Tangier

I leave for the airport in one hour’s time.

And I must say, I am sad to be going.

“Tangier is the spot we have been longing for all the time. Elsewhere we have found foreign-looking things and foreign-looking people, but always with things and people intermixed that we were familiar with before, and so the novelty of the situation lost a deal of its force. We wanted something thoroughly and uncompromisingly foreign –foreign from top to bottom –foreign from centre to circumference –foreign inside and outside and all around –nothing any where about it to dilute its foreignness –nothing to remind us of any other people or any other land under the sun. And lo! in Tangier we have found it. Here is not the slightest thing that ever we have seen save in pictures –and we always mistrusted the pictures before. We can not any more.”

~Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad

Now I have traveled plenty in the last 25 years. Africa is the fifth continent I’ve visited. I’ve had long stays — five week in England, five weeks outside of São Paulo, three weeks in Vienna.

Rarely has a place wormed its way into my heart like Tangier, Morocco.

These people are warm and friendly and welcoming. Even in the crowded marketplace, a unexpected bump and jostle is met with a friendly apology. Transactions are made with smiles and niceties that ring true. (I compare that with England where the politeness is ever-present, but can feel simply transactional. Here, the transaction seems genuine.) Everyone in the service industry has been solicitous — just enough to make me feel valued and cared-for.

Couple that with the new sights and sounds and scents. Add to that the omnipresent tarbush hats, the djellabas, the hijabs. The gregariousness of the locals. The mint tea. The adorable dark-eyed children with their curly hair. The food. Oh, the food.

Paul Bowles, who spent much of his adult life in Tangier, wrote “I have not discovered very much, but at least I am now convinced that Tangier is a place where the past and the present exist simultaneously in proportionate degree, where a very much alive today is given an added depth of reality by the presence of an equally alive yesterday. In Europe, it seems to me, the past is largely fictitious; to be aware of it one must have previous knowledge of it. In Tangier the past is a physical reality as perceptible as the sunlight.”

I too, feel as if I have lived the past few days in a palpable living vortex of past and present.

In London, the past is monuments and grandeur, stiff and arch and still. Edifices. Ideas. Sounds immemorial, as Herbert Howells said.

But in Tangier, perhaps because of the water that laps from The Mediterranean to the beach, or that crashes on the Atlantic coast of the city, the past seems alive, infiltering the very air and breath and soul of this place.

Bowles is right: in Europe, the past requires an awareness of history. But in Tangier, the ancient medina, its wall still standing, is densely inhabited and wildly alive. No museum, this. It’s a living and breathing community, as surely as the ever-moving water I see and hear now through my window. The entire old colonial city feels the same way, brings the same dimensions of reality, fantasy, and history.

So I am sad to leave, eager to return. I actually shed tears this morning as I took one last look at the grand sweep of the bay. When’s the last time I shed tears when leaving a place — not people!, but a place?

Thanks be to God the means and ability to travel, for connections with new acquaintances in a most appealing city. This has been, truly, a welcome and heart-changing holiday.

May peace be upon you, Tangier.

Salam Alaikum.

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