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When a town’s streets are about as far apart as a tall man’s spread fingertips, there’s not much scope for wheeled traffic. Bits of Fez are open enough for cars, but for most of the city, if you have a load to carry—builder’s sand, hides headed for the tannery, refrigerators, wide-screen televisions—you do it on hooves. Susan Orlean wrote a lovely article about the Fez donkeys for Smithsonian a few years ago, here. Donkeys are impossible to avoid, in the town.
Russell comes across donkeys at several times during the story:
Two chattering children trotted in the other direction, one of them balancing on his head a tray bigger than he was, carrying loaves of unbaked bread. The children were followed by a donkey with a long wooden bench of fresh-cut cedar strapped to his back, a lad with a switch moving him along.
The soldiers eyed every person going in or out. Those with loads, on their heads or strapped to beasts, were examined more closely. A man with a donkey laden high with greenery from the fields—at least, I assumed there was a donkey beneath the green mountain, though all I could see were hooves and an ear—had to pull bits off before he was permitted to drive his beast onward.
The medina was tight and secretive and Mediaeval, but here, two women in frocks were looking at the banner of a cinema house, while a man wearing suit, necktie, turban, and sunglasses stepped into a bank. Not that those in foreign dress weren’t outnumbered by draped women and robed men, or that an approaching motorcar wasn’t forced to thread its way around a donkey onto which were roped six European chairs, being driven by a child wielding a willow switch, then another donkey laden with a family of five or perhaps six—hard to tell, since they were all intertwined.
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