LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Meet Me in Tetouan
Ok, I admit it, Tetouan is my favorite city in all of Morocco. Who would not fall in love with a town that has a dove as its emblem and by large sculpted doves at round-abouts throughout the city?
How can you not fall in love with those majestic Rif mountains all around you?
At night, should you drive up one of those mountains and then look down when all the golden yellow lights are on, Tetouan looks like a rare and precious piece of jewelry. And then there are those to-die-for beaches and the mist that slowly climbs down the mountains and stretches out, like a contented dragon, over the many shades of blue waters that seem to go on forever.
Most mornings in Tetouan, I would fling open the white jalousie widows of the place I was staying in Cabo Negro to flowers in riotous colors blooming profusely in late December: purple boungainvilleas, huge red hibiscuses and the bright yellow daisies that the writer Claude McKay (who adored Teotuan) writes “strike out everywhere/ with flaming gaiety across the land.” Tetouan fuels my imagination. Here I wanted to write and paint all day long and, maybe that is the reason, above all others, why Tetouan is my favorite city in Morocco.
Tetouan is also a city of love and it is the city of lovers. By that I do not mean the hungry early stages of love where lovers cannot keep their hands off each other, but rather the love that has taken the time, dedicated the years, to build upon itself, the love that has a solid foundation, the love that takes comfort in things being just a little quieter and just a wee bit slower, the love that finds immense satisfaction in just looking outside the window and savoring all that is around you in a thoughtful, peaceful, quiet way.
This is not to say that there isn’t a bustling city center with the required medina, the place where you can find all the fresh fruits and vegetables that you could want, there are enormous yellow pomegranates and high green mounds of a fruit new to Morocco, the Cherimoya or what I knew growing up as the sweet sop, and there are mounds too of all manner of nuts, most notably almond that is grown in huge quantities in the orchards of the region and are in the delicious almond-filled cookies that you can purchase singly or by the dozens in the many bakeries around the town. Trust me: I know all about those almond-filled cookies! There is too the soothing scent of fresh mint tea in the air and the distant sounds of the call to prayer. We are after all in Morocco.
The roads of Tetouan are wider and smoother than most other city roads I have been on in Morocco, and I have been to several cities in the country. And that lovely green and white architecture, so distinctive of the Spanish who ruled Tetouan for quite a while. This Spanish influence is still very much alive in Tetouan, so much so that I found to my surprise, that most of the local people speak Spanish as opposed to the French I had been using all over the rest of Morocco. Many of the road signs too are in Spanish and Arabic as opposed to the French and Arabic often used in other regions of the country.
Not surprisingly, the city endured a long history of conquest and re-conquests, and has been fought over and bartered back and forth between various Moroccan tribes and dynasties, Romans and Phoenicians, the Spanish and a good number of pirates thrown in for good measure. Jews also called the city home for many years and indeed Tetouan is one of the places in Morocco that still retains not only a strong Jewish presence but also a distinctive Christian population with a big bright yellow church sitting squat at the center of the city.
Tetouan seems relatively and refreshingly untouched by tourism and, maybe because of this, women just seem freer and more visible on the streets, even late into the night, something that has given me difficulties in other places in Morocco. If you happen to be in the city and get a chance to walk higher and higher up the ancient medina that in 1997 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will come to some spectacular ruins at the top, and then you will turn around to those monumental Rif Mountains all around you and a breathtaking view of my favorite city in Morocco.
Jacqueline Bishop is an award-winning photographer-painter-writer born and raised in Jamaica, who now lives and works in New York City (“Jamaica’s 15th Parish”). She has twice been awarded Fulbright Fellowships, including a year-long grant to Morocco; her work exhibits widely in North America, Europe and North Africa. She also teaches Liberal Studies at New York University; is the founding editor of Calabash: A Journal of Caribbean Art & Letters; and author of The River’s Song, a novel about growing up in Jamaica.
See: www.jacqueline-bishop.com. Besides Childhood Memories, Ms. Bishop has also completed two other collections of photographs entitled Folly and Facing Africa.