"Nothing is going to ruin this trip. I've got the critical things I need, and I'll buy new clothes in Fez. Let's go!"
I will not allow myself to be stressed or let lost luggage ruin this trip. I obeyed that nagging voice in Seattle and repacked essentials. Everything else can be replaced. "It'll be fun. No stress!" I shout towards Doug, "you are not allowed to stress out about this!" When I'm sure that we both actually believe the words, I start to laugh. What else are you gonna do?
I comment about the unexpected site of green fields stretching to the borders of my vision. Doug says it's been a wet spring here, so everything is even more green than usual. We climb into his car and he starts the conversation with a snapshot of the culture we are about to encounter.
The population of Morocco is one-third Arab and two-thirds Berber, with Derija (an Arabic dialect) and Tamazight (Berber) being the primary languages, followed by French, Spanish and a smattering of other languages. Morocco gained its independence in 1956, the year I was born, although its cultural history traces its lineage to pre-Roman times. In a country of about 31 million people, I was stepping foot into Casablanca, Morocco's largest city. Today it is one of the four largest metropolises in all of Africa.
We meet up with Mark and Catherine, who have arrived from Australia, and start a walking tour of Casablanca with Nezha Sebti, our local guide. Nezha leads us down Boulevard Mohammed V, which slices through the city from its center to the waterfont, past a number of colonial era and Art Deco landmarks, including the Rialto Cinema where Josephine Baker once performed, the Palais de Justice, and the old French, British and German consulate buildings. The Main Post Office with its stunning blue and green mosaic tile facade is probably the best example of "Mauresque" architecture - a blending of local Moorish elements with European Art Deco and Art Nouveau which gives Casablanca its distinctive architectural flavor.
We end our walking tour at Rick's Cafe, inspired by the film Casablanca which was actually shot on a sound stage in the US. All I can remember is the white tablecloth, and the Coca-Cola, poured from small glass bottles into glasses filled with ice, each garnished with a wedge of lime. My fatigue sets in as we finish our first dinner, and walk out through the thick crenelated wall of the medina, past a cannon and on to our lodging at Hotel Barcelo.
The next morning, it's breakfast at a seaside cafe on the Corniche, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The sea is stormy-grey against a pale blue sky, and I can see a lighthouse in the distance. Bagpipes below us add a humorous underlay to the morning's conversation. I have my first taste of tagine - an egg and kefte dish that Mohamed, our driver, shared with me by the spoonful.
Today's activities will include a visit to the Municipal Building - a miniature version of the Lion Courtyard from the Alhambra (which I visited in Granada, Spain), an hour of shopping at a nearby souk (where I begin my wardrobe replacement), and then the Hassan II Mosque.
The Hassan II Mosque is the largest in Morocco and the fifth largest in the world. It is built with one end extending over the sea. We were not able to go inside, but I explored as much of the exterior as we had time for, which you can see here. We also got to watch workmen doing restoration work on both a fountain and the mosaic work over one of the side doors.
On the other side of the expansive courtyard, we walked past the madrasa - a university for Koranic study - and into the museum which had extensive examples of the numerous styles of craftwork that we would see up close and personal throughout this trip.
Next stop - Rabat ....