Travel Tales: The Pigeon Poop Purse

It was the stuff of nightmares. The man I didn’t know, whose language I didn’t even speak, was leading my friend and me down a dark alley and then up a winding staircase. We were in search of Morocco’s famed leather goods, the goods Moroccans have been making in the same production-line style since before Columbus landed in Bermuda and proclaimed it the East Indies.

I was not optimistic we were going to find these goods at the top of this cramped staircase. I thought it was more likely we would find a group of undersexed North African men who recognized easy targets when they saw them.

My friend’s faith, which I sadly did not share, was rewarded. We rounded the top of the staircase to a room full of leather bags, slippers and coats all dyed different hues of caramel, red, tan, and yellow. The man led us to a deck with a view of dozens of giant pots. Men scurried among them, dipping animal skins from one to the other and eventually leaving them to dry on the roof.

Our salesman talked us through the whole dyeing process, almost none of which I even attempted to follow, until he pointed out a grayish liquid in one of the oversized pots.

“Pigeon poop.”

“It make leather soft. Same way we use for centuries.”

I did not think to ask how someone acquired enough pigeon poop to fill a pot as tall as me.

This knowledge did not stop me from perusing and eventually buying one of his leather purses. I bargained my little heart out but knew I overpaid when our salesman chased us out of the store with “gifts.” No matter, I had a beautiful leather bag for less than the cost of a cotton one in the U.S.

That trip to Fez, a medieval city in the Northern part of Morocco, was a day trip from where we were staying in Casablanca, so late in the afternoon we raced to the train station, got in an overstuffed train carriage, headed back to Casablanca, and immediately went to sleep.

We awoke to a strange smell. It permeated the air like a water filtration plant in a recently revitalized neighborhood.

The culprit? My new leather bag, and specifically the pigeon poop with which it was softened. The bag was packed in a suitcase and carried to Marrakesh, then Paris and then back home to Nashville. I aired it out in each location and thought, “Surely by now it doesn’t smell like bird poop any longer.”

I thought I had succeeded in releasing it of its aviary demons, until I pulled it out of the suitcase and put it on the ground. Sweet Rosie, my parent’s dog, walked over, sniffed it, glared at it, gave it a slight growl and ran away. It seemed I still had some airing to do.

Nearly four years later, I still use that bag sometimes. And if I pull it real close, I can still smell the pigeon who kindly gave his excretions so I could have a soft, one-of-a-kind bag.

Something to remember next time you’re coveting a Moroccan poof.

And on a not-at-all travel related note. Curbly, a fun DIY blog, featured my lamp makeover yesterday. You can check out the post here, and welcome to the Curbly readers who have clicked over! Today is Travel Tuesday, but stop back by on Thursday to help me decide on new living room furniture.