Casablanca, not too bad

January 6, 2009 12:00 am

, Casablanca, Jan 6 – Dear diary,

Today I arrived in Casablanca, which, as anyone with the most rudimentary of linguistic skills can tell you literally translates into ‘the white coast’ but, with some license, one could say the blank coast, a name far more befitting of the place than the rather more romantic former.

The first thing that strikes me about the place, other than it’s not too bad airport or not too bad roads is the number of too many, not too bad small buildings in a not too bad cluster where I’m due to stay for the next two weeks that suddenly seem like a lifetime sentence to a gulag with an upgrade for not upsetting the dear leader too much.

The hotel Ibis is a perfect caricature of Casablanca; nothing about it is bad.

The bed, not bad, the TV, cheap but not bad while the toilet and bathroom were….not bad either.

And that’s the thing about Casablanca and I’m beginning to think it may be the thing about Morocco as well. Nothing’s all that bad but nothing’s good either (give me Kenyan extremes any day, at least they have a sense of soul and character about them). The national flag is a not too bad green star on a red backdrop. Can’t imagine that being pregnant with symbolism, but I’ll tell you more about that after I sit down with a local and ask him to relate the mandatory independence struggle story and how their country came to be in the jam that it’s in, that all African expatriates feel obliged to share with each other.

When I think of this place, I try and imagine what inspired anyone to film a classic like ‘Gone with the wind’ here.

Casablanca (the movie) evokes images of passion and excitement and Arabian nights romance, Humphrey Bogart and his suave one liners, that leave anyone with a soul not made of blank grade II copier paper, with a sense of nostalgia, for better, more innocent and more romantic times gone by.

Casablanca (the place) leaves you with no such impression.

I’m chuckling to myself when after a short lap around the block, I decide to go back to my hotel room, because I’m thinking about asking the concierge for a three- pin adapter for my laptop.

Chuckling because I think that it must be absurd to even imagine, that in this most bleak of places, consideration of such details is something that one can rationally expect.
To distract myself, and provide the only kind of entertainment I can foresee myself having over the next two weeks, I indulge in a thought experiment, asking myself what kind of person it would take to design and build a place like Casablanca from scratch (or at least the quarter of it that I find myself so fortunate to be in).

I think of an exile from Siberia, a Slav, pasty skinned as the most white of Russians come, because it is fitting that he should appear to be a person that is but half a heartbeat away from the afterlife and none too bothered about that fact given his experience of this life.
The man should have had his mind erased in a Stalin-era experimental KGB memory-erasure machine or drug, devised to rid western returnees to the communist paradise of the east of all exposure to variety and colour and the full richness of life, normally lived.

To ensure no dangerous new sparks of inspiration, this man, prior to being handed the assignment, should have been locked in a plain white room and fed on only flour (plain white) and vodka, (clear) for a month (because I doubt it would be medically possible to do this for much longer).

At the end of this ordeal, the man should be handed a blank piece of A1 paper, a sharpened white HB pencil (because that’s not too bad for either drawing or shading) by a white haired doctor in a white robe and given a single instruction (in Russian) – ‘city’.

It’s only by an experiment of this kind that we can establish whether there is colour and imagination innate in the human soul or that it is critical that we strive to put it there, lest someone else thinks of building another city like this.

At this point I’ve made my way back to the imaginatively named Ibis hotel (ee-bis in local, aye-bis to those who know it’s the name of a bird) and just to amuse myself ask for that three pinned adaptor.

Shock-horror! The lady actually says she might have one for me and picks up the phone to call someone about it.

“Oh I’m sorgh-ee we’re out but you can get one at the metgh-oo” (a giant metal warehouse I was lucky enough to find) to which I reply; “ah yes, but that would take some Dirhams and you told me you were out of those too.”

“Ah yes, I’m sorgh-ee.”

Oh well, not bad for effort.

A nearby gentleman (whom judging from his grey hairs must have been here before) offers me his (such kindness from 21st century human can only be a result of having lived through a place like this oneself) and I begin to think, that maybe I should give it a chance and see where the next few days lead.

For now, it’s time to leave some blank space in my diary and hope I get to fill with more colour than the carte blanche of Morroco’s white coast.

Kenyan traveler.


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