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Exploring Tangier

December 7, 2021

In the memoir I’m reading, Adventures in Morocco, the author, Alice Morrison (an ex-pat from Scotland), muses that the movie Casablanca should more rightfully be titled Tangier, as this city is more evocative of the exotic film locale. I have to agree. My 1930s-era hotel, El Minzah, while it offers all the mod cons, as the Brits say, has the captivating aura of the years between the two world wars, and I expect to bump into Humphrey Bogart around every corner.

It rained overnight, and I woke this morning to the sky blazing orange behind Gibralter, the air clear and fresh when I opened my window.

Our charming guide this morning was Rabab, who spoke excellent English. She led us first to the expansive market, which was bustling with produce sellers, dozens of fishmongers, artfully arranged olives and lamb on the hoof. Leading us through the petit socco, or small medina, we stopped for a look outside the American Legation, which seemed like not too bad a place to be posted. The medina was quiet on this Sunday morning, both because Tangerines don’t rise too early and also because the border closure means virtually no tourists are about. Some shops were locked up tight.

Speaking of tangerines: I never knew that that variety of citrus was first cultivated here, and took its name from the city of its birth. This medina is very clean, and one doesn’t have to dodge scooters or bicycles. All the walls are whitewashed, with trim in lapis blue and cedar doors. Rabab shared stories of some of the famous people who lived here, from the wealthy heiress Barbara Hutton (her fifth marriage was to Cary Grant), to Henri Matisse, who came to Tangier for the light in 1912 and 1913. Café Baba opened in 1940 and has hosted scores of famous musicians, including the Rolling Stones. Café Cherifa is one of many cultural cafés in the city.

The city is perched high above the Mediterranean, and you can’t walk anywhere without climbing steep hills or steps. Up and up, we made our way to the Kasbah, where there’s an interesting museum of Mediterranean culture in the former sultan’s palace. One unexpected discovery was a well-restored Roman mosaic in a courtyard flanked by Corinthian columns. (But the Romans weren’t the first to colonize the area: the Phoenicians arrived in around the 12th century BCE.) At the top is a panoramic overlook of Tangier’s harbor.

Walking back through the medina (aka le petit socco), Tangier seemed to be waking up and was totally transformed. The fountain in April 9 square was running and people were bustling about. April 9 square was the site of a speech by Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco in 1947 basically telling all the colonial powers — especially England, Spain and France — to get out of Morocco and let it self-determine.

Lunch today was at Saveur de Poisson, where there is no menu: you just eat what they feed you. Fish soup with fiery harissa (on the side, thankfully), olives, warm walnuts and olives,  followed by fish roasted with spinach, then a fried whole sole with a fish kebob on the side, all accompanied by wonderful Moroccan bread and washed down with mixed fruit juice. For dessert, Grenadine berries and raspberries sweetened with honey, and sweet couscous and almonds, also bathed in honey. Twenty bucks.

Leaving Tangier in the morning, sadly. I liked it very much, and hope to get back one day. Meanwhile, maybe I’ll do some more reading about it.

One Comment
  1. Tangier, as seen through your eyes, is beautiful! I am amazed at the ancient beauty that has survived through generations and also at the expertise that created it so many years ago. Your fountain picture is exquisite and I have returned to look at it more than once. Thanks for taking me along.

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