Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out with the sheep in with the new

Woke up to the sound of sorrowful bleating and the smell of charcoal burning on street fires as the cull got underway in the Medina. The man with the sharp knife who slits the sheeps throat as is the practice will have a full agenda today and probably take the rest of the year off. Ben took off early to his Mothers house to witness his personal sheep meet its maker and was returning to pick me up for the ceremonial family lunch later. During the morning the sheepskins piled up on street corners to be sold i guess while buckets of innards were furtively scrubbed for what reason I can only hazard a guess.

Sina has left for Spain to meet up with her daughter arriving back from Berlin, I think she has had a dizzying and confusing, amusing and also very relaxing stay all things considered. Its quiet in the house as I relish being ensconced, such a lovely word, in the Menzeh room with the two cats Moulay and Idriss popping in to check out this new heated room after Bens chilly apartment. It will be no go on the workfront now for three days and no excuses either from the workers about holiday payments and sheephunting when they get back, its time to steam in as we like to say.

I would hope we can get all plastering and tadelakt in the remaining rooms done and finish off the electricity and plumbing so there should be a few working bathrooms within the next month, inshallah. Most of all I am praying for a logical work process as is so often the case here people are always going back over finished work eg electricians over plasterwork which is enough to make you cry sometimes. No matter that you have pointed out the wastefullness of it all it still happens all too frequently. So all I want for Xmas is some Logic, please Santa!

Spent a lovely afternoon at Bens with his Mother bringing out trays of Couscous, chicken, lamb and sauteed innards, no thank you, plus fresh fruit, tea and sweetcakes. Ben was scooping leftovers for the cats and would return later to take a haunch of lamb home to cook for our dinner, good boy.

So with no work for a while it could be time for one of my famous road trips and the place that beckons is definitely Chefchaouen, only a three hour drive north through Ouezzane and gorgeous Andalucian style scenery. I want to see what has progressed from my lst visit and do some more scouting around as the potential of the place is definitely on the up and up.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Little by Little

Few photos for your delectation the first is is from the Berber Fantasia that was a stunning recreation of warring Berbers just outside the old town, the others are of the fine filigree lamps every home should have one, the arches in the Menzeh room now all cleaned and da capoed and of course the newly tiled lounging pool come patio on top of the skylight, love it!

Little by little as the title says is a literal translation of the Arabic Schwaya Schwaya which is my phonetic intepretation. It generally means take your time, show some patience and everything will come good. This is important now as there are lots of smaller finishing projects underway with the plasterers working their way through the house, zellige man onto tiling the bathrooms and carpenter making new window frames whilst Mernissi bless him cleans a door a day. The electricians are threatening to finish very soon as soon as I part with some more dirhams of course but I now have hallights on a 5 minute timer throughout the house which is nice. Soon will have terrace lights in place and can light it up like a Xmas tree to rival Freds place over the way.

Sina and I have been in the Menzeh room for a few nights and it has been magical with the sunlight filtering through, the scattered wailing seeping in at odd hours and playing cool house music on the Ipod with no neighbours to annoy, parfait. She has been enjoying Fes and amazed at the effort and frustration involved daily to get the work done from point A to point B, as we all know here. then magically it all comes together before your eyes and you wonder what the fuss was all about.

So it has been Xmas, well not that you would know it here of course apart from Hotel Batha digging out their 10 feet of trimming for the ex pats and the expats themselves stuffing chooks and getting in a case or two of stubbies, thats chickens and beers to the non Aussies out there. Spent Xmas morning with Aussie Pete and Sina in the Ville Nouvelle buying sinks and toilets as we are at that stage and then carting them through the Medina of course on handcarts, always a hassle but then again you cannot get 5 toilets on a donkey, or maybe you can I havent tried it....yet.

Quiet Xmas night just chilling in the Menzeh, alcohol free and consequently woke up fresh and raring to go. It was time to take Sina out of the Medina to go exploring after leaving the workers on some sort of schedule although as we approach Aide the big holiday everyone has to take time off to buy a sheep to slaughter on 31st Dec. So you might wonder where the workers are but they are usually in a hunt for the prettiest sheep or the one with the nicest fetlocks or whatever. Sheep are now seen all over the Medina either in handcarts, on mopeds though not driving as they have no sense of direction, or being stuffed into the boot of a Fiat Uno where they probably think they are being taken on a scenic tour. Unfortunately their tour ends up in an oven after having their throat cut and blood spilled within the house for good luck. I might bypass the ritual myself and have a lovely nut roast!!

Anyway drove Sina out on the Ifrane road to yes you have guessed ..Ifrane passing through Immouzer and stopping of at the Golf club to show here the lack of complexes and apartments that normally blight the Costas but it will come of course. Had a Thai lunch in Ifrane that must have been the only thai menu that uses gravy browning so copiously so that was a costly mistake. as a finale I took here to the world famous Hotel Mischliffen, only joking, this is the ski resort that services Ifrane but it was deserted save for one bundled up guardian as the hotel inside was colder by far than outside. Sitting on the terrace staring at the empty and delapidated swimming pool and the little slopes covered by a sprinkling of snow whilst the Carpenters crooned on the hotel stereo had a strangely spooky effect causing Sina to giggle almost constantly at the absurdity of the place in off season. We couldnt even pay for our coffees as the guardian had no change at all but he waved us off cheerfully maybe hoping we would return next year to pay.

Came back after to find the house cleared; it almost felt like a home with doors and windows in situ although needing the Da Capo ladies treatment, who incidentally came round for their Aide bonus even though they have only worked 3 days, Ahh Morocco bless her. Sina and I took a stroll through the Medina finally finding the guy who makes the fine filigree lamps I have been seeing all over as in photo also in the search for at least 7 doors for the house and some beautiful reclaimed ones around but at silly prices must look harder. Met one antique dealer who sells to Europeans some gorgeous pieces who not only knew the Mernissi house but had played in there as a boy with the family so he was very taken with me buying and restoring it to its former glory.

After all this activity we settled in front of the fire at Hotel Batha for a relaxing Vodka and tonic ahhh alcohol admiring the 10 feet of trimmings.

So after all this action in the festive season were we finally infected with the Xmas spirit at long no.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The thick of it

So three weeks away and what had i missed, well a lot of hard work and graft by the looks of it. The new work team consisting of young chantier Moaniss who is foreman and translator had been overseeing the red hot plastering team who were working their sweet way through the house plus new carpenter and zellige specialist and Mernissi, how apt, the clean up man.

The octagonal skylight roof is now fully tiled on the top with all the representative zellige colours of Morocco and though shallow, when filled with water in summer it might just cover your naughty bits if you lie on your back. Always wanted a dip pool but this is more of lounging puddle oh well at least you can get wet!

The terrace bedroom is all done with new plaster, stripped wood doors and shutters and oh deep joy electricity so I consequently rushed over to Adels house with Ben and moved my various Moroccan belongings over in about an hour flat. Managed to barter a gas heater from Adel as the nights are getting chilly and so with incense stick lit, Ipod on shuffle and Keith Richards autobiography at hand i awaited Bens delivery of a double mattress. And so there I was at home on the terrace menzeh with views out to the starry Medina, the odd howling dog and lounging with Silk cut in hand on the leopardskin throw. At that point I could not have been happier but it was not to last.

Woken up at 8am to the sounds of ALL the workers with Mernissi scraping the grime from the terrace windows coloured glass outside to its previous glory, while the plastering team set up right outside my door and the electrician banging on it to come and finish the electricity hook up in the room. A rude awakening to say the least and it got worse. Driss the old builder who had laid the new ceramic tiles in the apartment and first floor bedroom had come looking for cash. although his work was not bad it was not up to a great standard and we all told him so. Also whilst laying the tiles and hosing it all done as they do, water had leaked to the shop below and caused the shopowner to close for a few days.

Of course You must not annoy the neighbours is rule number one so off we went to settle the problem. This scenario is so typical Morocco as shopowner demanded recompense I told Driss he must pay out of his wages which I was docking anyway and so as a starting point we haggled away. The store owner got some of which he felt was owed, Driss got half of what he wanted and situation solved with me growing a few more grey hairs, bearing in mind this was my first morning back I cant say I was too happy. Strolling round the house I was generally impressed the main salon now looks stunning just need to get a decent fireplace builder in finish where the space shuttle fireplace stood before being ceremoniously demolished hurrah.

Spent a nice afternoon with Aussie Peter and Karen after the mornings debacle looking at Jacob Delafon baths and toilets ended up with two baths for 60 euros each must have been a missprint, but the toilets were only 85 euros each as well for stylish modern design will come back for five of those I think. I realise this is truly scintillating stuff and you must be feeling my rapture so lets call a halt before we all wet ourselves en masse.

Hopefully get some photos up soon to show the progress inshallah.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hop Skip Jump

The title tells you everything about my progress over the last few weeks, hopping over to Spain first to establish a signing date for the house sale there and squeezed in a fantastic birthday with Sina and friends. First she took me into the campo to the bottom of a dingley dell garden and there was a special birhtday treat of a swedish sauna that had been fired up for me, lovely, then onto a new Japanese and Thai restaurant in Chiclana where she had assembled a motley batch of old friends, the food was incredible with dumplings to die for.

It was then a skip over to England which wasnt too much fun consisting of one drunken night with two days to recover; looking out for a wayward brother and putting my dear old Gran in a care home; well she is 98 bless her.

So then it was jum^ping back over to Spain to deal with the hassle of house clearing. Spent a considerable amount of time stressing over the house sale in Spain as they are so laid back about the actual date whilst hitting you with all manner of new charges. For instance i hadnt paid my Basura or rubbish collection fee for two years because it was in the old owners name so was suddenly hit for 300 euros. This is just one of many odd fees to pay that you were not aware of till you come to sell as anyone will tell you you cannot sell with an outstanding debt on the house.
Anyway a date was set and two days frantic moving of furniture and records ensued with all the choice pieces ending up in Sinas apartment so it almost felt like a home from home which I guess was the general idea.

The day of signing was fraught with confusion for all concerned, the young Madrid couple who were buying their first house, the agent with all his figures wrong plus the bank rep with a cheque for the wrong amount and slack paperwork. I was convinced at any moment the whole deal would fall flat on its face which would have been a shame as I had already spent the deposit in Fes, whoops!!

Miraculously it all came together and I found myself mortgage free with a nice bundle leftover and we all know where that is going to be spent , dont we children yes in the good old Medina. After a few days thumbtwiddling in Vejer as to all intents and purposes I dont have a home there although my old home has been magically transported to Sinas as a Vejer base it was time to get my head around popping back to Africa.

At this stage my brain was full of scenarios including having my car turned back at customs, irate builders waiting for money and wondering how I would feel seeing the old house again. Breezed through Tangiers after a two hour wait, how unusual, and then the 5 hour drive to Fes with my brain on numb mode for most of the time.

Soon i was back on familiar noisy, bustling turf and straight into the house with my bundles of Vejer leftover lights, furnishings, a Buddha and pots and pans for the future kitchen. My first impressions were Wow but thats all for now as the footie has started.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Back and forth

Had a hectic day ,what a change, in Fes as i tried to finalise the last work with the architect and buiding firm as per estimate while almost simultaneously setting up work list for Ben for while i am away. I cannot pretend all of this was at all easy but its all part of the fun and games. Conversely my friend Micheals property which is now in the start process of renovation seems to be going relatively smoothly, mind you they all do at the start, but he has a very good chantier so should be OK.

The local ex pat community met up for Sandys last night at the fantastic LaRoussa next door almost to Mernissi and we shared stories, wine and anecdotes as well as future projects till quite late. What an interesting bunch we are with Kiwis, English, Capetowners and French and Americans all represented around Freds kitchen table sharing a common view about Fes, we love it now how can we in our small way make it better?

I hit the high road or more exactly the motorway west of Fes to get to Asilah unfortunately in the dark and driving rain but i needed to get going. It was strange to leave Fes for Europe as its become my new reality but needs must, I have a house selling transaction to finish in Spain to release renovation cash so its a priority.

Will probably not be hitting the blog for a couple of weeks as I then leave for England but fear not i will return with more tales of intrepid adventures, cock ups and candour when I return.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Phase two

Its been busy here what a surprise as people come and go at a rate of knots, theres no rest for the wicked. For instance as I dropped Jenny at the airport I hung around to pick up Tony my co conspirator in the Mernissi project. He has a part share but as he is working full time as a chef for Roger Taylor from Queen in Surrey his input at this stage is limited. Tony is an ideas man and walking round the house could visualise the top terraces as a restaurant well we will see on that front but also was trying in his head to maximise the space we have here with an apartment, basement and main salon to be utilised fully.

Its a transitional period at the house as I have very gratefully taken Mouaniss the chantier from Sandys house Riad Zany on board. He has brought with him the the plastering team a zellige expert and a carpenter. Between them while I am away next week for two weeks they can crack on with finishing all the plasterwork in the rooms and stairwell while zellige man repairs throughout the house. The carpenter is making the outside shutters in cedarwood for the octagonal skylight as well as stripping the huge front door and renvating the canopy over it. So little by little we are putting the old girl back together, as the plumber is finishing and the electricians put in junction boxes and actual light fittings we could soon have light and a working toilet!!

Also this week with Driss and Ben took some of the old tiles from a bedroom and apartment and went to a ceramics factory to get the requisite amount made up so Driss can start repairing and replacing all damaged tiles or laying new ones. Hopefully i have left a busy work list for Mouaniss to oversee and i must admit it will be good to take a little break from proceedings, step back from it and then come back recharged for the next phase.

The other good news this week is my house in Spain has sold with a handsome profit so I now have the funds or will have soon to inject some capital into the house, it was getting tight at one phase so my creative accounting skills had to come into play.

At the rented house its like the Three Stooges as Dominic and Tony are there at the moment sprawled out wherever and the conversation as ever with Dom is the various projects he has his eyes on, at least four at the last count. Hes a lively character as are most of the people I have met here and if we all put our brains and knowledge into a big melting pot we would be truly dangerous in a good way regarding getting things on the move.

I can feel myself getting excited and frustrated at the same time as we come into the finishing phase as in my head I can see the finished house, but realistically it could take 3 months to gently and accurately finish it so i must remember patience is a virtue.

Friday, November 17, 2006

When you are smiling the whole world smiles with u

After several semi unflattering pictures of me on a certain website, Hello Sandy, where I seem to be gorging on chocolates, carousing or generally looking a bit too serious I thought it time to post one of myself in smiling mode. After a slightly stressful week of builders, bombshells and bombastic behaviour things have settled down nicely and I can see the wood from the trees. My friend Michael from Norwich mentioned I looked a bit serious in the photo in Sandys piece in the View from Fes so hopefully this will correct the stony faced bugger impression; I am normally a happy chappy especially when estimates are accurate!!!

Lots of friends around at the moment all on their various missions seeking advice, solace or just a quick vodka tonic, just the one of course, and trying my best to help. I definitely have not got all the answers you need David Amster for that one but a lot of personal experience, contacts and general feel for how things work here. I am still learning daily and its all part of the wonderful process of living in Fes, you have to be a full time Fassi to appreciate it fully.

At the house we are at the finishing stage for electics and plumbing with quotes to come in to finish the Berber Basement, plastering and zellige restoration while the gorgeous octagon skylight is being sympathetically restored to a good standard. The plastic sheeting and protective covering for the zellige floors is being removed as we speak revealing the detail that i first fell in love with all those many months ago. Its like I have my house back now from building site mode although there is still some way to go of course as finishing can take as long as the construction phase. However you just have to move now at the correct pace as you cannot hurry to finish properly this is where care and attention to fine detail is important. This is when I will bring in friends and artisans to go over all options for the finished product. I never assume I have all the answers there are a lot cleverer people than me out there who have been there and done that, yes Fred that means you for one.

Hopefully see most of them at the terrace soiree this evening then we will all pop off to see a bit off Jazz in Riads later on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

All Change

Its in with the new and out with the old here as I reschedule the renovation process. The contract with the building firm has been brought to a halt at the halfway stage with just some plumbing and electricity and some plastering to finish off as well as a glass brick floor. After that I will be overseeing the finishing process myself with local artisans with a proven track record. Ben rushed out this morning to get hired scaffolding for the plasterer who will be working on the octagonal sylight to repair the detailed but damaged plasterwork. At the same time the workers are removing all the plaster and plastic covering the zellige floors so I am now seeing my beautiful floors for the first time in 14 weeks.

The kitchen units brickbuilt are being rendered ready for marble tops and zellige and finally the fireplace chimney has been demolished and carted away; it was a radically wrong build as the builder admitted he had never built one before. Well they could have told me that before they started but of course it was the oh well we will have a go approach. Now i will employ a fireplace expert to do a proper job.

The influx of people in the Medina continues to astound with today involved in seeing houses in the area with Dominic; meeting Andy newly arrived from Essaouria with ready riad cash; Jenny from England still on a furtive house hunt; bumping into Helen Ranger of Fez Riads talking about the Sacred Music Festival; meeting Mike and Amanda from East Anglia on a quick scouting mission of Fes; Michael from London setting up a restaurant in the Medina and then Andrew from up north still getting his guest house together after needing to replace his roof halfway through laying the zellige oh dear. Just realised that has been the longest sentence on record maybe I am going through my Kerouac phase without the copious amounts of benzedrine and jazz cigarettes.

its just a small taster of the frenetic air here at the moment and the whole place is buzzing with entrepreneurs entrepreneuring all over the place. Could be a messy business but the ideas floating around all make sense to me and the people seem to have the gumption and spirit as well as the savvy and financial backing to make their individual dream come true. Its similar to a frontier town Wild West atmosphere where you grab your chance with both hands and run with it Yeehay!!

Looks like with so many hard working ex pats in the area at this moment I should organise a little terrace party to welcome old and new friends to our neck of the woods in the medina. I will round them up, as Rowdy Yates would say for all those very old Rawhide fans, and we can talk about decappage, zellige and other obscure renovation terms till our heads fall off. I am sure we can compare notes, swap tradesman and generally work together to ensure each of our projects proceeds as smoothly ha ha as possible. Maybe a renovation site where members could offer advice and tips online would be an idea, how about it Sandy, as a technophobe myself to some extent I could not set it up properly!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lets be honest

Lets be honest now I have made a few mistakes in my decision making over the last few months so hopefully others can learn from it. As regards the house well it is still as beautiful as ever but at what cost. The cost has been a certain amount of stress as the estimate crept up unknowingly; this was never fully explained till late in the process so consequently some of the works are still to be done. However as lots of renovators know here costs do go up for a multitude of reasons eg rotten hidden wood so you have to be prepared mentally and financially to deal with it.

In the early stages of the restoration I had sat down with the architect and gone over everything floor by floor and the estimate seemed to be in keeping with what we had discussed. Its the things that are not in the estimate that I should have been aware of eg tarmaccing the terrace; but to tell the truth if you are not aware that it is necessary how can you tell if an item is missing on the estimate. Just something to bear in mind when these add ons occur.

On a lighter note as we dont want to get bogged down in these details too long, after long discussions with all concerned plus friends I have decided to finish the project using handpicked artisans and therefore have better control of the schedule of works, payments and standards. So thats the good news folks and I feel very enervated and excited at taking on the next stage armed with the knowledge I have gained and mistakes I have made. How can I put this, you WILL MAKE MISTAKES its how you deal or circumvent them that will determine whether your project makes or breaks you. After everything I am loving the process and I measure myself by the depths of the challenges I face and the mental picture of the house finished with the sunlight streaming through the Monet style windows onto the intricate patterns of the zellige floor.

There is no need to feel daunted here as there is always someone close at hand either ex pats like Sandy to the local carpet seller to offer sage advice or recommend artisans for any part of your project. Talking of Sandy from Fes website, which is incidentally the finest English based site about Fes and Morocco, I spent a very enjoyable morning with him and Suzannah a few days ago. We did an interview about my life in general and the renovation with a few photos taken and I was pleased to read it later on the same day with a good review of my blog and a link to it so Thanks again Sandy and Suzannah for that and the sage advice.

Am planning a trip back to Spain in a few weeks and then England for a quick visit which I know will be strange after the Medina lifestyle all those books, movies to see and all those alcoholic teenagers to avoid. I think I have an offer on my place in Spain which would be good as it has made enough to buy the Mernissi House outright so now it can help pay for the next half of the renovation. I must say it is nice to be mortgage free at last as millions in Britain struggle to pay bills, credit cards, mortgages and the evil council tax to keep their head above water. Here the main large bill is electricity but to live daily is so cheap its ridiculous and long may it continue.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


It has been a frustrating week this week as the builders gave an update on work so far to announce the estimate or guesstimate had gone up. This was due in no small part to the extensive work on the terrace or terraces and as they are rather large 160 sqm, it soaked up a lot of money. The factor to be aware of when renovating is generally work from the terrace down especially if you have a leaking roof. My house had been sadly neglected for 10 years, not lived in, and water had been seeping in for a while. Therefore from the underside all the ceilings were stripped and re rendered and plastered, whilst on the terrace there was total decappage.

Now this is the important bit as it was recommended that a double layer of tar or bitumen was laid over the whole terrace one layer at right angles to the next layer for double protection. This made perfect sense to totally seal the terrace. However I was then told this was not in the estimate and I questioned why if they knew they were going to do it this way. We went ahead and laid the tar and the zellige and the terrace looked fantastic it was only when I saw the bill that I got the shock as the cost for the bitumen was exhorbitant to say the least!! So beware, as I was told the amount verbally would maybe be half the actual cost, which as it is a dirty and difficult job and seals the terrace I could have dealt with. Therefore the verbal quote was not worth a jot; I should have got it in writing of course.

When using a building firm their prices of course will not be the keenest as they have more overheads than an individual but as they oversee the project there is a measure of safety in the finished product. This is because the work is checked for standards by outside inspectors as well as the architect. It is up to the individual buyer to choose the route they go down. May I suggest that for the making it strong phase which involves structural and building work and also plumbing and electricity a reputable firm could be used and then for detailed finishing you could use individual recommended artisans.

As with any renovations there will be deviations from the original specifications sometimes in your favour and some in the builders favour but it is an area that can be very grey and not in glorious technocolour. Generally as I go along I ask if everything is within the estimate as even with an English translation of the very detailed French estimate it is not always easy to be totally au fait with the minute details. When things are costed by the sq m or cubic m it can be difficult to cost exactly at the beginning for instance the cubic m of rubble to be carted away. If you just had a fixed cost for say carting away the rubble then the price would be exact whether it turned out to be less or more than anticipated. These are things to be aware of when using a building firm using these methods as opposed to a local contractor.

The plus side of using a reputable firm is they use very good artisans I have found the plumber, electricians; builders and plastering team to be top notch plus you are not having to pay out daily or weekly for the work. Also as David Amster points out you may try to go for the cheapest option and you will get a cheap job. Itis worth weighing up paying the bit extra as you will be living with that finished product or someone will for many years to come. With these beautiful houses that we all fall in love with it is like restoring an antique. For instance you would not finish a restored antique table with cheap modern varnish it is not in keeping with the style.

Consequently when approaching a renovation decide on your preferred method but be assured as the work progresses you will learn very fast about standards, patience, estimates, attention to detail or not, shortcuts and the unique scaffolding methods of Moroccan builders. Also if a worker has done a particularly good job it is not unheard of to reward him with a bonus of a few Dirhams then you are guaranteed a good job and they will go that extra yard for you. On a six month or one year renovation you will probably see more of the workers than your family so they will become an alternative family so treat them as such. For instance when the Radeef workers were fixing the drains through an arduous night shift my neighbours and I kept them fed and watered trough the whole project. You can be assured if there are any future problems with drainage they will remember who we are and make sure any problem is sorted promptly.

If when walking through the medina you see an example of great workmanship then inquire who did it; get a cost per sq m; take a photo for reference and you will soon have a roster of artisans to work with.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Budget day

The budget airlines are bringing in vast amounts of Engish and French visitors this week and its really noticeable around the Medina; hearing Mancunian accents for instance. Quite a few of them are back to try and snap up that elusive Riad at a bargain price and quite a few are getting frustrated and restless. There is a real buzz in the air and you see the same faces scurrying back and forth in the Medina with a local simsaar or agent in tow.

Have had an official terrace and spiral staircase soiree with soft drinks,goat cheese and black olives with a host of old and new friends. As it was a full moon it was quite magical and though a tight squeeze on the staircase going up and down; a few refinements are necessary, the view makes it worth it. Everyone impressed which was nice as this week has been slightly stressful on the work front. Trying to hurry things up on the electric and plumbing front as well as clearing the basement has been a drag, then suddenly they all show up and things start to get moving. Also after paying the latest installment to the building firm i was told that the estimate has now gone up and another cheque was required; uh oh. A meeting was scheduled with the architect and head man on Wednesday to discuss this latest developement, could be tricky we will see.

At present I have Chris Chang and his girlfriend here to check out the house and Fes in general, he loved it but on taking him to Freds place at Laroussa he was totally blown away as I knew he would be. Tomorrow Michael arrives from Norwich to get things moving on his renovation and then some friends from Cambridge are coming followed by Tony my old mate of 40years standing. Tony has got a 25 percent stake in house so important he can see the progress at this stage now its 50 percent done and talk through our plans for next year.

It really is all go at the mo and the French budget airline and Ryanair between them are going to have an enormous impact on day to day life here. I cansee already on a daily basis that something is in the air it could be enchantment and fascination on one hand but the flipside on the business front eg property is escalating prices, greed and some frustration. I am so glad I bought and got sorted last year.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pots, Plants and Goat Dung

Big clear up time at the Mernissi House as we work from the terrace down clearing excess rubbish, while the builders work around us doing a fine job of touch up throughout the house, you know those little bits that niggle you for ages are suddenly put right. Been out and about as usual meeting, greeting old and new compadres. Trying to get Steven, a near neighbour, to meet Thierry, Fred and Isobelle also near neighbours has been trying, as through unforeseen circumstances i can never get them all in one place at the same time. I think we will leave that one for the time being and let fate and nature decide when we should all meet.

Having lots of visitors over this month so priority the last few days has been pots and plants to tart up the terrace. What a performance to get the pots filled, went to a garden centre with Ben and a local barrow boy who had commandered a Honda van. They insisted i needed 10 sacks of the premium goat dung black soil for plants at 25 dirhams a bag mixed with 7 sacks of low grade waste at 10 dirhams a bag. I ended up with tons of soil and a few plants to get started which all got stacked onto the van and ferried to the medina, transferred onto barrows and wheeled to the house and finally humped up 5 flights of stairs to the terrace. After all that couldn,t face filling the pots for two days.

Finally spent an afternoon with Ben doing all the pots after we had taken a trip out on the Ifrane road to a highly recommended pepiniere or garden centre where I picked up a palm, 3 bougainvillias, lavender, rosemary, jasmine and some other variagated leafy bush type thingies, cuddly toy, no scratch the last one . Finally we potted everything and looked great so went up to top terrace to look down on them and had a very tranquil hour watching the sun go down in an amazing pillowed cloud sky, before the call to prayer and the terrace lights twinkled on. It really is so special and at one point I stood stock still and looked up and I could almost feel and definitely see with the clouds so prominent the earth slowly moving on its axis around me.

I was brought back to earth with a bump as Ben had brought up a visitor to the terrace another new neighbour, Dominic who had bought a Riad just off Derb el Horra, my street. Turns out he was a Suffolk lad so just down road from Norwich and he is looking to do renovation, get into property etc so we had a few things in common. I must say all my neighbours to date have been fascinating as it does take a certain spirit to base yourself here i believe.

The other day spent a very good half day with Sandy of view from fes website met him in Recif and went to see Riad Zany, his lovely house in the medina still undergoing renovation a looking great, a real character place, loads of charm. We chatted for ages about my various plans for the house and Sandys suggestion of real Sahara sand in my Berber Basement could be a winner. Also chatted about the new rules and regulations that are coming into effect now for house owners wanting to rent out their places its something to seriously look into and get local specialist knowledge without baksheeshing your backside off. Also talked of Sandys fine new novel and the one he is now working on of which he gave me a brief synopsis that sounded absolutely brilliant being based in Fes, I will say no more.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I was just settling down to a lovely tagine with Jenny the happy Riad hunter up at the Boujloud gate when a strangulated cry emanated from the nearby bar. The cry sounded strangely familiar but I could not place it in my memory.

Heading over to said bar it was instantly familiar as the baying of the lesser spotted football supporter. I had forgotten it was the Champions League grudge match between Chelsea (hurrah) and Barcelona (booooo) and immediately abandoned my dinner to sit amidst Barcelona supporting Moroccans who taunted me mercilessly until Chelsea scored. Then the bar went slightly ballistic as a couple of Moroccan Chelsea fans knocked into the 50 or so Moroccan Barcelona fans and off it went into the usual nose to nose screeching; shouting and gesticulating stand off. Although trying not to laugh in case it incited more riotous behaviour it was so reminiscent of an English boozer at that point but of course minus the copious amounts of alcohol and foul language and headbutts.

Took Jenny round to see Steven at the cool Riad 9 and we sat on the terrace for a few hours discussing what else but houses; riads and dars. Its almost like the mantra from the Wizard of Oz " Lions and Tigers and Bears; oh my" as Dorothy sets off into the forest; whereas here the mantra would be "Houses and riads and dars" as you venture into the Medina. Either way its a jungle out there; so beware.

Just a few workers at the house at the moment as Baccali gets his act together after Ramadan; but at least the ceiling is nearly done and the builder Driss is patching up bits and bobs and bricking in exposed pipework in the bathrooms. Told Baccali I would appreciate all rubbish especially in basemant to be cleared out by Saturday as its the start of a steady stream of visitors from England over the next few weeks. Also to demolish the chimney that is half built as it is not in keeping with the salon;it was one of my wackier ideas that looked good on paper till I saw it in the flesh or brick so to speak and then it resembled a space shuttle nose cone; demolish now and start again.

Spent a good morning with Aloumi today at the Centre for Regional Investment a non governmental advice centre for investors which was very informative. I need to register the house name Dar Mernissi or something similar if that is not available also checking on various options for the house; guest house; restaurant or training kitchen which would give it a governmental status although lots of places no names mentioned do not bother at all. Also need a carte sejour or semi residency so i am here in some official capacity. Called John and Jenny to pick their brains on all this and also Sandy at View from Fes and will meet them all tomorrow as I need advice on all of it before making a wrong move. Alouimi has been designated as the man to do all the chasing and paperwork for me being an eloquent; multi lingual respected local.

Its all a case of you scratch my back and I will scratch yours here; favours for favours here helps lifes merry go round go round; just how it should be in the real world out there; so welcome aboard Aloumi.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Back to Work

Couple of pictures to show the ceiling getting the sealing and a shot of one of the slightly splattered by plaster iraqui glass and cedar arches in the main salon. This looks truly gorgeous when the light filters through.

Finally got the workers back after their long Ramadan break and they were straight into plastering the ceiling in the main salon and also plastering the walls. So we are at last hiding the snaking electricity cables within the walls and it will soon start to look more of a house than a building site. The next major project should be clearing the basement where all the rubble has accrued and the floor has been dug up for the drainage pipes. After that we can lay a new floor and build a bar counter and i can start to visualise the Berber Basement idea I have.

We are now nearly three months in and should be another three months I would say at the longest to knock it into shape, cant wait to see the beautiful zellige floors again when they are uncovered from their plaster wrap.

Sometimes its hard whilst within the project to remember all those facets of the house that you love as you are surrounded by rubble, dust and cement and cables and then bit by bit she reveals herself like a teasing stripper, as the work progresses, to remind you of the beauty within.

Over the next few days I will check on the airwell awning we are having made as inclement weather is soon on the way and also the metal spiral staircase to top terrace should soon be done which is exciting as the view from the top is a great 360 degree panoramic sweep of the Medina perfect for sunset.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Meet and greet

This weekend was a crucial meeting in the house as Kaddiri the architect came round followed by Abdelloui and Baccali from the building firm Tourate Fes plus Ben and myself. The main topics were where is the next cheque plus some minor problems regarding the work and the procedure from here on in. I dated the cheque for two weeks time to allow ample time for funds to flow in from abroad, and was assured by Ben this is a very Morroccan thing to do.

The minor problems relate to Ben and I casting critical eyes over the work and estimates but this was resolved I believe to everyones satisfaction its good to run a happy ship after all. I find the longer I am involved the more I am learning of course regarding estimates for work and prices per sq m and the good workmen stand out especially the plumbers and electricians we have here. Of course I am paying a commission on each of them to Tourate Fes which is to be expected but armed with this knowledge I am sure on another project I could successfully manage myself with a strong right hand man.

Today went out and met some old and new faces, a young girl Jenny who is looking to buy a house here as an investment so gave her the benefit of my experience, next time i saw here she was chatting to Sandy from View from Fes who was giving her the benefit of his considerable experience. She had the expression of someone who was now slightly confused and maybe intimadated with all this knowledge, ideas, opinions rules etc involved in the buying process. As we all know in Fes it, i mean general proceedings dont necessarily follow a straight path but you seem to get there in the end even if you are still not quite sure exactly how it happened ie getting planning permission.

Arranged to meet Jenny later to see how her house hunting had gone and then bumped into John and Jenny just back from England and recently featured on Channel 5 property programme about the renovation of their Dar here just up the road from mine. They have been following my blog so had a quick chat about our different experiences as they did their renovation themselves hiring workers as and when needed. I didnt feel I had the necessary experience at the time to do this as I wanted the comfort of an architect, engineer and building firm so well done to them for a brave move it could have had nasty pitfalls but in their case I think it went smoothly.

With the third installment cheque paid it puts me in the driving seat now as there will be no more money paid until the job is finished which could be 2-3 months as per arrangement where 75 per cent of the money is paid halfway through the work. I think this is an agreable arrangement as long as the estimate is adhered to as close as possible. I am always querying the work in the estimate and if not in the spec I will source other suppliers eg spiral staircase because it was not in the original plan. At the end of the job I anticipate some lively discussion over the prices which is to be expected hope it doesnt get too heated but of course this is Morocco and they do like to let off steam quite spectactularly before coming back down to Earth.

This evening was supposed to be a neighbour meeting as I was going to take Fred, Thierry and Isobel from the Riad LaRoussa next to me and introduce them to Steven and his very cool house still on the market for a very cool 300,000 euros. Fred was busy with their first clients after a two year renovation so we rescheduled for tomorrow, should be an interesting meet up Habitat designer meets Casablanca playboy, sorry Fred didnt mean it!!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Halfway House

Not a lot to report as the workers are still on a Ramadan break should be back by the weekend to crack on to the second phase of putting the house back together. Its been raining here for a few days the first for ages which brings the Medina to a bit of a standstill and has us frantically covering open roofs with plastic to keep carpets dry etc.

Back in the house its reaching a definite halfway point in my eyes. With most of the building work done its time to concentrate now on putting the old girl back together. As wiring and plumbing are almost finished we can start replastering the walls and also finish plastering the main salon ceiling. Down in the basement as all the drainage is in place we can clear out all the rubbish and lay another floor down.

Just had my friend Dan over from Vejer on his third visit looking for a cheap 30,000 euros property but after two days of looking with a local guy and Fes properties he could not find anything to push his buttons, my favourite phrase. He was amazed how the prices are going up so fast with each visit and how the choice seems to be less each time. Well the gems are still out there you just need patience and luck. It seems amazing now that my house cost 37000 euros compared to what you get these days but the real acid test will be what it is worth after the renovation I guess.

The next few weeks will see more visitations from friends including Chris a possible investor from London whos been following progress here with great interest, Michael a friend from Norwich who is about to start renovation on his Dar and Tony an old mate from Norwich who has invested in the house and is promoting it to all his friends in the yachting world. Interesting to see what they will make of the changes to the house and Fes as a whole.

From talking to locals the Kings wife has been given the job as overseer of the Fes renovation as a whole as she is a Fassi native and they wish to get Fes on a par with Marrakech over time. Its quite possible as personally I find Fes more culturally and historically more interesting although Marrakech has the hip factor of course.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Upmarket Neighbours

Well we are nearing the end of Ramadan and consequently the workers have been given a week off, so hopefully they will come back at full strength. Aloui the plumber has been in working alone to put in his systems. He is really switched on and is putting in auxillary piping for if I go to solar panels in the futire, nice one.

Had a late invite to Moniques at Riad Norma for dinner the other night, just eight of us and all French. Chatting away to Thierry, Isobelle and her brother Fred till we all realised we are next door neighbours. I can literally look down to their immaculate salmon coloured tadelkt terrace from my terrace and they in turn have been watching the progress on my place. Fred says he bought it for 250,000 euros two years ago and brought in his sister and brother-in-law to help him out sounds like a huge project, they invited me round tommorow.

We all agreed that we need to organise more social interaction between the Europeans moving here which sounds good to me thats an area I excel in, putting people with people. Anyway next day I wandered round to their riad which was all of one minute away its literally the next left turn from my house and through two unpreposessing large doors to a stunning massive riad, immaculately restored. Thierry took me on a tour of the five suites all with tadelakt bathrooms and incredible fittings such as hand beaten silver light switches and sinks; hand made iron four poster beds and moderne italian style sofas. This was the template for my place if I could afford it on a smaller scale and they promised to give phone numbers of the companies and workmen they used.

I was blown away by this place as the tour unfurled and even more so when I went onto the terrace which was the same terrace i had been wondering who owned when up on my terrace. My first view was of my house standing alone and proud in the medina which you can see on the photo and of course I had never seen it from this angle it was fantastic. Also on their terrace was the beautiful hand made iron chill out bed, I want one !!

It made my day to not only meet such cool people in these three young French entrepreneurs but the fact they were my neighbours and had created such a stunning restoration project with love, passion and massive ingenuity was a massive bonus. They told me they had also toured my house while I was away and had wondered who the mad Englishman was, so now they know.

As the terrce is now tiled Adil sent round 23 old Fes pots, in photo lined up in a row, as we should start the planting now so the plants can start maturing plus it gives Ben a job he loves to do, making the terrace a roof garden. Ben and I also went to a manufacturer to chose an awning to go above the glass floor patio area so you can crank it out when it rains which will be anyday soon as we near November.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Drains and holes and planes

Well it seems like we are digging up the neighbourhood here disrupting pedestrians, shopkeepers, schoolkids, carts, donkeys and whatever. As i keep explaining as everyone considers me the instigator, soon we will have the most efficient and sweetest smelling drainage system in the Medina, that seems to work.

The Radeef sewage guys worked round the clock to 6am this morning then another shift took over, to date it would have cost 10,000 dirhams without my neighbours timely threat to report situation to the papers. As its election time they want to keep everyone as happy as possible.

In the house the electricians have worked their way down 5 levels creating a snaking, spaghetti junction of wiring and they have finally reached the Berber Basement to finish that and we have been promised full electricity poxer in a couple of weeks. At the same time the plumber is linking up all his systems followed by the brickies who brick up the exposed pipework so all is hidden, a very European thing.

Have been looking at prospective fireplaces and fountains for the salon we have decided Hassans design for the fireplace does not really work and have got a professional in who showed some photos and one he had done was in Yves St Laurents house in Marrekech. So I guess he won,t be cheap then!! The fountain in the picture can be made for about 700 euros which is quite good.

Good news this week more budget airlines from Orly flying in, plus Morocco a candidate to be accepted as an EU partner getting stronger by the minute. On a personal note Abby Aron, the writer, has finished a piece for BA inflight magazine featuring yours truly and has said she will be in contact for another piece in the Telegraph soon.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Love thy neighbour or Trench warfare

A wonderful day in the neighbourhood today, let me explain further as this is a slightly complicated issue. For several days the builders have been digging up the basement to put in new drainage and inspection tanks but when they checked outside the drains to the main street were either non existant or broken or inadequate.

This became a major problem as it involved several close neighbours and we were all unanamously agreed the problem of fixing the drains lay with Radeef the government body. They came quite promptly looked at said drains and sent all the materials necessary for the work but said we would have to provide the workers. I suggested to the neighbours if this was the case even though I did not agree with the proposal then we should all chip in to get the bloody thing done, approx 5000 dirhams.

Not so said next door who works in the Planning Dept and he promptly took some photos of the holes in the alleyway where the drains should be, marched up to Radeef and threatened to show said photos to the local paper. Within one hour 5 workman were digging up the street at about 5pm and as they were working through the night requested harira soup to break the fast at 6pm.

Before I knew it Ben had set up a table and chairs in the apartment and all the neighbours came round with soup, bread, dates, tea and coffe and a fish tagine and we all sat down to a feast. The first meal proper in the apartment and some very happy workers who went back to their trench digging with renewed vigour.

Meanwhile Mr Snailman who each night plies his trade selling snails in broth on that patch was having a fit as he had invested in a huge bucket of snails for that evenings sales. We let him blow himself out, Moroccans are remarkably quick to high temper hissy fits, and when he had appraised the situation he was back to his usual jovial self. He contented himself selling his other great idea which was cones of crisps from a giant sack of potato chips about 4 feet long that had been open for two days at my estimation, soggy crisps anyone.

As a bonding exercise this was a good day as all my near neighbours helped solve a tricky problem at no cost to ourselves and Radeef workers got some Mernissi hospitality. I seem to be the talk of the neighbourhood at the moment as everyone can see my problems and how they are dealt with as they involve everyone around to some extent.

As Ramadan enters its final few days its a good time to do business as most of the shops are hurting for ready cash so I am stocking up on wall lights and few more cushions etc. On the 23rd everything should be back to normalcy if you could ever apply that word to life in the Medina but by that I mean no tired and irritable people and the work rate goes up and the nights entertainment stops at 10pm not midnight.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Kitchen cracks on

At the moment we have both the apartment and the salon kitchen under construction and very fine they look too. The open plan American style one in the apartment salon with the low level dining counter is exactly as I pictured it while upstairs the kitchen is more compactly built a lot like a galley in a yacht. Can,t wait to get the appliances in and start having fun with all this stunning produce we have here.

Just had a great 3 days with a friend Ingo a property developer and girlfriend Rosa, as they stayed at Riad Norma on my recommendation and loved it. We ate there on two nights and it was very memorable especially the smooth pea and fresh ginger soup,works on the tastebuds real well and then a lamb and roasted pear tagine was incredible all washed down with a few bottles of Meknes red wine. As i dont drink really whilst living here it all went straight to my head; the next day a gentle thumping was going round my brain.

Took Ingo and Rosa around the house he was into every detail including the laying and cutting of the terrace tiles and the cement and plaster type being used in the house. The interior of the house is a real building site right now but I can see it all coming together in my head even if visitors cannot. Ingo visited a few houses with Fes Properties and grasped very quickly the type style and location of what he was looking for, i was impressed. Hassan has finished the outline of my Berber style fireplace and the builders have started to strip the main salon ceiling but while doing this they chipped a piece of the fancy plasterwork off and we saw a classic Baccali hissy fit. Of course he knows this will have to be replaced so he was furious.

I drove Ingo and Rosa to my favourite spots Hotel Merenides for the view of the medina, Hotel Palais Jamais for sunset cocktails and in the countryside to look down on Fes at dusk. Now i must get back to my budget ha ha.

I guess we are over the halfway stage now with deconstruction and reconstruction, plumbing and electricity, terrace finishing off and drainage being dug in the basement to the street. Sometimes the work in progress is overwhelming, exciting, daunting, serious, fun, expensive and whole other bunch of objectives but would recommend it to anyone who hasnt got a weak heart or empty pockets and likes a challenge. Sounds like you Michael, who will be starting his own renovation in a few weeks just up the road when he flies in from good old Norwich, England.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hassan builds a fireplace

Been having a few problems uploading phots recently so please bear with me but things cracking on as ever the mighty Hassan is halfway through the fireplace and chimney build, check out his progress on the photo, whilst i meanwhile paid Baccali the next installment of the money should keep him sweet for another month.

Was out with Adil at 8 this morning to check out the 83 hectares at Sefrou before Ingos arrival on thursday. Quite an impressive spread overlooking sloping olive tree countryside but dont know if its exactly hes got in mind as its slightly off beaten track,we will see. Lot of the workers complaining of fatique and faim, tired and hungry but they are still soldiering on bless them.

Had to slip in another photo of my fave lake,tranquillo central when you go there, still awaiting the price and availability of the plot i saw there with Mohammed, hopefully good price inshallah.

Time to take it easy today as I will be escorting Ingo for the next few days so want to be on flying form. Stephans house is back on the market now again for 300,000 euros fully furnished as the russian buyer pulled out so who knows maybe Ingo has a buyer as its an award winning house and a stunning example of a classic Fes renovation to the highest standards.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Kitchen Capers

You turn your back for a minute and the builders and plasterers are onto the next phase and its me whose playing catch up. They are in the apartment now and mocked up the counters before filling them in with concrete; so i was out frantically getting exact oven and sink measurements so everythig slotted in properly. I then went upstairs to design and measure the main salon kitchen so they would not catch me out next another time:

This morning the legend that is Hassan the toothless Master Builder came back. He is a wizard and true star working twice as fast as the other builders with an incredible eye for detail. He has been brought in by Baccali to build the fireplace a photo of which I pulled from a magazine; its like a Berber oven style. Literally within minutes H had the tiles and plaster off the wall; a foundation laid and the first bricks in place. By mid morning he had the basic shape; quite tricky cos its curved and was restyling my original idea to accomodate two spaces for logs and two separate flues; the man is a genius with bricks.

Ramadan continues to amuse; theres always an edginess in the air; now we are two weeks in it is halfway and people are adjusted to it a bit better. It doesnt help that 3 hours before the end of fast at 3pm the cartmen come out with trays of delicious pastries and croissants and french bread so people can buy them but not eat; apart from yours truly who stocks up to stuff his face back at the house away from prying eyes. Its best on the street to respect Ramadan and not to flaunt the fact that as a Westerner you can smoke; eat and drink whenever its common courtesy; just go to a restaurant where its perfectly aceptable.

Around 5pm the shops start to shut and people get very animated and theres a palpable buzz in the air as the fast is only an hour away; then the gun goes off at 6pm wailing fills the air from the many mosques and the streets are immediately deserted asall families come together for the break fast meal. Two hours later the shops are open everyones well fed and the evening promenade and carousing till past midnight begins. From the house the steady rhythm of all of this is very comforting,amusing,exciting,ennervating and a whole host of other words. Its a very cool place to be and on the nightly promenade I more often than not meet an interesting or eccentric individual with a story to tell or something to sell,it doesnt really matter which, its real life in a real community.

Found one great guy who had trained in historic house restoration by ADER Fes and gave me a leson in Tadelakt and Madlouk, both different finishes for walls and highly decourous. He came round the next day to see the house and quote for the bathroom Tadelakt. Same day went to see the metal man to approve spiral staircase design and pay deposit and check out his artfully welded iron beds, sexy.

Next project is to meet Sinas boss Ingo who arrives for 3 days soon to show him land; Adel has found a guy with 83 hectares thats about 160 acres teeming with olives and a big house on it on the road south to Sefrou for about 4000 euros an hectare; thats a great price by the way under 50 cents a sq m. Its all go.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Land Lakes Ladders

Been a busy week as ever feeling totally recharged after two weeks in sleepy Vejer now its back to the Medina buzz. House work can be left to its own devices somewhat as most of the restructuring and building work has been completed and the terrace will be ready for budding plants and pots within a few days. The workmen are all focused on their specific jobs and only structural work now is the chimney in the salon, to create a fountain where a cupboard once was in main salon, and also a bar in the newly named Berber Basement. Also need to build and design, that should be the other way round I guess, the main kitchen, fresh and funky on that one with a traditional edge. After that it will be the fine detail work, finishing plumbing and electrics, putting in bathrooms etc.

Could be ready for Xmas at this rate!!

Started leafing through zellige work catalogues to get a design for the octagon skylight roof it has to be visually striking of course as you look down from the top terrace. Also need to consider chimney designs soon as Baccali eager to finish the building side of things.

Took a trip out to Barrage Al Fassi a gorgeous tranquil lake 40k from Fes with friend Mohammed and his mate from Maison Bleu Alal it was great and so clean you could drink it, so refreshing. Moh chatted with the local Berber families and they showed us a gorgeous plot overlooking the lake and as Mohs uncle knows the owner it could be a bargain price would be a perfect retreat from Fes plus swimming on your doorstep!!

Took Ben out to the Ouezzane road to meet Hamse whose family I broke Ramadan fast with last week, he was all dressed up ready to show me land on that northern road that overlooked Fes and Ville nouvelle. Ben translated as we looked at several spots one of which was stunning with gentle sloping land, mature olive trees, water and electricity. I obviously cannot afford everything i see but can do further investigation to find the best value for money in the area and land is definitely the next step around here.

Had a friend Becci over this week who with her new husband looking to buy a riad here soon so made myself available for advice and driving. Lots of chatting about houses and also looked at a few with her at high prices and no discerning high points, the market is getting crazy. Met up with Stephan who sold his place for 300,000 and we all went out for medina meal deep in the derb discussing the various stages our Fes experience was taking us. Took Becci out to Azrou for the Tuesday souk which was disapointing mainly food no antiquities or many carpets but drove back via the lake to show her the plot.

Next project was a design for the spiral staircase to the roof terrace so met a friend of Bens in Ville Nouvelle who is a very good metal worker, he came and measured up gave a great price so off we go on that one plus he will make decorative terrace railings and metal banister for the basement staircase.

Bumped into Sandy from View from Fes blog over lunch as we had sat next to each other but each not knowing the other so it was case of Oh its you after introductions and agreed to meet up to show our respective houses next week.

Last snippet for the day is Abby Aron called up for phone interview as shes doing piece now for Medlife a BA in flight magazine about Fes becoming the new Marrakech, we will have to wait and see on that one.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Terrace and tiles
Above is a link to a New York Times article which came out today Oct 1st all about whats happening in our neck of the woods with yours truly getting a small mention, well I have never been that shy about putting myself in the frame!!!

Was up and about early with Ben in tow to check out more land north of Fes but we were getting wildly fluctuating prices as some people very astute as to what will be developed in the future whilst some had no idea what their land worth. I have a friend Becky over at the moment looking for a Riad and land for her and her husband so we will pool resources brainwise to get to the real price for a nice plot.

Some updated photos and you can see the finished plastered octagonal skylight with admiring worker, ready for leadlight windows now, the terrace with the tiling going down, it will all be finished this Friday up there so time to start picking plants and pots. Inside they are repairing old plaster, putting in miles of electricity cables,installin fuse boxes and also chipping off old plaster and replastering walls inside the house and in the back flue which leads from the basement to the terrace. One picture is the view from the window to be in the laundry room newly built on the terrace, its so good it seems a bit of a waste to have it as just a laundry room!!

Also in one picture the welded metal flooring arrived today which will hold the glass bricks for the interior patio floor for the first floor bedroom. This suite will have a bedroom ensuite, a separate salon overlooking the main salon below and then french windows through to its own patio area which will be open to the sky so the nearest i can get to an indoor garden albeit glassbricked!!

Considering its Ramadan when hours shorten in the working day, they finish at 3pm, the workers who are a whole different bunch of artisans now are still working like Trojans or should that be Romans or Phoenicians. The whole workfoce has changed since I,ve been away as the real craftsmen come in like the carved plaster specialist or the ceiling plasterer and then on the terrace the traditional zellige tiler.

Its all been a learning process for me but I would not swap it for the world, bring it on.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Ramadam a ding dong

Spent a good couple of weeks in Vejer chilling but getting the house on several agencies books and showed a few people round so should get some interest soon. Lovely cool nights spent with my friends mostly Sina and Pat, checking out new tapas bar at Cafe Central in town and holiday highlight was a 10 piece Cuban band on my last night at the open air Claustro bar fantastic.

Soon i was on the road again Tarifa then Tangiers with quick stop at the beach at Moulay Boussleham before cruising into Fes near sundown. Was determined to see the 10 hectare plot high above Fes before I hit the Medina so drove the ten minutes or so out of town just as the sun set. As I parked to view glorious Fes from the hilltop the siren went to end the fast for Ramadan,about 6.15 each day, and then you could hear the faint wailing from the muezzins in town, it was a magical moment. Within seconds a local guy approached to say I must eat now with his family, a traditional Ramadan hospitality thing, and I got whisked up a hill to sit amongst the whole family eating bowls of Harira soup, sweet cakes and tea. Dispite the fact they only had a smattering of French we all got on fine and after the food all took our chairs outside on the patio hillside to look down on the lights of Fes and watch the planes circling to land.

It was so tranquil compared to the Medina buzz and definitely showed me another side to this whole experience as i left they invited me back Sunday to go shooting, what I dont know, and to show me some land ...yes please.

Left for the Medina knocked out by the genuine hospitable nature picking up a stranger from the road and inviting him in. Onto the Dar, let myself in and wandered round the house in semi dark checking on the work progress since my departure. Its all real good with terrace all bitumened and most of it tiled whilst inside ceilings newly plastered, all structural work completed, newly built bar also on terrace and the kitchen inside started. I am impressed at how far we have come in just two months so we seem on schedule.

Will post some photos tomorrow.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Heading back to Spain

First of all look at this gorgeous view of a farmhouse and 10 hectares with the whole of Fes laid out in the valley below.

Well have been back in Vejer now for a week,a change of pace after the buzzing Medina and in the serious process of selling my house here to re-invest in Morocco. Have had agents round all week and all quite positive which is good so we'll have to wait and see.
On way back to Spain stopped off in Chefchaouen to meet up with a new friend John an english teacher who lives in Toulouse but maintains a pied a terre in Chaoen, i was very impressed with the blue rinsed medina and Johns funky place in the pirate quarter which he bought for 7000 euros 4 years ago and spent 10000 to do up. its the equivalent of my place in spain but a tenth of the price!! This is why Moroccos getting my money cos there are bargains left right and centre.
The whole town is getting major renovation and investment and is set to be a St Tropez of the mountains in the future. i would love a funky retreat here as an escape from Fes and its also close,60k to the buzzing north coast so have put John on the case. He is a great local character here a 64 year old gin and tonic Brit with a great lust for life and the moroccan way and was a great guide, he took me to the restaurant with terrace views inland which was stunning and a recent addition to the cuisine of the area.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Up on the top terrace

Finally popped up to the top terraces today for
a look round I had forgotten how great the view was and the work was really good all electrics in etc. Both sets of terraces now ready for a double bitumen layer so now I am convinced that on my return from Spain all the zellige tiling on terraces will be done hooray!
In front of the workman in blue shirt is my near neighbour the Mnebi Palace which while stunning inside blocks some of my view on the terrace, oh well cant have everything, after all its not everyday you can say a palace is blocking your view and one day they might actually tidy it up. It is after all where the French Consul first stayed when France in charge of affairs here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Coming together nicely after only 6 weeks

A quick post of photos before I head back to Spain showing laundry room almost done just have to knock out a window fronting the terrace, in front of this I am having a bar area built, improved and renovated windows back in the skylight now just need the stained glass and shutters, the ceiling plaster being removed in the main salon and the rubble accumulating in the downstairs salon.

Tomorrow Ive designated a clear up day from the terrace down so we can see the wood through the trees before I go!! Cannot believe its only been six weeks since the work started as a lot has been achieved already but this phase can be demoralising as the beautiful house is hacked at by the electricians and plumbers and builders. You might call it a Caesarian operation as afterwards it all gets stitched up and you can hardly see the scar, we hope!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Its all go

Hidden in a cubby hole in one of the storage rooms one of the builders continues on the decappage and replastering campaign. This involves chipping off old plaster ascertaining everything structurally sound underneath and then rendering it. Next stage should be chasing in electricity channels before plastering the final coat but Ive found the plasterers getting ahead of themselves or electric boys are too slow so constant eye needed so each stage finds teams in right place at right time.
Looking across from my rented house terrace I watched the builders build the laundry room wall after the medina closed down for the night, woke up it was finished and plastered!!

Last few days have been frantic as the building team expands. As we have Ramadan on the 24th it is imperative to get the terrace finished so we can bring the workers inside. Last night the builders were building the wall of the terrace laundry room which overlooks Talla Sighera the main drag, and started at 8pm and finished at 4am as they can only do it while medina is empty. Today they are putting the ceiling on. On the terrace the electricians and plumbers are finishing their jobs so we can clear the terrace and put the bitumen down and then we are ready for the terrace tilers.
I am back to Spain for 10 days at end of this week leaving everything in Ben and Bacallis capable hands so will probably not file any reports till my return but then will have lots of updated photos of the terrace and interior.
We have also cleared the basement room and one idea is to turn it into a Berber Basement, tent up the ceiling, low tables cushions and chairs; plants with a bar in the corner and a renovated fountain, could look fantastic.
Anyway off to check on my friend Micheals place to get an estimate for his work so Adios Amigos for now!!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kitties and Brickies

Our two kittens Moulay and Idriss keep a watchful eye from Bens apartment bedroom window on the workers below or maybe they just smelled dinner!
The final building on the terrace this will be the laundry room and also through the gap you can access the spiral staircase to top terrace which will be tucked behind terrace bedroom, so effectively out of sight.

Its all been going off today as well as last night, I was woken up at midnight as several trucks turned up to take away the rubble which had started to build up alarmingly outside the house. Of course they have to come at this time when the medina is empty. Today there is so much going on in the house on all levels that it is best to stay out of the way.
They are taking all old plaster off the ceilings, building on terrace, plastering one of the bedrooms, chasing out for electrics, clearing out rubble in the basement etc. Felt like a war zone wont go back till 5pm when the dust should have cleared a bit. Just when you think you have finished demolition phase there is something else to consider oh well thats the nature of the beast.
Will be heading back to Spain in a weeks time to see Casa Luigi, my Spanish hideaway, and also Sina who has been brilliant looking after the house and renting it out even hiring her daughter to clean it while Ive been here. I know she will be reading this so a big HUG and thank you from Africa. It will be good to take a break and to come back to appreciate the progress as going in daily you instinctively want to hurry things along. Bearing in mind the build has only been going 5- 6 weeks I am well impressed with where we are at the moment.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Fun in the Sun

Woke up as usual to the very busy sounds coming from the Mernissi house as they unload 20 tons of rubble outside onto donkeys whilst inside the poetry spouting electrician channels his way through the main salon whilst practicing his english at every opportunity.
On the terrace the chippers are chipping , the plasterers are plastering and the builders have started on the new build, the laundry room on the terrace. By end of the week we will be ready for the bitumen layer or two on the terrace floor so it will be very watertight. Then I will decide where to place the plunge pool!!!!

Have decided after consultation with Bacalli and Houssine the architect to have a metal spiral staircase to go onto top terrace it will be hidden behind terrace bedroom so freeing up space on the terrace, its all very exciting, to me anyway!

This morning Ben and I went in search of the doctor who owns the old property next to mine that is propped up with wood beams onto my house. We had previously visited ADER FES, the UNESCO funded Medina watchdog committee who had inspected it and quoted 6000 euros to demolish and rebuild the walls; thus getting rid of the wood prop, they would help contribute also to the costs as we are tidying up that neck of the medina. Also had visited the Pasha at planning, the topman, who said you are English we have to help you, so find the owner we will tell him his house is dangerous and he has to fix it, nice one. As long as I make a little contribution everything will be fixed, I hope.

Found the doctor at the Childrens Hospital who living in Casablanca for 10 years had forgotten about wreck next door he owned but promised to visit this week to see the state of it, then see planning department to ascertain the next step. So a good mornings work especially as I had a toothache, not surprising with my fangs, and he recommended his wife, a dentist in the new town and we promptly rushed to her for a checkup and medication.

Met Mohammed the taxi driver in the afternoon to pick up some leather hides we had ordered from the tannery as I have an idea to make leather pouffes with carpet on top where you sit. I had bought a couple last week in goat skin and carpet but these will be top quality as I will do it in partnership with Adil who of course runs a carpet shop. Adil loved the idea and we will knockup a prototype within the week.

Busy day so relaxed at home with a pint of freshly squeezed orange juice followed by a pint of banana smoothie, I have had more fruit here than in 5 years I spent in Caribbean and also sticking to a no alcohol policy keeps a fresh head for the next day.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Keeping on top

I usually wake up in the little rented house I have across Talla Sighera to the sounds of the workmen chipping away at the terrace of the Mernissi house at 7.30 each morning. On Saturday I heard nothing and checking on the house found half the workforce not there. Called Baccali and he had pulled some men away to another project but others just hadnt showed. As work for the day ground to a halt after several weeks sterling work I let my feelings known. The next day there was double the work force and everyone steaming in at a rate of knots and were, including yours truly, happy chappies. Every so often as Ben has told me spend 50dh on getting cold water or Coke for the builders during the day, its very well appreciated.

After a while you can tell who are the star workers and I make a point of requesting them for their skill and diligence. At the moment it is a toothless old builder called Hassan a master of old and new styles who works faster than a speeding scorpion and when he was taken to another job I insisted he come back.

Generally I pop into the house 3 times a day at the moment I am stopped by the electrician at 5pm to give him English lessons after work he cheerfully recited The Soldier by Rupert Brooke to me the other day, you know the one, ....if I should die think only this of me la la la.

We are looking to have the terrace and new build plus zellige done by Ramadan, starts about Sept 24th for a month, then we can bring the workforce into the house out of the scorching heat as obviously they cannot drink during Ramadan during the day. All these things you have to be aware of constantly.
At moment Tourate Fes have several projects underway and i just gave them another, my friend Micheals place just up the road needs some decappage and reconstruction and should be a reasonably straightforward job. Once they get an estimate together and approval I can keep an eye on things there for him.

Just checked on Ryanair new flights Fes to Luton if I book now for November its 99 cents each way but with taxes about 40 euros return still pretty good huh!!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Break up to Make up

The electricians are chasing in the grooves for the wiring very carefully without damaging the plaster or zellige. They are under Bens watchful eye and thats good enough for me. Ben gives me a daily update on what is going to happen and the stage we should be at at end of day and we see if I agree. It becomes kinda obvious after a while as to which stage comes next when you see it on a daily basis, its an experience that Im glad i did not delegate as each day its necessary to tweak the plans a touch.

Looking across the octagonal cupola on the roof at Bacalli the foreman and a tough little bugger he is too with the workers he does not allow any slackness.
The old windows and grilles are out when the new ones are in place with Iraqui glass this will be my favourite feature of the house along with the main salon zellige floor.
The old lady has her make up removed and a fresh layer applied you can see the three stages old plaster, plaster removed and new layer applied with each team of workers right behind the other. Time and motion studies couldnt catch these boys out.
On the top terrace the stripping out continues and then both sets of terraces will have a double layer of bitumen to waterproof the roof before the zellige man moves in to complete his work

Monday, August 28, 2006

Photos from the terrace

The deconstruction of the terrace is almost done now we are starting on the reconstruction; the eight sided cupola has had the windows and grilles removed for renovation and polishing. The terrace walls have been resized or lowered and had old plaster chipped away and new coat applied and the floor is almost ready for zellige man.
The top terraces are now getting stripped and the laundry room is to be a new build on the terrace with interior stairway to top terrace; a recent innovation from Bacalli the foreman to save space that would have been taken up by exterior stairs.
You can see the vent from the old chimney at the back of the terrace bedroom on the last picture. This will be kept and incorporated into the laundry room on the terrace as its a lovely feature; beyond that is the airwell that goes down 5 floors to the basement creating a lovely airflow around the house.
Its been a busy few days with the craftsmen; the electricians fitting the new boxes on the outside of house before Radeef come to reset them and approve the works. Also ADER FES have been around to give their seal of approval to the work so far; its good for the house to have all this critical control as shoddy worked will NOT be passed as acceptable.
Took Baccali to Cybercafe to show him the blogsite and ended up creating one for his company while we were there he seemed to get his head round the concept pretty quickly.
More and more of the local traders and people in the area starting to take a real interest in the house now especially as half of them have almost been hit with flying masonry if they stand in the wrong spot. Lots of guided tours through the rubble to anyone showing interest trying to dodge sleeping tortoises; frisky kittens and pools of cement at various stages.
As I keep saying its all taking shape at least in my head and when the next batch of visitors come in a few weeks or months it will be well on its way to being the beautiful old lady she was once before; bless her.