FOREIGN LEGION

Spirits of Tangier
by Tessa Codrington

(Arcadia Press, 2008)

It could be said that Tessa Codrington has her own foreign legion.

For legions of her friends, were it not for Tessa Codrington, Tangier would have remained an exotic but unvisited outpost on the North African continent. Their only ideas about Morocco would have come from the 1940’s black and white film Casablanca. Instead there is a battalion of Tessa’s friends, old and young, who have visited Tangier many times and formed an affection for Morocco. If it weren’t for Tessa, they never would have journeyed to North Africa or met a Moroccan. (Even bridge players from as far afield as Las Vegas are familiar with Tangier because her husband Stuart Wheeler, a top gambler, regularly invites them to an annual game in Tessa’s house, Dar Sinclair.)

I first met Tessa in 1973 at Marguerite McBey’s, at a lunch party she gave for Malcom Forbes, who had bought Dar Mendoub, an enormous palace on the Marshan. This lanky “bohemian” photographer from London and her American sidekick, Ellen Ann Ragsdale, were amusing and adventurous and were livening up the summer. Tessa had a special relationship with Tangier because her grandfather, Jack Sinclair, had been a well-known colonial figure. That summer the house she inherited from him became one of Tangier’s most entertaining salons, where you always found David Herbert, or Tennessee Williams, usually Paul Bowles, hippies, aristocrats, French and Italian designers, or perhaps the king of Morocco’s aunt.


Arriving at Dar Sinclair was a unique experience. The inhabitants of the’ Casa Grande,’ Melika, Abdul Gami and Rachida, would rush out in greeting, followed by Melika’s bizarre menagerie of animals. They were a humourous part of the rich tapestry of daily life at Dar Sinclair. Melika’s chicken with oranges and seasame seeds was a house speciality. Elizabeth David came out to visit my wife, Tessa’s sidekick, and me in 1980. She was especially fond of Melika’s sesame chicken and carefully copied it out for one of her books. Melika was proud that she had become ‘famous.’

My first glimpse of Tangier was from the deck of the Mons Calpe, the ferry from Gibraltar. The city was a glittering blur of white in a field of green. The old town or medina is built in tiers on the side of a hill that slopes to the sea. White, flat-topped houses and multi-coloured minarets are girdled by old ramparts and crowned by the Casbah, the fortified inner city.ear was 1962 and Joe McPhillips and I had come to Tangier to teach at the American School for one year. I ended up staying for seventeen, and Joe for the rest of his life, such was the allure of the place.

Tangier was an amusing and fascinating community of English ex-pats, who had lived all over the world. Eccentrics and mostly black sheep of well-known families, they were used to an exotic, colonial life. They didn’t want to go back to England. They had settled in Tangier because the weather was good, the price was right, Europe was only ten miles away, and the welcoming Moroccans were tolerant of their curious lifestyles. Plus there was a diverse collection of writers and artists, presided over by Paul and Jane Bowles.
Sadly, over the years most of these characters have died off, and Tessa is the reigning eccentric. Her house and garden, her humour, her energy, and her constant stream of houseguests are keeping that spark alive.Tessa is an old Tangier hand. She has travelled all over the country, to the desert, to east and west. She is loved by Moroccans, who consider her, like themselves, a true Tangerine. She has met everyone who has passed through the city, from the old colonials who were friends of her mother and grandfather, to the latest arrivists. Tessa’s book, The Spirits of Tangier, is a personal, photographic history of an adopted Tangerine’s passion for Morocco, old and new.

— John Hopkins


Spirits of Tangier by Tessa Codrington is available at www.amazon.co.uk.

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