A House In Fez, by Suzanna Clarke
Are you planning a home remodel, perhaps summer garden landscaping or are you in the midst of some spring sprucing? You anticipate exciting results from your hard work. Now add to these ambitious projects a few complications, like negotiating in foreign languages, cultural differences that dictate methods and scheduling, and the necessity to deliver materials by donkey. Now that’s a project, like the restoration of a house in Fez.
This story takes you on a vacation to Morocco, where the author and her husband fall in love with the country and first ask what if . . . what if they decide to stay and buy a home? The foundation of this memoir is the author’s intense appreciation for the vanishing Moroccan culture. Suzanna Clarke and her husband want to learn more about this culture and history, and they want to be part of its preservation.
Their “new” home (riad) is over 300 years old and in dire need of renovation before it collapses. They are determined to restore it to an authentic Moroccan home. They find native artisans who do all the work by hand. Complexities emerge from the very lifestyle and culture they seek to preserve. Exacting design details and measurements are communicated in the native Moroccan language Darijia, with a smattering of French, and English which sometimes has surprising results. Transacting the sale of the riad with the translator is in itself a fascinating aspect to the story. This is a read you’ll find sweetly chaotic, humorous, frustrating and filled with surprise twists.
As they build and repair, sadly they see the collapse of walls and ceilings on some neighboring homes. Many of these beautiful riads are in major disrepair, and so often the Moroccans cannot afford the expensive renovation and upkeep.
The Medina, which is the old city of Fez, is the best-preserved medieval walled city in the world. Suzanna Clarke not only writes of the exploits renovating the house, but also provides meaningful insights into the lives and personalities of the Moroccans. You hear about different people’s everyday life, dreams and culture. It’s heartwarming to learn the similarities that cross cultures. And it’s mind-opening to learn the differences.
The author describes the people in The Medina as welcoming and friendly. They are guided by their own social mores and pressures. For example, the author learns by experience that when invited for dinner it’s considered rude to stay at the host’s home after dinner is eaten. As soon as the meal is done the party is over. She also learned that comments to a family that their baby is beautiful are considered a wish for bad fortune for the baby.
Suzanna’s is an uplifting story about the family they become with the working team, and with their new neighbors who became friends. The photographs as well as the text graphically record the renovation’s progress and artistry. They savor victories along the way, including finally hot water for the shower! Uncovered precious, old wood timbers! Unique, unexpected finds behind false walls in rooms! Finally, the full use of completed rooms!
They find that beautiful restorations, as well as beautiful friendships, occur as “inshallah”. This is a most common phrase throughout the renovation. It’s translated by the author as – “God willing” or things will happen in their own time if God wills it.
The House in Fez tests Suzanna’s motto – “it’s possible to do anything if you really want to; whatever you envisage just go ahead, give it a go, try. And I bet you really can.”
Does her motto triumph in Fez?
Thereby hangs a tale . . . .