Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Back on the blog two posts in one day hey hey! Its just that having written this mornings missive just after the railings arrived in the Derb, I had only been gone an hour and on my return the rails were in place five floors up on the top terrace, with the builder and metalman working in close harmony. I just wanted to point out that sometimes, just sometimes though; things come together very quickly and you almost leap for joy. Especially gratifying to see two craftsmen singing from the same hymnsheet so to speak.

We here can all quote so many instances where the beautiful work of one craftsman is demolished by the lack of respect from another and then of course he has to redo his work again, and who pays....well you can guess the answer to that one. Am getting ready for a little break to Chaouen and mentally ticking off all the projects that could be completed in my absence including actually completing one bathroom at least!
That first bath in the house is going to be very memorable after a six month wait as washing out of a bucket on the terrace has lost its allure.

I still cant get over the quote from the builder which includes laying a glass floor and buiding an extraction duct from the kitchen and it has put a smile on my face all day, I think I will have to chain him to the premises so that he doesnt escape or get poached. This helps restore my faith in workers because some will definitely fleece you purely because you are European. For instance went to a zellige factory with Moaniss and his recently hired zellige worker to look at buying tiles for two bathrooms and kitchen and they quoted 450dh a sq m. I knew this was total bollocks and said so until we had halved the price but felt if I hadnt said anything then maybe zellige worker and factory would be sharing the commission, a very normal practice over here. I have probably been caught out loads of times, who hasnt, so you have to work out the best deal for your peace of mind.

Going to the factory, checking prices; talk to friends who have done similar work,know your costs per sq m for different types of work especially zellige and you should be able to negotiate better than Kofi Annan!


As Sandy from View from Fes rightly said about my blog so succintly it is about the trials and tribulations of renovating in the Medina. I would like any prospective buyer with stars in their eyes to talk to those of us involved in this process to maybe help ease their passage through the potential minefield of permits and quotes, working schedules, standards of works and suchlike. It has not been easy but therein lies the challenge we set ourselves, as I said before its like giving birth when you say that was painful, never again, and then go on to have a healthy brood.

When you get on the finishing home staight which in reality I am on you have to pay so much attention to the fine details you are likely to bore your friends silly with talk of hold ups, toilet cisterns, fittings and such like and you can see their eyes glaze over. Of course its your personal project and like a mother will think her newborn is the most wonderful sprog in the whole world even if it looks like a wrinkled prune, so you have the ability to look beyond rubble to that gleaming palace that you dream about. Whether others can share that vision is another question but generaly those of us involved in a long sustained project can do that.

The important thing to remember is to get adequate breaks away when the schedule permits so that you come back refreshed in good spirits and hopefully see some good progress. This is where Chefchaouen comes into its own at just three hours away it is anther world, chilled and laid back and a perfect antidote to Fes work schedule.

So hows the work going, well slow but sure is the order of the day awaiting zellige to finish two bathrooms and then Abdelkadir with the boys sweeps into full tadelakt mode to give it the finising sheen. They have finished the menzeh bathroom in a beautiful biscuit colour and I have the raised sink and funky taps as in the photo ready to be plumbed in. Apparently they leave the tadelakt for fifteen days then give it a high polish to seal it completely should look great. Surprised at the number of visitors I have had recently purely to look at the tadelakt, not to see me, there has been Aussie Pete and Karen, Pizza Mike, Fred and Thierry from Laroussa and John and Jenny. I dont think anyone has seen Abdelkaddirs tadelakt before as he has his own style and i think he will be in great demand. His plasterwork is already renowned throughout the medina so there will be another string to his bow now.

Also have got beautiful marble plinths in two of the bathrooms and the apartment kitchen now has a black and white, of course, marble counter. Its all starting to look quite sharp. This morning the metal man arrived with the railings as in photo for the top terrace, he was very reasonably priced I thought at 1000 dirhams for his work and I paid for materials about 700 and the design complements the menzeh grilles below. Talking of quotes they can be wildly different. For instance the last project in the house is the basement area with two toilets and a storage room and largish open space with fountain in the corner and stairs up to main floor. An old builder quoted 20000 dh to finish it ages ago whereas Mohammed who is doing great finishing work round the house just quoted 2000 but I supply materials. At that price I think I could sprinkle the walls with gold dust and still be on budget. Always good to get several quotes especially if one is a tenth of another and the standard of work has been seen.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Turning the corner

Sorry for ignoring you blog but when friends come to town unfortunately blog takes a backseat. Pictures are of the lovely, loquacious Da Capo Ladies and the two cats Moullay and Idriss checking out my new purchase from the souk. There is Abdelkaddir the master plaster in full tadelakt polishing mode, he really is a little trojan when at work.

Its been fun to see Michael from Dar Mystere here and I think hes quite pleased with the progress so far on his house which is at the Make it Strong phase, also Andrew is on probably his fourth visit without nailing a property so this time round he needs to plonk the moollah down on something.

So hows the house, well the infamous plastering team are back from their sojourn and straight into Tadelakt mode for the menzeh bathroom. Making up the mix of lime and water on the terrace, letting it sit for a while and then splattering the whole bathroom so it seems it is a messy job and very labour intensive. Gradually over the next few days the mess cleared to reveal a silky, shiny, sexy finish to walls and ceiling ooh la la. They were then straight onto plastering the intermediary suite overlooking the main salon, theres no stopping those guys, and demanding what was required to be finished in each bathroom before they stepped in eg zellige and plumbing.

So everyone is talking so that there are no overlapping jobs at the moment which is good. The new windows are going in throughout the house and the blue wood painted apartment is being steadily stripped to reveal its cedar glory. The theme for the apartment is black and white throughout so today Moaniss and I went to a marble factory to choose some for plinths for the raised sinks in the bathrooms and also the kitchen worktop in the apartment. Again that word sexy comes to mind when choosing marble, maybe I should get out more.

The main fun for me this week was going REAL early to the Sunday souk with Aloumi and straight away seeing the green zellige table and six chairs, perfect for the terrace. Hit them with a low bid, got accepted and next thing back to Medina in a Honda, loaded up four chariots with very heavy base and table and chairs. It then took eight men to winch the base up four floors and ten to carry table up the stairs but when in place it looked like it had been there for years, result!!

The retail therapy really works as the day before I felt bogged down in little details all over the site and miscommunicating seemed to be the order of the day. Happy to say they all got sorted without too many grey hairs.

Lots of socialising and meet ups this week with the aforementioned Andrew putting down a deposit finally on a lovely Dar on Kabira, meeting up with Mike and friends at his proposed Pizza emporium and the ever reliable Pete and Karen knocking up king size burgers on their terrace Aussie style. All of us spotting lots of opportunities for business around here but of course I cannot go into detail as one of you blogmonkeys might beat us to it. Suffice to say there are projects on the back burners here that could be realised with a little effort and also not much money, now thats a recipe if certain resources got pooled but cant say more than that at mo.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

So near and yet.......

Interesting to note from View from Fes latest missive that a Lonely Planet survey put Morocco and Brazil in the top destinations, which is nice. Its been relatively quiet here tourist wise after the New Year of course when all Brits are panicking over their Xmas excesses and also have to find extra shekels for those newly risen bank charges plus Gordo Browns new airport stealth tax.

Old faces are trickling back in as new faces leave with their memories of Medina life. Its always good to see the old faces as they see the progress a lot more than I do on a day to day basis. As always trying to get a logical work plan together for the workmen is constantly frustrating as you can never get them in the same place at the same time. The plastering team were doing stupendous work and then announced theey were off for a week to Tangiers, why, your guess is as good as mine. The builder has put in two baths and is awaiting the plumber who turns up after the builder leaves and the next day neither of them show, oh well.

Meanwhile the stalwarts in the operation are Mernissi who diligently cleans all the zellige throughout the house behind the plastering team and the Da Capo ladies who will strip anything that doesnt move it seems. They are busy getting all the blue paint from the apartment windows revealing the gorgeous cedar underneath. The carpenter has made frames for all those missing windows or new windows throughout the house and is also hard at it. The taciturn lone electrician is steadily putting the trip switches in the junction boxes and there is a threat of imminent electricity throughout the building in the very near future.

I suppose i shouldnt complain should I as lots of people have a lot more problematic time but one can only deal with ones own situation on its own terms and when you can see the finishing post your natural impulse is to surge for the line. Its at this stage actually when you should slow down and take stock and dont rush because a bad finishing detail could come back to haunt you very quickly.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The boys are back at work

Few photos of Mernissis Da Capo work on the front door, the top piece is brand new by the way courtesy of the carpenter; the plaster teams cutting edge work and a funky light that I fell in love with in Chaouen.

Eight days after Eid, I still dont know how to spell it, the workers drifted back. Mind you it was only to say hallo and drop their tools and clothes off and then off they went with a promise to see us tomorrow, Inshallah. And thats the way it goes in the wonderful wacky world of renovation.

However now they have been back a few days it has been all systems go with the plastering team doing an exceptional job scooting down the stairwell adding lovely decorative flourishes in their wake. The Da Capo ladies arrived with their brushes, wire wool, gloves and tins of gloopy stripper to attack all window frames. The carpenter busy counting and measuring missing windows and frames; zellige man laying funky black and white tiles in the apartment bathrooms, and the electrician slowly making sense of the miles of wires.

Yes you can sense it all coming together now and we even have a bath in place in the menzeh ablution area, no taps or a plug but its in place its a start! Had a visit from Baccali the ex foreman who quite genuinely said he missed not finishing the project, and though he was with a new client showed him some cracked work on the top terrace that I suggested loudly that his team should replace. This was because he was after the tax owed on the work done , kind of like VAT, so I suggested repair the work and tax will be paid. He smiled and in an aside to Ben as he left said Mr Louis is getting more Moroccan, well if thats what it takes to get things done I will change my name to Abdul Mernissi and go the whole hog, or maybe I should not say hog in an Islamic country. However go the whole sheep doesnt have the same ring about it.

Friday, January 05, 2007

On the Road again

Its holiday time folks so what does that entail, lots of turkey and trimmings, taking back that chunky Fairisle sweater two sizes too small that grandma bought...well no not exactly. In the renovation business it involves watching the backs of your loyal workers rapidly disappearing down the derb for their extended break clutching their Id bonus money, with only the vaguest promise to return on a set date. Rather than twiddle my thumbs and now rather bored of playing with the electric switches on timers, running up and down the stairs to reach the basement loo etc decided it was time for one of my random road trips. Cue drums!!

Had spoken to Aussie Pete and Karen about a trip to Chefchaouen or CC as we shall call it and in true Aussie style, no messing, they said we are in. So armed with choccies and fruit, tons of fags and a change of underwear we set off for CC territory. Piled into Tina the trusty Peugeot and off we went at a gentle pace well whats the rush, on the north road to Ouezzane. Luckily bypassing Sidi Kacem which doesnt figure in the top ten scenic attractions only a short time later we had swapped the sweeping and sometimes quite barren and dramatic landscape for a lush, verdant Andalucian vista, gorgeous.

From Ouezzane onto Chefchaouen, sorry CC, rolling countryside gave way to the majestic Rif Mountains with roadside olive oil presses giving off pungent aromas as we cruised by. It was like drivng into a different country within a few hours, cleaner, more European in feel, and a simpler less frenetic lifestyle.

Within 3 hours we turned the final bend to reveal CC in all her glory spreading out over her cosy mountainside setting.

Heres the ex bleating sheep in Chefchaouen sunbathing on the sidewalk directly oposite a restaurant where we wisely stuck to omeletes as I couldnt bear the thought of eating a possible relative of said sheep.

CC in all her blue washed glory where we perched to watch the local football match in the foreground.

Pete in Gringo mode with his new smock come cape enjoying the tranquillo lifestyle a bit too much