Magazine article Geographical

Tangier: City of the Dream

Magazine article Geographical

Tangier: City of the Dream

Article excerpt

TANGIER: City of the Dream

by Iain Finlayson, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, pb, 10.19 [pounds sterling]


By the early 1990s, Tangier had become an 'exhausted' city. During the previous fifty years it had been something of a magnet for a glittering literary and socialite ex-pat community. In 1992, Finlayson observed that 'the class of visitor nowadays is not what it was'. The dazzling summer of 1949, when Cecil Beaton and Truman Capote headed the guest list, was a distant memory.

Finlayson is not in the nostalgia business, however. His book makes it very clear that post-war Tangier suffered from its status as a safe harbour for drugged-up writers, 'sensation-seekers', and heiresses with too much time and money on their hands. A caricatured image of a 'seedy, salacious, decadent, degenerate' place emerged. The locals were not best pleased. Tangier was 'regarded by most pious Moroccans as a place apart, a plague zone infested and infected by infidels'.

It was not all bad news, of course. The two main stars of Finlayson's book are the writers Paul Bowles and William Burroughs. Tangier became their muse. Bowles is portrayed here as a fairly level-headed chap. He had a keen sense that the fleeting visitors were dangerous parasites and he used the city as 'a window through which he could perceive another actuality without fully participating in it--total exposure would be destructive'.

Burroughs, as one might expect, jumped in with both feet. In 1953 he declared that 'I'm going to steep myself in vice' and Tangier was his chosen playground. In no time at all he was reporting on his curious daily schedule: 'reading magazines, making fudge, cleaning my shotgun, washing the dishes, going to bed with Kiki', an eighteen-year old Spanish boy. Burroughs took a lot of drugs but also found time to write: he 'cooked the raw material of Tangier over the heat of the imagination, like coke in a spoon, and shot it into the bloodstream of visionary literature'.

The contrast between the two men is stark. Bowles was the cool observer who 'clinically plunged in his literary knife to expose' Tangier's 'nerves and sinews'. Burroughs 'thrust his hands deep into the reeking entrails of the city, pulling out its heart like an Aztec priest seeking inspiration for prophecy'. …

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