Let's chance the Casbah
IDID eventually succeed in shaking off the last of my tormentors, that horde of would-be Arab guides that assailed me just as soon as I stepped off the gangway, but not before most of them had trailed behind me along the entire length of Tangier's beautiful palm-lined Avenue d'Espagne.
I think they would be with me yet if I had not stuck stoically to a stone-wall 'No!' Those guides of Tangier can take it.
But Alan was not that sort of a guide. He did not come looking for my custom, nor did I go seeking him. We met by accident one evening at a postcard stall near the Place des Nations. He had studied philosophy at Liverpool University, and seemed anxious that tourists visiting his country should not carry away any distorted impressions.
No, he told me, the Casbah was not really dangerous, and it was quite safe for a tourist to go there . . . if accompanied, anyway. Furthermore, he offered to take me.
Leaving the modern section of Tangier behind us, with its strange and bewildering juxtaposition of the old and the new, we set off for that walled, mysterious jumble of age-old houses and narrow streets dominated by the slender coloured minaret of the mosque.
At the Grand Socco, or market, we passed through a Moorish gateway set in the old chipped white walls, to find ourselves in thronged narrow streets. At once, we had stepped into the past, and the seeker of local colour could not ask for more. I did not think that even the numerous films I had seen about the Casbah had done it justice.
The breath of romance and adventure permeated those streets, incredible streets in most of which you could easily touch the houses on either side at the same time by extending your arms.
Here were stately Arabs in fez and flowing robe, the veiled women of a thousand fiction classics, majestic whiteclad sheiks accompanied by ladies of their harems. I should not have been at all surprised if I had suddenly encountered Charles Boyer, or if poor Peter Lorre had leered at me through some dim barred. window.
One of the things which all visitors to the Casbah must do is to drink mint tea, and in order that I should fulfil this obligation in the proper surroundings and attended by the correct ritual, Alan led me swiftly through interminable narrow streets until, jostled and breathless, we arrived at an establishment in the shadow of the mosque itself.
A smiling bartender served us the mint tea in tall glasses. It was hot, green-tinted, with a good supply of the large mint leaves in each glass, to which the barman now and then added a few extra for good measure.
When we were half-way through the sweet-tasting drink, he passed us a longstemmed pipe, which we had to smoke in turn as a token of our appreciation of his hospitality . . . hospitality which we were paying for, incidentally, in good dirhams.
All the time, on the platform beside us, the official musician, lured away from his newspaper, was tearing desperately through his repertoire, on flute, guitar and a quaint Moroccan drum.
Soon afterwards, we were out in the little tight streets again, pausing to admire the ornate coloured facade of the mosque, where no European is allowed, and where an incongruous note was struck for us by the sight of a Moslem in western clothes discarding patent leather shoes before he entered.
At a busy corner was a wizened snake charmer, and you had time only for a glance before being accosted by a street trader who thrust his tray of bracelets and leather wallets persistently towards you, or tried forlornly to sell you, for three or four pounds, a watch which would be doubtful value at thirty shillings.
Even though I was aware that both Charles Boyer and Peter Lorre had discovered it years ago, and that Bing Crosby and Bob Hope had found it too and poked fun at it in one of their illimitable "Road" comedies, I was capti vated by Tangier's Casbah, and was considerably heartened later when I learned that, in real life, American heiress Barbara Hutton actually maintains a home there.