With this banner standing unobtrusively at the main entrance of Tangier’s Continental Hotel, itself standing precariously on the edge of the Medina (Old City) overlooking the approaching new port, an international conference was held to discuss the (endangered) heritage of Tangier in a fast developing city. I learned of the event midday on Saturday, so I was able to attend only one roundtable session mostly on how to valorize the cultural assets of a city. It was interesting, but perhaps not surprising, to find out that the modern city of Casablanca is a bit of a leader in this domain, whereas the ancient city of Tangier is still struggling to make up for lost time. I was most interested in the presentation of Jamila El Hemam, described as an architect and “lighting expert” (eclairagiste, in French). She began by talking about the effects of the invention of fire on the night and brought her conversation to the wrong and (sometimes) good ways modern cities use electricity to highlight their monuments, provide security, and increase tourist activity.
Much of the effort to preserve the cultural heritage of Tangier and defend the city against a plethora of threats goes to the indefatigable Rachid Taferssiti—tireless guide, author and activist on behalf of his native city.
I am most certainly in the second half of my life’s journey, but I have always wondered whether I already experienced my share of the proverbial “midlife crisis.” I don’t seem to like fast cars, or cars in general, and my pleasures of old (drinking coffee, reading in cafés, watching good movies, etc.) remain unaffected by the relentless march of time.
Now, new research is letting us know that the very idea of a “midlife crisis” is quite possibly a fiction. The concept was coined in 1965 by the Canadian psychoanalyst Elliot Jacques but quickly struck a nerve and became a staple of our self-identity.
Life has its constant challenges, to be sure, and aging is certainly no cakewalk. But getting older seems to confer psychological benefits, not the reverse.
Arab universities are famously known for their low quality and absence from any meaningful global rankings.
To catch up and make up for lost time, the Moroccan minister of higher education, Mr. Lahcen Daoudi, outlined a very ambitious plan for the financial daily La Vie Éco (October 3, 2014). He wants to merge the various universities, colleges and institutes in big cities like Rabat and Casablanca into major public universities to improve their competitiveness and performance. He also wants to encourage private investment in this sector and for private universities not to poach faculty from public institutions. (Not-for-profit private colleges of medicine and health professions are already full, so the signs are encouraging there as well.) The minister wants to lower the burden of faculty who are now forced to teach classes of hundreds of students. As it stands, there are now 16,000 faculty members teaching more than 650,000 students. His goal is a lower faculty-student ratio (1 professor for 50 students) and more facilities and scholarships to take care of all needs. Noting that South Korea boasts 3.5 million students out of a population of 49 million, or that Iran already has 5 million university students, Mr. Daoudi wants to bring up the number of Moroccan students to 1 million in the next few years.
Mr. Daoudi has a little more than $1 billion to accomplish to accomplish most of his goals. Here’s wishing him the best of luck.
This boxing match in the world-famous square Jemaa el Fna of Marrakech is a reminder that fights are first and foremost spectacles designed to entertain. But, as you can see in the video, they are not free. So the ring master maintains the audience in a state of suspense until he gets all the initial cash to get the two men going. A French man—called the “monsieur” by the fight managers—couldn’t resist after a while and just kept throwing coins at them until they succumbed and let the two men start punching. Question is: What were we looking for in this staged comedy? What was the thrill?
In any case, to be here and watch this is to be transported to medieval forms of entertainment, which, in Jemaa el Fna, are still on display every day. Television and the Internet cannot eclipse this human ingenuity—and the public knows it.
The square serves as a place for making a living through any art form. At one time, I came across a couple, clearly hard on their luck, seeking coins for a few musical tunes.
When Germany created the modern research university with its Ph.D.-granting degrees, their model was quickly adopted by the United States and soon became the norm in many other countries. Last week, following a decision by the state of Lower Saxony, higher education, even for foreign students, became virtually free throughout the whole country. As Forbes magazine noted soon afterward, such a decision may mean more taxes for the already burdened German citizen, but one could also say that any political decision we make ends up costing us, one way or another. News of such a seemingly reckless decision may not sit well with those who believe that paying for things out of pocket or through massive debt is more efficient, but British students have already taken note and, according to the Guardian, are mobilizing to demand such rights.
Will an American state or two copy the German model?
Slowly, Starbucks is acquiring the status of a cool café in Morocco. It is now in Casablanca’s newly inaugurated train station, one that is designed to serve TGV customers when the service goes into effect in a couple of years or so. No hard facts are available as of yet, but this is one of the biggest train stations in all of Africa. One side of the main floor is reserved only for cafés—which makes absolute sense in Morocco.
The Starbucks in this photo displays an illustration making Casablanca look like a hub for the Seattle-based company. It’s rather charming to see such pride, but it will never be real.
What is interesting, though, is how Starbucks manages to implant itself in a culture that is thoroughly saturated by cafés and even boasts (as in the picture below taken in the old city of Marrakech) itinerant coffee and tea dispensers:
One thing is for sure: Moroccans go to Starbucks not for the coffee or the desserts, but for the experience. The Starbucks space allows people to be part of an American ethos, whereas conservative, less-educated Moroccan men prefer to be in cheaper, socially predictable social spaces. The growth of Starbucks in Morocco, therefore, may well indicate that young people are chipping away at their culture’s hard-wired traditions.
The singer in this video—Neal Jandreau—and I have been working, talking, and playing racquetball together for more than five years, but I have never seen him sing the way he does here. I knew he was a singer and I did pressure him to sing in Tangier, Morocco, the last time he was there. Here, in Maine, Neal is his natural self, singing happily with the support of one of his buddies. Bravo, amigo!
Where in the Muslim world would one come across this headline? La Vie Éco, one of Morocco’s major’s financial dailies, is reporting that wine sales have fallen by half in 2014. Sales have been affected by the decision of Marjane, Morocco’s largest supermarket chain, to stop selling alcoholic beverages and increased taxation on the consumption of alcohol. As a result, home made liquor is on the rise and the state is taking less in tax revenues. Prohibition is always a double edged sword.
If there is anyone who knows I am in town, it is this man, Tangier’s walking news stand, who never tires of promoting reading. Like a seasoned librarian, he has a good sense of what I like and knows exactly when to show me the latest issue of a magazine. Today, he sold me La Vie Éco, a financial daily, and the weeklies Tel Quel and Le Temps. He usually finds me having lunch someplace, but he also runs into me in the boulevard of the city. He never seems to go beyond this area, and if you stay long enough at the lunch table, he most likely will come back for a second visit. Then he leaves again, calling out the names of newspapers and periodicals, oblivious to the glittering images of well-coiffed anchors on television screens everywhere.
The Spanish newspaper El País is taking note of Tangier’s transformation from a laid back and politically abandoned city to one that is emerging as a powerhouse in the region. The Spanish port of Algeciras across the sea still holds the top status in the Mediterranean, but Tangier’s new port, Tanger Med, is fast inching up to a place of dominance. The whole city is being lifted to the skies. One hundred projects are underway, notes the paper. “A new high-speed train, the first in Africa, will connect the north of Morocco to Casablanca in 2015.” In addition, “15 parks, 25 schools, a conference center, more than a dozen hotels, a dozen mosques, a hospital, a stadium, are being built.” The ultimate “goal is to convert Tangier, a city of nearly one million inhabitants , into the main port of the continent and the Mediterranean.”
This is no small praise. Spain and Morocco have always had a tense relationship, with Spain being the older and more modern sibling. But Morocco is making so much progress that Spain’s most important newspaper can’t fail to notice.