In 1967, just after leaving school, Simon Callow and some friends went to Tangiers. He describes that journey as "a pretty bold thing of us to do and it was extraordinary, astonishing, gob-smacking". But a question kept nagging at him. Was it the real Morocco? There was, he knew, another Morocco, inland, and towards the Atlas mountains, and one day he vowed to see it. Its name was Fez. Now, years later he has made the journey to Morocco's spiritual heart and found it inspirational.
When The View from Fez first ran into Simon Callow in Salzburg, we had no idea that there was a Moroccan connection. Now we discover that the country has long been of interest to the British actor. Writing in the UK's Daily Express, Simon Callow describes his trip to Morocco in flowing and obviously inspired prose. Arriving via Marrakech, which he found intriguing, he was nevertheless keen to move on.
As he says: Fes was the magnet. We were impatient for it, and set off after five days, taking the train, 7 hours (via Casablanca and Rabat), through the stations planted with orange trees, through the green hills filled with grazing beasts, down to the sea and back up into the mountains. The Riad Fes has a fairytale entrance through a walled garden; being in the hotel is like being entertained by a minor Sultan."
We knew we needed a guide in Fes: Mahomet Aziz was the man. Through the souk he took us, swiftly spinning us past the huge array of shops, selling cakes, bread, chickens oblivious of their destiny still assertively clucking, as fascinating facts poured out of him, while he deftly deflected over-zealous vendors. The Medina of Fes is the oldest in Morocco and the mosque at its centre is the oldest in the country; touching to see the faithful bathing their feet and fervently praying in the pristine courtyard right in the midst of the bustle of the market.
"Fez is a revelation, a vision, like nowhere else on earth" - actor/writer Simon Callow.
Aziz found us a superb restaurant nearby (Chicken tagine with almonds: beyond belief), then took us to the carpet factory and the tannery, in both of which men are doing exactly what their ancestors have done for fifteen centuries and more. Later he took us to the Jewish quarter, where there are now few Jews to be found, but where the architecture is subtly and distinctly different; Jews – especially in Fes, the first great commercial centre - have been central to Moroccan life from the beginning.
On the hills above the city is the pottery, where a young guy ran up a tagine pot and its lid, perfectly fitting, in minutes: craft is everywhere, and the walls of the most ordinary place are decorated with the results of the craftsmen’s labour and the vendors of that work can be pretty persistent.
When we went up into the mid-Atlas, Aziz took us all the way, taking us to the waterfalls outside Sefrou, to visit the old woman who lived in a cave in the village of Hallel, to meet the Barbary Apes in the snowy mountains, and, most astonishing of all, to have lunch in the ski resort of Ifrane, where it is impossible not to believe that you are in the Swiss Alps.
Fez is a revelation, a vision, like nowhere else on earth.
He has appeared in more than forty films including Amadeus, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, Chemical Wedding and Acts of Godfrey.
His TV appearances are equally numerous. In 1999 he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to acting. Callow has written biographies of Oscar Wilde, Charles Laughton and Orson Welles