Of all of the expatriate writers who lived in Tangier, Paul Bowles was certainly the most famous and prolific, and he lived and worked a total of 52 years in the city. Tangier, Morocco is a Mediterranean port city located on the Strait of Gibraltar, with views of the southern coast of Spain. When Bowles left New York City in 1947 to write The Sheltering Sky, he had already been familiar with Tangier for sixteen years. On his first visit to Tangier in August 1931, Bowles was accompanied by his music teacher and friend the composer Aaron Copland. Their upright piano had fallen off a donkey during its transport up to the Old Mountain to the house which they had rented in Sidi Masmoudi, but the piano was soon repaired but badly tuned, and they settled down to write music in earnest. Gertrude Stein, who Bowles had associated with in Paris, recommended he try Tangier as a place to live and work. Paul Bowles described that earlier Tangier as an “attractive, quiet town of about 60,000 inhabitants”. In January 1948, his wife Jane Bowles, also a writer, moved to Tangier to be with her husband who had just bought a small house in the upper Medina. Paul Bowles remained in Tangier until his death on November 18, 1999, at the age of 88.
Paul Bowles explored all regions of Morocco, including the Sahara, and he learned much about Moroccan culture, languages and dialects, religions, customs and its people―all reflected in his writings. Beginning in 1959, Bowles began to collect and record Moroccan folk music in remote areas of the country. This music is preserved in the Paul Bowles Moroccan Music Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington. Before he died, Bowles decided to be buried in his native America, in upstate New York, next to the graves of his parents and grandparents. Yet Paul Bowles will always be associated with Tangier and Morocco. Untold visitors have made pilgrimages to Tangier to meet him, perhaps inspired by reading some of his novels or short stories; and after his death most guide books for tourists mention something about Bowles’s association with Morocco and his literary works. Today there is a Paul Bowles Wing in the historic Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies (TALIM), which is open to the public free of charge.
Tangier, with its mild, subtropical climate and superb beaches, eventually grew into a popular summer resort and now has more than one million people. Paul Bowles’s residence encompassed the last French colonial years, the International Zone period, when the city was under multinational rule, and the subsequent era of Moroccan Independence which began in 1956. This travel piece entitled “The Worlds of Tangier” was written in 1958―one of many travel articles he wrote during his exceptional life.