February & March are supposed to be dead months, right? It's still winter – inside and out – and marmots and groundhogs who know best stay tucked up in their dens. Well, it looks like no one told us here in Tangier. Here's a taste of what we've been up to over the past couple of months.
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5 February: The team from CNN's new international travel show, Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" (photo from their Tangier sojourn above) shoots lots of film at the Legation, and – in a first for this epicurean – films yours truly having dinner with Anthony at a nice new local restaurant, El Morocco Club, a sort of "Rick's Cafe" without Nazis. Anthony and his crew, in Tangier for several days, focused on food, but also a bit of culture (they might use some of our glass negatives to illustrate the show), and we are told the Tangier piece will air Sunday May 12. Stay tuned.
9 February: TALIM stalwart (she designs our Movie Night posters) Serena Epstein – chief librarian at AST, the American School of Tangier – has many talents, one of which, we discover, is cartoonist. Check out her great 'toon "My Invisibility Glasses: How to escape unwanted attention in Morocco," excerpt above. We can't wait 'til Serena does the cartoon version of some of the Legation's wilder tales of the weird from two-plus centuries of diplomats, some of whom, shall we say, went off the deep end.
18 February: NATO & the Arab World: Dr. Florence Gaub of the NATO Defense College in Rome spoke to the students and faculty of the Euro-Mediterranean program of Abdelmalek Essaadi University, tracing the evolution of the North Atlantic Alliance, which has always had a Mediterranean dimension, not just since the Mediterranean Dialogue beginning in 1994. Algerians recalling their struggle for independence sometimes say that "we fought NATO, with shotguns." Italy's inclusion in NATO was thanks to French insistence on a Med dimension, which later saw Turkey, Greece, and then Spain, join the alliance. Post Cold War, maritime security has risen in importance, and in recent years, concerns about the Sahel might stretch common definitions of "Mediterranean."
21 February: First visit to the Tangier Free Zone, home to some 40,000 workers. See the American auto parts manufacturer Lear, where men and women work side-by-side on the assembly line, and where an impressive sense of organization means a factory that literally hums. Tangier is home to other American car industry firms: another Lear factory, plus PolyDesign and Delphi.
7 March: The Infinite Peace Process: Bichara Khader, professor at Belgium's UCL (Université Catholique de Louvain), originally from the West Bank, lauds the "resiliency" of his people, who persist in their efforts to create a Palestinian state despite decades of processing peace. Khader, whose own family has suffered mightily from terrorism, remains committed to non-violence. While he has no great enthusiasm for the two-state solution in an increasingly piecemeal Palestinian territory, he sees it as the logical outcome of the peace process. TALIM director moderated this program, sponsored by the Rotary Club Tanger Détroit.
11 – 13 March: Fulbright Seminar, Rabat. Gathering American scholars from across the region, this is an opportunity to compare notes on research projects. Dr. William Lawrence of ICG – International Crisis Group – made the keynote speech. Lawrence, a polymath who is proud of producing the first Arabic rap song (!), is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, former State Department officer, and now produces analyses on the region for ICG. Likening some aspects of the Arab Spring to 1848 Europe, Lawrence admits that with some 90,000 dead so far, "violence has played an important role." Lawrence provided the Fulbrighters with useful research tips, including the value of open-ended questions. MACECE, the Moroccan-US commission which administers Fulbright, put on a great show, and the student presentations were uniformly serious and original.
12 March: TALIM Director gives presentation on the Legation to people gathered at the American Club in Rabat, the watering hole for people from the US Embassy. It's a good audience, and one of the fellow amateur historians sees that I'm a sucker for sepia photos. He sends me a bunch, plus a great comic book (from the 70s?), "Il était une fois Hassan II," an homage to – and commissioned by – Morocco's late ruler. Again, we'd like to see a budding cartoonist do something similar for the Legation – maybe just one page with 6 or so windows showing, say, the first American diplomat in Morocco, Thomas Barclay, meeting with Sultan Sidi Muhammad. "Once upon a time…"
14 March: Sustainable Development: Held in the Tangier-Tetouan Regional Council (former US Consulate General Tangier building), and sponsored by AMED, a university-based sustainable development association. Dr. Khalid Riffi Temsamani of the government-sponsored Observatory for Sustainable Development paints a picture of a region under multiple environmental stresses. Illegal cutting damaging protective forests, and – in the most densely populated region in the country – open-air incineration of solid wastes… "it can't go on." The region, however, is the first in Morocco to perform an integrated development plan. None too soon: wildcat development is eating up more and more greenfield sites, as the city sprawls across every potential building site.
16 March: Moroccan-American Friendship Foundation (MAFF) puts on a show at Borj El-Hajoui, the restored fortress which houses a number of Tangier community groups, including acrobats, gnawa singers, Andalusian musicians, and artists. The Legation opened its doors for the day, and artists who have spent time in the US told of their experiences. A chance to showcase a historic preservation project with a community development goal. Moroccan TV news 2M carries an interview with TALIM director on Moroccan – American ties.
30 March: Lusko Gallery, a Tangier art auction house, puts together a collection of 19th century Orientalist works along with modern Moroccan paintings. It draws a serious crowd, one with money to spend on art. Our very unscientific talley indicates that hundreds of thousands of dollars were bid today, some for works by artists that we too have at the Legation museum. Food for thought: if a for-profit gallery can bring in this kind of money, what might we do with a fund-raiser, à la "Paint the Legation" from 2011? Makes you want to see if we have any duplicates that might get auctioned off – not oil paintings obviously, but maybe engravings, lithographs… books.
31 March: we eat a delicious omelette from farm-fresh eggs, a present from a friend with chickens. Perfect Easter gift!