Morocco is an ancient civilization steeped in history and hormones, a gold mine
for the archeologist and psychologist. If you go looking for a western-style gay scene
in Morocco you won`t find it as in law homosexuality is illegal and you risk arrest, deportation
or imprisonment if found guilty of "lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex."
Neverthless you can't legislate against human nature, and if you`re
not looking, man-man sex situations will most likely simply unfold. Tangier was perhaps
the world's first gay resort and Casablanca is infamous as a city where just about
anything is for sale. Paradoxical and elusive, bisexuality in Morocco is a common part
of male life, but it's veiled, ambiguous in meaning and not used as part of one`s identity.
ALI AND THE HOTEL
Still, most gay Moroccans never have an ongoing gay relationship. Mostly, they are
married with kids and find only an occasional assignation for their secret needs of a gay or bisexual nature.
There are exceptions to this, of course, as we found out, since one such man was
standing nearby--our hotel owner, Ali, a quietly charming man of about 50. His current
ownership of the hotel was the result of a relationship with his late partner who
passed away a couple of years ago. They had been lovers for thirty years even though
Ali was married for twenty of those thirty years and the father of two children.
The city of Fez in Morocco|
Photo: Marlene Vicente
Ali was a self-acknowledged gay man who took his roles as husband/father/lover seriously
even though he and his partner never lived full time under the same roof. Originally from
Scotland, the partner bought the hotel many years ago and when he met Ali they became
business partners. This conveniently masked the more intimate aspects of their affairs.
It was a love story in which Lawrance felt privileged to have been closely involved as a
friend and confidante.
Ali told us that he cared very much for his family, but when my friend Lawrance
asked if he loved his wife, Ali looked away for a second before he replied: " I
love her as I am suppose to. (Pause) As long as I do my duty to her, financially
and sexually, I am free to have my life outside the home. She does not ask questions."
I could see from this bifurcated answer that even after all these years, this middle-aged
gay Moroccan had not fully reconciled his inner nature with the social demands on him.
I appreciated, however, the sincerity and devotion he had divided, as fairly as he could,
among his significant others.
INTO THE DESERT
But Morocco is not all about hormones and ambiguous romance. There is much
history and beauty to this northwest corner of Africa. A week later we arrived
at the Auberge Merzouga in the Sahara Desert. There are rooms as well as tents for
rent. We opted for one of the black wool Berber tents only fifty yards from dunes.
From a short distance, the hostel looked like a medieval fort with small turrets
and foot-thick walls of white plaster. The tent was £2.40 and dinner was £3.50 -
tagine lamb and vegetable stew and harine soup - delicious and savoury. You could
also opt for the Auberge Derkaoua which offers both tents and rooms with shower and wc
plus a swimming pool and you can book in advance through the Riadomaroc agency which offers other traditional
accommodation too. Click the link below for more information.
At sunset, the sand hills turned from soft taupe through a color chart of amber,
sienna and gold accompanied by long deep shadows. As the last rays of direct light
lingered on the land, a row of camel riders came walking across one of the dunes as
if on cue to fill my camera lens. The night passed under a billion crystal stars spread out across the sky like
scattered fairy dust. There are not more stars here, just less human produce to
murk up the sky.
We were the only guests that night. Absolute silence and darkness prevailed on
the edge of the great timeless desert. In places like this, it`s best to go out,
look up at infinity, say nothing and think less for a while.
At 5 AM, from the earthen village of Merzouga half a mile away the muezzin called
out in the blackness his chant "Allaho-akbar..." to those who might come to the mosque
and pray for the first of five times daily. The chant was too sweet to call an interruption.
Mostly, only the roosters responded to the muezzin`s cry at that hour.
Then the most startling of all the wonders in this place. In the crystalline
blackness a gigantic bright glowing orb appeared with a million-mile vapor trail.
It didn`t seem to move and the enormous tail did not diminish. I thought perhaps it
was a dying star in its last gasp of supernova burn. There was no possible means of
finding out what it was; no TV, no radio, certainly nothing published in English,
not even other tourists to ask. It was not until days later that I found out
this stunning astronomical prize was the "heavenly show of the decade": the Hale-Bapp comet.
In the morning, the urge to climb the dunes was too seductive and we submitted.
The powdery surface was difficult to walk on so I settled for a lesser mound that
presented me with an impressive photogenic view of the rising light and falling shadows.
I sat for a while on this warm soft mustard hill running my hands in the sand and
lifting up a handful to watch the fine grains running through my fingers. I imagined
this is what infinity must feel like as I watch the earth slip away from my grasp back
into the countless other grains surrounding me. Footprints left today are gone in an hour.
The desert is a good place to contemplate immortality and the passing of time.
Thoughts or beliefs make not one grain of difference among the sand mountains
that have drifted here for a million years. It`s not sad or joyous, just quiet and endless.
For two wondrous weeks, we had found in Morocco a land of history, sublime night skies,
moderate Muslim life and a few hormones.
No gay man should visit Morocco without some knowledge of the expat writer and
composer Paul Bowles who lived most of his life in Morocco. This quintessential outsider
died in 1999 at the age of 88. He was one of the central figures in what was called the
`pre-lost Generation` who befriended such icons of 20th century art as Aaron Copeland,
Christopher Isherwood, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Orson Welles, and Tennessee Williams among
others including such iconoclastic figures as Alan Ginsberg. His most famous work was
the novel `Sheltering Sky`, which was eventually made into a movie.
A bisexual man, he married the lesbian writer Jane Auer in 1938. Through countless
affairs on both sides, they continued their marriage and remained emotionally loyal
to one another. In a final interview he stated about his life: "I regret nothing."
In tribute to his life, a full-page obituary appeared in the New York Times of
November 19, 1999. The reporter wrote: "In his strange, exotic life, Mr. Bowles
apparently did exactly what he wanted to do, writing fiction and music and continually
searching for that magic place where he would find his twined goals of wisdom and ecstasy."
Reviewed May 2023.