Saturday, 9 May 2009


I've put this up purely for the astonishing colours of the bougainvillea behind yours truly, and for the fact (which I've just discovered) that, if you enter my Blog from the link on my website, (and apparently not otherwise,) you can, with one click enlarge the photo to way beyond screen size. Well, my screen size anyway. So, ignoring the central figure (please) a burst of quite the most improbable colours will explode in front of your eyes. This is an invitation, not a must-do directive. But if, like me, you get that grey/green English chill, and 'where is the summer gone, the blue, blue skies, and whence that golden, skin-basking, sunbathed warmth?' feeling creeping over you, a moment or two spent stepping into the picture and breathing it in, might just bring you a quick, free flight from present reality. (Works for me, anyway.)
One click on the extreme left arrow on the top bar will exit the enlargement.
If you don't have it, my Web-address is:

Thursday, 7 May 2009


SUNDAY, and we decided that if I was going to see what the Medina had to offer, we should ask Alkantara to contact their guide and the man with the wheelchair, a rare piece of equipment in this part of the world, and, as we were about to discover, struggling to make our rickety,wobbly passage through the thousands of men, women, children and donkeys crammed into the narrowest of alleys, an object of wonderment to the populous, if all the curious, but not unfriendly stares were an indication.

Sandhya wanted to visit the shop where argan oil is made. Another rarity - bouncing with vitamins of all sorts. I'd read about it too. Make sure you're not palmed off with the inferior stuff diluted with olive oil, we were warned. Our guide knew his stuff however; this was the real MaCoy, and the white salwah chemised and businesslike young woman who claimed her establishment to be a woman's co-operative, soon launched into her sales routine. Orange flower, lavender, rose, chamomile and eucalyptus skin creams and hair oils. Oils for cooking and salads and, mixed with honey and pounded almonds, as a delicious dip for bread - tastes slightly of burnt chocolate. Four women squatting on the floor were hard at work peeling the tough outer skins of what looked like a knobbly nutmeg. Separated flat seeds were then either roasted for the culinary oils, or ground between flat, hand-turned grindstones and thence into a bowl. The amount of oil produced was minuscule, and it was easy to see why a small bottle cost so much. What wasn't so clear was why we were asked to give the women dirhams before leaving the shop. My idea of a co-op is that everyone is payed an equal share of the profit, and not a small pittance dropped into a basket.

Next stop, an instrument maker. Musical instruments of every kind. We were shown and had explained to us any number of strange stringed or woodwind examples. The one which intrigued me above all was described as the most ancient type of string fiddle in the world. I asked the elderly owner, a great and revered craftsman musician, if I could handle it carefully. There were just two strings, and to my ear, they gave the same sound. But in his hands a tune of strange sorts was coaxed out of it. He seemed delighted to have his picture taken.

Our guide standing behind him.
On to the great mosque Kairaouine, 'the oldest university in the world' according to our guide, and founded in the 9th Century by Fatima, one of two sisters who each endowed Fez with thoelogical establishements. The massive doors were being closed for noon-day prayers as we arrived, and we were told to take our photos quickly. I aimed my camera and shot, hoping I'd managed to snap the breathtaking splendour of the outer courtyard, which moments before had been crowded with tourists, but its light must have been too brilliant because I only captured the family who were emerging as the
doors closed.
A last look at the streets. Outside the ancient Caravanseri which a thousand years ago stabled camels, horse, mules and the merchants and drivers from every part of the Oriental world, and from the wild Northern lands too, no doubt. Gold, jewels, spices and slaves were weighed and exchanged inside. Now it is The Museum of Wood. Trunks mainly of Cedar, several different species, diagonally sliced and highly polished stand in the lower floor. The higher floors are where rich merchants slept and feasted.

The Tannery: showing in the distance the dwellings of the thousand year old city, housing the hundred thousands of Fessi citizens. Leather goods of all kinds, slippers, purses, are sold in the cramped streets.

Sandhya wondering how to exit the carpet warehouse after having been seduced by rounds of mint tea and a sales speel so polished, erudite and long winded that we almose went home with this wondrous Berber hand-woven kilim.

A last look at the Alkantara garden. And the street close to the Bab, the Medina Gate where we were to meet the taxi for the airport. The street where we did buy (Mark, white tee shirt right) bags of black and pale green olives, dried apricots, gigantic delicious dates, bags of perfect almonds and dried muscats on the vine.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Mine, all mine.

Yes, this is my room.
At this scale you can't see the intricate detail of the carving around and above the doorway to my bedroom, or the wrought ironwork of the windows, all of which open out into this quiet courtyard/ sitting room. Mark and Sandhya's room is opposite on the other side of the courtyard. To the left is the library, a red velvet upholstered reading room and music room, complete with inlaid chess table and pieces ready for a game. If, suddenly, you couldn't resist the urge to find an aficionado partner to give you a game before retiring for the night, presumably.

On the wall to the right (but picture left) is a wonderfully carved arched decoration with minute forms echoing the arches in the pillars outside on the terrace.
Almost without exception, everything here is perfectly symmetrical, but these tiny forms slightly disobey the rule, giving the impression of ripples, like a waterfall in white stone.

Inside the room. By the time we were shown to our rooms on the first night - and of course, the taxi driver had still been waiting for us at Fez airport. As so too the men; the guide and the wheelchair man, both standing patiently in the dark cold square - it was around 2.30 a.m. After examining the room and the turquoise tiled sunken bath and shower, I turned the key in the door and flung myself on the silky Egyptian cotton bed sheets and closed my eyes. Fearing that I'd be asleep before managing to undress if I wasn't careful, I opened them again. I don't think I'd noticed it was a four-poster bed until I peered up through it to the ceiling high above. Gasp! A fantastic, intricately carved and painted cedar wood ceiling.

Corner of room. Stained glass window looking onto courtyard and door to bathroom, view also from flat on back, looking up through bed-post.

Night, night. I'm going to give that pool a go in the morning.


First, a 3 1/2 hour stop-over at Casablanca. The plan, for Mark and Sandhya, was to take a taxi and sample the nightlife. The airport was modern and sterile with its marble floors and aluminium seating - few people at that time of night. Leafing thro' the guide book the discovery was: Casablanca, a huge city, is noted for its extreme poverty, prostitution, violence and crime. H. Bogart's 'Here's looking at you, kid,' along with the brimming eyes of Ingrid Bergman, was filmed, on set, in Hollywood. Suddenly the taxi drive lost its appeal. From 10.30 onwards crowds of people, men with women, the regulation 12 steps behind, all dressed in white from head to foot, men's heads covered in crocheted white caps, began streaming in. Some had brilliant gold flasks around their necks: we guessed they were pilgrims.

Our plane was late. Growing concern. Would the guide still be there the other end? It was way past midnight, and unusually cold. And the guy with the wheelchair? Without these there'd be no way we'd find out way through the Medina to the Riad, and no way I'd be able to walk it even if we could.

1/Sandhya on terrace, 2/ me ditto,

Fez breakfast; big jug of Arabic coffee, orangejuice in blue hand-painted pitcher, little hot round breads and pancakes, 7 kinds of confitures, cream cheeses and olives taken on the Bougainvillea Terrace overlooking pool, next morning, Friday, 1st May. Dazzling; stunning; I decide to spend the day here, maybe test the water in the pool, even swim, have a salad fron lunch in the waterside gazebo while the other two go off exploring. It's obligatory to have a guide; without one you'd never find your way out of the Medina - maybe not get out alive. I'll leave all that till tomorrow.

View of terrace from across the pool.