Half a century after it was absorbed by Morocco, the former international Tangier barely retains traces of its international culture… yet many spanish people still lives there. On April 18, 1960, after four years that Morocco might frighten the European flea, Tangier is no longer an international city and joined the Crown. The following year the king Mohammed V died and his son, Hassan II, undertook the task of unifying a country where there were warring tribes. And Tangier felt down. Many residents began to feel something new and terrible: they were foreigners, no longer belonged to the land where many of them had been born or come from far away to make a fortune.
Employers feared for their wealth and left town. Then would many other new pariahs: French, Portuguese, Belgian, Dutch, English, American, eternally nomadic Jews, Spanish. This is a trip to Tangier in search of those who gave up the trip and saw this African city their cosmopolitan little country forever.
Paca lives in Tangier. She’s from Granada and she’s 82. Her home in Seville Street, the heart of what was the Spanish Quarter, is an old-school chapel, the first Spanish school in Tangier, the first building of the Catholic faith in the city. She lives there alone. On the altar were was once the sacred image, there is now a TV where Paca receive news of the outside world. Paca love having guests and shows that the church, in this case, it is the home of all.
In Tangier she married the Portuguese Joao, who crossed the strait in 39 boarding a small boat in the opposite direction which is common today. She served in the homes of Spanish and French, and international Tangier was their promised land. But a maid is not always a maid?
“No, hell, they were no social classes, we were all citizens of the international city. In the theater Cervantes we got together every Sunday to listen to music: Raquel Meller sing, Imperio Argentina, Lola Flores, Juanito Valderrama …”
The police was a slight stain in the freedom of the city. Each of the countries in command had its own police, its own particular rules, and those clever Tangieris fooled them with ad hoc tricks.
Tangier was freedom and madness. The Spanish protectorate traveled to Tangier just to see the uncensored nudes at Mauritania theatre, wich was censored in Spain. There they also built the largest bullring in Africa, now renovated building, believe it or not … for housing. The crossing Hispanic – Muslim culture permeates to generate even funnier language tricks: in small grocery stores, we’ll give a customer a “polvorón” if he orders a nuchubuwina (Christmas Eve).
A hairdresser Near the Cervantes theater (actually off and ruined) the traveller will find an ancient and colourful barber shop. The owner is perhaps one of the most amazing Spanish Tangieris: the (almost) nonagenarian John Bernardo Guillen, third generation tangeri. His place is tiny and almost completely converted into a library.
It is my studio, as there are no customers, so I take the opportunity to write my articles. I regret not being able to study journalism because I was not meant to be a hairdresser. I spent four years in the Spanish school and four in the French one, but my father died and I had to find work. When people began to go to Europe and so much competitors appeared out of Moroccan salons, I was changing activities. I particularly like the classics.
I lived the best time of my life: “Having 20 years in 1940. I had Spanish, French, English, American, Japanese, Indian friends… like everyone else. “I worked 17 years in a Sephardim barbershop, learned words in their language, attended their parties, accompanied some to the altar and also one to the cemetery. “My best teacher, you know who is it?” Juan Bernardo smiles showing his elegant barber chair.
A few names The legal limbo are good for fun, but better to make a fortune without supervision. Tangier was the bank of spies, foreign exchange and diplomatic plots that inspired the movie Casablanca. After the Second World War there were 19 consulates, 56 banks and change offices to just over 100,000 people.
“That was the tip of an iceberg commercially hot”, adds John Bernard.
The peseta and the Moroccan franc shared the same wallet; almost all items and equipment, intangible or humanly imaginable, were paid by Dollars and gold.
City of outcasts, after Franco‘s victory came to Tangier about 50,000 Spanish exiles. Eduardo Haro took the lead of the “Spain”. A promised land in times of totalitarianism. During the Second World War, the powers agreed that Spanish troops would ensure the neutrality of the international marketplace, valuable from the strategic point of view. Franco apparently always aspired to control the international management, but it was the only shadow that passed over the city.
“With my eyes I saw the Graf Zeppelin flying over the harbor entrance, and in a Socco square a swastika flag” says Juan Bernardo.
But the limbs also attracts the artists. Tangier touched Edmundo de Amicis, Jean Genet, Alexander Dumas, Mark Twain, Pio Baroja, Paul Morand, Tennessee Williams, Juan Goytisolo, Angel Vazquez, Pierre Loti, William Burroughs, Truman Capote, Paul and Jane Bowles. A painters like Matisse, Delacroix (“would need to have twenty arms and days of 48 hours to get an idea of how much I’ve seen in Tangier,” he said) and Fortuny. Rimsky-Korsakov composed the overture of Scheherazade here, remembers Ignacio Canovas Alcaraz in his “Between Spain and Morocco” book. Errol Flynn and Bertolucci came to have fun (imagine how each), and the melting pot idea was so powerful that it reached the city to be proposed to host the United Nations headquarters.
But to speak of culture you have to ask another essential tangeri: Rachel Mulay. I runned for 25 years, the “Librairie des Colonnes” (library of the columns) on the Boulevard Pasteur. This place was the center of the cultural life of the international city, though she took the controls at 1973, one of the most difficult moments: the Moroccanization. Yet this very profound cultured Sephardic managed to lift the business. There were always, well, books banned by Franco’s censors. Rachel announces proudly, in perfect Castilian:
“There was a shelf of six-foot full of Iberian Turn editions. Here the Spanish could read all, that’s why we were in a free city. “
When Morocco integrated Tangier, many foreigners were afraid and fled. Mistakenly? Juan Bernardo thinks so:
“This fear was exploited by the clever, who bought properties at two dollars. Fear is all free. The smart ones takes advantage of that”
Rachel is more statistic:
“What happens is that companies migrated and work was not like it was before.”
Paca, of Granada, brings the tragic outbreak,
“When they caught this, they spoiled it. Here we did processions of Holy Week and Carnival. We can not touch the bells of the cathedral, and they are taking out to the Hebrew and Spanish names of the streets.”
What about youth? Met in the pub Tangerine some of them: Tatiana Estevez, sixth generation tangeri; Francisco Zaragoza, third. And we found that young people dream of the international city that they did not live with much more intensity than the elderly.
“My grandfather, my father and I were born here. I speak Arabic, I am a tangeri and Spanish, but not Moroccan. We live with a residence card, we can not apply for citizenship. To them I am a foreigner. That is what has changed in that time, there was no foreigners. “
But Tangier itself wants them. John Bernard, when we left him in his barber shop, resolves the paradox of being born outside of Spain, to love Tangier and not being Moroccan:
“I’ll explain: My mother was Tangier, my father is Spain.