by Simon-Pierre Hamelin

They say they saw me one windy morning hurrying down towards the port, my step quick and shaky.
They say I passed through the thick border without even realising it; just as you go through a door that closes behind you, you always leave a regret in your wake.
They tell of my escape, a blossoming legend that is soon to wilt, as each teller makes it his own, elaborating it as he pleases. “He got past the border” people mutter under their breath, their eyes open wide in surprise, an escape passed on as a secret until it has reached the four corners of the city. To the delight of the wagging tongues along the Boulevard, at least for this afternoon.
So much to tell, even without knowing anything at all, for this clear border is not for crossing. Tangier, my universe in a pocket handkerchief, my shadow forever cast on the walls of your alleyways, as if moulding the slippery paving stones of your streets. Long still shall I torment the sun that shines full and bright on your terraces. And believe me, I will cross your border, but only after having crossed and savoured the passage of your other, countless, invisible borders.

I cross them and cross them again, swallowing them up several times a day; and during those spring nights, when no passage seems impossible, I feel like I can hang in mid-air for a moment, poised above your lines.

I am particularly careful to cross the one that separates the Medina from the Grand Socco : the most venerable, designated in the past by a furrow drawn in the fresh and sacred earth. And this is often the first rite of the morning, this passage under the arch that reaches astride the line, trodden unknowingly by an anonymous crowd. And yet I see some who, like me, stop off a second to lift their gaze, imperceptibly.

I cross another, my head low, cheeks red with shame, as I go down the Montagne at the edges of an anonymous neighbourhood, a different world compared to that of the well-heeled inhabitants of Tangier, who cross all the borders shown on the map effortlessly. I cross it at a run, burning with the heady pride of the poet, full of visas and invitations, and from his seat, Louis XVI tells us of the World in terms of overheard certainties, a prisoner in turn of his own opaque border, so unyielding as to drown him out. Yet poetry has another home, a few wandering steps away, between the sky and the sea, on a deserted beach in the evening: by a flickering fire an old man sings a romantic song to the sound of his oud , imposing his silence onto the waves that caress the shore. Further away, Mrabet speaks to the sirens. Thus another frontier falls, that which sections off our senses, stopping them all too often from joining the winds of the District.

I cross that of time in the same half-hour. My lips brush against the gloves of an English Lady before meeting the lip of a glass of steaming tea in the café near this ancient room. Dwarves dressed in fez and starched djellabas serve centaur captains, crownless carnival kings with delicate manners. A regal white cockerel passes from armchair to armchair and, with a stroke of his wing, ruffles the Lady’s hair: things will always be this way, will they not? Opposite, on the other side of the dividing road, in a dark café with the lowered shutters, their gaze fixed on the citadel of Europe, there are a number of vigorous young men, halted in their tracks in the flower of their youth. And through the windows of this café, we may see these healthy young men who no longer look like such, with their mobile phones in both hands, garish hats on heads, spend the whole day betting on the future. Which is played out on a small screen booming forth its promises of the future: thoroughbreds running at Vincennes , in the mud, beneath the driving rain. The same equestrian fever is felt on both sides of the divide.

I cross my own borders, and yours, those that separate languages and civilisations with a Capital letter. Rue d’Angleterre: a babushka born in exile in Odessa, before all the wars, kisses me on the forehead and blesses me in Russian: “Little Sasha, come back and visit me soon. We shall have tea and jam together. I will read you my poetry, and we shall speak of the country. Don’t forget the times of the boat for Trieste, they must have changed since…”. Near her house, I ask a shopkeeper for a packet of Marquise with my faltering Sabir – a coarse yet familiar sound – the sticky language of all those Bohemians that have washed up on these shores. Sidi Bouabib calls out to the faithful, St. Andrew rings forth: it’s Sunday. Batuji lowers the metal shutter and skips off down Rue du Portugal, flowers in hand, his brow stained with saffron. Off he goes to decorate his idol in the tiny Hindu temple which lies hidden in a corner of the Jewish cemetery. He’s the only one that uses it, and the Rabbi has long since stopped noticing. Ganesh is covered in carmine, smelling of rotten petals, incense and rancid butter. Of course, there is always the temple in Gibraltar, a larger and more elegant affair to boot, but Batuji is not fond of the sea, no more than he is of monkeys. And just as he brings his hands together above his idol, from a cellar in the lower Medina the prayers of a black priest rise up: “Our Father, which art in Heaven, let us cross the District. Let us always have bread, in the desert that we cross on foot, up to this wall rising to the sky”. He straightens his little white collar and off he goes to pacify his clandestine herd.

I cross the forbidden border, those snaking steps that lead up to your room. There is not even a door to denote my passage, let alone stamps for my passport: the only witnesses will be our own memories. Behind the regular rhythm of your breathing, you are dozing, or pretending to. The rise and fall of your breast beats out the passage of time, just the shape of your flank defines space. There are no borders that you recognise. But once I have crossed the Rubicon so sought after by all, once I have responded to the challenge thrown down to me like a gauntlet, will you remember all those other borders that we crossed together, without even touching the ground, transported on a wind so strong and proud? Will you still see my smile on the drowsy faces of those dreaming of Europe that you meet everywhere? Will you regret one day the times when we were friends, when I would carry you between the hills and the valleys, without ever falling foul of the distant limes?

They say they saw you, one windy morning, accompanying me down to the port, your step quick and shaky. They say they saw you push me behind a wall, without a second glance and without regrets. But my shadow still hangs from your sides, moulding the slippery paving stones of your streets. Long still shall I torment the sun that shines full and bright on your terraces.

Tangier, 2008

In North-African countries, the old part of the town.

Central square of Tangier.

Residential neighbourhood that dominates the District.

Arabian musical stringed instrument, similar to the mandolin.

Long garment with long sleeves and hood.

Racecourse east of Paris.

Moroccan brand of cigarettes.

Dialect that mixes Arabic, French, Spanish and Italian.

Mosque of the Grand Socco.