Sunday, June 09, 2013

My Lunch with Amin, or travels in Casablanca

2013.05.24-IMG_2422Well, the title of this post doesn't quite scan as well as "My Dinner with Andre," but the lunch certainly, especially in the day write large, more action packed. But to step back to the beginning. My flight from Paris to Casablanca was delayed a bit. After some exploration in the airport, I decided to take the train into town instead of a cab. Having confused my train stations and tram stops, I took the train to the Gare Casa Port (instead of the more convenient to hotel, Gare Casa Voyageurs).

Still thinking that I was at the "Casa Port" steps from my hotel, I waived off the numerous proffered taxis to get the lay of the land. Looking out at the confusion of cars, donkeys, and people. I took the next taxi offered and was more rewarded in the end.

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From left: Amin driving and talking; Hassan II mosque; me and Amin

The driver lead me to his red "Petite Taxi" (in Casablanca the "Grande Taxis are white Mercedes, the "petite" red Peugeots) and away we went. I sat up front and buckled up for safety and after a few blocks (and near miss with a donkey cart) congratulated myself on the choice of cab over foot.

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From left: Corniche, in the Medina; Sacre Coeur

And on we drove. And drove. My driver, Amin (which, suitably, means "fair" or "trustworthy in Arabic), spoke excellent English (learned, he said, not in school but from driving English speakers) and gave highlights of our ride. As we neared the hotel, he offered me a 90 minute tour of the city's sights (a common offer I believe). I thought about it and agreed to meet out front in 30 minutes or so. He dropped me at the hotel, I checked in, did some unpacking, freshened up, and headed out wit hat and sac a dos.

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Rick's Cafe, Casablanca
Our first stop was the infamous "Rick's Cafe." Made famous by the 1942 film, Casablanca, which was filmed there (or so Amin and other tour guides told me -- the movie was, of course, shot on a studio lot in Southern California!).

Meet Amin out front and we head off to the following sites:
  • Hassan II Mosque, 7th largest in the world, tallest minaret, built in 1993, it is really big
  • Waterfront for the poor people and lighthouse; interesting sights of people fishing and sheep wandering around
  • Corniche, the waterfront for rich people; amazing Atlantic Ocean views from hotels and swimming pools
  • Hassan II Square and lots of pigeons
  • Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in the 1930s, used as an expo center since 1956
  • Trip to the medina (aka Casbah, Souk, market, old city)
In the Medina, we visited Amin's favorite shops, including the Maison Arabe, the (as I was to learn) typical  rug store with very nice (and expensive) rugs. Bought a small wall hanging. Then, over to the oils and spices place. They have something called "argan oil" which was rubbed on me a couple of times. Bought some saffron there (probably paid too much). Drove around some more and then Amin asked if I wanted some lunch. I said yes, what do you suggest, and he said, let's go to my mother's house.

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From left: dashboard; no seat belts allowed; shopping for lunch

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Up stairs to lunch
He then called on the phone (all the while driving in a very hectic way, oh, and he was amused I kept putting my seat belt on, didn't see any need for that). Stopped at a street market and he bought some stuff and then we drove to another part of the old city. We parked and he shouted up to an upstairs window and some keys were thrown down. We walked up three flights of stairs and were greeted by Amin's older brother-in-law, a six year old boy and 13 year old boy. Took off our shoes and went into a room up front with a round table and cushions. Front room had a TV, bedroom off to a side and a kitchen.

Sat in the room and talked while Amin sister and niece cooked up the food; caught glimpses of them flitting by the door, but they never came in or were introduced. We talked about various things, including Obama and life in the U.S. Food came in (brought by Anis, the 13 year old). Couscous with vegetables, fava beans, chic peas, lamb, potato, carrots, etc. Very tasty. Ate from a common bowl with spoons and had a yogurt drink.

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From left: lamb and vegetable couscous; Amin's family; mint tea

More talking and loud belching. Then the tea was brought in. Akhmed (the brother-in-law) finished the tea with large chunks of sugar and elaborate pouring into cups and then back into the pot. Then an dramatic serving pour from 2 feet in the air. Talked about Fes and Ifrane (the University there, where I was to have my meetings later in the week, is the Harvard of Morocco, you go there and you can do anything you want to do, or so said Amin).

Said goodbyes, put on shoes, out the door, drove back to the hotel, said bye and thanks.

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From left: View out the window; stairs to Amin's; taxi cat

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