Gibraltar Shrouded in Fungus, or the Cat Who Ate the Legation

The Legation's door, that is.

This is a story of a fine building, the "Old American Legation" in Tangier, home to TALIM, the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.  Our new home. A fine building that has seen better days – sometime between when it was given to the United States of America by the Sultan of Morocco in 1821, and its heyday as the home of American diplomatic representation in Morocco, through independence in 1956.  Since then, it's been a heroic rear-guard action, trying to stem the ravages of weather, neglect, and underfunding.

The building, like others in this city on the tip of Africa, is buffeted by the West wind off the Atlantic, when it's not being sanded by the Sharqi or East wind coming off the Sahara.  Then there's the Strait of Gibraltar, where ships to and from the Med and those taking millions of ferry passengers back and forth to Spain ply the waters daily.  With all this water, it's inevitable that it rains – a lot.  And that the ambient humidity is always at least 70%. TALIM Gibraltar in Fungus

Okay, think of what does this do to roofs, walls, and windows.  Then, imagine what it does when those same roofs, walls, and windows leak, and the humidity just lingers month after month, year after year.  Here's an example – click on the image for a fungus closeup.

The print was part of a "Gibraltar Hall" of antique prints, maps, and other historic illustrations.  I say "was" because I removed all but six prints, seeing how the fungus was taking over under the glass.  I hope that expert advice, promised by the Legation's landlord, the State Department's office of Overseas Building Operations (OBO), will start to remedy the damage.  But for some works, it may already be too late.

Now consider the woodwork.  We have a lovely building, one of the legacies that longtime Legation diplomat Maxwell Blake built in the 1930s, known as the "Arab Pavilion."  It is done is Moorish "orientalist" style, with authentic materials from across the Maghrib.  The main double doors are sculpted from a beautiful but porous wood, one that suffers badly from the winter (and spring and fall) rains.

IMGP1297 The resulting rot (affecting other doors in the building, including the one at left) makes them vulnerable to everything, including marauding cats.  Yours truly doused one insistent tomcat who had already succeeded in digging this cat-sized hole in the roof terrace door.

The hole has since been patched in our doughty in-house way, with a chunk of unpainted plywood applied to the hole.  Which the cat has chosen to ignore, simply going to the rest of the rotten door and clawing his way to those poor females in neighboring courtyards.

The Cavalry on the Way?

Today a man from OBO – remember, the USG is our landlord – is up here from the Embassy in Rabat.  To use his words, he's "crawling around the roofs" to gauge priority areas for rehabilitation.  It can't come too soon.  After this brief summer interlude of dry weather and pristine blue skies, with the return to the school year in the fall come the rains, and when driven by the wind, the rain finds a way to stream under windows.

I really don't want to re-deploy dirty rags under leaking windows, in what is America's only National Historic Landmark and a museum dedicated to the American diplomatic relationship with one of its first overseas partners.  This majestic but scruffy edifice deserves better treatment.

I hope to create links with professional museums – no disparagement of my predecessors, but we are anything but museum curators born – which can extend advice and hopefully hands-on help.  It would be too bad to allow a unique collection of valuable – irreplaceable, really – works succumb to the fungus.  And to the cats.

Gerald Loftus

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