IMG_4442We recently spent a few days in Casablanca. I had visited Morocco several times, but never Casablanca. I have to tell you, it doesn’t deserve its reputation as ugly, or not having anything to do. It admittedly isn’t touristy–it’s Morocco’s biggest city, with 3.5 million residents, and its economic engine, accounting for half the country’s gross domestic product. In such a bustling place, you get to see real life, instead of a sanitized tourist version.

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There ARE touristy things, like the huge beach, the Corniche.
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And Rick’s Café…no, we didn’t go there.

I have way too many photos for one post, so you’ll get more about Casablanca in the future. All these were taken by our kid, whose eye for detail I admire.

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Crossing the Pyrénées from France to Spain.
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Over Spain…already a change.
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Over Morocco…more change.
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Casablanca

I was very thankful our kid saw Casablanca. It was an eye-opener. The poverty was a shocker–and Morocco isn’t even that poor; it’s considered a lower middle income economy. Poverty dropped to under 5% in 2014 from more than 15% in 2001. That is a huge achievement. (If you are a regular reader, you know this is not the blog for “10 Most Luxurious Spas in Morocco” or “Five Most Instagrammable Spots in Casablanca.”)IMG_4440At the same time, our kid succinctly expressed what I couldn’t help thinking: “They really need a day where everybody goes out and cleans the place up.” Not just litter, but sidewalks that are broken in inexplicable places and gorgeous Art Deco and colonial buildings that are abandoned but that seem to have so much potential.

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The view from our AirBnB. Lots of white buildings, as the name would imply.

Speaking of crumbling Art Deco, we stayed in an AirBnB between the train station and the central market. It was a convenient location, but it turned out to be the red light district, though we never saw any evidence of that. I regret not taking my second choice, which I too late learned was owned by a friend of the person we had traveled to Casablanca to see. Here it is–the good one.  And once I figured out the lay of the city, I realized the other apartment was equally convenient but in a much nicer neighborhood.

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A mosque in the old medina.
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A white house (casa blanca!!!) in the old medina.

The old medina was simultaneously laid back and frenetic. Of course, we were wooed by shopkeepers, but they weren’t insistent. Of course, a couple of guys offered to be our guide, but we generally navigated by joining the dense flow of humanity coursing through the narrow alleyways. A few times when we got off track, we were directed by kind bystanders–kids playing soccer in a quiet corner who stopped their game to call to us when we headed the wrong way; a chic young woman on her way home who took the time to lead us through the maze and who was a delight to talk to en route. Nobody who helped us asked for money. Random people would strike up conversations with us–a fellow shopper who waxed on about the wonders of argan oil, for example. It was genuine friendliness, not tourist-friendliness. I liked it.IMG_4444The insane traffic also had a surprising lack of aggression. On the one hand, everybody started honking as soon as the cross-traffic’s light turned yellow–about two seconds before they actually got a green light. Plenty of cars would slide through the light change, triggering more honking. Nobody stayed in a lane. This made crossing the very wide boulevards a dance with death–except that cars swerved or stopped for pedestrians, who seemed as unperturbed as bullfighters in the face of a charging bull, deftly dodging danger. To cross streets, we adopted a strategy of sticking with locals, and the more the better, figuring we had safety in numbers and they knew when to stop or go.IMG_4430The times we took taxis it was impossible to figure out whether the rule was priority on the right, as in France (in principle, yes, but practice is another thing), yet the rides weren’t scary–the starts and stops were gentle, like a dance rather than a battle. It was chaotic, but a shrug-your-shoulders, what-can-you-do chaos, not a my-way-or-the-highway mean chaos.

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Can you see the crescent moon? This fortress turned out to be a restaurant, La Sqala.

We ate at La Sqala, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a little oasis on the edge of the old medina, next to the waterfront.IMG_4466IMG_4457

It was very good and a nice experience. The Carnivore had a hunk of meat (lamb), our kid had salmon, I had a vegetable tajine.

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The white stuff is cauliflower purée (it was a hit).
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Sublimely seasoned vegetable tajine.
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A row of tajine dishes.

More to come on Casablanca, as time goes by….

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30 thoughts on “Casablanca

  1. As time goes by…Good one. What a wonderful experience. We have talked about heading there one year. The food looks wonderful and the friendly people a bonus. I’m looking forward to you – playing it again.
    Ali x

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  2. Cool photos. Have not been to Morocco yet, so this was informative. To ask a naive question: is it recommended to wear a head scarf in public, or is it even inappropriate for non-Muslims?

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    1. No scarves necessary. We saw all kinds of clothing–only one niqab (the head-to-toe tent that has only a slit for the eyes); some in djebellas and head scarves; some in djebellas with no scarves, hair loose; some in skinny jeans and head scarves, some in skinny jeans and no head scarves. No shorts. Some skirts, including above the knee but not short short. I wore an above-the-knee skirt and felt completely appropriate. I was surprised by the number of skin-tight jeans. I’d say it was about 50-50 completely Western dress vs. traditional dress/scarves.

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  3. Very nice picture. I especially like the one of the terra-cotta archway with colored steps behind it. And the tiny little moon over the fortress.
    I bought a tajine several years ago but haven’t quite figured out yet how best to use it.

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      1. My ex husbands mother was married to a man from a wealthy Casablancan family … oh my – I learned about tajines and I learned about real mint tea and I still have the wonderful couscoussière given to me by the arrière-grand-mère (always known as Zoot) along with several tajines for serving and just one for cooking. I am not certain she had ever cooked in her life – manicures to make Mme Macron swoon 😉

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  4. Your kid does indeed have a very good eye for detail and for the bigger picture. I loved the little nod to Bogie and Bergman and look forward to more from this little sojourn soon.

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  5. our visit was very different, 20 years ago, but I would go back. a few memories;
    -being in the open center of the old medina when the wailing started from that tower., everyone dropped to their knees except us….what to do? a knife pulled on us in that same medina, down one of those “no go” alleys, skinned cats with head masks hanging in the food market, I could not sit in an outdoor cafe, men only. Did you experience any of that?
    a good memory remains, a summer dress I bought on the street for $5.00, I still wear it and it is in the same condition when I bought it!!
    Debra

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    1. Wow, no, nothing like that at all. Men, especially young men, would nearly twist off their heads to stare at young women. (Now that I’m of a matronly age, I escape looks.) One woman who was giving us directions suddenly started yelling at some men who walked by–I was bewildered–I hadn’t seen or heard them do anything, but she told us, miffed at them, that they had been rude. I never felt unsafe at all–quite the opposite. We walked around and ended up in strange corners of the medina, and somebody would always point us back on the right way. I didn’t see cat heads (are you sure those weren’t rabbit? They look nearly identical skinned), but there are feral cats everywhere. I wasn’t alone, so there was no problem with cafés. When I last visited Morocco, it was about 15 years ago, and I just stuck to tea salons (female friendly, and full of friendly females–I had some nice conversations with strangers) instead of cafés. We rode the tram, which was clean and modern and not nearly as packed as the buses, which we avoided.

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  6. So fun and your kid’s photos are very good. I’ve always wanted to see Moroco, but have wondered if there might be a problem with terrorism… Something I would check into before I went. Art Deco in Morocco… Now that surprised me! I’m looking forward to more photos and more about your trip!

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    1. The amount of security at the Casablanca airport reminded me of the threat of terrorism, but I didn’t notice anything otherwise. The last attack was in 2011. Morocco is a pretty tolerant country overall. You are far more at risk of a mass shooting by some angry white guy in the U.S., which, for some reason, doesn’t count as terrorism.

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  7. I last went to Morocco far too long ago. I went with a girlfriend to Marrakesh and, in those days, you couldn’t fly direct from the UK. I absolutely fell in love with the place and vowed to return – not yet accomplished! I’ve also been to Tunisia a couple of times but prefer Morocco. We were in our late twenties and never felt threatened, although speaking French to get rid of any unwanted attention, certainly helped! Great post.

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