Casablanca, again. November 4-7, 2019
I held off writing last week, as I thought I would have a happy answer from Coca-Cola in a couple of days, but still waiting. My appointment with the PR Director for Morocco and Algeria was 11:00 on a Thursday. This requires traveling the day before, and this time I took the train. The schools began a 12-day holiday, including the mid-semester break, the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday and Green March Day. Now mind you, even though schools started the first week of September, few students and teachers were actually there before October.
Before leaving, I took my historian friend to lunch at the little restaurant I have never seen open before, Jamila’s. I had been told her food was good, but the chicken was tough. She was nice though. Then, the next morning we were on the same bus/taxi to the train station. He was going north, me south. I hope he finds a job that he likes.
Every time I travel these tracks, I swear everything I see is new, because the seasons make such a change. The olive harvest is well under way and crews can be seen all over, picking, sorting, piling on tarps. Small children helping parents toss the olives to blow out the leaves, groups of women taking an afternoon tea break under the trees with their baskets around them, the luggage compartments of busses filled with tubs and jugs of olives and oil. Olives, and their oil, are the currency here in a very real way. As far as the eye can see, millions of acres of freshly tilled brown velvet. The rains have been just right for preparing for the winter grains. One sees mostly tractors, but lots of donkeys and mules pulling one-blade plows as well. Last week as I crossed my nearby fields, on my way to “the station” neighborhood, I saw 4 men carrying buckets of wheat and I thought, oh, how nice they are all going to the mill together. Dumb, they were heading out to scatter-seed fields by hand. Of course, I see many large machines as I rumble along the tracks as well. There are lots of baby lambs, jumping and playing alongside momma. Rivers and creeks are flowing from all the rains. Onions are being harvested and planted. Workers are bundling greens for market. Pomegranate harvest is active as well.
I arrived in Casablanca mid-day. I was very happy with the Hotel Ibis, beside the train station and the tram, and so opted to stay there again. I asked the young lady at the reception desk about the Morocco Mall, does the tram go there? Is it far? Yes, and it will take about “25 minutes”. I should have learned my lesson about Moroccan sense of time in Tangier, if not before that. I got a re-usable card, asked the man on duty, looked at the map. Indeed, the map showed the tram going to the Mall, with one change. I managed well, and saw the entire city by the time the tram line terminated at the beach. Casablanca is teaming with construction. On my previous visits, I mostly saw the re-development of the waterfront areas. This time, the tram took me past many huge high-rise buildings in various states of development. There are still the older areas, including souks, shacks with tires holding the rooves down, but I doubt those will be around for long. About an hour has passed so far. I was thinking, if this is the biggest Mall in Africa, shouldn’t I be able to see it? I asked some girls which way was the Mall, left. Well, it was a lovely day to walk along the beach, so no great harm, but it was 25 minutes (from the tram) before I could even see the Mall, and another 20 to get there. Along the way there was a small village? hotel? restaurant? on a small peninsula/rock outcrop. “what is that?” The guy told me that was where the wizard lived. It is a common practice for people, especially women, to visit the wizard and ask for help with charming a man, getting pregnant, having a boy, etc. By the umbrellas, I suspect one could find lunch out there also, but I did not have time to explore that and the Mall.
On approaching the Morocco Mall, you are first greeted by an IMAX theater, playing a new Terminator movie. Oh, Arnold, I miss you (True Lies one of my all-time favorite movies. Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Arnold are just hysterical). The Mall is big, the biggest I have seen outside of Las Vegas. Three stories with interesting design features. They have many of the top designers, Gucci-Dior-Louis Vuitton-Prada-Fendi…, as well as hundreds of more common names, Moroccan and international favorites. The centerpiece is a two-story aquarium. I paid the 20 dirhams for the 5-minute elevator ride through the middle, but alas, that Moroccan dis-connect from time. The ride lasted 5 seconds and the 5 minutes were spent on a platform above looking through tiny holes at water. The food court was gigantic, and yet I could not find a place to sit. I approached several tables where one person sat alone, but all were guarding the space with their lives. I finally ate my sushi standing at an abandoned center-island chicken stand.
I returned to the hotel, bought a pizza at the train station and ate it in my room, watching TV (I don’t have TV at home). I wanted some wine (also something I don’t have at home), but was nervous it might be smelled on me at my meeting, so passed. I did manage three Starbucks visits. I bought three cups and did not drink but a sip of each. (heavy sigh)
My meeting went very well at Coca-Cola. The Director of PR was a sharp, engaging woman. She liked the program and I feel there is a very good chance they will sponsor us. She told me that normally the budget is spent this late in the year, planning for next year. However, our request was small enough she felt confident she could help us. We shall see.
I was able to catch an earlier train. Though my ticket was supposed to be flexible, to ride anytime, I did have one ticket collector tell me I had to get off at the next stop and wait for my own train. I decided to take my chances and he did not return. This was because if I stayed on this train, I had a chance to make it all the way home, vs looking for a hotel in Fes. On arriving in Fes, I called my host sister, who called her friend, and yes, I could just catch the last bus home. She told the taxi driver where to take me. He took me to a bus, but not mine. Still, it was going the right way and with one change, I made it home. Riding the big bus is quite the show. It seldom really stops, and people just sort of run along and jump in. If there is an older lady they do slow and people help her. Children are sort of tossed up. They cry at first, but get over it. The door is often open with the ticket guy hanging out. I thought I was sitting next to a crazy man, but it turned out he was just drunk, the first I have seen here. He was quite proud to tell me that was whisky wrapped in that newspaper. He was yelling and laughing at his friends, who were doing their best to ignore him. Standing room only by the time we got to the main stop in Sefrou. That is where they directed me to another bus, probably the one I was supposed to be on in the first place.