Warnings From Casablanca
October 11, 2007
I swung through Casablanca and scooped up Mira at the airport yesterday. She came in right on time, and I was hiding behind a post as she was squirted out of the customs area. I watched her from my hiding place, laughing to myself as she looked nervously all around for me- I am prone to such base self amusement and she really did not expect anything else. After my humor reached its fallow end, I then snuck up from behind and tried to startle her with a funny voice. It didn’t work. Rather, she just turned a huge smile towards me and went “Baby ” and gave me a big hug with tears sprouting from the corners of her eyes. I think she loves me.
Mira and I then rushed into the city on the train and promptly got a cheap little room at the Hotel Foucalt, which is a major transitioning stop for many shoestring travelers going through Casablanca. From here I took Mira out on a little date to Chinese restaurant that, from the description in the Lonely Planet, was suppose to be moderately priced. It wasn’t- there were wine glasses preset upon the tables, which is a sign that usually repeals me right back out the door. But I was in no mood to be horridly cheap; I was taking my girl out on a little date after being apart for over a month, so we took up our seats and appreciated the splendor. We even downed a half bottle of the cheapest wine on the menu (I, of course, made sure to take a trial taste of it before I allowed it to be poured), as we happily chatted about the same old nothings. The meal came to $25, and I think it was the most expensive meal that I have purchase in many years.
Once back at the hotel, Mira pulled opened the drawer of the end table that sat in between the two beds, and on it were scrawled ominous warnings from the hands of a dozen past travellers. I pulled the drawer all the way out and examined the writings in detail; they were written all over the entire inside surface and were in a score a languages from representatives of ever corner of the world. The warnings were meant to be for the benefit of travelers who would come later, and went as follows:
“Morocco sux. Do not trust anyone. Get out while you still can.”
“Casablanca, Tangier, and Agadir are shitholes. The rest of the country is alright.”
“Moroccan men are tricky, sticky, and dishonest. They cannot be trusted. The women are lovely, sweet, and friendly. I hate to write negative things about a country, but this is the way that I feel.”
And there were more messages written out in languages that I could only half read, but they all had a similar message.
I could only imagine how Mira felt in that moment, after traveling across the world to a country that many other travelers found so difficult to deal with that they were compelled to voice their complaints on the inside of an end table’s drawer. But I do not think that she was too worried, as she has wandered the world long enough to know that 90% of the problems that people encounter while traveling stem from purchasing frivolous amenities and services. Mira has no intention of buying a carpet, and she is not the kind of girl who will be suckered into the “Just take a look. No buy.” routine, so I think she is in the clear.
This point is one that I would like to re-emphasize: If you are not interested in buying anything, it is much easier to enjoy the cultures that you are traveling through. I have never had more unpleasurable interactions in any country than when I try to purchase gifts to take back to my family in the USA. The act of simply being willing to open up your pocket book to buy a little trinket seems to cause such a vacuum sucking reaction in many shopkeepers that you, oftentimes, have to use a little muscle to close it again. Anyway, except for special occasions in random places (like the flea market near the port of Montevideo), most of the souvenirs that are available in shops across the world are just wholesale junk that is made to conform to the ideas of what tourist think should be available in a given country. The goods sold in most of these shops are also strikingly similar to those that are sold in nearly every corner of the globe- you can get the exact same knit bag in the Central America, the Andes, or the Himalaya. It is my imresstion that, if someone wanted to purchase a genuine culturally oriented commodity (Chinese silk, Moroccan carpets, Andean blankets, Rajastani silver etc . . ), they would be just as well off to purchase it in their own country rather than scouring the planet for mascarading imitations. In my opinion, the days of finding ancient, unique treasures while traveling are just about over.
Tourism is a beast which transforms places into superficial representations of what you expect them to be. Yes, there is silver in the Rajastan, silk in China, and carpets in Fez, but they seem to be factory produced reproductions of the real thing.
The genuine is seldom found in the exotic.
These are my impressions.
I think I need to penetrate further into Africa.