Basket Case.

There was such an argument going on.  Well not an argument, but a series of shouts all centred around a mobile phone. Who did it belong to?  Not me, I assured the cashier. All I really wanted was a salad sandwich with ham and cheese and a bottle of water, and no I didn’t leave my telephone on the bench of the Boulangerie. Not mine.

After five weeks of tajines and too many breakfast crepes, on my first day back under a perfect blue Parisian sky I was ready for a baguette with lettuce and mayonnaise, jambon et fromage. Walking out of the Boulangerie leaving the shouts behind me, I smiled as I was reminded of the vigour that Parisians use when they speak, before I headed to the banks of the Seine where I found the Bouquinistes bathed in sunlight, their books and botanical prints neatly arranged along the walls that line the river. Little chairs were dotted under Plane trees standing tall along the pavement and I sneezed, just as an old man introduced his three dogs to me; one is four, the other five and this one, six. ‘À te souhaite,’ he offered, as I reached for a tissue as pollen drifted under my nose.

In Morocco, people young and old sold me more packets of Kleenex than I’ll ever have a need for in an entire lifetime, and I have been grateful for these endless packets of tissues this week as I’ve ‘a tishooed’ my way around Paris in perfect spring conditions.

On Sunday morning as our aeroplane chugged over the Strait of Gibraltar towards Spain, I also needed a tissue for different reasons, but with my bag in the overhead locker and the seatbelt signs on as turbulence drove us sideways, I opted for sunglasses as I gazed down to the ocean, watching wistfully as Tangier slipped away from view.

From the madness of Marrakech, to the beauty of Berber Lodge, the endless winds of Essaouira and the ancient bones of Fès, I spent my first couple of weeks in Morocco whizzing around in taxis and rumbling through the countryside on long train journeys, before reaching Tangier for my final two weeks in a country that I had mixed feelings about, but was fast becoming attached to.

Tangier was different, in ways hard to describe. Had I stepped off a boat in it’s port, alone and with no sense of direction, it may have been an entirely different experience. Or not. I will never know, because I didn’t sail there. Rather, I took the 2.17pm from Fès and as our train approached Tangier at dusk I felt an overwhelming sense of happiness, different from any other feeling I’d felt for a very long time.

The two weeks that followed not only inspired me, but I also felt a great sense of belonging. Lunches were enjoyed, endless cups of coffee were had in the company of new friends and situations such as a trip home from Sunday lunch in a van with no doors, provided me with very happy memories. There were also plenty of long nights comfortable in my aloneness, in a beautiful apartment on the Rue d’Italie. This was made possible by Serena, a special person who had known me for no more than 24 hours when she made the offer of her otherwise vacant home, on the eve of her leaving for Spain just five days into my stay in Tangier.

During those nights I pondered spending more time in Tangier, and found comfort in the noise on the busy streets below as the night sky drank up the softness of dusk. Early mornings were filled with an orchestra of call to prayer competing with the morning crows of roosters.

Seemingly thousands of them.

I skipped home each evening with a smile on my face following interludes with the florist, the man at the vegetable stall and the European grocer who saved my life with a bottle of rosé from time to time, allowing a glass to be savoured with a biscuit and cheese for dinner. Lunches of cous cous and chicken were had at Darna, the women’s association of Tangier, and long walks were enjoyed through the endless gardens and parks that overlook the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by old villas and the crumbling  masses of ancient buildings. The sheer sight of these structures infected me with a desire to charge through the gate and set to work. Immediately.

Morning coffee was always entertaining, ‘who might turn up today,’ I’d wonder, as I meandered through the Gran Socco, past the Cinema Rif and up to the Café de Paris, where Jonathan and his divine friend Christopher and other characters deeply woven into the fabric of Tangier, would chatter away, and I’d buy more packets of tissues.

Following an entertaining first weekend with Jono – who displayed kindness, friendship and hospitality beyond any possible measure for the whole two weeks – I enjoyed a happy couple of days with a wonderful woman named Maggie, who took me into her home and was hilarious and inclusive for the duration of my time in Tangier – inviting me for dinner from time to time and always touching base when she was out for coffee. With ten days remaining, I settled into the apartment on Rue d’Italie where on Saturday mornings, a beautiful housekeeper named Khultum would arrive at 9am, barely flinching when I greeted her in a towel and with sign language and smatterings of French, our only means of communication.

One day after lunch with an energetic Italian woman who has called Tangier home for many years, I was introduced  to the stalls of Charf on a seemingly never ending unsealed road behind the Hilton Hotel lined with Berber huts filled from head to toe with cane and raffia.
Monica laughed as I was driven almost mad as I stepped sideways through stacks of chairs – I was becoming a basket case in a hut full of baskets.
How I’d love to fix up an apartment here I thought, as I drifted off to sleep later that night.

At coffee later in the week I found myself talking to Dominique, a Frenchwoman who told me about her new life in Tangier after taking an apartment there in October last year.  I listened with equal measures of both intrigue and caution after Morocco had seen me hit with a bout of wanderlust that was proving hard to shake. Following coffee, we went for lunch together and she asked why I would even hesitate, my mind seemed made up and I could make a great life in Tangier fixing up an apartment and documenting the whole experience.

The evening before, an entertaining Moroccan man with boundless energy and a crooked smile had turned the latch on an apartment in a beautiful building situated in what was once the old European quarter of Tangier.
A bath sat unplumbed in the bathroom and in each room, holes glared at me from almost every wall. A day later I returned to reinspect and found myself further enamoured by the bones of this building and the potential that it holds.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

On the eve of leaving Tangier, I handed over a brown paper envelope containing a months rent and the promise that I’ll return at the end of Ramadan to begin painting the walls.

I will be forever grateful for the guidance and friendship shown throughout what was a week full of decisions. There was much laughter as I became more and more befuddled, but questions were generously answered with careful consideration, invaluable advice and understandable caution. I know that I have made a decision that is not only important to me, but a decision that is wholly mine. Not without the added bonus that is the happiness, kindness and hospitality that I found from the minute I stepped off the train in Tangier.

As Rick said to Ilsa in the 1942 classic Casablanca, ‘We’ll always have Paris,’ and I look forward to splitting my time between the two, and sharing the story as it unfolds.

Pictured: beautiful blossom outside Shakespeare and Co., Thursday morning.

3 thoughts on “Basket Case.

  1. Another gorgeous read Pin. How great you have the courage to make these life-enriching decisions.
    I’m actually thinking about you from time to time at the moment as I’m reading A Gentleman in Moscow. Amor Towles writing reminds me of yours. If you haven’t read it, you must!
    Love Sue xx

  2. Very interesting to hear of the other characters who’ve played a role in your excellent decision. Your sense of belonging is very confirming ……. xx

  3. There are times that life wakes you and says the time is now…and you answer with your heart because it’s imperative, because it can not be ignored…the time knows your heart better than your own mind…and you follow it because the time is now.

    I have known such a heart and such a time…and I smile for you.

    Follow your heart and never look back.

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