For most of its 16 years, SIT – le Salon International de Tanger des Livres et des Arts – had been a 100% francophone affair. Then last year we were invited to set up a stand, which was a nice entrée into this annual cultural event.
To his great credit, Tangier's new French Institute director Alexandre Pajon has now taken this opening to another level with his "Salle des 1001 Lectures," a multilingual literary salon that recognizes the wide diversity of languages in Tangier's cultural life.
During the week of SIT, there were book presentations, readings, stories for children – all in a multiplicity of languages: French, of course, but also Arabic, Amazigh, Italian, Spanish… and English.
To accompany a presentation by French author Christine Orban of her latest book Virginia et Vita, we were invited to organize a reading of works by Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. We couldn't have chosen a better duo than Floridian George Bajalia, Fulbright scholar in performance studies, and Aman te Water, a native of South Africa who teaches English in Tangier. Both George and Aman had previously lent their talents to Legation cultural activities.
Aman and George (photo above) thoroughly researched their topic and read from both women's works and letters to each other, and their presentation included a vintage recording of the voice of Vita Sackville-West reading from her correspondence with Virginia Woolf. The presentation was in the best tradition of dramatic reading.
Later Professor Khalid Bekkaoui of the University of Fez spoke to an audience about Emily Keene, The British Bride of Tangier, his book about the marriage between an English governess and the Cherif of Ouezzane, an important figure in late 19th and early 20th century Morocco. His book was published through the American Language Center in Tangier, which also sponsored his trip to Tangier.
Dr. Bekkaoui, who directs the Moroccan Cultural Studies Center at the University of Fez, also shared some of the stories he documents on his blog Beyond Borders: Moroccans in Britain and America. It's an antidote to the widespread notion that travel and immigration from Morocco to the English-speaking world is merely a 21st century phenomenon.
Finally on the closing day of the book fair, George Bajalia was back for a one-man show of storytelling for a rapt audience of English-speaking Moroccan and bi-national children from several schools. He read Moroccan fables in translation, collected by 20th century anthropologist Elisa Chimenti, whose Foundation in Tangier helped organize readings for children in a number of languages.
Yes, the book fair gave us the chance – with the help of the US Embassy Public Affairs Section – to distribute a number of publications to the thousands of visitors over the better part of the week. But even better, it helped provide a venue for the American, Moroccan, and South African talent who joined TALIM in presenting intelligent discourse in English for audiences young and old.