Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Travel writing about Morocco - part eight.

In part eight of our series on travel writing about Morocco we return to Tangiers and good article by Lewis Jones in the UK Telegraph. In a piece that avoids many of the cliches about Morocco, Jones even gives us a taste of history. Here is an excerpt:

The Corinthians came, followed by the Romans, who called it Tingis, then the Arabs and the Portuguese. Samuel Pepys, who governed Tangier for Charles II (who had it as dowry from Catherine of Braganza), said it was no better than a brothel, which in his terms should have been a compliment, but wasn't.

During its years as the International Zone (1923-56), jointly controlled by France, Britain, Spain and Italy, it was a byword for wickedness and intrigue. The film Casablanca was originally set here - Tangier was twinned with Lisbon as the spy capital of wartime Europe - but Hollywood didn't like the name.

After the war, it achieved a louche glamour as Bohemia's bolthole of choice. Jane and Paul Bowles presided. William Burroughs set much of his fiction in the Zone. Allen Ginsberg, Truman Capote... Barbara Hutton, David Herbert all lived and worked here. It is a place of disconcerting proximities and contrasts, of shifting borders. So far as geography goes, it is in Africa, but its view is entirely of Europe - the stretch from Gibraltar to Cape Trafalgar. One side of town was built by the French, with elegant radial boulevards, embassies and banks, bars and nightclubs. The other side is Moorish, a walled maze of alleys and souks, sprawled over a steep hill above the harbour on the Mediterranean side, with Atlantic cliffs on the other side. More confusingly still, Tangier has two climates.

For social climbers, behind and above the city is the "Mountain", as they call a hill here (Lady Diana Cooper called Tangier "the City of Molehills"), where the air is fresh, and royalty and eminent interior designers have houses. But despite its glamorous aura, generations of western travellers experienced Tangier as the world's most hassle-ridden city, a place infested with touts, hustlers, pederasts, drug-peddlers, pimps, conmen and blackmailers. However, since the millennium, the new king of Morocco - Mohammed VI - has put a stop to all that. Some of the chaps loafing and smoking in the cafés (still essentially old boys' clubs) are secret policemen, specifically enjoined to get medieval on the now much-dwindled tribe of hustlers. These days the few pests who remain have a dejected and hunted air.

The medina, or Old Town, is small by Moroccan standards. Each urban district, by law, must have five things: a bakery, a fountain, a hammam (public bath), a mosque and a school. Old Fès has 117 districts, Tangier has 10. But it's still big enough to get lost in, indeed it is hard not to, and the experience is thoroughly recommended. To stroll through its tumbling, vertiginous labyrinth of alleys and lanes, glimpsing the fountains, gardens and courtyards of houses, palaces and mosques (forbidden to non-Muslims), immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the markets, and stumbling into the brilliant light of a stately square, is to experience a dream cityscape, a form of atavistic time travel. London and Paris used to be like this, in scale and liveliness.

Read the ful story here: City of scandals and sandals

Earlier Travel Writing stories:

Travel writing Seven
Travel Writing Six
Travel Writing Five
Travel Writing Four
Travel Writing Three
Travel Writing Two
Travel Writing One


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