Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Back in Town Brigade

Following on from the previous missive, yet more Fes regulars turned up on the doorstep this week albeit through diverse and circuitous routes from England arriving slightly more fatigued than when they set off.

First up was neighbour Bill a sprightly sort who has come to oversee the final stages, he hopes, of his riad almost 32 secs from my door. The fact that the snagging list he carried with him resembled a version of Encyclopedia Brittanica didn't seem to phase him although I thought each item would be a minor challenge in itself, I know I've been there. At least he had a big smile on his face which diminished somewhat when he realised the room in the house on which he planned to stay still very strongly resembled the building site it was a few months previous, so first snag then. Luckily he found alternative accomodation and can now do his daily spotchecks on the house to ensure it all comes together according to the bright, glossy printouts he carries round with him. Best of luck and dont let the bastards grind you down.

Also around was Michael and Jo and their exbanding brood of 3 who luckily have finished their house so all ready to enjoy the finished product for the first time after overcoming their various snags. However with the 3 kids in tow it was never going to be a restful stay and I honestly dont know how they manage as I find it quite difficult to look after just myself at the best of times. Its honestly nice to see a family enjoying at last the fruits of their labours after a yearlong refit the question that now begs is ....and now what?

For a lot of us the fun is in the process of renovation overcoming the hurdles and stress that it involves but when it is finished there is a void of kinds in that daily routine that needs to be filled with something equally as challenging. For some it is a restaurant or Maison dhote but for others who just have a holiday retreat it is what to do with their stately pile while they are not ensconced within which is challenging. Do you want a stream of strangers/tourists/backpackers lying on that sumptuous banquette and muddying your tapis or do you shut up shop until your next visit when you can affford to come out here again via your next circuitous flight route, umm challenging and there is no easy answer. Best of luck.

Also around this week were a trio of real travellers from South Africa who had taken a year in an old Toyota Landcruiser laden with surfboards to come up to Morocco covering 18 countries in the meantime. Their little break had turned into a lifestyle choice and they were not relishing the return to Planet Earth which beckoned. In their previous incarnation they were accountants but now resemble surfdudes so much its hard to envision them as part of the pinstripe brigade, short hair and sharpened pencils at the ready for double entry bookkeeping. You can read about their adventures at and follow their re-entry into the real world again as they re-adjust to that rareified climate. Again....Best of luck guys and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome

Its always nice to see old (and not so old) faces back in the Medina and so it was this week when two totally dissimilar characters returned. First was my friend Pippa who works in Dublin as a legal secretary for her sins, saving frantically to fund the renovation of her cute Dar in R'Mila tucked away near R'Cif. She bought a year ago but wisely is not in a frantic hurry to rush in until she is ready, wise girl.

Then of course there is the venerable Sandy who you might know from a certain well known blog who is back to put the finishing touches to his latest novel based in Fes. Returning characters are always vibrant and enthusiastic as they wish to catch up on all the latest gossip, news and comings and goings in their absence and we are all too happy to oblige of course.

Its sometimes tempting to temper the obvious enthusiasm of pre-renovators for their project with a healthy dose of reality in the form of and advice and guidance about the pratfalls and pitfalls that one has encountered along the way. But that would put a damper on things now wouldn't it. Every individual will come up against different obstacles to overcome and really its all part of the rich experience of fulfilling your dream to go through it all and come out the other side. Although you will be slightly less well off, have a few more grey hairs and a bit less grey matter between your ears undoubtedly you will end up with a nice set of bricks encased in tadelakt and furnished to your own immaculate taste.

Well this was definitely the case with our Sandy who now has a wonderful riad and no regrets after a lengthy and at times frustrating renovation where at various times odd things happened to frustrate the progress, having your donkeys kidnapped being just one of the minor hiccups. But then one fine day you step back and realise you have finished and I know for me the thought that still runs through my head is just how did I manage that, and would I do it again. The early days of finishing I think most people would say that was a nightmare and I wont be doing that again but as time goes on the appeal of another house project and new ideas start sprouting and you realise you have got a strange affliction to put yourself through the pain barrier again.

As of now I don't know a cure for this "brick addiction"and I would like to take time out to try and find one but am not aware of a national centre or hospice that has available treatment. So I for one suffer in silence or the exact opposite sometimes as I bore friends with what I would do with this or that project even though I don't have the financial clout to realise it, well one can dream I suppose.

So back to young Pippa then, she now has her permission to start work and can go away safe in the knowledge her little hideaway will be stripped back to bare bricks with donkeys carting away her house sackload by sackload with progress being replaced by regression. Then almost magically over the next few months there will be progress and the thrill of a European toilet being installed, that first flush ahhhhh, I remember that. Then when you first switch on a light, the first hot shower, the first piece of furniture moving in, the first night spent under your own owned roof, marvellous. Your bank balance takes multiple nosedives but that will eventually stop........and then what!!

Well another project of course and you have caught the bug, you have "Brick Addiction" .

As I mentioned before is no known cure.

Monday, March 10, 2008

House Buying Tip for Rock Climbers

Johnathan, a world class rock climber who is also a property entrepreneur here in Morocco, told me an amusing tale relating to his latest house search in Chaoen. Scouring the medina for something cheap and cheerful to purchase he got more than he bargained for on an inspection.

He was being shown around a less than structurally sound old wreck when suddenly the floor gave way beneath him. Now this is where the rock climbing experience comes in. As he told me when walking along a crevasse that is likely to give way if it opens up, you extend your elbows and this acts as a brace to stop you plummetting to the depths.

Therefore as the floor gave way he instinctively went into rock climb survival mode and found he was dangling elbows akimbo between the beams over the fresh air space that once housed a not so solid floor/ceiling. I would like to have seen the look on the simsaars face as he realised how close he had come to losing a customer and also that the prospective sale had quite literally fallen through ha ha!

So house buying tip no 1 whilst walking on suspect flooring position oneself between the beams with elbows at 90 degrees to to the body, and though you might look as though you are going to break into a Birdie Song dance audition, you may in fact be doing your brittle legs a big favour.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A Taxing Day

Jnan Sbil Garden renovations starting to take shape finally and looking rather splendiferous I must add, but moving right along...

Rotherham Rob arrived after trekking round the country, he had escaped the confines and temptations of Rotherham to teach bespoke carpentry to the good people of Kenya a few years back. He enjoyed it so much he eventually signed up for 5 years and part of it in Mombassa teaching the feisty inmates of a local borstal how to make their own beds ....literally.

Initially staying for one night he soon saw Fes cannot be fitted into a day and so before long he was tagging along with us on house hunting/renovation advice duties looking slightly bewildered with these mad expats and their house fixation. But he could see the appeal, well who wouldn't?

While he was here I received an official looking Municipality letter demanding the sum of 1700 dh in back taxes but with the previous occupants name on the demand. Off I popped with Ben to clear up this possible anomaly at the tax office to be told the figure quoted was a mistake, phew well thats alright then I thought.....wrong! "No", the mild mannered gentleman behind the counter carried on from his previous statement, " The figure owed is 70,000 dh", gulp and again GULP.

Darting over to the Adoule who had done all the paperwork for the house purchase and was wise in all matters pertaining to bill paying or not as the case may be, he said in Arabic the equivalent of Cobblers, a lovely word in English that suggests all is not as it appears to be in no uncertain way. The bill was apparently for taxes owed in Rabat that had somehow found their way to a previous address. Giving us several sheafs of paper relating to the situation back we went to the office of tax affairs to find Mr Mild Mannered slightly more stubborn and not budging on the situation.

Now in these situations it could be cause for alarm if you let it get to you, but the best thing is to go with the flow, show a bit of patience and then when you least expect it something gets resolved hopefully to your advantage. If you didnt think like that you could spend the majority of your time "climbing the walls" as we say or "pulling your hair out". So as I am not too good with heights and am to all intents and purposes bald, neither of these two panic options is applicable so I just went back to my daily routine leaving all responsibility to the Adoule.

Thats the way to do it.