I’ll begin my description of my stay in Casablanca by describing my lodgings, as I think they are somewhat indicative of the state of the city itself. The hotel in which I stayed, Hotel Foucould, was clearly a nice place once. The elevator, long out of commission, was a beautiful wooden contraption, ensconced in a wrought iron cage. In the hotel’s heyday it must have been a sight to behold. My room must have been nice once, too. It had a 20-foot high ceiling, and ornate touches, but today it is in awful shape. There was a puddle of water on the floor that remained there for my entire stay. The bathroom looked to have been created by crudely erecting a cement wall on one side of the room and installing plumbing. There was a shower-head, but no shower structure, so the water (only cold water was available) just sprayed into the room. There was a sink, but no toilet. The walls had massive holes punched into them, and there was graffiti on one of them, and the bed was falling apart, but there were lovely French doors that opened out onto a balcony that offered fresh air and a view of the city.
That contradiction exists all throughout Casablanca. I have a sense that 50 to 75 years ago Casablanca was quite posh. There is evidence everywhere to that fact, but it is buried beneath a seeming ton of rubble. The word that repeatedly comes to mind when observing this city is dilapidated, for that is what Casablanca is. I have the constant feeling of having walked into a city the day after a long war has ended. Everywhere you turn you see massive buildings that have collapsed in on themselves, and faded facades of what were once lovely, art deco masterpieces, standing proudly next to a two-story-high pile of brick, wood, glass, and other building material.
There is considerable garbage to navigate whilst walking the streets, as well as potholes deep enough to be used in trench warfare, so caution is necessary lest one take a nasty fall. The streets are full of mopeds– this was a never-ending source of amusement to me. Dozens would ride by at once– impromptu moped gangs made up of strangers, breaking up and recruiting new members at every street corner.
The people of Casablanca are for the most part friendly, and helpful to this American who speaks no Arabic and precious little French. One in particular, Abdallah, assisted me in finding a good cup of Coffee Moroccan style. The coffee, espresso actually, is really good here. It is subtly different from the European version, perhaps a bit more bitter and not quite as viscous, and thoroughly enjoyable to me. Abdallah told me about his days working at a restaurant on a now-defunct U.S. Air Force base between 1958 and 1962. That is why he spoke English, he explained, for most Casablancans possess a rudimentary grasp of English, at best.
Casablanca is not a town for a tourist, but for someone who travels as I do, plopping down in a neighborhood and haunting a few local cafes and eateries and chatting with the local folks, it is a pretty ideal place to be. Couple that with the amazing affordability and you have a place in which I could spend quite some time. My four days here was enough to get a sense of the place, but nowhere near enough to tire of it.
Speaking of costs, here are the prices you can expect to pay for a few things in Casablanca, translated from the local currency, dirhams, into U.S. dollars:
12 oz. glass bottle of Coke 47¢
cup of coffee (espresso) 59¢
taxi ride around downtown $1.31
1 night at Hotel Foucould $11.81
best fish ever at Snack Amine $13.08
fried bread thing at a stand 20¢
Pretty cheap, huh? You can see why I like it so much! Up next… Egypt!