Rediscovered in the alleys of Tangier, Morocco’s last link to the Beat Generation


Writer and artist Mohammed Mrabet, 83, at his home in Tangier, Morocco. (Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui for The Washington Post)

This may be the age of Facebook, Twitter and smartphones, but it soon became clear that these were going to be of little help. Mohammed Mrabet would be difficult to find.

His tracks, to be sure, were evident in this storied Mediterranean city of narrow alleyways and bustling French-style cafes.

At a museum on the Rue d’Amerique, a youthful Mrabet appears in photos and postcards featuring the late American expatriate writer Paul Bowles. At the Librarie des Colonnes bookstore, Mrabet’s fiction is displayed on shelves. At the Cafe du Paris, a waiter informs me that Mrabet had been there two weeks earlier.

But no one — not at the museum, the bookstore or the cafe — knew Mrabet’s telephone number or address. Social media handle? Forget it.

A writer and artist, Mrabet is the last living link to a bygone era when famed American literary figures, including many leading lights of the Beat Generation, visited this North African country for inspiration and relaxation, often facilitated by drugs. Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote — they all traveled here in the 1950s and 1960s.

Many came to see Bowles, the composer and author of “The Sheltering Sky,” who lived in Tangier for more than 50 years until his death in 1999. Mrabet, who worked closely with
Bowles, knew all the Beat writers who stopped over.

Mrabet, I hoped, would transport me back to that beguiling time through his memories. But first I had to find him.

Sitting in the smoke-filled Cafe du Paris, my Moroccan translator, Amira, and I phoned the bookstore again.

On the other end, an employee gave us hope. He had identified the Tangier district of Charf-Souani as the place Mrabet may have last resided.

The narrow street of Mrabet’s Tangier neighborhood is hard to find without a guide. (Yoriyas Yassine Alaoui for The Washington Post)

So we hopped into a taxi. When we arrived, we asked around. No one had even heard of Mrabet — until one man, standing in front of his doorway, offered, “He’s the friend of that American writer, Paul Bowles, no?”

“Yes,” I said excitedly. “Do you know where he lives?”

The man shrugged. “No,” he said. “But it’s somewhere here.”

As we talked, a passerby overheard our conversation and stopped.

He was middle-aged and wearing a djellaba, a long, loosefitting, traditional robe. He said he knew a man named Mrabet. “Follow me,” he said.

It was already after dark. We had been searching since morning. We had nothing to lose.

We followed the man through a small cemetery packed with gravestones of different sizes and overgrown with weeds, through the corridors of a large, dimly lit mosque, bending and curving, until we were on a dark, narrow street.

The man stopped at a nondescript three-story townhouse. This is it, he said.

We stared at the wooden front door for a few seconds. I knocked. I knocked a little harder. A head finally popped out of the second-floor window.

It was him.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~


Screen Shot 2018-05-12 at 7.47.48 PM

~~~   PAUL BOWLES.ORG  ~~~

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s