Right now it's Ramadan, and the month of August, so it's supposed to be quiet, right? The faithful are too tired, hungry, or thirsty to stay awake over books, and the un-Islamic or non-Muslim are expected to stay in Europe, perhaps awaiting better weather and the assurance of daytime food come mid-September.
So why is it so busy here at the AIMS Morocco research center? TALIM does have a respected library, a collection particularly rich in pre-independence Moroccan materials. And there is the fact that Morocco is by far the favored destination of AIMS Maghribi scholars.
But not all our library patrons are here because they have to tick a box or pick up grant money. Take Philip Abensur. A Paris pediatrician, Abensur was born in Tangier and has written a lovely volume published by historical publisher Alan Sutton – Tanger, Entre Orient et Occident. Abensur was back in our library this week, seeking information on the area of the medina where the American Legation is situated, and where his family lived for 150 years.
Last week I reported on the American woman who found lots of information about her 19th century great-great uncle David N. Burke, Consul General in Tangier in 1896-97. Today, Bibi Gaston, Tangier native, landscape architect and author of an acclaimed family history, showed me documents – photos, unpublished manuscript – from her parents' time in Tangier as American expats after World War II, materials for another family memoir.
"Does the TALIM library hold anything on this man?" From a 5 August 1992 obituary in the London Independent by Alan Rush:
Bruce Chalmers (Bruce Alfsono Bourbon de Conde), officer, philatelist and royal pretender, born California 5 December 1913, died Tangier 20 July 1992.
A royalist, philatelist, Muslim and former US officer, Bruce Conde (alias Alfonso Yorba, Hajji Abdurrahman and General Bruce Alfonso de Bourbon, Prince of Conde) was a prominent figure in monarchist and Arabist circles.
So wanted to know an American geneologist visiting Tangier. I mentioned his interest to some Middle East scholars at a conference in Istanbul last week, and though the whole royal pretender thing is always a bit hard to prove, there is no doubt that "Conde" was an adventurer, described by some as "the American Lawrence of Arabia" for his service in the lost cause of Yemeni monarchy.
It wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility that "Conde's" memoirs are floating around in some Tangier attic or flea market box. My predecessor stumbled upon a fascinating collection of postcards written to longtime Tangier resident Paul Bowles (whose centenary Tangier is marking this year). They were for sale in a dusty antique shop, probably having been pinched from Bowles' apartment as he lay ill or dying.
But TALIM is not just about history. We do gardens, too. Oran university architecture professor Amara Bekkouche, AIMS Maghribi scholar in 2009 and return Getty/Fulbright scholar in 2010, presented her study of an urban garden in Casablanca (image, Parc Murdoch or ISESCO) to a rapt audience of fellow architects, landscape designers, and reforestation experts this summer. Bekkouche and company dissected the question of what makes some urban green spaces successful – high level patronage, local buy-in – and what makes some of them turn into downtown trash dumps.
We end this mid-summer roundup of scholarship with an art historian, AIMS scholar Holiday Powers, whom I'd met at the AIMS 2010 conference in Oran. Holiday provided much-appreciated insights into our museum program, much in need of, as the French would say, un coup de jeune. Connecting with young artists in Morocco, who apparently have few venues in which to show their works, might be a way of ensuring that TALIM's "Old Legation Museum" stays in the minds of the 60% of Tangerines who are under 25.
Who says scholars can't offer tangible assistance?