I was pleasingly awed by the pricelessness of the book and the verve of Shah. That it fell out of the bookshelves practically at my feet was no longer a cause for intrigue. A maze of rooms stretched out. There were arched doorways with cedar-wood doors, octagonal windows glazed with fragments of coloured glass, mosaic friezes and stucco mouldings, secluded courtyards, and so many rooms — salons, studies, laundry room and kitchens, staff quarters, pantries and at least a dozen bedrooms.
Her grisly, vicious introduction leads to a host of superstitious ramifications — a blood offering to a toilet bowl and raw chicken gobbets thrown into a well. In the end, despite having been at odds with builders, police, imams, and a host of others, Shah comes through. He gains control of the house, solves some mysteries, and exorcises the jinn.
Intricate, mysterious and charming, this heart-warming story showcases the humanism with which, along with relentless hope, one can reconcile seemingly unbridgeable cultural differences. Do I now see my house as being dull and needing some colour? Source: Department of Environment, Malaysia.
An uncanny encounter with a book takes our columnist to mysterious Morocco. Childhood memories of holidaying with his parents, and of a grandfather he barely knew, led him to Morocco and to 'Dar Khalifa', a sprawling and, with the exception of its jinns, long-abandoned residence on the edge of Casablanca's shanty town that, rumour had it, once belonged to the city's Caliph.
The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah | Penguin Random House Canada
And so begins Tahir Shah's gloriously vivid, funny, affectionate and compelling account of how he and his family - aided, abetted and so often hindered by a wonderful cast of larger-than-life local characters: guardians, gardeners, builders, artisans, bureacrats and police not forgetting the jinns, the spirits that haunt the house - returned the Caliph's House to its former glory and learned to make this most exotic and alluring of countries their home. The Caliph's House is a story of home-ownership abroad - full of the attendant dramas, anxieties and frustrations - but it is also much more.
Woven into the narrative is the author's own journey of self-discovery, of learning about a grandfather he hardly knew, and of coming to love the magical, multi-faceted, contradictory country that is Morocco. Passar bra ihop.
Casablanca Blues, paperback Tahir Shah. Timbuctoo Tahir Shah. In Arabian Nights Tahir Shah.
Of course he does. Listen to him rhapsodize about Moroccan oranges. He offers tips if you are ever invited to dine in a Moroccan home. Can't top his memory of his father's prized Arabian Nights collection - " The volumes were bound in waxy black cloth, with bright gold lettering on the spines They were so exquisite that I would caress my fingers over them, and stoop down to smell their scent.
News from the Helm
They smelled like cloves. What happens to those volumes is astounding - but you'll have to read the book to find out! You can read the sequel first if you prefer. Would love to hear your tips about Moroccan food, a recommended cookbook or novel, or a restaurant.
Do you have any stories about jinns, fairies, elves?