Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spotlight on Le Jardin des Biehn

Le Jardin des Biehn has very quickly become a favoured meeting place for lunch or dinner in Fez. The wider world has also started to take notice of this tranquil spot in the middle of the busy Fez Medina. Not only are tourists marking it on their "must visit" lists, but travel writers and journalists, sensing there is a good story to be had are also being attracted. A recent visitor was by Christopher Petkanas from The New York Times and in an extremely well-written piece he examines the place and the man behind it. Here is an excerpt and a link to the full article.

While it’s tempting to think of Le Jardin des Biehn as just another of the riad hotels that open by the dozen in Morocco, there’s obviously something more ironic and cosmopolitan going on beyond the usual roll call of North African signifiers, beyond the mosaic tile work, moucharabieh trellises, keyhole arches, carved plaster friezes and rendered walls waxed with soap. Connoisseurs are not known for their modesty. “L’oeil du maitre” — the eye of the master, Biehn suggests evenly.

He debarked in Morocco with a shipping container filled with a lifetime of scholarly collections assembled throughout the East — nautilus shells with cameo-like engravings of Alexander the Great’s chariot, shapely Syrian ewers, Ottoman ostrich eggs suspended in the most delicate crocheted nets. Consequently there’s a lot of museum-quality eye candy at Le Jardin des Biehn — a striking suzani from Samarkand here, a luscious Yemenite silk robe there. The only other hotel I know that is such a concentrated expression of one man’s taste, designed around the personal booty of a world-class collector, is Alistair McAlpine’s Il Convento di Santa Maria di Costantinopoli in Puglia, Italy.

If “museum quality” says to you “la-di-da” and “don’t touch,” you have the wrong aesthete. As Biehn writes in his memoir, “La Conversation des Objets,” “Charm, more than magnificence, gives rise to luxury, and there is no real pleasure without fantasy.” In the Fez Cafe at Le Jardin des Biehn, a stage-set version of the kind of lazy dive you fall upon in the Moroccan Sahara, lunch is served on tables in the shape of bottle caps, draped for dinner in the striped skirts of market farmers from the Rif mountains. Really loud games of what the French call “baby foot” (foosball) are encouraged, not tolerated. The worn benches of babouchiers, makers of traditional Moroccan slippers, are repurposed as night tables in some guest rooms. And Biehn’s wife, Catherine, offers, improbably, consultations in the relaxation technique known as sophrology in a jewel box at the foot of the long, narrow fountain that acts as the frontier between the couple’s domain and everything else.

The full article here.


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