A few days ago I sat outside on the patio of the new four story mall that opened in Fes just a couple of months ago. It is without a doubt the most impressive and ambitious commercial retail project attempted in the twenty-five years we have been involved in the life of the city. Sitting there and reflecting on the changes that have taken place in that specific geographical location was a sobering reminder of the inevitably of change and how limited and mistaken my vision has been for what Fes could become.
Borj Fez (I do not know why they do not use the French spelling , Fes) was constructed alongside a primary avenue that connects the so-called Ville Nouvelle with the much older, historical part of the city called the Medina Kadeema. The Medina Kadeema site is the location where the original city began, dating back to the ninth century. The Ville Nouvelle is the more modern part of the city constructed by the French during the time of the Protectorate from 1912 until 1956. The structure sits in a sort of ravine that until a few years ago was used primarily as an area for growing vegetables and herbs such as mint and parsley. The transformation in the last seven or eight years has been incredible.
In addition to the mall which houses 57 stores and boutiques and 11 different restaurants and cafes in its food court, additional new structures flank the mall on each side. The initial construction that perhaps served as a catalyst for this latest development occurred in 2005 when the first McDonald’s opened in Fes. It is located on the uphill side of Borj Fez, while below, a five-star hotel, the Palais Medina, provides a nice symmetrical image for the structures viewed in front of a mountainous background. The practically glitzy appearance of this area stands in stark contrast to what we observed when we moved here in 1986.
My vantage point from the mall provided a scenic view of La Fayette, the area of town where we devoted a significant amount of our time and energy when we lived here those thirty months in the mid-eighties. La Fayette is located at the northern end of Avenue Hassan II, a beautiful palm tree bordered boulevard that runs southward for about two miles. A huge, relatively new fountain with programmed lighting and various water displays provide a stunning display in the center of a large round-about where five streets in addition to the divided avenue have their terminus. Not more than fifty yards from the fountain is the building that housed the bookstore that we operated. It is now the location of an optical shop; however, between us and other owners, an English bookshop occupied that space for more than forty years.
Directly across the street and behind another new upscale hotel, Barcelo Fes, sits the Fes Protestant Church. It is one of only two church buildings in the city, the other being a Catholic church. We have many special memories from the past, of special events and special people, who influenced our lives in meaningful ways as we struggled with the challenges of cross-cultural living and attempted to arrive at a deeper personal understanding of our own role in the context in which we lived.
To a certain extent, Denise and I even now confront similar questions. What priority do we give to the time and energy required to maintain a presence here? How do we find a balance between desires and responsibilities to be at home, and the meaning and pleasures we derive from our activities here? Advancing age reminds us that not all decisions about potential alternatives can be delayed too long.
I enjoyed a very nice trip down memory lane for an hour or so as Denise shopped in the new mall. Regardless of the amount of time we might be spending here over the next few years, I am happy that not only we, but the citizens of Fes, have modern developments like Borj Fez to make life more interesting and convenient, and I am happy that a lot more people are employed in this particular part of the city.
Did I mention there is a Burger King at the mall? Like the Austrian employee at Burger King I wrote about back in September, the waiter here who speaks mainly Arabic and French understood our request for a “Whopper Junior Menu” in English, and we appreciated the chance to enjoy our meal in a very pleasant environment, “sur place” as they say.