21 April 2014
It’s Monday, I’m back in London, and I’m in a bit of a daze. Not just the effects of a weekend of expatriat-scale-cocktail-drinking after six weeks of Lenten abstinence. There’s something extraordinary about Tangier that gets under your skin. This evening I feel a bit like I’m waking from a dream. It’s grubby, it’s dusty, it’s down at heel, and in parts, as close to heaven as I’ve been in a very long time. The specific part we will get to later, and it will come as no surprise.
World of Interiors have placed an embargo on me. “You can’t take a photo of the house” said Gavin, the minute I put my foot through the door. “Jessica wrote specifically to say so”. I was tempted… but fair play got the better of me and I promised I wouldn’t show a single shot of Gavin’s beautiful, beautiful house. (Well, there might be one or two). For lunch on Easter Saturday, we went to Jonathan Dawson’s equally beautiful house in the country. Interiors are publishing that too. Hmm. Guess who got here first? So although it is ravishing place, which you can rent for next to nothing this summer, that too must remain almost behind wraps… I respect an exclusive after all. That evening, Veere & David (whose perfect Temple, in Suffolk, we read about a few weeks ago) showed us their extraordinary house-building project on the mountain. I’ve never seen anything like it. But I am afraid that again my camera was asked to stay in my pocket.
But thankfully in Tangier there is a lot to look it which we can share. From time to time it’s hard to know where to start.
The dusty treasure shop opposite the fading hotel El Minzah; the tiles in the hallway of the Hotel Gilbraltar next door.
I love the faded 50s air of Tangier almost more than the traditional Moroccan. Here’s Cafe Colon, down the road from Gavin’s, where we started many mornings.
It’s all about colour juxtaposition, really, wherever you look.
We explored the tight, narrow alleyways of the Medina; the broader squares of the Kasbah.
The Continental, straight out of the Grand Budapest Hotel. I am sure Wes Anderson must stay here when in Tangier.
The legendary Dar Zero, which some think is the most beautiful house in Tangier, high atop the Kasbah.
You learn quickly to expect the unexpected.
Around the corner from Gavin’s house is this perfect ladies’ hair dressing sign.
I loved these plastic crates, almost as much as I loved the door of Villa Mabrouka, Yves Saint Laurent’s and Pierre Berge’s house which is still for sale (in case you are interested):
We turned a corner and spied this beautiful pink merc in a dusty car park. We will see more later.
I found the graves of my great-aunt and uncle in the English churchyard. They moved to Tangier in the 50s. Trishy was an artist, and she died in 1991. I remember visiting her here when I was about 15. Adrian I don’t remember at all, as I was only 3 or 4 when he died. I will enjoy writing a blog about Trishy one day soon.
Good to find those. We met Christopher Gibbs, undisputed king of the expats, on the way out of the Good Friday service. He remembered my great-aunt very well. We’d bumped into Christopher and the other English flowers the night before at the insane Casa d’Italia. You can of course read about them all here thanks to the New York Times. I got sent that article rather a few times, you can imagine. It’s brilliant, and spot on the money, without perhaps mentioning quite how faded one or two of the subjects are getting. A moment is passing.
After church, lunch at the legendary Art et Gourmet, with its beautiful deco stair.
Gavin took me to the weavers courtyard, which sadly was all but empty on Fridays for prayer, but was superb even without each blue-doored chamber rattling with the sound of machinery.
He has had all his striped fabric specially woven here.
Then to a beautiful building where all the notaries and lawyers work. He signed the papers for his house here. I’d quite like to live there, I decided. Fading Glamour, literally.
Somehow or another on Friday afternoon we made it to the coast and to the beach and I even went for a long swim, in the Atlantic no less, which I took to be rather brave. That evening we all had drinks with Gavin’s friend Maggie at her extraordinary house deep in the Medina. She’ll fix you with everything you need in Tangier. She’s started house-hunting for me already.
Maggie chatting with one of Gavin’s other guests, Christopher Leach. Christopher is a brilliant decorator and an even more brilliant story-teller. I haven’t laughed so much in years. Off camera is James McDonald, who completed this terrible trio of old friends. James is a very fine interiors photographer. In a nice venn diagram, you can see his photograph of Christopher’s old apartment here. Lush.
Back to Maggie’s party. Everyone in Tangier has lovely local made rip-offs of the Bertoia Diamond chair. Here are Maggie’s blue ones.
I adored the tiled staircase to Maggie’s beautiful roof terrace. If you’re looking for a crazy place to stay, look no further. Get in touch with me for details. Good luck finding it, that’s all.
Breakfasts at Villa Houghton, prepared by faithful Aziz, were perfect. And extremely welcome after the ravages of crazy Tanger nights. There, I said I was going to put in a photo of Gavin’s flat. Here’s another, which frankly should be the cover of World of Interiors as far as I can make out. One of his beautiful Josephine Chairs, which he sells. You can get in touch with Gavin through his website here.
You see what I mean? And as for the inky-blue paint. Well… too much.
Saturday morning got off to a bright start when we spotted the Pink Merc going for a run. But the real treat of the day was lunch with Jonathan Dawson. Sharp readers will have already spotted Jonathan and his cockerel, Gregory Peck, in the New York Times article. It was his annual Easter Saturday lunch at his hilltop place a short and mad drive out of Tangier.
Lunch on the terrace. I had a great chat with my neighbour Anna McKew, on the right, who knew Trishy well. Anna arrived in Tangier in 1957. David Oliver flanks other grand tangerine ladies who lunch.Jonathan chatting to Francisco de Corcuera Gandarillas on the terrace. Don’t you want your staff in white coats, blue shirts and a fez? Jonathan has built the entire house from scratch. Nothing was here. It’s perfect. And this is the place, by the way, that you can rent for a song this summer.
From Gavin’s terrace we look across to Francisco’s house, which I think is meant to be one of the most beautiful in Tangier.
We wound our way home from Jonathan’s lunch via gin-and-tonics (okay, James and I had a cup of tea) at the Villa Josephine, an altogether different kind of vibe but definitely the Grand Hotel Budapest alive and kicking all over again.
We descended the mountain back to Chez Houghton for a half an hour nap. No sooner than I had put head to pillow, it was time to get up again. Tangier has a hectic social life. We were off for dinner with David and Veere.
Man. oh. man. When I wrote a few months ago of the Fishing Temple that it was close to heaven, I didn’t realise heaven itself was in Tangier. Veere and David are building the most beautiful house on the most beautiful site you have ever seen in the world, and in the meantime they are renting Thomas Cook’s old house just down the road. It is perfection. I cannot tell you. David Oliver’s sublime paint colours, Veere’s furnishings, and a happy sprinkling of Christopher Gibbs magic dust: I am not sure I have been anywhere so beautiful in years. Do you agree?
We toured the building site next door, awestruck, and returned to find the table laid, for a perfect last evening of conversation and the most delicious dinner you have eaten.
The following day was Easter day. I woke early. It was time to come back to London. One last trip to the Cafe Colon with Christopher. Homeward flights, and back to London through massive rainstorm clearing to sunshine, full of tales of Arabian nights and days. I’m sitting here now in Queen Square, and I can hardly believe it wasn’t a dream. Can you tell I’m in a strange mood? In due course, perhaps I can explain what’s up.
In the meantime, little apartment with the ancient metal balcony and for sale sign, that I spied within a minute… are you calling? I’m not sure. But you might be.