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New Century, Same Genius: Ornette Coleman at JVC

The city of Fès scarcely seems like it could be home to nearly a million Moroccans. Surrounded by medieval walls and ramparts, the medina, or old city, is a hive of activity, but one that conceals as much as it puts on display. Vendors’ booths piled high with olives and preserved lemons, precious spices, or hand-painted tajine cookware make for visual feasts, yet turn another narrow corner, and you will come across another world entirely: bustling, centuries-old tanneries along the river al Jawahir, gleefully singing tots in Koranic nursery schools, or, completely hidden from view, the denizen’s private riyads. These tranquil inner-courtyards, with bubbling fountains adorned by splendid mosaics, are closed off to the city, but open to the sky.

No vantage point allows an observer to take in the full picture. And the gates along some paths preempt access; keyhole-shaped doors silently mark the entries to many urban mysteries. But perhaps it’s these partial views and a sense of separation between spaces and people otherwise so closely linked that allows spirituality and commerce, the ancient and the modern, centuries-long residents and recently-arrived outsiders, to coexist here in relative harmony. The medina’s poor live side by side with its wealthiest inhabitants, including many foreigners who have rescued-and bought up-the area’s architectural treasures. (Fès was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1981.) Shopkeepers haggle with French tourists on the price of goatskin lamps, but leave their stalls at the call to prayer. They join the kneeling bodies of the faithful, so numerous as to overflow the mosques onto the streets.

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