Location: Marrakech, Morocco
An adventure searching for the perfect derelict Riad, through the constuction itself, to the end result (insha'Allah!)

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Full Circle with Tahir Shah

Life has been so busy recently there's been no time to blog.  A much needed escape to the seaside, relaxing at Cutcloy Cottage is just the ticket this weekend.  Breathing space to savor the peace and quiet and feel like the world has stopped turning, just for a few precious days.  Time to read, eat, chat and snooze away the hours.  Planning another adventure.

I usually read more than one book at a time, so in addition to reading Tom Holland's 'In the Shadow of the Sword', I'm currently enthralled by Tahir Shah's latest novel Timbuctoo.  Which reminds me of how the whole Moroccan adventure began...
Once upon a time, while browsing in Borders bookshop (RIP - you are missed), the exotic cover design of this book caught Laura's eye.  She picked it up and read...

"Morocco is an Arab land steeped in history, a kingdom of rich textures, aromatic spices, and magical belief, set on a canvas of vibrant cultural color. Nudged up in the north-west corner of Africa, it is the bridge between Orient and Occident, separated from Europe by only eight miles of water.
Arriving in Morocco can be like stepping into the world of A Thousand and One Nights. It’s a land ruled by ancient codes of honor, duty, chivalry and respect. These values are passed down now from mother to daughter, from father to son, as they have been for centuries. They are an ancestral birthright inherited through a system once well-known in the West, but long since calcified.
IN ARABIAN NIGHTS looks at Morocco in a way the kingdom has never been presented before, observing it from the inside out, through its ancient use of stories as a teaching tool.
At the same time, Tahir unravels his family’s preoccupation with this secret matrix, and learns how the West can once again benefit from inner knowledge contained within tales we belittle or take for granted every day."

No deliberation was necessary, the purchase was made and the book read with gusto.  Upon finishing Laura declared..."I must go to Morocco!"  Within days the flights were booked and it wasn't long before we set off for southern Morocco, to Marrakech and the High Atlas mountains...the adventure had begun.  In time another Tahir Shah book was purchased and read: The Caliphis House. Tahir's story of moving from London to Morocco and the challenges of dealing with locals, both human and supernatural, in his attempts to restore an old house in a shanty town in Casablanca.
Suitably inspired and undeterred, the search for, discovery and eventual restoration of Riad Romm'an began...

Time passed...

And the annual trip to the Wigtown book festival in south west Scotland, "One of the best autumn festivals in the world" - The Telegraph; "The kind of festival people feel possessive about" - The Guardian).  Who should be there this year, but Tahir Shah, who had come all the way to a rather chilly and wet Scotland from his home in Casablanca to talk about self publishing and his new book Timbuctoo.  We got chatting. 

"When are you back in Marrakech?" asked Tahir. 

"In two weeks time" we said.

"I will come visit you" enthused Tahir.

Much to our surprise, our new friend did!  And a wonderful and interesting afternoon was spent talking about Morocco and its people with Tahir and his children at Riad Romm'an.

Follow your heart and go with the flow...wonderful blessings and adventures shall follow!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

El Boumba (the fountain)

Boumba is arabic for fountain and with Riad Romm'an being located in Derb El Boumba (street of the fountain), a fountain was always going to be an important element in the design.  

The almost magical cooling effect, both physical and psychological, of trickling cool water from a fountain placed within a riad courtyard can never be underestimated. 

In Islam water is seen as life giving, sustaining and purifying.  The Qur'an states: "from water every living creature is created".  Water is used in Islamic architecture for several basic reasons:

First, it is used practically to provide cooling in hot, dry climates (e.g. courtyard fountains and pools typically found in the vernacular architecture of the Middle East and North Africa).

Second, it is used aesthetically to emphasise visual axes, reflecting the surrounding environment, and visually multiplying the adjacent architecture and its decorative detailing (e.g. the reflecting watercourses at the Alhambra and Generalife in Grenada, Spain).

Alhambra - Grenada, Spain
Thirdly, it is used symbolically to represent the life-giving, sustaining and purifying aspects of water mentioned in the Qur'an (e.g. the ablution fountains found traditionally in the central courts of mosques).

Fountain in the roof terrace plunge pool at Riad Romm'an
Water is an important component of traditional Islamic gardens and courtyards. In the Qur'an, the garden is used to represent paradise promised to believers.  In fact the word 'paradise' in English comes from the old Persian word 'pairidaēza' which refers to a walled garden.

Hamza, Youssef and the plombier try to work out where the water is going?
During construction of Riad Romm'an, the water level in the pool below the fountain kept dropping indicating that there must be a leak somewhere. But, no one could figure out where the leak was.  Was it the Djinns, who are traditionally believed to live in water, that were drinking it?

Perhaps the presence of a little black pig, found by the roadside near Asni in the High Atlas mountains during our summer camping trip, would scare off the Djinns and protect the water?

Sure enough, the Djinns abated, the water flowed again and stopped disappearing.  It now provides a wonderful trickling sound, which echoes throughout the courtyard in Riad Romm'an, bringing peace and calm right in the heart of the house.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Tiling, a Moroccan Tradition

Traditional handmade cement tiles (often called encaustic tiles) have been used, not just in Morocco, but throughout the Arabic world for thousands of years and have recently seen a contemporary revival through their use by iconic designers such as Ashley Hicks and tiling specialists such as Popham DesignWalker Zanger and Ann Sacks.  They combine function with style and once more are back in fashion in Marrakech after many decades of being overlooked in favour of other flooring such as zellige, bijmat and tellisa. The lovely matt finish and soft silky texture are characteristics which make Moroccan cement tiles unique. They are brightly coloured and often intricately patterned, yet made from simple materials, employing age-old techniques.

We were very excited to be at Riad Romm'an when the delivery of Popham Design tiles arrived!  Popham Design was started by friends in Marrakech, Samuel and Caitlin Dowe-Sandes after they moved there from Los Angeles. Their tile designs are simply stunning with an unusual mix of contemporary design with traditional Moroccan influences.  We love them and are very excited to use their iconic 'loop di loop' design in Riad Romm'an's dining room and kitchen.

Popham Design delivery!
These tiles are hand-made from locally sourced natural materials, in a low energy production process. The materials, cement, ground marble dust and natural earth pigments, are set in layers in a tile mould then pressed using a hydraulic press. Then the tiles are removed and submerged in water to provide sufficient moisture content for the concrete chemical reaction.  The tiles are set out to dry and allowed to age so that they acquire an adequate hardness. The tile face is a quarter of an inch thick, providing the tile with a great surface life, which is able to withstand adverse weather conditions and decades of traffic.

Throughout Riad Romm'an, where appropriate, we have incorporated a number of other traditional tile options including Zellige, Bijmat and Telissa.  Bijmat are small rectangular terracotta and glazed tiles which are cut to fit into regular patterns.

The floor of the salon is finished in a zigzag pattern of alternate white and beige glazed bijmat tiles (above).

Bijmat also used to make borders for the telissa squares (above) where the central squares are finished in Tadelakt.  These often require cutting to fit the geometric patterns required.

Keeping with the layout of a traditional four sided riad, the courtyard has a centrally located fountain which will bubble with water to keep the house cool. Work began in the fountain in July with the setting out of its base which will soon be surrounded by intricate patterns of zellige tiles.

Below is Boushma.  In addition to helping with the building work, Boushma actually lives in the Riad to look after it, as its guardian.  Initially we mispronounced his name 'Bijmat'!  This picture also shows the derb paving where we had to put in a new pipe to connect the house to the sewer network (the house was so old there was none!) and then repair the block paving.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Tadelakt Tale

August has been another busy month at Riad Romm'an.  The main task has been to finish the tadelakt which is in many areas of the house, including the kitchen and bathrooms.  It is also used on the stairway and forms a skirting band between the walls and the tiled floors of most rooms.  Its a big job!

Tadelakt is a form of lime plaster which given its virtually waterproof properties, has been used as a traditional wall coating for palaces, hammans and bathrooms. Its traditional application includes being polished with a river stone and treated with a soft soap to acquire its final appearance and water resistance.  It has a luxurious, soft aspect and undulations due to the hand crafted nature of the artisans work in installing it.  Tadelakt is a Berber word meaning to rub.

Tadelakt can be created in any colour you like and is mixed on site by the skilled artisans.  Riad Romm'an's bathrooms are all in different bright colours of tadelakt.

The yellow colour, 'babouche' is the traditional colour of the babouches (moroccan slippers) worn by the guards at the King of Morocco's palace!


Another bathroom is in red tadelakt.  The colour, 'Terre D'Egypte', literally means Egyptian earth.

The fireplaces of Riad Romm'an are also finished in different colours of tadelakt. In the salon, the fireplace, chimney and steps around it are all finished in beige tadelakt.

The fireplace in one bedroom of Riad Romm'an is an art deco Bill Willis inspired design, finshed in green tadelakt.

The fireplace in the master suite incorporates carved tadelakt, this time in a colour called 'London Clay'.  Artisans carve into the still wet tadelakt to create a lovely unusual chequered pattern.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

A borrowed house, faulty air conditioning and a Raggedy Neighbour

Sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a borrowed, unfurnished riad in Bab Doukala, Marrakech, we often heard knocks on the door at strange times of the day and night.  We just thought it was the kids in the derb playing tricks on us. We ignored it.

It is hot in Marrakech in July.  Very hot!  The air conditioning in the bedroom worked...for a few minutes, then water poured onto the floor.  We had to switch it off.  Frustrating!

One day, a raggedy man was waiting for us at the door.  He spoke a little English and seemed quite charming.  Through his great thick beard he asked us if we knew the owner of the borrowed riad.  We had heard the owner lived in Paris and had not visited here for 2 years, but knew nothing else. 

The door to Raggedy Neighbour's riad
The Raggedy Neighbour explained that he lived in the riad next door.  But he was not happy with our air conditioning.  He continued his story "owner of (borrowed) riad put clime (air conditioning units) on wall, in my riad... very bad!"

We knew there were laws about this from our own building project, so technically the French owner was in the wrong.  "We are only borrowing the riad" we said, but Raggedy Neighbour told us he wanted money from us as 'compensation' for his inconvenience.   "It's nothing to do with us" we said and wished him a good night.  

naughty air conditioning units
Once inside the borrowed riad, we went upstairs to see the offending air conditioning units and look at where Raggedy Neighbour lived...

The house where Raggedy Neighbour lived

It was hot, we put the air conditioning on...and water still poured out.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Campervan adventure - A tale of driving to Marrakech from Scotland

In early July this year with a campervan (called Herman) packed with items for Riad Romm'an such as bedding (6 sets), towels (12 sets), stereo, other bits and bobs (in fact everything we couldn't take on a plane there) plus essential things for our journey, we set off on our adventure driving from Scotland to Marrakech.

After an overnight stop at the in-laws in Derbyshire, we left early for the Eurotunnel at Folkstone.  Eurotunnel was very quiet, so we were let on an earlier train (2 hours earlier than booked) and therefore arrived in Calais much earlier than planned.  We therefore cracked on down the Autoroute to get as far into France as possible in one day.  After arriving at a campsite too late to check in we carried on and stopped for the night at an Aire on the A10 outside Poitiers.  To our amazement, we had covered 416 miles on our first day...well it was raining!

Another early start and we drove into La Rochelle in search of a nice spot to stop for breakfast. We parked up overlooking the Bay of Biscay on a lovely warm summers morning and made breakfast (with mugs of Yorkshire tea of course!)  It was hard to take it in that only yesterday we were in England!  Off down the Autoroute again, we passed Bordeaux and covered another 268 miles before stopping just short of the Spanish border at a campsite in Biarritz.

Dinner and a lovely walk in the town on the night Spain won the European Cup meant a celebratory atmosphere in this lovely seaside town.

The next day we crossed the border into Spain and the weather just got hotter.  254 miles later we arrived in the lovely historical hilltop town of Tordesillas in central Spain.  A nice campsite on the river bank a short walk into town.

Travelling south, its getting hotter!  Camping at Tordesillas, Spain
Tranquil Tordesillas, Spain
Stunning Seville, Spain
Another long drive the next day in scorching 40 plus degrees heat and after 322 miles arrived in Seville, where we camped for the night and spent the next morning exploring.  Thankfully Herman's air-conditioning worked perfectly!

Cultured Cadiz
The afternoon we drove to Cadiz for a wander and lunch and then headed off to Tarifa with the intention of camping before getting an early morning ferry to Tangier in the morning.

We can see Africa!
However, the sight of Africa so close across the Mediterranean Sea was too tempting, so we kindly asked to get on the 7.30pm ferry which was about to leave.

Waiting for the Jet Ferry from Tarifa to Tangier
Eventually with Moroccan determination, ingenuity and humour, they managed to squeeze us on after reversing on and off again.  We arrived in Tangier, just as the sun was setting around 9pm.  We had made it to Morocco!

Herman squeezes into the Jet Ferry
After the initial shock of driving off a boat into the madness of central Tangier roads we wove our way through the city centre, found a cash machine to get some precious dirhams and headed for a campsite.

A shady spot at Camping Achakkar, Cap Spartel, Tangier
Like many things in Morocco, camp sites here are not exactly to European standards, but at only 10 dirhams (about 70 pence), it's not worth complaining!  We just wanted to get our heads down for the night before the last push to Marrakech in the morning.

First fill up on the African continent!
356 miles down the road from Tangier, we arrived in Marrakech mid afternoon.

Casablanca or Marrakech?
We were so excited to see how Riad Romm'an was coming on that we drove straight to Derb El Boumba and parked outside in the narrow derb (no mean feat!).  After off loading stuff for the house, we realised it was not quite as ready for us as we had hoped.

Arrival at Riad Romm'an!
Outside Riad Romm'an, off loading things for the Riad
This was no problem, a toilet could be installed in 5 minutes we were told.  Hmm...we thought.  Fortunately (perhaps!?) Hicham the boss had already lined us up with another riad across town to stay in until Rian Romm'an was more ready for us.  Before we could say "that sounds better", the double mattress we had ordered for one of the Riad Romm'an bedrooms had been lifted onto the roof of Herman and was being tied on (badly) with a rope.  "You will need this to sleep on as the other Riad has no furniture"!

Mattress on Roof, at Bab Doukalla, Marrakech
A quick drive through the madness of Marrakech rush hour traffic, with the mattress sliding around the roof and threatening to slip off, we arrived at Bab Doukalla.  The mattress still on the roof (after a few stops on a roundabout to get it straight again)!  We are told we are proper Moroccan drivers now!