Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…we walked into Rick’s Cafe (most of us) having never seen Casablanca. The movie from the 1940s froze an image of Morocco’s largest city in time, and the idea or myth of Morocco has become more of a landmark than anything that is actually here. Even the café was built in 2004 just to look like the one in the film. So what even is Morocco? It feels a little European, but it’s in Africa. And the people here seem to affirm that it’s not really African. It’s part Sahara, part skiiable Atlas mountains. Part constitutional monarchy, part non-self-governing region. It is traditionally independent but historically prized for potential colonization.
We do know that it was the first country to recognize the US as an independent country. It is predominantly Muslim and they speak French and Arabic and English. But I guess the point is that aside from demonym and politic, nobody really knows what is Moroccan. As we are on the road from Oujda to Meknes, the scenery changes every 15 minutes as the desert has most recently given way to mountainous prairies.
As a side note: I’m chewing a now-flavorless Hollywood gum I bought at the Minibrahim Mart and anticipating a cous-cous feast as it is Friday.
My best speculation is that Morocco was, at different times, an incredibly important place geographically. Natural resources are limited, agriculture is at best a difficult venture, and architecture never flourished here between the Phoenicians, the French, or the Spanish. The Arab influence seems to have brought a vibrancy that we see now, but nobody seems hell-bent on claiming Morocco as theirs.
That, in many ways, is refreshing. The language confusingly oscillates between French and Arabic creating new dialects (Darija). People are happy to help you personally but approach the service industry ever-so casually. People are also very flexible with time, willing to improvise in many situations, and there is a lightheartedness I did not expect.
Perhaps the most representative part of the visit came on my last night. With a fresh haircut I ventures out through the medina cutting through a long road of stalls selling cheap sandals and foods and the ever-present souvenir. It opened at the other end to a sea-side cemetery at the foot of which gathered hundreds of Moroccans. The beach goers lounged on rough-shod plastic chairs taking in the misty sea-air of the Atlantic. A long pier made for a meeting place with most people perched for the sunrise that seemed to delay itself as much as the beers we ordered. Kids and teenagers ran around at the end, jumping off the fortified edge into the central cement round that was slick with sea water.
I wandered back realizing that the city had, in some sense, settled. People found their place here and went through life…not in a grand epic you might expect in this part of the world, but with a comfort and purpose.
Sure, there was frustration and pain and sadness and all that, but old men casually cooked meats at the market without pangs of regret. Women laughed with each other. Kids helped their parents. Drivers honked. People were normal.
I expected a lush, heavy culture. I awaited an intensity that never came. Instead I found interesting and thoughtful people. Our last show featured a trio of singers (Adrenaline) and if felt like we were working with people from home.
So I am grateful to be finding a rhythm here. That metaphor came up last night after the show and I can only describe the diversity in cultures here with music. People here are on different notes but in the same key. The dissonance is averted by difference. The simply complicated Morocco.