“’This city is all about emotion,’…’Following an old man in a djellaba down an alley, with everything close and dark, wondering where you’re going. Then you enter a house, a courtyard, and see something jaw-dropping… I never come to the Medina without discovering something new.’”
Moving home, whilst staying in the same area, is stressful, but how does this compare to moving to the other side of the world, to a country where you cannot speak the language or fully understand their way of life?
Suzanna Clarke and her husband did just that. They fell in love with Fez in the country of Morocco and after visiting decided that this would be a fantastic place to buy a second home. With no understanding of government policies or Moroccan work standards they embark of a project that sees them become part of the Medina community.
Fez is a city rich in history and in need of preservation. When you walk the inner streets of the Medina you take a step back in time; donkeys transport goods, neighbours reach out to support one another and life is simple.
Stumbling across a Riad, more out of luck than choice, Suzanna and Sandy realise that restoring a home in this beautiful, dusty city involves far more than just money. It’s about the appreciation of the building, the respect for what has been before and the skill of restoring a house so that it feels loved again.
Reading this novel you begin to understand how intricate the city of Fez is; houses built on top on houses, doorways linking courtyards together and sewer systems that haven’t been updated for 500 years.
To bring a house back to life also involves the work of some very skilled individuals. Unlike Western society, with modern equipment and mass produced materials, everything is created and installed by hand, recreating the perfection of years gone by. Skills have developed through generations, where creating uniquely designed pieces help to represent the spirit of the building. Whether creating a halka, a traditional open hole to the room above, recreating beautiful carved ceilings in the massreiya, a room that would have been used by Muslim women to preserve their modesty, or replacing several metres of zellij, the tiles that cover many of the floors and walls across Moroccan buildings, these master craftsmen cannot be rushed. Add to this the carpenters, plumbers and builders and you have a maze of issues to weave around. Moroccans, it would seem, work to their own timescales and therefore may not turn up when you expect them or may demand more money from you to complete a job they have already quoted for. When you add in their commitments to Islam and religious events like Ramadan, you are faced with far more than you would be if you decided to restore a house in Europe. Then, once you have potentially overcome all of this, government policies could still prevent you from completing your project.
This novel not only describes the trials and tribulations of people trying to bring a building back to life it goes far deeper. You begin to understand the culture that they are submerging themselves into as well as the day-to-day life of a Moroccan. A true sense of community still exists in this part of the world and people honestly want to help one another without personal gain.
Final Thoughts on A House in Fez
A refreshing read that highlights more than just a house build, it looks at a way of life. Religious events that you may have previously been confused about are explained, the art of haggling is looked into and the descriptions on the inner city walls will leave you wanting to travel to Fez to explore all of these wonderful places for yourself.
My advice – if you are looking to travel to Fez any time in the future – read this book; if you are unsure whether Fez is a place for you – read this book.
It is far more than a novel about buying a house, it is an open account of two people exploring a new country and culture and falling in love with their new surroundings.