The Carrie & Co. actors of Sex and the City may have enjoyed a premiere party in Moroccan style splendor at Lincoln Center's Damroch Park, a tagine in the tent theme based on the romance of desert dunes so comically played out in their new movie, the sequel to their 2008 hit and the HBO series on which this franchise was based, but I was in the real Morocco, in Tangier.
Known in the West for the mid 20th century presence of expatriate writers Paul and Jane Bowles, as well as William Burroughs, and a collaboration that resulted in the production of the notorious Naked Lunch, a reconfiguration of Tangier as Interzone, this port city would be unrecognizable to these literary types today, with new housing developments lining the path from the airport to the medina. But I am happy to report Tangier retains its allure without the Burroughsian menace.
In 1983 when I first arrived, I occupied a room next to the famous one Matisse used as a studio in the Hotel Villa de France, now in the midst of years of reconstruction. Getting redone too is Il Muneria, down by the port, its grunge newly painted. The garden's palm has died leaving a high frondless stump as a monument. The owner's son says he greets visitors daily ushering them into this beat shrine. The rooms where Burroughs wrote and Kerouac famously typed go for about $25/night.
Literary Tangier lingers with the presence of Mohammed Mrabet whose orally told stories Paul Bowles translated and had published by the British Peter Owen. Seated on traditional floor cushions, the author of The Lemon and Love with a Few Hairs went into a trance like state and recited a story about how he was birthed by a tree and somersaulted into the sea, sucking milk from a giant fish. He has returned to painting, and during the time of my visit, an intricate black & white work grew to mural size.
The purpose of my trip was the annual Performing Tangier conference now completing its 6th year. Under the auteur-ship of Professor Khalid Amine of the University of Tetuan, the event brings together scholars from all over. Topics may be related to avant-garde theater, but attendees' aesthetic concerns were debated in the scenic, historic Kasbah Museum hosted by the conservator, Abdelaziz Elidrissi. The conference offers a rare glimpse for us Westerners into the concerns, intellectual, political, and spiritual of the Arab world.
Wanting to experience Tangier from the Kasbah vantage point, I stayed at la Tangerina, a riad style bed and breakfast just next door. Charming, a reconstruction faithful to its original, the house features rooms and suites set off a central courtyard. Breakfast, a feast of Moroccan pancakes, breads, local jams and fruit, is served rooftop with a view to the sea and port. Priced for tourists, this is still a good value, as is a guest house in the Marchand, Bayt Jasmin, offering a room with its own garden, and the soothing sound of the ocean just a block away.
For sand dunes, you have got to go much farther south, which is where the Abu Dhabi footage would have been shot with the help of Morocco's thriving movie industry. Busy promoting the new movie, on Tuesday at Macy's, at the annual New York Women in Film and Television Designing Women event, Cynthia Nixon presented the Variety Ensemble Award to the hair, costume, and makeup team for Sex & City II.
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