I’M typing today’s post from a room a hotel in Tangier, north Morocco, where Beat Generation icon, lover of fine heroin and gay sex William S. Burroughs wrote his famed novel Naked Lunch. His good pals Jack Kerouac (one of my favourite authors) and Allen Ginsberg used to stay here too when they came to visit Burroughs, so in theory I could be sleeping in one of the rooms the latter guys used to frequent (Burroughs apparently stayed in room number 9, I’m in no. 6).Unfortunately I won’t be able to channel any of the genius of these three gurus in this humble post, but I thought it was about time for an update – internet access has been scarce and I’ve been reduced to the odd internet cafe visit when I find one (rare), rather than my usual daily hostel/hotel room creep on the laptop. Anyways, I’m conscious that in my last post I may have given off a bit of a negative vibe about my first few days in Morocco. I was left with a sour taste in my mouth during three separate incidents (that’s what she said) involving sketchy locals, one of which I thought for a second was going to turn violent (lesson for the kids: drug dealers are in most cases bad guys, despite their often friendly demeanour). But since then we’ve experienced only good days, albeit days lacking action or intrigue. Yes, it’s been another of those laaaaid-back weeks, filled with cheap good food and sleep-ins that’d make even a fat lazy thirteen-year-old in his school holidays jealous with rage.
We spent the last four days in Chefchaouen, a beautiful town of about 45,000 in the country’s north. It is a town of extraordinary light and colour, its whitewash tinted with blue and edged by soft, golden stone walls…a place which, for all its present popularity, still seems redolent of the years of isolation (I didn’t write this part, I found it in my guidebook and thought it sounded alright). The isolation part refers to the fact the town had been visited by just three Westerners until the arrival of Spanish troops in 1920 (the third, in 1889, was a curious British journalist who was nearly killed when the town was alerted of the presence of a Christian dog). Founded in 1471, the town was, for a time, the centre of a semi-independent emirate, exerting power over heaps of the country’s northwest. Later, however, it became an isolated forgotten backwater and when the Spanish rocked up in 1920 they couldn’t believe their ears when they heard the Jews there speaking a form of medieval Castilian (more stuff from my guidebook, thanks Rough Guides).
So after our rubbish introduction to Morocco, slowly my appreciation for the country is changing, thanks in part to the people we’ve met (the most interesting was a Moroccan-born dude in his mid-30s, formerly married to a US diplomat for 11 years, has travelled the world, fathered a kid in Australia, speaks seven-and-a-half languages – his Japanese is a little rusty etc. etc.). I think this newfound appreciation will only mature further, with our next two stops being chilled-out towns once again, followed by Taghazout in the south where I’ll get to finally sample the country’s right-hand points (which will be my first surf in 23 days – the second-longest period I’ve had without a surf in my 7 ½ months away so far).
Tonight I’m going to soak up the “enduring eccentricity” (Rough Guide, props) Tangier has to offer and visit a few more of the old haunts of Burroughs and the lads to hopefully soak up a bit of that Beat air (if any of it still exists). Maybe I’ll get an idea of what possessed Burroughs to write his 1981 novel ‘Cities of the Red Night’ – the first and only book of his I’ve read, which among other sordid enactments, details guys being hung and ejaculating in their death throes pretty regularly. I’m still trying to work that one out. For more accessible Beat Generation stuff, get a hold of some of Kerouac’s work if you haven’t already. If On the Road doesn’t make you want to sell all your shit, buy a van and just drive somewhere then I don’t know what will.