Thursday, August 10, 2017

mint and leather

With a bouquet of fresh mint under my nose, I squinted my eyes at the vats of dye below, the sun reflecting off the quicklime and pigeon guano used in making soft leather out of tough hides. The scent of the guano, bovine urine, and other assorted nasties was overwhelming— even more so for the pregnant olfactory system— however, having been told how wretched it would be, I was expecting worse.

The drying hides below are getting ready to be transformed into the traditional babouche, a pointed leather slipper, typically in a brilliant yellow for men. Tourists are told that all the dyes are natural— the yellow is from saffron, green from mint, red from poppies... Though I know little about leather dyes, I am sceptical of this as I have never seen mint dye anything, and saffron is quite expensive. In any case, the rainbow of colours that the tanners are able to create is gorgeous.

The 11th century Chouara Tannery is hidden among the clustered geometric buildings of Fès' medina, its levels of stinking vats in various shades of celadon, red and brown. The tanners who wade through the noxious pools in the blinding sun to work the hides wear anything from wellies to flip-flops on their feet, some with nothing at all. I can only imagine how hard their days are, how their muscles and heads must feel at the end of the day— it certainly gives me a deeper appreciation of the work behind my leather bags and babouches, which though bought in different parts of Morocco, all trace back to Fès.

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