O U T S I D E L E F T   stay i n d e p e n d e n t

Van Damme Takes Over

Van Damme is straight up taking over in Marrakesh's Place Djemms el Fna

get the weekly Outsideleft newsletter
by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: August, 2008
The main things that happen at night on el Fna are entertainment (music, comedy, games, boxing) and crime (fraudulent drug peddling, male prostitution, pickpocketing).
by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: August, 2008
The main things that happen at night on el Fna are entertainment (music, comedy, games, boxing) and crime (fraudulent drug peddling, male prostitution, pickpocketing).

They have a new police chief on Place Djemma el Fna, Marrakesh's Place of the Mosque at the End of the World. He is known colloquially to the denizens of the square as "Van Damme" because of his height, his toughness, and his alleged integrity. He is coming down hard on the criminals who frequent the square by night and he regularly patrols the space by himself, often on a scooter, accompanied by his walkie talkie.

Rumour has it that he takes no nonsense from his cop underlings. Rumour has it that he was one of the King's personal bodyguards before accepting this strenuous appointment. Rumour has it that he doesn't accept bribes, making him more or less unique amongst Morocco's appallingly crooked and worthless police force.

Rumour has it that he's gay or, as it was put to me, "He's about 35 and he's not married. If you're 35 in Morocco and you're not married, you're gay."

The main things that happen at night on el Fna are entertainment (music, comedy, games, boxing) and crime (fraudulent drug peddling, male prostitution, pickpocketing).

Yesterday I sat with my pal Tafik at the Cafe de France in the shade avoiding the mid-afternoon's blistering heat, watching el Fna's passing throng. In the middle distance a tall man wearing a blue denim shirt on a scooter came to a halt.

"That is Van Damme." said Tafik.

Van Damme sat in that open space beneath the sun's pitiless brain-frying glower for twenty minutes. Behind him was parked an unmarked white van and to his right was an unmarked white car.

"Those are probably cop cars." I said.

"I think he is waiting for someone or maybe he wants to catch somebody who is coming out of the medina." said Tafik.

To access the square from the medina, where a fair percentage of el Fna's lawbreakers (including myself) seem to reside, it was indeed necessary to pass by Van Damme's vantage point.

Eventually he was approached by two short middle aged shabbily dressed men.

"Those two are police who have worked on the Place for ten years." said Tafik. "They are very bad men. The one on the left lives near me; he's always looking for bribes. One time when I was 16 I was robbed on my way home from a friend's house at 3am. I went to the police station and he was the one on duty. First he wanted a bribe to investigate the case and then he said, 'What were you doing out at that time of the night anyway? You should have been at home with your family by then.'"

Van Damme stayed engrossed in conversation with the two older cops for a while. Then he handed Tafik's neighbour his walkie talkie, effective control over the square, and drove off into the heat and the sand.

The next night, coming up on midnight, I was crossing el Fna on my way to a cafe rendezvous. I saw Van Damme on his scooter approach me. He very briefly ground to a halt right in front of me, caught my eye, and assessed me shrewdly. Perhaps he was a little taken aback when I assessed him shrewdly right back.

He is a handsome, healthy looking youngish man, well dressed and with a certain elegance or hauteur. I think I'd prefer not to cross him.

see more stories from outsideleft's Culture archive »»

Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.

more stories you really could read...


thumb through the ancient archives:

search for something you might like...


sign up for the outsideleft weekly. a selection of new and archived stories every week. Or less.

View previous campaigns.

Beyond Purple - (part one)
An American in Paris, Denni Boyd is graciously allowing us to print (in two parts) the opening chapter of his forthcoming novel, Diamonds
Top 5 Art music albums of 2013
Can something still swing when it hardly moves at all?
I Don't Know Why I'm Mad, But I Know I'm
Mad At You About It
Popular people, beware! Be Your Own Pet is about to spazz out all over your uncreative, conformist ass!
Seriously, Touch Me. I'm Not Sick Anymore
Who'd have thought that a persistent dinosaur like Mudhoney would sprint ahead of the fashio rabbit that is Sonic Youth in the race of contemporary relevence?
This is the Book of Birmingham
In the Conservatoire. With a Lectern. Anthology Authors.
Evel Dead
Daredevil Motorcycle Stunt Superstar Evel Knievel? Well now he's gone
Some of our favorite things...