Another early morning drive, another journey several hours longer than we'd thought it would be, and we arrive in Fez, hopeful that we might find a story-teller. Before we find the story-tellers though we have to find somewhere to park and we spend another hour driving round and round trying to find the right gate to enter the Medina from. We ask one guy for directions, he is such a story-teller. I have no idea what he's saying but the moment we drive off we burst out laughing at his 'performance'. And the directions he gives do eventually see us right.
Entering the Bab Bou Jeloud on the edge of the Medina swarms of birds fly above us, swallows or swifts or something like that. Lahcen calls them 'hair thiefs' because they swoop down and pull out people's hair (presumably to line their nests). After lunch in a converted palace (another pastilla - a speciality of Fez) it's still too early for the story-tellers so we wander into the souk. I have another mission while in Fez - to find a Fez (the hat) for a Moroccan friend back in London who is getting married. We find a shop with boxes from floor to ceiling - each containing a Fez. I retrieve my paper with the head measurements and Lahcen begins the haggling game. The key to any transaction in Morocco is to remember that the haggling is a game. It's all a game. Not only are all Moroccans story-tellers but they are also all jokers. A few minutes later we leave triumphant, the Fez wrapped in paper and safely stowed in the basket of Noah's buggy.
It's much hotter here than it was on the coast, hotter even than the desert - partly because the temperature has been climbing everywhere day by day and partly because Fez sits like a bowl in which the heat is trapped. I am really feeling the heat, but Noah of course is unstoppable as ever, still running around at top speed. As the afternoon wanes we return to the Bab Bou Jeloud, on the other side of which is the square where the halqa assemble. It is like a much smaller much calmer Jemaa El Fna - there is only one snake-charmer, a few orange juice sellers. We wander from halqa to halqa desperately hoping for a story-teller. One man is selling medicines but Lahcen is keen to talk to him after the audience have gone because he seems like a natural storyteller. Another man is telling actual stories. Or jokes at least. Lahcen translates and it transpires he is a kind of political stand up comedian. Lahc asks if we can speak to him after the audience have left. He says come back when the sun comes down. Lahc asks at what time? He says when the sun comes down.
When the sun has set we meet the storyteller and over tea he tells us of the golden age of story-telling when he would come and find the audience already waiting in the halqa. They would come one by one until the circle was full but now the art of listening is dying. Now he sees the young people and he adapts. If they want a story he tells a story, if they want a joke he tells a joke, if they want music he makes music. The truth is though that there is little appetite now for the old tales, some of which take several hours to tell. He has been ill, story-telling is an unforgiving trade, standing outside all day long. More importantly you only earn a living if you're able to turn up and tell a story.There's no union for storytellers! He has been off sick for 3 weeks and today is his first day back. Had we come yesterday - which was the plan before Lahcen missed his flight and set us back a day - we would never have met him. We ask him for a tale and unprompted he tells us another tale of Harun Al Rashid. Strange. It's a totally different story and involves a tiny magic donkey, but strange coincidence none the less. Obviously there are no coincidences as we're coming to accept.