We needed some more cash. The place at the airport was a complete rip off - one stand that is a chain at most airports. You typically lose about 40 percent of the value of the money using their rates, and only after arguing will they knock it down a bit. Best to always carry a converter with you and know how much your converting and how much it should be. The exchange will naturally be a bit off the published rate - that's how exchanges make money - but they should be reasonably close to that rate. We found a place near La Petit Socco, or "the small bazaar" in French, that offered an almost exact exchange rate, something that for me is a rare occurrence, but seems more common in Arabic countries - beware Spain and the Czech Republic, countries that can be overly sneaky on their exchange rates.
Going from euro to dirham, you end up with a gigantic wad of cash, feeling like a rich man ready to throw money into the wind. It's a great feeling, but soon it becomes annoying when you realize it means all your pockets, secret pouches, and wallet will be left bulging for the rest of the trip. A small price to pay for wealth.
|Les Files du Detroit|
We then found the Kasbah, through the diligent use of my smartphone. Only for one hour was my Google maps application a bit confused, but finally it was able to guide us correctly to our destination. The entrance to the museum was three dirham, or thirty cents, and the smallest we had was twenty. The attendant refused to allow us entry, claiming that he didn't have change. So we looked around for a tea shop to sit and have some tea and thus get some change. There we found the pinnacle place of Tangier, Les Files du Detroit, or "the Sons of the Straight." It's quite a small place, one long room, that's quite ethnically decked out with pillows and beautifully carved woodwork. Instruments hang everywhere from the walls, and a small man was sitting on a pillowed bench, wearing a Fez and playing a Moroccan lyre, singing some song that sort of resembled Arabic music and sort of resembled jazz. When he finished, he stood and offered us some tea and showed us his record, which we bought (and is great). After serving us tea, he had us do some silly touristic posing underneath his instruments wearing some more red felt Fez hats, but then relaxed again into his singing meditation. After we were done, I told him about our problem with the museum, and he took us over and got us in without a problem.
I later found out that musicians often gather at Les Files du Detroit at night. As we were only there for one more night, and were still a bit weary of the medina - it truly feels like an altogether alien culture - we didn't manage to make it out to see any jam sessions. So, to any traveler there, find it at night and be sure to toke on some local herb while listening to some live jams - or join in, there's plenty of instruments lying about.
Some guys playing a tune at Le Files du Detroit:
|Inside the Kasbah|
The Kasbah is a bit of a ruin and not much of a museum, but you can at least see the main courtyards and hallways, and imagine how beautiful it once was during the days of the sultans. The woodwork and the tile work - more of which seemed to be the standard throughout Morocco - were stellar in their complexity and skill. The palace was a good introduction to this, seeing everything in place and style as it was meant to be. From the Kasbah, there's also a nice view of the bay, where one can imagine the sultan and family drinking tea and looking out across the sea, preparing to purvey the rest of his empire in Spain, or perhaps dream about that lost empire, depending on the century.
|Some of the ceiling woodwork|
|One of the inner courtyard gardens.|
|Ceiling tile work and a typical lamp|
|The palace minaret|
From there, we went on to the American Legation. As I mentioned before, it was an early gift of the Moroccan kingdom to the United States of America, and is today the only American government owned historical landmark outside of the U.S. Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the Declaration of Independence and give good favor to the newborn republic. At this period, Morocco had just finished a long civil war, with the new sultan eager to gain economic wealth through trade, and sought out a positive relationship with the United States even before the War of Independence was won. In 1821, the Sultan Moulay Suliman gave a two story building, decorated in traditional Moorish style, to the American government, where it was used as an embassy, consulate, and finally, Peace Corps office, for 140 years. Now it's a museum, showing this long history, including a wing dedicated to Paul Bowles, the beat writer who lived in Tangier, and all the other beats who had visited.
The building itself is snuggled in a very residential corner of the medina and it's easy to think you're going the wrong way while you're en route there, which is precisely what happened to us. I was quite convinced we had taken a wrong turn, or the guy at the cafe over on La Petit Socco had misguided us - remember, it's always best to ask someone busy doing something else for directions, otherwise they'll tag along and expect a tip - but finally, we saw the small sign hanging off a wall in the street. The streets in this part are narrow, so it's perhaps better to call all of them alleys, but around any bend can be something unseen and beautiful, palatial courtyards hidden away like the hair and body of a devout Muslim woman - pleasures for only the few.
The museum is definitely worth the find. Whereas the Kasbah is a great example of a dust covered, ruined architectural wonder, the Legation is kept up so that it looks exactly the way it would have looked a hundred years ago. The very same tables that those from Thomas Jefferson to Paul Bowles would have sat at in a meeting or an exhibition, all there, polished and shining, the same as they ever were, the woodwork and tile work all exhibited in a remarkable level of historic preservation. If only there were a cafe out on the patio, it would be the perfect place to spend a whole day writing and watching the people pass along the alleys below. But lacking such a cafe, touring about the place takes up all but 20 minutes.
|The courtyard of the Legation|
|Looking down at an alley from a bridge|
|Inside the Paul Bowles Wing|
|Some more tile and wood work|
With so much time left over, we decided to leave the medina and see what Tangier was really about. Which wasn't much. Along the waterfront were weirdly glitzy hotels, the kind I've seen all over seaside towns in developing countries, where they were superficially fancy, as though they were fancy only to those who didn't really know what a fancy hotel was. Up the hill, there's a run down terrace, called the "Tanger Boulevard", filled with cafes that are also a bit run down, but have a beautiful view of the Straight and of the medina. Near there is the Tangerine, where the beatniks once hung out. Since then, it's been a gay club and now a somewhat seedy place that seems surrounded by a trash dump and dark eyed men staring at anyone who would pass the place. There is a nice boulevard above that, Avenue Pasteur, with several modern cafes that are good places to drink coffee and watch people, but are lacking any real character. The first we sat at was called "La Espanola", and was complete with a large mirror and the cafe's name spelled out in rhinestones. Rhinestones always spell class.
Touring these coffee shops was pleasant, but satisfied enough of my curiosity about what Tangerines did in the evening. In all, it was neither a horror story or a fantasy, just a fairly normal Arabic town with some beautiful views. And at any rate, Tangiers from a view is an extraordinarily beautiful town. It's only when you're actually in the White City that it doesn't quite live up to the senses. It's probably best then to stay in the medina and sit at Le Petit Socco, drinking the sweet mint tea and letting the day pass away to the hum and bustle of tourists fresh off the boat and hustlers looking for an easy pay day. Or with a few extra days, to make some trips out of town to the villages that dot the coast.
|Sour Meegazine Square|
|View from Sour Meegazine|
|View from Tanger Boulevard|
|Down Rue de Murillo|