It’s an overcast morning in Casablanca, Morocco. The sky is brooding. Thick steel clouds weigh heavily above me. I sit at a small cafe, opposite Gare de Casa-Voyageurs, the central train station. A dozen tables, small and round, with wicker chairs, crowd under the balcony of the building above. The wicker chairs groan with the weight of a thousand customers before.
An elderly man, hair long gone, wearing dark blue robes the color of the sea on a stormy eve, approaches me, asking for my order in French. My French is poor. I thought that I had improved after spending a month hiking the Via Podienesis, but I was wrong. Somehow I think I've gone backward. We manage to communicate through hand signals and broken French. He eventually brings me a cup of rich dark espresso. It’s thick, vibrant, just what I expect Morocco to be. Here coffee comes in small glasses, not the massively oversized, over processed versions back in the west. Here, coffee is just like the culture - so deep and rich that you could stare at it for hours.
Once again I am on the move in search of meaning and experience. Motorbikes buzz pass like tired bees, taxis honk with impatience, locals sweep and wash sidewalks with soapy water, and travelers like me, watch from the cafes. Casablanca feels like a mix between Cairo and Istanbul. I read that the city was modeled after Marseille. Its almost as if the French colonial influence has tempered some of its hard edges. Casablanca doesn’t have that undercurrent of testosterone that permeates Cairo, nor does it have the cultural influences, delivered by a thousand years of merchant caravans, of Istanbul. Casablanca feels like a place for writers, like me, to sit and watch and study.
I am aware, of course, that my experience of Casablanca is limited. So far, the edge of my world in Morocco has stretched from small, decently equipped hotel, to the wicker chair at a nearby coffee shop. I have yet to strike my sails and head into the deep water. I am moored in a safe harbor, wallowing in the shallows. From my vantage point, however, starting out at the grand train station, I can see the city awakening, rising for a new day.
I relish mornings like this, the first light in a new city. My senses tingle in anticipation, of the unknown, of exploration. It feeds my soul so deep I don’t think I could ever touch the bottom. Would I even want to? It’s chilly, almost enough to warrant a jacket, but not quite. It’s fresh and cooling after hours in an airplane. fragrant, bitter coffee warms me to the perfect temperature. I sit, drink slowly, savoring the moment.
A small red taxi pulls up beside me, three women exit. They are dressed in all the colors of the rainbow. Flowing head scarfs and dresses of gold, and blues, and browns, and greens flutter in the wind. Hands with skin, dark and exotic, press crumpled Duhrun bills, the local currency, into the hands of the driver, before crossing the road towards the station. One of the women looks up. We briefly make eye contact. I smile and am immediately lost in her eyes. They are so brown, almost black like a velvet night sky sparkling with stars. I’m captivated.
The woman nods, acknowledging our brief connection. What is her story, I wonder as she turns away, and crosses the street. Will she remember me, this light skinned foreigner, sipping coffee in the wicker chair? My eyes are not dark, they are grey and at times, with flecks of green. They hide a world of stories so different from hers. But that’s what makes us all unique. Will she write her memories to share, as I do now? I consider following her, asking her name, but she is gone, swallowed up as quickly as she appeared.
The silence of the morning is also gone. Casablanca has awoken with the snarling cacophony of a city. It’s time to raise my anchor and set sail, to explore this magical new environment. Once again, the wind of adventure fills my sails and propels me forward.