A version of this article originally appeared on MUNCHIES France.
It’s 1 in the afternoon at the fishing port in Tangier, Morocco. I’m on the docks, sitting at the table of cheap restaurant and trying in vain to clean my fingers, which are as greasy as a bicycle chain. What’s left of a fried fish dinner lays in front of me, devoid of all temptation: My stomach and my camera are already well-filled. I came here with visions straight out of Naked Lunch in mind—an Interzone in Northern Africa, shrouded in scents and vibrant colors.
Ryanair flight FR7744 dropped us off on the tarmac of the Tangier airport the day before, late in the afternoon. We were greeted by a warm, comforting sun—a welcome we appreciated, having come all the way from snowy Paris. This morning, we woke up to the muezzin’s song, the call that summons Muslims to the mosque for prayer.
We take to the street. The sea and Spain are directly in front of us, guiding us towards the port and its fishers. We walk along the docks and zigzag through nets filled with the morning’s catch, under the watchful eyes of a cat who seems more amused than interrogatory and fishers who are hard at work.
You can see Spain when you look north along the horizon; it’s a mere 15 kilometers away. The port of Tangier acts as a link between the African continent, the Mediterranean Sea, and Europe. It also feeds Morocco with tuna, moray eels, and other fresh fish. Between its famous blue and white walls, Tangier gives way to an entire network which moves to the reeling in of the nets, the unloading of the daily catch onto the docks, and the patching up of old boats—everything from the initial sorting of the fish to their gutting, sale, and packaging for hungry customers.
For the majority of the participants, this morning ballet—lulled by the sweet scents drifting from hash pipes—ends with the food stalls adjoining each market vendor’s stand. Surrounded by plastic picnic tables and billboards converted into makeshift roofs, everything that has fins and bones gets fried. It’s a no-frills operation: Trays of fried fish are served with a lemon wedge and a paste-like salad made from beetroot and raw onions.
Even the napkins are optional and need to be purchased from Houcine, who weaves between the tables offering tissue packs and lifesaving finger wipes. Seated with their elbows on the table and woolen hats fixed firmly to their heads, the fishermen talk loudly and give the impression that they haven’t yet debarked their boats. We park ourselves on plastic patio chairs in mismatched colors. The server who comes to greet us doesn’t bother with fruitless explanations; when we ask what the spot is serving, he replies in Arabic that "everyone gets the same thing." That’s good by us, so we don’t ask anything more.
Unfortunately, this bustling hive is headed towards its last seconds of life, as the construction of a new, more modern port threatens to displace the historic fishing port that’s currently here. After Mohamed VI took to power, Tangier has been gripped by frenetic modernization, which has resulted in the installation of 51,000 square meters’ worth of storage to house all the equipment necessary for a contemporary fishing industry (such as a fish market, ice factories, refrigerated warehouses, stores for shipowners and whole fish merchants).
Bearing that in mind, these picturesque scenes slip before our eyes like vintage, dog-eared postcards, each one a fragment of time, a precious moment sure to evaporate. We tried to carry as many as possible with us. Here’s a few gems we took with us, accompanied by captions, just in case.