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!