I hadn't expected to go to Tangiers this year, but somebody came to join me in Tarifa, after my sister's wedding in Bolonia, and as soon as they arrived, we were both set on Tangiers. It was only 45 minutes across the sea, of course. So we went there. To the Hotel Continental, which the British built in 1876, I think. Drifting over the sea, I began to feel anxious. I did not know where I was going. I did not know why I was going, other than that I had never set foot on African soil in my life. I had an image in my mind of Marrakesh, of boiling markets and touters pulling out of you- something like India, in North Africa. I have a Polish friend who fell in love with Morocco, whose husband was offered a few camels for her, because she is so beautiful. She figured she must have been a Bedouin nomad in her past life.
I had always loved mint tea, and always savoured the mint tea I had had in the tea rooms in Granada, as a teenager.
And I loved chicken tezhin. There was plenty of both, in Tangiers. And argan oil, and rose oil, and lima oil, which I found in the Madini perfumier, in little hexagonal glass bottles with golden tin tops, just like you see in India. In fact the whole place, with its winding little back streets and its soukhs and its carpet shops and its drapiers and tailors and perfumiers and tea shops and schools of music and butchers with skinned cow's heads and the slippers with upturned Alladin toes and the sleepy hotel, all reminded me of India. Apart from the raw cow heads in the butchers of course. And that there was no filth, no stench. Strange, I almost missed that, I was so used to an anachronistic place stinking to high heaven. And there was less noise. Less jostle, altogether. I mean in Benares, there are men carrying corpses chanting 'Ram! Ram!' as if it meant 'Beep-beep!' pushing past you in the narrow little streets. And there are proud cows that stop for nobody. Not even the irritating mopeds. But that's Benares. A place I can never forget. This was Tangiers, which had a languid kind of post-colonial feel to it. And a melancholy feeling in the air, that this mandolin player seemed to encapsulate, in the School of Music. There was a sweetness and kindness in the people there (apart from the pushy guides), who took my son in their arms, and lifted him up to the sky, as if he was their own. Two days in Tangiers, and all of these memories. I don't know what else to say, except to give you this poem, which says it all, for me:
In an alcove
Of the Hotel Continental
I wrote a secret-
And shared it with the visiting ghosts,
While the wedding guests from Paris
Ate stale croissants
On the balcony
And the early breeze
Ruffled their hair.
Prayers wailed from the Mosque.
A mosquito droned past my ear
Sweat poured from our skin
In the middle of the Moroccan night.
And then I knew, that in Tangiers,
There are no secrets.