To come to Fes on holidays is to take a risk – that is what I did, and it changed my life! I fell in love with the difference - the difference of the culture, the collective living of religion, the Call to Prayer 5 times a day, the amazing people I met during my stay, and the simplicity and joy of the people of Fes.
With the intention of experiencing life here for one year, I arrived with my backpack, computer to do some writing, not much else because I already knew I didn’t need much else; and before I knew it I owned a house!
The restoration was begun. A 6 roomed traditional house or Dar with a symmetrical patio and Halka opening to the sky. A house with a wonderful ambience, not a lot of architectural features, which accentuates the beautiful woodwork and ironwork. I might add that at that time all the woodwork was painted a sea blue, and all the iron work was thickly coated in silver paint and some of the zellige was new and modern it had to go!
The Imam and his family from whom I bought the house, moved up to Derb L’Horra where they enjoyed a lovely ground floor apartment - no more stairs for this hard-working mother of 4 and the Imam was never to be seen again in his little shop where he had made wooden stools – but every day we would hear his voice from his Minaret. He was rich.
This was March/April 2005. My first friends were David Amster, who inspired traditional restoration techniques and Helen Ranger, together with Pauline and Jurgen Moller whose intellects, love of poetry and wit had me captured…and what fun we had! Helen introduced me to Alaa, an Iraqi Architect who had almost completed his most stunning Dar Seffarine. I was so lucky! He agreed to be my architect to assist me with traditional methods and the right workers, not to mention the language and how much to pay the workers. Day to day I was on site – the men were so shy of a woman being the boss, but they soon respond to she who pays them.
WE stripped the house bare, four panels at archway entrance to Salon and the now Kitchen, are the only untouched surfaces – all other surfaces were stripped, plaster removed, 26 major cracks exposed in the brickwork and seam repaired with cedar wood; old zellige cleaned and re-laid, or new traditional zellige set out by my Master Zelligi, Youssef, and his boy, Mohammed. Youssef was a cancer sufferer, and was more in a supervisory role, and my Chef de Chantier. We spent long hours on my terrace, amidst the rubble and ruins of the chicken pen, discussing religion in French, between donkey deliveries of lime and sand, and bricks.
I was thrilled and honoured when he presented me with a copy of the Koran, with translation, at Projects end. During the project, however, he found himself a young Bride, and was not shy at all about telling even a woman, how he was tired each morning, because she wore him out…all delivered with a great grin from a sparsely toothed mouth!
During any such work, one gets to know ones neighbours – the houses butt onto each other so closely, it is hard not to do some damage; frequently we would be called in to a neighbours house and we would end up almost re-doing their whole bathroom or whatever they could convince us we were responsible for…had I known I would have taken photos of all adjoining walls at the beginning….but I didn’t know!
My second son was coming to visit. My daughter, Alicia, had already visited and had gone home telling Anthony all about my amazing house. He said he was coming to buy a house too. A frustrated historian and lover of architecture and medieval cities, he couldn’t believe his Mother was doing just what he loved! So buy a house he did, I might add there is nothing in this society without drama, and the tension had us in knots until the day he left, 3 weeks later. His time here was further enhanced by his falling in love with the girl next door, lovely Lamya. Yes, he was back 7 months later to propose, took one of my workers to translate to ask permission of her Father, and surprised us with their announcement!
Meantime, Dar El Hana was named by Lamya and business opened in Easter 2006.
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