The sky opened up, showering me with unapologetic, torrential rain. I raced into the million year old Mercedes taxi, slamming the door, before sitting awkwardly – knees together and my basket on my lap. My dripping umbrella splayed outwards as the engine turned over and over, sputtering for help – Mustapha was as determined as the rain. We were stuck, when suddenly out of nowhere, an ancient man approached our car with a mouth void of teeth spreading into a broad, honest smile.
‘I’ll hop out,’ I promised, full of sympathy for the worlds oldest man as he began to push.
‘No, please don’t,’ Mustapha assured me, the blunt wipers scratching the windscreen just as we started chugging down the street. He blew kisses to the man with no teeth, shouting ‘Hamdullila’ out of the window.
As the saying goes; you have a watch, and Moroccans have time.
Last week when I stepped out for lunch at what I thought was midday, my watch stopped, and by the time I met my lunch companion – believing I was almost an hour early, it was actually fifteen minutes past one. Of course, in a country where it is not unusual for people to be more than an hour late to any given appointment, fifteen minutes wasn’t really a problem. But it was for me, because I only bought the watch less than six weeks ago and I still cant work out how the battery could be so hopeless.
Having purchased the watch in Paris, I’ll blame the French.
When I arrived home from lunch later that afternoon, a friend had sent me a link to an article on the BBC website advising that the Moroccan government had decided to scrap the end of daylight savings – 48 hours before we were due to wind our clocks back. Just like that, and not for the short term, but forever. Now, we are on GMT for the rest of our lives, and I was only the tiniest bit disgruntled with the prospect of missing out on an extra hour in bed on Sunday morning.
Upon finishing reading the article, I wrote back to my friend, joking that it was as if the Minister for Time had been afflicted with a little Friday afternoon tantrum in Rabat. As it turns out, my cynicism wasn’t all that funny – this is indeed, exactly how it would appear.
On the topic of time, Amira was almost stir crazy on Saturday when our thrice weekly friend was almost (seemingly) a year late to keep us company with our chores. He eventually arrived with a new electric cook top for his mother and a fake Givenchy track outfit for him, all of which he proceeded to dump in the kitchen, explaining that there is nothing worse than when the gas runs out half way through making cons cous. I nodded in agreement – only partially perplexed, the other part amused.
When he arrived earlier in the week full of rage – his arms laden with boxes full of food, he explained in a huff that he was ‘hungry’. Eying the boxes, I advised that perhaps he should make a small snack. Before too long, I realised that he was actually ‘angry’ and needed to sit down.
Half a roll of kitchen towel later and endless tears flowing, we’d done some solid problem solving after a big deep and meaningful conversation about the importance of keeping to time. He’d been reprimanded that morning for being constantly late elsewhere, and this time it wasn’t me who ‘didn’t understand,’ rather, the shoe seemed jammed solidly on the other foot.
When I reread the article about the Moroccan government deciding ‘just like that’ that we’d no longer shift to winter time, situations like this one began to make perfect sense.
I’ve been googling ‘what time is it in Morocco’ for the past two days now, as it would seem that the seemingly flippant decision out of Rabat didn’t quite match up to the agenda of Apple, and my phone had updated itself regardless. Last night, I had to phone my dear friend Jono, who wears an ancient watch and carries a twelve thousand year old mobile telephone, in a final bid to set the record straight.
The longer I spend in Tangier, the less bothered I become with the often hilarious quirks that come with ‘Moroccan time’. Initially, it drove me spare – maybe even to drink (as the saying goes, I need to blame something), but now I find myself happily meandering; I stop to chat with people along the way, and am only mildly demented when taxi drivers take the extremely long way around town, dropping off everyone and everything along the way. We always get there in the end, if only a tiny bit fashionably late.
The Australian Artist, Hilda Rix Nicholas arrived in Tangier sometime during 1912. Her journey was via Spain, where she viewed the work of Valaquez whose compositions and palette she greatly admired. In Tangier, other artists had sought inspiration before her – Jean Joseph Benjamin Constant lived and painted here in the 1870s, and Renoir, along with John Singer Sargent, visited in the 1880s.
Rix Nicholas was in Tangier at the same time as Matisse, and both are widely documented for being almost obsessed with the light; a piece of Tangier that has also famously remained unchanged.
As I undertook some research for this piece, the most magnificent, orange dusk fell over the Medina, just as the 6 o’clock ferry chugged into the port from Spain (on time). The light was brilliant – as brilliant as it would have been over 90 years ago when Rix Nicholas first arrived.
In that wondrous, typically Tangier moment, I read about her love for sketching in the open air market, the ‘socco,’ just across the way from where I sat in my favourite smoke filled cafe overlooking the boulevard and the old Medina.
Rix Nicholas recalled in one diary entry – ‘picture me in this market place, I spend nearly every day there, for it fascinates me completely – I have done 16 drawings and two oil things so far. I’m feeling thoroughly at home now, so I’m going to take out my big oil box – wanted to get used to people and things first. Oh! How I do love it all! Oh the sun is shining and I must out to work’.
For me, finding this diary entry more than 90 years after it was written by a fellow Australian who I have long read about in history books, was refreshing, almost as if it was written yesterday. It was also a welcome reminder that, in a world ever evolving and technology driven, some things seem unlikely to ever change.
The following morning I stepped out just after the second call to prayer, and well before the streets were due to fill with swaying Moroccans in no hurry to be anywhere. I bustled off to a market similar to the one that Rix Nicholas had so enjoyed decades before. Here, I found my best fruit and vegetable seller lifting the cover on his stall, as my favourite flower man dragged buckets full of imported, scentless but nonetheless, pretty roses across the concrete floors. Across the passage, cages of kittens, doves, peacocks and cockerels were just beginning to rise.
I too, find great solace, inspiration and happiness in the market, and spend almost every day there, soaking it all in and delighting in multiple languages, all of which confuse me. Sometimes it can take almost half a day to complete my shopping, with seemingly no rush for traders to leave their coffee and conversation and maybe even a game of cards or chess, to aid with adding up the price of my carrots and tomatoes, avocados and bananas.
I could spend almost a year poring over a bunch of white roses in the lead up to them being counted, their stems shredded and chopped, before they’re wrapped in plastic, and I never leave without a ‘present,’ usually some babies breath or two red roses.
The thrice weekly helper left yesterday as I finished writing this piece. The lights began to twinkle over the port as night fell – just as they do each day, and he reminded me that Amira is a ‘notty, notty kitchen’ who he loves very much. I googled ‘what time is it in Morocco’ for the millionth time, as his scent wafted off her ears.
Tomorrow the sun will rise about the same time as today, and one thing is guaranteed – people will continue to move at a pace unchanged, in the same way they would have when Rix Nicholas adjusted to the ‘people and things’ of Tangier all those years ago.
Just as I am today- and for this, I couldn’t be happier.