If you say Casablanca slowly the word rolls off the tongue.
It is possible to take either a bus or a train from Fez to Casablanca. We chose the latter as there is a lot more space and I consider a train a safer option.
To eliminate the loss of arable lands from erosion, as in the image above, there are some very serious soil conservation works that need to be done in the creek catchment areas. Contour banks in the catchment area and maybe small rock weirs could be built in the gully beds. Prior to the land being cleared of natural vegetation there would have been no erosion.
Our accommodation arrangements in Casablanca have taken a turn. We are not in the medina but in the somewhat upmarket Best Western. How it came about is of no consequence but what is of consequence is we are on the sixth floor and below us the shadows of Casablancan life pass us by.
Following are a series of photographs taken out through the window. According to Scholars of High Knowledge photographs of those of the Islamic faith are permissible as long as they are of benefit and not for any harmful or prohibited purposes. The scholars have also mentioned that photographs should never be frivolous and indulgent but for genuinely good reasons. My reason for these photographs is they are an exercise in observation. The first thing the eye is drawn to is the shadow on the road and once the shadow is absorbed the next thing is the eye scans the picture to see where the shadow came from, an interesting cause and effect vision.
The reason I have included the above photograph is to show that the citizens of the Islamic faith in Morocco are tolerant of western customs such as holding hands in public. I was of the belief that women in Muslim countries were required to walk behind their spouse but after seeing this couple my perception has changed. Below is an extract from ISLAM Q & A.
‘If the spouses publicly hold hands in a manner that is intimate and expresses affection and intimacy to the point that it draws people’s attention towards them, then this would not be allowed. In a situation where the spouses hold hands due to need and necessity…such as when crossing a busy road or when in a crowded area so as not to become separated from each other, it is permissible’.
The lady in the above photograph may be blind. If she was her spouse, by holding her hand, is being merciful, something that moderate followers of Islam encourage. In some Muslim countries such as Afghanistan women do walk behind their spouse.
Casablanca, like Tangier, is a city of intrigue and much of its image, at least for folks of my generation, is coloured by the award winning 1942 film Casablanca staring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Paul Henreid.
The film was set during WW2 and its theme revolved around an American expatriate Rick Blaine who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her Czech Resistance leader husband escape the French-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.
Most of the film was set in and around the mythical ‘Rick’s Café’, an upmarket nightclub and gambling den in Casablanca. The café attracted a varied clientele including French, Italian and German officials and refugees desperate to reach United States. Rick confessed to being neutral in events pertaining to WW2 but it turned out this was not the case.
Of course Bev and I had to see the recreated Rick’s Café and after managing to get lost along the way we were directed by a local lass who guessed we were looking for the famous attraction. The façade of the building is most unassuming but from reports the interior isn’t. The present day Rick’s Café was the brainchild of a former American diplomat Kathy Kriger who, in 2004, decided to turn a traditional Moroccan grand riad (private residence) into Rick’s Café of Casablanca film fame. The interior is filled with architectural and decorative details reminiscent of the film. There is an authentic Pleyel piano and the resident pianist often gets requests for ‘As Time Goes By’, a piece that was played a number of times in the film.
The reference to Pleyel and company: Pleyel was a French piano manufacturing company founded by the composer Ignace Pleyel in 1807. It was the first company to introduce steel frames into pianos.
The recreated Rick’s Café is a Moroccan landmark and it is often described as bringing reality to the legendary ‘Gin Joint’ in the film. The film has grown in popularity and one authority called it ‘true yesterday, true today, true tomorrow’. By 1955, the film had grossed $6.8 million making it the third most successful of Warner’s wartime films. Contrary to popular belief none of the filming was done in Casablanca, it was filmed in America at seventeen different locations.
Next door to Rick’s Café was a motorcycle mechanics workshop and when I asked the owner if I could take a photograph he said yes but it would cost me the price of a cup of coffee. I paid up and took the photos.
MiSEauPOiNT=AUTO translates as motor mechanic tuner and ATELiER MECANiQUE GENERALE as general auto mechanic. The signwriter was no doubt schooled to dot his i’s. During WW2 in Britain the government instructed printing works all over the country to not include the dot (tittle) over the i as a measure of saving ink. Thousands of gallons of ink were saved by this simple economy.
In light of all the photographs on the wall I wondered if the wall adornments were in fact a memorial to some notable photographer.
Moving on to grander buildings one modern recent addition to the city is the Hassan II Mosque. Our guide (you have to have a guide if you want to enter the mosque) told us that the Hassan II mosque was the third largest in the world after the Masjid-ul-Haram in Mecca and the Al-Masjid-Nabwi in Medina. However in the process of checking the claim I found reference to indicate that it was the seventh largest. Regardless, it is an amazing structure.
Some visitors to Casablanca say they disliked the city because it was dirty and untidy. This is true to some extent but one has to look past the overflowing rubbish bins and street detritus and appreciate the city for what it is. It’s a city with Berber, Roman, Arab, Portuguese, Spanish, French, British and various Moroccan regime characteristics.
The Hassan ll minaret stands at two hundred and ten metres high and is the tallest religious structure in the world. From its top a laser beam radiates in the direction of Mecca. Special concrete and construction techniques were developed to withstand strong offshore winds and the corrosive atmosphere of the sea. Green tiles decorate the top one third of the minaret then the colours change to sea-foam green and God’s blue at the bottom.
What fascinated me with the plaza was the paving. There were few square pavers, almost every one was irregular in shape. The question I asked myself was: were the shapes calculated mathematically or were they drawn to scale and then cut.
The plaza of the mosque appears to be a place where you not only go to gain enlightenment but to simply have a social day out with friends and family. It’s also a place to take the kids so they can ride their bikes. There are few flat traffic free areas as large in Casablanca.
Following are some images inside the mosque.
During the most intense period of construction 1400 workmen worked the day shift and 1100 worked during the night. Ten thousand artists worked to beautify the interior and exterior of the mosque.
The interior of the mosque can accommodate 25 000 worshippers and another 80 000 can participate in the plaza outside. Underfloor heating is provided and because the mosque is partially built over the sea it is possible to see the sea through a glass floor. The roof is retractable, weighs one thousand one hundred tonnes and takes five minutes to open.
The cost to build the Hassan II Mosque was in the vicinity of eight hundred million dollars. At the time the spending of such a vast amount was hotly debated, some felt the money should have been used to solve some of Morocco’s social problems. The government at the time lacked the funds to finance the mosque so much of the finance was raised through public subscription. Twelve million people donated money to the cause and each person was issued with a receipt. The smallest donation was five mads (less than one dollar).
Following are images of some of the tile work around the mosque.
The Quran states that all living things are made of water and whenever Islamic architects can incorporate a water feature into buildings they do so. Water is symbolic and represents purification.
Around the exterior periphery of the mosque there is a reinforced concrete wall, which the local kids use as a platform for jumping into the sea and there is a gravelly beach where they swim, although the water didn’t look all that inviting. Waves up to ten metres high sometimes pound the wall as the wave fetch extends back across the Atlantic Ocean to the coast of the USA.
The procedure seemed to be to jump just before the wave surge was at its highest meaning when the daredevil jumper hit the water it was at its deepest over the rocks, a dangerous activity requiring split second timing.
All around the mosque and nearby waterfront floodlights were disguised in a form of sculpture and although costly it was necessary, at least from an aesthetic point of view.
The visit to the Hassan II Mosque was certainly enlightening, not so much from a spiritual point of view but one of an appreciation of what money and faith can achieve. The mosque is of course a modern day equivalent of the many Christian places of religious worship such as the Sistine Chapel or Westminster Cathedral.
Whenever I see a structure like the Casablanca mosque I wonder about the price Mother Earth has paid to achieve such magnificence. Everything we build and create degrades the environment somewhere in the world. Hopefully one day we will realise this and start turning the billions used to gratify our faith, needs and wants back into Mother Earth.
I wonder what the next monumental faith-driven building will be. It will probably be in the Middle East as that’s where both faith and money abound.
Whilst out and about Casablanca, Bev and I stumbled upon what appeared to be a boys’ day out. Perhaps the girls had already gone home. The entertainment revolved around live musicians and a big screen entertainment.
There is one female in the photograph above. In some Muslim countries women are encouraged to stay at home and only go out to attend matters relating to the running of the household, such as shopping. There is very active debate on the web relating to the role of women in the Islamic world and one has to read the discussions to understand the differing points of view.
Previously in this post I mentioned that at different times Casablanca’s architectural styles and culture have been influenced by numerous foreign powers, one of which was the French. On the outskirts of the city is the Old French Quarter and it was definitely worth a visit, not only for the visuals but for the food as well.
The quarter is a conglomeration of old French-style buildings, squares, food and souvenir market stalls and amazingly, a lot of old French cars.
During our visit to the area we had an unusual culinary experience. The air was laden with BBQ smells and we were drawn to a particularly busy restaurant where we sat ourselves down next to the Agrab family.
When the waiter came he indicated there was no menu and to eat we had to buy our own meat from a local butcher and bring it back to the restaurant where it would be cooked for us. The waiter marched us off to a jovial butcher who he said sold the best meat in Casablanca.
Returning to the restaurant we gave the meat to the cook who issued us with a ticket so when the meat was cooked we could claim the correct order. Whilst waiting our ticket fell to the floor and got lost among the dozens of used castoff tickets but the Agrab family came to the rescue and sorted the order for us.
The atmosphere around the restaurant was frenetic. The smell of meat, onions and tomatoes cooking over charcoal fires, the hubbub of happy diners, the calls of the street hawkers and musicians drumming their way through the throngs of people made for an experience we will never forget.
No cutlery was provided, diners simply scaped the tomato and onion onto a piece of bread, took up a lump of meat and heartily consumed. We were careful to use our right hand only. The left hand is used for sanitary matters.
Another innovative food seller was the boiled egg and breadroll man. For those not cashed up a quick snack was a boiled egg with a bread roll. There was quite a number of people munching on eggs and bread.
Following our meal with the Agrab family we decided an appropriate dessert would be a banana. From a street seller’s cart I extracted two bananas and while Bev was paying I ate mine. Before Bev could eat hers a beggar came so I gave her Bev’s banana. The street seller saw what I did and when I suggested we buy another banana for Bev he refused our money and gave it to us for free. I called the event the Banana Affair and recorded it in my C-Book. The following photograph shows the friendly and compassionate banana man.
Before closing this post I would like to show you a few Casablanca oddities. They relate to no specific story, they are simply too good not to include.
An ingenious plan to extract money from motorists stopped at traffic lights was the ‘wheelchair con’. The kid in the wheelchair was not disabled as I saw him walking about up a side street. The mate behind the wheelchair would push his mate up to the driver’s window hoping for sympathy and money.
The mobile office belongs to RMA Watanya, a financial holding company specialising in life and general insurance. Very enterprising, taking the product to the people.
That’s the end of this post. The next post will relate to a futile attempt to get up into the High Atlas Mountains and our return to Tangier and Tarifa Spain.
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