Back in the late 90’s before my travels started in earnest one of the things I loved to do was read a good book based on travel in some form. It would take me on a journey to places at that time I had only dreamed about, in ways I guess reading travel blogs today is for some people.
Living vicariously through others.
The Beat Generation in Tangier
One book I enjoyed much later on was On the Road by Jack Kerouac, a beat generation writer who released the book in the 50’s to critical acclaim, and brought beat generation culture more to the awareness of the masses.
The writings and poetry of other authors of the time like Allen Ginsberg and William S Burroughs was also very influential in diving into (and contributing to) the culture of the USA during the 50’s.
They were the outcasts living outside of the norm, something that I can relate to in my lifestyle of not conforming to the way people think you should live.
Travelling the world and getting into great adventures is what I wanted from life and I set out to do it. Escaping through books in the past helped me set up myself to live the way I dreamed in the future.
All this stuff about writing and so on came about from a visit to Morocco recently where I spent 2 days in Tangier before flying out.
Tangier itself is a strange place, sometimes feeling more European than Moroccan. It had the usual old medina (city) to walk around with it’s winding old lanes, but was also accentuated by cafes on corners that was more akin to being somewhere in France.
The most interesting aspect of my time there, and the main reason for going, was the history of the beat generation in the city. The very hotel I was staying in was used by those same writers mentioned before.
It’s the Hotel el- Muniria
Now I don’t consider myself a writer by a long shot. I’m someone who just scribbles down his thoughts and experiences onto a blog, with some nice pictures thrown in. But I do consider myself to be creative, in one way or another. So to be staying somewhere where some of the best writers that I love reading from the 50’s and 60’s stayed was, well, pretty sweet.
The hotel itself was a simple affair, nothing so special, and the only reminders of the old days are a few portraits on the wall of the beat generation writers that stayed there.
William S Burroughs ended up a long term resident of the city after fleeing authorities in Mexico where he accidentally shot and killed his wife when drunk. He ended up writing the book he would become known for, Naked Lunch a critical take on American culture.
The other writers and artists came through for a while. The Rolling Stones among them.
But why Tangier?
Well it was an escape from the western world, a place where drugs could be consumed and anything could happen. Everything was permitted in Tangier back in the 50’s as long as you didn’t commit any serious crime.
It was them living outside of the norm where anything goes.
This is a quote from William S Burroughs about Morocco at that time:
“Tangier is one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don’t proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behavior, you can do exactly what you want.”
Sitting at a cafe on a square called Petit Socco (little square), you can drink a coffee and imagine the old days. It used to be a seedy place where prostitution and drug deals happened but nowadays is cleaned up.
But there is still a nice mix of characters lingering around Petit Socco to make it a place to relax and watch everything go on. Indeed this is where Burroughs and others came.
That is what I enjoyed the most about Tangier. The history associated with some of my favourite writers and just slowly wandering the city, getting lost, and sitting at cafes drinking coffee and taking it all in.
It’s one of those strange places that I would probably tell most travellers to just pass through with just a quick look at the old medina. But then if you have the time I would say stop for a day or two, especially if you have any interest in the beat generation history.
Sit back at an old cafe, have a coffee, and watch everything go by. It’s a perfect people watching city with a melting pot of cultures from all over.
It may not be the great escape from the western world and the norms of life it once was, but it’s still got a strange charm about it.
Popular Beatnik Novels
I’ve listed (with links to Amazon where you can buy them if you wish) some of the most well known beat generation novels. I’ve read them all and if you have any interest in this kind of writing then I suggest you do as well.
If you were just going to get one I would say read Naked Lunch.
Also if you are going to Morocco I recommend taking the Lonely Planet Morocco (Travel Guide), it’s what I used for information on Tangier and the country.
Enjoy the reading…