Monday, February 18, 2008

Equipping the House

Below you will find a little essay about how we set up the house in derb Djedid two years ago. People who read the beginning of the old blog will be bored and can skip it!
The mirror in this picture is the one mentioned at the end.

People watching from Cafe France in the northeast corner of the square - something we have done pretty often for the two years we have lived in Marrakesh - and the eight years we visited before.
All the world seems to pass by - in one shape or form.

Mimi on the upper landing when the jasmine was flowering well.

When my husband and I left New York and moved to Marrakech, the only household items we took with us were two mugs and a paring knife.
We had bought a very small traditional house - the kind often called a riad - where everything is arranged round a central courtyard. It is five hundred years old and set in the medieval medina, down an alley so narrow that only mopeds, bicycles and donkey carts can approach it. Our address is derb Djedid which translates as “New Lane”.
The previous owner - who had done part of the restoration work -bathrooms, kitchen and electricity - wanted an additional $6000 for the furniture and fittings but part of the joy of being in Morocco is finding exactly the wonderful bits and pieces you want. However, we hadn’t realized that Danny would remove everything including the air conditioner, refrigerator and stove.
So there we were in blistering late summer with the temperature over 100’F every day with a house with absolutely nothing in it. The first thing we needed were beds, and, having discovered that only twin beds would fit up our precipitous stairs, decided to put two together. We bought simple wood frames and Simmons mattresses which were delivered two hours later by a very small man with a handcart. Next a refrigerator, also delivered on a handcart. We held off on a stove for a few days and boiled water with an electric kettle and cooked on a $28 countertop barbecue. We sat in the courtyard on rush stools ($5 each) and ate on our laps
The stools had come from a wood yard five minutes from our house where the carpenter also had four designs of chairs and so we pointed to the design we liked and two days later went to collect them. Then we asked him to make a table for the stove to go on. My husband drew a picture, we haggled, briefly, about the price, and the next day brought it home. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of cooking with liquid propane but so far nothing has happened.
A hardware store in the souks had a good selection of mops and brooms, and, while I was choosing them, a young Moroccan woman, taking me for a tourist, asked very politely: “Why are you buying those? Don’t they have them in your city?”
For bed linens we were told to get into a taxi and ask for Marjane. We hadn’t the least idea what Marjane was and were driven right out almost to the desert on the Casablanca road to discover: a shopping mall complete with McDonald’s. Marjane turned out to be the Moroccan equivalent to K-Mart and had a good selection of sheets and towels. We also treated ourselves to a cheerful plastic handled flatware set - the kind most people use for picnics.
It was interesting, when you have nothing, to discover exactly what it is that you need. One day it was a a pepper grinder and another a sieve. We bought wooden spoons in the souk and the man cut me a chopping board there and then.
While all this was going on we often sat in Cafe France on Djemma El Fna the main square sipping fresh orange juice listening to the various vendors: the cigarette sellers jingle change so you know they are coming; the shoe shiners tap their boxes and the phone card salesmen flick the cards. You can also buy fresh macaroons from women or children who pass by with trays. One day a man with six palm trees strapped to the back of his bicycle sold us a one for our terrace.
We still didn’t have a dining table and, since the courtyard is open to the sky, it makes sense to have a tile one with metal legs. We decided to design our own with tiles in almost, but not quite, the same color - sort of soft pinks with hints of green. It took a long time from order to delivery - ten days in fact - but in New York I’m sure it would have taken ten weeks. The table wasn’t a bit expensive ($150) but the metal worker threw in a lantern.
So now we could sleep in beds, eat off a table and keep things cool in the fridge: life was definitely improving. We bought two more single beds, which, with cushions, serve as sofas in the salon. Now was the time to look for luxuries like bedside tables. On our interminable wanderings, we would often look in at different wood shops and were particularly taken with a craftsman who made elaborately carved tables in Berber designs. Since by now it was Ramadan we often had to wait for him to reappear from the mosque. As well as new tables, he also had some old pieces and Robert bought a very imposing carved chair fit for a pasha as his bedside table. My little table needed a glass top to protect the carvings from dust - I went up to the glass workers and they made me a top with smooth edges - for 23c.
So each individual piece has been chosen with great care, and most made to our exact specifications. An exception is the tiny yellow Berber coffee table which is up on the roof and looks as if it was painted with mustard. The old man who sold it to us at the flea market at Bab Khemis laughed like mad when we agreed to pay $4 for it. At that price it seemed churlish to haggle.
For our first Christmas in Morocco, I bought my husband a huge mirror framed with black and white camel bone and he bought me a green glass vase to display the roses which are so plentiful here all year round. So we realised we were likely to stay for a while.


Amera said...

Mashallah! That is a wonderful story. I hope that you write a book someday to tell this tale. And I hope that I too will soon have one like this to tell :)

Elizabeth said...

Amera: Thank you for your kind comment.
I'm afraid there have been lots of books already......
But perhaps yours will be exciting and the best one yet!

Frank Gardner said...

Everyone there would think I was a chump. I don't like to haggle over a price.
Maybe it is because I put a price on something that I make and that is the price that I want, not half.

Krimo said...

Great start to you Marrakesh adventure.

Elizabeth said...

I quite agree with you.
I'm the worst haggler in the world.
I wanted a shopping basket to take as a present for a friend in New York.
In Essouira a few weeks ago I got a super one with red leather handles for 23 dihram - about $3.25.
Then I went to the Spice Market near us in Marrakech and the guy wanted 150 dihram - $$17.50 for something rather similar...
"What !!!Ana Marakshia" - I'm a female from Marrakech.....Bezef, bezef" -too much. too much...
"OK. 60dihram," the guy suggested.
"23 dihram in Essouira!!!" I said trying to stick up for myself.
I ended up paying 30dihram( about $4)
Robert was standing round looking grumpy.........he would rather not artist like you!

P said...

This is a wonderful story. I love the line, "It was interesting, when you have nothing, to discover exactly what it is that you need."

Willow said...

What wonderful memories! It would be fun to read a book about your life in Marrakesh. Like "Under the Tuscan Sun."

Jennifer said...

Elizabeth- I'm so glad you posted this-- what a fascinating story. I'm curious- how did you pick Marrakech?

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Mrs. E. and I won a bingo game in France, once. Since it was the first time in 40 years that it had snowed in St. Raphael, we were particularly pleased with the prize -- a hideous comforter. As our "villa" had no (working) heating system, I wouldn't have traded it for Frette sheets.

I agree with amera, there is a book in you.

High Desert Diva said...

I just discovered your blog through La Vie Est Belle.

Thoroughly enjoying it so far.

Sapna said...

Wow ! Nice story. Glad I came across your blog. Felt like I was seeing all of it with my eyes...