We are thinking of moving house in Marrakesh. It’s so hot outside the step aerobics machine is turning into a molten blancmange. It’s hard to say which is harder – breathing in, sitting on a wooden chair in your underwear, or doing basic arithmetic. Maybe it would be nice to find somewhere with a basement – cave as they say here – to put the yoga mat and the exercisers and somewhere for the table tennis table.
We never usually come to Africa in high summer, but it’s 2021. People are so desperate for anything remotely resembling a change, they are parting with 3 months’ salary for a wet weekend in a mobile home on a cliff edge in North Wales that smells of cat pee and where the toilets are “follow the lane down the hill, left at the chape,l then straight on for a mile or two until you see the corrugated iron roof”.
So we’re here. And we’re thinking about moving. Only thinking mind you. Because bureaucracy in Morocco takes frustration to a whole other level. Think of a nightmare that repeats over and over and over, in which you stand before a smirking, bound and gagged Nigel Farage with a Super Soaker, only to find it empty…
The French swaggered over Morocco for the best part of a century until the 1950s.
The best part of the French legacy is decent roads, great food, a language I understand, Yves St Laurent’s taste for pastels and a peculiar, grudging acceptance of genteel poverty.
The flip side is the bureaucracy [a French word, n’est-ce pas?]. it is said that when they finally left, they took with them three times the number of bureaucrats as Britain did when slinking away from India under cover of darkness in 1948.
The French adopted their civil law and jurisdiction from the Romans. Notably, it would seem, from Prefect Pontius Pilate, governor of Judaea and famed for playing both sides against the middle. “I don’t personally see what this man has done wrong, but since he appears hell bent on committing public suicide I’m not about to be the one who stops him.”
Setting up an electricity account here is more complicated than adopting a child and equally prone to disappointment.
I studied Roman Law at college. Ah, those were the days when you went to university to study something meaningful to the rest of your life. None of this media studies or computer coding nonsense. And as if to validate this, a mere half century later, all that lex Iulia de Maritandis [a law compelling citizens to stay married] Lex frumentaria [A law regulating price of grain], Lex sumptuaria [A law regulating the use of luxury items and public manifestations of wealth] and lex militum apparatu [so-called property law] is coming in real handy.
The modern equivalent of Praefectus Pontius Pilate is the notary public or notaire. The notaire acts for both sides in a transaction [already a bizarre concept] takes money from each of them and refuses to favour either one, irrespective of the obvious merits or de-merits of either side.
Imagine this: the already reviled estate agent and inept conveyancing lawyer are acting for both the buyer and the seller and charging both sides. You are no longer merely suspicious that the agent does not have your best interests at heart, but is rather a privileged, dim herbert waiting to inherit, or that the whole transaction could have been done in less than a week if the conveyancer wasn’t dangling her feet over a bridge with a fishing rod and a Danielle Steele novel to hand. This is now logically and irrevocably the case.
We tried to buy a house last year. A lovely house with a dome and a fountain in the hall. A not untypical, but not insurmountable problem was the Olympic size swimming pool that took up all but a doormat size square of the garden. We can deal with that we thought, handing over the hefty deposit to the notaire who resembled a collapsed brown paper grocery bag with a slippery handshake who wouldn’t look you in the eye. “Don’t worry Monsieur, your deposit is in the national government safety scheme. Any problem you get it back without forfeit or delay.” Turned out a bigger problem, after we’d paid the deposit, was that the seller hadn’t got planning permission to build the thing in the first place and didn’t have any proof he owned it. Fine. Any chance of our deposit back please Ms Notaire? Two months and 20 emails later: “I’m afraid I’m going on holiday”; six months and two independent lawyers later “I’m afraid my aunt has contracted covid.”
One year later, a third lawyer and 12,000 quid [about sixty billion dirhams] later: “Well if you’re going to take that tone with me, young man, you can mettre votre bite dans vos fesses [go fuck yourself]”.
So what have we learned? Renting, though still fraught with obstacles, is probably safer than buying. Second, you might as well save money on lawyers here and just exchange a grubby piece of paper with the agent saying just about anything and dig your heels in if they try to throw you out.
So it’s Pilates at midnight with the extension cord powering the plastic Carrefour three-speed fan that is doing its incompetent best.