Kamis, 18 September 2014

Travel Diaries: Kochi - Tangier - Majorca

(Published in the NOW! Jakarta Magazine, October 2014)


Paul Bowles’s old suitcases and typewriter in the Paul Bowles room of the United States Legation Museum in Tangier.
See video http://youtu.be/IskyvrKy-Eo

20th August 2014: Kochi Crown Plaza, Kerala, India
The Bulgari Bali taught us all that all black interiors are the ultimate in luxury: the trouble is, in the new city hotels in Asia, one keeps smashing into Arab ladies in black burqa in the public areas!

22nd August 2014: To terrific Tangier and the legendary El Minzah Hotel
For years I have wanted to visit Tangier, that legendary artists’ and writers’ haunt at the mouth to the Mediterranean.
Emirates conveniently flies direct to Casablanca from Dubai. On line I found Suntransfer.com who, for 200 Euros, met me at the airport and drove me, in a comfortable car, the 5 hours north to Tangier.
Alternatively one could arrive in Barcelona and take a two hour flight to Tangier airport.
Wherever one goes in Tangier one hears stories of famous past inhabitants — Mastisse, Francis Bacon, Paul Bowles, Gore Vidal, Barbara Hutton — and amazing stories of its emergence as Morocco’s first international city, from the 16th century. An important port in Roman times the city became an important port during the age of the Moorish (Moroccan) occupation of Spain and, in 1777, was the first to recognize American independence (thus the legation, founded in 1816).
In the years leading up to the second World War it was actually Tangier, not  Casablanca, that was a centre for many of South Europe’s resistance movements.
After the war it became a playground for druggies, artists and authors, and most recently, a favoured spot for holiday homes for Middle East era sultans. Heavenly English gardens abound in the villas that dot the pine-scented hills that surround the old harbor town. The old Kasbah is now a lively culture centre. The Medina is quite modern (compared to Marrakesh) with cafes brimming with colourful and cultured expats.
The El Minzah has everything — It is Tangier’s funky, orientalist answer to the Raffles Hotel in Singapore and  The Taj Palace, Bombay and it has location plus: near the Medina, on Rue de la Liberte opposite the Consul du France, which is next to the Café de Paris on Place du France, the city’s answer to Paris’s Café Flore.
Tangier has no shortage of elaborate, stylish and quite unique cafe interiors ― they really love tasty decor here ― and old style signage. On the street I see a broad spectrum of Mediterranean, Berber and Saharan faces, as if a number of countries had been thrown into a melting pot. Everyone is terribly nice and polite; even the men selling creepy bait at the fish market below the hotel advise me to be extra careful of pick-pockets in the vegetable section; and indeed I do find rogues there selling capsicum. 
*   *   *

LEFT; Door mat at El Minzah, Tangier 
RIGHT; The diarist reflected in a mirror in an English gentleman aesthetes house on the Old Mountain, Tangier

Waiters drape on the terrace at ‘Ocean’, Plage du Sol, Tangier

On my first afternoon, I fill in time pretending to be on holiday — drinking gin and tonics by the pool and visiting hammam — but really all I want to do is to photograph weird people dressed weird; and there’s no better place than Tangier, one of the Mediterranean’s most cosmopolitan and colorful cities.
*   *   *
On my morning jaunts, I stay out doing street fashion shoots until my i-Phone’s camera runs out of juice or my right knee gives up the ghost which is usually about the same time. I have my third breakfast at 10:45 back at the hotel in the packed patio which was a charming, sophisticated dining court the night before — photos of Rock Hudson, Ira von Furstenburg, and Francis Coppola reading Portnoy's Complaint adorn the colonnade walls ― but is this morning overrun with Marbella Costa del Sol types in Panama hats. I was thrilled to get back to my third floor eyrie and close the striped curtains for a massive siesta.

*   *   *

La Toya Jakson’s blonde double Sonya ‘Bambi’ Tanwell of Goa at the U.S. – Tangier legation dinner

In the evening American Legation Tangier director, John Davison hosts a lively dinner for visiting supermodel Sonya ‘Bambi’ Tanswell and her partner Gita Sahni in the stunning early 19th century residence now part museum with a fascinating collection of Paul Bowles memorabilia. Also present landscaper Madison Cox who now maintains Les jardins Majorelle in Marakesh. See Video: U.S. Legation, Tangier: http://youtu.be/KYhwFopP3eI
*   *   *
On my second day in Tangier I have lunch at ‘Ocean’ on Plage du Sol with the jetsetters. I now know that, in Tangiers, there are two types of people: those who stay at Le Mirage (a 5-star Costa del Sol style solarium and all bungalow hotel that drapes down the cliff in a nasty not a nice way and overlooks Saudi Crown Prince Salman's beach villa cum army camp) and there are the rest. Spotted at Ocean today: the polished dark brown goddess Linda Pinto (the late great interior designer Alberto's sister who has always run the show), many elegant French grandees and a fine selection of roasted English. The Ocean is wonderful: the trim and terrific hand-plucked waiters sort of drape like tapirs
between courses.
*   *   *

Top: Interior of Jonathan Dawson’s exquisite apartment in Tangier. Bottom: Dawson and the chaplain of St. Andrew’s church, Tangier

The umbrella pine forests on the drive back to town through the old mountain are to die for. But no self-respecting Australian would go near the beaches without a barge pole.
See video: My Tangier: http://youtu.be/IskyvrKy-Eo

The Power of the Youth
29 August 2014: To the beautiful memorabilia Spanish Island of Majorca
Majorca gets 12,000,000 mostly mass budget tourists a year. The island is approximately the size of Bali. Due to a concerted effort by local youth groups, the unique flavour, lifestyle, countryside, beaches and coastlines between the crowded tourism hubs have been preserved. In my two days here, I revelled in the pastoral countryside and clean bays and harbors. The drive from the airport, away from the tourist hub at Palma, is through heavenly pastureland in any direction. THERE ARE NO NODDY STATUES OR MUNICIPAL PLANTINGS LINING THE ROADS. Green belts are respected. S i g h ...if only Bali had followed this path.
On my second day there I go to Cap Rocat, a fabulous 18th century fort now a boutique resort near Palma Majorca. Owners Tony and Pablo Carrington take us to lunch in hotel's harbor side restaurant. From there we can see the main town of Palma Majorca where we go after lunch.
*   *   *

LEFT: Colourful Spanish soccer-club themed decoration on a Medina door, Tangier
RIGHT: 19th century print of a Moor warrior  in the U.S. Legation Museum, Tangier

1880s photograph of Palma Majorca, Spain
Top: The main square of the town of Felanitx in Majorca. Below: A nearby beach

In Majorca I also visited the house built by legendary Danish architect Jon Utzon on the cliffs at Porto Pedro — a masterpiece of simple elegant coastal architecture. Visits can be arranged through the Utzon Foundation.
Palma Majorca, the island capital, is a mix between Cancun and Seville. The old town, dominated by the world’s biggest gothic church — itself built over a former Moorish citadel — is totally charming. The touristic new town with its holiday high-rises is a bit of horror (see video: My Majorca: http://youtu.be/3TNP5b3ek5M).

Majorca-based artist Lin Utzon, at home in the hills near Porto Pedro, sitting in front of one of her ceramic murals.