Thursday, August 5, 2010

Traversing Worlds

 Casablanca is the perfect place to end our stay in Morocco. Already I feel as though I have left behind the small towns, the farms, the donkey carts, even the smaller (maybe more Moroccan?) cities. Casablanca is a major metropolitan area that feels, at times, much more like LA or New York than any other place we have been in Morocco. But a walk around the downtown reveals a city that is quite Moroccan, just also a city of contradictions and what I will call different “worlds.” In one afternoon of walking Joel and I passed through several these “worlds.” We were largely on foot, but even when we jumped in a taxi we stayed within a radius of a few miles. We started out from our hotel, right downtown near the old Medina. We started walking up one of the main streets, Avenue Muhammad II. Joel wanted to see the commercial district so we headed that way. We passed a huge church, a rarity in Morocco. Oddly it looked like a mosque, much less ornate than most large churches. We strolled through a park and had some afternoon tea and coffee at an outdoor caf√©. We soon arrived at the business district in Casablanca. Really, it could have been LA. There were busy intersections, bustling crowds, streets lined with shops, and high-rise buildings. The shops were not what we had seen in Morocco. They included Dolce Gabbana, Mango, and Adidis, all corporate, all upscale. The fashion, the styles, as well as the prices, were the same as in the US. At first I didn’t notice, but then it dawned on me that the advertising, the billboards were quite familiar. Often the models were white, and much of the text was in English. Globalization, and Americanization at it’s best. At this point in the day we could have been anywhere. I had to remind myself that I was in Morocco.

So that was one world—corporate, global, consumption oriented. But we were about to go to our next “world.” We hopped a cab to the Habous district in the area called the New Median. I was expecting a bit more. The Lonely Planet guide had referred to the Habous district as a Disneyland type of medina. The French built it and there were no twists and turns and endless alleys like in the usual medina in Morocco. But it was hardly Disneyland. It was pretty much a run of the mill tourist medina with nice artisanal goods from Morocco. The new medina lacked the tennis shoes, the suitcases, and the kid’s toys in the medinas for locals. I did pick up a dressy pair of babouches since I knew we were going out on the town that evening. The new medina was nevertheless quite different for the last neighborhood. The medina had no cars, no highrises, and the goods were not global. Perhaps all that was shared was shopping, just for very different goods.

Simply by accident we entered out next “world.” At the end of the new medina there seemed to be a street market set up. I wondered if Saturday was market day in Casablanca. So we started wandering through the stands of the street vendors. Here we did get to the local goods: shoes, used clothes, herbs, whatever one wanted to buy. The artisanal crafts gave way to more practical goods, the goods people needed to buy on a daily basis in Casa. The styles and the prices were much different from the high-end stuff in the business district. The goods and wares did reflect a type of globalization, a flea market globalization, a street globalization, with lower priced goods, name brand knock offs, and stuff made in China. At one point we saw a doorway that looked interesting, and inside was a whole food market! There were luscious tables of fruits and vegetables. The olive tables were spectacular. The were so many colorful varieties, many more than we had seen at restaurants. They glistened on the tables. The herb tables were colorful and fragrant as well. We finally passed into the meat market section. I noticed a table full of lamb’s heads and that was as much as I wanted to see. And the vendors did not want thier pictures taken, so we left. The food at this market was far removed for the corporate food we eat. It was probably mostly local produce and there was virtually no packaging. Worlds apart from our corporate grocery stores.

Outside the food market once again the street market continued as far as the eye could see. The streets were packed with people, wall to wall in every direction. No market we had seen in Morocco even came close to the size of the one in Casablanca. I couldn’t take the crowds anymore and I wanted to turn back and return to a vendor I had seen earlier. He was an old man wearing the blue robes of the desert. He actually looked a bit out of place there in Casablanca. His goods were spread out on a blanket in front of him. At first I thought it was food, but then I realized it was mostly beads and herbs. I had passed it by the first time, but wanted to return and buy a few of the beads. Each time we had seen him there was no one buying his wares. I picked out a few red beads then went for the amber ones. We were having trouble communicating the price; my Arabic letters little help at this point. He called someone over to tell us the price, and slowly a crowd gathered. We had already stopped a couple of times to buy things but for some reason this time we were a spectacle. We were not really sure what happed. The crowd made me want to leave, but the price seemed too high and I put some of the beads back. The whole interaction seemed strange. We wondered if the beads had some spiritual significance. Hmm. For that moment we had crossed into another world—but not so seamlessly. As we headed back to the hotel, my mind was full of the colors, smells, and images from another full day in Morocco.

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