For the next week, you can listen to a BBC Radio 4 (cultural and public affairs radio for UK audiences) sound magazine special "Queer Tangier" (we had no say in the title), which goes over territory familiar to many such reportages on the Dream City:
During much of the first part of the twentieth century, Tangier was an
International Zone, controlled not by Morocco but instead by a number of
foreign powers. During that period – and for some years afterwards – it
became a magnet to scores of writers and artists, many of whom were
gay. Paul Bowles arrived in the 1930s…
Our part was to provide some historical background on the International Zone, especially the tumultuous World War II years of Tangier as a center for espionage. At least the Legation got serious mention and a decent amount of air time.
The program was hosted by Professor Andrew Hussey of the University of London's Institute in Paris, who was revisiting Tangier since his introduction to the place in 1984, and who reminded the audience that Tangier's racy reputation was set by Samuel Pepys in the 17th century: "a latter day Sodom." Luckily, the program ended with a reminder by Tangier-based French writer Simon-Pierre Hamelin, who has a way a bringing things down to earth: "Bowles, etc. – they are all dead."
The BBC program was the height of seriousness compared to a recent CNN effort, the "Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown" program on Tangier, which aired earlier this year. We have restrained ourselves 'til now from commenting on this program, which thankfully chose not to air the considerable footage shot at the Legation, where we also provided lots of historical and cultural background.
Despite Bourdain's awareness of the "Tangier Sin City" trap that has befallen scores of journalists who continue to rehash the old stories, his final cut of the broadcast does that very thing, and the self-consciously need-to-be-hip delivery comes across as embarrassing: almost every segment has sophomoric references to kif consumption, including a pretty incredible – for prime time American TV – "recipe" session showing the audience how to prepare majoun, a Moroccan cannabis concoction.
Yes, just as well the Legation was too staid for this broadcast.
Speaking of staid, graduate student Yulia Shalomov of the GWU Elliot School of International Affairs has written up a summary of my presentation at DACOR in Washington on April 30. You can also listen to a podcast of it here.