Booking It: A House in Fez
I don’t know about you, but I morph into the procrastinator of the century when it comes to home improvements. I’ve gone down in too many battles with curtain rods, caked too much Spackle to my head, and turned too many light fixtures into glass-shard showers to take any pleasure in repairing anything. I’ll stick to fixing up trips, thank you.
So I need to profess some deep admiration for Australia-based journalist Suzanna Clarke after reading A House in Fez, her rip-roaring but thoughtful account of purchasing and restoring a centuries-old riad in the Fez medina. She and her husband, Sandy McCutcheon, persevere through layers and layers of red tape, language barriers, plumbing disasters, deceptive contractors, structural scares, 26-hour flights, and a donkey-napping to lovingly rebuild their new home in methods true to Fassi architectural heritage.
Photo courtesy of Suzanna Clarke
Suzanna takes a home-improvement story and makes it about much more: the challenges of fitting into a society that’s had since 789 to establish its ways; the sensitivities involved in making local friends; the adventures of buying a house when the sellers have no bank account. Fez is a place where a house’s drains must be covered to keep out the djinns, or spirits, and where musical Sufi ceremonies bring healing. As Clarke navigates these new discoveries to move closer to her dream of a riad to call home, I got closer to understanding what I saw and heard during my own few days in Fez.
For anyone who hasn’t visited the city, A House in Fez is still a fascinating look at immersing oneself in an Arab culture and an inspiring travel tale. Most anyone who has felt connected enough to a faraway destination to have contemplated staying has counted many, many more reasons to hang onto that ticket home: language, distance, cost, customs. Suzanna and Sandy throw those fears to the wind and succeed in building more than a house in Fez—they build a life there.
I recommend reading the book, and also keeping up with the couple’s life in Morocco via their popular blog, The View from Fez.
My name: Michelle Doucette
How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at IgoUgo.com.
Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.
Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.
Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.