Don't worry: Teddy Roosevelt and his gunboat diplomacy have not made a reappearance on the Strait of Gibraltar. Whatever happens down the coast in Libya, the USS Olympia of the Great White Fleet (image: ModelShipMaster.com) is safely moored in its Philadelphia museum home.
Here in Tangier, we don't expect any battleship-assisted hostage rescue attempts à la "Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead!" – Teddy's campaign war cry, rather confusingly (and mostly historically inaccurately) depicted in Hollywood's The Wind and the Lion.
Okay, enough of the history trivia. We're talking about the Great White Cruise Ship Fleet. My visual at right is not quite in that category, but it does give you a nice idea of what, under sunny skies, the tourist sees from their cabin on the cruise ships that ply the Mediterranean, sometimes en route to the Canaries in the Atlantic. Tangier has been a favorite port of call, though the heydays of steamer travel went away with the demise of the International Zone.
We were therefore a little concerned about a report in this week's La Dépêche on several cruise ship cancellations after the looting rampage of February 20. According to the Tangier weekly (which has a very useful maritime news section, La Gazette), Morocco has suffered jittery tourist fallout from the post-February 20 headlines in the international media, which weren't always interested in the mostly peaceful nature of the protests, as much as headline-grabbing coverage of the post-protest looting.
But this morning, on schedule – they're German, after all – was the gleaming white Aida, ready to disgorge its complement of some 2,000 tourists. So we readied our Aida kit: an artist's easel, deployed in the pedestrian street that runs through and under our historic Legation, with a tasteful poster intimating that they might want to come in and look around our museum.
Fat chance. Tourist jitters or not, the infamous unofficial Tangier faux guides were bent on taking our day trippers to cousin Ahmed's carpet emporium, or Mustafa's cheap eats, where the guides can take their hefty (sometimes 50%) commissions.
50% of zero is… zero. We don't (yet) charge anything for individual visitors, so we are of zero interest to the guides, who get nuthin' out of cultural tourism.
So, until the value of culture, historic preservation, and the simple peace and quiet of a fountain in a leafy courtyard in the medina is monetized (or just appreciated), Tangier will continue to get critical comments from tourists turned off by the harrassing faux guides who force march them through town, passing us by, but getting in maximum souk time before they miss the boat.
As long as Tangier doesn't "miss the boat," big-picture-wise. The Big White Cruise Ships need to keep coming back. And grab back for Morocco some of those close to two million cruise trippers who call every year at Spanish ports.
To be discussed, at our forthcoming April Seminar on future directions for the revitalization of the Tangier port and the continued growth of its cousin, Tanger-Med.