0093 Slowly falling in love with Casablanca (Mor 004—revisit)
Casablanca Travel Blog› entry 6 of 35 › view all entries
Note: For a full neighborhood by neighborhood tour of Casablanca, go to Tour 2010A, Entry: 0644
Fastforward: February 6th, I’ve erased all my memories of Casablanca and I’m starting from scratch
I reach the gate of the Old City, with it’s paradoxical beauty and imposing stature contrasted with the scattered trash and stench of urine that surrounds it. Once inside, the scenery instantly changes from the generic image of snarling traffic and steel and glass buildings that could be any big city in the world, to the shoulder to shoulder bustle of the pedestrian only commercial strip of the old medina.
I turn down a side alley which quickly gets quieter and darker, with a labyrinth of turns that seem to deliberately try to trick you—you just have to guess which way is “the way” and which one leads to a dead end. There’s a mixture of fog and smoke snaking its way through the alleys, like some sort of spirit the possesses this place on this mysterious winter nights.
I suddenly hear a yell.
But when people start running, I figure I’d better run too—that’s pretty much a good rule to go by… that means that rocks are going to start flying and it would probably be smart to avoid being in the crossfire zone.
I continue on, pondering on what I’ve just seen. I start paying closer attention to the little details around me... the women veiled from head to toe… the prostitutes who walk undisturbed on the streets—unlike say, in Agadir, where girls are constantly heckled no matter how they dress… I look at the little shop with lilting Berber music coming from it, and think about this fellows life—maybe coming from the distant open countryside to seek a new life here in Casablanca… I see the few remaining hints of French colonialism in the shabby balconies and windows, next to traditional Arab doors… I see working men, a crazy guy staggering around mumbling incoherently, sardine sandwich vendors, hash dealers, garbage collectors picking up the trash that just gets piled up on the street… elderly mantrons in traditional garb, all mixed together in this eclectic soup of humanity.
This is the Old Medina of Casablanca, a fascinating place to start my “Re-discovery” of the city. I finally retire to my moldy 5 Euro hotel room where the shouts and music still seep through the walls late, late into the night. Tomorrow I will explore the city some more.
But first I’m going to remember back to my first experiences in this city.
Back to January 29, 2008: Not love at first sight
My first experience in Casablanca in Adventure Mode isn’t exactly a romantic one. I head out of the bus station on foot heading for downtown. I end up wandering through some pretty grimy neighbborhoods, what I call the “dirty hardware district” with small shops selling various mechanical and construction supplies—generally neighborhoods not known for their cleanliness, beauty and safety.
Finally I reach the commercial district with its faded colonial French feel with indoor shopping arcades and building facades that hint at another era long gone. Then right across the boulevard, there’s the Bab Marrakech clock tower, with a sort of combined French/Moroccan design, and the gates to the Old Medina where you enter to an entirely different world.
But I’m not really in the mood for discovery and architectural appreciation right now. I have a very clear mission: to buy a new camera.
So today I must buy a camera, or else give up on this project I’ve been working on for the last 7 months.
The prices for decent digital cameras here is quite high and I absolutely hate paying a lot of money for something that I know I can get cheaper elsewhere, but I’ve got to do it if I want to stay in Adventure Mode during this trip.
And so, I strum a few songs in the plaza in front of the main courthouse, and head off to catch an overnight bus to Agadir. I’ll have to come back later and explore this city properly once I’m in a better mood.
February 6, a week later, trying to fall in love with Casablanca
Next time I come through Casablanca, my mood is entirely different. This time I am coming to really discover the city—but not in the tourist type of way, seeing some of the sights, meeting a few interesting people, wandering around for a little bit and then moving on and tucking this city in a slot in my memory file as “City 0093”.
No, this time I’m preparing myself to actually move to this city! And this is a first in a lifetime experience for me. See up until now I’ve always moved to new cities just because circumstances or coincidences sort of dropped me off there. Now for the first time I actually have the chance to get to know a place and fall in love with a city months before moving here.
And therein lies the challenge. See, I’ve never really liked this city. My first memories of this place were coming here to help translate for an American who was trying to sell water purifiers to hotels around the city back in 1997. That gave me a chance to see a bit of the more posh and glamorous side of Morocco and stroll around the quieter neighborhoods with wide boulevards and sprawling villas.
Then I February 2001, when I flew here from the USA, I deliberately hiked from the bus station into town to face some of those fears. I started to feel less nervous about the city—although I still didn’t feel all that attracted to it. It was nice though to take my fiancé to the top of the Twin Center, Casablanca’s gleaming new skyscraper and to feel the steps this city was taking to try to become a “world city”… it was also fun to come stare in awe at the grandeur of the Hassan II Mosque the tallest religious building in the world, and in my opinion should be a contender for one of the New Wonders of the World.
But even that didn’t make me fall in love with the city. I really didn’t feel any desire to explore the city much further or loiter much longer than necessary.
Well, now I’m back again, and I’m looking into a job opportunity that might make Casablanca my new home. This feels a bit like an arranged marriage in which I must really try to learn to love this city, or else it’s going to be a rather awkward relationship. So I am going to erase all the previous memories I have of this place and re-discover the city from scratch.
Back to the future again: February 8, 2008, New Dawn in Casablanca
This morning I get up and walk up the stairway where I find a tiny window which gives me a contrasting view of the gritty rooftops of the Old Medina with the majestic Hassan II Mosque in the distance. It’s ironic that Morocco’s most beautiful monument is right next to some of the country’ scruffiest neighborhoods. I head outside, and follow the road that loops around the Old Medina down to gaze at the beauty of that building once again. As I enjoy it’s beauty though, I can’t help but think of the high cost this came at.
From there, I head up Moulay Youssef, one of the cities most beautiful boulevards with rows of stately palm trees and with pleasant café’s and posh apartment buildings. I find myself more and more intrigued by the ironies and contradictions of this city. I suddenly find myself getting excited about the idea of living in a city where you have a gritty Old Medina and beautiful boulevards within a short walking distance. If you have just one or the other, I think you’d tend to get a lopsided view of the world—I think it’s good to be able to experience both on a regular basis.
I follow Boulevard Anfa with it’s peaceful sidewalks and trendy shops for a soothing, stress-free walk on towards the more upscale eastside neighborhoods. Yeah, I think I’m starting to fall in love with this city. I think I could spend a long, long time exploring every facet of this place.
But that will be another chapter. Right now I feel the clock ticking and I want to discover some new cities before waking up back in the Real World again.
To read about my move to Casablanca go to 2008B, Entry: 0172
To read about my complete tour of Casablanca go to 2010A, Entry: 0644