25 Oct 2007

The Pillars Of Morocco

MAROC0043a_newMorocco is a mystical land consists of a lot of funny and interesting people. It’s the crossing point of harmonious clash between the entrepreneurial Arabs, the laid back Berbers, and the opportunistic Europeans. I can’t help but integrating myself into the Moroccan culture rather quickly. It exudes an exotic charm that matches no other places. It appears intimidating yet I was drawn to feel at home immediately. It’s where the snakecharmers, the watermen, the goats and the fortunetellers met modern civilization of multistory buildings, wide boulevards with palm trees, and designer clothes. The pieces are all wrong for each other yet they seem to fit like a snug glove.

The Abandoned Towers of Casablanca

I felt at ease immediately when I landed in Casablanca although it doesn’t necessarily mean I like it. I intentionally did not do any prior research about this city. I was curious of its past fame and glory, its borrowed name for films and songs, and its sheer grace as the largest city and port of Morocco. Casablanca is industrial, and as bricks and mortars as your eyes can see. Rows and rows of unfinished business stamped the face of Casablanca. Abandoned towers left behind from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s sprung up like mushrooms in the rainy season, creating lines and lines of black and white buildings along the boulevards. In between those towers are white stone-washed big mansions with decorated wrought iron gates. You can’t help but seeing the subtle Spanish architecture influence on these mansions. The Spaniards, besides the French, are the largest economic investors in Morocco, and many of them settle in Casablanca as the center of Morocco’s economic and financial pulse.

I wish I could write more about Casablanca, or I could be a bit more dramatic as Bertie Higgins screaming behind the old Chevrolet, or I could show a bit more gallantry like Humphrey Bogart being torn between love and virtue. But I like Casablanca as much as I like Dar es Salaam. They both didn’t spark much of passion, and I blasphemously failed to understand their characters.

The Hustling and Bustling of Marrakech

In contrast to the industrial monotony of Casablanca, I was thrown unprepared to the chaos and the unruly of Marrakech. The rules of Marrakech is, there is no rules. Known as the Red City, Marrakech offers the largest Souk (traditional North African market) in Morocco and also one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square wraps along one side of the Souk. Narrow entrance of Derb al Zitoun (Street of The Olive) leads to the medina quarter, the old city. The souk is a fascinating labyrinth to get lost on purpose. You’ll find anything from live chicken, bloody goat livers, and fresh fish by the kilos to fine silver jewelries and leather work. I stayed at a beautiful Riad hidden in the middle of the souk. I need to go through the alleyways of the souk every time I go in and out of my Riad. By the end of my first day, I already have the imprint of the labyrinth in my head. It saves my a tremendous time. Funny enough, I look nothing like a Moroccan, but a few tourists approached me to ask for direction out of the confusing souk. Maybe it’s because I look confident navigating the souk that perhaps make them think that I’m one of the interracial bastards of the souk.

During the day Djemaa el Fna is predominantly decorated by orange juice stalls, and every time I crossed the square, I got myself a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice which was like-nothing-else-in-the-world good. Yes, it’s that good!! Water sellers in colourful costumes with traditional leather water-bags hanging across their chests were holding out brass cups to tourists and locals alike. Snake charmers were striking pose and pretended to be in action for photographs for tourists. As the sun was driving its course to the west, the offerings changed. The snake charmers and the water sellers disappeared with the sunlight, replaced by the Chleuh dancing-boys (this dance is strictly forbidden to be performed by girls), the storytellers telling their tales in Berber or Arabic, the magicians showing their ancient magic tricks, and the peddlers offering traditional medicines. As darkness fell, the square filled with rows and rows of food tents and grill stalls. The crowds were at peak transforming Djemaa el Fna into a slay of open-air restaurant. The smoke enveloping the night sky from the grill stalls heightened the eerie and magical sensation of the 1001 Arabian Night.

Marakech is not all about ancient souk and medina. Tourism is number one industry that powers Marrakech. The newer development of Marrakech sits in the outer ring surrounding Djemaa el Fna, the Souk and the Medina. The land development and new constructions were in full gear, racing with the growth of tourism in Marrakech. Exploiting tourism in Marrakech would be an understatement. The big boulevards lined with palm trees were covered with construction dust. All in all, between immersing myself in the crowded souk and medina, and gasping for air along the paved dusty roads of the new city center, Marrakech made me really tired.

Romancing Rabat

I took a road trip from Fez to Rabat along miles-long agricultural field. From a distance, it looks like a multi-shade giant carpet with horizontal and vertical stripes of mustard, terracotta, and olive hues. As we were descending from the mountainous altitude, the pine trees gradually faded away on the horizon behind us. The highways were not crowded and made the journey a pleasant one. In its own way, it’s serene and calming. I would have never thought I would feel that effect along a highway, but I did. I must admit, occasionally I didn’t get a common reaction from a place, instead I would associate it with an emotion that I wouldn’t even think of in the first place.

The prayer at dusk welcomed us to Rabat. My hotel was not too far from the Central Station, it’s called Le Pietri, a nice and modern accommodation that brought a nice contrast to the renovated and relived Riads in Marrakech and Fez. Jazz has a big group of followers in Rabat, and Le Pietri to Rabat is what Yoshi’s to San Francisco.

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