Pin: When I first arrived in Tangier I met Christopher Garis, fondly known as Kit. It was the summer of 2018 and in those days, we used to enjoy fabulous drinks parties in sprawling gardens and on breezy rooftop terraces, enjoying views across the Strait to Spain. Kit is all foppish hair and boyish good looks and he’s always dressed in something smart and enviably chic.
Which reminds me, I must go to the tailor and have a new kaftan made once we emerge from lockdown.
How times have changed in two short years – Kit hasn’t changed a bit, but the environment that we call home, certainly has. Just before our state of emergency was announced in Morocco, I had dinner with Kit and his partner, Nicolo Castellini Baldissera. The two had recently returned from Milan, and they described to me what their beautiful Italian home town looked like in those early days of COVID19. ‘You would never be able to sit in a restaurant, the lockdown is strict’ they explained over spoonfuls of pasta at the glorious old dame that is Casa d’Italia, our local Italian restaurant housed in the beautiful Moulay Hafid Palace, Tangier.
‘Oh, how awful’ I remember saying, reaching for another piece of garlic bread.
Within about a week of that conversation, at what was to be our final dinner in a restaurant for a long time, we entered our own lockdown which is gently beginning to ease each day here in Morocco. Gently is being generous, and tedious is probably more apt a word as we limp towards a forth month of confinement, and can still only dream of leaping into the ocean which laps at our port city’s edge.
When I celebrated my birthday in April, I received a phone call from Kit and Nicolo who announced that they were downstairs on my street.
Once I’d buzzed them up in the ancient old lift we stood at a distance in my kitchen, where they handed me a gorgeous bunch of wild daisies.
Weekly phone calls across town have become de rigueur from my side of town to theirs, as we share news of our newfound COVID19 habits and ways. During a conversation with Kit earlier this week, joined by our gorgeous friend and ‘part time’ Tangerine, Gavin Houghton, from his house in Stockwell, London, the suggestion was made that I should invite someone to contribute to my blog each week as a means of sharing our lives in Tangier, and our combined love and connection to this beautiful city.
Kit writes beautifully, and this is one of many things we share in common – our love for words has been something we’ve frequently discussed over a cool gin and tonic at those fondly remembered dusk gatherings in any given breezy, sunlit North African garden.
Kit: The news came down from up on high that the lockdown was extended. Or that the state of emergency was extended. And something about two zones and maybe flights will return in ten days, or was it two weeks? Or two months?
Everything was explained in a 14-page document with chapters and bullets and lengthy paragraphs, complimented by a flurry of contradictory text messages from friends here, jockeying for position as the voice of authority. Being a foreigner, even in the best of times, is most rewarding when one is flexible. So, I celebrated the announcement of news that I didn’t fully understand by taking a walk.
I live in the Marshan on what used to be Rue Leonard de Vinci, but is now Rue Abou Oubaida Bnou Jarrah, in Casa Tosca, a tall townhouse surrounded by a white cement wall. When the confinement started (the Covidian Era?) it was covered with perfumed jasmine flowers, followed by purple solanum, and now blue plumbago and the cascading pink trumpet vine. It has been years since I have spent so much consecutive time in one place and measuring the passing of days, weeks and months by the arrival and departure of flowers has been an unexpected pleasure.
Out of my gate, I head through the square—a square I occasionally like to daydream is Tangier’s Place de Furstenberg in Paris, but is clearly not—and up past little townhouses whose designs are individually specific enough to evoke their own corner of the world. I name them while walking: Milan, Cagliari, Anglo-India (the house of my friend Mickey who died last year), Miami Beach and Dubai (a horrible new thing built of glass and bent metal that caps the block). Geographically, the Marshan is a flat plateau overlooking Spain. At one end is the Casbah, and the massive Villa Mabrouka, and at the other, past the administrative palace and the Forbes House, is a beautiful cemetery filled with tombstones, tiles, memorials, lavender, birds and the occasional flock of sheep.
I have lived part of the year in this neighborhood for the past five years, and by now I’ve traversed even the most hemmed-in, dead-end little alleyway. For something new I’ve got to venture further.
The most romantic corner of Tangier is the mountain, which is alternatively called Jebel Kebir, or further subdivided into La Vieille Montagne and The New Mountain (if something in Tangier doesn’t have at least two names, it will undoubtedly have four spellings). After the plateau of the Marchan dips down, a large ridge rises up with a series of roads snaking to the top. Wrapping around to the southern side the roads are wider, the cars are flashier, and hedges partially obscure massive modern mansions. I instead veer to the right, heading up the Old Mountain Road.
I first came up this road in 2015 with my friend Poodle, a couple of months after I moved to Tangier; we had only recently met and she invited me up to a party. And while the evening itself is probably better left to the far reaches of memory, our taxi ride up this little road left me spellbound. We had turned a corner and were in Florence, with stone and cement walls barely containing tendrils of nasturtium and scrolling acanthus leaves; iron gates opened to long driveways and ancient (or ancient looking) villas whizzed by.
On foot this road is even prettier. My journey up is punctuated by little booths where masked military officers in assorted uniforms stand guard; as I pass they nod or salute. Just in case, I keep my passport and my Permis de Déplacement close at hand, but they seem unconcerned by me. Their presence marks the locations of this Qatari princess, or that Jordanian so and so, the emir of such and such, and I find myself wondering when these houses last saw their owners—or even when their owners last thought about “that bit of garden we’ve got in Morocco.” Tangier is such a social place,it always takes reminding that there are still people you haven’t met.
As the road winds up I see the names of familiar places: Cook House, El Foolk, Gazebo, the hotel Villa Josephine (the gate, shut and locked, has a sign that reads, “LES ENFANTS DE MOINS 10 ANS NE SONT PAS SOUHAITÉS!”) and Thornhill. Colloquially known as the Old Mountain Road, it’s more officially called Sidi Masmoudi, so named after a holy spring one of the neighborhood’s inhabitants claimed was located on their property. (I was later told the street name was a bastardization of ‘Mr. Moody’, an Englishman who was one of the first to build his villa here; this town is famous for having competing truths.
After a while, the road flattens out and the view of the sea is revealed. Waves crash down on the rocks far below, and the houses cling to the cliffs above. Storks circle at eye level, looking down on a fisherman with meditative patience. I scan across the sea to the mountains of Andalusia and feel longing, anxiety, frustration and, ultimately, resignation. If I have to be a bird in a cage, at least my lodgings are spacious, green, filled with friends, and with commanding views.
The sun is setting as I arrive back home, and the moment I turn the corner to the square I am hit with an overpowering aroma. It’s coming from the neighbor (Miami Beach) where a Dama de Noche has wrapped itself around one of the deco columns. I can see the little innocuous flowers are open, emitting their heady scent. By the time I arrive at Casa Tosca I am practically overwhelmed. Without my even noticing, our wall has been taken over by this vine, the Lady of the Night. I must have several emails, WhatsApp messages, and things to attend to, but before I go inside I sit, listen to the song of our pet canary, and take in the passing of time.
Pin: My heartfelt thanks go to Kit for his detailed and romantic contribution which not only made me smile, but also reminded me of all the beautiful walks that we have ahead of us as we emerge from our confinement. Slowly and steadily, and how glorious it will be to squint at dusk, gin and tonic in hand, as we begin to gather again in the aromatic and glorious gardens of Tangier.
Pictured: The Old Mountain Road, Tangier.
Photo credit: @c.g.brooks @nicolocastellinibaldissera