Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Morocco: Day Five: Casablanca


We finished packing and left Riad Hamza ~ 7:45, stopping at a patisserie for breakfast food and change for the petit taxi. We found two taxis near the mosque, and JR was able to negotiate 10 dirham for the first (TR and me) and 15 dirham for the second (JR and Zoe). Only a buck or two each for the five minute ride to the Gare du Marrakesh train station.


We bought four 1st class tickets on the 9 am triain to Casablanca for ~400 dirham total, about $54. We got a 6-person air conditioned compartment to ourselves for the three hour ride to Casablanca.

I guess "air conditioned" is a very relative term. That compartment was really stuffy. The temperature controls, if they were even functional, made no sense, so we opened the tiny window anyway. It seems like in many foreign countries it would be comfortable if only the air was moving. It's not the heat, it's the stuffiness.

There are several Casablanca train stations, so there was some confusion about which one was the correct one. We went with Gare Casa Voyageur, and that was right. We waited outside in the very comfortable air for about half an hour. We saw Fatima F. who had "borrowed her friend's chauffer." We piled our stuff into the back of a car the size of a Toyota Corolla, of a manufacturer I'd never heard of, and drove maybe 10 minutes to the apartment of Fatima's aunt and uncle, Torina and Ablilah (respectively.) It's in a pretty typical residential and commercial area, and was up on the fourth or fifth floor. It is very nice, and decorated in typical Moroccan style, with a giant salon with four couches around the walls, all about 8 - 10 feet long, a main circular table at about knee-height, and five little kind-of end tables of the same height. It was lunch time, so the main table was moved to a corner, and some extra chairs arrived. Jalila was there, as was Hicham and Jalila's youngest sister Fatima Choukaili, whose wedding we're attending.

We had a big Moroccan lunch, including olives, Moroccan baba ghanouj, veggie salad and bread, followed by the main dish; a large tagine filled with peas, artichokes, and slow-cooked beef. It was all delicious, and a lot of food. Moroccans will never let you go hungry. For dessert there was fresh fruit; grapes, peaches, plums, and figs. And the best part is, after lunch if you want to stretch out and sleep, that's totally cool. It's called sieste, and is a facet of foreign culture that I am totally on-board with.

After we relaxed a bit, it was decided that Zoe would go with Fatima C., who was traveling back to El Jadida, because Zoe's friend Rania (Jennifer's former student) was there. We're going there Thursday, so it's no big deal. Tristan wanted to go too because they have a pool and can walk to the beach. We kept him with us because he and Zoe together can be a handful, and we really didn't want to impose on our hosts' hospitality.

Fatima F. her 9-year-old cousin Asmaa, her uncle Ablilah, Tristan, Jennifer, and I went out to walk to the Hassan II mosque مسجد الحسن الثاني‎, supposedly the world's [second] largest, and right on the ocean.

As is Moroccan custom, dating back to the French protectorate (pre-1956) days, non-Muslims are not allowed in mosques. . . except this one, during scheduled tour times. The building was very impressive and huge. Someone said something about accommodating 500,000 worshippers, but that couldn't be right. Maybe if they were all standing, including the grounds outside, but that's not how muslims worship.

We walked back to the condo, stopping at a few places, like the roasted garbanzo beans and sunflower seed shop, the cornbread cakes shop, and the cactus fruit vendor cart.

These guys were everywhere (in Marrakesh too), and the fruit was a few pennies apiece. Allegedly at Whole Foods at home, they're a couple bucks apiece. The fruit was good, and subtle, a bit like mild pineapple. We were warned that if you eat too many, they'll stop you up. Good to know.

When we got back to the house, Jennifer and Fatima F. went out to a jewelers. TR read, and I fell asleep on the couch. After a while a family friend came over, and we had some mainly sweet food, including the cornbread cakes, homemade butter, confiture, honey, apple tart, and tea.

Jennifer came back for a short while, got changed, and went out with Jalila. I'll have to read her journal to find out what happened, but it sounded like they went out to a restaurant. It turns out Jalila is well-connected, and has many friends in Casablanca.

Tristan and I stayed at the condo, getting by with our very limited French, though Tristan and Asmaa, like children do, were able to not let the language barrier prevent them from having fun.
At around 9:30 we ate again. Hot vegetable soup (harira) that was delicious, but maybe not my first choice in the warm, still room. There were also cookies, bread, and tea. Tristan wasn't interested, at first, but I encouraged him, and he did a great job, finishing everything. They asked if we were tired, and we said we were, because faking our way through the conversations, watching incomprehensible television, and stuffing more food down our pie holes than we could comfortably endure was taking its toll on us. We got cleaned up (Tristan was requested to wash his feet, as his Crocs left a lot of street grime) and camped out on our now sheet-covered couches in a smaller salon than the main one. They closed the roll-down window grates (screens, fences, shutters?) which thankfully were perforated to let in some air. I think TR and I spent all night on top of the sheets. Jennifer stayed at the home of a friend of Jalila's, by the way.

(repost time 7/16 20:23)


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