Transportation in Fez

Leave a comment on today’s Mutterings post, and you have a chance at winning a copy of the Garment of Shadows ARC.

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.

To read more from Garment of Shadows, go here.

To order a copy—hardback, audio, e-book, or signed—go here.

Posted in


  1. Darryl DeLoach on July 16, 2012 at 5:41 am

    The article attached was great. Love the line, “I assumed there was a donkey beneath the green mountain…” Cannot wait for this to be out!

  2. Roxanne on July 16, 2012 at 6:15 am

    Talk about beasts of burden. This makes me wonder just how strong those small donkeys really are (more research in my future, I think).

  3. Ipstenu (Mika Epstein) on July 16, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Donkeys are great. They’ll just go, and when they stop, you know something’s wrong!

  4. Elizabeth Copley on July 16, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Wonderful stuff! I can’t wait until the book comes out.

  5. Lynn Hirshman on July 16, 2012 at 6:37 am

    While of course I have read the excerpts (which immediately led to my ordering the book — though I would have done so anyway) and your daily comments, it’s your wonderful photos of Fez that capture my imagination — this will make it so much easier to visualize the novel when I finally get to read it. I wish there were a way to include them in the book….

  6. Ashley W on July 16, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I love the first picture of the donkey next to the moped. I can imagine him thinking about giving it a swift kick before wandering off…

  7. Tiffany on July 16, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I love the juxtaposition of the donkey right next to the moped/motorcycle. That’s awesome–for me it brings the old/new world blending into much starker relief than the old buildings with satellite dishes, dunno why.

  8. Seth Huckstead on July 16, 2012 at 6:47 am

    I can’t wait for the new book. Get my Laurie King fix for the year (though I wish you were superhuman and could release a book a month).

  9. Laurie M. on July 16, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Another fascinating glimpse at daily life in Fez, thank you!

  10. Erica Ruth on July 16, 2012 at 6:54 am

    I love the donkey next to the scooter!

  11. Kristy K on July 16, 2012 at 7:09 am

    Looks like such an interesting and wonderful place to visit! So different from what I’m used to.

  12. Pam Gibson on July 16, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Donkeys are great for hauling high-volume but relatively lightweight loads such as brush, vines etc., used to make charcoal.

  13. Judy Westmoreland on July 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

    It certainly is a city of contrasts. The modern “beast of burden”, the motor scooter, next to the donkey.

  14. La Donna on July 16, 2012 at 7:40 am

    Hmm. Still not September.

  15. Susan Gainen on July 16, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Donkeys. The transportation of the past is the transportation of the present.

  16. Rachel Adrianna on July 16, 2012 at 8:10 am

    i love Russell’s observations of children! especially now that she is a grandmother 😉

  17. Nancy Reynolds on July 16, 2012 at 8:13 am

    I am so enjoying all the photos leading up to the release of the book. But I have to agree with so many others, my favorite Donkey picture is the first one – with the donkey and the moped. It’s great.

  18. Libby Dodd on July 16, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Still hoping to get the book, the whole of it.

  19. Betsy Chamberlin on July 16, 2012 at 8:41 am

    The donkey eyeing the moped says, “It’ll never catch on.”

  20. tmgray on July 16, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Love the juxtaposition of the old and new ways of travel! Also, I seriously need to read faster so I can get to this book! (Just finished A Letter of Mary)

  21. Katie on July 16, 2012 at 9:23 am

    I love the donkey/moped picture! It’s funny to see old and new technology interwined. I can’t wait for the next book!

  22. Teresa on July 16, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Yikes. What if you run out of chapters to tease us with before it’s published. 😉

  23. Mandolin on July 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Love the picture of the Donkey and scooter together!!

  24. Caryn on July 16, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Wonderful contrast.

  25. peggy ann on July 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Russell’s encounter with the donkeys and the Smithsonian article writer noting their stoicism reminds me of working donkeys I met in my youth. It is a very different way of life than ours here in the US. I wonder if Segways may make a little difference in this World Heritage site. It would be a shame.

  26. Peggy Mitchell on July 16, 2012 at 10:20 am

    zellij tiles – a new artform to look up!

  27. Sandy K on July 16, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Amazing! Even in our “advanced” 21st century, beasts of burden are still commoner than those of us who live in urban areas might think.

  28. Meagan on July 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Wow. Those pictures look really modern. i didn’t know people still used donkeys or beasts of burden in general for transportation. Amazing.

  29. Katy on July 16, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I, like so many people above, really liked the donkey/moped picture. For some reason, my imagination was also really caught by the excerpt about the soldiers checking the donkeys’ loads. It just made me imagine what *could* have been under the greens!

  30. MaryjoO on July 16, 2012 at 11:24 am

    donkeys are also used in so many places in the world to haul water — humbling reminders of how easy we have it in the Western world sometimes. Love the photos!

  31. Marie K on July 16, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I have to say, I’d rather ride that motorcycle than a donkey. It probably goes much faster, although maybe that’s not such such a good idea in the fez!

  32. Magister on July 16, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I think that, given the choice between a moped and a donkey, I’d go with the donkey. Mopeds tend to flop over and die when I mount them. Donkeys are considerably more resilient.

  33. Katie O on July 16, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    And we all know how Russell feels about donkeys… 🙂

  34. Robbin Stull on July 16, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    The more things change the more they stay the same. Yet I don’t know how well I could direct a donkey.

  35. Karen Wolf on July 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm

    Donkeys are the most endearing, and most frustrating beasts I have ever loved. Riding a donkey is only comfortable if one learns to sit well back on a padded saddle, with one’s baskets tied in front, unlike riding a horse. When I used to walk my friend, Nuria, to her convent school in Madrid, in the early mornings, a white donkey, tied outside a cafe, would nudge me and let out the most heart-breaking braying, which at first frightened me. However, I quickly learned to carry a carrot or some large sugar cubes with me, and she would nudge me gently and bray a bit more softly. When I had to flee Madrid, and fly out to Libya, I stopped one last time to fondle her ears and feed her, and wept, for I was losing my only two friends in the world and traveling alone, at 13, to a very foreign country. Bless all the hardworking, caring donkeys in the world!

  36. Kath on July 16, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I remember a few cars I have driven in being like those donkeys. We used to have an old Nissan van that could carry two or three large families and never knew just how many children. We also at one time sold bread from a very small van, driving it in the morning and evening to people who had trouble getting to shops. It was great fun. I didn’t realize at the time that we were following in the footsteps of time honored tradition. It was just a life to be lived. Pre ordered this Garment of Shadows at the beginning of the year. Still patiently waiting.

  37. Allison T on July 16, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    🙂 When we were driving through the Sinai, we at one point were following this motor scooter that looked like it was carrying an entire house worth of furniture, plus three people. I don’t know where it was going, but it continued on after we got to Dahab. I imagine a donkey would have looked similar…

  38. Janet Evans on July 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I don’t want summer to end but this book will be a great start to my fall.

  39. Madonna Smith on July 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Mary Russell is quite adventurous; can’t wait to read about her journey. And this article was a great read.

  40. Melissa Adkins on July 16, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Your pictures give me the travel bug! The donkey and the scooter is a wonderful juxtaposition of the modern and the historic.

  41. kt on July 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    That first picture is great. I love the idea of donkeys as beasts of burden that carry things through a city street, but I have to say, that I think I wouldn’t love the donkey to be traveling up MY street every day.

    Can’t wait until September!

  42. Chloe B on July 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    The pictures combined with the book snippets are invoking the most fascinating atmosphere.

  43. deb on July 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Definitely engages my imagination. I am trying to read the books in order and will find it difficult not to jump ahead to the newest in the series. Thank you for your splendid stories and writing.

  44. Joel Williams on July 16, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    where do I enter to win an audiobook download (itunes or audible are both fine with me) – LOOOOVE the spoken word, esp. w/ Jenny Stelin speaking your words – I listen to the collection over & over (I’ll be happy with the print copy if I win, though 🙂

  45. Tom Varela on July 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm


  46. Caitlin M on July 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Having read Pirate King and the Garment of Shadows excerpts here, and now looking at these photos, I would say the mental pictures conjured by your evocative descriptions of the Moroccan medinas are well matched with the real thing.

  47. Kivrin on July 16, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Love traveling the world with Russell and Holmes. Morocco in September! Looking forward to it!

  48. Meredith Taylor on July 16, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    I, too, was struck by the image of the laden donkey next to the motorcycle plus helmet. And I enjoyed the donkey stories which the readers supplied. //Meredith

  49. Profin on July 17, 2012 at 3:08 am

    Aaaaaaaah donkeys, what a noise they make and how much fun they are. So smart.

    Am actually a bit sad that the book comes after my summer holiday – was so much hoping to have it for a summer read up on the mountain

  50. Kathleen Roth on July 17, 2012 at 5:50 am

    Looking forward to another wonderful installment in this fascinating series. Thanks so much for sharing your talent with others!

  51. Carol M on July 17, 2012 at 6:29 am

    It’s funny to see a moped and a donkey in the same picture!

  52. Rachel Ratliff on July 17, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Transportation in other countries is much more dependent on the age of the city. America doesn’t have any modern cities as old as Middle Eastern countries where much of the original architecture still stands, and whole cities rose up with streets never meant to accommodate modern vehicles. I visited Costa Rica with my sister’s high school Spanish class where the painted ox cart is still a primary mode of transportation. It’s both beautiful and practical for the people there. People take great pride in hand-painting their own carts in gorgeous rainbows of color.

  53. little gator on July 21, 2012 at 7:13 am

    A friend from southern India told me it’s small motor scooters(Vespa size) there. They carry amazing loads of stuff but most commonly mothers with several children and whatever they to at the market,

Leave a Comment