Sex, drugs & Moroccan roll

First there was Sodom and Gomorrah, then Babylon – the great cities of vice. But human history is replete with hedonistic hangouts, and in the 1960s, writes Nick Foulkes in Issue 38 of The Rake, Morocco opened its arms to the jet set and famous.

J. Paul Getty, Jr. and wife Talitha, wearing Moroccan kaftans on the terrace of their holiday house in Marrakech (Image by © Condé Nast Archive/Corbis)

“If you are someone escaping from the police, or merely someone escaping, then by all means come here: hemmed with hills, confronted by the sea, and looking like a white cape draped on the shores of Africa, it is an international city with an excellent climate eight months of the year.” So wrote an excitable young Truman Capote of Tangier in 1950. “Before coming here you should do three things: be inoculated for typhoid, withdraw your savings from the bank, say goodbye to your friends – heaven knows, you may never see them again. This advice is quite serious, for it is alarming, the number of travellers who have landed here on a brief holiday, then settled down and let the years go by. Because Tangier is a basin that holds you, a timeless place; the days slide by less noticed than foam in a waterfall; this, I imagine, is the way time passes in a monastery, unobtrusive and on slippered feet.”

There was a time when the seductive, addictive quality of life on the north African shores of the Mediterranean had a powerful hold upon the imagination of the more louche members of what Ian Fleming called the ‘international set’. In a time long before the Arab Spring and Aman resorts came to the Maghreb, it was the destination of choice of those among the beautiful people for whom the Riviera proved insufficiently hedonistic and exotic. Of course, in those days, north Africa was still European: Algeria was a department of France and would have to fight a bloody war against its colonial master before it could achieve independence in 1962, while both Tunisia and Morocco were French protectorates until the mid fifties.

But, at the same time, it was also Africa: moral standards, at least for European and American expats, were relaxed to the point of non-existence. Much in the way Americans used to visit Cuba to sate themselves on the island’s pleasures, northern Europeans headed to Tangier in search of a more forgiving moral and meteorological climate – the place was apparently a seething fleshpot where every depravity was catered to. The city’s wartime status as an international zone, which it would retain until 1956, added to its appeal.

Published

July 2020

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