Have you seen the movie Two Days in Paris about an American guy (Adam Goldberg) and his French girlfriend (Julie Delpy) who stop over for two days in Paris on their way back from a European vacation? Upon arriving in Paris, both turn into the epitomes of their cultural stereotypes: Goldberg a neurotic and paranoid American and Delpy an aloof and overly flirtatious French woman.
Arriving in Rabat this past weekend, I wasn’t quite sure whether I would become the Goldberg character — a hypochondriac Pasha from the mean streets of Potomac in the developing world — or whether I would merely suffer on the out layer of the comfort zone due to a different movie title, Meet the Parents (with me playing the part of Gaylord Focker).
This was my second time actually in Morocco and I think that in traveling outside of the comfort zone, one definitely learns some important things about oneself, none of which I will share with you today — except maybe with the sole exception of this: I experience limited anxiety when speaking in front of a crowd of one thousand people, while I suffer a more debilitating discomfort when confronted with “meeting the parents”.
In any event, I left Madrid on Friday afternoon for Casablanca (and then took the train from there to Rabat). The friendly skies were clear and I had a perfect view over the geography below even from cruising altitude. As a matter of fact, I was able to witness with breath-taking clarity that small space of blue sea that separates Europe from Africa, Spain from Morocco, and then that wide open and vast blue expanse that leads to my hometown. I could perfectly make out Gibraltar with its imported and permanent British clouds, Ceuta directly on the other side, and then Tanger.
All in all, the flight is less than an hour and a half (a shorter distance than Madrid-Paris). Lucky for me, the French stereotypes that Delphy falls prey to in Two Days in Paris have nothing to do with Morocco. Moroccans are friendly, hospitable, and talkative, and my own personal Moroccan version of Delpy (Malika jelli a’Rbatiya) was all of these things ten fold. We luckily survived without any of the drama from either movie.
Rabat is the capital and residential city of the King, complete with his own walled royal city and long avenues. You also have a nice medina — very Moroccan with all of the typical crafts, food stalls, etc — that is smaller and less tourist-driven than that of Marrakech. I opted not to buy anything because I had consciously made the decision that this would not be a shopping trip. Nevertheless, left on my own, I would probably purchase enough to drape myself in djellabas, sport only yellow babouches (slippers), and redecorate my home.
Throughout the medina, I only saw a hand-full of foreigners. There was a group of “Oh My God, I have to buy something totally Moroccan that you can’t get back home” Americans. Other than that, I felt pretty much like the new kid on the block, though no one else seemed to take notice.
Another interesting attraction is spaced occupied by the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and looking out towards the old city, across the Bou Regreg river to Salé. But by far the most beautiful place to visit is the fortified 11th Century Kasbah of Oudaya with its tiny blue streets. Oudaya has a fascinating history full of Barbary Pirates, Muslims and Jews, occupations by the Portuguese, French, and Spanish, and Andalucians exiles from Spain.
I had debated whether to take one of my Obama T-shirts along with me like I had in Toledo. But at the last minute I had decided not to, so you won’t see any photos of me and Obama together. Nevertheless, I do welcome you to check out these photos from the trip. I do have to thank Obama, though, because he always gave me something to talk about. As I mentioned before, the entire world is rooting for Obama.
Over the next few days I am sure that I will have new reflections on my trip that I will share with you or at least keep to myself.