During the month the travelers had been in Fes, they had become habitués of two cafes: the first a small hole-in-the-wall operated by gold-toothed Mufis and his teen-age worker Ahmed who slept on a rug in the back and the second, the Gout de Fes, overseen by Abdullah (who had no teeth at all) and his aged father, while their ancient carp moved sluggishly about their clouded tanks. In either café one was entitled to a comfortable seat among the company of friends if one purchased mint tea once or twice during the day or perhaps a café au lait. In a shadowy corner of the Gout de Fes one was likely to find Driss, who managed to give the impression of reclining while seated in a chair and who kept within the capacious folds of his djellaba a store of kief which the tea-drinker might purchase for a few pennies. Some regulars kept their pipes behind the counter.
Kief (the Arabic word means “well-being” or “pleasure”) refers both to the potent resin glands (or trichomes) of cannabis and to the mixture of this material with finely ground tobacco which is commonly smoked in the Maghreb. Though its use is traditional, it has been technically prohibited since 1954, and many smokers in 1970 were semi-discreet. Still, each café (except for a few would-be French places) had a dealer like Driss who simply lounged about and chatted between serving his clients who sometimes included police officers and army men. Workmen often kept a long pipe with its very small terra cotta bowl next to them as they wove or hammered patterns in metal trays. Though one saw users everywhere, on one medina wall was a government poster warning against cannabis with the most striking skeleton in electric primary colors smoking the Moroccan sebsi and shkaff. Had the traveler only had the temerity to snatch one, it would have been a fine souvenir!
After traveling to Rabat. they were seeking new contacts. They had a room at the Hotel Rigini in the old town for $1.20 a night. Musicians strolled by the streets outside, followed by butchers carrying carcasses, donkeys with bales, and people hawking every sort of goods including, of course, what the travelers sought. When they first encountered the Cookie Man he babbled about his relations with American GIs during World War II, then trailed off in a more confidential voice, slightly husky and damp, naming his prices. At their next meeting both parties felt all right about becoming slightly more confidential. The travelers were prepared to follow to where the Cookie Man led.
Walking along the old city walls, they came upon a series of cafés, the first rather neat and trim for an old town place, the second more funky, descending next to the third and then the fourth level, all contained within the walls of the medina. They entered the humblest establishment close behind their guide. The space was dark and smoky, low-ceilinged but crowded. The Cookie Man pointed to ladder that led to a loft above. They emerged into a room with balconies somehow invisible from below. They ducked next through a low passage to enter a second chamber on this level where they settled in to talk business. The Cookie Man spoke slowly, almost wearily, of his wares in a voice that sounded hypnotic or perhaps hypnotized. He had a variety of kief and hashish. In the middle of leisurely explanations about the town where each product was produced, he paused significantly, and, with an air of incredible lasciviousness, said, “You know, though, what I got is cookie, I got good cookie, gooooood cookie, ahh! Show you good time. Want some coookie?”
He reached into his djellaba and rummaged around, reached a bit further, and withdrew what we recognized as a bit of madjoun, the Moroccan cannabis confection. In this “cookie” were kief and ground almonds and cinnamon and clove and honey and bits of detritus from the realms beneath the Cookie Man’s robes, and the travelers had a taste for it nonetheless and tried some and bought a bit more, and chewed thoughtfully, and eventually somehow they made their way down from the mysterious chamber where he held court and through the twisting streets, through a dozen blind turns, past a lane of metalworkers and the next of leather craftsmen, out in the end to the coast by the old Casbah (or fort). People there were cleaning clothes, where a freshwater stream entered the ocean. The travelers clambered atop huge rocks like frozen sponge, like the surface of the moon, and watched the people doing laundry.
Suddenly the adhan, the call to prayer, arose: Allahu akbar! The people put aside their work, turned to face Mecca, and prostrated themselves in prayer. And, as the sea struck the rocky shore, and an odor of incense mixed with grilled lamb drifted by in the wind, the unbelievers watching from the rocks were moved and doubtless benefited from the pause in the day’s occupations. The water’s roar, constant and urgent as time’s arrow nearly obliterated the sound of the muezzin, whose melancholy soulful tone undermined the reassuring list of certainties he was reciting. “Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah!” [Come to success!]