Books with "Tangier" in their title – Amazon lists 1,226 of them, though some are about the namesake island in Chesapeake Bay – never stop appearing, and many of them are possibly in the forgettable category.
Not so with Tangier: A Literary Guide for Travellers, by Josh Shoemake. A lover of maps, Josh has taken the innovative approach of leading his readers through the fabled city on the Strait street by street, quarter by author-associated quarter.
Shoemake, a former teacher at the American School of Tangier, must have dazzled the students with literary lore, though some of the content in his book – extensive quotes from the likes of William Burroughs, Joe Orton, and many others – was probably not fit for the curriculum in the 8th grade English class.
The Legation is mentioned several times, and Shoemake shares our fondness for Crazy Consul stories (perhaps hare-brained but not crazy, there was even mid-19th century Consul Samuel Collings' suggestion that "Moroccan camels would be ideal for service in the American west," which eventually did result in the creation of the US Camel Corps).
At some points Shoemake's technique of associating streets and neighborhoods with their former literary residents can seem a bit contrived, and you might tire of reading yet again about the Beats and other usual suspects and their proclivities (spare me the details of Burroughs and his various experiments with drugs).
But in the main, Josh Shoemake has hit the mark, and his chapter "San Francisco – Immeuble Itesa" – largely about Paul and Jane Bowles – is particularly enlightening. If you want to get an appreciation for the two writers and what made them tick, Josh Shoemake's work is the best short summary I've ever seen.
Speaking of short summaries, Shoemake provides not only an extensive bibliography but a nice set of thumbnail "Author Profiles" of the writers he covers, from Ali Bey el-Abbassi (an 18th century traveler and spy, born Domingo Badia y Leblich) to Tennessee Williams, frequent Tangier visitor.
Book in hand, a literary traveler could revisit Dean's Bar, though other watering holes associated with legendary writers, like Café Porte, no longer serve alcohol. And the Parade Bar and Brion Gysin's "1001 Nights" restaurant are long gone.
There are a couple of anachronisms or just plain mistakes: Truman Capote, born in 1924, comes to Tangier "just after the Great War," which generally means WW I, not World War II. In fact, Capote came to Tangier – and was ambushed by his rival Gore Vidal, which Shoemake describes in his book – in 1949. And then there was Emily Keene ("The British Bride of Tangier" who wedded a Moroccan aristocrat) who was "flown down to" Tangier… in 1872! What about the Wright brothers and 1903?
But this is quibbling. Josh Shoemake has made a real contribution to better understanding of the incredible concentration of literary talent that Tangier represented, especially in the twilight of its International Zone days. It's full of fascinating detail, and written with a sense of you-are-there: there's Jack Kerouac, settling down to a beer at the Café de Paris…
And here's Paul Bowles, who must have wanted to strangle Allen Ginsberg, whose "declaiming" (he apparently couldn't shut up) ruins Bowles' recording of the last non-amplified call to prayer in Tangier, "leaving Bowles with a recording on which the only audible sound was a declaiming Allen Ginsberg."
Tangier: A Literary Guide for Travellers was on our Wish List, and thanks to one of our supporters, we've now added Josh Shoemake's book to our shelves of Tangier American writers. He's in good company.