Casablanca walks

June 28, 2007 at 9:33 pm Leave a comment

Ian recognizes the problem. How do you describe what you’ve seen to someone who hasn’t been outside the US and Europe? And today, we saw a lot. We walked for hours, first on the Lonely Planet’s walking tour that emphasizes the Art Deco buildings of 1930s Casablanca. Then stopped at the Central Market, an enclosed structure with many individual stalls, purveying only food. I’ve never seen people selling live turtles at a fish market. And lot of fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, spices, and happy cats (presumably not for sale).

 

The back entrance opens onto dozens of outdoor tables owned by six establishments, each vying for patrons among passersby. As soon as we sat at one, four paper placemats appeared, along with three plates of relishes (tomato, pepper, lentil) and a basket of bread. The lunch options seemed to be two different kinds of fish (fried) or boiled shrimp. They were all terrific.

Casablanca from Sacre Coeur roofSacre CoeurCentral Market

Walked, and walked, and walked. We saw the “old” church, Sacre Coeur, built by the French. Katie and Ian climbed to the roof and took photos of the whole city. From Katie’s blog: “As usual, Ian and I, after being told we could, climbed the staircase to the roof of the church. The stairway was full of 50 or so years of pigeon guano, and there were some pigeons roosting at the top. The view was great – we could see all the way to the ocean. When we got down, the caretaker laughed at us, and poured the contents of his water bottle over our hands to rinse off some of the guano.”

We visited the “new” mosque. Hassan II mosque is enormous, overwhelming, and unusual. I asked the guide what I should tell my students about it. (Tourists are required to pay 120 dirhem, about $14, and take a guided tour.) He emphasized the size (third largest in the world at 20,000 meters inside), the capacity (more than 100,000 worshippers inside and out, a speaker system providing sound to those outside), the minaret’s height (200 meters). The minaret beams a light every night toward Mecca. I asked about the remarkably eclectic variety of decorations, and he explained that it was intended to draw from all three major monotheistic religions.

Hassan II mosqueHassan II interiorHassan II fountains

Built to celebrate the former king’s 60th birthday, the monument is said to evoke a bit of resentment. It sits partly in the ocean, on piers made of titanium to resist the corrosive effects of the seawater, partly on what used to be a poor neighborhood. It keeps its 41 fountains for ablutions indoors, and has hamams open only to see, not to use. Construction took six years and some 12,500 workers, and cost upwards of half a billion dollars. On our long walk back, along the outside of the old city walls, people were selling things they had acquired from the neighboring trash dump in order to try to scrape together enough to survive. On the other hand, the guide pointed out that the Hassan II mosque had brought both jobs and tourists to Casablanca; in the past, he said, the city had been only an extended airport–people left for Marrakesh immediately because there had been nothing to see in Casablanca.

Crossing back over one of the major streets, the distance seems much greater than a few kilometers. We left behind the preponderance of jalabas and open stall shops for Moroccans wearing suits and selling their merchandise in enclosed stores. Casablanca has many sounds (including after midnight those Harleys returning under our window, their twenty or so inebriated owners apparently trying to figure out how to make room to park them all on the street). Throughout the city, though, music seems strangely lacking. No blaring car or shop radios, no street musicians, no ubiquitous music shops.

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Casablanca Jewish museum, French Casablanca

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