Tangier’s Plague of Black Mold

Once, in a doctor’s office, as he paged through a dermatology manual, I was in the uncomfortable position of discovering the incredible variety of freckles, moles, beauty spots, rashes, cancers, ulcers, and growths that can appear on the human body.  Luckily, whatever I had was in the benign category, but those pictures were indelibly seared into my memory. TALIM Pam Patsy

That what it was like during the visit to TALIM by Pamela Strangman (foreground) and Patsy Knappett, sent from London by the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) office of Culturally Significant Properties, of which the American Legation in Tangier is the oldest.

Patsy and Pamela revealed the ugly world of mold – the kind that attacks our collection of ancient maps and prints behind glass – and the varieties were extremely colorful.  Reds, yellows, browns, greens… and the dreaded black mold, whose spores, if inhaled, cause dire health consequences.  Hence Pamela’s facemask.

TALIM master restorer Our two English women came with their specialized high tech equipment: soft brushes, cotton swabs, Q-Tips®, Dettol®, and of course face masks.  And the Conservac®, a small vacuum cleaner which can be adjusted to minimal power to clean delicate areas, which they kindly left behind for our museum.

A friend of the Legation from the art world said that Tangier, with its constant extreme humidity (last week there was a 90% day) is the world’s worst place for paper.  Of course, TALIM has plenty of paper: hundreds of valuable maps, etchings, and prints in the museum, and thousands of books – many of which are rare – in our research library.

Hard as they worked, Pamela and Patsy would be the first to admit that they could only tackle the worst, the gallery of horrors that I wrote about when I arrived at TALIM a few months ago.  Gibraltar may no longer be shrouded in fungus, but the Redcoats must still struggle with the slime.

TALIM Redcoats best by slime When priority roof and wall work commences, we will have to ensure that both workers and occupants are protected from the Black Mold, the nasty growth that you want to keep away from your lungs.  More than just facemasks, we’re going to have to deploy a series of filtering drapes to keep spores from wafting over the property.  Our neighbors too are just a few feet away.

Though the extent of our damage was daunting, we were nevertheless encouraged by the can-do approach of our English visitors.  They shared some of their expertise with Mustafa, Yhtimad, and Marie Hélène, who will be lovingly applying Dettol® and the Conservac® to our treasures.  Passing on The Knowledge: Patsy and Pamela’s greatest contribution.

Gerald Loftus

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