Friday, 28 February 2014

12th November, 2013. Travel Without Music.

I travel without music because that way I'll fall even deeper into the sounds and the songs of the country. Today was a feast to my ears and a dessert to my eyes.

I woke up to a beautiful view of the Tangier coast and the sounds of Hicham's chatty cleaning lady who would ask me questions between sweeps and shiny smiles. In the horizon dipped and soared a strip of charcoal colored mountains to brush up against a clear azure sky. I was looking at Spain for the first time in ages. Hicham found me in the living-room that morning gaping at the view. He laughed.

Tangier was busy. I wandered through the medina, past the sounds of makeshift street markets, carpets of rolled out vegetables and fruit. I hopped out of the way of honking cars and mopeds only to get squished between colorful hijabs and Spanish colonial houses. Half an hour later I was lost between vibrant alleys of painted plaster, I started following a woman veiled in orange in hopes she'd lead me out. Instead she just lead me to her doorstep. I decided to climb up the kasbah until the music of a piano stopped me in my tracks. Chopin. The sound in my ears guided me up winding steps, past withe-washed walls painted with cats and flowers until I came across a sapphire blue door, swaying open between lush green vines.

A man welcomed me into a sunny terrace overlooking Tangier. On the walls where originals of Picasso and Ernst among other artists I did not recognize marqueed in weathered frames and cracked paint. For less than 2 euros he gave me a guided tour. The art collection belonged to a woman called Carmina Macein who used to be Picasso's art dealer. In front was the house of Barbara Hutton who apparently had turned her palace into a hotel and ate breakfast with the guests "to not get depression from the sun".

I went down to the port to wait for Hicham who was caught up in structural integrity meetings at work. So I sat on a bench and watched passers by. A man sat down next to me, a German man called Martin with whom I ended up drinking Moroccan tea with at one of the cafes. Martin lived in Berlin in the 90s where he built his name as DJ Atze, he toured a great deal of the world and recently decided he was too old for that and bought himself a villa in Tarifa where he windsurfs. He told me stories of what living in Berlin after the fall of the wall was like, the cheap housing in east Berlin and how it fostered great music and artists, all with a glint of bright enthusiasm in his eyes. We philosophized about life, its paths, its doors, the future. Even with a broken heart he extended so much positivity on life, it felt like a true honor to share the afternoon with him. He let me listen to one of his songs currently in production, White Water, and felt how it became a beautiful cornerstone to my trip. The song was seven minutes. It felt like one.

Hicham picked me up and we went to eat lunch at a restaurant set on the rock face overlooking Spain. I learned so much from my host as we ate and shooed away hungrily meowing cats. He is an upbeat character, heavily involved with the cultural happenings of Tangier. His love for the city is catching! When I asked him about how he kept up with so many projects along with being an architect he replied with an enthusiastic, "Architecture is in everything!" And he's right. He drove me up to a view of Tangier while singing and dancing in his seat to a Moroccan band.

Before he drove away to work again he recommended I follow my ears to small room next to the Palace of Justice. Anything I write about what I found there couldn't do it more justice than Jeff Campagna's words: "On one side of the bench are a few old men playing derbouga drums, violins, cellos and some other exotic instruments I don’t recognize. They have kif pipes tucked behind their backs and voices like haggard old angels. Across from them sit a string of young Moroccans with tight, hip clothing, fancy shoes, bomber jackets and bright, smooth faces like silk. Everybody is singing in Arabic. They are in the middle of an epic 26-minute piece of music that puts In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida to shame (I find out later that this particular song can actually go on for two or three hours). Beautiful young girls sway from side-to-side, clapping their hands and snapping Instagrams with their super-smartphones. The young and the old in complete harmony. Usually when really old people hang out with really young people, it can get awkward. Not here. Not now. There seems to exist some telepathic short-hand amongst them as they musically navigate the traditional tunes. Everybody is drinking mint tea. They are smiling and laughing and swaying in unison like a scene from Sister Act. Seriously, the happiness-per-capita in this room is off the fucking charts." (full script here)

The day ended with a buzz as Hicham invited friends over to his apartment to watch the airing of Solene's much worked documentary on Tangier. With my tiny bit of French I understood enough to be absolutely blown away by the cultural richness of the city. As we congratulated her on a job well done, my ticket back to Spain sat in its travel bag ready for tomorrow. My heart sank. I am leaving this beautiful country way too soon.

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