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

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.