When you visit Casablanca coming from Europe, you can be hit by its sense of chaos. But, when you’ve just come from West Africa, it feels like an oasis of calm, and a lesson in organisation. Because, the city is like a stepping stone between Africa and Europe, a halfway house between the First and the Third World.
Actually, visiting on the first day of the holy month of Ramadam, was not perfect timing. People are understandably a little subdued – not surprising considering that they have to fast during daylight hours (which are about 14 hours at this time of year) – and most of the restaurants and cafés, plus some of the shops are shut.
However, we had a nice time exploring the Nouvelle Ville that had been laid out by the colonial French to look like a European town – an atmosphere that it retains to this day. We concentrated on visiting Place Mohammed V, the town’s main square which was being renovated last time we were here – it was now looking pretty good, and the ground-breaking new Grand Theatre (CasArts) building was nearing completion.
Then we took the new tram system to the beach, where we were meeting some friends for lunch. It was cheap, clean and highly efficient, while our fellow passengers were all very friendly. On the way, we passed through a massive new development outside of the city centre – a new “Finance City” where large numbers of skyscrapers and upmarket apartment blocks are being built on what was once scrubland. If they can find enough businesses to fill the offices, and enough well off people to occupy all those apartments, then Casablanca will be doing pretty well.
When we got off the tram, I had never realised that Casablanca had such a beautiful beach, but I was very impressed by what I saw. I couldn’t work out if the beach was pretty much empty because - a) it was Ramadan; b) the locals aren’t into beaches or exposing too much flesh; or c) it was just that it was during the day and mid-week – probably a combination of all three.
After a promenade down the beach, our lovely friends Herve and Colette had somehow found a restaurant that would open to create a feast for about 40 of us from the ship – it felt a little wrong to be eating so well while the rest of the city was fasting, but what can you do?
In fact, that evening, just as we were resting our stomachs, another friend Sidney, had managed to find a restaurant that was open at night time; so, we pretended like we’d been observing Ramadam all day and joined a delicious break-fast buffet.
It was ironic that it turned out that I have rarely eaten so much food, on this day of all days, but if we ignore that, I have to say that I’m really impressed by the direction that Casablanca is going. Our driver in the evening told us that he thought that Morocco was a giant that was finally waking up, and given the amount of construction we saw around the city, it’s waking up pretty quickly.