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Sahara

Day 7: Fez

Fez, Morocco 
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On Abdelfettah's terrace. His English wife, Naomi, shows off gifts we brought her from England.
Michael Palin - SaharaI ask him why Islamic art has to be abstract. Is representation of nature and the human body really forbidden?

Fettah thinks there is no express ban in Islam but that creating the likeness of man and nature is, as he puts it, stepping into God's field.

'Islamic art,' he says, 'is the story of the line...the Muslim artist just exploits it to the maximum.'

His own work is painstakingly and meticulously carved by hand. He starts with a blank space and fills it up as the ideas come to him.

'I'm interested in the accident,' he says. 'I find English people plan too much. The accidental is not there.'

He should know, for he married an English girl, Naomi. Slim, angular and a head taller than her husband, she's articulate and down-to-earth, as befits a Suffolk farmer's daughter. Besides Narjiss they have another daughter, called Emily, and a cat called Compost, who lies in the garden bed where he's not meant to. I ask her why they decided, after seven years together in England, to come and live in Fez.

'Fettah's a Moroccan man,' she says, as if explaining something she's had to explain to herself often enough. 'He didn't take on some of the roles that Englishmen take. When he realised what child-rearing was, he's going, "Where's your mum? Where are your sisters? Where are your friends?" I was going, "No, no, you've got to do it, you've got to do it."'

Figures flit by in doorways behind her.

'Life here's very much a community thing. You're never on your own, you're always surrounded by family and friends. And they all help and there's a real teamwork going on. So, in that respect, life's easier.'

Fettah is one of seventeen brothers and sisters. His father had three wives, and for a while, siblings were arriving at the rate of two a year.

Naomi smiles and loops a rogue strand of hair back over her ear.

'The two younger wives are still alive. They live together in one house and they're both called Fatima and they get on fine.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 7
  • Country/sea: Morocco
  • Place: Fez
  • Book page no: 40

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