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Year End at Land's End:Tangier

Tangiers port

New Year's Eve, 2007 finds us at the gateway to North Africa: Tangier, Morocco. A sin-city only a generation ago, Tangier is now poised between the charm of yesteryear and the promise of modernity. Elsewhere in Morocco it was hard not to be conscious of the events of centuries before, but Tangier's heyday was in the late 19th and 20th centuries, and we wandered the narrow streets mindful not of ancient sultans but of the Beat Generation's Usual Suspects.

Tangier, lawless, distant, foreign, exotic, and an easy boat ride's separation from southern Spain: it had all the elements of a perfect get-away for a generation tired of following the rules. A generation later, we enjoyed tracing their footsteps. We dined on the last evening of 2007 in the beach club where Tennessee Williams penned the first draft of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, then spent January 1st tracking down the city squares, cafes, restaurants, and back alleys where William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, and Jack Kerouac cast off the social strictures of their generation.

Tangier in 2008 seemed to me like a city passing through an awkward adolescence: it's still a bit lawless, to the degree that any port town attracts a cast of undesirables, but it seems to have lost a bit of the Old World charm and the quiet simplicity that caught the attention of the Beat generation, or author Paul Bowles, who lived here until his death. In fact, with the row of Miami Beach-style high rises now lining the shore, Burroughs and Ginsburg might not immediately recognize the place they knew as the Interzone. And in the narrow alleyways behind the Petit Socco we found not debauchery but rather tourist trinkets. But neither is Tangier yet a modern vacation place of its own.

Still, awkward transition period or no, Tangier was a pleasant place to explore on foot, and the views of the harbor - some of which appear in Bertolucci's on-screen adaptation of The Sheltering Sky (one of my favorites) - were unforgettable. As for sin-city, we ushered in the new year with a group of revelers who might claim Tangier retains much of its original charm. But would the Beats be impressed?


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