Friday, January 30, 2009

Windy Weekend

It is breezy and rainy this weekend. A strong wind howls past my new window, causing my new shutters to clatter nervously. It plays with my hair and makes umbrella’s difficult to wield, as I venture out a few times a day on expedition to explore my new neighborhood and acquire some basic necessities for survival.

In reference to these pursuits, I have to declare this weekend to have been a big success. I found myself a stovetop coffeemaker, and located the supermarket I vaguely remembered being around here. This store sells nearly all the staples of my diet: Nutella, bread, spaghetti, olive oil, spices, garlic, onions, fruits & vegetables. The only necessity I have not yet found here: parmesan cheese. But there’s a little import-looking shop at the marché centrale by the medina that looks like it might have just the thing, so I’m not worried.

I still do not have a working fridge, so I’m holding off on the meat and dairy for now. I can buy my fruits and vegetables on a daily basis for now and love black espresso as much as lattes, but I do kind of wonder when someone will come by to start it up…

The other thing I have found: a liquor store. As I was checking out at this neighborhood supermarket, I noticed a sign on the far wall with an arrow pointing down a flight of stairs, marked with “cave d’alcool.” Very curious to witness the selling and purchasing of alcohol in Morocco, I decided to go explore, and descended.

What emerged as I stepped down the stairs was an atmosphere of utter seediness and apparent mayhem. A policemen standing by the stairs, overseeing the goings on in this “cave d’alcool” made me wonder if something alarming was perhaps going on here. The empty bottles and plastic bags strewn across the floor added to my growing suspicion that some kind of looting was taking place, as did the throngs of men, nervously and energetically moving up and down the aisles, hoarding baskets full of bottles. But no, I decided, judging by the calm expression on the cashier’s face and the ‘bienvenue’ someone wished me as I walked past, nothing out of the ordinary was taking place here. And so I walked in. I felt particularly self-aware in this bizarre atmosphere, highly aware that I was the only woman there (save for the cashier), and taking great notice of the space my body was occupying amidst these men hurrying about with their arms full of bottles. I was uncomfortable with my aimlessness, not being able to discern any rhyme or reason to the ordering of products. A few shelves of wine here, next to the whisky, and a few aisles down, more wine, this time next to the rum. Varieties of beer all over the place, no wine-selection by country or region.

But despite this sense of heightened self-awareness, I felt somehow immune, more comfortable and anonymous than I usually do in unknown Moroccan situations. My obvious otherness didn’t seem to bother me at all this time, I think because I experienced it suddenly as a kind of shield. In a weird way, my European appearance actually makes that I do not look out of place here. Technically, I have more right to be here, by Moroccan law, than these men nervously scurrying about. Moroccan law forbids the selling and buying of alcohol to or by any Muslim. And as wrong as this is, usually this identity is judged on the basis of appearance (incidentally, Moroccan ID cards do not indicate one’s religion, as is done elsewhere). I am fairly sure that I was the only one in the place who did not ‘look’ Muslim.

It made me wonder what the role was of that cop standing by the wall. Clearly he was not doing anything, verifying any religious identifications (in whatever way one might choose to do this) or stopping anyone from purchasing alcohol. Why, then, was he there? What was the purpose of him standing there, and how does that work, legally? It was a bizarre sight, all these very Moroccan-looking men, not only openly buying alcohol, but doing so under the eye of a policeman. Did the cop perhaps stand there to enforce a sort of implicit honor-code? Did his presence intend to play on the internal mores of the Muslim and remind him wordlessly of the sin he would be committing, should be enter?

Whatever it may be, I decided I had seen enough, and tried to leave unseen. But no luck: just as I was approaching the exit, an employee approached, a basket in his outstretched hand. “No thanks,” I said, I don’t need one. He looked at me a little strangely. “Nothing?” He asked. I smiled and shook my head, “Not today.” He shrugged, smiled, and walked away. Judging by the way others were filling up their baskets, I have a feeling that it doesn’t happen often that someone should descend into this cave of sin and liquor, and not come out with at least a few bottles of the forbidden substance.

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