Tag Archives: Clubs

Cabaret Embassy (Casablanca, Morocco)

The Things They Never Knew

By Bobby Rich

Photos by Sarrah Danziger

It was late for the hotel and everyone was asleep except the American couple who sat sharing shots of whiskey and anisee on their bed. The paint on their walls was chipping off and the florescent light-bulb overhead had no shade and was suspended from the ceiling only by the electric wires that powered it. The room had a small window at the far side of it that looked onto the terrace, which had no street view because rooms were built around it. To have any type of natural light in their room, one would have to open the door, and even then it was not direct. The American couple kept taking shot after shot from their small glass cups that were normally used by Moroccans for tea and coffee. Sam kept on the bottle of anisee, holding up her cup to the electric light as she poured in the water. And Richard held the bottle of whiskey in one hand and his cup in the other since he didn’t take much time between shots, unless he was ready for a cigarette. They were quiet for the most part, looking at the floor or the ugly wall ahead, and then Richard said:

“Do you want to go out tonight? It is your last night in Morocco and Casablanca is supposed to be a party town.”

“Is it supposed to be?” she said mockingly.

“Well, that’s what I hear. Plus you saw the gay couple romantically kissing and walking hand in hand at the Hassan Two Mosque today. That was a first in Morocco! The people must be less repressed here.”

“I mean, where exactly would you want to go?”

“You know as much as I do about this town. I don’t know, we’ll take out the motorcycle and see what we find.”

“The patron is going to hate us. She already told us the curfew is midnight.”

“That’s nothing ten dirham can’t fix.”

The motorcycle was silver and reflected the night sky wonderfully. Richard had bought it from a friend of his in Marrakech, and he planned to sell it before he left the country. It had fifteen hundred original miles on it which Sam and him had put on together, but after tomorrow how ever many more miles the bike would accumulate would be put on only by Richard. He pushed the bike to the middle of the plaza away from the entrance of the Hotel des Amis, kick-started it, and then said: “I love these women here! I told you that curfew was nothing a small bribe couldn’t change. To think, we’re only paying an equivalent of three-fifty each to stay here. The Western world has it all wrong, Sam. Whoever started charging eighty bucks for a hotel room a night in America was a fucking crook!”

Sam didn’t say anything.

As they drove through the winding alleys of the medina, Sam held on tight to Richard. It is possible that she did this because she was cold, but it was the look on her face which made one think she was doing this to savor her last feelings of love for this man. Her eyes were closed, her lips were slightly parted with the faint hint of a smile, and she pressed her cheek warmly against his back. Sometimes Richard could have sworn that he heard her sigh, and at other times it seemed that she was rubbing herself against him. If she was he didn’t want to know, not because he wanted to pretend it wasn’t happening but because he knew if he talked about it he would ruin the moment for her. So he continued to drive looking straight ahead, driving faster and faster as he felt her wriggling behind him. They were now outside of the medina going down the Atlantic Coast, and he tried not to pay attention to anything but the road. And when he finally heard her let out a subtle moan and loosen her grip, he slowed down the bike for the first time, turned around, and started toward Boulevard Mohammed el Hansali and Boulevard Mohammed V, which was outside the medina. He didn’t know of any clubs there, but he had seen many flashing lights when they drove past ten minutes previous and thought it would be a good place to look.

They drove down Mohammed V and decided they would go to the first club they saw. Richard seemed to not only be physically drunk but mentally drunk as well. Any time he stopped at a red light, which only was when certain death seemed inevitable, he would rev his engine until the light turned green. And when it did he would kick his bike into first and speed away even faster than the crazy Moroccan drivers. Sam told him to slow down, but he couldn’t get a hold of himself. And when he saw the first club with flashing lights he swerved into oncoming traffic, squeezed between the moving cars and the parked ones, rode up onto the sidewalk, somehow managed to stop the bike smoothly, and then jumped off it with his keys in hand before Sam could even scream from fright. Sam did not seem impressed.

The club had a cover charge of fifty dirham, which is an equivalent to five Euros, and this seemed a bit pricey to the couple. “Do you mind if I go take a look?” asked Richard. The door man let him in and Sam stood outside looking at the sign above the doorman which read: CABARET EMBASSY. She thought this club was located in a strange place. It was right next to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. She was also surprised by the fact that she hadn’t noticed it before, because it was right behind the Cafe de France, which is the most noticeable cafe outside the medina. But, of course, this club was always closed during the day and looked like a little hole-in-the-wall joint even now when it was open. The couple had walked by it many times and had never taken a second glance at it.

Richard came back and said, “This place is wild. We should go in.”

“I don’t really have fifty dirham to spend. I only have thirty now, and I’ll need it for food before I go to the airport tomorrow. I’ll walk home and see you when you get back.”

“No, you can’t do that. You’ll disturb the patron! Since it’s your last night I’ll pay for it. And really, the cover isn’t bad and plus it comes with a drink.”

They walked to the doorman and Richard handed him the hundred, and then the couple walked down the stairs into the basement, split apart a black, velvet curtain and heard a blast of electric sound. “Isn’t this great!” Sam looked over the crowd. Everybody had their arms up in the air dancing in a way she hadn’t seen before. There were women everywhere wearing short little dresses and smoking hookah with the men at their tables, and they were drinking beer too. This was the first time Sam had seen this kind of female behavior in Morocco, and she figured Richard must have been correct when he said people were less repressed in Casa. “What do you want to drink?”

Sam said, “A whiskey.”

“You go get a table and I’ll be right back.”

Richard found Sam over in the corner and laid a whiskey in front of her. She took a sip and said thank you. She looked over the scene again with a crooked kind of smile. Richard had taken note of what the other men were doing and started to dance the way they were. It seemed to be natural with the kind of music he was hearing. Sam started watching him and then snapped out of the trance she was in. “Those guys over there…” She pointed to the next table, “are New Yorkers. They introduced themselves to me when I sat down.”

Richard looked at the stage. Everybody seemed incredibly drunk to him. The men were getting on stage and dancing with the fat women singers with their arms in the air and shaking their bodies like worms. Richard thought they looked possessed. He didn’t know what was going on or what he was hearing, so he leaned over on the banquet toward the next table and started conversation.

Salam alaikum.”

“Alaikum salam,” Said one man from the group of five who sat closest to Richard.

“Hey, my girlfriend over here says you are from New York.”

“Yeah, we’ve all been living in New York for twenty years. Where’re you two from?”

“We’re from New York too. Bushwick area. Where you from?”

“Astoria.”

“Nice. Yeah, me and my friends like to go there. Play some backgammon, smoke some hookah. We actually almost lived in Astoria once.”

Sam chimed in: “We didn’t almost live there. Honestly this place was uninhabitable,” Sam said to the other man. “It was a basement in someone’s laundry room. It was a railroad apartment in a dungeon. We could see this beautiful backyard but the door was sealed with cement; and only the people upstairs could use it. It wasn’t fit for human beings! You’d have to pay me to live there.”

“Well, it was nine hundred a month for a two bedroom,” Richard said to the man. “I would have lived there.”

“Two bedroom?” said Sam scornfully. “One room was a hallway, and the other was a closet you couldn’t even stand up in.”

“Anyway, I would have lived there,” Richard reiterated. “How long are you in town for?”

“We’re going to stay for a couple months, visit the family, you know?”

“Cool, live it up for a bit, eh? Is this a club you come to often?”

“Naw, it’s our friend’s birthday.” He pointed to one in his group. He blew out some smoke from a hookah and then said, “you want some?”.

“Yeah,” said Richard.

“We like to come here for a couple months every year. Come back to the homeland. How long are you two staying for?”

“We’ve been in Morocco for a month. Sam is leaving tomorrow, but I’m here for a while longer. Say, what’s the name of this music?”

“It’s called Chaabi. It means popular, but It’s country and  mountain music.”

Sam hadn’t been listening to them. She was surveying the crowd again, and then some kind of greater understanding occurred and she pulled at Richard’s sleeve.

“What is it?”

“Ask him if these women are prostitutes. I keep seeing them go from table to table.”

“You think all of these women are prostitutes?” Richard looked around the room with a new pair of eyes. Why were they all wearing these trashy looking, sequin sparkling mini-dresses? Why had they all applied such heavy make-up? And yes, why were they jumping from table to table, talking to almost every man in the bar?

Richard leaned over toward the man. “Wait, are all these women prostitutes?”

The man didn’t even look around. “Yes, every woman who is in this club is a prostitute.”

“Really?”

Sam pulled Richard’s sleeve again. “Ask him how much they are.”

“Hey, man.” Richard handed him back the hookah. “How much are one of these girls?”

“Why, you want one?” He laughed.

“She wants to know.” And Richard looked over at Sam.

“Damn, you get down like that?”

“Naw, she’s just curious.”

“Well, for me they are about three hundred. For you, probably about six hundred, all night. They have different prices for foreigners.”

“All night, eh?” said Richard curiously. “Wait.” He leaned over to Sam. “He says they cost three hundred for him; six hundred for us.” Richard leaned back over to the man. “Wait, so this is a normal practice?”

“Yeah, all over the place.”

“Would you say all women who go to bars are prostitutes?”

“I wouldn’t say one hundred percent, but probably about eighty percent are.”

“Crazy! I never knew that.” He went back over to Sam. “He says all of these women are definitely prostitutes, and about eighty percent of all women in bars are prostitutes.”

The couple polished off their whiskeys. “Wow,” said Sam. She looked all around. “This is amazing.” On stage nothing had changed. The blue Christmas lights were still flashing , drunken men were still dancing, but the women singers seemed to have forgotten they were singing and were now just drinking beers on the side. Sam pulled out her camera and started filming.

The man saw what Sam was doing and leaned toward Richard. “What is she doing?”

“We’re journalists. We write for a website that covers cultural music. We want to get some footage for an article.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “These people have families and, you know, different identities in the day.”

“Don’t worry,” said Richard. “Our audience is predominantly American. Everybody’s identity will be protected.”

The man seemed not to like this response, but he sat back in his seat and continued to smoke his hookah. Some prostitute had the demon running through her and went on a rampage, hopping from man to man, swinging her head in circles like a rocker. Sam quickly started to film her when she attacked one drunken soul who sat near them. The man from Queens looked over at the couple with little respect as Sam filmed the woman.

Sam said, “I’m having such a great time, and now I have to leave Morocco. I’m sad. I wish I could stay.”

Richard looked at the scene around him, the prostitute hopping onto another man, the crowd drunk and falling on the floor, the man next to them giving the evil eye, and then Richard said, “Trust me, I think it’s better this way.”

Locations In Casablanca

Hôtel des Amis
12 Rue Markazia
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cabaret Embassy
2 Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps

Cafe de France
Boulevard Mohammed V
Casablanca, Morocco

Google Maps



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Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Cared for and Violated by Locals

By Gabrielle Pati

Isla Mujeres: Island of women worshipping the Madonna

My first stop in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is Isla Mujeres, with its immaculate white sand and crystal water beaches, plenty of cerveza to waste away the afternoons in the boiling sun, and where natives try to sell trinkets, sweet breads, and mango slices.

At night local families eat ice cream and congregate at the lively town square (la plaza mayor); having worked hard in the hot sun all day, they breathe and laugh here in the cool air. One night in the square a Catholic-fueled play was performed by the town’s youth, orchestrated by nuns. Teens with faces painted as mimes represented good souls trying to stop other characters from the moral corruption wrought by temptations and evil. Islanos, the people of the Isla, watched and purged evil, mildly entertained, while a sort of Mayan style basketball game raged on nearby. I zigzagged between these two free forms of local entertainment, and began to pick up the sense of community that is so infused in the towns of the Yucatan. I realized that people come out to play at night here, and that the day’s heat and labor prompts the desire for release and social activities that  include everyone: the young and old are on the night scene in harmony.

At Isla Mujeres many people asked me if I was married and if I had children. My negative responses seemed to contrast with the role of women in the Yucatan as wife and mother. Isla gets its name from the thousands of statues dedicated to a female Mayan goddess found by the Spanish when they arrived; now the women create shrines to the Madonna in her place.

Mayan Women Wearing Huipile

Playa Del Carmen: Party and Beach Town with the Outstanding Comida Corrida

Mexicans and Europeans refer to Playa the way Americans refer to Las Vegas. Party time. It’s a place to get wasted at nightclubs, gaze through shades at hot bodies on the beach and, in a nutshell, go wild. Yes, the beach is stunning and the nightclubs could be fun if you’re into that sort of scene. I found the best part of Playa was satisfying my hunger at the local loncherias, restaurants that serve excellent comida corrida, lunch specials of seafood and fresh tortillas to die for.

Sampling the local food is essential when traveling, and sometimes I am overwhelmed by joy in the most random hole-in-the-wall spots. In Playa I found the places where the locals eat lunch to be top-notch, fresh, cheap and delicious, incorporating local fish with salsas, limes and fresh-fruit juice drinks (jugos naturales or aguas frescas) in most dishes. Chicken is local and tasty, and snacks called antojitos are everywhere, and include panuchos and salbutues, which are like tacos but simplified.

At night I found myself at Playa wanting not to go get wasted with trashy Brits and Israelis from my hostel, but seek out places to chomp down on more lime soaked fish with a cold can of Sol by my side.

Panuchos

More well-off Mexicans come to Playa and camp-out for months, working and enjoying the party vibe, while typical Americans stay for about a week and walk down the main tourist strip, the Avenida Quinta, getting conned into overpriced meals and trinkets. Random Europeans and lone travelers like myself free flow around town looking for chill bars and authentic, cheap food. The hostel I stayed at, Hostel Rio Playa, had a rooftop bar and pool, so at night I parked myself there with a few beers and travelers, feeling glad I wasn’t paying 500 pesos (45USD) to be screaming and hammered at the Coco-Bongo. Ayayai…

Around Playa there are some stunning cenotes, freshwater swimming holes, where you can snorkel or dive with fish and turtles, explore caves and small-scale cliff dives. Cenotes are nice shady retreats from the plastic party strip and roasting seaside of Playa. I see myself returning to Playa for the food mostly, with Spanish-speaking friends who could convince me to try the club thing one night.

Tulum and Cobá: Cared for and Violated by Locals

The town of Tulum has ruins nestled against the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean,  hence these pyramids and the beach are the main draws to this small but mushrooming town an hour south of Playa del Carmen.

After hopping off a colectivo (shared taxi van), I walk in the mid-morning heat toward the ruins trying to find the remote B&B. The local taxi-drivers lie and say that my destination is an hour and a half walk and that I better take a cab. I arrive at my B&B Posada los Mapaches in half an hour, mount my complementary cruiser bicycle and head to El Gran Cenote. There I meet some French guys who I chat with in broken Spanish, English and Italian. They are staying at the hostel I stayed at three years ago, which I read was infested with bedbugs now. One of the Frenchies is a musician traveling back and forth between Mexico and Cuba; his long braid and subtle B.O. scream Bohemian-soul and he strikes me as quite a beautiful creature. We end up bumping into each other on two other occasions. I love this random crossing of paths because it reminds me of how small yet vast the world is. Some souls are thrown together and some torn about and we don’t know why.

My B&B was delightful: fresh fruit, smoothies, and homemade food for breakfast, really clean and tranquil, with hosts that care about providing a relaxing and peaceful environment. What a contrast to my experience at the ruins of Cobá.

Hot, thick, humid air engulfed the area as I schlepped around the Mayan pyramids and ball courts built between 500-900ACE. I decided to rest after scaling up the giant Nohuch Mol pyramid barefoot and running out of food and fuel. Having spotted a thin wooden bench, I laid down and dozed off for about ten minutes. I awoke to rustling in the thicket about twenty feet away. Thinking it was a harmless animal, I didn’t get up but peeked with one eye open to my predator: a native whacking off while staring at me. Incredulous and mortified, I sat up and remained still while the young pedi-cab driving perv walked toward me. He pretended that nothing had happened, and I shot him a look meant to kill, but alone in a remote site of ruins is no place for a gringa to get New York on some native.

At this point I realized I had to be more careful; a young girl traveling alone is fine as long as you don’t doze off in the jungle or do other dumb things. I decided to make allies at the next hostel in Merida, so that I could go anywhere and do whatever I wanted with some folk who might back me up in a precarious situation.

Local Caballeros

Merida: la ciudad Blanca, llena de musica, cultura a gente simpatica

Merida is called the white city, and it’s full of music, culture and kind people. This magical city was by far the highlight of my trip to the Yucatan. A colonial, European-esque city of one million people, Merida is the capital of the Yucatan. It is a precious jewel of life. The pastel colored buildings used to be all white, and now brim with a decaying liveliness telling of its glorious past and survival centuries later.

In the late 1800s the Yucatan flourished with haciendas, estates that manufactured a plant called henequen, used all over the world to make rope and twine until the 1940s when synthetic fibers developed. Wealthy hacienda owners (mostly French, Spanish and Dutch) had homes in Merida, and money poured into the city of Merida, which earned the nickname of the Paris of the Americas.

Today Merida is a center of music and youth, with its theaters and palaces, strong economy and high standard of living, though it is still a cheap place to be. There is a university, and a decent gay community surrounding it, which I discovered at a café called El Hoyo. Five out of seven nights of the week one can find free music in the main square, the Plaza Zocalo, ranging from traditional folk singing and dancing, to pop, rock and reggaeton concerts, with break dancing teens soaked in sweat and old men alternating between smoking and chewing their cigarettes.

My hostel, Nómadas, was notably awesome: it had a pool and hammocks, huge rooms, was clean and cheap, only 9USD a night to be in the center of town. I met some chill people there, and I decided to make some male allies and do some exploring with them. One day two ballin’ architects from Mexico City (Districto Federal, or D.F.) invited me to go to the ruins of Chichen Itza with the car they planned to rent. Sweet! We spent the day exploring ruins and cenotes and driving around remote towns in the Yucatan cattle and horse country. We took a horse drawn cart through the jungle to Los Tres Cenotes. I trusted these guys and they took good care of me, and even though I was prompted to go to a trashy nightclub and drink Jagermeister till the wee hours with them, I’m glad I did.

That day, there was a huge concert in Merida, La Noche Mexicana, showcasing folk dancing groups from all the regions of Mexico. There was great food and dancing, and artesans selling gorgeous goods like wooden mortars, jewelry, paintings and sculptures. I was overcome by such good energy between the music, good company and culture around me, I fell hard for Merida that night.

One day I went to the Museo de la Cancion Yucateca, a beautiful converted school housing memorabilia that told the story of Yucatecan music from its Mayan origins up to today. The most infamous singer was Guty Cardenas, a folk singer in the Golden Age of Yucatecan music (the 1920s) who was assassinated at age twenty-seven. Trova music is typical of the Yucatan, and Merida was the hub where all singers converged, formed troupes and performed. The genre of trova includes classical guitar playing with string accompaniment, and is still performed every week at Santa Lucia Park in Merida.

Although locals dress conservatively considering the heat, they sure aren’t shy about dancing. Old and young people dance in the Zócalo and other parks when there is music. At night I constantly found people enjoying themselves and socializing in the main square, eating snacks called marquesitas (cheese filled crepes) or elotes (corn on the cob with cream and cheese), clowns performing, hippies and punks selling handmade crafts, and native women with their many kids begging you to buy a bracelet, please.

After a lovely Yucatecan dinner at La Chaya Maya restaurant, I went to the Zocalo to search for the night action. I met a hippie, squatter punk artesano who claimed to be a martian, part lion, jaguar and panther…OK. He spoke Italian and had a daughter in Italy. Since I am an italophile, we got along well. He showed me a couple local bars, the Mayan Pub and El Templo, nice places to get beers and chill, with a mixture of local meridanos and visitors who venture out there. The next day we went to a giant hole in the ground, cenote, with tripped out stalactites and Mayan faces growing out of them, which happened after a fat joint vanished into us. I had to hang with a crazy local to find such a cool spot, though being a solita traveler presents a risk, too.

Cenote, near Merida

The Spaniard who conquered Merida in the 1500s was named Montejo, and there is a grandiose boulevard that bears his name today, the Paseo Montejo, kind of like what Madison Avenue in New York used to be: lined with mansions, achievements in architecture that the city’s elite enjoyed. Today this giant street is a beautiful place to walk and see the decaying mansions, get coffee and snacks in an artsy café or go out to insane nightclubs and super fancy restaurants. I enjoyed exploring the Paseo a lot, since walking down these streets made me feel regal, and the wide shady streets provide solace from the busy centro. Near the Paseo Montejo I found the ex-pat owned Olive Cafe Stop, with friendly workers and great Chiapas coffee.

On some of Merida’s older buildings there are original signs showing pictures and the corresponding name in Spanish below them. These signs evoke the time when Mayans and Spaniards inhabited Merida together, before and during the birth of the mestizos; the pictures told the (mostly illiterate) Mayans the names of streets and imparted the cultural knowledge of the dominating country of Spain.

Culturally, the people of Merida are friendly, chivalrous and appreciate music, food and culture more than most. Getting acquainted with some meridanos opened up my heart. Even as a foreigner, I felt welcome into the life force of the city. I left a piece of myself in Merida, and I plan on going back for it soon, maybe sooner than I expect.

Locations in the Yucatan

Hostel Rio Playa
Calle 8 Entre 5 y ave 10
Playa del Carmen, Mexico

http://hotels.lonelyplanet.com

Posada los Mapaches B&B
Federal Highway Chetumal
Cancun, Tulum Archaeological Zone
(opposite the entrance to the ruins)

http://sites.google.com/site/posadalosmapaches

El Gran Cenote
In Tulum take the road
to Coba just under 4 kilometers.
Right side of road

http://www.grancenote.com

El Hoyo Café
Calle 62 between Calle 57 and 59
Merida, Mexico

Google Maps

Nomadas Hostel
62 # 433 por 51
Centro, Merida, Mexico

(01 999) 924 . 52 . 23
http://www.nomadastravel.com

Yucatecan Song Museum
57 #468, Centro 97000
Mérida Yucatán, Mexico

01 999 923 7224‎
Google Maps

La Chaya Maya Restaurante
Calle 62 y 57
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

Google Maps

Mayan Pub
Calle 62 between Calle 55 and 57
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

Google Maps

El Templo Bar
Calle 59 no. 438
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

01 999 930 9303
http://www.myspace.com/eltemplobar

Olive Café Stop
Paseo Montejo 470-B,
between Calle 37 and 39
Merida, Yucatán, Mexico

http://olivecafestop.blogspot.com