In October we made our first ever visit to Tangier, Morocco’s gateway to Europe. The purpose of our visit was to see a close friend, Lisa, from our diplomatic days. She recently married a Moroccan-American, and now splits her time between Morocco and the states.
Lisa and Charlie have been engaged in a several-year struggle to build a Moroccan mansion in Tangier–with recalcitrant workmen and even cultural problems to overcome. Our friends have never lost their sense of humor about it all, and their experiences are similar to the hilarious house-building adventure in Casablanca that author Tahir Shah chronicled in his great book, “The Caliph’s House”..even to dealing with “djinns”, mischievous spirits that inhabit the house.
Being a Tangerine (resident of Tangier), Lisa knows the city intimately and was a great tour guide. Tangiers, with the coast of Spain visible on the horizon, sometimes seems more like Europe than the Middle East. Seacoast resorts filled with European-owned condos stretch away from the old city.
Although one hears the Islamic call to prayer, as in all Moroccan cities, few Tangerine women wear headscarves.
The old city still has a famous 1930’s gay bar, “Dean’s”, as well as a centuries-old English church which still holds services for a mostly elderly crowd. Tangiers is also proud of being the home of many 20th-century expatriate writers, such as the American Paul Bowles and William Burroughs.
Tangiers was the location of the first diplomatic embassy a young United States set up outside of Europe in the early 1800’s. The purpose at the time was to deal with the 19th century hostage-taking issue of the Barbary Pirates, who preyed freely on U.S. shipping in the area until U.S. Marines intervened “to the shores of Tripoli.”
The elegant old American Legation building inside the walls of the old city, which has been made into a museum, played a role in another hostage-taking episode a century later during Teddy Roosevelt’s time, when a mountain chieftain (played by actor Sean Connery in the film, The Wind and the Lion”) kidnapped the American consul. Once again U.S. Marines marched in to force the Bey of Tangiers to ransom Consul Petticaris. Hollywood naturally thought it best to change the gender of the hostage for dramatic effect, and the victim became Mrs. Petticaris (played by a feisty Candace Bergen.)
Tangiers was an outstanding surprise. A favorite outing was to the famous “Kasbah,” former residence of sultans. We loved wandering in the medina, which was a dense maze of shops houses and narrow, steep paths and streets.
Lisa took us to great restaurants, and we especially remember long paper-covered tables at the port, hidden away from tourists, where local families feasted on freshly cooked platters of shrimp, fish and squid. Wow.
In all, though, we loved Tangier better for its atmosphere, rather than any specific sights. We hope to return, especially if our friends manage to rout the djinns from their house.