Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cats, cats, everywhere

I have seen exactly two dogs in the three days I've been in Tangier, but I could not count for you the number of cats if I had the stars to use as an abacus.  The few on the American School campus are somewhat tame and are more than happy to come begging for attention, but most are street cats, thin and wary and covered in fleas.  I've seen kittens asleep in flower pots, cats washing themselves on stacks of old tires, and a orange-and-white ball of fur and worms wandering around a restaurant begging for food.

This is a watercolor by Paul Bowles titled "Had a cat and a cat had me."  I thought it appropriate.

The painting is housed in the American Legation Museum - the only building on foreign soil listed on the US National Register of Historic Places.  It was gifted to the US government in 1821 by the Sultan of Morocco.  As any Moroccan will be happy to tell you, there has always been a close tie between the two countries because Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the US.

The impromptu guide who lead us around the Kasbah (who, though he spoke perfect English, Spanish, and French, could barely muster a few words in Modern Standard Arabic) showed us not only Paul Bowle's residence, but also that of Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, and Henri Matisse, all of whom created significant works while in Tangier, including Burroughs' Naked Lunch.  Our guide recounted the story of finding Burroughs asleep in the alley while he and his father were on their way to morning prayer.  When our guide woke him, Burroughs told him to leave him alone.  The next day he was in the same place, this time awake, and explained that he needed the experience for his book.

This entire tour, aside from a smattering of English here and there, was conducted in Darija (the Moroccan colloquial) in which I am far from fluent.  From this one encounter, after tallying them up in my notebook, it seems I picked up some 52 words.  We'll see how many of them stick.  One of the other participants here is half Palestinian and she has been a fount of knowledge, including imparting to me the words for bacteria  and slaughter.  Hopefully neither will call for frequent use.

There is always more to say, but for now I leave you with a view from the roof of the Legation Museum.

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