One of the phrases people of a certain age have imprinted on their memory was not spoken by Charles Boyer in the movie “Algiers,” which he made in 1938 with Hedy Lamarr, although comedians continued uttering it in a bad French accent for years afterward. “Come wiz me to ze Casbah” was probably most famously spoken at the movies by Bugs Bunny. “Algiers” was an American remake, down to some of the same camera angles, of the 1937 “Pépé le Moko,” starring the French film icon, Jean Gabin.
With scenes of those movies in my mind’s eye, I set foot in the Casbah in Tangier in April. Not I alone, of course. My wife, Jane, who in the last week had plunged, map in hand, with me into the winding streets (some more winding than others) of Bordeaux, Bilbao, Oporto and Seville, was also there. So was Hamsi, our Tangerine guide. (So, too, were about forty shipmates from our Southampton-to-Barcelona cruise who had signed up for the same excursion.)
We descended the hill leading toward the sea, passing through streets that mixed clotheslines and satellite dishes,
until there ahead was Bab Kasba, the Casbah Gate.
Passing through a Moorish arch, we came to a landing, steps beside a hole with a cat in it,
narrowing streets funneling downward in several directions, a peddler in a Yankee cap with bracelets on one hand, necklaces and a geode on the other,
entreating us to buy, a Coca-Cola sign to his right, and immediately behind him another man with toylike ouds, small stringed instruments, asking us to make him an offer.
We would need more than a map to navigate the Casbah’s swarming maze of lanes and alleys,
swarming mostly with persistent peddlers.
And no wonder they would choose such a livelihood, with tourism Tangier’s principal business and high unemployment of more than 10 percent. (Youth unemployment is double that figure.)
The peddlers are all men inured to rebuff yet seem by and large to stay in good spirits,
except for one who didn’t like having his picture taken.
They look you in the eye, to impress upon you their trustworthiness. Otherwise in the Casbah, men as well as women avoid eye contact, practicing Muslim modesty.
One other feature of Casbah life deserves mention in even such a brief visit: Cats are everywhere.
Shelly Belzer, a retired New York Times editor, has been a member of OLLI-USF since 2012. In addition to leading the Shutterbugs SIG, he is a founding member of the OLLI Hikers SIG. He has taken courses on art, poetry, China, Spanish and Hillsborough County’s wild lands.