Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Authenticité et Modernité

Never google your symptoms—or if you must, try to maintain a sense of perspective. That dry cough? Probably not cystic fibrosis.

For similar reasons, never google “women traveling alone in Morocco.” Which is to say, I sat down at the Café de Paris today and had a nice cup of coffee, and no one cared. Sure, there are things I’d like to do that I can’t, but that wasn’t one of them. I probably shouldn’t go to a bar by myself, but—internet advice to the contrary—it simply defies logic that anyone would think I was a prostitute if I did. No one is ever going to mistake me for a prostitute in Tangier. Not even if I walk through the Medina in hot pants and a tube top. I don’t know what Moroccan prostitutes look like, but they don’t look like me.

I’m calming down. Tangier is a friendly place, but no one is pulling me into rug shops and pressing unwanted mint tea on me. Sure, if I pause over someone’s stall I'll get a pitch, which seems reasonable.  I was puzzled at first—why wasn't I being harassed? My boyfriend, who spent some time in Tangier a few years ago, said I'd probably already been sized up as a bad bet. “I wasn't bothered at all by touts and hustlers after the first day or two,” he said, “which may be because I'm a man, but I suspect has a lot to do with the fact that it's professionally important for them to remember faces.” I also think I'm not putting out the vibe, and that the same radar I use in Philly or Boston or upstate New York lets me know who to avoid drawn-out conversations with in Tangier. My own instincts are actually pretty good. The internet and that damn guidebook had me so uptight that I was afraid to make eye contact.

I’d also advise you not to google “buying alcohol in Tangier.” I like a glass of wine in the evening, and it’s not served in cafes—or anywhere in the Medina, where my hotel is—so I thought I’d get a bottle to keep in my room. “For the vast majority of the population,” I read on the Lonely Planet forum, “alcohol is very much frowned upon (see the bags given to you when you buy it).” The consensus was that I'd have to go to a certain western style chain supermarket in Nouvelle Ville. I haven’t been able to find a decent map of the city yet, and the one they gave me at the hotel didn’t show the street I was looking for. Most of the smaller streets in Tangier don’t seem to be marked anyhow. I ended up walking around in circles, too paranoid to ask anyone where the supermarket was because I was certain they’d know why I was looking for it. I was about to give up when I saw the marquee. 

Inside was a bizarre Moroccan simulacrum of an American supermarket: horrible, overpriced produce and lurid hot dogs and Arabic muzak wafting eerily through the aisles of Whiskas and Prell. I found a section with cans of Red Bull and near-beer, but no alcohol. Maybe they kept it behind the register? I went around throwing things in my cart—some sugar wafers, some of that horrible processed cheese that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I felt like a teenager building up the nerve to ask for a pack of condoms from the druggist. When I got to the checkout aisle, I discovered that there were no words for beer or wine in my Arabic glossary. The clerk didn't speak any English, and Spanish and French didn’t seem to be working either. Finally someone behind me in line figured out what I was looking for and communicated it to the clerk, who pointed out the door and vaguely to the left. I paid for my unwanted groceries and went outside. There was nothing else on the block. Did she mean that I should go back in the entry door? There was a counter just inside—maybe they hid the alcohol there? I went in and tried again. “Cerveza? Vino?” a security guard directed me outside and to the left again. “How many blocks?” I asked, pathetically resorting to English. “As you wish,” he answered, smiling genially. I walked around the corner and found myself in a dark, deserted construction site. I felt like I was trying to score crack. Too embarrassed to try again, I went back to the hotel feeling corrupt. Polluted. Trafe.

The next day, walking down Avenue Pasteur, I looked up and saw a big green Heineken sign, which I'd walked past twice the night before. Inside the store was an entire wall display of Moroccan wines.


  1. This is brilliant, and very funny!

  2. I think they were all pointing in the direction of hell.

  3. My experience in Tangier lines up with the observation that you are recognized after a few hours in the medina. Like any proprietor with a hope to survive they have learned not to waste their time on cheapskates.