TANGIER PART 2
OUT AND ABOUT TANGIER.
At the end of the last post I mentioned that Tangier is a mysterious and unique place and because in the past it has attracted eccentric millionaires, secret agents, crooks, entrepreneurs, speculators and gamblers. All these characters idiosyncrasies have left an indelible stamp on the city. Of all the cities Bev and I have visited I feel I could easily live for a while in Tangiers (Bev not to the same degree). It has good simple food, inexpensive accommodation, friendly locals, an unbelievable aura of history and if I was to get serious about painting the subject matter in Tangier is endless.
Couscous is a traditional Berber (Moroccan) meal. It is made from granules of steamed durum wheat (semolina). In 2011 it was voted as the third favorite dish of French people and that is saying something, as we all know the French are very particular about what they eat.
Whilst Bev and I ate the delicious couscous meal the trio in the following photograph serenaded us. Some visitors we have talked to have said they didn’t like Moroccan food, some disliked the activities of the touts and others, the general aura of the country but for us it’s ‘right up our alley’.
Few men in Morocco wear a fez these days as many believe that it does not exhibit modernity.
To get the best out of Tangier one needs to be curious, take the time to chat with the locals and, most of all, reject any of the negatives about the city that they have heard. The culture of Tangier and Morocco in general is vastly different and it needs time to be discovered and appreciated.
Many visitors join a group tour but for us we would find it far from rewarding as we wouldn’t get to experience the back street nooks and meet the typical Moroccan. The number 10 on high in the above photograph shows where the leader of the group is. All the tourists have to do is follow the number. Some group tourists are extremely rude to the locals when buying a souvenir. They haggle over cents and if approached by touts attempting a sale they dismiss them with a wave of the hand and a look of disgust, which is rude and arrogant as far as I’m concerned.
These sellers can be annoyingly persistent at times but if one takes the time to talk with them and explain the reason why, in our case we cannot buy (travelling with bikes means no souvenirs), they understand. Sometimes I gave them money equivalent to the cost of the goods they had for sale and this act of goodwill drew them into conversation. One tout actually asked us to his home for a meal of couscous. A good phrase when you first start to chat with them is, ‘Are you having a good day’ and when parting, “Peace be with you’.
Not only are most sellers friendly if you take the time to talk with them but the locals are friendly too and in most cases it’s not because they are trying to sell you something, they are genuinely interested in where you are from and most of all what you think of Morocco. Most agree to having their photographs taken, the exception is some women who avoid the camera as they believe that having their photograph taken duplicates their soul. In this case it is best not to photograph them face on.
The following photographs show a few of the locals as they go about their daily business be it working, shopping or simply whiling away the day.
The reason mens’ hats in the Muslim world have no brim is because it would be necessary to remove it when placing their forehead and nose on the ground during prayer and heads are always covered when praying. Muslims do not kiss the ground.
In Tangier it is possible for children to receive their education from kindergarten to 12th grade in Spanish, Arabic, French or English.
Most of the photographs within the Tangier medina that I have posted so far have shown the narrow back streets but there is an expansive public park area called the Grand Socco.
In the bottom right corner of the above photograph there is a park bench and if you look closely you will note the backrest boards are missing. I can only assume that the locals needed the boards for a building project as sawn timbers would be a valuable commodity in Tangier.
Over the past few years the press has concentrated on the differences in ideology between Muslims and Christians, but there are places where Christians and Muslims live in harmony side by side and Tangier is one of those. places On the edge of the Grand Socco there is a Christian church.
The interior of St Andrews Church is a fusion of numerous styles but most notably it’s Moorish. Around Tangier there were examples of the Christian faith. Set into the rise of a house step were a number of scallop shells. For those who have not read our Salamanca Spain post the scallop is associated with the Christian martyr St John.
On the wall of St Andrews Church were a number of interesting plaques. I post a couple as, like me, you may find them interesting.
Squadron Leader Thomas Gresham Kirby-Green was involved in one of Britain’s most legendary acts of heroism. The mass escape from the German POW camp Stalag Luft lll inspired a book, The Great Escape (Paul Brickhill) and a film of the same name. Of the 80 men who escaped 76 were recaptured and 50 of those were executed. Tom Kirby-Green was one of them. He had lived with his parents in Tangier after finishing school in England and before joining the RAF in 1936.
Despite extensive searching as to who W.B. Ritichie was I can tell you no more than what is written on the plaque. Cape Finisterre was believed to be the most western point on the Iberian Peninsula and in Roman times it was considered to be the end of the earth.
Our time in Tangier will, I think, be one of the highlights of Encountering the Past Part 3. We have found all aspects of Tangier fascinating, especially the way people work, improvise and recycle to make a living. The small business people are the backbone of the country. Another interesting point is the multinational supermarkets have not moved in. Groceries are still sold through small corner store-type outlets. I call them ‘hole in the wall’ grocers.
Bev and I bought small packets of decaffeinated coffee from this shop owner. When we showed him a sample packet he disappeared through a trapdoor in the floor and returned with the goods.
Note the wonderful bread. A lot of bread in Morocco is baked in small central bakeries. It seems the dough is prepared in individual homes and brought to the bakery for cooking then possibly sold to small shops by the producer, a great idea as the bread is truly handmade. It keeps people gainfully self-employed and for the consumer the variety of bread is enormous.
Small business not only revolves around food. Many individual businesses are involved with the making of things, not only practical items but things of aesthetic value as well.
The pieces shown here are not made from large tiles but are small handmade pieces. The owner who was busy shaping each individual piece gave me a set of five pieces and they are shown in the following photograph.
Each of the five pieces measuring about 20mm by 25mm were cut from tile scraps using what I considered an inappropriate tool, far too big for the job, but undoubtedly he knew what he was doing.
The piece being shaped in the above photograph is one of the white pieces he gave me. The anvil underneath is a piece of stone and it was held securely by a couple of terracotta bricks on top of which was a large rock. Really a very primitive setup when you consider the man sits there all day chipping away.
I surmise that behind closed doors women are probably involved with the decoration of items such as those shown above The surface of the table on which these pots sit is made from small handmade shaped pieces of broken tile.
Next, I show you the meticulous selvedge sewer. This man has to be applauded not only for the beautiful work he produced but also for staying power as he sits day after day, year after year sewing cord into the edges of djellabas. A djellaba is a traditional Moroccan loose-fitting unisex hooded outer robe with long sleeves. Among the Berbers in some regions the colour denotes marital status (single or married). They were traditionally made from wool but nowadays lightweight cotton has become popular.
The above procedure needs an explanation: the multiple fine strings coming in from the right hand corner of the photograph is being sewn into the edge thus forming a robust but attractive selvedge. To keep the section being sewn straight there is a hook with a string and weight from the material edge passing over the sewer’s right knee. The next photograph shows how the fine cord being sewn into the selvedge is twisted and made.
The ingenious contraption was out on the footpath about three metres away from the sewer. The fine string that made up the cord was attached to the bicycle chains that rotated every now and then twisting the fine string together to form a twisted cord. A small electric motor activated by a switch at the sewer’s foot rotated the bicycle chains. The chain-twisting unit was mounted on wheels and each time the chains rotated the twisting motion drew the unit forward. Once the unit reached the feet of the sewer he reloaded it and started sewing again. A complicated procedure and I wondered why he didn’t have a ball of premade cord hanging from above.
All work relating to retailing appears to be done by men. The only retailing done by women from what I could see related to the selling of produce such as fruit, vegetables and herbs.
There were some occupations that women might consider only fit for men and one was the preparation of cow shins for human consumption.
The procedure for the preparation was: the legs were placed into a blacksmith-style forge where they were singed and when removed a boy scraped the hair from the legs. I asked the cook if I could take a photograph but he adamantly refused permission, maybe the cooking of meat for human consumption in this way is frowned upon by the health authorities.
Some might not consider cow shin a culinary delight but is there any difference between eating cow shin, pig trotters and sheep brains. I was told that some people consider cow shin a treat.
The street where the cow shin preparation was located had many small blacksmith and tinsmith operations and also a number of small motor mechanic businesses. Out the front of one motor mechanic shop a welder was restoring a small van.
The mechanic assured me that by the time the restoration was complete the old van would be as good as new.
Whilst talking about cars I should show you a photograph of another car door we found. The door in question was a piece of artwork in the Galerie Conil.
The charcoal is placed in the cooker on top of the grate (circular insert with holes) and the pot is placed on top. The pot is supported by the three triangular wire pieces. The triangular sections fold out enabling the grate to be removed. Charcoal is freely available and one stall specialized in different grades of charcoal.
In the early 19th century in Australia (and probably in Morocco today) charcoal burners dug a hole in the ground into which wood was placed. The hole was covered with sheets of corrugated iron and then an intense fire was lit on top of the iron. The wood in the pit smoldered due to lack of oxygen, it didn’t actually catch fire, and when all the impurities in the wood were burnt off charcoal remained. In the Pilliga Forests near where Bev and I live there were extensive charcoal making operations.
Another workshop that caught my eye was a carpenter’s shop. The owner Zemanali spoke a little English as he had once been a merchant seaman and thus being world travelled had come in contact with English-speaking people.
In the top left corner are woodwork joint sketches and in the right corner is the Arabic alphabet. The alphabet was added by Imane the girl who managed the guesthouse where we stayed.
Finally, to a couple of interesting snippets of history relating to Tangier.
THE FIRST AMERICIAN LEGATION: The first country to recognise the United States as an independent country was Morocco. Sultan Moulay Suliman in 1821 presented the United States with a building that was used by the U.S. as a legation and consulate. It was used continuously for one hundred and forty years. The building now houses the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies and if any reader visits Tangier it is a must see. During WW2 it served as headquarters for US intelligence agents. Inside there is documentation detailing the activities pertaining to its establishment and there are actual letters on display written by various American presidents.
A legation had a lower status than that of an embassy. The distinction between a legation and an embassy was gradually dropped following WW2.
Prior to leaving the legation I made a comment in the visitors book. I wrote: ‘Thank God for America as being an Australian born during WW2 when the Japanese were advancing on Australia, without your help to repel them I may not have been able to visit here today’. I was born in 1941 close to the time when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and so the threat of Japanese domination of the Pacific was very real.
THE GRAND CENTRAL CAFÉ: The Grand Central Café is where the eccentric millionaires, secret agents, crooks, entrepreneurs, speculators and gamblers I mentioned previously came to be seen or make contacts or, maybe like many visitors do today, come to watch the world go by.
The photograph showing the military and police patrol, shown previously in the Tangier posting Part 1, was taken in front of the Grand Central Café. There is no doubt the patrol members are aware that such locations are popular with tourists and could be a site of potential trouble.
Tangier has attracted not only the eccentrics of the world but filmmakers, writers, artists and music makers. George Orwell and his wife (travelling as Mr & Mrs Blair) visited in 1938 and noted there were four post offices in Tangier, one French, one British and two Spanish. Such was the cultural diversity of the city. Tangier was an obligatory stop for artists wanting to experience the colour and light of Morocco. French artist Henri Matisse had several sojourns there. The Rolling Stones had an extended stay in Tangier in the 1960s while waiting a verdict on drug charges against them in the U.K.
One commentator said the city of Tangier is a magnet for dreamers, swindlers and clueless people with a lot of money.
The movie, Mission a Tangier, was set during WW2 and involved an agent taking secret documents from Tangier to London.
The movie, The Woman from Tangier, is a 1948 American crime film revolving around a woman known to everyone as Nylon who worked in a sleazy nightclub in Tangier.
There is no doubt the script writers of these two films were inspired by the mystique of Tangier and places like the Grand Central Café and the Hotel Continental.
That’s the end of the second posting for Tangier. The next post will relate to Chefchaouen or the Blue Town and from what we have heard it is going to be an experience. Chefchaouen is located to the south west of Tangier about a two hour bus ride away. Stay with us if you want to read about a very fascinating destination.
Finally one of my favorite photographs taken in Tangier, a portrait of a friendly gentleman who wanted to know where we were from and how did we like Morocco. Our reply to the latter question was ‘Wonderful!’