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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter VIII

Innocents Abroad

Chapter VIII

This is royal! Let those who went up through Spain make the best of it--
these dominions of the Emperor of Morocco suit our little party well
enough. We have had enough of Spain at Gibraltar for the present.
Tangier is the spot we have been longing for all the time. Elsewhere we
have found foreign-looking things and foreign-looking people, but always
with things and people intermixed that we were familiar with before, and
so the novelty of the situation lost a deal of its force. We wanted
something thoroughly and uncompromisingly foreign--foreign from top to
bottom--foreign from center to circumference--foreign inside and outside
and all around--nothing anywhere about it to dilute its foreignness--
nothing to remind us of any other people or any other land under the sun.
And lo! In Tangier we have found it. Here is not the slightest thing
that ever we have seen save in pictures--and we always mistrusted the
pictures before. We cannot anymore. The pictures used to seem
exaggerations--they seemed too weird and fanciful for reality. But
behold, they were not wild enough--they were not fanciful enough--they
have not told half the story. Tangier is a foreign land if ever there
was one, and the true spirit of it can never be found in any book save
The Arabian Nights. Here are no white men visible, yet swarms of
humanity are all about us. Here is a packed and jammed city enclosed in
a massive stone wall which is more than a thousand years old. All the
houses nearly are one-and two-story, made of thick walls of stone,
plastered outside, square as a dry-goods box, flat as a floor on top, no
cornices, whitewashed all over--a crowded city of snowy tombs! And the
doors are arched with the peculiar arch we see in Moorish pictures; the
floors are laid in varicolored diamond flags; in tesselated, many-colored
porcelain squares wrought in the furnaces of Fez; in red tiles and broad
bricks that time cannot wear; there is no furniture in the rooms (of
Jewish dwellings) save divans--what there is in Moorish ones no man may
know; within their sacred walls no Christian dog can enter. And the
streets are oriental--some of them three feet wide, some six, but only
two that are over a dozen; a man can blockade the most of them by
extending his body across them. Isn't it an oriental picture?

There are stalwart Bedouins of the desert here, and stately Moors proud
of a history that goes back to the night of time; and Jews whose fathers
fled hither centuries upon centuries ago; and swarthy Riffians from the
mountains--born cut-throats--and original, genuine Negroes as black as
Moses; and howling dervishes and a hundred breeds of Arabs--all sorts and
descriptions of people that are foreign and curious to look upon.

And their dresses are strange beyond all description. Here is a bronzed
Moor in a prodigious white turban, curiously embroidered jacket, gold and
crimson sash, of many folds, wrapped round and round his waist, trousers
that only come a little below his knee and yet have twenty yards of stuff
in them, ornamented scimitar, bare shins, stockingless feet, yellow
slippers, and gun of preposterous length--a mere soldier!--I thought he
was the Emperor at least. And here are aged Moors with flowing white
beards and long white robes with vast cowls; and Bedouins with long,
cowled, striped cloaks; and Negroes and Riffians with heads clean-shaven
except a kinky scalp lock back of the ear or, rather, upon the after
corner of the skull; and all sorts of barbarians in all sorts of weird
costumes, and all more or less ragged. And here are Moorish women who
are enveloped from head to foot in coarse white robes, and whose sex can
only be determined by the fact that they only leave one eye visible and
never look at men of their own race, or are looked at by them in public.
Here are five thousand Jews in blue gabardines, sashes about their
waists, slippers upon their feet, little skullcaps upon the backs of
their heads, hair combed down on the forehead, and cut straight across
the middle of it from side to side--the selfsame fashion their Tangier
ancestors have worn for I don't know how many bewildering centuries.
Their feet and ankles are bare. Their noses are all hooked, and hooked
alike. They all resemble each other so much that one could almost
believe they were of one family. Their women are plump and pretty, and
do smile upon a Christian in a way which is in the last degree

What a funny old town it is! It seems like profanation to laugh and jest
and bandy the frivolous chat of our day amid its hoary relics. Only the
stately phraseology and the measured speech of the sons of the Prophet
are suited to a venerable antiquity like this. Here is a crumbling wall
that was old when Columbus discovered America; was old when Peter the
Hermit roused the knightly men of the Middle Ages to arm for the first
Crusade; was old when Charlemagne and his paladins beleaguered enchanted
castles and battled with giants and genii in the fabled days of the olden
time; was old when Christ and his disciples walked the earth; stood where
it stands today when the lips of Memnon were vocal and men bought and
sold in the streets of ancient Thebes!

The Phoenicians, the Carthagenians, the English, Moors, Romans, all have
battled for Tangier--all have won it and lost it. Here is a ragged,
oriental-looking Negro from some desert place in interior Africa, filling
his goatskin with water from a stained and battered fountain built by the
Romans twelve hundred years ago. Yonder is a ruined arch of a bridge
built by Julius Caesar nineteen hundred years ago. Men who had seen the
infant Saviour in the Virgin's arms have stood upon it, maybe.

Near it are the ruins of a dockyard where Caesar repaired his ships and
loaded them with grain when he invaded Britain, fifty years before the
Christian era.

Here, under the quiet stars, these old streets seem thronged with the
phantoms of forgotten ages. My eyes are resting upon a spot where stood
a monument which was seen and described by Roman historians less than two
thousand years ago, whereon was inscribed:


Joshua drove them out, and they came here. Not many leagues from here is
a tribe of Jews whose ancestors fled thither after an unsuccessful revolt
against King David, and these their descendants are still under a ban and
keep to themselves.

Tangier has been mentioned in history for three thousand years. And it
was a town, though a queer one, when Hercules, clad in his lion skin,
landed here, four thousand years ago. In these streets he met Anitus,
the king of the country, and brained him with his club, which was the
fashion among gentlemen in those days. The people of Tangier (called
Tingis then) lived in the rudest possible huts and dressed in skins and
carried clubs, and were as savage as the wild beasts they were constantly
obliged to war with. But they were a gentlemanly race and did no work.
They lived on the natural products of the land. Their king's country
residence was at the famous Garden of Hesperides, seventy miles down the
coast from here. The garden, with its golden apples (oranges), is gone
now--no vestige of it remains. Antiquarians concede that such a
personage as Hercules did exist in ancient times and agree that he was an
enterprising and energetic man, but decline to believe him a good, bona-
fide god, because that would be unconstitutional.

Down here at Cape Spartel is the celebrated cave of Hercules, where that
hero took refuge when he was vanquished and driven out of the Tangier
country. It is full of inscriptions in the dead languages, which fact
makes me think Hercules could not have traveled much, else he would not
have kept a journal.

Five days' journey from here--say two hundred miles--are the ruins of an
ancient city, of whose history there is neither record nor tradition.
And yet its arches, its columns, and its statues proclaim it to have been
built by an enlightened race.

The general size of a store in Tangier is about that of an ordinary
shower bath in a civilized land. The Muhammadan merchant, tinman,
shoemaker, or vendor of trifles sits cross-legged on the floor and
reaches after any article you may want to buy. You can rent a whole
block of these pigeonholes for fifty dollars a month. The market people
crowd the marketplace with their baskets of figs, dates, melons,
apricots, etc., and among them file trains of laden asses, not much
larger, if any, than a Newfoundland dog. The scene is lively, is
picturesque, and smells like a police court. The Jewish money-changers
have their dens close at hand, and all day long are counting bronze coins
and transferring them from one bushel basket to another. They don't coin
much money nowadays, I think. I saw none but what was dated four or five
hundred years back, and was badly worn and battered. These coins are not
very valuable. Jack went out to get a napoleon changed, so as to have
money suited to the general cheapness of things, and came back and said
he bad "swamped the bank, had bought eleven quarts of coin, and the head
of the firm had gone on the street to negotiate for the balance of the
change." I bought nearly half a pint of their money for a shilling
myself. I am not proud on account of having so much money, though. I
care nothing for wealth.

The Moors have some small silver coins and also some silver slugs worth a
dollar each. The latter are exceedingly scarce--so much so that when
poor ragged Arabs see one they beg to be allowed to kiss it.

They have also a small gold coin worth two dollars. And that reminds me
of something. When Morocco is in a state of war, Arab couriers carry
letters through the country and charge a liberal postage. Every now and
then they fall into the hands of marauding bands and get robbed.
Therefore, warned by experience, as soon as they have collected two
dollars' worth of money they exchange it for one of those little gold
pieces, and when robbers come upon them, swallow it. The stratagem was
good while it was unsuspected, but after that the marauders simply gave
the sagacious United States mail an emetic and sat down to wait.

The Emperor of Morocco is a soulless despot, and the great officers under
him are despots on a smaller scale. There is no regular system of
taxation, but when the Emperor or the Bashaw want money, they levy on
some rich man, and he has to furnish the cash or go to prison.
Therefore, few men in Morocco dare to be rich. It is too dangerous a
luxury. Vanity occasionally leads a man to display wealth, but sooner or
later the Emperor trumps up a charge against him--any sort of one will
do--and confiscates his property. Of course, there are many rich men in
the empire, but their money is buried, and they dress in rags and
counterfeit poverty. Every now and then the Emperor imprisons a man who
is suspected of the crime of being rich, and makes things so
uncomfortable for him that he is forced to discover where he has hidden
his money.

Moors and Jews sometimes place themselves under the protection of the
foreign consuls, and then they can flout their riches in the Emperor's
face with impunity.

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