Saturday, December 29, 2007

International Relations


At the last count around the Xmas dinner table there were in no particular order these nations represented.....Romania, Cuba, Nigeria, England, Australian, France, America and Antigua not forgetting our host nation Morocco.

Pictured on our right is the Antiguan representative Teju Alekja swaddled in her comfort blanket as the December nights are closing in on us. She was visiting me and Morocco with her daughter Safi over the festive season, helping to add a little glitter and tinsel to the house. After a night in the basement on the first night they quickly commandeered the space and made it a cosy den. Teju has bought a piece of land in Falmouth, Antigua and is going back to oversee the building of her long awaited villa. Brave girl. Almost braver than me opting to renovate this lovely house when practically I can't even put a shelf up, but as the saying might go when in doubt delegate to a man who can, or several in fact!!

So Xmas Dins then, turkey and tagine, with mincemeat pastilla, xmas pud (hurray) and truffles and port and in the afternoon several kiddies opening prezzies under the makeshift rose bush xmas tree. A long way from home for a lot of people but hopefully we injected proceedings with a good dose of spirit to make people less fretful of absent friends and family.

Hope yew awl had a good one now bring on 2008 probably in a Cafe Clock stylee this end with Mike and the gang.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Chrimbo and all that Jazz


Festive Greetings to both our readers from the funky Fes Medina.

Well its not all fun and sunshine here albeit I would hazard a guess that its warmer than old Blighty right now. All around the Medina propane sales are blossoming as we wheel out our trusty heaters for a few months at least and I for one permanently don my chunky Chefchaoen knitwear, very fetching. Along with my woolly hat I have been told I resemble a Moroccan nut seller, which has done wonders for my credibility, I dont think.

Just recovering from my personal Eid experience where I was confronted in the basement a few days ago with a face to face encounter with a 40 kilo bundle of lambchops called Dolly. Ben had made her very comfortable with a bed of straw, some canapes and a glass of chilled reisling and she reclined thinking I am sure all her Xmas'ssss had come at once. The fact that she wouldnt even see this one out had not entered her tiny brain, so I thought, you can wipe that sheepish smirk offyerface as soon as you like. The next day a Moroccan Sweeny Todd had dispatched Dolly to that great green pasture in the sky soon after the call to prayer.

The Medina was smelling of sweetsmoke charcoal, charred horns and heads and everyone slinging their personally branded sheepskin still bloodied and muddied onto piles on each street corner to be collected for a tannery rejuvination. It was incredibly organised and the threatened rivers of blood scenario I had envisaged did not occur as people seemed meticulous in keeping their personal doorstep clean. Ben then very swiftly prepared Dolly for a tagine party that night in two shakes of a lambs tail ho ho and again HO!

So know its getting near the time for our Occidental celebration HA! I remember last year on Boxing Day I was shopping for 5 toilets, 2 baths, 4 sets of taps and 5 GOOOOLD RINGS , 4 Blah de blahs, 3 sitting ducks, 2 French Tarts and a Partridge in a Pear tree. Now getting that lot back into the Medina in a fleet of Carrosas (trolleys for the uninitiated) caused a few stares and an unbelievable amount of scurrilous gossip so I wont be doing that again.

This year I have some West Indian friends coming over from Antigua although originally from Nigeria joined on 26th by some other Nigerian ladies so I will be having a traditional Nigerian Xmas whereby we all set off at the crack of dawn and lasso the nearest water buffalo, and spit roast it with cashew nuts, banana, plantain and Yorkshire pudding. This is traditionally followed by plum duff and Birds Eyes Custard which read literally seems an abomination, birds eyes and custard yuck, sounds like a Bushtucker Challenge. Then we will sit around the gas fire tell tall tales and chant long forgotten negro spirituals till way past 7pm.

More fun than shopping for toilets.....I hope!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On the Road again

Quick photo of the Mernissi house for my Xmas visitors to peruse, its unique folks its got a roof (keeps the warmth in).


When you have lived in Fes for a while there is always the temptation, once in a while, to go exploring to search out what lies beyond the Medina walls. It is difficult for some of the people here to get further than Marjane the hypermarket by taxi as they do not have access to a car. Therefore they can find it can get slightly claustrophobic and the need for a breath of fresh air and an adventure is necessary. Thats where I come in and now who needed that kind of break I thought to myself ummmm.

I suggested to Josephine from Dar el Hana that we undertake a trip to Al Hoceima on the Med coast, why, because I had never been there and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with the massive development of this area. The Kings Plan is heavily concentrated on resorts springing up in this neck of the woods and locals here have long championed the beauty of the coast, so thats a good enough reason to go visit i thought to myself.

Josephine didnt take much persuading and soon with her bag of nuts, biccies and crisps to hand we headed off into the unknown. You might want to have a map to hand to follow the progress as it gets quite convuluted. First of all we headed east out of Fes on the Taza road and soon branched off onto the Al Hociema route to the Rif mountains. Now it said 250k but from experience never try and guage how long a trip will take in Morocco as roads can twist and turn or else you dawdle (great word) to take in the scenery. So for the first part we cruised through the sparse, sand coloured landscape feeling the Fes stress melt away.

The running soundtrack to the whole trip was Jo's squeaky seatbelt which emitted a groan everytime she moved to check out the vista, which was frequently, which had us both in stitches although less so by the end of the trip. Through winding, snaky single lane roads we passed through Taonate which was festooned by sheep, people and Merc vans all jostling for the few inches of space left in the road, nightmare and then the dubious delights of Ketama which is Kif central where there looked to be a deal being done on each corner. Best to hurry on before sundown as the road now became infuriatingly bendy and not to mention downright dangerous with the oncoming traffic all thinking they were a cross between Michael Schumacher and a deranged pyschopath on angel dust.

Finally Al Hoceima came into view, "the sea, the sea" we both cried, while the seatbelt squeaked in agreement. This is a modern, clean resort area with serious development ongoing but on a charm factor scale it figures low, especially off season and the serious lack of a decent restaurant. We spent the night however with an agreement to continue eastward to Nador and beyond. Now this is where things become exciting as heading out to what we thought was the main inland route to Nador we ended up on the brand new coastal road that hugged the shoreline for some 70k. We saw some of the most gorgeous fertile agricultural land almost bordering the sea and to our right almost moonscape rock formations or gentle pastoral delights. Eco tourism thoughts filled our heads as this setting must surely be one of the most unspoilt stretches of coastline I have seen for many a year. This road is NOT on a map yet so the rest of infrastructure is barely in place, few shops or houses to speak of and only one adventurous entrepreneur building a hotel. In a word STUNNING!!

Therefore on hitting Nador after a turn inland we were severely disappointed. This is earmarked as the business centre of the region and though it borders a lovely lagoon and a spacious promenade the town itself again factors low on the charm-o-meter, and we turned around and skedaddled (great word meaning to escape quickly I believe). So now it became obvious we were going to head for the famed Saidia resort, the flagship of the Plan D'Azur, and soon in the distance we could see the huge pastel Disneyland. Stretching out over a region the size of the Fes Medina ie. massive folks, this spanking new mix of apartments, hotels, townhouses,pools and gardens amazes with its breadth of vision but also with the identikit nature of the buildings. It is going to be a phenomenal enterprise heavily promoted throughout the international property market but as a purist from the cultural heart of Fes it was not to my liking, shall we say! This area is going upmarket quicker than a rat up a drainpipe and will obviously seriously compete with the Spanish market on the Costas in a few years when complete.

Old Saidia a somewhat sleepy but fashionable one street town just along the coast is rushing to catch up, replacing whole roads and for the speculator a plot of land here would be a very good punt I should say, when the major apartment builders turn their starry eyes in this direction, wont be long. So slightly shocked and stunned we headed to Oujda with no expectations whatsoever, how wrong could we be!!

The brand new motorway, superbly lit, passed by the immaculate airport soon to be VERY International and then Oujda itself, quel surpris. Here was a stylish, wide boulevarded town, pavements planted with jacaranda trees, what seemed like everything under major refit or renovation in a VERY tasteful way. Beautiful colonial buildings sat side by side with modern structures and it worked, the charm-o-meter shot up the scale. This is a town with a very serious future as the hub to the Med coast operations and for the new batch of first time visitors to Morocco they will be perhaps even more impressed than myself. We booked into Hotel al Hanna (it was the name that did it said Jo) for the grand total of 60dh a night (avoid the shared bathrooms) and had a fitful sleep of almost 12 hours after a mentally exhausting day.

The next day was 350k trip back to Fes and though we searched high and low either side of the road for the new proposed motorway between the two towns it was not apparent that anything more than the little single lane road we were on was going to be the realdeal. Am I missing something here because this should be a two line highway so you could roar to the coast at 100k an hour not take the snakes and ladders route to the Taza road from Fes where you are always stuck behind an overladen lorry. Oh well cant get everything right can we?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Joy of Decks

Somehow I got invited to DJ at a 500dh a head Golf Tournament dinner soiree at the Majestic Restaurant, through a local contact. On being told it was the high end society crowd with average age 40-60 I began to have kittens as we say in England when slightly nervous. This is only because my curious blend of house, Latin, afro Latin, Spanish sundown and vague chart hits confuses even me at the best of times.

So it was with some trepidation that I set up my kit the night before with a local PA hire firm who seemed to surround me with several microphones, I kindly informed him I wouldnt be singing a medley of current Gnoua or Sufi chants, so they werent necessary to which he smiled strangely.

Arriving at the gig I was preceeded into the venue by a group of desert attired Berbers who had come up from the Sahara, and they set up their drums and sinister, stringy instruments in front of the decks, hence the need for the microphones I guess. I had been told I was on from 9-2 with no real idea of how I was to entertain a 100 seated, buffet stuffing, Moroccan golf loving afficianados but jazz seemed to be the obvious place to start. Very inoffensive opening I thought so introduced a bit of Latino to which the Berbers ears pricked up and they started playing along, one even sourcing a Flamenco guitar and strumming along, result(1) I thought.

From here on in it got slightly strange as during the buffet, which was a fantastic Majestic spread by the way, The Berber Desert Crew bongo-ed and strummed, followed by me playing between two and three records before there was a stop in the proceedings. One stop was for a huge, swarthy comedian who went on and on with varying degrees of success followed by the presentation of the golf prizes. At each stage I was ready to launch into my multi-purpose set to no avail as on went the band again to step up their riddims so that the once coutured and implacable guests were now a frenzied, head tossing, bongo bashing melee in front of me.

Great, I thought, they are warmed up nicely now for a samba, Brazilian mash-up DJ finale only for the band to finish at 1pm and everyone went for their coats. I had time to slip in a quick couple of big beat numbers which got a few movers shaking as well as the bar crew who were definitely up for a party, before the first of the many BMW convertibles scooted away from the car park.

So there were no litter of kitties as my grand total of playing time was probably 43 minutes plus an invite to stay in the desert from my new Saharian brothers, result (2) I thought again!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Dali Triangle or Windy Musings

Had to squeeze in these two shots sent by Uncle Simon of Scotland as they are classic mini Berbers he met on his travels and as he said from the look in their eyes they "just know dont they", couldnt agree more! And now for something completely different as Monty P once said.

Thanks Ryanair, one Dirham each way to Girona ensured the little break I was taking started off cheaply. Had no idea of itinerary (just how I like it) so on arrival got the hire car and roared around Girona with no concept or plan (just how I like it) and then discovered no room at the inn wherever I checked (not quite how I like it). It was getting late at this stage so head for the hills I thought, although what hills and in what direction didnt seem to matter.


Saw a sign for Figueres 35k so thought that will do and not long later arrived eventually into the Ramblas or main square, looking for parking I turned left and almost jumped out of my seat as I was confronted by the most bizarre sight. For those who have been here you will know it is the Dali Museum, which the great man designed and eventually was buried within, but I was totally unprepared for the sight. More like a cake made by Delia Smith after a pint of Absinthe, it consisted of bright red walls studded with plastercast brioche or local bread, one level up nude gold mannequins struck absurd poses whilst the roof had row after row of giant eggs.


Soon it became all clear this was the birthplace of the fabled nutter/genius and I was in the heart of the Dali Triangle so called because his main house was also around here at Port LLigat and a castle bought for the missus/muse Gala was down the road at Pubol. My holiday was now taking on some kind of purpose, to get an insight into this fabulously talented individual.


My first observation which would not be too obvious to many Dali acolytes is that his talent although influenced by the incredible Emporda landscape was definitely defined by.....the wind! This is no ordinary wind or Levante as we knew it on the Costa de Luz where I used to live on the Atlantic west coast of Spain. There it literally turned people mad/bonkers/doolally regularly especially after a few weeks of constant howling, consequently Tarifa on tip of S. Spain has a somewhat dubious reputation for very creative suicides. In the Emporda region of Catalunya though it was more intense which would have had a definite effect on the light, cloud formation, rock shapes and bent and denuded trees not to mention the inside of Salvadors brain as the wind whistled Dixie at full blast.


Indeed in the time he was growing up here people leaving the bars in the Ramblas after a few sherberts were given two bricks, one for each pocket to weight them down from the wind as they stumbled home at a 45 degree angle, I kid you not!!


Anyway this town had touches of the great man everywhere you looked sometimes inadvertantly for instance the tame hiccuping pigeon walking in circles outside the museum, just coincidence I know but also the strangely lifelike trees around town with their knobbly boney branches like skeletal fingers grasping at the sky have figured in lots of his works. And dont get me started on the Town Hall clock which overlooked the Emporium Cafe, still there, where he whiled away days writing a draft for Le Chien Andalou, a Surrealist classic movie. He must have felt time slipping, dripping, tripping and ticking/tocking away as he scribbled away obtusely especially if he was dabbling in the Absinthe that seems to feature behind the bars here. Now that and the wind would explain everything methinks.


Needless to say the museum is everything you would expect and somewhat more, I would urge anyone to visit to see the mix of kitsch, surrealism, high art, junk all dressed up, messed up and in the end serving its main purpose which is to entertain and enthrall in equal measure. Many surprises around every corner including his exquistely designed jewellery which showed another hitherto unrecognised side to his talent especially one piece that had a beating heart ruby centrepiece, yes moving jewellery folks now theres a notion. How about a necklace that waves at passers by Salvador or rotating earrings, the list is endless or maybe not hey, maybe its the wind effect and I've only been here a day!!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Well Fed


Nothing better than a good stroke before bedtime after a hearty Camelburger. Heres the newest additions to the Medinas cultural mix with yachties Vince and Vanessa aiming to join our ranks, whilst Lady Karina is obviously missing her cat.

We're upstairs at the Clock Cafe and from the smiles I would say we were adequately refreshed, fed and watered, wouldnt you?

Nearly there!

Some nice shots from Uncle Simon Grosset, a long lost family member from the wilds of Scotland (also available for weddings..true).

The apartment now looking slightly sleeker and can seat 10, sleep 4 if necessary and out of shot the Sushi counter all ready for a Kiotori takeaway/delivery service, unbelievable that this is now available though have yet to test whether it arrives by mule or moped!

The Basement looking cool and feeling cool also and out of shot also now have a working fountain to put the plastic ducks (thank you Simon Butcher of Norwich). Just need to get Lady Karina to suggest fabric for tenting the ceiling to cosy up the old place. Have fitted a Moroccan toilet (every home should have one) in basement also with a new shower so that ones ablutions can be performed all -in-one as it were, I leave it to your fertile imaginations on that one.

So the next project I think now is the top terrace although listening to the heavy drizzle outside I dont think it will be anyones favourite spot for a while.

The soft opening at Cafe Clock last night was great success and finally got to eat one of their famous Camelburgers, rich and delicious and no sand in sight. Wish Mike all the best and also his crackshot team who rose to the occasion spendidly. looking forward to the real opening very soon.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Perfect Weekend? (part 2)




Some belated shots from Simon the inhouse photographer, raconteur and Gordons gin connoiseur of the Indian Jazz Parpers and Dancers from their performance at the Jazz in Riads Spectacular. In the picture below notice that the nails are not that sharp (damn cheats) whereas the broken glass he later danced on looked pretty much like the real thing hence the pained expression on his painted face (that is a picture on its own).

Sunday was Famous Road Trip Day as Kath, Lady Karina of Ghengis fame, Andy the House Hunter and Chauffeur Louis took to the high road, or more specifically the route to Meknes.

First stop was at Bab Mansour in Meknes to visit New Pal Lionel and his family where a quick tour of his labyrinth house was much appreciated by all with great arches and exposed brickwork throughout the house. He took us on a quick tour of the Medina stopping at a house of a Moroccan friend of his halfway through a massive renovation. This house would have to be one the classiest I have been in containing 17 bedrooms, pool on the terrace, 360 degree views and the crowning glory the ex Pashas suite which was a museum piece that took your breath away. I cant tell you what was paid for the house but in six months the value has quadrupled due in no small part to the exquisite renovation work.

With a proposed opening date of New Years Eve I somehow found I was to be the Dj at the party which now means I could be treble booked as Riad Fes and Cafe Clock are also offering la meme chose, nice to be popular. I sense I need to get back to Spain to pick up my records tout suite!

Leaving Lionel it was time to visit my fave town Moulay Idriss and I guess its time to let the cat out of the bag now and explain my vested interest in the town. On one of my many visits Faissal, our man in Moulay, took us to the top of the Medina to an enclave of houses bordering a community garden. We spotted a house with a view onto the Mosque, the holiest of places in the whole of Morocco, also the whole of the Medina and off to the side the Volubilis site. The owner happened to be there so after quick visit to the top terrace found a small deposit being laid down for a future purchase, what am I like!! So if you are reading this Tony, here we go again. I now have a year to find the grand total of 13,000 euros!!

Took the troops up to the house and we all sat on the stoop admiring the view quietly in contemplative mode as it was so gorgeous, drinking mint tea with Mohammed the house owner as the local kids scampered around us. Could have stayed here for hours to watch the sun go down in the valley beyond, bathing Moulay in a suffused lemony light but no time to waste as Volubilis beckoned.

As ever the old Roman town fascinated and chilled even the most knowledgeable of travellers with its own special magic, with its wholly intact mosaics still open to the elements, a reminder of the Romans own zellige artisans. Karina was fascinated by the fertility rooms stone phallus which we took her to with eyes shut, so that she had to guess by shape and touch what it represented. It seemed to take her an inordinately looong time to guess its shape and purpose, so prising her fingers from the ancient Dickus Romanus we wended our way homeward as the sun set violetly over the lush grape growing plains.

Arriving back in Fes I suggested a wasabi mouthburn at at the one and only Kiotori restauarant and even though we were 90 mins early for opening time Moroud (spelt wrong i am sure) the owner ever graciously led us to a side room decorated with cool Balinese screens. No need to order as a superbly fresh platter of delectable fish delights arrived to tantalise those tastebuds making us doubly satisfied as he waived the bill, as I have spent maybe more time than I should have in his establishment. However when food is this good it is easy to become a sushi addict.

Rushed back to Boujloud Square to catch the free jazz in the coolest of settings inside the freshly manicured rampart walls. To finish off the splendid day I hunched over the computer to blog madly before I forgot the details, while Simon and Kath sat in the main salon, her nursing a cup of Horlicks, him something slightly stronger, whilst listening to multiple episodes of the Archers on the internet Radio podcast!!









The Perfect Weekend? (part 1)


Well it certainly comes close to being one of those weekends where the weather, good friends, Fes and the ambience collude to produce a magical couple of days. With my very good friends Pippa and Kath in town it was always gonna be fun but throw into the mix new compadres Simon and Andy over from England and the Mernissi house was a hive of activity.

First up it was the Jazz in Riads week in the Medina and luckily enough the first two nights it was held in the Palais Mnebi all of 30 metres from my house. To say it was good would be like saying that Shergar could probably catch a trotting donkey, it was ASTOUNDING. I havent heard jazz like this since Soft Machine or Weather Report in their pomp in the 70s, it was in that kind of league. First up was Synop-sis from France with guitarist Eric Sempe and the incredible drummer Felix Sabbal Lecco amongst others who layered intricately textured rhythms together with practiced ease with warped Arabian vocals from a manic percussionist. It was little short of mind boggling in fact I cant remember the last time when my mind was as boggled but it could have been that strange mushroom omelette on Had Rin Beach at a full moon party in Thailand in 86, not that I remember too much about that particular night apart from two nice ladies called Bad and Oy, but thats another story.

Next band up and I mentioned that I would not like to have followed on from that but the Didier Lockwood Trio took up the baton and ran a blinder as we say. As a violinist Didier has played at a tender age with the likes of Dave Brubeck and here his frenzied and inspirational style was more Stephane Grapelli on acid plus he was flanked by young hotshot pianist Thomas Ehco who made Jamie Cullum seem more like Russ Conway (remember that gum showing piano tooth smile), as his fey, foppish appearance, plus he looked about twelve, belied an amazing fastfingerflashy style. I turned to Kath to say he was soo good that I wanted to chop off both my useless non piano playing arms, but I suppose practically once you have cut one off how do you attempt to cut off the other ummm i suppose I will shelve that idea and just watch with gritted teeth whilst turning green with envy.

The word prodigious did not do this man justice as the notes seemed to fly from his fingers as he tossed his forelock frantically to the manic pulse he was creating, note to self.... i havent got a forelock just a crinkly tuft, whilst Didier with the aid of multi effects pedals created multiple rhythms overlapping as he played atop and alongside his own created sounds......mindblowing. Came out shocked and stunned, the Jazz in Riads this year has taken a huge leap forward, could even rival the Sacred Music Festival in a few years time, well done Fes.

During the day I nearly forgot to mention throughout the Medina the Jaipur Maharajah Brass Band (I kid you not)were strolling New Orleans style but in full traditional Indian costume a-parping and a-honking of their bugles and a-bashing of their drums with their pearly whites a-flashing in the most manic fashion, most peculiar and enlivening. Gathered in Boujloud with a very appreciative audience craning from all the surrounding rooftops two loudly dressed dancers spun and whirled to the frenzied indian jazz. The male dancer looking a mite apprehensive as well he should then proceeded through his party tricks, consisting of balancing four tumblers on his head atop of which was a huge heavy urn of water whilst dancing on broken glass and then a bed of nails....I know....WHAT the ***!

So all in all a fine start to the weekend but that was just the start.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fes Clipping


Just came across this article in New York Times from last year that someone sent me so have a read

http://travel2.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/travel/01journeys.html

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Day in the Life

Its a tough job but someones got to test these terraces out for comfort, thanks Fred and cheers Gary for the photo, now everyone can see what a lazy git I am. Well at my age (have a guess) I think I deserve it!!

A DMcKinlay shot from the Menzeh bedroom framing my Ali Baba magic lamp, unfortunately Genie-less.


An interesting day yesterday as I had a visitor from our neighbours Meknes in town, who after following my blog observations about the nouvelle cafes in town decided to come check it out for himself.

Lionel is a Frenchman teaching English at a school in Meknes and living with his girlfriend and young children in a large Medina house that he is in the process of renovating. Comparing notes on the different cities it quickly became apparent there is a huge gulf in the way things operate. Here in Fes we have more malems than we can shake a stick at, whereas in Meknes there is a dirth of skilled tradesmen apparently with only one zelliger of note for instance an old 70 year old Meknessi who the renovators share!!

According to Lionel there are approximately only 4-6 Europeans who have bought and restored a property (surely not) and when sourcing materials sometimes a trip to Fes is necessary to pick up plaster or zellige materials. He was suitably impressed with the bilde in the buildings here in Fes as this is not the case in Meknes whereas he says prices tend to be higher per sq m even so.

As he was only here for the day I tried to pack in as much as possible and will hopefully get a reciprocal time when I visit him. We took off for the ceramic factories to negotiate a good deal for his zellige with wildly fluctuating prices but after some astonishment at an initial quote of 800 dh a sq m we found a small independent at a more reasonable 300 dh, it pays to shop around as we all know.

From here we went to my new fave venue So Sweet cafe for savoury crepes, back to the Mernissi house to chill before a cool vodka and tonic with Sesarina at the effortlessly cool Riad Fes. To finish off Lionels day with a flourish off we went to the equally effortlessly cool Kiotori for sushi (3rd time in a week) where we joined Mr David Amster and Miss Karina Deubner of Ghengis fame for some wasabi mouthburn antics, yum.

Nice to meet a fellow European with a completely different take on living in Morocco and look forward to getting under the skin of Meknes and checking out the stylish Art Deco inflenced new town amongst other things.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Big Thumbs Up



















Photos by the very wonderful Doug McKinlay of Lonely Planet fame amongst others, who will soon be showing an exhibition of some of his framed prints of Fes around the house in the near future

A special visitor knocked on the door this morning being one of the Mernissi sisters from whom I bought the house all of twenty (has it been that long) months ago. For those who are not aware the Mernissis are one of the famous Fassi families whose members include the renowned writer and strident feminist, lecturer Fatema Mernissi. I recently googled Mernissi and the first thirteen pages were all on Fatema!!

I digress, anyway one of the reasons for the sisters visit from her home in Spain was to see her old family home as she was born and brought up here so of course she was incredibly interested in what I had done to it. I like to think I have done a sympathetic restoration but now was the acid test. Her comment "Magnifique" was good enough for me, just wait till I have totally finished though. As with any renovation the finishing details can carry on for up to a year afterwards as you fine tune and then finer tune almost daily to reach the stage where you are 99 per cent happy. You will never be 100 per cent happy so dont even try, if you are then you must be Godlike!!

Ps Oh I nearly forgot the sushi review, took along Doug and Jane fresh from our morning horseriding experience where we had magnificent Arab/ Berber stallions, and can very cheerfully announce that Fes now has another fine dining experience. Authentic in all respects even down to the flat screen tvs which I am assured is a staple feature in Japan, and even the Moroccan waiting staff looked entirely fashionable in their dark Kimono garb.

And the food.....delicious from the miso soup, crunchy tempura through to the sushi and sashimi with stunning presentation from a menu the size of a Michener novel. Oh, that wasabi burn, I can still feel it so Domonic, if you are reading this from Tokyo, its time to come back mate now you wont feel homesick. Can also report that one of the trendy new cafes So Sweet is serving Eggs Benedict so your intrepid gorger took in brunch, leaving slightly disappointed (I usually am) at the thin dribble of semi Hollandaise on my fried (no no no) eggs. There should be at least a gallon of the foamy sabayon over two perfectly poached eggs, but at least there was ham and over a blueberry muffin which was a nice touch, very Maine (USA) like, which brought back some warm memories of when I lived there in the 90's in Camden and Boothbay Harbour.

So those scores again 10/10 for the Sushi experience, 5/10 for Eggs Benny, 9/10 for the Maine memory jogger.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The View from The Top


Photo courtesy of the very wonderful Doug Mckinlay who is back at the house with his other half Jane bringing with him some great prints of the house in his inimitable style to be framed to grace the bare walls. He also brought a complete sushi kit with mirin, wasabi and soy so I think the message is clear.....find tuna!!

Rumour has it and I can substantiate it that a new Japanese restaurant is soon to open opposite the Jnan Palace Hotel. When it does, could be days, be sure we will be one of its first clients with a full critical review, hopefully glowing. Sushi in Fes, I never thought I would see those three words in print.

Just when you thought you knew Fes you discover more as I went out and about with Khawla, an agent with Sirocco estates, who are building a great complex just out of Fes on the Taza road, incredible value, about 25000 pounds for apartment with garden and communal pool, interested?? then email me.

She then took me to two very trendy Soho or Marrekech type coffee bars in the Ville Nouvelle where all the bright young things chat over their cafe nous nous and choccie cake whilst cool house music plays in the background. We then went to her familys villa off the airport road and furthur on to a huge equestrian centre with stunning horses in stables, massive swimming pool, riad and terrace and two restaurants all under extensive renovation will be very swish, as we say in the west, when finished. Ive booked two horses for Hopalong Mckinlay and Jane this Friday although have wimped out myself as I can sense that any horse can spot a novice and will gallop off with me stopping somewhere outside Azrou and depositing me in a heap.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hot Spot or Lukewarm



Soooooooo is this the next hotspot of Morocco or is that just wishful thinking. Out and about in the trusty Merc I am always on the lookout for bargain properties or areas ripe for genrification Moroccan style. This area in the photos, which is meant to keep you guessing of course, has several major plus points added to an equal number of minus points which adds up to a VERY LONG PUNT INVESTMENTWISE. However for bravehearts the rewards will be reaped its just when.

On a lighter night my compadre Tony Hall, superstar chef to the stars, specifically Roger Taylor from Queen, is jetting in next month for a flying visit. He is all fired up, full of exotic recipes and looking to guest chef at one or more establishments during his stay. Im not giving too much away when I say in all likelihood he will be chopping up a storm and burning the gas at Riad Laaroussa and hopefully Cafe Clock for starters (scuse the pun) but anyone else wanting to hire his unique talents just leave a message in the comment section below. Of course I am a chef myself but my passion nowadays is in bricks and mortar, but I am sure Tony will have me sauteeing or chiffonading something, with the odd mirepoix and julienne going on and ensuring that he is mise en place. All culinary terms are from our period at Norwich Catering college circa 1973, so as you can see we go waaaaaaaay back.

Back to the house and now the basement (photos soon folks on the blog) is nearly done it was time to turn my attention at long last to furnishing the apartment. Off to see Koko, whose brochure for his shop features many shots of this house which has many of his handmade pieces gracing each room. We went to his fabric man deep in the derb (I love that expression) and I bought 20 metres of quality cloth for the banquettes for the grand total of 55 euros. The previous day Ben and Zina acting as the impoverished newly weds went with me to an out of town souk where we negotiated a great deal on some hand made wooden bases to support the banquettes. When these are all made should only take 4 days then I will commision a low lying metal table and voila will have created a cool breakfasting spot in the apartment salon, which already has a cool cedar breakfast/sushi counter. Will post some shots when all is done.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Out and About

Doesnt time fly when youre having fun hey, lots of comings and goings over the last few weeks to keep an old man on his toes so therefore poor old Bloggy takes a backseat. First up was the Norwich invasion with Michael Mystere bringing along a very subdued and reflective Mr Connors from Norwich an international engineer of some repute.

Michael enthralled us with tales of cushions and fabrics, a far cry from the days when we used to run a underground dance outfit together but then that was a few years ago. Of course back then I had no idea I would be swapping a terrace house in Norwich for the more exotic Mernissi House leaving behind a mortgage and a smoking ban, whilst Michael became a happy breeder and the owner of a delightful soon to be fully cushioned Dar. We were joined by Paul and Debs from Norwich en route to the Puro DesertLounge dance party in Marrekech. We took in the sights including Riad Fes and Riad Laaroussa for lunch in between Fez buying for the natives back in Blighty.

Strange to look around from my top terrace to see alongside me four familiar faces from England whose more normal habitat would be the famous Fat Cat pub in Norwich, just voted best pub in Britain, again. Here our local as with most other bods in Fes is Thamis who never fails to deliver the culinary goods. Soon we will have the Cafe Clock as an option and we are all waiting and warming up our saliva glands for that experience and there are also rumours of a sushi bar opening in new town soon inshallah.

Have been out and about lately and one night came across a Rap night inside Bab Makina with thousands of young Moroccan hippity hoppity type dudes in outsize baggy pants and baseball caps, frugging and breakdancing to some very theatrical stage Djs. Up on the crenallated fort walls of Bab Makina which would not look out of place in a Lawrence of Arabia set, several storks in their makeshift nests looked down haughtily on the proceedings and if storks had eyebrows they would most surely have been raised at the antics of the crowd below. Having been the setting for some uplifting spiritual music in the Sacred Music Festival it seemed very incongruous to be hearing hard hitting angry polemic played to look a likey homeboys Moroccan stylee!!

Have been having a great time recently hitting the road normally with my esteemed colleague and entrepreneur Mike Clock as we need to keep ourselves acquainted with what is happening around and about Fes so we can reliably inform friends and future guests. Of course this has involved house hunting and we have both come up with interesting opportunities further afield as prices in Fes point skyward. How to pay for these projects is another matter but where theres a will theres a way.

Latest stroll through the Medina was again a revelation on returning to Fes as it was , how shall I put this and will you believe it, very SMART!! The Qaraouiyine Mosque doors were open on all sides and revealed the stylish renovation in all its glory and all around the shops, fronts, awnings and walls were how we say in England spruced up to the max. I popped out in Rcif very pleased and privileged to be a small part of the renaissance of this incredible place, and its still very much an ongoing process.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Up to his old tricks


Back behind the old Technics for a cocktail hour session at the very wonderful Riad Fes courtesy of the manageress Sesarina. It seemed to go down well with guests and visitors alike and it was nice to dust off my dormant vinyl to set the mood. Could end up a regular soiree we shall see.

Coming to the end of Ramadan here, could be tomorrow, so the medina is buzzing and frenetic in anticipation of normality including the return of alcohol sales and conjugal rights to name but two of the bonus points. Its been a rather pleasant month and not too many signs of the irritation and frustration caused by going without, although Mahoud the snail seller outside the house did have a spectacular meltdown when someone nicked his gas burner, we could here him 5 floors up for an hour. He ranted and raved to no avail of course as his bucket of snails sat forlornly on the pavement with no means to boil up the little blighters.

From this weekend after a 3 day holiday Fes goes into winter mode the shops and restuarants open earlier and close earlier and very soon it will be time to batten down the hatches for the winter rains and dig out those long trousers and woolly jumpers for the onset of the evening chill. All around the Medina people will be firing up their patio heaters, the Europeans that is, dusting off their gas heaters and stocking up on their winter logs. Yes folks it can get cold here though last year we only had a dusting of snow on one day to the great amusement of the kids.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

C'est pret enfin

Yes it is ready finally, the final project on my list here of major importance and no I am not talking about crucial dental work to fill in the gaps or botox injections to smooth over those renovation tramlines on my forehead, I mean the Berber Basement dummy...

After four coats of paint the sad looking walls now look pristine, the accumulated light fittings that have sat on stairwells performing no particular lighting function are now in place like flaming torches. Ben attacked the freshly zelliged fountain and floor with acid water which is not a nouveau hippy drink but a highly caustic solution that is smoking as you pour it out and brings rapid tears to the users eyes. Suffice to say it immediately devours everything in its wake including half your fingers given half the chance.

We moved some plants and cacti in, played around with the lighting and tomorrow will throw down some tapis or carpets and cushions and voila ....the chillout Berber Basement, just need to hook up the Ipod dock to African lounge mode and then i will turn my attention to draping the ceiling to get the all important tent feel... cant wait.

Have had some great contact with old friends recently who are winging their way to Fes, Paul and Debs from Norwich are coming over soon for the PurodesertLounge concert in Marrekech with none other than Bryan Ferry the original Lounge Lizard performing alongside Claude Challe and Dimitri from Paris amongst others. Also Pippa jetting in from Dublin to check on her house purchase here as well as Doug the photographer coming over for a short break with his family. The best news though was a longstanding friend Teju coming over from Antigua.

We first met in the Caribbean over 20 years ago when we were doing modelling shoots in Antigua as being half caste we both looked very brotherly/sisterly for the shots. I was moonlighting from my yachtie chef job whilst I was also Djing in her then boyfriends bar and was lead tambourine in the Barracudas a rock n roll combo of musical yachties. Oh sweet memories of halcyon days of my lovely misspent and wild youth when the world was your oyster and it was all beach, beer, barbecues and bloody huge hangovers to boot.

We had the privilege on the way to one of our many beachside gigs with the Barracudas laden down with guitars, drums and assorted maraccas of picking up a tired and emotional Keith Richards, depositing him in the back of our cramped van and dropping him off at his wifes house. He said he only went out for a pint of milk 3 days previous but somehow got persuaded to stay up and out of it....funny that. I mentioned to the somewhat squashed and smelly rocker that this must remind him of travelling to early Stones gigs to which his succinct reply was errrr no. Conversations with the rich and famous hey dont you just love em.

Talking of the Caribbean mentioned to Teju that the troubled popstress Britney was on her way to rehab at Eric Claptons Clean up Clinic in Antigua just down the road from where Teju lives so she thought she might dash off a few pics for the dailies to get some dosh for her hols ummmmm. Well dont want to get tabloidy here so Im off to play with the basement lighting will post some pics later.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Oh Crumbs

Josephine of Dar el Hana fame and I were cruising towards Macro supermarket in the trusty Merc not really paying attention to our surroundings as we were busy devouring a nice selection of biscuits. This being Ramadan we generally do not flaunt our eating, smoking and other subversive activities on the street but within the confines of the car its generally perceived as reasonably acceptable. Therefore with a mouthful of macarroons,spattering crumbs every which way over ourselves we were not aware of an approaching cavalcade. Suddenly a motorcycle outrider was flagging us to the side of the road closely followed by another.

My immediate thought was we were going to be reprimanded for driving without due care and attention as most of our due care and atention was concentrated on which particular tasty, crumbfilled delicacy we were going to devour next. Pulling over to the side of the road we were swiftly overtaken by a Maserati and an Aston Martin I believe and then a stretch black Mercedes containing his Royal Highness who we swore gave us a passing glance. What he would make of two Occidental infidels stuffing their faces with biscuits during Ramadan daytime I dont know,but it did make us feel slightly guilty for a few seconds so I sparked up a cigarette, which in England now is ILLEGAL if it impairs your driving. UTTER TOSH.

Now I know I can not comfortably feel at home again in that nanny state which daily is infringing on personal freedom and rights in so many areas,tapping phone calls being another recent idea. I wonder soon whether there will be any area of your daily life that the government does not have an influence on or an appropriate fine in place for. I feel in some ways it is a more restrictive regime than here in this liberal Muslim country. At least people go about their business here with a smile on their faces, oh well.

Sun is shining, plants are healthy on the terrace, new friends are coming and going and all is good. In the basement the painters are on track starting their work at 9pm till 3am in the morning such is the topsy turvy (great word for Moroccan attitude to work) world in Ramadan. This is when they have the most energy of course after that huge sugar intake at sundown. The basement is already transformed and soon will ready for draping and carpeting inshallah lets say about a week to be on the safe side!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Usual Suspects

Top of the list the lovely Luz a friend of mine from Spain, un beso to you and your sister, elsewhere Karina the great great niece of Genghis Khan and Sean the great great grandson of Richard Nixon,joking Sean, finally Dom Juan smouldering behind a pillar!!



Where are Karinas hands and why the big grins ummm??


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Dominic jaunted in from his Tokyo headhunting and gathered around himself a sprinkling of the new and old faces in the Medina for a mid Ramadan dinner. With an exotic mix of German, Kazakstan, Spanish, American, English, French and Italian at the meal it reflected the true exotic mix of characters and nationalities choosing to make Fes a big part of their life.

With all of these guys they are sincerely trying each in their own way to contribute positively to enhance the message of the Medina. What is that message, well part of it is assimilate dont segregate and contribute in whatever way you can to the fabric of this spiritual place. If at the same time you can have some fun and simplify your life and unload some stress then that indeed is a bonus.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Familiar Story

For all you renovation specialists out there heres a familiar story involving a carpenter, zellige man, plumber, builder and an electrician and I am guessing you can sense whats coming. Its to do with logical sequencing so you know some fun is in store. Basically a small project involving plumbing and wiring the basement fountain should be no problem well not if you have the patience of a saint.

We know already from past experience that plumberman and leccy man have to do their bit so builderman can lay his trusty trowel over their indentations, then leave to dry before zellige man comes over to magically blend the new zellige into the existing set up. In the meantime carpenter man has to repair and hang two gnarly cedar doors in the basement rooms. Well it sounds all too feasible but in reality of course, and this being Ramadan which I guess increases forgetfulness, they either pop up unexpected, at the wrong time or not at all. After a year of renovation mode I am now very relaxed about the whole procedure as I know it comes together when it is supposed to come together and not when you personally would like it too.

So almost Keystone Cops and revolving door scenario ensues as you try to tie people down, not literally but a good idea anyhow, to a specific date and time to complete their designated task. Of course it all comes together funnily enough and I can literally laugh as a projected few days work stretches into 10 days with gaps so I find if you turn your attention to other more pressing matters it ceases to be any kind of problem at all just another funny story on the renovation rocky road.

Moving on and Christinas sister Luz is visiting from Palma looking to move to Fes and continue her Arabic studies so took her to American Language school and then out to Mt Zalagh for some incomplicated Berber hospitality at my friend Hamse. They presented me with the golden elixir a litre of their champagne coloured home pressed olive oil and an invitation to join them at break fast this weekend with my friends.

Also staying is Doug who has been snapping like the clappers for Lonely Planets new pocket guide and my friend DJ Patt from Vejer who rocked up in the Merc with my trusty turntables, mixer, amp, cds and even a box of vinyl so a chillout basement session is on the cards ......we just have to source a painter, after zelligeman has finished blah blah blah!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Project time

A couple of pics, one of trio of Mali masks I picked up to enhance wall space and a nice shot from my friend Johnny of the main salon or comfort zone of the house soon to be surpassed I hope by the Berber Basement!!



After the well deserved break/rest/work whatever you want to call it, escaping from the medina hothouse in August was on relection a bloody good idea. For one thing as mentioned it was getting unfeasibly hot so much so I was looking for a rainy respite in England which of course didnt fail me as I had a week of nothing else. Also going back to the Costa da Luz it was the height of the summer, i really recommend all you anti Costas to try the west coast of Spain for a REAL unblemished coastline and long may it continue, and so the beaches were nicely packed and the chiringitas or late night beach bars were buzzing.

I stayed with my friend Sina who kindly is babysitting my spanish furniture but its becoming to look quite comfortable in its new home so I guess it can stay put for a while yet as the Fes house is getting fuller anyway. It was nice to drive the Merc around as well taking long trips into the stunning Andalucian countryside cruising to Granada for instance just for fun. A week back in England with the family was suffice filling up on curries, fry ups and fish and chips before flying out to join a yacht in Nice for an eight day charter.

The real highlight of the month here as I had to shake off my culinary cobwebs,I hadnt cooked professionly for a year, kit out a galley from scratch, help train two stewardess who had not chartered before whilst also giving cooking tips to the crew chef. After a few days of settling in it was water off a ducks back and the guest family and friends aboard were having the time of their life and i was cooking up a storm on my unlimited budget. It was real nice to dip my toes back into this rareified atmosphere as far removed from Medina life as is possible, and left with promises from the crew to come and visit.

With a hefty paypacket in hand I returned to Fes with a focused head on to tackle the last major project in the house namely the celler or basement area. Within a day I had Ben stripping the two cedar doors and organising the plumber and electrician, builder and zellige to finish wiring and plumbing the fountain before tiling begins. This should only take a few days and then we can paint out the whole room and drape/tent the ceiling to get an Arabian nights feel and carpet and cushion the floor and fix the light fittings and voila we have another functioning room.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Back to Reality

Just noticed the ole blog has not been updated for almost a month whoops, well I have had a good excuse as I have been moving weekly from country to country Morocco, Spain, England, S.France, Spain again all good fun apart from rainy England.

Best part was I just spent an idyllic week in S. France as guest chef on a beautiful 180ft sailboat Fleurtje, with the help of two stewardesses and pristine galley and an unlimited budget for food!! Hence shopping in Monaco and St Tropez buying lobsters and seabass etc etc It is run my an old friend of mine from my yachting career who called me out of retirement to do this charter for 8 days and rewarded me rather handsomely for the privelige, could live for a few monthes in Fes on that no problem.

Spent gorgeous nights anchored off Cap Ferrat the richest real estate on the Cote DÁzur whilst whisking up a tasty dinner or buffet lunch for the appreciative guests, it was a step back in time for me as I spent 10 years doing just this in the eighties when I was a lot wilder and gung ho. I find I am now the chilled alternative to the young and booze friendly crew which is cool.

Am back in Spain at mo in beautiful Vejer de la Frontera getting the papers ready for the Mercedes to get over to Morocco. Lots of calls from friends coming over to stay so it should be a good finish to the year, will keep you all posted.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Its all GO



A pic or two from halcyon days on my favourite yacht, a wave to the camera, as I have been requested to guest chef again in the old Riviera on another friends megayacht for a spell in August, oh its a tough life.

Just back from a two day sojourn with Mike in Chefchaoen as a break from Fes but also to check out Mikes two recently acquired properties one at 13000 euros and 18000 euros both bijou but great views. Always nice to go there but as a double bonus bumped into Christina who recently stayed at the house in Fes, which made my day for sure.

Stayed at our friend Johns place at the top of the Medina he is a classic English eccentric, recently turned 65 but he is rambustious,opinionated and likes the odd tipple or tiffin. Suffice to say he is a brilliant cordial host when in Chefchaoen. He is soon to be appointed warden of the town by the Consul in Tangier which will only serve to make him more over the top i guess, bless him.

Back in Fes now and just received a call from an old skipper friend of mine needing a chef for a weeks cruising in Monaco, Nice and St Tropez (thanks Tony for giving him my number). As I am on my way back to England on 14th August for a stint the timing is perfect as they require me in Nice on the 22nd so time to dust off my knives for a return to the fray albeit for a few days. It seems an old chef never really retires, when the call comes and you weigh up the bucks, which are substantial, then off you go again. Basically you could live for months here in Fes in what I make in a week on a yacht but then its time to get back and crack on at the Mernissi House on those small details that have been bugging me over the last few months.

The Medina has been empty of familiar faces for a while but come September I expect they will be trolling back and finally Mikes place will be open followed by the sumptious Riad Alkantara just round the corner with its landscaped gardens and olympic size pool (almost ) for some culinary evenings or two. The oppressive heat should have dissipated and we can all breathe freely again and be able to venture out without dripping profusely inshallah!!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Its only words

How do you sum up Morocco, well for those who have been or those who havent try these words out or add your own, its only fun but see how many ring true.

Magical, mysterious, sensual, intoxicating, frustrating, illogical, ebullient, innocent, allknowing, charming, frustrating, refreshing, relaxing, religious, hypcritical, deserty, lush, cheap, luxurious, poverty, happiness, respectful, hospitality, dirty, frenetic, fun, alluring, captivating, unhealthy, overbearing, overfamiliar, overtaking, illuminating, sacred, sacriligious, serious, spicy, progressive, baksheesh- central, backhander, breathtaking, calm, oasis, greedy, childlike, poor, respectful, happy, hardworking, lazy, toothless, sunny, sharing (see what I did there), brilliant, bombastic, bewildering, becalmed, irritating, patient, impatient, serene, and so on......add your own.

Above all its an experience and as they say here "This is Life" , a life of contrasts to be sure.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Blooming Marvellous and Bloody Hot

Johnny the video celebrity with yours truly
The sultry Spanish siesta princess cools off on the cushions!! Come back soon now y'hear
The title says it all really with the sun scorching through the menzeh shutters from early in the morning waking yours truly from his happy slumber. Though during the day on the terrace it is well nigh impossible to spend any quality time without being seared, scorched and severely burnt etc the bougainvillea and assorted plants are thriving in the hothouse atmosphere.

Its been a very cool week in other respects in the Mernissi House with an old yachting compadre Johnny Edwardes jetting in from a Palma film shoot with his gorgeous delectable friend Christina who features in daytime siesta recline mode in the photo. Johnny and I spent many happy years crewing on the classic sailing yacht Sumurun, check out the website www.sumurun.com for an insight into my previous lifestyle, in the Caribbean, States and Europe. These were the days of exotic food as I was the chef, Celebrity guests such as Richard Gere, Bianca Jagger and some bloke called Mick she was with and we were young single and permamently hungover.

So of course Johnny and I had lots of catching up and tall stories to tell. What was more interesting was his current job helping on film,video and still photo shoots in Palma. We got onto youtube and Johnny showed me a cool clip of Outkast and Pharrell Williams (for those in the know they are the coolest hip hop honchos) and blow me down if he didnt feature in a scene as a badass gangster, so his credibility factor went up in my estimation several notches. Of course this gave us the idea for doing something similar around Fes where we have more locations than you can shake a stick at so watch this space.

Spent long lazy langourous days destressing the two of them as they had been doing a 6 week 16 hour day shoot before visiting me so we lounged and ate and siested and then off in the cool of the evening to show them Fes finest locations, all within walking distance. The highlight had to be one of my now famous Mt Zalagh trips for sunset where we were invited in as always by a new Berber family and as the sun went down under the shade of a grand olive out came fresh churned butter and crusty bread, alongside wizened olives and golden olive oil for a memorable feast. This was topped by a glass each of hot foaming fresh cows milk....delicious. The family invited us to sleep on their roof under the stars but I had to get back for a dinner date so next time.

Sad to see Johnny and Christina go as like all my friends here they felt so at home and it felt too rushed a week longer would have been good. They will both be back soon I hope with new plans and ideas for Fes and the house i hope.

With August approaching or upon us even its time to escape to England for a bit of Mums home cooking and a spot of mindless TV thus escaping the Fes Cualdron so missives from this end could dry up a bit but keep checking for a View from Norwich update maybe.....

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Investment Advice (Commit to memory)

Research and due diligence as they say are invaluable tools when it comes to putting your hard earned moolah into a venture. I always listen to my peers, or those in the know, as well as using my gut instinct but from now on there is a mantra i will be remembering over all others. It is simple, commit it to memory and you wont go far wrong as you strive towards creating your personal pension, or enhancing your portfolio or just want to get stinking rich. It is the personal credo of one of the worlds richest men and shrewdest businessman Warren Buffet and it goes something like this.

When embarking on a venture either as investment, speculative borrower, setting up a business just follow these 3 main points and you will NEVER go wrong. They are in no particular order

1. DONT LOSE MONEY

2. DONT LOSE MONEY

and last but not least

3. DONT LOSE MONEY.

I think I get Warrens drift and after his lifetime of global risk taking I think he knows what hes talking about so Thanks Warren thats definitely made things a lot clearer for all of us!!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Observations and ethanol

Nice piece in the Sunday Telegraph about our fine city with a few slightly distorted facts from yours truly, I really wish the reporters would send a proof before printing as I really dont recall saying searches on a property can take a year. Or maybe I did as Mike and I were blathering on at a rate of knots but it would be good to confirm certain elements before they are set down as gospel truth but its a minor quibble all good publicity, hey.

Took another one of my scenic observational walks the other day and the stand out attraction hands down was the renovation of the Jnan Sbil Gardens, this is a monster sized public park undergoing massive reconstruction. Situated at the far end of Boujloud square opposite the Kings Palace it covers several hectares and though locked to the public at present peering through the gates i could see an incredible centrepiece fountain being built flanked by plants and subsidiary sister fountains. Also throughout the park as far as I could tell there was pruning, planting and landscaping being carried out and it will very soon look sensational.

Coming back through Boujloud square the workers are now renovating the INSIDE of the ramparts and soon we will not recocognise this area as proposed demolition of the triangle of old buildings to your right as you come out of the Boujloud gate is on the cards. This will open up that whole view into one gigantic open space so of course eventually this will be Fes answer to Marrakech's Jamaa el Fna.

The other highlight was on the walk back from a visit to my friend Monique at Riad Norma to console her as her latest project has over run, overspent and under finished, I passed by Riad Mokri, no not Palais Mokri that is a different beast. This is a worthwhile stop not only because it is a beautiful house but unusually for Fes in the Medina it boasts a 2000sq m landscaped garden on several levels which is an oasis of calm and some incredible mature fig, olive, date, orange and palm trees and at the bottom of the garden a zelliged working well on four zelliged pillars.

As this is blog post number 100 I raise my glass to whoever is reading and wish to get political for a moment. We are all aware of the cost of oil going through the roof and the effect of carbon emmisions on climate change, witness the flooding of dear old Blighty and there is now a big push for the use of flexfuel or ethanol based products. Going back to my old mate Brazil did you know they are not oil reliant at all(but they can always borrow from neighbour Chavez) and that 70 per cent of the cars there run on ethanol, so it can be done America pay attention. Actually America through a Bush mandate is surging ahead with ethanol production BUT at what cost.

As ethanol can be made from wheat, sugar and even straw you would think that it is a healthy ecofriendly alternative but it could actually increase world hunger quite easily. If overstetched farmers have to divert their wheat crop say to produce ethanol this lessens the amount of wheat that is used for food product, less availability, price of wheat goes up, who pays the consumer of course. So you are driving a flexfuel car, doing your bit for the environment driving to the shops to put a down payment on a loaf of bread. Its the downside of an ethical equation, but it will happen. So what do you do, well buy shares in sugar and wheat now if you are speculative, but basically be aware of the conundrum this will happen in our lifetime.....so maybe I'll pop over to Brazil to see how they manage..anyone want to sponser me????

Monday, July 23, 2007

99 and rising



The title refers to the fact that my postings on the ole blog now stand at 99 a bit of a landmark (well to me anyway)so for the next posting I hope you will join me if you are reading in a toast of whatever beverage floats your boat!

I must admit that I seem to have acquired a wifi addiction over the last few days now that I have access 24/7 in the sweet comfort of my chilled salon, as opposed to sitting in a sweaty cybercafe surrounded by screaming kids on gaming machines who all seem to be called Nordeen or NORDEEN!!!!!(shout at top of voice every 2 mins). Now I have the luxury of browsing/writing/exploring old Smiths videos on youtube at my leisure over a nice cup of Typhoo tea and a buttered crumpet whilst Ben my trusty guardian linseed oils every piece of wood in the house around me. So as I write this a heady mix of oil and fragrant cedarwood is gently assaulting my senses, very serene, I think I might write a book its definitely conducive to it here as outside the Sun cranks up the heat a notch or three making mid morning an ordeal.

Talking of Sun where is it in Blighty, nowhere to be seen it seems so I thought I would post some summery (is that a word) pics to peruse namely the blooming terrace and some colourful Caribbean art brought back from a previous sojourn in St Maarteen. I have them up in the house here and its fitting as its African art albeit from a Caribbean perspective although of course they came from here originally though not of their own volition methinks, so I am, to quote the great man "Bringing it all back home".

Now where was I, oh yes, the wifi scenario has enabled me to do the research that I used to do on property in Spain so now I am researching Morocco of course, though unfortunatly the Mernissi Beast has taking huge chunks out of my potential investment pot it doesnt stop me looking. Now for those who know me I have for the last few years had a fascination and strong instinct about Brazil and my recent research has borne out the fact that this is one of the strongest investments in the world at present. Listen to these facts....Brazil has a third of the Worlds drinking water...WHAT I didnt believe that one either, it is part of the BRIC conglomerate that is alongside Russia, India and China where the biggest leaps in economic activity/world influence is due over the next few decades (ask Goldman Sachs). It is one of the greenest eco friendly countries on the planet and with the price of oil going through the roof it is one of the largest producers of alternative fuels namely ethanol.

Also I wont tell you where, because you can check this out for youself, but the worlds fourth largest airport is being built as we speak due to be finished in 2009 (and no it isnt Rio or even close) and the affect this will have on land prices is of course ridiculous. The area I have been looking at you can at present buy a plot of land on the beach for about £10,000 or thereabouts now who wouldnt want to just sit on that for a few years?

Well see what happens when you get wifi, access to all these possibilities from the comfort of your banquette. Well I better move as Ben is threateningly close with his linseed brush and the rate hes going I could end up with a coating myself!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A View from the Derb

Just clicked onto the View from Fes blog and was surprised to see my last missive reprinted, well as long as it reaches a wider audience its all right by me. My article just goes to show though that its what goes on behind the scenes here in Fes that makes it the eternally fascinating city that has captured our imagination.

For those of us who are searching for a richer and also simpler life based on sound principles incorporating family values, respect for one another not to mention a lower cost of living then we have found it here. All this is also enhanced by the fact that as I mentioned previously the Medina overall is finally getting the major facelift it deserves. From 1981 onwards when UNESCO and World Bank provided funds and initiatives to stabilise the rot and decay that had undermined life here Fes did not really move forward in great leaps and bounds. I would suggest that some of these monies may have been misappropriated although anyone involved in a contract for supplying the cedar propping up the houses here probably made a pretty penny.

Its only now that we are seeing the true fruits of over 25 years of interest in this World Heritage site. Not only within the medina streets where its visible renovation is taking place nightly but also on the ramparts where six separate contractors are restyling and repairing the city walls. Within the houses also we are seeing a massive amount of investment from Europeans intent on creating or recreating glories from a bygone era hopefully with a sympathetic eye.

As one goes about their daily business its not always apparent exactly how much is going on and I must admit my stroll the other night brought home the extent and also the speed of operations. Maybe the deadline for all this work is 2010 according to the Plan Dazur from the King when we could also expect the other infrastructure to be in place such as the double decker high speed trains, proposed motorway to Oujda and cable car over the Medina!!

In general with the expat community here it is time for a time out as we head towards a traditionally scorching August so everyone will be taking time off to dip a toe back into their previous life. I expect September will see a resurgence in frenetic housebuying and continued costly renovations (its never the price you would like it to be) and with all the proposed new flights winging their way here Fes continues to be the focus of a lot of media attention.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Strolling through the Medina

It being a cool night in Fes and with nothing planned on my agenda for the evening i decided to take a stroll through the Medina late at night as the shops packed up their wares. I realised that I hadnt ventured into the depths as it were for some time as I am a Talaa boy at heart enjoying the local community around this Golden Triangle. Also as I have recently acquired wifi, sounds like a tropical ailment in that context(must put some cream on those wified parts) after seven weeks of on off shenanigans from Maroc Telecom and their engineers I needed some time away from my overheated laptop.

I had heard of the various renovation updates down in the depths but I really wasnt prepared, as we know how long things take here to progress, for the sheer scale and standard of the works. The main work that had been grabbing my attention of late has been the pavementing at the entrance to Ain Azlaiten car park where not only are pathways and plants being introduced finally but also that curious phenomenon known as "sleeping policemen" that serve to jettison one into the ceiling of a petit taxi at least 5 times before arrival onto the flat.

However I digress, strolling through a nearly ready for bed Medina I was amazed at the nocturnal activities going on around me. First of all nearing Seffarine I looked up to see costly lattice work cedar in place obviously to give shade to the street below during the furnace like daytime. The cedar ceilings continued throughout the walk to Rcif at various intervals but also there were new cedar carved awnings in place over long groups of shopfronts.

Further in the shopfronts were closed but metal scaffolding rose dramatically skyward and gangs of workers were chipping away at old walls spraying the few strollers underneath with a rain of dust,stones etc. Even further in the shopfronts were splattered with newly applied madloouk which had been beautifully applied to the once crumbling surrounding walls, and once dejected looking old mosques now stood proud and gleaming as the works of art that they most certainly are or were.

I must admit I was slightly shellshocked as the realisation that this renovation in The Medina is now getting really serious the money is definitely going where it is supposed to go at last. Now whole streets are renewed in a biscuit coloured madlouk glory, also repaved and definitely rejuvenated and all under cover of darkness because of course you cannot work on these streets during a busy shopday.

I popped out the other end in Rcif and caught my breath as even here funky shop stalls had sprung up catering to the late late crowd, sizzling kefta on charcoal fires, long sticks of sugar cane to be cut and sucked and the inevitable bookleg dvd man but at 10 dh a dvd Im not arguing. All in all a totally pleasurable and exciting promenade and for those who come back after a time away get out and about down here after 11pm and witness the transformation, Marrekesh watch out Fes is on the rise....again!!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Nice Weather for Ducks


As my good friends from Norwich have just left after a few days roasting on the terrace heres a shot of their endeavours on the octagon delight or duck pond. Simon and Kate needed a well earned rest after the protracted sale of their secondary house in Suffolk and where better to come for some balm then the relaxed environs of the Medina. Believe it or not its not all frenetic bartering, donkey avoiding and dodgy tums well two out of three isnt bad!!

Its quite possible to just CHILL within the cool white walls of your house, unwrap the plastic ducks, fashion some rods out of bamboo and twine, fill up the octagon with water and encourage the neighbours to join in the fishing game. Well this was Simons idea of a well spent holiday while Kate encouraged and aided him in his endeavours. My role was to make sure they were fed and watered and went home relaxed and to this end I think I succeeded to the extent that their 5 days seemed like 10 to Kate. I tailored our expeditions out of the house to their love of all things wood or veneer orientated as Kate is a cabinet maker back in Norwich while Simon is a fine finisher of some repute with a great eye for detail and colour.

So going to see classic renovations around the Medina was right up their alley as we say and it was worthwhile seeing their eyes light up at classic gyps work, carpentry and fine zellige and madlouk finishing. Simon has never seen me as the practical type as I am more of a delegator and overseer of works so it was a bit of a surprise for him to see me on hands and knees inspecting potential tadelakt crack repairs in his shower room!!

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Life in Fes

As I write this in a waterlogged cyber cafe, the wind is howling outside and the rain is teeming into my sodden basement.....just kidding folks the scorching sidewalk forces us into the shade of our houses for the main part of the day. Unlike poor old England which has had about 10 years rain in 10 minutes it seems to me Fes has leapt into summer with a vengeance.

So what do we do in this scenario, well not much if you are me thats for sure unless you want to fry which is exactly what I did the other day convalescing on the terrace with a good book and turned a crispy black colour within hours. Apart from the pain it did make my teeth look whiter always a bonus!

So whats new in Fes well another big splurge in publicity heading our way after the Daily Mail and the Telegraph met us, that is Pizza Mike and myself, at Riad Fes the other week where we burbled on about our life here so that should be coming out soon. Also the rather big news that i picked up the other day is that the area around my fave spot at Mt Zalagh has been declassified from agricultural status to potential touristic developement status which is worrying and exciting at the same time.

I spend quite a bit of time with the small indiginous Berber community up there with their wattle and daub houses, cows in the living room, butter churn in the kitchen and outside a team of donkeys threshing the corn underhoof, whilst the kids chase the goats and chickens hither and thither, i love that phrase. So what will happen to these families when the big developers move in, I would really like to know as the region is set for such huge change i am sure most of them are totally unaware of the rapid progress. I almost would like to make it a personal crusade to raise awareness of the benefits or otherwise of this progress so that they can fully appreciate how this will impinge on their almost idyllic lifestyle.

They are not rich and probably do not own the house or the land it is on but i have rarely met a more hospitable,healthy, smiling, gracious people. On my several visits with various friends they are unfailingly impressed with the hospitality as we are greeted like long lost cousins, the cushions and tapis arranged under the shade of a massive olive tree or favoured spot. Sitting in perfect silence admiring the environs of the Medina beneath us very soon out comes the mint tea with a bowl of local olive oil and freshly baked bread to dunk it in and you can feel a perfect moment slyly creep up on you. With only a few words of Arabic to my repertoire the conversation does not exactly flow but its not needed they understand the need of Medina types to recharge their soul up in the hills with a cool off Atlantic breeze and perfect peace.

I have taken stressed out renovators and overworked estate agents up here and been able to chill them out instantly I call it my Zalagh Zen Experience. I would hate to think that progress would impinge on this experience but I guess it is inevitable so hope only that the prospective villas will not subjugate the Berbers too much to the vagaries of the 21 st Century as they work quite happily a few centuries behind us.

Thats got that off my crispy tanned chest so what else is new. Well Cafe Clock is threatening to open any week soon but realistically could be late August but it will be a welcome addition to the Fes culinary experience; might have to show Mike a classic Sunday Brunch theres nothing better than a good eggs benedict to start the morning, just need some english muffins and the Sunday papers!!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Likely Lads


Hello Folks yes I am still alive and kicking and as I have just been sent this amusing snap from Mystere Mike thought I would post it here for a laugh. The lads on it are DJ Patt my old compadre from Vejer in Spain and Koko the jack of all trades in the Medina responsible for making half the furniture in the house. I am relaxing after a hard days relaxing as you can tell well you dont want to push things too hard at my age do you.

Fes is a wonderful place to be right now the summer is kicking in and although the surrounding countryside is quite parched and dry a short drive into the hills ensures peace and quiet and the fantastic hospitality of the Berbers. At the house a succession of friends are arriving from all parts of the globe including Steph and Carey who have been working in the Peace Corps in Burkina Faso for two years one of the poorest countries in Africa. They fell in love with Fes immediately and will probably move here, it has that effect on people and if you dont believe it come over yourself and see if the bug gets you.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Octagon Delight


Many thanks to Susannah Clarke for the image featured here which she took as one of a portfolio of photos for her forthcoming book. It will probably feature prominently on my upcoming website when I get round to it inshallah.

As we awoke today at the house Shawn an American friend came in bleary eyed from his dawn experience at the Merenids tombs Sacred Music gig to announce it was just a man with a horse and two musicians, in his typically dry and laconic tone, yea I got up at 4am for a freaking horse, adding I expected circus tricks at least. Oh well... the highlight conversation of the gig was one American turning to her companion as the sun rose over the tombs to point at the vast spread of the Medina in front and below them to announce Whats That! Would have to say that lady is spectacularly ill informed as to where she is and whats happening.

Halfway through the Music Festival and its only now that we are finding the hidden gems ie the free concerts at 11pm at Dar Tazi with wonderful call and response chanting and Dar Batha with an intense and invigorating Gnaoua demonstration last night that lifted the spirits skyward. The day is spent wandering the Medina soaking up the atmosphere and vibe of the Festival in keen anticipation of the afternoons activities. Sorry to have missed the inaugural appearance of a new Whirling Dervish extravaganza at Bab Makina the other night which by all accounts was top notch but i did manage to get my frantically bobbing head on national tv the other day whilst listening to some otherworldly Mauretainian chanting at Musee Batha...fame at last.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

all relaxed.....for now




There is one happy house hunter sunning herself on the terrace after finally choosing her little house in the Medina and as she left her sister Nicki showed up and soon was tramping the derb in search of her own slice of the Medina, it never stops. The renovation side of things is coming to an end and my hospitality side is now kicking in for all my visiting friends and family.

As i have not written for a while I have been pondering the exact purpose of the blog and I realise its main purpose was to entertain and inform at the same time the progress and pitfalls in a renovation. To this end I feel it has achieved that aim over more than 90 pages so new readers should take the time to go through the blog archive to see the progression.

For old readers I will probably post from time to time but will probably set up a website incorporating the best visual images and will keep you informed of its progress. There is so much happening in the medina but not all of it relevant to this particular blog, I feel Sandys View from Fes site covers our general daily life and I may take a fresh tack on things once my wi fi is fixed at the house could take a while though!!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Hectic

Poor old blog suffering from a lack of attention but not because nothing is going on en contraire there has been too much to take in at times. From the frantic renovation and opening party of the Clock Cafe, the frantic renovations of Kleos ongoing project and the Sufi concerts at the Palais Mokri there has been a lot to take in this month.

At the Mernissi house work is slowly coming to fruition and as we speak a houseful of old friends have demolished a hearty breakfast and are now sunning themselves on the terrace or playing with the tortoises, putting off doing the less exciting task of opening bank accounts. Yes all the friends are potential Medina house owners of course. At present there are Andy and an expectant Shiffra and the mad Poles Rafe and Joanne who are seriously thinking of investing and Michael a lawyer who has taken on a huge restoration project down in the depths of the derb as we say.

Its been fun having people enjoy the house and entertaining them whilst down in the basement work goes merrily along with the build team taking their time to reconstruct walls; make new floors and today taking delivery of a ton of tiles to lay a new zellige floor. This should be the last major work in the house then we can concentrate on fine tuning things.

Yesterday Ben my trusty guardian got married so we all trooped along, he regaled us all with the story of his wedding night which was a detail too far for most people but he seemed pleased enough to share the full story with us. he will take a few days off to recover no doubt before moving back to the house with his new bride.

Very soon this month we have the invasion of the Norwich contingent starting with Mystere Mike and the wife and brood into their soon to be furnished Dar followed by more reprobates from my previous life should be fun we shall see.