Editor’s note: Longtime Santa Monican Charles Andrews is traveling across Europe in a camper van for one year, with his family.
Indulge me a moment if you will, kind reader, so I may tell you where I am as I write this column for my home newspaper.
I am sitting in the sun at Café Hafa in Tangier, Morocco, looking down over the white walls and faintly blue bannisters to the pale green sea of the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain visible across the horizon and waves of white foam rolling in to the coastline stretching endlessly in either direction.
I’m sitting on a plastic chair (very comfortable) and my notebook (the paper kind) rests on a metal table covered with thick dark green paint and pocked with rust craters, the legs cemented into the concrete floor. It may be an original table from Café Hafa’s opening in 1921, and it may have been written or at least leaned upon by Tennessee Williams or William S. Burroughs, Bernardo Bertolucci or Jack Kerouac, Brion Gysin or Allen Ginsberg, but more likely by Paul Bowles (“The Sheltering Sky,” much more), who came here frequently during the 52 years he lived in Tangier, meeting with such characters as above who came here to see him. Our family was privileged to be invited to stay in his mostly intact apartment for several days, so there is special meaning for me, especially as a writer.
We were fetched here by our new but dear Moroccan friend Aziz Begdouri, considered the best tour guide in Morocco and an expert on the amazing history of his beloved hometown. As he parked on the usual spot he beckoned us the opposite direction. “I want you to see something.”
A few steps away we walked out onto a large area of pale grey smooth rock, with the same glorious view of the sea as the nearby cafe, and saw large rectangular niches of varying sizes on the surface, some half-filled with green water.
“These are Phoenician tombs,” Aziz told us. “So, around 3000 BC?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied, “before the Romans, before the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians ruled here. When they saw the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean to the west, they thought that was the end of the world. So they went no further.”
“… or we Americans might be speaking to you in Phoenician today,” I quipped, and Aziz burst forth with his ever-ready laugh. He answers the phone with a laugh, and you can always picture his smiling face. He has been our angel in Morocco, and the only person one would ever need for anything having to do with Morocco. You may ask me for his phone number or e-mail, if you like. If you get to meet him, you will call me and thank me.
I had to tell you where I’m writing this not to make you envious (though if it moves you to consider visiting this remarkable city and nation, I’ll be honored and delighted) but because sitting here at Café Hafa with a big glass of sweet tea in front of me, stuffed almost to the top with large fresh mint leaves, is simply one of the best experiences of my life. In more than seven months traveling across 24 countries with endless visual bounty, this place is probably my favorite. It’s easy to see why Paul Bowles came here so often, and brought his creative visiting friends.
It’s filling with people now; a table of Spanish speakers next to me, some fashionably dressed young Arabic speakers the next table down, and a lone dark-skinned man behind me with legs stretched out, just taking in the sun and the sea.
It’s the way some of the world lives, we’ve found everywhere we’ve been on this family odyssey, slowing down to smell all the roses life has to offer, often with a friend or two or a dozen, and with no concern for the clock.
Which is not to say we haven’t also seen people rushing about, in suits or sandals or djellabas, in all those places. More so in the big cities, but I’m in a big city now and Café Hafa fills its many levels every day with people pausing to enjoy life and each other.
It doesn’t cost much. It may involve a lifestyle change for most Americans; it is a choice you make. I hope I will always remember moments like this, and make that choice much more often when back in the bustle of Los Angeles.
Living in Santa Monica makes it easier. We’ve got the beach, the rolling waves, palm trees, the sun. Many, like my good friend Keith, who lives in Riverside, Calif., come to Santa Monica for that kind of slow down; he drives in as often as possible to grab me to go sit on Main Street with a coffee, talking politics and family and philosophy for hours.
When I get back I hope I’ve learned not to wait for the wise Keiths, but to do some grabbing of my own. Save me a table on Main Street, will you?
You can follow the Andrews family’s daily blog at anandrewsadventure.blogspot.com