In Tangier, the local history museum was such a small place; that much the centuries had yielded. A mosaic tableau of Venus on her voyage, attended by nymphs. A child’s tomb, a clay jar, lying amidst ancient coins, priceless and yet devoid of value. A massive facsimile of an ancient map of the world; the continents were topsy turvy, with Europe tiny and unmoored in the south. An insignificant place, then.
Nearby the museum, a battered gate led to a narrow dusty footpath that wound around the northernmost part of the city; if you walked westward, you might come to a point where you could see Cape Spartel, the haunt of gods and corsairs. But we stood at the beginning of the journey for a long time, where, at this point in time and space, the azure hillside was steep and trash-filmed, rolling down to a pale curl in the Strait under a cloudless sky. Neat young men in jumpers and jeans, a few in djellabas, milled about, alone or in soundless pairs, staring at curl, port, and sea. The Levante, even as gentle as it was, brought gifts of sulfur and salt, so that you kept your tongue in your mouth.
Venus had already disembarked; before the artisan laid down the tiles that became the mosaic; before the birth of the child who was buried in a clay jar; before the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Portuguese and whoever else came to conquer; before these young men spoke their first and last names.
The young men stood like this for a long time, so that they must have stood like that, with their tongues in their mouths, for days, days that became months, months that became years, until they were the Rif mountains: green and vertiginous with longing, black where the sun could not extend its rays.