'They must have thought you were a naked fakir'
Romantic landscapes. Enchanting souks. Affable people. Bollywood. In a special series, Arthur J Pais takes a magical, mystery tour of Morocco.
Sex and the City: The Morocco connection
The massage will follow a shower bath, I am told. The woman running the massage parlour at our Casablanca hotel speaks only a few sentences of English. She hands me a thick robe and a bar of almond-fragrance soap and mint shampoo.
When you are travelling in a South American or an Asian country, it is but natural that you pamper yourself. Here I am getting a 45-minute massage in a nice hotel for about $25, half of what I would pay in New York.
Following the shower, I enter a dimly lit room redolent with the aroma of jasmine flowers.
The masseuse, perhaps a 25 year old, speaks no English. "Only Arabic and French," she says, but she is clear I had to remove my robe and lie on my belly. No underwear, she says. Everything here is natural.
I am not an exhibitionist, but I think what the heck, the room is dark.
After 20 minutes of an excellent professional massage, she asks me to turn over.
Not a problem, I tell myself, the room is dark.
It is a gorgeous massage. I long for more.
A week later I am in Fez and I go to Moulay Yacoub on the outskirts of the city. Famous for its sulphur-rich spa waters, it beckons thousands of families over weekends.
"Moroccans who come from abroad will not return to America or France or England without going to Moulay Yacoub," a hotel manager tells me. "Enjoy the water, swim for an hour and have a massage."
I am not interested in swimming but I decide to have the massage.
I shower and go into a dark room wearing a robe. The masseuse tells me to lie down. She will be back in a minute, she says. In French, of which I understand a few words.
I remove my robe and lie down on my belly, after removing my underwear.
Suddenly there is a shriek, and I see the masseuse rushing out.
"Shorts, shorts," she says. I put the robe back on wondering at the excitement and touch of horror.
She keeps saying something that sounds like obligation.
Soon a hefty woman enters the room. I expect to be caned. She is stern and stares into my eyes. She knows some English.
I tell her I was doing the same thing as I did in the Casablanca massage parlour. I offer to wear my underwear.
No, she says, it is the obligation here you wear shorts and they must reach your knee-cap.
"Everyone who comes here knows the rules," she says. "If Shah Rukh Khan comes here, he will have to wear shorts."
By now about half a dozen people have gathered, and I am dying to run away.
I am offered a refund.
A cultural misunderstanding, I say. Besides, I don't know French or Arabic,
I hear a few giggles. It is a three minute walk to the entrance where my wife is waiting for me. But I feel as if I have been walking for an hour.
I tell a friend in DC about my embarrassment.
"They must have thought you were a naked fakir," he says.
Photographs: Josep Renalias/ Creative Commons