Beginning with the first day and continuing through all the years I have spent in Tangier, I have loved the white city that sits astride its hills, looking out across the Strait of Gibraltar to the mountains of Andalucia.
"Tangier… this blue Arab town…"
Jane Bowles, 1951 "East Side: North Africa," quoted in Morocco Bound, Brian Edwards
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When she referred to Tangier as blue, Jane Bowles may have been talking mood rather than paint pigment. After all, she suffered from depression, and elsewhere wrote: "I love Tangier. But like a dying person."
For centuries, Tangier, like other cities along the North African coast, loomed up from the blue sea as white as her husband Paul saw it, or as Tristam Ellis captured it (watercolor, top) at the outset of the twentieth century.
No wonder: the traditional treatment given to walls and roofs was whitewash, that timeless lime and chalk mixture that was ubiquitous in much of the Mediterranean world.
Until, that is, the advent of paint. Especially paint with waterproofing properties.
Readers who think of Morocco as an arid desert devoid of rain need to think again. Especially Tangier, with its exposure to precipitation from Atlantic, Strait of Gibraltar, and Mediterranean sides.
So it's no surprise that people should be conscious of waterproofing their exterior walls. But why the red?
I'm told that when waterproof exterior paint first started to become available in Morocco, it was in the brune rouge color at left. So the color started to become synonymous with its water repellent properties. It would be like assuming that painting against rust is only good if you leave the orange Rust-oleum basecoat visible. No matter that since then, you can get the same waterproofing in gray or white. And I suppose that someone must have gotten wind of Home Depot and its "Morocco Red."
But Tangier isn't Marrakesh, despite someone insisting on planting pitiful palm trees along our corniche when something hardier (maritime pine, for example) might better withstand the winds off the Strait. No, Tangier was The White City (Sir John Lavery's 1893 oil painting of that name attests), and Marrakesh is the Red City.
And now Tangier – along with Tetouan and other traditionally white cities – is turning red. Wherever Colorado Paint is sold. I guess I should be happy that it's red, and not apple green waterproof paint, which is now available. Yuck…
Tangier – painting the town red.