Sexily svelte belly dancers in shimmering satins; louche maids in low-cut leotards…and the most beautiful toilet door opener I’ve ever seen.
When a group of aging ‘should-know-better’s’ finished a six-day bike ride in Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains, as a celebration of a ride well done, the final night was to be dinner at Le Comptoir Darna, a chi-chi establishment made doubly enticing by the promise of a bevy of beautiful belly dancers. While I hate sounding like the T-shirt – been there, seen it, ticked it off – I’ve seen the dance a few times before and didn’t find it particularly enthralling. In fact, I once won a belly dancing competition at an country fair in Pennsylvania, which, to be perfectly truthful, was more belly than dance, and only three of us took part so I had an odds-on chance anyway. By the time the show at Le Comptoir was supposed to start I’d usually be tucked up under the duvet, but it was a celebration, and what the hell, a bit of swirly-girly never did anyone any harm.
Le Coptoir is dark and decadent, wonderful in its sparkling exoticness, although I couldn’t help feeling that, like so many of this sort of night-haunted places, the ambient is a bit different when the cleaners come in in the morning to do the carpets. Ever a pedant, I’m afraid.
The meal was wonderful; the service I can’t tell you about as I was distracted by the voluptuous waitresses who glided around in tight black outfits with brightly coloured pouch bags shimmering with gilded tassels. But I experienced a moment that made a happy man very old, and will stay with me as one of those moments….you know the ones, they happen, linger briefly, and pass, to reward you with a smile years down the line when the mind isn’t concentrating on the realities of life.
Needing to relieve the strains of too much excellent Moroccan white wine, I wandered up the sweep of the elegant main staircase and found myself on a richly carpeted hall that would have made a pasha proud. In front of me a pair of enormous mirrored doors reflected back a bemused chap nervously looking for the sign that said either gents, or had a stick figure of a body with two rigid legs spread astride, showing me where to go. But good Lord no! Nothing so banal – and besides, they speak French and Arabic in Morocco, so I would have looked in vain for the ‘gents’.
The huge door mirrored door opened up in front of me like the secret cave of the Forty Thieves when Ali Baba struck the rock, although in this case it was more an Ali Barbara.
Round at all the points the good Lord decreed that provocative roundness should appear on a lustrous young lady’s form; curves to defeat the best geometrical designs of a luxury hand-built boat-maker, lips as rouged and full as one of Raphael’s cherubim, dark cascading locks framing a face of delicious plumpness set in which were two deep brown incandescent pools masquerading as eyes. As I approached, those entrancing pools sparkled, her rose red lips seductively bid me, “Bonsoir, Monsieur,” as she gracefully opened the door to which she was guardian. Never in my life, from the far flung Indies to the high-falutin’ gambling soirees of Paris, have I encountered a toilet door opener of such beauty. That was her job, to open the door to the toilet at just that perfect moment of arrival…and, by some magical device, probably known these days as a video camera, to repeat the action on departure.
It occurred to me later to wonder how far into the gents’ urinals did the camera focus? Only as far as the sinks, to make sure we actually washed our hands before taking the ten dirham coin from our pocket to give as a tip, or as far inward to focus on the ritual shaking and zipping that we all, each in our own way, perform? It mattered not, the smile was as welcoming on departure as on arrival. I was tempted to feign a case of prostatic hyperplasia (look it up) to keep going back, but I think she may have noticed a bald old degenerate making repeat journeys. I consoled myself with the thought that all of us, even if our job is only to open toilet doors, can do it with the greatest aplomb we can muster, because it may just raise a smile for an aging juvenile who can drift back for a few moments to the time when his smile was one of love and longing, when it wasn’t just a shell of skin and bone, now lost between desire and capability, looking for nothing more than a cheery sidelong glance, the sort we knew about so many years ago. And this gift the little darling, who I will never come across again in my life, bestowed upon me.
Lights lower, vibrant music, four tall men in white robes and turbans descend the stairs with a palanquin shouldered between them. On the small platform a curved figure is sheeted in white. Behind the palanquin sway two women in shimmering floor-length dresses; on their heads are balanced silver trays, glistening with lighted candles. As they shimmy and sway down the stairs the candle flames perform their own iridescent sparkling dance.
A burst of music, and a flurry of red and white butterflies in slit-sided silk pantaloons clasped at the ankle, twirl and swirl diaphanous shawls; broad sparklingly embroidered waistbands paired with lustrously beaded and shimmering bra tops; the belly dancers, the luscious ladies of the raqs sharqi, enter the room with a fanfare and sensual exuberance. They weave between the tables, their hips gyrating and flicking in a staccato rhythm. It is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold.
Kohl outlined eyes, seductive finger, wrist and pelvic gyrations, with tiny toe-to-heel steps they sashay around the room. As they pass by tables men slip one hundred dirham notes into their waist belt or tops, but this, in a slight way, seems to diminish the beautiful sinuous dancing to the bar-top ‘exotic’ dancers in the sleazy bars of Queens in New York City.
Most of the crowd attention is focussed on the young beauties, but I’m captivated by the two older ladies balancing the trays of candles on their heads. Broader of beam and stouter of girth, their movements, nonetheless, have refrains of a more mature sensuality. Were they the belly dancers of twenty years ago?
I watch their dominance of the restricted floor space. When a svelte young ingénue parades her comehitherance as she passes too closely to a candle dancer, the latter extends her arm in what appears to be part of her dance routine, and carefully but surely moves the belly dance aside. She is, after all, carrying a potential fire hazard on her head, whereas the young girl is merely exhibiting a strategically sexy control over her hips.
As a table of seven men, one of whom has tucked a fair few dirhams into the lingerie of various young ladies, we eventually share the spotlight of which the dancer is the sparkling star. Glasses and plates on our table are moved aside and a gorgeous young thing with flaxen hair, abundant cleavage and a mock-leopard-skin outfit is assisted onto the table by one of the waitresses. After some eye raising shimmering she bends over backwards and executes a perfect arch, her well-filled top directly in front of the Moroccan with the an equally well-padded bill-fold. Under the gaze of everyone who can get close enough to the table, he ostentatiously folds a 200 dirham note under each strap of her leopard-skin top.
I’m sitting directly opposite the centre of attention, and my view is of a pair of beautifully formed feet with toenails painted in a devilish shade of crimson. I may not have had the best view in the house, but it consoles me to think that there will be an awful lot of photos of a beautiful upside-down Moroccan darling with bank notes sticking out of her costume, with face of a tired old man in the background, wondering if it’s time to go home yet.