Something Old, Something New

Morocco, Old and New

In Marrakesh, the closest grocery store to our hotel was in the basement of the Menara Mall. It was pretty much what I expected: a bunch of wannabe-Western stores selling day-glo shirts and overpriced shiny shoes, a food court with mediocre food sweltering under fluorescent lights. There was even a Chili’s in a prime location on Mohammed VI Boulevard. In these surroundings, it was no surprise that our fellow shoppers favored polo shirts, skinny jeans and halter tops.

What was surprising was that no matter how far into the country we got, the skinny-jeans crowd never completely died out. Even in Rissani, 500 kilometers from Marrakesh on the edge of the Sahara, jeans and djellaba mixed freely.

Every day we saw crowds of students trooping to school, dressed western-style in t-shirts and jeans, slacks, or track pants. The girls rarely wore head scarves, but lots of them had on miniature lab coats over their outfits. Watching them go to school was like following a young pharmacists’ convention.

Older people were all over the map; most women wore the hijab, but dress for men and women ranged from shapeless djellabas or caftans to the latest western fashions. Urban or rural, rich or poor, Arab or Berber; I can’t say exactly where the dividing line might be. Maybe it’s down to personal preference.

I was also surprised to learn that alcohol is widely available, although it’s very expensive. A bottle of beer costs $4 or $5, and a mixed drink $7, in a country where a high-end dinner out (or a ripoff tourist meal) costs $15. Our driver Youssef told me that some bartenders might refuse to sell to Muslims (especially Muslim women), but from my observations, it’s a flexible rule.

One last tip about drinking in Morocco: stick to beer. Every bartender we found was hopeless at even simple drinks. I ordered a whiskey sour one night and was given a tall Coke with some whiskey in it. A confused exchange in pidgin French and English ensued, and my server returned a short time later with a glass of, I would guess, two-thirds lime juice, one-third alcohol. At least he got the spirit of it right.

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