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Bye Bye Bata, Ciao Charley

sometimes I wonder, where in the world is Joe Ambrose these days...

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by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: May, 2009
The last time I saw him was four months ago when I was sitting alone one evening at the Cafe de Paris

Five or six men approach me at the Cafe de Paris with the news that Charley is dead. He was one of the first Tangier tourist hustlers I encountered when I first visited Morocco.

Somebody told me, that day, that Charley's routine was to suggest to the recently arrived that his mother was English, his father Moroccan, and that Charley had been brought up in England. He had a slick David Niven-style accent to go with the routine. Presumably learned by watching David Niven movies.

Minutes after I got told about Charley's modus operandi I told an English-speaking pal of mine about it, unaware that Charley was within hearing distance. He reared up like an outraged English gentleman and, with some fervour, announced, 'I've never heary such poppycock in my entire life!'

He stormed off and, from that day to this, would drsert the Cafe de Paris at the very sight of me. And I was happy enough to see him go. Cranky old asshole.

The last time I saw him was four months ago when I was sitting alone one evening at the Cafe de Paris. He was at an adjacent table in the shabby brown djellaba he favoured in later years over the natty trilby and Frank Sinatra suit he sported in his prime. It was a cold windy evening and Tangier is bleak that time of year. Charley must've been about 75 and he looked every day of them. Now I learn that he died two months' later.

That evening I quit the Cafe de Paris, bastion of a fast fading Interzone city, and headed down Boulevard heading towards Bata, a Moroccan chain which roughly approximated to Pound or Dollar Shops. Bata was full of really cheap pottery and pots and pans. For five Dollars a drifting cowboy could pick up a mug, a plate, cutlery, a teapot, and a frying pan.

Bata was always full of Moroccan housewives and their daughters, some of their metropolitan domestic dreams coming true for spare change. Cathedrals to Chinese shit, I loved Bata like I love cheap shops everywhere.

Now Bata has disappeared. In the few months since my last visit to Tangier the thriving store has folded - their premises looks like it's been deserted for the last five years. Closed-up shops confront me everywhere. Many of them the glitzy, less likeable, businesses which sought to reflect a New Morocco and a New Tangier.

And then I hear that Ashmee the taxi driver, Hamri's chauffeur on my early visits to Joujouka, is also dead. Which means that most of the circle of Charlatans who gathered around Hamri the Painter of Morocco in front of the Cafe de Paris in the late 1990s, a wonderful circle into which I stumbled, are now dead.

Except for Tetouani, the ringleader. He stopped drinking and, therefore, survived. Now he never goes near the Cafe de Paris and I am told that the fact that he has given up alcohol is the secret of his success.

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Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.

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