I went to eat at Alhambra on Christmas Day. Alhambra is where I mostly eat when I'm in Tangier; most days I have a bowl of harira and a plate of paella. Its a hole in the wall place where a lot of working Moroccans go to eat every evening. I've been eating there five years and I've encountered maybe five Westerners in that time.
I found a vacant table in the interior and noticed, as I sat down, that my nearest neighbours were two burly looking guys in their mid-20s. They resembled the sort of men involved in all those hostage beheading videos from Baghdad.
Their order, for hot chicken rolls, was taken as I lowered lyself into my seat. Five minutes later my eventual order of swordfish and frites was taken. While we awaited our food the could-be executioners and myself grazed on the lovely fresh bread and olives which our respective waiters provided us with. After about another five minutes my frites and swordfish were slapped down in front of me with a flourish by Alhambra's likeable waiter.
As my head bent forward to look at the food my neighbours erupted out of their seats and started roundly abusing my waiter and their own one who was at that very moment approaching their table with their hot chicken rolls.
I pretended I didn't notice a thing and started nibbling on my frites. The boy's anger seemed to be entirely focused on the fact that they had been there first and, in their fervent Arabic rant, I detected none of the usual terms of abuse - Ishranee, Jehud, Amerikan - directed against the white man in this particular part of Africa. The waiters tried to explain that the frites were always ready to go and that it took two minutes to griddle swordfish but the huffy patrons were already storming out the front door. I kept on pretending that I noticed nothing, the white idiot in Africa, and left Alhambra twenty minutes later when I'd paid for my food.
On Boulevard my attention was drawn to a commotion taking place on the hood of a recent model Merc precariously pulled up onto the kerbside, empty with its engine still running and the driver's door left open.
On the hood a tall man in his early thirties was being whipped with a black leather belt by a shorter older guy, nattily dressed in a blazer and well ironed slacks. The victim was stronger and better built than his assailant, who had clearly removed the belt from his own trousers, but the older man was in a righteous frenzy. Every time he slapped his victim on the calf or the buttock, the victim howled out like a whipped dog. I'd never seen anyone being whipped before and it was funny, though the two men involved were clearly unamused.
I felt that the younger man was being whipped because of something to do with his penis and his whipper's wife, sister, or daughter. My money was on the wife. I could still hear the yelping when I entered the Cafe de Paris.
Discover more about Joe Ambrose and his new book about Republican Dan Breen at JoeAmbrose.net
Joe Ambrose wrote 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe sadly passed away in 2018. Visit Joe's website which was completed just before his passing, for more info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.
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