Match Day 2 — June 15
The Venue: Dar 525
The Match: Iran defeated Morocco 1-0
The Vibe: TGIF
I once saw a horse eating out of a dumpster in a cinder block village on the outskirts of Marrakech. Satellite dishes sprouted from flat roofs and concrete walls and the roads were dusty dirt.
Earlier that morning, my friend and I visited a motorbike shop and asked if someone would take us for a tour. The shop owner was confused — we didn’t want to rent bikes?
No, we just wanted to ride with some locals. So he guided us to a cafe where two friends drank tea and he told them about our quest.
After a half-hour spent haggling over mint tea, the two men agreed to drive us around for 20 Euros a piece. That’s how we got a truly unique tour, complete with a stop at a local mosque painted with saffron and another at a concrete storage area where stacks of dead sheep reached the ceiling of a garage and dirty water trickled into a trough that ran through the center of the facility.
As we returned to the main Jemaa el-Fnaa square and the maze-like medina marketplace, the haggling resumed.
“I like your watch,” my driver said, tapping my blue Swatch. “Would you give it to me, in exchange for the ride?”
I can’t give this to you, I said. My mom just got it for me for my birthday.
Even though I had already paid him, I felt like I did have to give him something else — especially since I was sitting on his motorcycle going 30 mph at the time. So I offered him my sunglasses.
“These will be a gift for my son,” he said and thanked me.
The day before, my friend and I had walked over to a wealthy, Western-style neighborhood where we walked into a bar and watched escorts leave their stools to go flirt with European businessmen. The cover for a club cost 100 Euros. It was a world away from the dumpster-diving horse.
My culture shock in Morocco, the only Muslim-majority country I have ever visited, stuck with me. The absolute foreignness of the experience enabled me to reorient myself in other unfamiliar settings because it taught me how to adjust to situations that are completely different than I’m accustomed to.
Now, considering those contrasts between the cinder-block neighborhood and the chintzy, business-class area got me thinking about disparities in New York City, something I’m more or less always thinking about. Horses don’t rummage in dumpsters here, but people still do, homeless people fishing half-eaten sandwiches from garbage cans or plucking half-smoked butts from the ground.
None of that is necessarily related to watching the 2018 World Cup except that because it’s close to my apartment and close to the BQE, where my friends were driving on their way from Boston, I decided to watch Morocco play Iran in a neighborhood that has become a concept that symbolizes disparities, division and displacement: Williamsburg.
Plus, those experiences that I wrote about above are always the first things that come to mind when I think about Morocco.
On Friday morning, I called Cafe Mogador, a Moroccan restaurant that, it turns out doesn’t have a TV. Not a destination on the World Cup Tour.
Next, I tried Dar 525 on Grand Street because Google told me it was a Moroccan restaurant. I had visited Dar 525 once about five years ago and enjoyed the bright, open dining area. I remember that the small bar near the door could be a good place to watch a game.
And it was. But Dar 525 is not, in fact, a Moroccan restaurant. It’s Syrian. I imagine some Yelp and Google reviewers generalized the origins of the food the way people often call Colombian or Dominican food “Spanish.”
There were no Moroccans at Dar 525, though, I did learn that one night-time kitchen worker is from Morocco. Nevertheless, the people I watched the game with did however, root for Morocco, mostly because of their disdain for Iran’s politics.
Addie, an architect from Jordan and the restaurant’s current manager stood behind the bar, Johan, the owner who is half-Syrian, and Johan’s father and son sat at the short bar near me.
I tread lightly when Addie said he was rooting for Morocco and against Iran.
“Are there political reasons ?” I asked.
“Have you been watching the news?” he responded.
Johan was blunter.
“My father is Syrian so he hates Iran,” Johan said.
Later, when I told Addie about my World Cup Tour of NYC project, he analyzed the current situation.
“It’s actually really interesting that you’re watching Morocco – Iran at a Syrian restaurant and we’re indifferent to Morocco, but we hate Iran,” he said.
“And some for more political reasons” he gestured to the owner and his family “And some, like me, because they always beat us in soccer.”
Addie was a great match companion, breaking down the game and accurately predicting how the players would grow tired and the play would grind to a boring churn.
Johan, too, was fun to spend time with. He will soon travel to Russia to attend three World Cup matches in Nizhny Novgorod and the third-place match in St. Petersburg.
Eventually my friends and then my wife showed up, just as the game slowed in the second half. We focused our attention on catching up an eating delicious hummus and lamb kebab.
We were still the only customers in the restaurant, aside from a few people who picked up lunches and carried them out.
Amid the conversation, the food and the 9.3% Jordanian beer that Addie recommended, I missed a major chunk of the second-half, including an Iranian player’s violent concussion.
But I resumed watching with about ten minutes left.
During the last World Cup, one of my most memorable match experiences happened at an Iranian viewing party in the West Village. That day, Iran gutted out 90 minutes of Argentina chances until Messi finally scored a minute into stoppage time.
Though the Moroccan attack slowed in the second-half, Iran again gutted out 90 minutes. They seemed on the verge of a hard-fought draw.
Until defender Aziz Bouhaddouz dove and headed a perfect strike into the net.
His own net.
But no one at Dar 525 — my four friends, my wife, Addie and Johan — cared all that much.