As The Guidebooks Say, Fez Is The "Heart Of Morocco," the onetime capital, the spiritual and intellectual center of the country. Thus, it was more than appropriate that inFez, which is about as ancient as a place can get and not be in China, I finally caught up with Claude and his pupil.
One of the king's cars, bearing a driver who believed himself to be the Arab equivalent of Cale Yarborough, had transported me the 125 miles from Rabat to Fez in, like, zap. There a two-engine plane was landing at a deserted airport. Out of the plane stepped Claude and his personal guide-friend-envoy for this particular trip, the Moroccan consul general in New York, Abdesslam Jaidi.
Jaidi spoke good English and good everything else, so the heat was off. Jaidi's job was largely that of entertaining Claude and seeing that he got where the king wanted him to be each day. His job was also to bargain for Claude in the Casbahs and try to prevent him from buying every brass tray and Moroccan carpet in existence.
"Claude, you can't cure the economic ills of our country singlehanded," Jaidi would say.
"Don't you understand?" Claude would reply. "I love your country, Monsieur Jaidi."
Fez is cradled by hills, but it crawls up the sides of some of them, its old fading cream structures and brown ruins ringed by rich green beauty. For all of its age, you can do things in Fez you wouldn't dare do or try to do in, let us say, Mexico or Spain--like eat anything, drink the tap water and get one-day dry cleaning. It is simply a remarkably pretty, enchanting and friendly city with all different kinds of lofty balconies and dark dungeons to dine and drink in and gardens to stroll in.
The Casbah or medina--or old city, as they call it--is twice the size of any other in Morocco and twice blessed with atmosphere. Deep in the Casbah of Fez one can wander into a doorway, be led through damp corridors of carpet and leather to the antique jewelry room, there to be offered a chair, a glass of hot mint tea, a plate of cakes--and a pipe. Two puffs and you buy the whole store.
Frankly, despite all of Claude's stories I didn't really know what to expect from His Majesty. And when the day came that I would be invited to accompany Claude inside the palace walls at Fez and to stroll nine holes with him--as Trent Jones had done--I was a little nervous.