Friday, August 14, 2009

Beginning to learn Casablanca

Hello, everyone

We can't get over what it's like living like really rich people. Having our own totally beautiful swimming pool in a lovely garden is something we could get used to. When we get up each morning the caretaker has already swept away from the veranda and the walkways all the spent flowers and leaves that have blown down from the bougainvillea, and skimmed the pool. Everything sparkles in the sunlight. The daytime is hot by our standards, probably mid 80s or so, but then we just get into the pool and all is well! We have been reading and reading and swimming and swimming. We feel like caliphs.

Two days ago we needed to go to the market. Although Sylvie, the owner of the house, left instructions about where to go we found it impossible: none of the streets here have names posted, so the map isn't any use. There are streets and roundabouts and more streets and roundabouts: you can imagine the perplexity. So we drove until I spied a sign for a supermarche (think accent on the last e) and we turned. I am sure it was not a supermarket that Sylvie would have recommended. It was in a very poor neighborhood, some shabby apartment buildings but much worse, a large shantytown in an open field where the roofs and walls were made of scavenged materials. Somehow that was more shocking than homeless people living under bridges, probably because it was more unfamiliar. The contrast between where we are living and the rock-bottom poverty in which those people lived is pretty painful. In the supermarket I am sure they don't get to see many foreigners, let alone Americans, but everyone was very helpful and nice, even if they didn't speak any French.

Leila is a Berber, the original inhabitants (followed by Arabs who brought Islam, followed by the French, who brought Frenchness). As I think I said before, she teaches and writes. She seems to have adopted us, for which I am so happy. Yesterday in the early evening -- she too finds it too hot to be outside during the day -- she came to pick us up and now we have a geographic sense of how to get around. She drove us around Casablanca, showing us the Corniche, an 8-kilometer promenade along the seafront, the medina (the old town), the souk, the huge mosque Hassan II (the 3rd largest in the world, I've read, and the only one we as non-Muslims are allowed to enter), and much else. We had dinner at a restaurant she chose for its old decor and its food. I must describe our dinner, which of course she ordered.

First there was Moroccan bread, round flat rolls about 5 inches in diameter, which one could dunk in a wonderful tomato sauce, plus olives. Second there were three appetizers. Two of them consisted of five small bowls of different things: sardines, calimari, carrots and rosewater, "eggplant caviar" made of creamed eggplant and spices, tomatoes and spices, and others I forget. The third appetizer was three fried things that sort of looked like egg rolls: a pigeon (!) and almond mixture, a beef mixture and another one. Then two main courses, both tagines which is the name for a round terracotta dish with a lid that rises up to a point and is used to make stews in the oven. One tagine was chicken and the other beef and prunes. Finally we had dessert: something that looked like mille-feuilles interspersed with a creamed sweet mixture. The restaurant didn't serve alcohol, which was fine with me because it was an outdoor restaurant and hot even though it was evening. Each and every taste, and you can see how many there were, was entirely new. I am thrilled to have tasted pigeon! There was not one thing that wasn't delicious and intriguing.

Then, for the movie fans among you, you will be happy to know that there is a Rick's Cafe in Casablanca. It looks nothing at all like the Rick's cafe in the Bogart/Bergman film -- much bigger and more impressive. It was located next door to the restaurant so we walked there after dinner, but they wouldn't let us in unless we wanted something to eat (most certainly not!) or drink (equally). Naima was astonished because this lack of openness and hospitality was so un-Moroccan, but the place is owned by an American woman. Plus, we guessed, it would be overrun by tourists wanting just to be in Rick's Cafe without buying anything.

Leila has been in the U.S. but her English is limited although she's trying to improve it. We speak in a mixture of French and English. She's altogether lovely and generous and interesting, and we are so lucky to have met her.

We got home at midnight, stripped, and jumped into the pool to cool off. Such a blessing.

We have heard from the Moroccan family that they have spent some time with some of our friends, and we are completely delighted by this. They have been to Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Peninsula and are going to Vancouver. They are being much more assiduous in their tourism that we are! But perhaps one of these days we'll manage to tear ourselves away from this pool and go someplace ...




  1. This is so great. Keep on writing, Jo! Even though you can't upload photos to this blog, you're taking them, right?

    I'm so happy for you both. Love you! Sara

  2. OMG--I am drooling--it sounds delectable, even if carnivoraous. I am thrilled you are trying it all!I think coming home may be a bit anti-climactic, and I am unwilling to shoot you a pigeon, but I can make eggplant caviar...this is just the coolest trip ever! Thanks for blogging!marja

  3. Hi Sara, thanks for visiting our blog and Today's Flower and the very nice comments. Seems you are having a very nice holiday. We just finished ours on Cape Cod and now back in Taipei for the hot and humid weather.