John Blake: Growing Up at the Legation

TALIM John Blake Sept 2012 TangierThe recent visit of John T. Blake, son of Maxwell Blake, longtime Consul General, Diplomatic Agent, and Minister at the American Legation from 1911 through 1941, was a chance to talk with someone who knew the place as home in the decades before World War II.  John Blake, born and raised in Tangier, got his crash course in "Americanization" as a GI in World War II.

In The Bigger Circle and Passage To Lisbon From Tangier, published by Khbar Bladna, John Blake recounts episodes that loomed large in his memory.  He can sometimes be sharply critical of his father, "Max."  Excerpts.

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As a boy I used to climb up the iron stairway that went from the terrace of the servants quarters on the third floor to the top terrace whence you could see the port, Malabata, and the Strait of Gibraltar… I climbed this Jacob's ladder whenever I heard the drone of the propeller engines of the German dirigible the Graf Zeppelin crossing Tangier on its way to South America.  The airship floated forward about 150 meters above the medina, low enough so you could see the passengers in the long nacelle gazing at the onlookers waving at them from terraces and rooftops.  The Graf Zeppelin was an imposing sight.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera in those days.

Note: Zeppelin overflights would have been in the years starting 1929.

TALIM Bigger Circle John BlakeI also recall a visit by the ex Sultan of Morocco, Moulay Abdelaziz, and his daughter who was about my age.  Max made me sit on a footstool at the feet of the Sultan who sat on a wing chair in the big main sitting room at the top of the stairs.  I do not know if this was meant to symbolize admiration, respect, or submission.  Max was a romantic and admired les grands gestes, and I suppose this was his way of displaying his feelings for the deposed Sultan with whom he seemed to have a genuine friendship.

Note: Moulay Abdelaziz spent his final years as a deposed Sultan in Tangier.

Mother was the guardian angel to her staff.  She was called Rosita and she was born in Gibraltar…  I remember the times she tried to protect and help hide the kittens and stray puppy dogs I tried to smuggle into the Legation in defiance of Max's standing orders of automatic expulsion.  But her efforts of assistance were never successful… we were not allowed to keep pets.

I remember [Max] saying that President Roosevelt was a "traitor to his class."  He had autographed portraits of all the presidents he had served under except Franklin Roosevelt.  The State Department's picture of the President, sent for display in a prominent place in all consular and diplomatic missions, was not hung in Max's office or in any prominent place in the Legation.


TALIM Passage to Lisbon John Blake

Elisha (l) and John Blake (r) at the American Legation

In July 1940, my brother Elisha and I left Tangier.  After the fall of France, Spanish troops from the neighboring Spanish protectorate occupied the international city of Tangier, then the diplomatic capital of Morocco.  I was on the beach the day of the occupation, surprised to see Spanish military trucks carrying Moroccan mercenary troops speeding along the Avenida d'Espana. 

A Portuguese schooner was scheduled to sail to Lisbon the next day…  A fifteen minute ride took us to the middle of the bay where the schooner was anchored.  We approached it aft and as we closed in we saw the metal letters of its name: INESPERADO.  It could not have been a more appropriate name.

We leaned against the railing at the stern staring [at] Tangier bay shrinking in the distance.  Our sights were fixed on the receding Tangier… we watched landmarks fade away.  After a long while a veil of sea haze screened the horizon and we could not discern either the Marshan or Malabata, now a darkened blur on the horizon.  In unison, as if on command, we started to cry.

Note: John Blake went on from neutral Lisbon to the US, served with the US Army in the European theatre of World War II, and spent a career as a journalist living in a number of countries.  Settled in Madrid, he still enjoys returning to the city of his birth, Tangier.  His Khbar Bladna memoirs evoke the time and place of Tangier, International Zone and life at the Legation, making them valuable historic documents.


TALIM Maxwell Blake La Vie Marocaine

From the 1931 "La Vie Marocaine Illustrée," donated to TALIM by Sally and Belinda Blake, grand nieces of Maxwell Blake

Gerald Loftus

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