We had breakfast out on the sunny and warm rooftop patio, outside of our room in the Maison Arabesque in the Medina, not far from the Grand Socco, or circular market square, here in Tangier.
We plan today to walk up to the Kasbah, walled off from the medina on the highest point along the coast, which has been the fortified palace quarter since Roman times. The former Sultanate Palace, Dar el Makhzen, is now a museum, which we plan to visit.
There are also a number of luxurious 1920s villas in walled compounds we hope to get a glimpse of, including one that Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton outbid Spain’s infamous former dictator General Franco to buy! We also want to visit some of the beat artists’ cafes, including the Cafe Central in the Petit Socco inside the medina, a center of hash smoking, drinking (before alcohol was banned in the medina after Morocco became an independent country in 1956), and both straight and gay brothels.
William Burroughs wrote to Alan Ginsberg about this area that he used to get an average of ten very attractive propositions a day! I have already seen a Moroccan lighting his long, thin, cigar-shaped hash pipe in a cafe here (and also another while sitting with his mates in a cafe in Larache, just south of Asilah).
From as early as 1905, until Moroccan independence in 1956, Tangier was an International Zone, in which all of the Western powers, including France, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Portugal, and, after World War II, America, had an equal measure of control. At its height, in the early 1950s, nearly half of Tangier’s population were Europeans, including many beat poets and writers, and at one time, artists like Henri Matisse.
Once independence was achieved, all of this hedonism quickly came to an end, as the special, more liberal status accorded to Tangier by its Western “protectors” was terminated – alcohol was banned in the medina, brothels were closed, then banned, and, in the early 1960s, a huge scandal erupted over paedophilia, leading to the wholesale closure of Tangier’s gay bars. Even the international banks, in Tangier under the protection of Europe, quickly closed down their operations, and relocated across the Straits of Gibraltar, to Spain and Switzerland.
Now, just the hashish smoking, and a whisper of old sins and crimes, remain in the dark and narrow alleyways of the medina. What happens behind those doorways? Their secrets are not easily surrendered, even now, so many years later. What is clear is that this is a living, breathing medina, with shopkeepers living above their stores, and tourists jostling with locals in the very crowded streets of the medina.