“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”
While enjoying a glass of mint tea in Café Bab, which overlooks Barbara Hutton’s former villa, I glanced at Paul Bowles’ quote on the wall. “Tangiers is a place where the past and the present exist simultaneously.”
With all due respect to the legendary novelist, I beg to differ.
Actually, he may be right because he was referring to 60’s version of the town, when the Beat Generation, and Jimi Hendrix sought refuge from the infernal ways of the West. However, the Tangier that I experienced this past weekend is a place where the past and rather, the future that carry more magnitude.
I say this because the town clings to its glamorous past when hippies flooded the city. Every bar, café, and hotel advertises some connection to William Burroughs, or Truman Capote, or Keith Richards. I feel like this is rooted in ignorant pride. How many of these tour guides actually know who these people are? They are clever in that they realized the impression these figures have left on the Western world, and have taken full advantage of it.
Because Spain is separated from Tangiers by only the 20 miles of the Strait of Gibraltar, it is visible to the naked eye. My friend and I were basking in the view from the roof of an old castle, when we met Yasin who lives and breathes for Spain. At first, we struggle to communicate. Every time I said anything in Arabic, or in English, he would interject. “Hablas espanol?”
Finally I gave in and we conversed in Spanish. Yasin shared with us, in his surprisingly fluent Spanish, his several failed attempts to illegally swim over to Spain. The police caught him every time, but he says that he is not worried. One day, he will definitely succeed.
I did admire his determination, but I was nonetheless saddened by his endeavors. You see, Yasin, who was rocking a David Villa jersey and a Spanish mullet, is only eight years old. I did not have the heart to say it to him, but I wish he could understand that life in Spain would not be at all what he imagines it to be. As an illegal immigrant, he would not at all have the same experience he hears about from the Spanish tourists he encounters on a daily basis.
I believe Spain’s eminent presence has become the same green light that blinded Gatsby. It would be crude of me to mention how Gatsby met his end (not that I am not above that).
On a lighter note, on the bus back, we witnessed a woman get up from her seat, scream at the top of her lungs in Arabic, thrash around like a maniac, and try to run off the bus while her husband tried to calm her down. She did this about six times through the span of a four-hour bus ride. It turns out that she just discovered that her husband has another wife and son in Tangiers. She was pregnant with his baby and was trying to get off the bus to get an abortion. I don’t know why Moroccans watch so much television; they have all this drama at their fingertips!