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The hottest thing going in Casablanca is the Sheraton hotel and the hottest thing at the Sheraton is the karaoke bar. Hottest there are the many smooth Arab girls, roaming around, inviting you to a mutual drowning in eyes and, more often than not, even to something significantly more lucrative.
      Come to where the full, rich flavour is, come to the Sheraton in Casablanca. Nowhere near as Rick's as Bogart in scenic, pseudo-Moroccan movies or else, Casablanca is Africa and it is Europe and Casablanca is also very much 1998. So forget about Sam's brown fingers, where Sam's frown lingers, and forget those romanticized depictions of the desert, because the Sheraton in Casablanca is the Asshole Power Resort, and not without some very good reasons.
      With a population of over six million people, Casablanca is the fifth biggest city in Africa. Here, you can find the highest minaret in the world (two thirds of the Eiffel Tower) and an exaggerated ambience of cultural contrast. In the armpit of the two twelve-lane avenues des F.A.R. and Mohammed V, both lined with the world's major hotels, lies the old medina, basically constructed during the Viking Age. Close by is an old - well, dating from the 1930s - minaret, looking like it belonged to an aged black and white photograph. The scene is perfectly anachronistic, no matter if you're watching the minaret next to the towering mirror-skyscrapes or if you look at it as some kind of watch-tower supervising the opening in the medina wall.
      The medina like an armpit, bushy, sweaty, narrow, hot, and dark, yet filled with colour and music and life - but not for you, you poor Christian thing. Wearing a business suit for a walk in the medina is like going on safari on a bicycle. Tiresome, that is, so fulfil your obligations as a tourist, round a block inside, and save yourself for the major avenues.

JUST AS THEY ought to in a place like this, the hotels provide both lodging and entertainment. There's the less than pompous Holiday Inn, a mile or two away from the others. There's the Royal Mansour, sporting a venerable, brass-rail and mahagony sea captains' bar. And there's the Hyatt Regency with its kitschily boring and equally empty "Casablanca" bar, populated only by imitation props from the movie with the same name.
      And then there's the Sheraton, and Sheraton is Sheraton and Chivas Regal is Chivas Regal and while you like that very much, that isn't really the matter here, because in Casablanca, Sheraton is the king of nocturnal merry-making, and in a truly tyrannic monarchy such as Morocco, that means a great deal.
      A good Sheraton-evening starts out at one of the hotel's many restaurant, all of which are located on the first floor. You can choose the Moroccan restaurant, with mint tea, cushion chairs, and live music interpreted by old locals in funny trousers. We consider that alternative somewhat, shall we say...dubious? We don't go native these days, as the Consul Général de Sa Majesté Britannique had pointed out. Neither should you.
      Instead, go visit the French restaurant Le Trianon, and get served by deft young men in fez hats and ethnographically correct but never disturbing mc hammer-pants. They are swiftly attentive to your ever need, they can anticipate your every thought, and they ask if maybe they can bring you some local herbs the following day, will you be in the bar tomorrow evening?, as a present, from our country? You're smiling, nodding your head affirmatively, and you order some more wine or beer or whatever you're having. It doesn't cost much either, and the food is French or international or whatever you call it and very good.

BUT FOOD IS only food and when it's eaten you stroll past the little balustrade, overlooking the lobby bar, catching a pair of beautiful eyes gazing up to you, gazing at practically everyone in the open, multi-floor architectural environment, adorned with gold and glass. Then you enter the Casbar, the big bar, you're enclosed by it, that splendid karaoke lounge serving as the warm up area for a true Sheraton- in- Casablanca evening.
      Before you, a square-shaped room with a couple of landings in the floor, dividing the space. There's a counter running along the entire far end of the room, a row of stools fastened to the floor, and a huge pillar lending the bar in the bar a bit of privacy. In the middle of the right wall, there's a door leading to the Japanese restaurant. On the opposite side there's another taking you to the Arabian dining-room. Straight to the left is a grand piano surrounded by miscellaneous electronic equipment as well as a TV monitor. There's karaoke coming up.
      The bar is crowded with diverse people, tongues, and tones. The men are formally dressed but the mood is high and still rising. You see younger men as well as those not so young, but there's a ceiling at around the sixties. There are also a lot of women, many of them apparantly around 25 years old, all of them looking very nice and cheerful, and many of them are stunningly beautiful. Often they look your way. Everywhere, people seem to know each other, regardless of sex. It is quite correct to describe the mood as very merry.

Downtown Casablana, an early evening in March. To the left, the minaret outside of the medina. Watch out for falling towers.

WHEN THE KARAOKE starts, the bar is crammed with people. Someone's collected names of participants. The first singer is announced, a fat business-Ali from northern Morocco, brilliantly sweating himself through a Spanish romantic evergreen. It goes without saying, that at the Sheraton, you sing gallantly, in style, and out loud. During the applause, the next performer makes her way through the tables. She's Arab and very, very sexy, in so many words. She sings a Maghrebian tune that everybody knows except you and you can't even sing along, despite the fact that the lyrics are displayed clearly in European, from right to left, on the TV screen. The song ends with a sustained, high-pitched desert wailing and the audience's cheering enthousiastically. Before the evening has passed, you've also heard songs in English, French, and Italian.
      Later on, you strike up a conversation with a dainty young man who apparantly is a student at the University of Casablanca. He's extremely hospitable. He invites you to stay at his place the next time you come to Morocco. He tells you that every woman present, every one of these more than one hundred young, pretty, and occidentally neat women, is a prostitute. He also confirms that the prostitution is of another kind than the average European variety, and that it sometimes even is a way for young men and women to meet. He also tells you that you can't just walk up to one of them and ask how much it is:
      -They have to accept you first. You must be able to behave well, talk to them, charm them. Tu ne peux pas être un con. Then maybe you get along with one of the girls. Then you can ask her if she wants to come up to your room. You must also negociate the price. Maybe she says 1000 dirhams. If you think it's too expensive, maybe you say 600, and then maybe you agree on 800.

AT AROUND TWO o'clock, the karaoke stops. One of the girl's is walking around the room with a microphone in her hand, singing Unchained Melody. Almost everybody has left and when you get down to the basement, to the Caesar's Palace discotheque, you realize where they've gone. On the dance floor, there are some thirty young women energetically winding their bodies, some of them in serious solo performances. They're a bizarre and beautiful crowd. There's one looking like Neneh Cherry, there's another who could've been on of James Bond's chicks. Others look more like your average chubby arabian girl, but nevertheless exotic. A couple of boisterous gents dressed in suits are frolicking about, joking with a group of somewhat older, but very attractive, dark-eyed women. They seem to have known each other for years, all parties apparently being completely at ease with the situation.
      The degree of ease that you are experiencing depends on who you are, how you feel tonight, and last but not least, the number of those miniscule 120 dirham-beers you've had. Maybe you're thinking of whom to talk to, if maybe you should go dancing a bit, and then if you should be flirting with anyone. But you probably discover that many of them aren't interested in you at all, and you understand that you don't understand how this works. Or maybe someone is interested, after all. To not understand includes every possibility.

Your friend Abdul, an official from the port authorities, posing outside the Casablanca mosque Hassan II, sporting the highest minaret in the world. Abdul has never been to the Sheraton, but he can make love to five women in a row if he smokes haschisch.

AT ANY RATE, you won't be standing there all alone for long. You cling to the bar, it's four o'clock, four thirty, and you've understood that you don't understand, but what the girls approaching you want, is nevertheless completely clear. Hello, they say, and they're so close, your bodies touch on several places. While talking, they're caressing the chest of your shirt and they're looking up to you, looking straight into your eyes and they smile. You chat a while in French, a language that none of you commands, but it doesn't matter because there isn't anything to say anyway.
      She can have a cigarette, you buy her a drink, and you think of what will happen next. She's a "fassia", in other words originating from Fez, the religious and cultural metropolis strategically situated in the passage between the Rif and the Atlas Mountains, deep into the Moroccan interior. Her name is Kelpa. Her friend's name's Hassana, and in addition to their extreme sensuality flowing all around you, and their promising of a pleasure far beyonod groaning copulation, so sublime it never ceases to intensify, they are young and well-mannered, neat, flexible, pragmatic, service-minded, and discreet. "Give me your room number, and I'll come up to you a little later", they say, and their black eyes sparkle in the flashing lights from the discotheque. Then choose.

text och foto: RIKARD WESTMAN
illustration: DANIEL EGNÉUS

This is the Asshole Power Resort currently on display, Sheraton Casablanca Hotel in Morocco. There you find restaurants, bars, karaoke, a discotheque and overall an extraordinary assortment of services.
© Copyright 1998 Asshole Magazine

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