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Saturday, 01 July 2006

Tangier: The White City - A City Full of Color - Page 2

Written by Michelle Won Belanger
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I should be picturing scenes from Casablanca as I sit in the catamaran, which ferries from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier: the so-called White City of Morocco. Instead, I’m imagining Raiders of the Lost Ark with turban-wearing, swash-buckling fighters carrying fez-wearing monkeys on their shoulders running down a dusty dirt road, which is strange, since Raiders of the Lost Ark


For dinner, we cowardly opt for the French restaurant in the hotel, El Korsan, since we don’t want to brave the streets of Tangier on our own.  Set in the lush courtyard, it is a serene and peaceful escape (probably a great place to have mint tea!), and the French food is good but not memorable.  What is memorable is the woman at the table next to us smoking feverishly.   I realize it is a treat to not have smokers puffing away while you’re enjoying your meal, as I’m used to at home in California.

marketThe next day we visit the old part of town, the medina, which sits within the casbah, the walled city. We walk to the produce markets. The narrow, stone-paved streets are packed with people and children, some in traditional abaya, a hallmark of Muslim dress, and others dress in casual T-shirts and jeans. At one point, the street becomes so narrow; we have to walk single file. I look into every open door to catch a glimpse of Moroccan life. I see tile shops, tailor shops, shoe shops, all kinds of shops – most are the size of a small office cubicle. Despite having so little space, the merchants look comfortable, whereas I would be ready to gnaw my own forearm from claustrophobia. After winding through innumerable streets that look alike, we are suddenly inside the market, a high-ceilinged room with lively, colorful stalls overflowing onto the street.

Every piece of real estate in the market seems to be occupied by fresh mint leaves, pyramid-stacked spices, or an old Berber woman.  Berbers are an indigenous group of people from North Africa and their name may have been derived from the Latin word for “barbarians.”  Once I step into the market, I foresee my toes smothered in oily olives and slices of lamb and wish I hadn’t worn flip-flops.  The produce looks phenomenal. All the fruit is ripe and ready to eat, and the vegetables are ready to burst.  As I walk by a butcher, I see that he is cutting some sort of large animal leg on a glass counter filled with flanks of meat.  Everything is that fresh.  Not only is this a food market, but also for sale are toiletries, household cleaners, and probably anything else you can find at Target.

For lunch, Amine leads us around the corner and down the hill from our hotel, to Saveurs de Poisson , a place we surely would never have noticed on our own.  We enter the small, crowded restaurant and, following local custom, wash our hands in the freestanding sink next to the cash register.


As soon as we sit down, the food arrives.  No one had ordered, and there are no menus; every patron receives the same meal of the day.  We start with a delicious soup – flavorful, yet light and fresh. We don’t mind that it is shark soup.  We can’t argue with heavenly food. The next dish of grilled fish is equally delicious.  The rudimentary wooden forks and spoons are a challenge, but we prevail. To accompany the meal is a thick, orange-colored drink.  We can’t get a detailed description of what fruit was squeezed for our refreshment; we just know it is a “mixture of fruits.”  The origin is irrelevant because I am convinced it has miraculous, yet-to-be-discovered medicinal powers.  Damon, however, is not as enthusiastic, since the drink is served warm and is not entirely refreshing.  Having walked all morning in the sun, he opts for water instead.

To top off our lunch, we feast on a pile of fresh, glistening figs.  This lunch is perfect – authentic, delicious, healthy; nearly the best meal in my life.  Fully satisfied, we prepare to leave, but a fellow named Muhammad beckons us to the back room of the restaurant.  With Amine’s reassurances, we follow.  From a cauldron, Muhammad pours a dark, syrupy liquid into a container.  The aroma of the elixir is oily and nutty, but not offensive.  He pushes up my sleeve and begins to rub the elixir onto my arm.  He explains bluntly that it is good for my skin and will prevent blemishes on my face. Then he rubs it roughly onto Damon’s arm; for him, the liquid will make him stronger.  For another tourist who joins us, an older lady, Muhammad says it will get rid of her wrinkles. Who knew a panacea existed in the back of a Moroccan restaurant with Muhammad? He hands me my own complimentary jar of elixir, along with two trivets, a fan, the forks and spoons we used, and a woven basket to carry it all in.

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