I’m reading ‘A House in Fes: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco’ by Suzanna Clarke. It’s not the first time I’ve read this book and it won’t be the last. Since I read most books on an iPad / Kindle, I can see which passages impressed me the first time by the highlights placed in yellow. This time around I’ve added even more since I can relate more fully to Suzanna’s experiences. In fact, it may serve better to highlight the parts to which I don’t relate!
While vacationing in Morocco, Suzanna and her husband were inspired to purchase a home in Fes, one of the medieval walled cities that is one of Morocco’s famed ‘Imperial Cities.’ But the Clarke’s didn’t just buy any old house. They bought a dilapidated, centuries-old house with no plumbing, no electricity, and myriad other issues with which to contend! Their goal was to restore it using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. It’s a great story chronicling the restoration of the house, but it also offers an insight into Moroccan customs and lore, as well as a window into the lives of its people and the relationships Suzanna forges. In the end, the house, Riad Zany in Fes, is restored to probably even more than its former glory and the writer (and most likely Sandy, her husband) have ended up restoring themselves to the very core of their beings! I enjoyed the book the first time around but I’m enjoying it even more now that I have my own perspective on Morocco and home-ownership there.
The writer Paul Bowles called Morocco a place where travelers ‘expect mystery, and they find it.’ He also said, ‘Africa is a big place and will offer its own suggestions.’ There’s no better way to find these truths out than to own a house or to renovate one, like Suzanna Clarke did.
A few of the highlighted passages that strike a chord with me:
“Maybe it was a fit of madness, but on just our second visit to the old Moroccan capital of Fes, my husband and I decided to buy a house there – – as one does in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language and have virtually nothing in common with the locals.” (I strongly disagree with the last phrase. Although I barely speak the language, I find I have a lot more in common with the locals than not!)
“Nevertheless, [we] responded to Morocco in a way we had to no other country. We found it as multi-layered and intriguing as the patterns in the tile work adorning the buildings, each of which has its own hidden meaning. Morocco has the mystique of a land from the Old Testament yet appears to be coping comfortably with modernization… Outside mosques, running shoes are lined up next to pointy-toed babouches. In the souks, women wearing long robes and headscarves escort daughters with beautifully cut hair and high heels. You can eat at a street stall, in a Parisian-style cafe, or next to a tinkling fountain in an ornate courtyard. You can find yourself in the midst of a crazy, honking traffic jam, or dodging donkeys in cobbled alleyways, or riding a camel in the solitude of the Sahara.”
“There were obvious drawbacks, like the nuttiness of buying a house on the other side of the planet, a leg-cramping, blood clot-inducing, [12-hour journey] away. And just when would we actually get to spend time there? Our jobs consumed our lives… When exactly would we fit in a commitment to a property in another country?”
The writer Paul Bowles also said this: “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty… And yet it all seems limitless.”
It’s because of this sentiment, because of the fact that I don’t know when I will die, and because now Morocco is so deeply a part of my being, that I decided to do the nutty thing of buying a house on another continent in a country where I barely speak the language! And it’s because I cannot conceive of my life without this beautiful, vibrant, and mysterious place!