Poignant novel set in Wisconsin
Talking Location With author Laura Madeleine – Tangier
9th December 2019
#TalkingLocationWith… Laura Madeleine, author of An Echo of Scandal – Tangier
Tangier is a complex city: many things all at once. There’s dirt and poverty, but also vast wealth hidden behind white walls, new arts centres, faded beauty, cafés that haven’t changed in fifty years, tourist traps, hole-in-the-wall takeaways that serve incredible food, ancient community bread ovens and shiny bars where young people congregate of an evening.
From 1924-1956, Tangier was the International Zone – under the administration of France, Spain, the UK, and later on Portugal, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US. Once I started research, I was enthralled and knew I wanted to write something set here, especially set during the dark, heady days of the Interwar period.
Most people only stay in Tangier for 24 hours or less, which isn’t enough time to even begin to wrap your head around the city. Tangier is famous for its casbah; a tangle of ancient streets above the medina that are too narrow for cars, that twist and turn. If you’re in Tangier, you won’t be able to avoid it, and you shouldn’t: it’s an experience like no other. No real maps, no street names, dead ends, surprise staircases… You will get lost, you just have to relax and go with it. Keep heading downhill and eventually the casbah will spit you out into the P’tit Socco or at one of the medina gates. As with any tourist attraction, there are also pickpockets and touts, hustlers and scammers. You just have to have your wits about you, and try to remember that if you get fleeced for a few pounds, it’s not the end of the world.
Equally interesting and off the beaten track is the English Library in Tangier. This place is almost impossible to find; go through the unmarked door of what looks like an tenement block, up a staircase and you find yourself in a dim series of rooms crammed with books, from modern paperbacks to hardbacks from the 1920s with inscriptions inked on the pages. It’s utterly fascinating, and a place where many of Tangier’s ex-pats gather. We spoke to one American woman who told us her story immediately; as a young woman she had been travelling on a freighter heading for Eastern Europe. When it stopped in Tangier, she disembarked for a few days… and never left.
During one of my visits, we were approached in the casbah by a guide – the eccentric Abdullah – who assured us he worked for the tourist office, then whisked us off on a tour of the casbah by first fibbing that the museum we wanted to visit was closed (it wasn’t), then showing us around one corner, then another, then another… Abdullah was full of stories: of his career as an acrobat which saw him living in Brixton during the 1980s, of being slapped about by William Burroughs as a child for kicking a football at him, of meeting Jim Morrison from The Doors, which he proved with a faded polaroid.
Whether or not these accounts were all entirely true isn’t really the point; they were brilliant stories. And it’s this knot of fact and fiction, truth and embellishment that makes Tangier the city it is.
To follow in the footsteps of An Echo of Scandal, first take the ferry from Spain. From the docks, strike out for the casbah, towering high above you, ignoring the touts as you go. Overlooking the strait, you’ll find the eccentric, kaleidoscopic, faded glamour of the Hotel Continental; take tea or coffee on the terrace, and don’t miss a snoop inside.
From there, wend your way into the casbah and get entirely lost. Climb the precipitous steps of the Salon Bleu for lunch overlooking the dizzingly blue of the strait. Dive back down to the P’tit Socco for a refresher at the Café Central or the Café Tanger, as Mohamed Choukri might have done, decades ago.
From there, roll along the Rue Siaghine to the bustle of the central food market. From here, it’s a short stroll to the restored art deco Cinema Rif, or up the hill to the old-fashioned, coffee-scented air of the Gran Café de Paris.
To finish the day among the decadence of another era, stop in for a drink at the poolside terrace the El Minzah Hotel; host over the years to many of famous and fallen on their visits to this city on the very tip of Africa.
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