On the road: Butchery and beauty in a Moroccan medina

Julius Honnor
Saturday 12 December 2009 01:00
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On the journey to Bab Boujeloud, the taxi driver proudly points out McDonald's to me. But I'm here to take photos for Fez's Café Clock's new cookery book: camel burgers rather than Big Macs. It is suggested that I might want to go to the abattoir to take pictures of the last camel slaughter before Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival of sacrifice. I turn down the opportunity.

It's hard, however, to escape a rather visceral connection to slaughter in Fez's beautiful medina. It is traditional that every family should have a sheep for the festival, kept at home and then butchered. There are sheep in carts, sheep being dragged by their horns, sheep on people's backs, a sheep that emerges from the boot of a Mercedes. This is Morocco's most religious city, and they commemorate Abraham's willingness to kill his son with gusto.

Excited kids skip down the road in front of their very temporary pet, and straw sellers set up shop on the side of the road.

I am taken to see the sheep market, where sad-looking bedraggled creatures huddle at the back of dirty pens, their heads hung low. This is a world without freezer cabinets and shrink-wrapping, where meat comes on things that bleat or flap. The connection to the live creature is inescapable: chickens have their necks wrung while you wait, and a dull-eyed camel's head hangs outside the butcher. Halfway down Talaa Kebira, another sheep is parked, tied to a breezeblock while its new owner gets a haircut.

On the roof terrace of the café, stars shine bright, largely untroubled by light pollution. Roast-chestnut fug drifts up from the street below and the low murmur from the café is pinpricked by the plaintive bleats of sheep. At 8.45pm, it is still warm enough to sit outside. Someone is playing Bobby McFerrin on their phone: "Don't Worry, Be Happy". A message to the sheep, perhaps. I order the vegetable soup.

Footprint's Morocco Handbook is available now (£14.99)

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