Monday, October 05, 2015

French-Style Street Theatre ~ in a Truck!

As part of the France-Morocco Cultural Season 2015, the French Institute is presenting a piece of street theatre - Street of Thieves - directed by Bruno Thircuir with the company La Fabrique des Petites Utopies 

The piece is based on the novel Street Thieves by Mathias Énard. The performance takes place on Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th of October at 7pm.

The presentation, unusually for so-called street theatre, takes place at Place Boujloud in a truck with capacity for 100 seats. The presentation which runs for an hour and twenty minutes is recommended for children over the age of thirteen.

Bruno Thircuir

Street of Thieves is built like a huge flashback, in which the audience follow Lakhdar, a young Moroccan whose thirst for life leads him on a journey with no return.

He recounts his life story, takes small jobs, has improbablesensual encounters, friendships and is deceived by morbid paranoia.

His desire for his cousin Meryem was the impetus for his exile.

His love for a young Spanish young student makes him accept all possible small jobs. The faith in his friend Bassam gives him a slim hope but will turn to wild terror.

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Ongoing Alcohol Skirmishes in Morocco

Wine Harvest Festival in Marrakech - But Casablanca Beer Festival Cancelled

Just as the good folk of Casablanca were preparing to celebrate Morocco's first Beer Festival, a statement was issued from the Wilaya of Casablanca prohibiting the holding of this event from October 8th to November 8th. Yet, on the same day Marrakech announced it is to hold a wine harvest celebration over this coming weekend.

The Morocco's Breweries Group, were told by the Wilaya that they must stop advertising the beer festival, to removing the event's promotional posters and to refrain from further organising.

The news comes as a blow to beer enthusiasts from the UK, France, Canada and the USA who were looking forward to tasting the local Moroccan beers. Simon, a beer enthusiast from Sydney, Australia, says he was excited about the prospect of visiting Morocco, but now says he feels "gutted".

In the light of this decision the wine makers must be wondering if their event will go ahead. The hub of the Wine Harvest festivities will be at Jardin d'Ines with guests including the French chef Christophe Leroy and winemaker Patrick Baudry. There will also be a gala dinner, exhibitions and meetings of artists, all in the aim of promoting the wine culture in the Red City.

Cheers! Here's to Marrakech!

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Sunday, October 04, 2015

Morocco's First "Beer Festival" ~ The Backlash Begins

The small Islamist party Uniqueness and Reform (MUR), which is close to the governing PJD, has called for the cancellation of the Oktober Fest style "beer festival" in Morocco

On Sunday (October 4) the Uniqueness and Reform Movement released a a statement in which the Islamist group called for the cancellation of the "Beer Festival"  organised by the Groupe des Brasseries du Maroc - the Moroccan Brewing Association. It is interesting that this first shot was fired by MUR rather than the PJD.

Read also: A beer festival in Morocco

In a statement posted on its website, MUR describes the event, which would be a major first for Morocco, as the  "mother of all evils" and considers it "a step in the direction of daring to overtly confront the values, identity and the law  of Moroccans".

The association is calling for "those who gave permission" for the event as well as the "media that are promoting it" to reverse their stance of the subject".

MUR's Arabic press release also pointed the finger at Morocco's French media, saying "It is noteworthy that a French-speaking newspapers in Morocco published publicity links to the so-called "first festival of beer", which included the date and place of festival activities in Casablanca".

The group also called on the "ulema, preachers, media and members of civil society" to ensure "that the event does not take place."

The event is scheduled to take place in Casablanca where the city council hall is now headed by the conservative Islamist PJD.

The festival was announced by Groupe des Brasseries du Marocthrough advertisements published in several newspapers on Friday,October 2.

The Moroccan "Oktober Fest" will be held in different bars and pubs in Casablanca, Thursday through Sunday of each week between October 8 and November 8. It is expected that it would allow Morocco to revive its beer market which has been declining for two consecutive years (-7% in 2013, -5.4% in 2014).

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A Beer Festival in Morocco!

There is a saying "If you come to Morocco, prepare to be amazed". Well, you can live here and still be amazed. A beer festival? In Morocco?  It seems like a joke, but major media outlets are running wth the story, so, hey, it must be true

For an entire month, Moroccan beer lovers can take part in Morocco's first Beer Festival. It will be held from October 8 to November 8 in Casablanca.

The festival has been organised by the local breweries and events will be shared through several bars with the added enticement of raffles and what the organisers are calling "other surprises".

The festival is an echo of the German Oktoberfest held in Munich every year. The German original hosts nearly six million visitors each year who drink 30% of the annual production of major breweries in the region. The Moroccan festival will certainly hope to emulate its German counterpart.  

Alcohol plays a strange part in Moroccan society. The official line is that it is forbidden as a Muslim to drink. Yet, a majority of the (very fine) wine produced in Morocco is consumed by locals. The growing middle class have taken to drinking wine with evening meals and almost all the larger riads providing accomodation have wine and beer on offer.

Beer production in Morocco was introduced by the French in the 20th century. Société des Brasseries du Maroc is part of the Castel Group and oversees the production and distribution of beer. Popular beers include Spéciale Flag (pilsner) and Stork (light lager). The Moroccan premium beer is Casablanca (also a lager), which costs more than the other two. Casablanca is also exported and, for instance, served in the Morocco pavilion at Epcot in Disney World, Orlando, FL.

The breweries of Brasseries du Maroc are located in Fes, Tangier, and Casablanca, also a bottling unit exists in Marrakech. The best selling international beer in Morocco is Heineken, which is locally brewed by Brasseries du Maroc under the supervision of Heineken International.

Wine production has benefited from French expertise and investment and produces more than 400,000 hectolitres of Bordeaux style wine each year. Morocco has become the second biggest producer of wine in the Arab world, after Algeria. The industry employs more than 20,000 people. Most of the wine is consumed within the country, but better wines are exported as well, primarily to France.

Red wine dominates greatly, with over 75 per cent of production. Rosé wines and vin gris account for almost 20 per cent, and white wine for only around 3 per cent.

The other, lesser known alcohol in Morocco is traditionally distilled by the Amazigh (Berber) families in the Atlas Mountains.

Mahia, is distilled from figs and when well produced is a slightly fiery and strong spirit.

Moroccan law does not prohibit the production of beer and alcohol, but only their sale to Muslim customers. Wine can be purchased in supermarkets and some restaurants, often those that cater to tourists and visitors.

Alcohol is not generally available during Islamic festivals including Ramadan, except in some outlets aimed primarily at non-Muslims.

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Friday, October 02, 2015

Postcard from Bhalil

For visitors to Fez, there are a range of well known destinations for day trips. But if you wish to avoid the crowds at Volubilis or Azrou, then head to Bhalil
The real name of Bhalil is Bahau El-Lail which translates as the Night's Glory (Arabic: البهاليل‎). It is an intriguing Amazigh (Berber) town some six kilometres from Sefrou and a 40 minute drive from Fez.

Notable for its unique cave houses located in the old part of the village, Bhalil also has eclectically coloured homes, linked together by a network of bridges.

The town is famous for its production of jellaba buttons produced by the village women. It is also known for its olive oil production, and traditional bread ovens.

Six years ago a Fez local, Kamal Chaoui, and his wife Béatrice moved to Bhalil and renovated a traditional house. Along the way Kamal found the time and energy to organise the painting of the local houses and walls. The effect is delightfully photogenic.

For those who would like a quiet retreat for a few days or simply and overnight stay, Kamal's house, Dar Kamal Chaoui, is an easy short walk from the car park.

Kamal Chaoui is a gracious host with perfect French and good English

With the help of a local traditional carpenter, Latif, Kamal's house has been sympathetically renovated and is comfortable even in winter having (surprisingly) underfloor heating. In summer, the elevation 982 m (3,222 ft) ensures that that temperatures are pleasant.

The house is tastefully decorated in a simple, restrained way. There are four bedrooms - three doubles and a twin - all with ensuite bathrooms. One has a view of the mountains. 

At the top of the house, the terrace makes a perfect place to relax with a drink and take in the stunning views out over the village to the Rif Mountains.

There are stunning panoramic views from the terrace

All the woodwork in Dar Kamal Chaoui is the work of a local traditional carpenter Latif. He has a shop in a cave close by and it is worth a visit, being crammed full of a bizarre array of artefacts that range from old vinyl records to ancient alarm clocks! There are also some examples of his wood carvings done in his idiosyncratic naive art style.

Traditional carpenter and antique collector, Latif
Latif's carved wood art

For those desiring adventure, Kamal organises a variety of treks, ranging from a hike of a couple of hours to eight hours. Most of the treks are an easy stroll, but donkeys are available for children. As well as the treks, there are also optional excursions to destinations such as local souks, and the cedar forests. Lunches, barbecues and meetings with the locals can also be included. (More details here)

The painstaking work of making djellaba buttons

And... long ago, in a village called Bhalil...

Some Amazigh traditions may be fading into history, but Bhalil is one of the places where traditions linger on well into last century and maybe even to today.

Anthropologists record the Berber wedding custom where, after a few months of marriage, a bride will leave her husband and return to her ancestral family home for an entire year. Typically, people from Bhalil marry within the village because the two families will be well known to each other.

For the entire engagement, the female fiancée does not leave the house, and likewise for three days prior to the wedding day, the male fiancé remains in an isolated cave with a few select male companions.

The male fiancé parades through the city on a highly embellished horse to his future home, where his bride is waiting. Celebrations carry on for seven days after the wedding, during which time the bride cannot leave her bed and is not allowed to see anyone but close family; and the groom continues living in the caves. On the seventh day, a final celebration occurs to mark the end of the wedding and the beginning of their daily life as a married couple.

However, after five months, the wife must leave her husband for a year and return to live in her ancestral home. The husband and wife must not see each other for the entire year; throughout this period, the wife is cloistered, but accompanied by an older woman sent by the bride’s husband. After the year, the husband gives his in-laws a variety of gifts (generally livestock and eggs) and the husband and wife return to their daily lives.

Find out more about Dar Kamal Chaoui here
Other day trips here

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