This is a “guest post” by Ambassador Edward Peck, who returned to Tangier on May 1 on board a cruise ship, and had been hoping to show Mrs. Peck the place where he and several other future US ambassadors had studied Arabic over fifty years ago.
He found our doors closed. Disappointment all around – we were so looking forward, as the Pecks were, to a trip down memory lane. Since the visit unfortunately didn’t happen, here’s a virtual tour of the Legation in photos (featuring some Legation exhibits that have just been opened), along with Ambassador Peck’s narrative of his return to Tangier.
– – – – – – – –
One of the first six students who attended FSI’s Arabic Language School in the old Legation building when it opened in 1961, I was both pleasantly surprised and extremely impressed by the view of Tangier from the sea as our ship arrived on May Day 2014.
The string of impressive, white high-rises all along the shoreline of the bay, and marching up the hills, were dramatic indications that there have been some very significant changes since I graduated in 1963.
Although the newer parts of the city look very much like those in other countries, especially in terms of the modern shops, office buildings and condos that line the wide, clean streets, the old city, the medina/casbah, is very much like it was back then. Using my rusty but still serviceable Arabic as needed, I was able to make my way through the winding, narrow alleys to what is now TALIM, but found it closed for May Day.
Director Jerry Loftus and I had been communicating about the visit, and he had left instructions with the guard to be on the lookout for me, but somehow that did not work and I did not get an opportunity to actually see what the inside looks like now. Photographs are helpful, and I doubt I could find the rooms in which we studied and played ping-pong to relax, but I know it is quite different.
It was pretty run down when I did the 22-month, 6 hour days, five days per week, and had been empty since the new Consulate General had been built farther up the hill. An explorer by nature, in an empty cellar room I found three metal boxes containing about forty 78 rpm records from wartime Germany. They included some heavily propagandist music: “We’re Sailing on England Tonight” and “Deutschland Uber Alles,” played by the Hermann Goering Division band; “The Horst Wessel Song,” by the Adolf Hitler SS Division band. There were also many contemporary, folk song and classical records, all in excellent condition. I donated them to the Library of Congress, since no one in the CG had any idea how the boxes got there.
In 2014, I went looking for the little house we had lived in, and found it in a tiny island of similar houses totally surrounded by multi-storey buildings. It is a pharmacy now, and I imagine that enclave of small homes will soon be a memory.
What has not changed is the warm and outgoing population. Moroccans are justifiably known for their open, welcoming and smiling personalities, especially those in Tangier, and it was a pleasure to be among them again. The visit was brief, but wrapped in reliving very pleasant memories of a time long ago.
Ambassador Edward Peck; photos Gerald Loftus