KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
We fell in love with ‘La Tangerina’ the moment we stepped in the door. The ‘riad’ is exactly as pictured on its website, and if anything, more beautiful. We were shown to our little, two-level room (#4) and found it charming. We were almost happy that we would have to move to a larger room (#1) for our second night, though I can jump ahead of myself and tell you that we had a great sleep both nights.
After settling in, and I mention this only because Anil always makes me laugh because the first thing he does is unpack his toiletry bag and put it in the bathroom. Once he’s done that, he visibly relaxes; he’s at home. We were offered tea and pastries and chose to have it on the roof terrace so that we could enjoy the view and the sun. Our trip from Meknès by train had been uneventful, but the weather had been overcast and windy most of the day, so we were delighted to find the sun shining on Tangier.
La Tangerina is located in the Kasbah (fort), at the highest point surrounding the port of Tangier. I took some photos from the roof terrace as I recognized some of the landmarks in the city from that viewpoint. When I was last in Tangier, I arrived with my girlfriend by train, but in 1972, the train line came right into the heart of the port area, just along the edge of the wide beach. We were very tired from our overnight train journey and we had made straight for the beach, stretched out in the sun with our heads on our backpacks, and promptly fell asleep. I remember being relieved when I woke up to find that I hadn’t burned my face too badly, I must have slept on my stomach.
Now I could see the beach off in the distance and made a mental note that the modern Tangier train station is now located a few kilometres from the city centre. I was interested in wandering through the old neighbourhoods near the port and inside the Medina, to see if anything else was familiar after all these years. With that in mind, Anil and I set off from our hotel and plunged right into the Medina and down, down, down through the narrow streets towards the Petit Socco (Little Square). This was once the heart of the drug and prostitution trades during Tangier’s sordid past.
Tangier attracted the artists of the Beat Generation, a post-WWII American counterculture movement. There are references to these artists throughout the city; writers like Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles and the poet Allan Ginsberg. I have to confess that these names are all familiar to me, but their work isn’t. I have seen the movie ‘The Sheltering Sky’, based on the novel by the same name by Paul Bowles. I read that scenes from the movie were filmed at the Hotel Continental and that the Café De Paris served as a set in the movie ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’. I’ll have to see both these movies again this summer, when we are back in Canada.
After a sumptuous breakfast on the terrace the following morning, we followed a route outlined in our guidebook and came across some of the places I remembered from my week in Tangier in the early 1970s. One of the places we passed by (it was closed that day) was the Tangier American Legation Museum. I wasn’t aware that Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the newly formed United States of America, and this little legation in Tangier was America’s first piece of real estate abroad. Apparently, the museum contains a letter of thanks from George Washington to Sultan Moulay Suleyman.
I was struck by the name of our guesthouse, ‘La Tangerina’ and did a quick search on the internet about the name tangerine. I learned that the tangerine orange is a variety of mandarin orange that was once exported by the ton from northern Morocco. It’s clear that the orange was given its name from this provocative city. Funny, I never made the connection before.
While we were out exploring the medina, the staff at the hotel moved our luggage into Room #1, and when we returned, we found ourselves in a large room decorated in white and tangerine. How apropos! The room seemed more like a small apartment with a delightful sitting area, as well as a private outdoor terrace of its own. All that was missing was a tiny kitchen and we might have been persuaded to make it our home-away-from-home.
We were very happy at La Tangerina, and I would recommend it to anyone, but I’m afraid I can’t tell you what the evening meals there were like. We don’t really like to eat a large meal in the evening, so instead of eating in, we tried a couple of small restaurants in the medina where we could just order a main course and forego the appetizer/salad and the desserts. We did note that the dining room at La Tangerina was filled to capacity each evening and the aromas emanating from the kitchen smelled pretty wonderful.
As we were preparing to leave, we were fortunate to meet the owners, Farida and Jurgen. They had been off on a vacation of their own for the weekend, and Farida’s two sisters had been managing things in their absence. We also met Farida’s father, who was just off to the market to purchase the fresh fruits and vegetables for the kitchen. It was obviously a family-run business and that clearly speaks to its success. Farida was warm and welcoming and we had a great chat about their hotel and how it came to be. I praised the fine details of each and every room and commented on how it must have been a labour of love to bring it to its present form.
We told Farida that we would love to come back and stay for a week or more in Room #1, how it seemed like a little apartment all its own. She encouraged us to do so, and to stay longer now if it was possible. We told her we were on our way to Spain to meet up with our daughter and it was then she told us that we were lucky the weather was in our favour. We had arrived on a Saturday and for much of the previous week, the ferries were not able to make the crossing to Spain due to rough seas. She said that when the winds blow in from the Sahara, they whip up the waves so that the fast ferries cannot cross. Sometimes the larger, slow ferries are able to make it, but even they were grounded.
I remembered the high winds we experienced in Meknès, but at the time we were happy because they seemed to be blowing the rain clouds away. The wind had kept us awake a couple of nights by flapping the huge canvas covering on the central courtyard. These were the same winds that had continued to the north and prevented the guests at La Tangerina from returning to Europe. Luckily for them, the guests coming from Spain were also on hold, so the rooms that they had booked were vacant for the stranded passengers here.
We were so fortunate that we had first booked at Riad Yacout in Meknès for four nights and then had extended for another two. It was there we had met Tom and Ann, a British couple who live in Portugal, who had recommended the La Tangerina to us. If we had not extended our stay, we would have found La Tangerina full to bursting, no room for us, and no possibility of crossing to Spain. Once again, the Kapoor luck was shining on us.
All told, we spent two full days in Tangier and we were surprised to find that we didn’t experience any more hassles than one would expect to find in almost any large city in the world. We had steeled ourselves for an onslaught of pushy vendors, touts and tour guides, but we were almost ignored by most citizens of Tangier. When I mentioned this to Farida, the owner of La Tangerina, she commented that it was partly due to the way we dress, the way we carry ourselves and the fact that we are independent travellers and not part of a tour group, just arriving from Spain, for an afternoon in Tangier.
So many visitors come scantily dressed, clutching their bags to their chest, looking for all the world like they expect to be robbed, or worse, at any moment. We wear long trousers; show our respect for Islamic culture by not exposing a lot of skin, and walk with confidence through the streets like we know where we’re going, even if we’re not entirely sure. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Anil looks like he could be a local, though there were a few men who greeted him with a warm ‘Namaste’, so it’s clear that some Moroccans know an Indian face when they see one.
We thought it might be that they see the occasional Indian tourists, but we learned later that Moroccans are crazy about Bollywood movies and know all the famous Indian movie stars. What would they think if they knew that ‘Anil Kapoor’ had been in their city and they didn’t even know it? The star of the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has the same name as my Anil, and it has been the cause for many laughs and some upsets on our trip this year. No troubles here in Tangier though, and as Martha Stewart used to say, that’s a good thing.