face. Then it hit me.

The fez is perhaps the most iconic and cherished symbol of masculinity in Morocco. And here, in the shop of the fez-maker to the king, a deranged, moist, giant-headed American woman had defiled at least a dozen of the finest fezdom had to offer.

“Je suis désolée,” I said, swiftly removing the fez and handing it to Matt. “C’est pour mon père. Ce n’est pas pour moi.” I’m sorry. It’s for my father, not for me.

The shopkeeper eyed me suspiciously, then gazed at Matt with an expression of pained sympathy. Finally, he nodded. Matt followed him to the cash register, giving me the “thumbs up” as he went.

Fez medina at dawn

The medina at dawn

Blushing, I waited outside, and gave more thought to that cocktail. Matt emerged a few moments later, holding the fez wrapped in layers of stiff paper. “We did it!” we shrieked. We were delirious with happiness at having completed our mission, at scoring the perfect fez. We giggled like little girls as we made out way back to the riad in the fading light.

Later, over scotch bought during our layover in London, we presented our gift to Greg. He loved it, and cut a dashing figure in his new chapeau. To this day, we beg him to wear it for special occasions, and sometimes, when his mood is just right, he obliges us.

Gregory's new Fez

Gregory’s new fez!

And though Captain Ramius never donned a fez in Tom Clancy’s story, my father-in-law does look a bit like Sean Connery, who played Ramius in the movie.

Sean Connery, that is, in a fez.

———

Leigh Lauck

Leigh with a sea turtle
on Isla Mujeres

Leigh Lauck would drop everything right now given the chance to go almost anywhere. While she enjoys the comforts of home in New Mexico, travel is her obsession. As a teenager, she trekked through much of Europe, and with her husband, Matt, she has visited Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Spain, Gibraltar, Jamaica, South Africa and Namibia. Leigh thinks experiencing other cultures and connecting with people abroad gives us a deeper understanding of ourselves. She was born and raised in Maine, and misses the Atlantic something fierce.

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    2 Comments

  • Judith Shaw says:

    Leigh,

    A wonderful perspective on he city of Fez. I’ve always wantd to go to
    Morocco, but my travels have always been in a more a Easterly direction.

    I got nervous watching you try on those Fez, worrying about what the men would think. Glad you and Matt got through the exercise unscathed, and with the fez of your dreams.

    Judith

    • Leigh Lauck says:

      Hi Judith — thanks for your comment! Yes, it was a little tense as I was defiling fezzes with my giant American lady-head. Though attached to their symbols of manhood, the men we met in Morocco were also very progressive and welcoming.

      You should go to Morocco! Fez was amazing, as are the nearby Atlas and Rif Mountains. The Berbers who live there are fascinating in terms of their own cultural identity and traditions, so different from mainstream Moroccan culture.

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