Tangier was not a stop on my original 1980 itinerary. Nor did The Sheltering Sky convince me that I should go there. From Barcelona I travelled to Valencia, Madrid, Cordoba, Granada, and somewhere around Sevilla I got it in my head that I would take the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier, despite what I had heard about the city and its dangers.
The ferry was smaller than I thought it would be, everyone crammed together on the foredeck, hanging on for dear life as the ship fought its way across the Straits of Gibraltar (indoors was less an option than a wind-protected vomitorium). I remember the mountains dead ahead, all purple, green and grey, and the music blasting from the PA: an endless succession of Rolling Stones songs. Not until “Happy” did it occur to me that the songs had been arranged in alphabetical order.
Whenever I tell people I was in Tangier at least half of them ask if I met Paul Bowles? (Apparently Bowles led an active café life and made himself available to whoever wanted to chat.) I don’t remember much during my visit, other than an intense walk through the medina and an unpleasant scene at an outdoor cafe, where a Moroccan boy approached a table of middle-aged British couples and accused someone’s husband of standing him up, demanding payment for an unexecuted sex act.
Years later, while writing a film script on the photographer Wilhelm Von Gloeden, it occurred to me that the last site of Indo-European sex tourism (impoverished version) might have been Taormina, Sicily, where Von Gloeden spent much of his life, and many more – like Oscar Wilde, Douglas Fairbanks and Isadora Duncan – came to visit. I mentioned this to a film producer from Milan, and she scoffed. For her, Sicily is so foreign to the “real” Italy that it "might as well be Africa."