A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Friday, September 4, 2009

Casablanca is wonderful…

…the movie that is. The city is not at all what you would expect. Not the least bit romantic or exotic. It is ugly, dirty, and desolate. We arrived at 7 in the evening and the streets were eerily empty. Just pieces of trash blowing across the pock marked streets like citified tumbleweeds. Where is everyone?! I quickly clutched Ron’s hand in the overpriced taxi from the train station to the Hotel Astrid downtown. All taxis leaving the station love to charge at least double the fare (35 dirham vs. the expected 15) adding a hefty “foreigner“ surcharge, and its usually better to walk out a block or two and hail a taxi.

Slowly but surely it dawns on us that it is the holy month of Ramadan. The month that the entire muslim world (over 1 billion people) fast from sun up to sun down and abstain from all the corporeal sins of smoking, drinking, and having sex. Basically you are not allowed to have any fun in the daytime for a month, and everyone does seem grouchy all day and in boisterously festive spirits every night.

Ron and I felt like outsiders and extraordinarily guilty eating during the day. In some muslim countries, it is illegal to eat in public during Ramadan whether you are muslim or not. Well we would have felt guilty if we could actually find food. Most restaurants are shut down and it was a maddening experience to go on fruitless searches for food, banks, or stores of any kind. Our first night we happened upon a Chinese restaurant, the staff giddy to serve us, their only customers for what might have been days. You see, once the daily fast is over at sunset (coinciding with Maghrid or the 4th call to prayer), everyone eats a breakfast meal called iftar. Though it varies by country, in Morocco, it is a hard boiled egg, croissant, orange juice, sesame seeded sweets, and lentil soup. Ok, the lentil soup doesn’t quite jive and we couldn‘t stomach the paltry offering. If I‘m going to eat breakfast for dinner, I want creamy gravy smothered over hot fluffy biscuits or sweet pancakes with a side of steaming hot sausage links or a giant four egg omelette topped with mounds of cheese or…yes, I miss home!

The next night we headed towards the Medina downtown in search of some street food. As we turned off a main street everything got really seedy. The streetlamps were nonexistent and people moved in and out of the shadows, selling their wares and odd smelling foods, stealing glances at us clearly looking and feeling out of place. Our pace quickened but not because we walked with purpose, we were clearly lost. About twenty minutes later, past dozens of broken down buses, forlorn passengers and drunks peeing in the street we saw the lights of a main thoroughfare. As we neared it I saw the shining sign of the Grand Hyatt and it was like I heard angels heralding from above. Through the sliding glass door into the air conditioning and across the immaculate white floors, I silently thanked jesus. We were warmly greeted and headed to the front desk for a map. This world inside was definitely not Morocco, it could have been anywhere in the world, but I longed to stay in its familiarity and order. I thought about how I stayed in nice hotels like this before, in another life of mine, and for a split second I couldn’t quite understand why I ever left.

We got directions to the only place I knew in Casablanca: Rick’s Café and decided to pretend we still lived that life and not this one on the dirty streets searching in vain for food. Opened by an American ex-pat named Kathy Kriger (whom we got to meet) in 2004, she was clearly a big fan of the film and wanted to bring Rick’s from the silver screen in to reality. The place was dazzling and many features were true to the movie. The beaded lights and palm fronds casting patterned shadows onto the walls, created a warm ambience.

We ordered gin and tonics from the bar and sighed that fully contented sigh you get when everything is just perfect.

We stayed for a scrumptious dinner that tasted right out off a San Francisco menu - pan fried chicken and lamb chops with mint pesto. The pianist and saxophist (that Ron likened to the sound of Stan Getz) played oldies but goodies while we dined and basked in the glow of a luxurious night out that I never wanted to end.


corina September 24, 2009 at 8:56 PM  

catching up on your posts! thanks for an entertaining evening ;p

emiko September 26, 2009 at 6:04 PM  

Hi, you two!

Love all the new postings - lots of adventures. What a treat Rick's Cafe must have been!

Travel safe.
Thinking of you both!

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