Twenty years ago, in the magical Belgian film Toto le héros, we saw a glimpse of the future: walking down the street, you're confronted with wiring, plumbing, and tubing coming out of the most unexpected places. It's the Centre Pompidou effect, but without the discipline.
I've seen the future, and it's here in the medina. The Wired Effect. It's even crept into the historic Tangier American Legation. So I've declared the War on Wires.
That pile of tangled telephone line you see (only a representative sample) used to be on our walls. Not "in" but "on." Same principle applied to electricity. Need a new plug for that stove? No problem. We'll just drill a hole in this nearby wall, string the cable through the 19th century courtyard, then drill another hole to get it back inside. Presto!
The impetus for this War on Wires has been twofold. Thanks to funding from institutional sponsors AIMS and CAORC, TALIM has been able to retire its venerable Trimline™ phones. For those who don't remember, here's the Collectors Weekly blurb:
The Trimline, like the Princess phone, was one of the Bell System's best marketing innovations. First introduced in 1965, the idea was to create a stylish, easier to use telephone. A huge success, the Trimline was copied by most other major telephone manufacturers. The Trimline's dial was located in the handset itself with the ringer and electronics inside the telephone's base.
Yes, and when combined with vintage 110v Radio Shack® intercoms (and lots of transformers), you had a means of paging Monsieur le Directeur through many parts of this sprawling place. "M. le Directeur, Mr. Ben Shismu is calling," the intercom would announce, to all within earshot, including the caller. "Who?" the Directeur would respond. "Mr. Ben Shismu…" followed by information that one hoped the caller himself did not overhear. Our new phones have an intercom function, but the caller doesn't get to listen in.
And the wiring is either in the wall or in a relatively unobtrusive track.
I'm going to have to flog the old phones on eBay. They'll be treasures to someone.
The other trigger to our anti-wiring crusade has been our State Department funded roofing project, which has waterproofed selected – stress on selected – roofs and walls. Somehow the application of fresh paint makes these eyesores even more visible, and also leads to new discoveries: many of the wires, long since superseded, were simply left to dangle in the breeze, snipped at one end. Away they go.
In the bargain, we've not only installed new phones and additional extensions, but extended WiFi to most parts of the Legation. Thanks to Morocco's excellent high speed ADSL and 3G coverage, it is the envy of most countries on the African continent in terms of internet access. We still have a long way to go, but phone-wise and internet-wise, we have moved from the '60s to at least the mid noughts. Not bad.
With all this modernity, we haven't forgotten our roots. In fact, our newest acquisition is this vintage phone, purchased at a nearby antique shop for use as a prop in our budding "Legation Room," an attempt to recreate an office in our museum to illustrate that this was once a working American diplomatic post.
And we got it for a bargain. Not trusting the price quoted to me, the Foreigner, we had our undercover shopper Yhtimad go there a few days later (she was already known to the shopkeeper as a customer) and get it for half the price. Foreigner price, Moroccan price.
This antique dealer doesn't know me yet. I once negotiated for two years with an Alexandrian mashrabiya dealer over a beautiful antique picture frame. I was a good customer, and we became friends in the bargain, chatting politics etc. for long periods over mint tea. In the end, my Egyptian friend just gave me the frame.
I'm going to have to sip some tea with my Tangier antique guy…