Moroccan Mediterranean Breezes, September 2009

And so I have traded in my Kasbah on the edge of the Sahara desert for a Portuguese-style villa overlooking the Mediterranean sea in Tangier.  The palm groves of the desert gateway steadily gave way to the olive groves and fruit orchards of the Middle Atlas region as I travelled north, however the cool sea breezes of the Mediterranean have lured me to the Strait of Gibraltar.

I made a brief stop in Meknes, but despite the most magnificent city gates – giant Islamic arches adorned with colourful mosaic and stucco and flanked by marble columns – the city itself had little to offer me and seems to sit in quiet, relative anonymity in the shadow of its big brother Fez, the undisputed cultural capital of Morocco.

So I find myself in the seedy port of Tangier – far from anonymous – perhaps that’s part of the attraction; it’s infamous reputation for smuggling and espionage – like a flea on the back of Morocco.  There is a thriving café culture here leftover from French colonization, even more famous for having been the hangouts of the Beat generation – writers such as Paul Bowles and Jack Kerouac and other literati like Tennessee Williams who gathered inspiration from the melting pot of humanity milling in its laneways.  Matisse too was drawn to Tangier for a period to capture some of the North African vistas. I suspect little has changed in the cafes and tea salons for decades here – Moroccan men sit idly, street- side in wicker chairs, cigarette in hand, offering an opinion on every subject (foreign women passing by being a common one).

The medina of Tangier sits atop a hill overlooking the port and is surrounded by the whitewashed walls of an old Portuguese fortress built in the 14th century – although relatively sleepy compared with Marrakesh I have spent many hours exploring its alleyways, and mostly Andalucian style architecture with whitewashed walls, ornate iron balconies, colourful shutters and magnificent carved wooden doors.  Tangier has been a constant collision of cultures as the gateway to Maghreb, North Africa and it’s a curious mix of Europeans, Arabs, Berbers and Africans that wander the souks.  Despite its reputation for being somewhat debauched, Tangier has piqued my curiosity and sense of adventure and has been a fascinating place to spend a few days.

With time marching on tomorrow I am heading to the Rif valley and finally to Fez.

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