1992-2012, Algeria-Morocco: Political Islam(s)

  On a January night 20 years ago this month, tanks were rolling down the Avenue de A.L.N in Oran.  At first I was simply concerned that they would knock down our venerable building by mistake when one of them stopped to make a U-turn in front of the American Consulate, where we lived. Then … Read more 1992-2012, Algeria-Morocco: Political Islam(s)

“Goodbye Morocco” – Filming Tangier’s American Steps

Maybe the Escalier Américain or drouj merican didn't need a thorough steam cleaning for the shooting of "Goodbye Morocco," Nadir Mokneche's forthcoming film.  Sometimes grungy is authentic, and if you don't have to paint on fake dirt, it's much cheaper. The Legation's medina neighborhood was the site for some location shooting this week.  We've been … Read more “Goodbye Morocco” – Filming Tangier’s American Steps

Shop Casa Barata! Don’t Expect Receipts

Casabaratanetlogo Years ago, approaching the coast on a French car ferry on my way to a diplomatic posting in Algiers, I shared a table with a few other passengers.  One of them, a young man who may have assumed that I was already familiar with the term, told me that his profession was in trabendo.  He was a trabendiste, i.e., making a living from trading in contraband.  He probably would have liked me to hide some of his goods in my almost-empty station wagon.  ("Is this American crazy, coming to Algeria with an empty car?").

Those crafty Algerians, inventing great new words in Arabic from French or Spanish (maybe now even English) roots.  In Tangier, with its rich history of foreign influence from north of the Strait, sometimes people just say it in Spanish or French.  Like contrabando.

That is what they sell in Casa Barata, where the Legation shops.  Along with the rest of the population of Tangier in search of good prices, or things that you might have trouble finding in standard shops.  We were there yesterday, and the place is, as the French might call it, folklo.  One enterprising artist has even turned some pieces of Casa Barata detritus into works of art.

In her campaign to install new curtains throughout the Legation (if the place has some 45 rooms, how many windows – and pairs of curtains – does it have?), my wife has been a frequent visitor to the House of Cheap.  Actually, "house" doesn't begin to describe this sprawling warren of shanties and more substantial buildings, criss-crossed by alleys of dubious footing (don't go there when it's raining).

Wanting to Do The Right Thing, paying and then presenting a receipt for possible (if our teeny budget allows) reimbursement, my wife asked the man selling the curtain material for a receipt.  Receipt?  "Sorry, Madame, but we sell contraband.  We don't have receipts."  Oh well, this whole job is a labor of love, and maybe my wife's free labor in sewing curtains is just part of the Loftus legacy.  But we will have to recoup our money spent on curtain material, maybe with a notarized, sworn statement "No receipts are available in Casa Barata, because it all comes to Morocco semi-clandestinely through Ceuta, the tax-free paradise."

Economia, the very serious bi-monthly published by Morocco's CESEM, the think tank of the HEM graduate business school, devoted a recent issue to the informal economy, with an amazing portrait of the traffic – the word in all of its nuances – between the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and the Morocco which surrounds it.  One statistic stands out: the low-cost European supermarket chain Lidl in Ceuta, with its population of around 50,000, has the same sales turnover as the Lidl's of Barcelona – with its population of 5 million.

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Maghrib Triangulation: Guelma-Tunis-Tangier

Three profs from orient did come.  West, to Tangier.  Our visitors: three Algerian professors from the University of Guelma. Guelma, located in Algeria's Far East, is about as far from Tangier as you can get in Algeria.  The University's name – 08 Mai 1945 – is a giveaway to its location, near the town of … Read more Maghrib Triangulation: Guelma-Tunis-Tangier

Mascarades: Fawda Was Never So Much Fun

فوضى Pronunciation: Fwḑá Definition: chaos It's one of our favorite words, a way to smile at the confusion that sometimes swirls around us. Arabic teachers searching for that perfect visual aid to illustrate the fawda that can come to inhabit life in places like Algeria could do no better than show the hilarious opening sequence … Read more Mascarades: Fawda Was Never So Much Fun

A Ghanaian’s Black Friday On the Tip of Africa

"Ghana's Fairytale Ends…" was how the Reuters dispatch from Accra described the letdown ("the silence of the vuvuzelas") of Ghana's defeat last night at the hands of (or is it at the feet of?) Uruguay.  The Moroccan waiters at the Tangier restaurant were rooting for their fellow Africans, just like the Algerians were last week … Read more A Ghanaian’s Black Friday On the Tip of Africa

Location, Location, Location: AIMS In Algeria

As real estate pros know, location can be everything.  The just-completed conference in Oran, Algeria of the American Institute for Maghrib Studies – AIMS – focused on the multitudinous aspects of location in "Viewing the Scene: Global and Local in North Africa." The happy organizers and hosts, the directors of the Oran-based CEMA (the AIMS … Read more Location, Location, Location: AIMS In Algeria