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.