We’ve had the house for three and a half years but the major renovation was done last year. The house is probably between 300 and 400 years old. Most of the work done on houses sold to foreigners here respects the culture. The main driver for this is the presence of a small core of people who share the same ethic: the need to use traditional crafts and materials and to revive old building and decorating traditions.
My wife, Suzanna, was conceived in Morocco. Her father was a professor of architecture with an interest in the buildings of the Islamic world. She grew up with his books, photos and mementos, so she grew up with Morocco in her psyche.
We came here six and half years ago and reconnoitred for a house. We fell in love with Fez and at the end of the trip, Suzanna stayed behind and went house hunting. Then we
had very difficult year-long negotiations from Australia through our French tutor, until I finally came out four years ago to take possession. But the sale fell through. My wife was to arrive six days later and I couldn’t tell her so I had to find another house. The first one I saw was bigger, cheaper and more aesthetically pleasing.
I find living here better than living in Australia. I know more of my neighbours, have been into more of their houses and eaten with more of them than in Australia. I find them generous, warm and honest. The workers who renovated the house have become like family.
I am not trying to live an orientalist fantasy. I sit in cafes and watch the stories emerge. I write a blog, the `View from Fez’, and I am working on a novel set here. It is an observation of the expatriate community and how they interact with Moroccans.
There is a critical mass of people coming to the medina and cultural events such as music and so on, but you have to have an inclination for the place. Renovating a house is only the first step. People can become very focused on the renovation, on getting the permits, but they don’t really know Fez. When the renovation is finished, you need a reason to live here. In Marrakesh you can live in the medina without mixing with locals, but not here, and this is one of the great pleasures of this place.”