In this blog, my aim is to tell you what it’s like to live in Tangiers, the good, the bad and the funny. But before I do that, I need to tell you how we ended up in Tangiers. I’ll give you the short version here and save interesting details for future blogs : My husband, who was born in Morocco and emigrated to the US years ago, inherited from his mother a lovely house with an orange grove in Kenitra, (Port Lyautey under the French Protectorate.) Unfortunately, by the time we decided to retire in Morocco, the town of Kenitra had changed since its heyday as the site of a large American military base. The quiet neighborhood of single-family homes, where his mother’s house was located, had been rezoned for high-rises. My husband sold the house, which was promptly razed to make way for a concrete apartment block. In 2004, with the proceeds of the sale, we bought land in a new development in Tangiers, called the Bay of Tangiers. In 2006, we started building a traditional courtyard home (called a riad) and we are still at it in 2014.
My role, as the American-born wife, has been to furnish the riad in a style that is traditional (Beldi in Moroccan dialect) enough to pass muster with my husband’s many relatives. (And I mean many relatives. He is the youngest of eighteen children who had children and grandchildren). I also wanted the house to suit my taste, which favors neutral colors over Beldi bling. My first decorating challenge was the Moroccan living room (salon marocain). The relatives vetoed the first fabric I purchased, a combination of soft blue and gold brocade, as not Beldi enough. Some have grudgingly accepted my second choice, a traditional geometric design designed and woven in Fes. That was Beldi enough for me but they all have told me pointedly that a better choice would have been Bejaa, a traditional brocade with intricate floral designs and bright pastel colors. To my taste, this color palette clashed with the primary colors in the Moroccan tile work (zellige). This is my second choice. Judge for yourself.
To understand what all the fuss is about, you need to know more about the salon marocain. It is the hub of a Moroccan home, serving as a living room, a dining room and a bedroom all in one. You receive guests in it, you and your guests eat in it and your guests sleep in it. In some households, there are two salons, the Moroccan one and the European one. The European salon usually has sleek leather sofas, modern coffee and side tables, and the TV. But the one that enchants is the Moroccan salon.
A proper Moroccan salon consists of a carved wooden platform with slipcovered banquettes, round tables for eating, corner tables for displaying decorative objects and small stools for holding drinks and food. The boxsprings for the banquettes come in different price ranges depending on how soft you want them. The hardest and cheapest ones are made of styrofoam. The banquettes are usually covered in bright patterned fabrics, with coordinated geometric and floral designs. As one Moroccan niece said, the colors should pop out at you. The braid around the pillows is subject to fashion. The best is hand woven in Fes to match the fabric. Some Moroccan households have two slipcovers for its Moroccan salon—silky for warm months, velvety for the winter. The sheer curtains over the windows are often embroidered to match the design of the cushions and mattresses. Over the sheer curtains, there is another curtain, often in a darker color with an elaborate clasp in the middle and fancy tieback on the ends.
The frame for the banquettes is made of wood and carved in traditional designs. The number of cushions determines the number of guests. If you have twelve cushions, you can receive twelve guests for dinner. Ours has 34 cushions so that we can entertain lots of relatives, if need be. When you sit down to a Moroccan dinner, you surreptitiously count the number of tablecloths on the round tables. That will tell you the number of courses so that you can pace yourself.
The sleeping arrangements in the Moroccan salon promote community. A family, husband, wife and children or brothers and sisters will sleep together end to end. Do not expect heating or air conditioning. The women may be wearing pajamas under their elegant caftans so they are ready for bed. In some Moroccan households, the unmarried sons sleep in the salon marocain.
To appreciate the variety of Moroccan salons, search in youtube.com under “salon marocain.”