Tangier in the 1960s and '70s was a fabled place. This edge city, the 'Interzone', became muse and escapist's dream for artists, writers, millionaires and socialites, who wrote, painted, partied and experienced life with an intensity and freedom that they never could back home. Into this louche and cosmopolitan world came John Hopkins, a young writer who became a part of the bohemian Tangier crowd with its core of Beats that included William Burroughs, Paul and Jane Bowles and Brion Gysin, as well as Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, Yves Saint Laurent, Barbara Hutton and Malcolm Forbes. Those intoxicating decades - Tangier's 'Golden Years' - are long gone. Grand old houses that once sparkled with life are shuttered and dark and most of the eccentrics who once lived and loved in the city have died. But here, in the pages of John Hopkins' cult classic, all the decadence and flamboyance of those days is brought to life once more.
When Hopkins graduated from Princeton in 1960, he wasn't interested in the conventional routes of graduate study or a Wall Street career. Instead, he traveled, first to South America where he and a Princeton friend had visions of making money in coffee. When that fell through, the two wandered around Europe, stumbling eventually on teaching jobs at an American school in Tangier. There, they found a community of artists and socialites more accepting than most because of the remote locale. During his time in Morocco, Hopkins managed to enter into two major romances, befriend fellow ex-pat novelists William Burroughs and Paul Bowles, and even write several novels. As Hopkins gains experience, the voice he uses to catalogue his life in Tangiers changes, from his first perceptions as a perpetual tourist ("These urchins won't leave us alone. Do these diminutive hustlers ever sleep?") to an insider's appreciation of the land and the culture--"I know that that landscape and the Moroccans in it represent something totally human, something harmoniously timeless to which I give my full allegiance." The colorful references to actual occurrences take second place to describing the mysticism and primitive beauty of North Africa. Those musings and the sometimes overripe prose give the book some of the quality of an 18th-century European travelogue. There are times, though, when Hopkins shows that he is conscious of this escapist excess: "Here there is no pressure, no anxiety. I simply put down the words and they trickle out. Ideas recorded here do no violence to my soul.... How sweet the peace is."