A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco By Suzanna Clarke


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I purchased this book to read before our trip to Fez, Morocco last month. However, I only got through the first 3 chapters before we arrived in Fez. There was so much to see and do in Morocco, I didn't have one minute to pick up this account of an Australian couple who bought a riad in the heart of Fez in the ancient Medina. We also stayed at a first-class, great old riad called Ryad Mabrouka in the Medina. We also met a British couple from London - the same area where my daughter lives, Chiswick - who also own a riad in Fez and are rehab-ing it. For the past 4 years! After spending a week in Fez, I pick up Clarke's book and it was tremendously more enjoyable -- I felt like I was right back in the alleys and souks of the Medina. Like our trip to Morocco, this book tells you not only a lot about what it's like to live in an exotic, foreign country, but it also put's into perspective your own home life in America. What we take for granted, how we live, and the things that are better and not so good of our own American lifestyle. Who would have thought that free toilet paper in rest rooms was such a luxury? In Morocco, it's non-existent. We also have read the author's husband's blog - A View from Fez -- and find it educational if you're planning a trip to this ancient city. 0091925223 I started reading this book to get a cultural glimpse of Fez prior to my trip to Morocco. I stopped reading a little past midway through as I wanted to savor and experience the culture before finishing. I loved the real life adventures Suzanna and her husband Sandy encountered while shopping for and renovating their riad in Fez. They encounter a lively cast of characters who have you laughing out loud and shaking your head. She describes a warm welcoming people who are so wonderful to be around yet can be so frustrating. Kinda like family. 😉. You gain a respect for the spirit and historical aspect of the Medina. My visit there will certainly be one of my greatest memories.

“Im the Fez Medina there are fourteen thousand buildings, whereas Marrakesh has only four thousand, which may mean Fez has a greater degree of resilience. Here we have a chance, unique in the world, to live as they did in the fourteenth century.”

A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Suzanna Clarke. Scribd. 0091925223 This book was mezyan (good in Darija), but not mezyan bezzaf (very good). It's definitely a lot easier to read about restoring a 300-year old riad in the Fez Medina than actually going through the process itself. At first I thought Suzanne Clarke was a woman after my own heart-- a G&T drinking writer who prefers life without a TV willing to tilt headlong into an adventurous pursuit-- and bringing back an old building using traditional methods in a culture that you are not well-versed in is adventuresome. The Medina in Fez does not allow cars and homes are built into, under, around, on top of other people's homes so life is permeable and without boundaries. Clarke is a Western-white woman and. she. has. boundaries. As much as she wants to live in Fez and learn its culture, she is not going to be a part of Fez. She tries to understand Moroccan life and often checks her privilege, but understanding often runs up against her privilege. She often makes glib observations that distance her from her from the culture. For example, in discussing the prevalence of slavery in Morocco, she recounts how the Barbary pirates used to kidnap people in Ireland and England to be used as slaves and concubines and she wonders what it must have been for those couple of thousand white people to be taken from their homes and forced into a life and culture they didn't ask for. She feels real distress for them. However, she fails to make the connection that Morocco is in AFRICA and millions of its people experienced the same thing. She also doesn't connect that her other home is in Australia, a country founded by people taken from their homes and forced to live a life they did not ask for. She also equates an argument with a neighbor to the Charlie Hebdo incident-- an event that was deeply insulting to the Islamic community-- the community that she now lives. There are other quips, but these made me stop and say, Really, Suzanna?!. She also doesn't really make friends; it's like there's her and then, everyone else. I'd hope that my G&T loving self would be more culturally-aware and be good friends with my neighbors (of course, offering sweet mint tea and keeping my gin in my cupboard as the majority of Moroccans do not drink).

The restoration of the home feels a bit like HGTV's Property Brothers where new problems emerge and the budget is constantly reexamined, but without the brothers, efficient crew, and hour time-slot. Instead of Home Depot there are myriad of souks to explore, purveyors who willingly overcharge her, playing on her ignorance, and craftsmen who may or may not show up to work. While ultimately rewarding, it is an incredibly frustrating experience to refurbish a home in Morocco. When (if) I finally fulfill my dream of being an ex-pat, I imagine my memoir will be titled: A Functional Apartment in (Name of City).

However, she provides a lot of good information about Fez's history and Morocco's work to make the country safe from terrorism, especially after 9/11. If you're headed to Fez or Morocco in general, it is a good and informative read. 0091925223 Not impressive, as travel writing goes. Clarke is neither patient nor humorous enough to pull it off, and is rather ungraceful in dealing with unforeseen issues with buying a house and living in a foreign country. Understandable, but makes for a boring/annoying book. 0091925223 I was very disappointed in this book. I recently read The Caliph's House, about restoring a traditional house in Casablanca. The problem is not that this book (about restoring a traditional house in Fez -- or Fès) is too similar to the other, but rather that it is so inferior in style and flavor.

The most annoying thing for me was that that author continually talks about how much each thing costs. Prices, amounts of dirhams, and how every Moroccan is always cheating the Australian author and her husband -- if you deleted all these from the book, it would lose half its pages. In contrast, the author of the other book was also cheated and also overpaid for things, and sometimes mentioned prices, but his story never seemed like an accounts ledger. This one very nearly did.

The worse thing, stylistically, is too much telling and not enough showing -- the fatal downfall of storytelling. We are constantly being told that someone is kind or gentle or this or that, but we rarely get to see anyone being themselves. (This too is a great contrast to the other book.)

I couldn't help feeling like these two Australians really were the new colonizers of Morocco, with most of their contacts and dinner-party companions being other foreigners who have come to live, part time, in Fez, buying up houses in the car-free Medina and restoring them. Most of their interactions with Moroccan people are as employers, hiring cleaners and plumbers and plasterers to work on their houses, or dealing with clerks and officials in the frustrating quest to get the required building permits.

I did learn some interesting things about the history of Morocco and its architecture, although the author inserts these interludes clumsily among the tedious accounts about how much money she had to pay this person and that person again and again. 0091925223

When Suzanna Clarke and her husband bought a dilapidated house in the Moroccan town of Fez, their friends thought they were mad. Located in a maze of donkey-trod alleyways, the house - a traditional riad - was beautiful but in desperate need of repair. Walls were in danger of collapse, the plumbing non-existent. While neither Suzanna nor her husband spoke Arabic, and had only a smattering of French, they were determined to restore the building to its original splendour, using only traditional craftsmen and handmade materials. But they soon found that trying to do business in Fez was like being transported back several centuries in time and so began the remarkable experience that veered between frustration, hilarity and moments of pure exhilaration.

But restoring the riad was only part of their immersion in the rich and colourful life of this ancient city. A House in Fez is a journey into Moroccan culture, revealing its day-to-day rhythms, its customs and festivals; its history, Islam, and Sufi rituals; the lore of djinns and spirits; the vibrant life-filled market places and the irresistible Moroccan cuisine. And above all, into the lives of the people - warm, friendly, and hospitable.

Beautifully descriptive and infused with an extraordinary sense of place, this is a compelling account of one couple's adventures in ancient Morocco. A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco

I wish there were more stars, 5 does not seem enough for this book. History, culture through an outsider's eyes, home restoration and the human connection that makes the world go 'round. This book will fuel my day-dreams for years to come. 0091925223 I liked this book and part of me wants to give it another star because it is about Morocco, a country I love deeply but I at this point I just have to keep it at three starts. It was a good enough read but not as great as other books out there that are similar (not that you shouldn't read this to get more of a glimpse of moving to Morocco).

I was deeply disappointed with the fact that Clarke, who was moving from Australia to Morocco part time had very little contact with Moroccans. Unfortunately, this is something quite a lot of expatriates seem to to, or get stuck in. I've heard some people say it's because western and eastern cultures are so different but I don't think it's so much that as I saw the same thing happen when I studied in France, many, many other students only stuck with other Americans.

I'm not so taken aback by her choice to study French. It probably is much easier of a start for a lot of westerners and it does open up a lot of doors (though not always the same ones that would be opened if somebody learned Darija (the Moroccan Arabic dialect). There did seem to be no mention of wishing to pick up more Darija in the future, no mention of taking classes for it. To each their own but I feel this is terribly sad, and affects her experience in Morocco a great deal and that in turn affects this book, her story. Still a good read and should be placed on any I'm moving to Morocco book list. 0091925223 I decided to read this book because we were thinking about traveling to Morocco in the fall and I wanted to get excited about the trip. This book had the exact opposite effect. I'm certain it was unintentional, but the author made Morocco sound really unappealing. She obviously enjoys living there, but completely failed at conveying why she does. I also found the author to be very whiny. The book was mostly comprised of complaints about how difficult it was to renovate this house. I know that living in a construction zone can be challenging, but she wasn't doing it herself. She had a team of 18 workers doing the actual work. Do not read this book if you are considering a trip to Morocco. 0091925223 An pleasant enough read - travel lit lite - and as a fellow expat living in Morocco (I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer serving here) I can empathize with some of Clarke's frustrations, but like many of the other commenters, I was struck by how little interaction Clarke really had with Morocco.

Her primary social group was almost entirely made up of foreigners, and the only Moroccans she regularly interacted with were her employees, or the two women she formed fraught and unequal relationships with. While Clarke was enamored with Morocco and was generally positive about Moroccan culture, she made no effort to learn the language, meaning she could only interact with Moroccans who spoke English or French (meaning she only could speak with Moroccans who were educated enough to speak three or more languages). She does mentions a few Arabic words, but some of them are translated incorrectly and almost all of them are spelled that makes me think she's mispronouncing them badly. She talks about her worries about being part of a colonizing force, but also chose to study French, the language of the colonists.

I was surprised by some of the topics she didn't mention, or glossed over, especially Islam, which is such a fundamental and integral part of Moroccan life that it's impossible to really understand Morocco or Moroccans without taking it into account.

The one bright spot of the book was when she took a trip to Sefrou, the town I'm currently living in, and visited the suq that's right next to my house. I don't think I've ever had a book intersect with my real life quite that dramatically.

A House in Fez is ultimately a pleasant enough read about a restoration project and expat life in Morocco, but not a real look at Moroccan culture. 0091925223 Suzanna Clarke is a reporter for the Brisbane Courier and in A HOUSE IN FEZ she relates how she and her husband fell in love with a country and purchased, then renovated, a centuries old house in Fez, Morocco. Only able to spend a few months at a time in Morocco, a lot of the work had to be done remotely from Australia with a few good friends back in Morocco helping out where they can. In between the story of the renovations, locating tradesmen and dealing with red tape Suzanna also relates the rich history of the country, the religious beliefs and the customs of the people she comes across. Morocco came alive on the pages, her descriptions are vivid and you could just close your eyes and see the scene that Susanna had described - how the ancient land is slowly being westernised with the two cultures living side by side:

...Internet cafes rub shoulders with artisans’ workshops...

...peasants on donkeys trot beneath billboards advertising the latest mobile phones...���

Suzanna started off saying that she didn’t want to be a foreigner who only hung out with other foreigners – but at first she did. The way she described her early social interactions came over that while she socialised with locals she didn’t totally trust them, certainly didn’t sympathise with many of them, and suspected them of trying to get one over her all the time – which she was mostly right about to be perfectly honest, but not in every case. Eventually she became close friends with a few local ladies who helped her understand that life in Morocco is not as modern as society would like you to think. By the end of the book Suzanna was dancing at their parties and whenever they had to return to Australia both Suzanna and her husband missed the laid back and unpredictable life in Fez when compared to their meticulously organized lives in Australia.

I chose this book as I need a book set in Morocco as part of my read around the world challenge – the fact it was an Aussie author was a bonus. If you are thinking of travelling to Morocco, as my 85 year old mother is, I certainly recommend this book for background reading.