Tangier: It’s Right There

Posted on March 14, 2019


Life in the Boomer Lane has just returned from Tangier, in Northern Morocco. Now Husband spent part of his youth there and wanted to visit the high school he attended,  the store where he purchased individual cigarettes as a 14-year-old, and the marble columns in front of one particular building, in which his name had been carved (He denies having done it himself).

The trip was everything both he and LBL hoped it would be, filled with sights and sounds and scents that drew them from one area of the Medina, the Old City area, to another.  LBL won’t go into a travelogue, here. Instead, she will leave it up to Loyal Readers to imagine a five-hundred-year old blend of Arab/French/Spanish culture. While Readers ponder this, LBL is free to do what she does best: see life through a lens that most likely needs correction, but one that doesn’t bore her silly.

And so here we go: Tangier. Neither cities nor culture are without their quirks, and LBL now presents to you several of her favorites from the trip. LBL doesn’t know if these are indicative of all of Morocco or merely Tangier and the northernmost cities. She will present these as quirks of Tangerinos:

The notion of distance, most likely derived from a desert mentality, in which vast areas were travelled as a matter of survival, has distilled down to one way of describing distance: “It’s right there.” This may involve extending a finger in some random direction, to give help to the traveller. “Right there” can cover anything from next door or, if the traveller is on foot, several miles away.  It doesn’t much matter. If the traveller is, indeed,  on foot, he may have to walk whatever distance it takes. And said Traveler can take comfort in knowing that every step of the way brings them ever closer to the giddy notion of “right there.”

LBL understands this. If, during the desert era, people were more specific about distance, nobody would go anywhere and everyone would just sit around and stare at camels all day. (Camels, by the way, do not like to be stared at. They make scary honking noises in protest.)

Restaurants, at least the very informal ones akin to our pizza places, are especially interesting to the uninitiated traveller. Many of them look like what is expected: Colorful signs showing a variety of food.  Rooms containing tables and chairs. People eating. People not eating who look like waiters. But appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the veneer of “restaurant” is another matter entirely.

LBL and Now Husband sat patiently in several of these establishments, waiting for a waiter to appear. One never did. After awhile, they left. Finally, after several days of these experiences, they walked to the back of one of these restaurants and expressed, in their special mix of cobbled together English/Arabic/French/Spanish (almost all Tangerinos are multi-lingual) that they wished to purchase food.

The notion of purchasing food resulted in a long verbal exchange, involving pointing to items on the lone menu that sat on a counter at the back of the restaurant. Words in all four languages flew back and forth, including some languages that LBL is quite sure haven’t been used since the fifteenth century. All this, in spite of the fact that the menu was loaded with photos.

After awhile, LBL hd no idea what she had ordered, but after an inordinately long time, food was, indeed, brought to the table. Nobody had asked if they wanted a beverage, and LBL and Now Husband chose not to push their luck by asking for one. There were no condiments on the table. There may or may not have been napkins. Shortly before they finished the meal, water was brought to them, unannounced.

Traffic lights are few and far between in Tangier. LBL and Now Husband counted a grand total of three. And the green “walk” light was actually an animated person running. LBL and Now Husband thought that was cute, until they actually attempted to cross a street.

Mostly all streets, no matter how heavily trafficked, simply provide the usual parallel white lines from corner to corner for pedestrians to use. These come in really handy, as one never has to wait for a light to turn green before crossing.  Cars are also spared from stopping at red lights and can stop or not, when they see pedestrians crossing.

It didn’t take long for LBL to notice that there were street vendors all over the city selling  pocket-size packets of tissues. LBL assumed that the people of Tangier shared her own affinity for allergies and she immediately developed a strong kinship with them. She was grateful that, as long as she would be in the city, she wouldn’t never wont for anything with which to attend to her drippy nose. But, after a couple of days walking around, she realized that she never saw anyone actually blowing their nose.

The mystery was solved when Now Husband pointed out that none of the public rest rooms he had frequented had toilet paper.  He finally asked one of the proprietors why. The man complained that he, like others, were continually dealing with clogged toilets from people’s extravagant use of toilet paper. Their solution was to no longer provide it. After that, LBL looked at the tissue vendors in an entirely new way.

Tangier (or anywhere in Morocco): If you have a chance to go, take it.  You will be amply rewarded. A mind open to new experiences is a must. Your own toilet paper is optional.