Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy!

On our eleventh day into the trip we went down to the breakfast buffet at the hotel and saw something we hadn't seen before. Now the hotels we stayed at ranged from very nice to nice to nice and inexplicably quirky. This particular hotel was nice and quirky, mostly for the frankly un-Islamic beer can displays in the dining room:

Beer Display, Dining Room, Petra Palace Hotel, Wadi Musa, Jordan

Dining Room, Petra Palace Hotel, Wadi Musa, Jordan

Beer Display, Dining Room, Petra Palace Hotel, Wadi Musa, Jordan

While I admit that it was sort of cool to see a vintage can of Rainier, the displays kind of had the feel of a frat house. Not sure you'd get that at the W or even a Doubletree. The message seemed to be "Tourists, we know what makes you comfortable, we know what you're looking for."

There isn't much drinking to do in Egypt or Jordan. We were thirsty in Aswan, for example — this following an overnight train ride and a long day visiting dams — and the restaurant was alleged to have served "ice cold Stella," at least according to the guidebook. Turns out that the guidebook was outdated. Our hearts sank a little. I ordered a yogurt drink instead.

I don't want to insinuate that it's disturbing that alcohol is somewhat rare in the Middle East but it's kind of disturbing that alcohol is rare in the Middle East.

Here's the thing: Food goes with alcohol. Not knock-your-socks-off Red-Bull-and-Vodka alcohol, but stuff like wine and beer. There aren't juice sommeliers that obsequiously pair slow-cooked lamb and, you know, mango juice or something like that. Plus, a good bottle of wine brings people together. It stimulates conversation. Western society is not all about bottle service and body shots.

I'm not really fooling anybody. There were times that I just wanted to drink a beer.

That's not to say that you couldn't find alcohol in Egypt or Jordan — it's "somewhat" rare, not "rare" — but there were some hoops to go through. First and foremost, even at the most tourist-friendly restaurants — even restaurants owned by foreigners — you only very rarely saw beer or wine listed on the menu. What happens is that the server comes over while you're skipping to the back of the menu and attempting to discern the different connotation of "cocktail" (it took several days to finally get that they really mean juice cocktails) and asks if you'd like anything to drink. You pause. He or she (mainly he) eventually sizes you up and reveals that they do in fact serve beer. You order a beer. You don't even ask what kind. There are only a few anyway. We know what you're looking for.

This charade kind of takes the fun out of ordering alcohol.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something frustrating about going to a restaurant in Egypt or Jordan — not the local places but rather the tourist-friendly establishments — and only being able to get a yogurt drink with your meal. Or a juice. Juice is for breakfast, not dinner. (In the not-so-deep recesses of my mind I have some imperfect analogies at the ready that I'd rather not resort to, but suffice it to say, the word that comes to mind is "frustrating.")

At very good restaurants it feels like you fucked up and forgot that the place was BYOB. Other times it just seems like you're in an entire country of pregnant women. And George W. Bush.

And not to get all Twenty-first Amendment about it, but we'd talk to guys who had a really strange relationship with alcohol — they'd say stuff about binging that would make college R.A.s nervous. It didn't seem healthy.

And yet . . . you'd sit there nursing a juice with your mezze platter and start to second-guess your desire to imbibe. Maybe you didn't really need to drink hooch with a meal. Maybe mint tea is a perfectly good companion with rice and beef liver. And maybe the protesters really are being duped with Italian Nebbiolo.

Then again, I don't think so.

Like I said, I can't quite put my finger on it without thinking that everyone I know is W.C. Fields, but something about it made me a little uneasy. And then I go over to the liquor cabinet and fish around for that good bottle of single-malt — the one with the fraction of the ounce at the bottom that I'd been saving for nothing in particular — and all returns to normal.

See also the Big Map: Egypt/Jordan, December 27, 2010-January 11, 2011.

Posted: February 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: National Geographical | Tags: , , , ,