A sexy, stab-you-in-the-back kind of place

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Tangier, on Morocco's coast, is a place so alive you forget all its indiscretions, says travel writer Tom Dylan.

It's time to take a holiday from reality.

William Seaward Burroughs did — and he went on that particular vacation for 83 years.


Along the way he visited the place he later described as Interzone … maybe because he was in to this, in to that - and definitely in to a bit of the other.

Well, it was all there for him on a plate in Tangier in 1951 when he arrived for a naked lunch.

And it still is all there for anybody who wants it in this sexy, slovenly, sultry, stab-you-in-the-back, stoned place.

Go down into the kasbah as soon as you arrive. It's full of snakes and charmers — some snakes are curled in baskets and others are serving behind the stalls.

And the charmers, now they'd steal your mother's love if they thought they could sell it.

Their wives and mistresses still slide by in the shadows, with their fleshless dresses and their eyes smouldering above the horizons of their masks. There are tambourines and gypsy dancers, flutes …

"… lying on the bed naked, dozing and making desultory love, smoking a little kif and eating great sweet grapes." - WS Burroughs

Tangiers is a place so alive that you forgive it all its indiscretions.

Old Bill spent five years sending reports and routines to Ginsberg and Karouac from his new Interzone address.

And we thought he was making it all up.

But he wasn't. It really is scandalous hallowed ground for the Beat Generation.


Alcohol might be frowned upon but, like anything else, you can get it if you really want. You'll pay through the nose but by doing so you get the feeling of that literary expat's life.

Try the Borsalino on Avenue Prince Moulay-Abdellah and imagine that you can hear Paul Bowles holding his seedy and drunken court at the bar. Or there's the Morocco Palace just down the road.

The beer is warm and the whiskey is harsh … just like it should be in a city where shopkeepers liberally lace your mint tea with dope.

Tangier is a tiny seaport on a small bay in the Strait of Gibraltar — yet it has some tales to tell.

It was stolen in 1471 from the Arabs by the Portuguese who gave it to Charles II as the dowry from Catherine of Braganza. The English abandoned it a couple of centuries later and it became a haunt for pirates.

And until 1956 it was known as Tangier Inter(national) Zone

Now this dramatic little seaport spends most of its time welcoming - in its own way - day-trippers who arrive by hydrofoil from Gibraltar and Algeciras.

The customs officers with their Arabian good looks, guns, dark glasses, cigarettes and attitude think they're in the movies as they wait under the palms in the blistering sun.

They jostled me as they demanded to know who my editor was. In a parking lot their colleagues were stripping a VW camper panel by panel while its two young hippie students looked on in despair.

I wondered why they would think anybody would bother to smuggled dope IN to Interzone.


And all the time there is the honk of Mercedes horns, the clatter of cymbals and street music and the constant yabber of bartering. The street vendors push everything from carpets to flesh-coloured plastic gods — and the beggars will poke out their own eyes for a day's takings.

Kiki plucked me out of the customs line and ferreted me away down dim and corroded art-deco streets. He had appointed himself my guide for the day and you could tell by the steel in his 14-year-old eyes, there was no point in protesting.

He led me to the old French quarter and to Calle Magallanes, and showed me a small white-washed garden room overlooking the harbour. Bill worked on lunch in that room.

Kiki told me a Birmingham gangster lived there now.

Then he led me down through dark shuttered alleys and in and out of glamorous shopping malls with designer labels where only princes and queens could afford to visit.

Finally we stepped in to the kasbah. There Kiki showed me the four rooms Bill had rented for USD 20 in 1955.

Well, that's Tangier for you: a wonderful, elusive place.

It's even got a beach, if you want it.

And again, here is a strange romance - the wonderfully sandy beach faces west and each night is a joy with the setting sun … if you can ignore the railway line that runs the length of it.

Tom Dylan stayed at the 1960s 376-room Solazur. Famous for its unkempt tropical gardens and two swimming pools. Price on application. Tel +212 94 01 64 Fax: +212 94 52 86.

Subject: Travel

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