The Magazine

The Gateway City

Why the tip of Morocco is a magnet for writers.

Dec 30, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 16 • By THOMAS SWICK
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Tallulah Bankhead, Claudette Colbert, and Richard Wright frequented Dean’s Bar for the “booze and steaks,” while Truman Capote spent, as he wrote in Answered Prayers, “several unsober months .  .  . as an habitué of Jay Haselwood’s Le Parade.” 

Years later, Malcolm Forbes would buy the old Palais du Mendoub and hold his 70th birthday party there, a much-publicized affair featuring belly dancers, Berber horsemen, and Elizabeth Taylor. Guest of honor Paul Bowles later wrote in his diary: “By midnight, I’d had enough.” 

“Tangier doesn’t make a man disintegrate,” said Bowles, “but it does attract people who are going to disintegrate anyway.” His attachment to the city extended to its native writers—Choukri, Mrabet, Layachi—whom he mentored, recorded, and translated. His wife Jane thought he was wasting his time with them (though many people thought he was wasting his time with Jane). They were street kids, “roaming the beach and looking for opportunities.” Of the three youngsters, only Choukri was literate. They came out of poverty and, drawing upon “superhuman reserves of determination and charm,” became writers, telling tales of Tangier that were startling even to the expats who lived there.

You finish Tangier with a list of books to feed your growing fascination with this vanished, dissolute city.

Thomas Swick is the author of A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler