Saturday, November 20, 2010

On Napkin Therapy

It’s been a long day. I’m tired and grumpy. Around 10pm I get out of a taxi in Batha and hesitate for a minute. Do I go home, go to straight to bed, and hope that tomorrow will be a bit more encouraging? Or do I go elsewhere in search of a little reminder of why I love living here?

Then the CHEERS theme song starts playing in my head:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you got...
Got that right.

Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot...

Yeah...but how?

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go...
By this time, I’m already halfway to the one place in the world...

Where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

Now I’m on TALAA KBIRA, one of the medina’s main drags, speeding my way through the souk that’s just starting to close. I turn left into a little alley. At the end of the alley is a door. The theme song is finishing...

You wanna go where people know that people are all the same. You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

I make my entrance accompanied by applause from the live studio audience in my head.

“Alright,” I say, “Who’s got some napkins for me?”


is my Cheers.

I first went to Clock in late 2007, a few days after it opened. Some friends talked me into trying the Camel Burger. Mike Richardson, the British mastermind behind the café, greeted us at the door and encouraged us to enjoy our lunch on the roof. The second I went up there I fell in love. I was an instant regular.

At my favorite table at Clock, January 2008

When I returned to Morocco last fall the café had grown. Mike bought the house next door to expand the terrace and to add a cooking school. Clock now hosts art exhibitions, and coordinates classes in all sorts of arts – Moroccan and otherwise. They have weekly concerts, and throughout the week all the guitar players in Fez (it seems) come to jam together. The café has become a social hub that brings together local Moroccans, expats, and tourists passing through. Everyone talks to everyone else. It’s Fez’s very own melting pot. Somehow in 3 years this café has become an indispensible part of the cultural climate of a 1200-year-old city. Bravo, Mike.

Tango lessons with some Clock people - note the photography and calligraphy exhibition

Clock is an anthropological goldmine. Everyone I meet there constantly challenges my ideas about globalization and blended cultural identity, two focal points of my research. The very existence of a place like Clock, with its mingling of cultures, blurs lines and exposes modern Moroccan culture for what it is – complex. The interactions that take place at Clock speak volumes about how young people are navigating these cultural complexities, often without even realizing it.

Abdul, the resident flamenco guitarist, playing on the terrace

But I’m not always “on the clock” as a researcher. In fact, I’m usually part of the sample. I go to Clock because it’s a little haven. Because the plurality of cultures contained in that one little house in the Medina allows me to be as Western as I want to be and not be judged for it. In Morocco, Clock is the one public place where I’m very simply myself. I make myself at home. I laugh and dance. And I’m kind of a goofball.

Fati, Me, and Sis, goofing off at Clock

It’s this “myselfness” at Clock that has been the basis for some very close friendships. The regulars, and especially the staff, are some of my favorite people in the world. On days when I need a laugh, or just to be reminded that there are people here who know me, Clock is a sure bet.


AJ sets a pile of napkins on a table for me, and I start folding. Closing time is my favorite time. The kitchen is closed, the bar is closing, and clients are trickling out. I stick around to help fold napkins for the next day. The mindless repetition of folding napkin after napkin is soothing and therapeutic. The best conversations happen over a pile of Café Clock napkins. Whatever it was that made my day rough is soon forgotten as I talk and laugh and fold napkins in my very own Moroccan “Cheers.” I walk home happy.

Me and AJ at closing time, folding and laughing.

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