Spotted In Tangier: Sting And Bruce Springsteen Going Native

Tangier, Sting, Bruce Springsteen
This photo pretty much speaks for itself. I came across this interesting snapshot in a shop in Tangier, Morocco. Sting and Bruce Springsteen got to this shop before me and stopped for a photo with the owner.

I like what this image says about the three people. The owner is obviously pleased to have two music superstars in his shop, Sting is being his usual overly serious self and Bruce looks like he’s loving his trip.

Unfortunately the owner wasn’t around and his assistant didn’t know enough English to tell me more about this shot. To me the two stars look younger than they do now and my hunch is that this was taken in the ’90s. Can any fans out there enlighten us?

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Ibn Battuta: The Greatest Adventure Traveler Of All Time

Ibn Battuta, adventure traveler, Tangier
This humble little building in a back alley of Tangier is the final resting place of the greatest traveler in history.

Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier in 1304. In 1325 he left to go on the Hajj and ended up visiting not only Mecca, but crisscrossing much of the Middle East and sailing far down the east coast of Africa. Then he headed east, passing through central and Southern Asia and making it as far as Beijing before coming back and taking a jaunt through much of western Africa.

While I’m not too keen on citing Wikipedia as a source, it does have some detailed maps of Ibn Battuta’s journeys. In all, he traveled an estimated 75,000 miles, three times as much as Marco Polo, but is far less known in the West because Marco Polo was European and Ibn Battuta was Arab. So it goes.

Reading his accounts shows you that travel hasn’t really changed all that much: loneliness, illness, hospitality and fascinating sights were the hallmarks of adventure travel then as they are now. He had only made it as far as Tunis when he first became aware of the crushing loneliness travel can bring. He was with a group of fellow pilgrims who all had friends in the city. When they arrived everyone was greeted except poor Ibn Battuta. He started to cry and one of his fellow pilgrims took pity on him and talked with him to cheer him up. Again and again in his accounts, he talks about the hospitality and kindness he found on the road.

Later he visited Alexandria and was perhaps the last writer to describe the famous lighthouse, one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was already in bad shape when he first saw it, and when he saw it again in 1349 it had crumbled into total ruin.

Of course he had some troubles along the way. He mentions getting sick numerous times and was lucky not to catch the Black Death that was raging through the Middle East at the time. In Egypt he had a run-in with some hyenas that rummaged through his bags and stole his supply of dates! In Niger he had a more serious incident. He went down to the river to relieve himself and a local had to save him from a crocodile.Like any good traveler, Ibn Battuta was intensely curious and loved to see the sights. His description of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is especially moving for me, because it was that building that first turned me on to Islamic architecture. He also describes the Ummayed Mosque in Damascus as the “most magnificent mosque in the world.” I’d have to agree.

In the Maldives he learned to love coconuts (which he said “resembles a man’s head”) and lived on them during his year-and-a-half stay. Ibn Battuta understood some important things about travel: go slow and try the local food.

Ibn Battuta’s enthusiasm for travel is apparent even 700 years later. He talks of his amazement at seeing a meteorite, has the balls to ask the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos III to assign him a tour guide to show him Constantinople, and is shocked to see the Muslim women of Mali walking around naked.

There was no way I was going to visit Tangier and not pay my respects at the grave of one of my heroes, so one afternoon we headed out into the labyrinthine alleyways of the Old City. We finally found the tomb at the intersection of three lanes. There was a little historic marker on the outside, but otherwise nothing to mark the burial place of Tangier’s most famous native son.

This is typical in Muslim cultures. Most graves don’t even have an epitaph, and it takes someone pretty famous to have an identifiable tomb. Inside a caretaker was chanting in Arabic. He greeted us cordially and then went back to chanting.

As you can see from the photo below, there’s not much inside except the tomb draped with a carpet and some nice tiles on the interior. If my expression looks a little pained it’s because as we were taking photos, the caretaker let out a loud and quite toxic fart. It ruined the atmosphere of the place – literally.

Considering the dangers and hardships Ibn Battuta went through on his journeys, it was a small price to pay to see the tomb of the greatest traveler who ever lived.

Don’t miss our other articles about Tangier!

[Top photo by Sean McLachlan. Bottom photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]
Ibn Battuta, adventure traveler, Tangier

The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel (In Tangier)

hotel ,Tangier
A hotel can make or break your vacation. We’ve all heard stories about crappy dives ruining someone’s trip. Hey, we’ve written about plenty of them here on Gadling. But every once in a while we come across a hotel that exceeds our expectations.

Hoteliers, take note. This is how to do it right.

While fleeing the Spanish Christmas to Tangier, we took a relative’s recommendation and booked a room at La Tangerina Guest Home in the Casbah. The first good impression came before we got there with their detailed website where you can view all ten rooms – a big help in deciding which one to take. We selected Room 3 for 65 euros ($86), one of the cheapest. There is also a smaller, cheaper room, and some larger suites suitable for a whole family. The price includes breakfast.

Since we assumed there would be the usual hassle at the North African airport, we booked a taxi through the hotel. We later found out they didn’t overcharge us like a lot of hotels would – another point in their favor.

La Tangerina is located on the northern edge of the Casbah overlooking the protective wall facing north to the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s part of an old private residence. Only the Sultan’s family and hangers-on were allowed to live in the Casbah, so the building has a good pedigree. There are four floors built around an inner courtyard. The ground floor has a couple of lounges opening onto the courtyard and the dining room is also on this level.

%Gallery-175868%We got to sample the kitchen the first night. I had an excellent tagine. Breakfast the next day included bread, cake and msemen, a sweet flatbread popular here in Morocco that quickly became my favorite. Service was fast and the food consistently good.

The rooms are tastefully decorated with bright walls and old prints of Tangier and Morocco. Bathrooms are modern and everything was cleaned daily. In a cage outside our door was a happy little canary I nicknamed Parsley. That’s an inside joke between the Spanish and the Moroccans. They don’t think it’s funny; I think it’s hilarious.

We didn’t spend much time in the room, though, because the rooftop terrace was where we really wanted to be. The terrace offers sweeping views of the Strait of Gibraltar. There’s a covered divan if you want to take a nap, chairs and tables if you want to sit and read, and an upper sun deck for tanning. We spent a lot of time lazing around up there, drinking mint tea and eating amazing little Moroccan sweets. We had a nice surprise when we checked out and discovered they were free!

The terrace really makes this hotel and induces a certain laziness that cuts into sightseeing time. That was fine by us because we wanted a relaxed holiday. It also served well for a New Year’s Eve party with some of the other guests. While Spain is due north of Tangier, it’s in the next time zone and so we got to watch the distant flare of fireworks at 11 p.m., and then have a second celebration at midnight.

Luckily for us, this hotel serves alcohol, which isn’t always the case in this Muslim nation. The Moroccans make some fine white wine, although the red we tried was too young for our taste. There was also French champagne on hand for New Year’s Eve.

All in all, La Tangerina is one of the best hotel experiences I’ve had in 33 countries of travel. The management gets everything right, from the beautiful terrace to little touches such as the bowl of free tangerines in the courtyard. The one thing I didn’t try was the hammam and massage service. I suspect those are excellent as well.

Would you like to give a shout out to your favorite hotel? Tell us about it in the comments section!

For more on what goes on behind the scenes in a hotel, check out McLean Robbins’ series “The Birth of a Hotel.”

[Photo by Almudena Alonso-Herrero]

St. Andrew’s In Tangier: A Church With Muslim Art

Tangier
Being in Morocco, Tangier is a mostly Muslim city. Being a port, it’s also a mixed city with a long history of Christian and Jewish influence. That interesting blend comes out in the language, music, art and cooking. You can see Tangier’s mix of cultures everywhere.

Even in the churches.

The Church of St. Andrew is an Anglican congregation close to the Place du Grand Socco. The first thing you’ll notice is the church tower shaped like the square, Moorish-style minarets so common in the mosques here. The only difference is the English flag flying from the top and the lack of a loudspeaker to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer.

Entering the churchyard, you’ll find a shady oasis of trees, shrubs and a well-manicured garden. Cats lounge amid the headstones, which include several for the fallen from various Allied armies during World War II. This part of the property looks like a regular English churchyard except for the palm trees and lack of moss on the headstones. Go inside, however, and you’ll see something quite different.

The interior has several Islamic touches. The doors have rounded arches and elaborate carvings. The carved and painted wood ceiling looks like something from a Moorish palace. The arch just before the altar is the most elaborate and looks like it came from a Muslim palace. Arabic calligraphy spells out the words “bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm” (In the name of God, the most Gracious, the most Merciful), which is the first line of each Surah (chapter) of the Koran.

%Gallery-175720%So how did a verse from the Koran end up decorating an Anglican church in a Muslim country? The story starts in 1880, when the Sultan, Hassan I, gave land to the British expat community in Tangier so they could build a church. One was built but soon proved too small for the growing Christian community and so the present church was built in 1894. It was consecrated in 1905.

The design includes Islamic styles as a way of recognizing the friendly relations between the UK and Morocco and to honor the memory of the Sultan’s donation. The work was done by Moroccan craftsmen.

St. Andrew’s is by no means unique. During the height of Islamic civilization during the Middle Ages, European art and architecture borrowed frequently from Muslim styles. European artists copied Islamic styles and even included Arabic calligraphy in Christian works of art. Check out the gallery for a couple of surprising examples.

Don’t miss our other posts on Tangier! Coming up next: The Anatomy Of A Perfect Hotel!

[Photo by Sean McLachlan]

Tangier’s Art And Cafe Scene

Tangier
Tangier in Morocco is an interesting blend of European, African, and Middle Eastern culture. This has made it a longtime meeting ground and inspiration for artists and writers.

The city is best known in the West as the residence of many of the Beat Generation writers. William S. Burroughs wrote “Naked Lunch here and Tangier’s International Zone inspired his Interzone, a setting that appears in several of his novels. Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Corso passed through and non-Beat Tennessee Williams also spent time here. Paul Bowles stayed the longest, coming to Tangier in 1947 and living there for half a century.

Several hotels, bars, and cafes proudly proclaim an association with one famous writer or another. I didn’t go hunting them down as I felt no great urge to see the vestiges of a literary scene that had died before I was born. It’s the writing that endures, so instead I started rereading “The Sheltering Sky,” a haunting and mysterious novel that any writer can profit from studying. Maybe I’ll hunt down those literary landmarks next time. Tangier is one of those places that draws you back.

While I didn’t go hunting for the literary scene, that scene sprang on me quite by surprise. I heard that Mohamed Mrabet was having an exhibition at Art Ingis at 11 Rue Khalid ibn Oualid. Mrabet is one of my favorite writers, an old-style Arab storyteller whose kif-laden tales were first translated by Paul Bowles in 1967 and blew my mind all through the ’90s. He’s also a prolific illustrator, using a thick pen to produce intricate designs reminiscent of the patterns women henna onto their hands in this part of the world.

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I didn’t even know Mrabet was still alive. Seeing the exhibit immediately became a top priority and it didn’t disappoint. Check out the image above and the gallery to see examples of his work. Some of the smaller drawings were affordable and one became the best Christmas present my wife ever gave me. It now hangs on the wall of my home office. With that kind of good luck, I’m sure to head back to Tangier.

Art Ingis was recently opened by a Parisian who is such a newcomer that he hasn’t had time to learn Arabic and Spanish yet. I suspect when I see his next show he’ll be coming along fine. Many of the galleries are owned by French expats who pass easily between the mix of languages spoken here.

Rue Khalid ibn Oualid feels like a little stretch of displaced France. Across the way at number 28 is Les Insolites, a friendly little bookshop with mostly French titles as well as a shelf of English and Spanish books. They serve up European-style coffee in a little terazza and the shop is adorned with photography and African sculpture, all for sale. It’s in a sleek Art Deco building that also houses an interior design boutique run by a French Algerian.

Not far away on Rue de la Liberté is Le Centre Culturel ibn Khaldoun, which had an exhibition opening of several local painters. There was also a show of the French painter and sculptor Yanik Pen’du at Galerie Delacroix just down the street at number 86.

We found all these exhibitions without really trying. There were several other galleries we didn’t have time to explore, and I’m sure there are many more we didn’t even hear about.

Being a center for art and literature, of course Tangier has a great café scene. There are two main types – the traditional Moroccan teahouse and the French-style café/patisserie. Traditional teahouses are everywhere, from little cubicles in the market to larger, dimly lit affairs on the plazas. The few women who go to them are mostly foreign and the drink of choice is tea made with fresh mint leaves floating in the water. The pace is slow. It takes ages to get your drink or even pay for it and that’s OK. This is a place for whiling away the hours in relaxed conversation.

Some of the cafes welcome kif (hash) smokers, while others don’t tolerate them. It seems that a café either has someone smoking a joint at every other table or nobody is smoking at all. As I mentioned in my overview of Tangier, public drug use is common here.

The French-style cafes see more of a mix of the sexes and no smoking. Some of these are lovely places that look like they’re straight out of a French New Wave film, although a little frayed around the edges. In addition to the ubiquitous tea, they offer coffee, cake, pastries and elaborate goopy ice cream concoctions.

All this familiar culture might make you think you’re in some far southern outpost of Europe, but that would be a mistake. The Africans discovered coffee and invented cafes long before the bean became all the rage in Europe. The art, too, is mostly Moroccan. This is an African city that has absorbed European influences like we’ve absorbed some of the best of Africa.

[Photo of a drawing by Mohammed Mrabet taken by Sean McLachlan]