Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Come with me to the kasbah...

Marrakech is a contradictory place. On the one hand, it is like going back to the middle ages. In the Medina, the walled city, there are donkeys and horses and sheep on the streets. The poultry stores sell the birds alive and flapping their wings in desperation. You almost expect the vendor to wring the neck of the chicken right in front of your face. You can hear the hypnotic wail of the muezzin's call to prayer five times a day. They don't seem to have learned yet of the existence of garbage cans, preferring to leave it in little mounds on the street, for gangs of scrawny street cats to take care of.

On the other hand, in the "new " part of town, development spreads like a rash. Villas and condos and apartments for the affluent. Traffic, that infectious global disease, is rampant, chaotic and unnerving (like wanton flies are pedestrians to the Marrakchi drivers. They want to kill them for their sport). You can also see the occasional horse cart, donkey and two guys transporting a huge, fat sheep on a vespa. That other infectious disease of modernity is also present: sleek restaurants, third world farts by Phillipe Starck wannabes, with the food as badly rendered as the decor. However, you know modernity is not quite winning the battle when you go to one of the swankier boites in town. The place tries to resemble a Pasha's palace but it looks kind of like a Mexican Jewish Bar Mitzvah to me. The patrons are well to do Moroccans (hence the Mexican Bar Mitzvah look) and Eurotrash for the most part. We order drinks, (finally!) outrageously overpriced and badly served. Casablanca beer is not half bad and it has a cool label.

But a red vermouth is ruined (see picture above), served in a small martini glass at room temperature and at 8 euros, which is really insulting. But the evidence that Marrakech, for all its touted celebrity visits, is still firmly ensconced in cheesyland, is there is a relatively decent dj who looks about as hip as an actuary professor, and following him the worst cover band that ever graced this Earth. Believe me, I have been the victim of unspeakeable cover bands in hotel lobbies and Mexican Bar Mitzvahs and this one takes the cake.

The band sings covers of eighties songs, from Sting to Shania Twain (why?), all done in a faux heavy metal style. The lead singer, as is wont to happen in any third world country worth its salt, is a woman of indeterminate origin who garbles incomprehensibly and utterly out of tune and who seems to be desperately trying to channel Tina Turner, to no avail. She shows her rock and roll credentials by jumping around and clapping like the spunky hostess of a children's show, like a female version of Barney the dinosaur, but she is convinced she rocks. She's a good girl living the fantasy that she is a badass chick. The band leader is some French guy who thinks he's Sting before he lost his hair, down to the flak jacket. The audience responds with the most halfhearted, absent, uncomfortable, embarrassed applause it can muster. Still, the band plays a set that goes on for what seems 20 hours. The last straw comes when they play a song it takes us several bars to decipher: Cream by Prince, with not a speck of funk, or a breath of soul. It is criminal. Criminal.
Then, as we are about to call it a night, two young, handsome Moroccan guys leap to the stage and start singing rousing pop songs in Arabic and all hell breaks loose. 1. They can actually sing. 2. The songs are fun. 3. A group of men takes the dance floor and dances joyously, with great verve and style. Where are the girls? Beats me. Two of them seem to be doing a routine of mild sapphic cockteasing (that other disease of our times), but they will not dance with the guys, who seem utterly oblivious to them. The audience goes wild and the band, for a moment, picks up and forgets how bad it is. Then all of a sudden they start playing Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long" and before we have time to gasp, a group of male and female "samba" dancers takes the dance floor.
We are so glad we stayed!

1 comment:

  1. Wahoo!! Gorgeous photos of far away lands and lame cover bands! And, GE, I LOVE your prose. Happy New Year.