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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 31 July 2011

July 31st: Tangier

On July 31st 1977 I was in Tangier.  I was on my way back to Europe after a disappointing summer in Morocco. I hoped that Tangier would make a fitting farewell.

I arrived on the day bus from Casablanca just after sundown.  After a long search I found a friendly pension where the senora directed me to the nearby hamam for a strange bath in green steamy rooms.  I made a tour of the Medina and sat in a cafe with my notebook trying to raise my consciousness.
The medina on the hill here is pretty nice, better than I thought and distinctly nicer than the waterfront.  It's got a character quite different from other Moroccan towns I've been in, more open and lively, looking towards Europe, distinctly cosmopolitan.  Hustlers have laid off me for the most part.  I'm in one of several cafes around a little square, colour TV behind with French-dubbed American trash, a little general shop opposite reminding me of those you used to see in British minor high streets, it's selling drinks and biscuits, also shampoo, shoes, a couple of djellabahs and all sorts - a general store.
I tried to find some optimism again the next day with little success.  I was in a town on the fringes of Europe in the height of the tourist season, so I felt I got what I deserved.  I knew Tangier as a home of the beats and I imagined the author of the Naked Lunch there, as I sat among what I observed as "the flotsam and jetsam of the world, as old men in dirty overcoats and slobbery beards paced the streets mingling with the pretty tourists and innocent  backpackers."

The following day I made my exit.  I spent all morning hassling at the docks trying to get on a ferry to Spain.  I failed to get on one boat and stayed with about ten fresh-faced young backpackers around the kiosk as that ferry left.  We waited standing by the ticket desk and the man behind did nothing except tell us to wait just that little bit longer; suddenly there was some invisible sign and pandemonium all around, masses of Moroccans were at the desk and money and tickets were flying in all directions, until it all subsided and the same bunch of us were left standing where we had beenwhen the first boat left.  Finally the ticket-seller made me change more money into dirhams for some mysterious surcharge, and I made my way up the gangway, the last passenger to get on.  They were still loading cars on as delay followed delay and I summed up a few feelings in my notebook:
I'm with the European kids sitting around an empty pool but no one seems to have good vibes from their Moroccan experience; only the Moroccans happy, excited to get away from their stewpot.  Kids roughing it, too little sleep, far too many hassles and another summer's Eurailpass is completed.  One thin blond girl is the only European smiling, she's surrounded by Moroccan hustler types, one with guitar, one with fuzzy hair and yellow shades and they're having a ball.  But the rest of us sit around wondering if the boat will ever leave.
"Let It Come Down" is Paul Bowles' novel about Tangier, set safely back in the colonial days of the International Zone.  Even then he wrote:  "One rumour he could not have circulating was that he had become a guide; in Tangier there was nothing lower."

Tangier Medina, 2003:  Picture by Chris Yunker, CC

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