January 3rd, 2014 Casablanca, Morocco
Upon waking, I noticed something strange, I was in a very nice bed, with a wonderful quilt blanket and the smoothest sheets I had ever touched. It actually gave me pleasure just to touch these sheets. I was sleeping in Le Palais D’Anfa 5 star hotel courtesy of my patron. Another thing I notice was that I had zero energy and zero appetite. Lucky that I had nothing to do that day except sightsee ( which could always be delayed), and play music. But there was something else he had mentioned. Ah yes, free breakfast. I made my way down to the first floor and beheld the feast. Everything you could imagine, fresh fruits, all kinds of figs, dates, yogurts, cheeses, Moroccan soup, oatmeal, deserts, a cook to cook your eggs how you liked. What bad luck that I wasn’t hungry. Under the circumstances I forced myself to eat even though I wasn’t really hungry. Who knew when I would get another chance like this. After breakfast I went back to my room and slept till 3 pm. When I awoke I walked out of the room to see the maid laughing at me. “Bonjour Messuir. Happy new year.”. I think she assumed that I was just getting up from new years eve which was true in a way. She had the sweetest smile, almost blushing when she looked at me. I found this same look again.
Even though I was tired and had no appetite, I went to meet Lamine as he requested at 3pm. We sat around and bullshat ( is that a word?). He loved to talk about LA and to explain Arab culture to me. He was very scornful of radical Muslims and very proud of Arab culture. As an Algerian, he had a detached point of view towards Morocco. Morocco was neither Arabic, nor African, nor European, it was a mixture of all, and mainly Beber. It had made great strides recently and considered itself more European than Arabic, but it was decidedly Muslim, but a very accepting Muslam.
After a visit I decided to try to walk to the great King Hassan II Mosque. By the time I got there it was 530 pm. The minaret is the largest in the world and stunning in the dying light. The stones and mosaics of the mosque were magnificent like mandalas to quiet the mind. Around the mosque was a carnival atmosphere with cotton candy being made by a hand crank, people selling nuts, fresh juice and juices, small shellfish, photographers, all kinds of couples walking together in the wide savannah-like plaza. Feeling tired , I didn’t take a tour or go inside, I would save that for another day. I realized then and there I was sick, achy all over. Casablanca flu they called it, and it was sweeping the city. It must have been that restaurant water i drank. I walked the 15 minutes back through the rough streets to my hotel, and collapsed until 8 pm, when it was time to play again.
In the club again, I met some more of Lamine’s inner circle, Abdul, a wiry Morrocan in his early 20’s who was intense and constantly looking for a laugh. The 2 of them together were like 2 little boys, joking, high-fiving , fisting. They were good-time boys. I didn’t know if I could fit into that circle but I would try. They were very nice and spoke English with me and explained most of their humor.
There was Moustafah, an older man who immediately made me uncomfortable. It always felt like he was coming on to me. He was fat and greasy and was constantly squirming around as if his underwear were too tight. Because of the loud music he kept leaning in close and I could feel him warm disgusting breathe. Finally I just came out and asked him, “Are you gay? If you are it’s ok but I’m not ok?” He looked at me as if stunned. “What? me gay? I’m not gay, but I accept everone’s sexuality. Anything is ok” and then he looked me in the eye and said with an eyebrow lift for emphasis, ” and I mean anything” ok I had to get away from this slippery guy but who knows later he might be useful if he could just control himself a little. The guys taught me some more useful words like “habibi”. What’s that? You can say it like my darling. “oh I can say it to a girl?” “No, not a girl, only to a woman, Frank” and laughs all around for that. And le’bes alik” which means how are you. It sounded French to me.
Playing with the singer Abdullah was a lot of fun. He was very open to anything I did and didn’t mind some experimentation, even wrong notes. When it was working, he just smiled at me, and didn’t blame me when it didn’t. He would always ask me if i wanted to play this song or that song, but i could never understand his pronunciation. I just always said, “great!” On after the song had started would i know if i knew it or not. It was a challenge to try to play a supporting role to the singer and not play too much like a soloist. That required careful listening and patience. Sometimes the best note is the one you don’t play.
After playing with him I went to the second level and played along With the DJ. He was really caught up in his American dream which was to get to New York and go to sound engineering school for 2 years, and then go to his private Mecca (not the real one) in Las Vegas. He knew every hotel on the strip by name and got so excited just talking about them. He was a good friend to have because he let me play along with the recordings and he told me the names of the songs, the styles, and sometimes helped me find the beat. When I played, no one seemed to take notice. That was good and bad. Good because I was fitting in well enough not to disturb anyone and bad because it wasn’t good enough to get any real attention. People looked up and nodded and went back to their conversations. It was like I was invisible. It’s a good space to watch from.
After about a half hour of that I went back downstairs. The arab musians were performing.mthat was one guy ona keyboard with built in percussion and playing cords and horn or melody lines and the singer. These were I found out some of the top musicians in Morocco. They were winners of all Morocco talent competitions. They sang passionately and directly to groups of the audience. When the music became heated, audience members couldnt contain themselves and burst intoma shoulder shimy, or jumped out of their chairs to do what looked like belly dancing moves. When the keyboard player would solo the singer would clap strongly and get the crowd going. People seemed to know the impossible melodies and sang along with them.
I noticed many single woman sitting alone. Most of them were very heavy and wearing dresses that catapulted their large bosoms out into the room like a cheesy 3d movie. I asked the guys about them. “Oh, those are prostitutes. They are working. Any woman sitting alone is a prostitute. You must pay for them. And 2 women sitting alone want to be left alone. They come here to enjoy freedom and privacy. Also there might be a husband or boyfriend sitting nearby watching them”.
It seemed strange to me. I caught eye contact with one group of 2 women. We exchanged smiles and i got that surprised embarassed blush again. I sat with them. She was so cute and charming, but after about 5 minutes she said, ” We want shisha but we don’t have enough money.” oh I knew this game. I just told her I didn’t have any money. She looked disappointed but after a minute smiled again. I went back to talk to Lamine. “don’t get caught up in that game frank”, he nodded as if from expensive experience.
I went back to the girls. They were leaving for the Black Room disco in the Hyatt Regency. “you should go with them frank, it’s part of the Casablanca experience,” Lamine counseled. I followed the girls to the exit. ” do you have 200 dinwah?” the cute one asked, batting her eyebrows enough to swish the shisha smoke away from me for a second. No, I didn’t. “that’s alright” , she smiled, but i could see what a night with these woman would be like. Considering my weakened condition, I decided not to follow the young women and instead walked the 3 blocks to my hotel and collapsed into my beautiful sheets.