Monday, September 07, 2009

Travel Writing about Morocco #29

Casablanca often gets brushed aside as a tourist destination. Writing in The Guardian, Stephen Emmes does a stirling job of setting the record straight.

'Of course, Casablanca is not Moroccan," said Estrella, my petite host at the Dar Itrit, as we lounged on their leafy terrace, discussing the city's industrial history. Her husband Jean-Pierre nodded sagely. But the ancient market opposite their white villa begged to differ: chicken claws and fish guts lined its rickety wooden floors, storks guarded mini-mountains of scraps, and the screech of caged hens jarred with tinny Arabic music. Wasn't this city - at least in parts - as "Moroccan" as the medina of Fez?

And therein lies the conundrum. Casablanca, a largely French colonial creation, is Morocco's economic capital, a grid of wide boulevards and stucco municipal buildings mostly built less than a century ago. Locals and guidebooks alike argue that it's a westernised city, warranting just a brief inspection, before you flee to the more "real" Moroccan pleasures of Fez or Marrakech. Yet even though I visit the country regularly, what struck me - at least initially - was just how Moroccan Casa (as everyone calls it) actually is.

Yes, there are the tower blocks, and the five-star hotels, and the businessmen swarming around Place Des Nations-Unies, but the old medina, which dates only from the 19th century (although its ochre walls are older) spirals with timeless neighbourhood life. Slip past stalls flogging teapots, watches and jewellery, all blinding in the glare of the sun, and you will discover pencil-thin alleys and tiny squares, where bleached towels cling to window sills and old men inch past in white djellabas, the shuffle of their slippers syncopating the sizzle of squid in oil. And the medina - like Casablanca as a whole - doesn't court tourism. In fact, the faux guides of the imperial cities are nowhere to be seen. Casablancans are way too proud to throw themselves at you. Lost, my friend? Too bad!

Overall this is one of the better pieces of travel writing about Morocco. Later on in the article, Emmes asks some pertinent questions:

Does Casa's roving eye to the future negate its past? Its art deco and neo-Moorish heritage certainly isn't as valued as you might expect: the Hotel Lincoln, opposite the Marché Central, collapsed earlier this year, and there don't appear to be any plans to salvage it. Other buildings on and around Boulevard Mohammed V (which boasts some of the most dazzling period architecture) languish unloved, as does the Parc de la Ligue Arabe. But perhaps there's something honest about such disregard - should Casablancans have to bow to their colonial past? And anyway, isn't Morocco's "real" past more than represented, as I discovered, in the medinas and back streets?

You can read the full article here: Casablanca

Visit our Travel Writing index here: The View from Fez Travel Writing Index

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