Sunday, October 24, 2010

Road Trip: Casablanca

Casablanca, Morocco. Africa---I’ve seen the movie. So I had always wanted to see this far away city. Casablanca. Turns out, Hollywood did a much better job with the set. It was a big disappointment.

Heralded as the “most beautiful city in Morocco,” according to the travel book I bought, that was not the impression Casablanca made on me.

Taking the Train from Sale to Casablanca cost 38 Dirham each way (3.80 Euro or about $4.50 US). The train’s second class was clean and comfortable, certainly not worth upgrading to first class for the 60 Dirham required, since there was little difference.

First we walked from the train station to the crowned jewel of Casablanca, the new Mosque built along the Atlantic Ocean. The tower alone is 700 feet, Gates built of titanium and amazing tiles and marble work throughout.

In the Medina, people selling from the ground

Then, the new crew, Mark and I decided to walk through the “Old market” after being warned it can be a little rough. The “new” market, we were told, was in a different area of town. But this was the real deal. Inside the Medina (old city walls) was as authentic as you can get. So in we went for it and pre-warning was true. I observed it was even more rugged than the Sale market. Much business was done in the middle of the narrow street itself and not just the shops. People would have spread out a towel, sheet or rag and then laid things for sale on top. Many appeared old, used and dirty. Some spreads were lined with fake watches or sunglasses. At times there would be someone squatting next to the stuff, more often, only when you stopped and took interest in something did the owner, who had been having tea or talking with a group, suddenly appear to anxiously suggest more options. They did, as did Rabat, have beautiful fabrics and local crafted goods.

At one point a man started yelling in Arabic throwing jackets onto the street in a huge pile. He was making such a big commotion that I had to check it out. Suit Jackets, coats, windbreakers… I happened to reach down and lift out a Helly Hanson sailing jacket that fit me perfectly. It was 47 Dirham (about $6). Knowing this brand and checking that it is indeed not a fake, I imagined the man was yelling “Hot jackets, cheap, buy them quick before the police come after me,” in Arabic. I bought my 47 Dirham jacket and quickly moved on.

All this shopping was done while dodging speeding motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles who flew though the lane with no intention of stopping.

But all in all, I was not hassled much by shop keepers. In fact, I’ve been hassled more by time-share marketers in Florida than in the cities of Morocco.

We made our way out of the Medina and found a hamburger joint that made cheeseburgers that tasted like I was in someone’s backyard for a barbecue. (a far cry from what I swear was a dog-food burger in Almeria, Spain…my last attempt at a little Americano.) Although the ketchup was 50 percent sugar and uneatable, and the mustard was spicy hot. This burger was incredible…or I was really hungry.

As I walked out, we noticed what looked like a dive bar. It was unusual because none of the cities I had been in had I noticed a bar and they didn’t sell beer or wine in their cafés. Mark was with me and mentioned it almost like a dare, so I boldly walked through the wooden beads dangling from the doorway as a cover and got to the other side. Mark followed. In front of me sat a room full of men in a dingy setting with small tables and chairs and one long bar where several men were standing. Everyone, everything stopped for a moment and I felt all eyes. I had my shoulders covered, which I learned the hard way the first day in Morocco. Even after spending a summer in the Mediterranean, I have never felt so naked as wearing long pants but my sleeveless LIVESTRONG shirt in the Moroccan market.

The bartender hesitated for a second but I made eye contact. I asked for a beer at the same time Mark said it in French, the second language here. Two short beer bottles appeared, and I sighed a secret sigh of relief. I had a general idea that women were not a usual sighting in such an establishment. Soon, the man next to me started up a conversation. His name was Amead. Amead and his friend answered some of my questions, the first one being: “Where are the women”? I was explained that this was a Man Only bar but because I was a stranger and I was welcome. They said there were co-ed bars that women could go to. I wondered how any women would have time to go to a bar when all the men were sitting around in bars or on the street cafes drinking mint tea ALL DAY and the women appeared to do mostly everything else…but I didn’t bring this up.

Amead was a friendly man and when the conversation about Casablanca the movie came up, I jokingly said “Where’s Rick’s bar” Suddenly opinions came from several directions, even a well groomed man at the end of the bar in a stunning business suit decided to come over and counter what we were being told with a new location.

Then, we were on a mission. We must find Rick’s Bar in Casablanca.

We decided to go first to the location the “suit” told us. After nothing, we stopping in a nice international hotel and the desk clerk knew right away, got a map from under her counter and gave us a new fix, near but different. Going there we asked along the way, hitting some dead ends. Some had never heard of the movie and some pointed us forward. FINALLY, there along the street that we had passed first thing in the morning: Rick’s Cafe.

A bit upset it was closed
Hurrying around the corner to the front door with thoughts of a t-shirt in my head I went for the door handle to find it closed and the hours clearly showing a “siesta.” We had missed by one hour. After rattling the door, a guard appeared and opened the door slightly, just enough for THE t-shirt to be seen in the gift shop right behind him: Rick’s Café Casablanca. As much as I could beg and plead, there was no going inside. So we took a few photos of the plaque, only to find out, like Hollywood, the place was completely made up.

Even though I knew, and had recently re-watched the 1940’s movie, something inside of me wanted it to be based on something true.

With trains leaving every 30 minutes, we caught the next train back to the boat feeling a sense of disappointment. I think it was about the entire day, not just a made up café.

What you imagine a place to be like can be a great disappointment countered only by the great surprises found in the most unexpected locations.

1 comment:

Crew of the Solstice said...

We had a similar search for Rick's Café and finally found it after some brat American preppy dudes sent us off in the totally wrong direction. (They didn't want to help us at all, it was clear.) Aside from the t-shirt, which we didn't buy, you didn't miss anything. The food was OK, but I'd rather eat good Moroccan tangine. I was bummed that we could only see the outside of the mosque. You were lucky you got to go inside. It was closed when we were there.