Sunday, January 8, 2012

Here's Looking At You, Kid

Despite the fact that Casablanca and Rabat are only a little over an hour apart by train, I hadn't seen much of Casablanca during my time in Morocco. Casablanca and Rabat residents have a (mostly) playful rivalry going on about which city is better, and you can guess which side I fall on. People in Rabat say that Casablanca is a sprawling mess without a real medina and people in Casablanca say that Rabat is too boring and the only decent bars and restaurants are in Casa.

Although I obviously side with those in Rabat, I was willing to spend a few days in Casablanca with Bree & Travis while we all tried to get over our colds.

Casablanca is home to some pretty fantastic art deco buildings.

A trip to Casablanca is not complete without a visit to the Hassan II mosque. Completed in 1993, it is the third largest mosque in the world. It’s right on the ocean as a reference to a verse in the Qu’ran that says “The throne of God was on water.” The place itself is pretty stunning. It can hold 25,000 worshippers inside (20,000 men on the ground floor with space for 5,000 women in the mezzanines) and has a removable roof for sunny days. The basement has traditional hammams and the minaret is the highest one in the world at 200 meters. The whole place took only 6 years to construct, with 10,000 craftsmen and 2,500 builders working 24 hours a day in shifts. I’ve seen a lot of mosques between India and Morocco and I have to say that this one really deserves the attention it gets. (It's also one of only two mosques in Morocco that non-Muslims can enter).

The hammam in the bottom of the mosque.

View from across the water.

Between avocado juices (see below), we spent a few days roaming the Casablanca streets...

Two sick girls at "Le Petit Poucet" a Casablanca bar/cafe where Edith Piaf and Albert Camus used to kill time between flights.

Place Mohammed V

Exploring parks...

And art galleries...

And making copious references to the movie until I dragged Bree and Travis to Rick’s café which was, I must admit, a huge highlight of my time in Morocco.

(Just to be clear, all of Casablanca was filmed in Hollywood. The Rick’s Café in Casablanca was built a while after the movie’s release to mimic the one in the movie. They do an awfully good job).

Our "Sam" was actually named Issam.

(While we’re on this topic, let’s also be clear that “Play it Again, Sam” is never actually said in the movie).

I photographed just about everything in that building. Right down to the plates.

RICK'S cheesecake at RICK'S cafe

Bree & Travis had not seen Casablanca in full, so we spent an evening in our hotel room sniffling, coughing, and irresponsibly sharing a bottle of wine while I remedied this conundrum. We spent a long time discussing if it’s possible Isla still doesn’t love Rick but decided that’s not really what the film is going for, even if it’s the interpretation we would prefer.

It was quite sad watching the Casablanca tarmac on screen knowing that I’ll face that tarmac myself in a few days. (Or at least, the real version of that tarmac). It is with a melancholic, 1940s-style sigh that I tell myself, I may be heading to Europe, but we’ll always have Casablanca.

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