Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Welcome to Morocco! // Marhaba Ila AlMaghrib

I am writing from Tangier, Morocco at heart, but in more literal terms, from a mint green apartment in W. Harlem. I introduce myself in terms of space and place primarily because that is what I study (the "Middle Eastern" city) and also because much of my experience and perspective comes from having spent time in Tangier, Morocco for over two years and speaking Moroccan Arabic.
I think of Tangier as a sort of womb, breeding the most ridiculous characters and also nurturing a certain sense of nostalgia for times past. The city has a special relationship to America not only because Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the United states, but also for its historic American celebrities, flocking to the then-relatively quiet northernmost tip of Africa to be free of taxes and as advertised, free of any sort of governmental obligation or consequence- the International Zone = no man's land + everybody's land. The writers and the rich who filled the cafes and bars of that moment still haunt the city today through constant references and tourist landmarks based on where they used to travel, even to the point that maps of the city are drawn based on their daily routes. TANGIER%20TAPED%20MAP.jpg
Paul Bowles and William Burroughs seems to be the most prominent figures to have spent time there, and I am also guilty of unknowingly having spent a month in the hotel room at the Hotel Muneria where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch (I later learned it from a guidebook- room 9), but I question to what extent it is appropriate to use these foreign figures to "represent" the city, to the extent that they are the first thing most people think of or care about when they talk about Tangier.
On the other hand (the Moroccan hand) things are looking up for this long neglected port town. Literally a swim away from Spain (a much politically charged swim), Tangier has become a new focus for King Mohamed VI, particularly in the way of trade and economics. There has been a huge rise in the value of Mediterranean waterfront property, and the new Wali, brought in from Marrakesh, has decided on multiple cosmetic changes reminiscent of the kitchy tourist attractions in Djma al Fna. Tangier also boasts of Africa's largest container port, new commercial centers and apartment buildings and a recently constructed highway to Rabat on what used to be a beautiful virgin coastline.
Of course, my thoughts on the issue of modernization and commodification of the city are subjective and many locals think it is beneficial, but it is curious to consider who is actually financially benefiting from them.

1 comment:

Robert Rowe said...

I am very pleased to know that the hotel is still there, and from your description little seems to have changed. I was there twice in 1990 when it was operated by an older Englishman named John. There was a nice little bar/pub on the ground floor at the time, called the Tanger Inn. The vibe of the alienated expats has gone elsewhere, though. Maybe to the Far East—anywhere drugs and rent are cheap.