Pastis in Casablanca
Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, and Antoine De St-Exupéry walk into a bar. Inside Le Petit Poucet, in downtown Casablanca, they each order. An imported beer for Antoine, the pilot. A glass of wine—rosé, of course—for Mme. Piaf. And a fresh pineapple and coconut martini with a frilly umbrella for the absurdist Camus. They then each light each other’s Gauloise Noirs, those disgusting black cigarettes all French intellectuals once smoked.
Today, the Gauloise Noir is gone, and the Petit Poucet holds fewer famous agents. Camus, Piaf, and St-Exupéry have been feeding worms for over half a century. The bar may be a hold-out of French colonialism, but the clientele is most definitely Moroccan, particularly old Moroccan men, hunched over small bottles of Casa beer, smoking, talking among themselves.
They have a slight look of shame about their faces. Not only are they drinking, they’re drinking in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. A gloriously French way to spend a day, but an embarrassing one for most Moroccans.
It is all men—guidebook warnings abound about how bars are the preserve of men. But my wife, Jo, walks in confidently, eyes straight ahead, and mounts the bar stool like a seasoned drinker. She removes her sunglasses and rests them on the green countertop, said to be the original from colonial days. Then she orders a draft Heineken, even as the bartender looks at me to give her order.
I get a pastis—the oversized bottle of Ricardo hanging upside down behind the bartender is too hard to resist. The bartender, dressed in a burgundy suit, white shirt, and bow tie, brings it to me with a bottle of mineral water. I mix the drink and sip, and the bartender rings it up on a cash register, probably also the original.
I drink my pastis and Jo drinks her beer, and the men try not to stare at Jo, though they can’t help it. She’s a beautiful woman, of course, but it’s more that she’s a woman of any kind, in a bar. We wonder if Edith Piaf ever got looks like this.
Once our drinks are finished, we put our sunglasses back on, thank the bartender in French, and walk out into the Art Deco cross-roads of Casablanca, at Rue Mohammed V and Rue Mohammed el-Qory.
It’s strange to get a drink at the corner of two roads named after a Mohammed. But then it’s also strange how hard it is to get a drink in Casablanca, a city made famous by a movie almost entirely set in a bar. But then, that’s fiction.
Photo by: Jo Turner