Thursday, February 28, 2008

Get the message

Thought I would post this photo as it tells you in no uncertain terms to keep out. Spotted on a Mosque door in Meknes probably because too many stray English stragglers had ventured over the threshold and we all know that is strictly taboo. Respect.

Now on a lot lighter note, overheard at a table at the ever bustling Cafe Clock from a bemused customer "Two days ago I was riding a camel and now I'm eating one (between a bun) so my holiday is complete". Ahhhhh well done Mike for the fitting finale to Bart and Jessicas sojourn (they will be back, swapping a Brooklyn studio for a medina love shack no doubt).

New Lonely Planet book Fes Encounters is out now with photos by burly Doug Mc and featuring yours truly as male model so I have been told, hopefully gazing moodily into the distance, but I suspect its more likely to be a back of head shot or propping up a Volubilis pillar in the far background. Oh fame, you fickle mistress.

Well we have escaped the rigours of what was essentially a mild winter as we ease into March and I don't hear too many grumblings from the guest house owners as February panned out quite nicely. One popular and vivacious owner announced an 82% occupancy so someones doing something right. Still frustrating for all you Brits trying to get here from England but we have seen a marked increase in our American and Canadian friends from across the pond who bring with them that brightness, vivacity and ebulliency that is inherent in their nature. Always a pleasure. The major plus also is they do not talk about housey matters all day long but rather dissect the merits of Obama or living life in Brooklyn or Minneapolis so it makes a nice change huh.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Peter Lippmann Experience

I love photographers, there I've said it, I love them, when a few years back it was musicians and DJ's that I literally raved over now I feel my affinities definitely changing.

Over the last few months I have had several of that peculiar breed staying at the maison from Doug Mc the burly, ex war photographer cum Lonely Planet snapper to Simon G the gin swilling, weddings r us, websiter. And now to add to the illustrious list we have Mr Lippmann whos promo featured here was shot on location in Morocco with the help of yours truly scouting locations and driving off piste in Rif country.

The brief was for lush green foreground with colour and mountainous background for a Poland Spring water advert, so packing the Lippmann family in the voiture, daughter Kelly and sister Nancy plus Mr L himself we headed Rifwards from Fes in search of the perfect shot.

I had no idea that this entailed multiple stops enroute whereby Mr L would leap from the car, tripod dangling, stomping over muddy fields, lying prone amongst the wild flowers to frame his magic moment foreground shot. Then scampering back in mud encrusted jeans and trainers he complained about faulty batteries and light meters whilst enthusing graphically about the light or complaining ceaselessly about lack of it!

Kilometre after kilometre we passed potential Poland Spring backdrops which were captured for posterity on Pentax. Stopping for lunch at Motel Rif, a good halfway haven two hours from Fes, we then motored on through the verdant countryside and hilly switchbacks arriving in Chauoen to book into a classy, funky new maison d'hote. No sooner had we all unpacked our toothbrushes and enjoyed a mint tea on the terrace overlooking the blue medina than suddenly Mr L announced his perfect shot on reflection was back at the Motel Rif 60k back from our present location. Ho Hum. He was looking to get a 6am start to get the light, of course, so repacking our toothbrushes we hightailed back to the motel post haste settling in for the night after a hearty repast and several glasses of good grape product.

Luckily it rained at 6am but at 8am pronto after a snatched coffee we were on the road and guess what, no go on guess.....we found the perfect shot 100m (thats metres not miles) from the motel which had Mr L almost deliriously describing the light, the flowers, the light meter, the colours. We were all very happy for him of course as the perfect shot paid for this family outing to Morocco so was quite important. I was just glad I was able to find him such a spot and several more besides to make up the composite picture you see here on the page and it made for a tiring but ennervating few days out of Fes.

The passion and attitude and attention to detail all these photographers apply to their art is admirable, but I would question sometimes their compete sanity as they dive headlong towards their intended target, camera in hand, ignoring mud, insults, donkeys or whatever to get THAT shot. For instance Doug would shoot 5000 pictures and then announce he had probably 8 good shots, what!! Thats either lack of confidence or obsession with quality or a combination of the two. With Mr L he knew exactly what he wanted and when he had got it I thought. However even he could not resist taking more and more till his film ran out. If he had more film I feel we would still be standing beside some flowery field while a mud spattered dad and daughter peered through the lens once again to frame another even more perfect shot.

But luckily he didnt.

As I said photographers....don't you just love them...they're not normal you know, bless them.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

No comment (well just a few words)

Well no words necessary for these shots but heres some anyway.

On a gorgeous mid February day what more of an excuse did I need to hotfoot it to Moulay and Volubilis in the company of some of our friends from across the pond (thats yanks not francs) who were ready for an excursion. In danger of repeating myself let me say once again these twin gems are the perfect antidote to the Fes Frenzy and are the soul sanctuary that we all need from time to time to wind down, take stock, switch off the grey matter and reeeeeelaxxxxxx ahhhhh. Now doesnt that feel better. Now take a deep breath of clean mountain air.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Expanding Fes Part 2

Having time to kill at the moment heres a furthur update on the rejuvenation of old Fes from a casual but observant observer. I know some of you out there are missing our fine city as you hold down proper jobs in the outside world to pay for your folly/palace/derb shack so let me fill you in with a little update on the previous post. Hopefully it will whet your appetite for your imminent return.

Lets start up near the Boujloud Square,with the rampart walls looking all shiny and new on the outside now the work is starting on the inside at the top end of Talaa KBira with the little vegetable stalls lining the wall being unceremoniously shunted to one side as the scaffolding goes up announcing in itself imminent improvements.

Not far away and across the square a little known project of a very large renovation is, so sources say, only months away from its unveiling. This is the old Jardin Publique Hotel and after a major makeover with no expense or time spared will boast two restaurants one on a stunning terrace and at least 30 rooms. These will be in the budget range but offering good quality throughout. I have watched its progress over the last year or so with great interest to be told at regular intervals it is 2 months away from finishing uh yeah right!

Over in the fantastic Jnan Sbil park one can glimpse inside the sparkling layout of fountains and seating and though I cannot hazard at guess at the opening date I would guess sometime this year. This is set to be a major tourist and local draw for promenades, contemplation, sitting and watching or just appreciating the flora and fauna and sky high palms. This will be a fitting end to the Palace and Gardens Tour which these days draws the tourist to Jnans multiple locked gates so they are reduced to peeking through the bars, not quite the finale they envisaged. Anyway just outside the gardens walls en route to La Noria restaurant the tin hoardings can't quite hide a rather fine specimen of Moroccan modern workmanship. This is to be a funky new restaurant in a Riad style with pillars and zellige aplenty and a terrace which will overlook the garden itself. I know who is behind this great project and applaud his vision and aptitude, bastard!!

Over on the Talaas within a few weeks two top quality modern shops have opened one on Sigheera the other just down the road on Derb el Horra. They both boast fine filigree light fittings and brass and bronze artifacts, and are very large so obviously trying to capture the attention of guides of tourist groups, commission aplenty then! The shop of more interest to me is the one on el Horra which only 2 months ago was a fully functioning albeit rather dark and dismal bakery. It has been transformed with lead light windows, funky tiles and fresh plaster and multiple shelving and the stock arrived and was on the shelves artfully displayed within hours after the last lick of paint. How impressive, which begs the question why do house renovations take so long then?

Further afield on the Route Immouzer is the Royal Golf Club and after wondering for 2 years why some enterprising spark hasnt built golf villas overlooking the course, lo and behold as if by magic row upon row of said villas is apparent on the near horizon. All sold before completion which comes as absolutely no surprise.

If I had a euro for every building, renovation or investment project that entered my little head which has been acted upon successfully by people with slightly more acumen and financial clout I would be 57 euros richer by now, enough for a slap up meal at Riad Fes and two bottles of sparkling (water).

Friday, February 15, 2008

Expanding Fes

Took a drive out towards the Henri Laconte Tennis Academy the other day to check on Century 21 proposed residential units opposite. As always its such a bonus to have the car to go exploring sometimes with no particular mission in mind. However it was quite obvious from the outset that Fes is expanding in all directions and very rapidly.

Not only is the Century 21 backed project growing rapidly with the large billboards showing palm lined mini boulevards throughout the site, on the drive there the massive Oued Fes site on the route to Marjane is also steaming ahead. The site has been cleared of all those pesky trees, thwarting any treehuggers, and huge pipelines are lined up presumably for the artificial lakes within the complex. Is this progress? Some people would say there is no such thing as progress only change, well in this case scenario lets say there is massive change happening throughout Fes.

Outside the Kings Palace, en route to the Mellah there is now a rather fine fountain within a newly formed roundabout and also a palmlined central reservation and multiple mini fountains changing colour on the new dual stretch of road leading to Hassan 2. I can honestly say this looks great and a real improvement on the area and so well done it looks like it has been there years rather than a matter of weeks.

So continuing my drive past the Leconte Academy I ended up in areas of Fes I had never been but what was noticeable was EVERYWHERE were new builds and huge residential developements for low cost social housing, these are definitely not for tourists. So this is where the medina house owners aspire to live in and I can see their attraction. The prices are reasonably affordable and if they can unload their crumbling, unsanitary derb den onto a thrilled European visionary with pockets full of Euros, then everyone is happy, arent they?

Later on that same day I bumped quite literally into an old friend who is trying to finish his project after several years on the heights of Mt Zalagh, which when finished will have one of the coolest settings in Fes. He was excited and as far as I can gather its because the authorities had just announced the expansion of the city boundaries, rezoning several areas from agricultural to urbanisation and tourism projects. Of course this will have a massive effect on land prices and should entice more entrepreneurs to this fine city. Hope it doesnt choke the life out of the city though as its quite busy enough at the best of times thank you very much.

So although for many Europeans here the topics of conversation are still flights, house renovation, flights, house renovations and a slight drop off in clients if they looked out and beyond they would see this city is now officially a BOOM town. I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing but there seems to be no stopping it now so either go along for the ride or move to Meknes!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Come and Go

As the last GB Airways incoming flight arrived the other night it wasnt hard to spot all the Blighty contingent who owned houses here. Over the last year or so the same crop of people have been jetting back and forth in a budget stylee to check on the progress of their Dar, Riad or Wreck, take your pick, and sometimes a combination of all three. For a lot of them it has been a long, tiring and financially draining experience as being true Brits we buy first and ask questions or deal with details later after the initial buying experience which in itself can be traumatic.

A quick tip for those contemplating coming over soon from London try the train to Paris and then cheapo flight direct to Fes for all of 50 euros with Jet4you I believe.

No names mentioned but a certain friend has arrived on his tenth trip in as many months, six of them fruitlessly trying to nail a house and the last three in which he is now the proud possessor of three, count them, properties. The phrase making up for lost time springs to mind or strike while the iron is hot. So is the iron hot or not, well its hard to judge from where I am sitting as I havent really been paying attention although my friend Fred popped over the other day to look over this house and gave it a very healthy valuation, which is nice. Always nice to know when you have sweated blood and euros that your efforts have not been in vain.

Ross and Bill, a very dynamic duo who are my near neighbours who live maybe 32 secs away are seeing their gorgeous riad come to fruition, and no wonder as Ross attention to detail in every aspect of the renovation ensures there is little leeway for error. There are photos, plans of every inch of the place with exact fittings for every item. If you could afford his talents, which most of you cannot, you would be guaranteed a palatial reform every time. Clever Bastard!!

How I managed without a resource such as Ross I will never know but suffice to say it came together when it was supposed to come together and in only nine months really, not bad for a lad. Also over for a flying visit was my best friend Tony who is a partner in the house and we chewed the fat, had a few tipples and discussed progress and future plans for projects which I will not divulge yet. Good to see him after such a long while as he hadnt seen the house finished with basement and apartment so that was a bonus for him, hopefully he can get out sooner next time round.

Popped round to see Fred at Laaroussa (top ten hidden gems of Africa) with Kevin a restauranter friend from Minneapolis, check out, and there was a palpable concern voiced by him about the effect of flights on the Riad and the real estate business over the coming season. This is because the Brits were so high profile here last year on their buying frenzy will they be more creative in getting over here or settle for a wet weekend in Cromer! Not quite as exotic now is it, so forget the plane, catch the train folks.

By the way you can see more about us and the house on