Sunday, September 09, 2012

Tantalising Tangier

Glenys Roberts, writing for the Mail Online has a fine piece about Tangier. Here is an edited extract and a link to the full article.

Tangier - photo: Sandy McCutcheon

Bohemian rhapsody: Falling (again) for Tangier, Morocco's exuberant swirl of a city

Welcome to expat heaven Tangier, Morocco, where the British still cling to an elegant social round, for the most part long gone in the mother country.  With their own church, their favourite hotel, the Minzah, built by the immensely rich Marquis of Bute in the Thirties; their own riding school; and their own cemetery (and pet cemetery), it is one of world traveller Michael Palin's favourite destinations as described in his book Sahara. Palin tells of the typically bizarre churchyard scene when Birdie, an elderly white pet cockerel, took a bite out of a retired widow called Lady Baird.

Quite why I fell in love with Tangier and its eccentric ways, I can't remember. I have been visiting it since the Sixties and seen it change from a scruffy town to a modern city with French restaurants, beach bars and a summer influx of some of Europe's richest people.

Mick Jagger, who has kept a flame alive for it almost as long as I have, paid a flying visit this year to see his favourite jeweller Majid, and I met Sixties rock chick Pattie Boyd, still looking a million dollars stretched out under a coconut hair parasol.

Tangier has some fabulous restaurants - photo Sandy McCutcheon

I first visited the white city, as it is known because of its dazzling buildings and fabulous light, on a day trip from Gibraltar on the shuttle plane run in those days by Gibair. When the plane was grounded by sea mist, the company put us up in the Minzah Hotel. With its entrance in the middle of the town and view over the bay, it is surely one of the best-placed hotels in the world.

The view from El Minzah is stunning

It is hard to think of a better positioned town either. On a headland where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean and overlooking Cape Trafalgar, where Nelson lost his life, it is a must for history buffs. The town has had Western visitors ever since the 17th- century diarist Samuel Pepys was sent there to wind up the British garrison in 1683.

Gore Vidal came to Tangier for the boys, Errol Flynn for the girls. Matisse and Degas came to paint and couturier Yves Saint Laurent to gain inspiration for his collections. Tennessee Williams came to write and so did Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs. Winston Churchill and Aristotle Onassis both visited and the legendary American writer Paul Bowles moved in.

Paul Bowles in Tangier ~ photo by Jearld F Moldenhauer, courtesy Dar Balmira Gallery, Gzira Fes Medina

Today, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, is determined to make it a showcase city. He has built a corniche at the base of the kasbah and a marina that he hopes will make it into another Monaco. There is so much confidence in the air that the Spanish come to look for work in construction. And there are so many French intellectuals - French is still the lingua franca - at times it is possible to imagine oneself on the Left Bank in Paris.

Old Tangier hands like myself hope our favourite town will not end up a concrete jungle as parts of Europe have done, but whatever happens it is difficult to imagine it being altogether changed. It is built on so many hills that there will always be those tempting glimpses through the buildings to the sea. When I first visited, many of the women were veiled. Now the French sunbathe topless and the carpet sellers speak perfect English. You can gamble in the casinos, you can drink in the restaurants and quad-bike and surf on the beaches.

In Tangier people still know how to enjoy the moment. They love to sit around in cafes watching the world go by and not worrying what the next day will bring. It is such a cultural shift it makes for a very relaxing holiday. Most of all there is the impression, because of Tangier's history, of living in several centuries and several countries all at the same time.


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