What to Pack

I know you're busy picking out your summer festival wardrobe but there's something I've been meaning to talk with you about. It happened, or rather didn't, on a trek Marcus and I took around Morocco. The initial inspiration for this trip was a rather well-produced video for Icebreaker, a line of merino wool clothing that can pretty much go anywhere, do anything, and still look (and smell) remarkably upscale. Of course since this was our inspiration, and we were going in November, we packed a fair amount of merino wool. Long sleeves and long pants mostly because - and I'll admit I was stereotyping a bit - the country is largely Muslim and I'm just one of those travelers who don't like to ruffle the local sensibilities.

Plus, I got a lot of advice from a friend who had just returned from Oman, which is also largely Muslim but very, very far away from French-infused Morocco. And also, I'd been looking at my father's photos (slides) from a diplomatic trip he took there in the 1970s. But mostly I just figured that, should I get invited into a mosque or something, it would be better to be overdressed than underdressed. So I brought long skirts and slacks and modest layers of loose-fitting tops. It was a flexible wardrobe with practical shoes and scarves that provided colorful accents. What I didn't pack, and this is key to my story, was an LBD, large chandelier earrings, and stupidly high heels. Nope didn't pack that. 

Turns out Morocco isn’t like Oman. At all. I mean, yes, there were djellabas and pill box hats aplenty. But there were also jeans and leather jackets, shorts, and short-sleeved shirts. Not just in the more progressive areas but also in the traditional parts of town. For the most part, I was fine and appropriately dressed for the places we went. Nobody looked at me askance (to my knowledge). I blended into the Euro-style crowd, avoided looking like an American on a Saturday at Costco, and didn’t offend anyone of particularly stringent religious beliefs. Then one night, outside the old medina of Marrakech, walking home from a restaurant that featured Thai food and a chic crowd of foreign nationals, Marcus and I met Hassan.

“I am Hassan,” he said as he gestured elegantly toward his taxi cab. And a fine taxi cab it was. Unlike the worn out, smelly, old smoke-belching Mercedez “Grand Taxis” we’d seen in the medina, Hassan’s car was clean, fuel efficient, and new. It smelled new. Hassan was new too, or, well, fresh, and young, and good looking. He was dressed in crisp slacks and an even crisper button down shirt. His English was perfect. His smile was electric and bright white. “Where do you wish to go tonight?” Hassan inquired politely. Ever the suspicious travelers, we wisely agreed on a price and a destination prior to entering his fine automobile. “Ah, yes, I know this riad. I can take you there no problem,” he smiled.

Then Hassan proceeded to take us for a ride. Along Avenue Mohammed V and Avenue El Kadissia we went, in the opposite direction from our riad. Strangely, we knew what was happening but, instead of feeling frightened or threatened by our kidnapping, we were intrigued. Ever friendly and accommodating, Hassan took us to Le Comptoir, a shimmering, neon-lit nightclub with up-lit palm trees and very large doormen in shiny black suits. The taxi's side door was opened by one of the doormen. Did we want to get out? To go inside? Inside, where they had plush, low seating, silk throw pillows, strobe lights, exotic music, and a famous DJ with a thick French accent? Inside where the smell of cologne, champagne, and a packed dance floor beckoned?

Now, this is where that little dress, those earrings, a pair of titillating shoes, aaand maybe some black eyeliner would have come in handy. Where our story could have taken a dramatically different turn. One that involved belly dancers, alcohol, and the wee hours of the morning. But no, no, we could not go inside. Thank you, large doorman, but no. The taxi door closed again but Hassan continued to lead us astray. If not Le Comptoir, then perhaps Theatro? No? Ah, then you will surely like The Royal Mansour! Or perhaps, out along Avenue Mohammed VI toward the airport, through the rich Hivernage neighborhood, the 555 Club!

The night clubs were all beautiful and tantalizing and full of possibility but eventually we came to our senses. We asked Hassan to take us home, which he did. He did not ask for one dirham more than we had agreed to in the beginning. And we parted ways on good terms. He had shown us another side of Marrakech, one that would surely lure us back there someday. Anyway, the point is, bring a clubbing outfit. Just do it. No matter how silly it seems.