The Bible in Spain, by George Borrow

Chapter 55

The Mole — The Two Moors — Djmah of Tangier — House of God — British Consul — Curious Spectacle — The Moorish House — Joanna Correa — Ave Maria.

So we rode to the Mole and landed. This Mole consists at present of nothing more than an immense number of large loose stones, which run about five hundred yards into the bay; they are part of the ruins of a magnificent pier which the English, who were the last foreign nation which held Tangier, destroyed when they evacuated the place. The Moors have never attempted to repair it; the surf at high water breaks over it with great fury. I found it a difficult task to pick my way over the slippery stones, and should once or twice have fallen but for the kindness of the Genoese mariners. At last we reached the beach, and were proceeding towards the gate of the town, when two persons, Moors, came up to us. I almost started at sight of the first; he was a huge old barbarian with a white uncombed beard, dirty turban, haik, and trousers, naked legs, and immense splay feet, the heels of which stood out a couple of inches at least behind his rusty black slippers.

“That is the captain of the port,” said one of the Genoese; “pay him respect.” I accordingly doffed my hat and cried, “Sba alkheir a sidi” (Good-morning, my lord). “Are you Englishmans?” shouted the old grisly giant. “Englishmans, my lord,” I replied, and, advancing, presented him my hand, which he nearly wrung off with his tremendous gripe. The other Moor now addressed me in a jargon composed of English, Spanish, and Arabic. A queer-looking personage was he also, but very different in most respects from his companion, being shorter by a head at least, and less complete by one eye, for the left orb of vision was closed, leaving him, as the Spaniards style it, tuerto; he, however, far outshone the other in cleanliness of turban, haik, and trousers. From what he jabbered to me, I collected that he was the English consul’s mahasni or soldier; that the consul, being aware of my arrival, had dispatched him to conduct me to his house. He then motioned me to follow him, which I did, the old port captain attending us to the gate, when he turned aside into a building, which I judged to be a kind of custom-house from the bales and boxes of every description piled up before it. We passed the gate and proceeded up a steep and winding ascent; on our left was a battery full of guns, pointing to the sea, and on our right a massive wall, seemingly in part cut out of the hill; a little higher up we arrived at an opening where stood the mosque which I have already mentioned. As I gazed upon the tower I said to myself, “Surely we have here a younger sister of the Giralda of Seville.”

I know not whether the resemblance between the two edifices has been observed by any other individual; and perhaps there are those who would assert that no resemblance exists, especially if, in forming an opinion, they were much swayed by size and colour: the hue of the Giralda is red, or rather vermilion, whilst that which predominates in the Djmah of Tangier is green, the bricks of which it is built being of that colour; though between them, at certain intervals, are placed others of a light red tinge, so that the tower is beautifully variegated. With respect to size, standing beside the giant witch of Seville, the Tangerine Djmah would show like a ten-year sapling in the vicinity of the cedar of Lebanon, whose trunk the tempests of five hundred years have worn. And yet I will assert that the towers in other respects are one and the same, and that the same mind and the same design are manifested in both; the same shape do they exhibit, and the same marks have they on their walls, even those mysterious arches graven on the superficies of the bricks, emblematic of I know not what. The two structures may, without any violence, be said to stand in the same relation to each other as the ancient and modern Moors. The Giralda is the world’s wonder, and the old Moor was all but the world’s conqueror. The modern Moor is scarcely known, and who ever heard of the Tower of Tangier? Yet examine it attentively, and you will find in that tower much, very much, to admire, and certainly, if opportunity enable you to consider the modern Moor as minutely, you will discover in him, and in his actions, amongst much that is wild, uncouth, and barbarous, not a little capable of amply rewarding laborious investigation.

As we passed the mosque I stopped for a moment before the door, and looked in upon the interior: I saw nothing but a quadrangular court paved with painted tiles and exposed to the sky; on all sides were arched piazzas, and in the middle was a fountain, at which several Moors were performing their ablutions. I looked around for the abominable thing, and found it not; no scarlet strumpet with a crown of false gold sat nursing an ugly changeling in a niche. “Come here,” said I, “papist, and take a lesson; here is a house of God, in externals at least, such as a house of God should be: four walls, a fountain, and the eternal firmament above, which mirrors his glory. Dost thou build such houses to the God who hast said, ‘Thou shalt make to thyself no graven image’? Fool, thy walls are stuck with idols; thou callest a stone thy Father, and a piece of rotting wood the Queen of Heaven. Fool, thou knowest not even the Ancient of Days, and the very Moor can instruct thee. He at least knows the Ancient of Days who has said, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods but me.’”

And as I said these words, I heard a cry like the roaring of a lion, and an awful voice in the distance exclaim, “Kapul Udbagh” (there is no god but one).

We now turned to the left through a passage which passed under the tower, and had scarcely proceeded a few steps, when I heard a prodigious hubbub of infantine voices: I listened for a moment, and distinguished verses of the Koran; it was a school. Another lesson for thee, papist. Thou callest thyself a Christian, yet the book of Christ thou persecutest; thou huntest it even to the sea-shore, compelling it to seek refuge upon the billows of the sea. Fool, learn a lesson from the Moor, who teaches his child to repeat with its first accents the most important portions of the book of his law, and considers himself wise or foolish, according as he is versed in or ignorant of that book; whilst thou, blind slave, knowest not what the book of thy own law contains, nor wishest to know: yet art thou not to be judged by thy own law? Idolmonger, learn consistency from the Moor: he says that he shall be judged after his own law, and therefore he prizes and gets by heart the entire book of his law.

We were now at the consul’s house, a large roomy habitation, built in the English style. The soldier led me through a court into a large hall hung with the skins of all kinds of ferocious animals, from the kingly lion to the snarling jackal. Here I was received by a Jew domestic, who conducted me at once to the consul, who was in his library. He received me with the utmost frankness and genuine kindness, and informed me that, having received a letter from his excellent friend Mr. B., in which I was strongly recommended, he had already engaged me a lodging in the house of a Spanish woman, who was, however, a British subject, and with whom he believed that I should find myself as comfortable as it was possible to be in such a place as Tangier. He then inquired if I had any particular motive for visiting the place, and I informed him without any hesitation that I came with the intention of distributing a certain number of copies of the New Testament in the Spanish language amongst the Christian residents of the place. He smiled, and advised me to proceed with considerable caution, which I promised to do. We then discoursed on other subjects, and it was not long before I perceived that I was in the company of a most accomplished scholar, especially in the Greek and Latin classics; he appeared likewise to be thoroughly acquainted with the Barbary empire and with the Moorish character.

After half an hour’s conversation, exceedingly agreeable and instructive to myself, I expressed a wish to proceed to my lodging: whereupon he rang the bell, and the same Jewish domestic entering who had introduced me, he said to him in the English language, “Take this gentleman to the house of Joanna Correa, the Mahonese widow, and enjoin her, in my name, to take care of him and attend to his comforts; by doing which she will confirm me in the good opinion which I at present entertain of her, and will increase my disposition to befriend her.”

So, attended by the Jew, I now bent my steps to the lodging prepared for me. Having ascended the street in which the house of the consul was situated, we entered a small square which stands about half way up the hill. This, my companion informed me, was the soc, or market-place. A curious spectacle here presented itself. All round the square were small wooden booths, which very much resembled large boxes turned on their sides, the lid being supported above by a string. Before each of these boxes was a species of counter, or rather one long counter ran in front of the whole line, upon which were raisins, dates, and small barrels of sugar, soap, and butter, and various other articles. Within each box, in front of the counter, and about three feet from the ground, sat a human being, with a blanket on its shoulders, a dirty turban on its head, and ragged trousers, which descended as far as the knee, though in some instances, I believe, these were entirely dispensed with. In its hand it held a stick, to the end of which was affixed a bunch of palm leaves, which it waved incessantly as a fan, for the purpose of scaring from its goods the million flies which, engendered by the Barbary sun, endeavoured to settle upon them. Behind it, and on either side, were piles of the same kind of goods. Shrit hinai, shrit hinai, (buy here, buy here), was continually proceeding from its mouth. Such are the grocers of Tangier, such their shops.

In the middle of the soc, upon the stones, were pyramids of melons and sandias, (the water species), and also baskets filled with other kinds of fruit, exposed for sale, whilst round cakes of bread were lying here and there upon the stones, beside which sat on their hams the wildest-looking beings that the most extravagant imagination ever conceived, the head covered with an enormous straw hat, at least two yards in circumference, the eaves of which, flapping down, completely concealed the face, whilst the form was swathed in a blanket, from which occasionally were thrust skinny arms and fingers. These were Moorish women, who were, I believe, in all instances, old and ugly, judging from the countenances of which I caught a glimpse as they lifted the eaves of their hats to gaze on me as I passed, or to curse me for stamping on their bread. The whole soc was full of peoples and there was abundance of bustle, screaming, and vociferation, and as the sun, though the hour was still early, was shining with the greatest brilliancy, I thought that I had scarcely ever witnessed a livelier scene.

Crossing the soc we entered a narrow street with the same kind of box-shops on each side, some of which, however, were either unoccupied or not yet opened, the lid being closed. We almost immediately turned to the left, up a street somewhat similar, and my guide presently entered the door of a low house, which stood at the corner of a little alley, and which he informed me was the abode of Joanna Correa. We soon stood in the midst of this habitation. I say the midst, as all the Moorish houses are built with a small court in the middle. This one was not more than ten feet square. It was open at the top, and around it on three sides were apartments; on the fourth a small staircase, which communicated with the upper story, half of which consisted of a terrace looking down into the court, over the low walls of which you enjoyed a prospect of the sea and a considerable part of the town. The rest of the story was taken up by a long room, destined for myself, and which opened upon the terrace by a pair of folding-doors. At either end of this apartment stood a bed, extending transversely from wall to wall, the canopy touching the ceiling. A table and two or three chairs completed the furniture.

I was so occupied in inspecting the house of Joanna Correa, that at first I paid little attention to that lady herself. She now, however, came up upon the terrace where my guide and myself were standing. She was a woman about five and forty, with regular features, which had once been handsome, but had received considerable injury from time, and perhaps more from trouble. Two of her front teeth had disappeared, but she still had fine black hair. As I looked upon her countenance, I said within myself, if there be truth in physiognomy, thou art good and gentle, O Joanna; and, indeed, the kindness I experienced from her during the six weeks which I spent beneath her roof would have made me a convert to that science had I doubted in it before. I believe no warmer and more affectionate heart ever beat in human bosom than in that of Joanna Correa, the Mahonese widow, and it was indexed by features beaming with benevolence and good nature, though somewhat clouded with melancholy.

She informed me that she had been married to a Genoese, the master of a felouk which passed between Gibraltar and Tangier, who had been dead about four years, leaving her with a family of four children, the eldest of which was a lad of thirteen; that she had experienced great difficulty in providing for her family and herself since the death of her husband, but that Providence had raised her up a few excellent friends, especially the British consul; that besides letting lodgings to such travellers as myself, she made bread which was in high esteem with the Moors, and that she was likewise in partnership in the sale of liquors with an old Genoese. She added, that this last person lived below in one of the apartments; that he was a man of great ability and much learning, but that she believed he was occasionally somewhat touched here, pointing with her finger to her forehead, and she therefore hoped that I would not be offended at anything extraordinary in his language or behaviour. She then left me, as she said, to give orders for my breakfast; whereupon the Jewish domestic, who had accompanied me from the consul, finding that I was established in the house, departed.

I speedily sat down to breakfast in an apartment on the left side of the little wustuddur, the fare was excellent; tea, fried fish, eggs, and grapes, not forgetting the celebrated bread of Joanna Correa. I was waited upon by a tall Jewish youth of about twenty years, who informed me that his name was Haim Ben Atar, that he was a native of Fez, from whence his parents brought him at a very early age to Tangier, where he had passed the greater part of his life principally in the service of Joanna Correa, waiting upon those who, like myself, lodged in the house. I had completed my meal, and was seated in the little court, when I heard in the apartment opposite to that in which I had breakfasted several sighs, which were succeeded by as many groans, and then came “Ave Maria, gratia plena, ora pro me,” and finally a croaking voice chanted:—

“Gentem auferte perfidam

Credentium de finibus,

Ut Christo laudes debitas

Persolvamus alacriter.”

“That is the old Genoese,” whispered Haim Ben Atar, “praying to his God, which he always does with particular devotion when he happens to have gone to bed the preceding evening rather in liquor. He has in his room a picture of Maria Buckra, before which he generally burns a taper, and on her account he will never permit me to enter his apartment. He once caught me looking at her, and I thought he would have killed me, and since then he always keeps his chamber locked, and carries the key in his pocket when he goes out. He hates both Jew and Moor, and says that he is now living amongst them for his sins.”

“They do not place tapers before pictures,” said I, and strolled forth to see the wonders of the land.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51