If I’m on Hammersmith and I throw a three, she thinks, I have an abundance of moves. Up the Metropolitan to Latimer Road, or District to Earls Court; or Piccadilly Line to Gloucester Road, or back to Turnham Green. She runs a long apricot nail along the pale blue Piccadilly vein that diagonally bisects the underground energy channels and gingerly moves the pieces of torn cards a few centimetres outwards from the map. The tip of her nail vibrates along the marble table top as she pokes slowly at the pieces. Six fragments and one complete seven of deniers. One fragment could be a six. Another looks like the three of staves. There’s also the bottom of an unidentified horseman. And a valet, probably. The other bits she can’t identify.
She arranges them around the edge of the map on the wet marble surface. Her glass of mint tea is to the right. Her sunglasses lie to the left. The table is tight against the green iron railings at the front of the cafe. The sun shines on the blue formica table tops across the square at the Cafe Central. Above her head the green and white striped awning of the Cafe Tingis keeps the worst of the heat and the glare from her.
The blue, red and gold ink on the card fragments is faded. She wonders if she should ever have picked them up when they fell, confetti-like, onto her shoulders. She was walking, idling through the narrower streets and alleyways, thinking she knew where she was and then finding herself in some square where she had not expected to be. She’d been walking toward the port compound, hoping there was a way up to the Rue de la Marine. She’d stopped when she saw only the dock gates ahead. At that very moment the fragments of card had descended on her, together with a sweep of assorted dust and dirt from the street above. A sprinkle of minor arcana. Nothing unusual in this enigmatic space in time.
And now she studies them on the cafe table. Do they contain a message of some importance for her? Her finger rests on the seven of deniers. Seven small golden coins. She slowly splays out her fingers until her fingertips rest gently on the golden circles on the card. She slides the card gently towards her. Are they meant to be coins? Money? Is this a sign of money coming to her? She winces at the fortune-tale thinking. Aren’t deniers meant to be evil, negative? Pentacles. She prefers that name. This is the seven of pentacles. A nice down-to-earth suit. Must indicate an end to the muddle and confusion that has grown up around her in the past week.
Ever since she has arrived she has been aware that it is not only the spoken language that she doesn’t understand. The whole place vibrates with messages, present past and future, in a thousand and one unspoken languages. Some times she can literally hear them all at once, translated into a vast rumbling in her head. It happens when she walks too long in the sun on her own, or when she lets herself get caught up with one of Antony’s experiments with majoun. The majoun is okay if that’s where Antony is at. She knows she has given in completely to whatever it is that he is attempting. She no longer worries. Only now and then, when her head is clear of kif and she is freshly showered. Then she worries.
He’s an extremist. Always playing around with the camera, continually re-assembling the past or positing the future. Street theatre carried to extremes.
Room nine at the El Muniria was a case in point. Why the somewhat shabby little room, she didn’t query. She is used to shabby little hotel rooms, particularly with Antony. Though he’s just as likely to book them a suite at The Ritz. So they lay around in room nine and munched majoun fudge and played some weird music on the cassette player. Best kif in the Rif, Antony said. It was the kind of flippant remark that really irritated her,an indication of some parallel and less likeable personality at work. But later,in the bar of the El Muniria, Abdul told her that Room Nine was a popular request. Of course it was Naked Lunch that Burroughs had been writing there.
Antony also said (borrowing from Paul Bowles, as she found out later) that the town had been designed by Dr.Caligarri, with the classical dream equipment of tunnels, ramparts, ruins, dungeons and cliffs.
But the dreamlike quality of life here is enjoyable, particularly after the hectic times in London. Still, she knows she’s giving in a little too much. She really needs some kind of sense out of Antony now. If not a script then at least some kind of a timetable.
She drops a few dhirams onto the table, slides them out from among the fragments of cards towards the waiter’s lethargic fingers where they tap at the edge of the marble, thin and brown and wrinkled like prune skins. She watches as the waiter’s fingers walk slowly across the moist surface, the pink pads of his fingertips exerting just enough pressure to drag the coins silently across the marble to drop off the edge and into his tray with a tiny metallic sound.
She looks again at the bits of Tarot cards before she gets up from the table. A horseman that must be the knight of staves, an unpredictable person, impetuous enough to make a hasty departure on his own. Does his presence mean they are going to strike camp and leave Morocco?
Out into of the Petit Socco she turns uphill toward the Boulevard Pasteur, mildly wondering where Antony is and why she is walking instead of having called for a taxi. She’ll stop in at the Frog for a coffee.
All very well Miriam-Ann. Out there in the dark, unseeable jungle, in the primordial darkness the elephants and zebras are stirring, golden apples are being stolen by wicked young girls, and great panting horses are sinking to rest in their chariot shafts. As Daniel Defoe ducks up one back alley Ian Fleming slips into the El Minzah as though he has never left and Guy Burgess pisses in his pants as his head slumps on to the wet surface of the counter in Dean’s Bar. And, deep below the waters lapping the edge of the city, seraphic messengers float fake dead spies to Spain and carry live generals to beachhouse assignations. In the Fuentes Hotel St. Saens hums what he thinks is a North African melody. In a soundless fury the F111s are heading for the Garden of Eden.
As Miriam-Ann goes to enter the Grenouille she finds it closed and she realises it must be Monday Things aren’t quite right, she feels. She can’t quite put her finger on it. Just something in the air I guess. She’ll go over to the Flandria and phone for a taxi from there.
“It’s the truth. That’s what we’re looking for – right here through the viewfinder,” Antony said in Room Nine at the El Muniria. “You want to know what we are filming? Well that’s it Mim. The truth. We are filming the truth. And there’s only one way to do it. Be there when it happens. And of course it’s happening all the time. Basically we just point the camera at it.”
“Not quite that easy of course Mim.”
She loathed being called Mim. She noted the way his shoulders had squared back and his chin thrust out. Why must he put on an act? Why couldn’t he just tell her what he was doing without sounding so dogmatic? He tries to beat down any possible disagreement in advance, she thought. Why are men so afraid?
“My job is that of facilitator,” he told the window. “How can one be so presumptious as to think one can `direct’ the truth? All I can do is facilitate. I simply allow the truth to happen before the lens.”
“I’m fed up with all this.” She heard her voice coming from somewhere in the room and wondered where her body was. Must be the majoun, she thought. “We’re just farting about. When do we admit it and pack up and go home?”
“Somewhere like that,” she said.
Antony sat down beside her. “I’ve decided to cut out the hashish for a while,” he said. “It’s fine if it is lifting me up into a different consciousness – if it allows me to film in the equivalent of a higher consciousness. I mean if it gives me a filmic consciousness, something like an extension to Pudovkin’s filmic time and space. You know?”
“I know what you’re saying Antony. And yes I think it’s a good idea to give the kif a rest. I’m not sure it gives me a new opening onto acting at all. I’m wondering if it isn’t more like masking what I’m trying to do. Do you feel that? Can you understand what I’m trying to say?”
He looked into her eyes and said, “I’m trying for two kinds of reality. I am deadly serious about this. You know that don’t you?”
I wonder if he ever listens to what I say, she thought.
“You see the kif gives me one more kind of reality. When I say two kinds of reality I’m talking of the two kinds of reality we are actually shooting in. An aware kind and a drugged kind. That means that I’m at liberty to create aspects of reality within either of those basic two modes.”
“Antony. You don’t have to go through all that for me you know. I know what you’re trying to do. I’m with you. I’m intrigued to see what we get out of it. What we get on the screen. It’s just that I feel when I’m affected by a drug, any drug – alcohol if you like – well then I’m aware of something like a mask between me and the camera.”
“Thank Christ the camera doesn’t smoke,” said Antony. He was looking out into the Rue Magellan now and she felt she had lost him again.
“Who, in their right mind,” he suddenly asked, “could come to a place like this and see nothing more in it than a setting for a James Bond tits-and-treasure hunt? I don’t make movies. I don’t shoot films. I am not an auteur, a director, a movie-maker. I am just here. It just happens. I am here simply to facilitate.”
Well what else could she say? She loves him. She believes he is doing work that has not been done before. Well that’s what she tells herself.
But had Miriam-Ann left the little marketplace and turned up the sloping alleyways into the rue Ben Raisouli instead of making for the Frog, she could have walked into the time and space of Balthazar St.Michel, sitting in his little room, dressed in arab clothes. The Lord of Success Unfulfilled – personified. Treasurer of Tangier indeed, staring at the fateful card that told of unprofitable speculation, of the failure of a promising subject.
A journey for Miriam-Ann that could have taken her a quarter of a mile in space but three hundred years in time.
To Balthazar St.Michel the minor arcanum suggested a circular organization, something that had a fixed centre, a centre from whence it started, or concluded, or both.
Poor Balthazar. He was trying to find three hundred thousand pounds of the king’s money that had already been spent on the rocky finger that beckoned out to sea in a vain effort to bring Gibraltar closer.
If Miriam-Ann thought she had problems with Antony she should have been privy to King Charlie’s feelings about Balthazar. But a quarter of a mile is a lifetime in Tingis Town (actually about six or seven lifetimes in this instance).
The appointment to Tangier had not been what the portly civil servant was seeking. He had immediately gone to see his brother-in-law and told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of being posted to such a truly barbarous outstation. Not for a king’s ransom would he consent to transfer from the fleshpots of Westminster to the arid wastes of the Barbary Coast. Until his brother-in-law pointed out, in even stronger terms, that a king’s ransom was already at stake and he, Balthazar St.Michel, had the task of finding out where all the money was going and why no proper accounting for it was being sent back to Westminster. Balthazar had to be carried onto the ship in a state of drunken collapse. And kept that way until he disembarked in Tangier Bay.
What it’s about:
Stressed actress is on vacation in Tangier when spies from World War II, Samuel Pepys, mysterious Moroccan musicians, and other long-dead characters from the city’s violent past, manifest into her life. Her young cinema verite boyfriend doesn’t want a script but Tangier supplies it.
Where it’s set:
The story spins itself around the city on the northwest corner of Africa. It’s the place where European, African and Arab worlds meet. It’s where Atlas stood on his mountains and held up the sky; where Hannibal took his elephants across to invade Europe; the launching pad for General Franco’s invasion of Spain; the Second World War original of Bogart’s “Casablanca”.
“Tangier seems to exist on several dimensions…Here fact merges into dream, and dreams erupt into the real world” – William Burroughs.
The Main Characters:
(There’s been a cast of thousands through here – Cleopatra’s daughter, Samuel Pepys, General Eisenhower, international spies, film stars, beat novelists – you name them, they’ve been here, and left something of themselves to haunt the place – and to haunt our contemporary characters).
British actress Miriam-Ann Dunn ‘resting’ between films and waiting for her agent – a flamboyant old queen called Leonard Silberman – to send her the right script to reverse her fading fame and fortune. Her young director/lover Antony, shooting a bit of wild footage about nothing in particular. Ronald Burke, her ex-shrink and father of her daughter Stephanie, called back to help them all.
In her early, theatre, days, Miriam-Ann used to get nervous and Leonard would say “Darling – once those lights hit you, you’ll be fine! That’s home out there on the stage! Don’t you realise that for a few precious hours in your life you know everything that’s going to happen to you? You’re out there in a warm little protected world where you know the exact outcome of everything that is said and done. You’ve got a script, baby! Now that’s got to be better than life!”
Now she doesn’t have a script. Antony doesn’t like scripts. “You want to know what I’m filming?” he says “the truth” that’s what I’m filming. You can’t script the truth! You can’t direct the truth! The truth doesn’t have boundaries, it’s not limited by time and space. I let the truth happen –wherever, whenever, whatever – right there in front of the lens”
“We’re farting about,” she says, “when do we pack up and go home?”
They don’t pack up. They smoke more hashish. They find themselves sucked deeper into the alleyways and tunnels of the ancient city. The city’s past starts leaking through into their present.
Seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys works in London for the Admiralty and is responsible for sending money to Tangier to build a harbour and protect it from the barbarians. The city is part of the dowry of King Charles’ new queen, Catherine de Braganza. Pepys has been siphoning off funds for himself but his cover is about to be blown. He’s sent his brother-in-law Balthazar St Michel to Tangier to sort things out. Balthazar is a gross buffoon of a man but by keeping the inquiry in the family Pepys hopes he can cover up what he’s been doing.
World War II counter-intelligence chief Colonel Codrington, code-named “Fishpaste” and based in Gibraltar, is busy setting up a clandestine radio station in a decrepit building in an alleyway off Tangier’s Petit Socco. He’s getting ready for the Allied invasion of North Africa.
Then there’s Selene, a slave girl friend of the Pepys’; drunken and lewd Governor Piercy Kirke; a secret agent who likes to garrotte his enemies with a piece of piano wire; and numerous mysterious Moroccan musicians.