Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The story of a house in Tangier

I am often asked : "Why Tangier?"
Why indeed.
There are so many stories about the choice of Tangier.

First, it is the story of the power of memories.
Morocco reminded me of the place where I was born, Tunisia. It was not the place itself as Tunis and Tangier don't look anything alike but for the fact that they are both ports. It was the general atmosphere and the smells.
They say the memory of smells is much stronger and longer lasting than that provided by any other sense, that we can remember odours from when we were babies whereas visual and mental memory come much later.
We left Tunisia when I was six and I have forgotten many things but, sometimes out of the blue an odour sparks memories of those days.

In Tangier I was immediately submerged by the familiar smell of the orange trees and jasmin bushes, the particular lemony aroma of lantana flowers that we had in our garden in Tunis.
Then there was the odour of iodine, seaweed and motor oil rising from the port and even the pungent smell of the donkeys and sheep on market day. It brought me back to a time I thought I had forgotten, back to my worry-free childhood in North Africa.

Then, it is the story of people.
When we got lost in the labyrinth of the medina on our first day in Tangier, many pointed us in the right direction and many more offered to take us where we wanted to go. They asked for nothing in return.
There were those who gave money to beggars on the street. They were following one of the tenets of the Koran but one could see that their generosity came from the heart and a long tradition of giving to those less fortunate. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims buy enough food to divide it in three parts: one for their family, one for their guests and one for the poor.
It is the story of the kindness of strangers who went out of their way to assist us, of the pride in their eyes when they welcomed us to their city and of their dignity and resilience in the face of hardship.

And it is a story of beauty.
The beauty of a city turned toward the sea, living from it and thriving in it. A bustling city with its breathtaking views and centuries old monuments.
A city of contrasts: huge wealth and abject poverty, great beauty and heart breaking decay, extreme generosity and rampant corruption. And in the midst of it all, the beautiful, happy faces of cheeky children who say words in arabic, spanish, english or french, all in the same sentence and laugh noisily if we don't understand.

But above all, it is about friendship.
The friendship between six women who met a long time ago and who, in spite of the oceans between them, stayed in contact. A friendship that never waned and a bond that grew stronger over the years.
Each has her personality, her style, her likes and dislikes, her very different career and family life. Each has had joys and heartbreaks, successes and disappointments. Each has been down that unpredictable, arduous road of life we all travel.
Yet, when we are together, there is harmony, happiness and glee. We all agree enthusiastically to whatever is proposed. Everyone chips in and most importantly everyone laughs. A lot.

Each year in June we reunite in Tangier for a week and every year there is a new theme. Each must write, draw, bring a book or an object that fits the theme. The only rule is "go for it!".
The first evening we drink champagne and do our "show and tell" according to the year's theme.

The first year, the theme was champagne and we were to bring a "flute". One friend brought two identical Eiffel tower shaped glasses that she painted in gold, representing my twin sister and me. Another was the last flute from her family's Lalique set (this fact brought tears to my eyes). Yet another was decorated for June!

Last year the theme was "The Jasmine Revolution" (the start of the 2010-2011 revolution in Tunisia, dubbed "Revolution du Jasmin" by journalists, a term tunisians dislike particularly, actually started in Kasserine, the town where I was born).
For our own revolution, there were flower themed poems, "Jeopardy" style riddles to solve, an amazing landscaping book "Nicole de Vésian: un art des jardins de Provence" by Louisa Jones and even a beautiful pastel painting of an amaryllis by Cynthia de Moucheron, an american artist living in Paris. The glass broke on the way to Tangier but fortunately the painting was intact.

Although I often go to Tangier, I wait for that week in June with excitement and longing. Sometimes, when for a lame reason I contemplate selling the house, I realize that this would mean there would be no more June reunions and the matter is quickly settled.
After all, the two most important things in life are family and friends. Everything else is secondary.
Even this Titanic moment on the upper terrace!
Leonardo, where are you?
In case you are wondering, the theme this year is:
"The Majesty of the Camel, the Slow Pace of the Caravan, the Elegance of the Nomad". I hope no one delivers a camel with a Tuareg on it at my door! With this group, one must be ready for anything.

Photos: Sylvie Pellet, Joelle Desparmet

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