How To Make It In Morocco #2
Jonah Gold, our american blogueur is back on Lioumness. After his set of guidelines to learn how not only make it but thrive in Morocco, he's back with a new episode, like a chronicle or a diary where he tells us about his travels, his encounters, his Ness Lioum. One day in Casablanca, the wandering, the friendships. The story of a boy who wants to fit in and starts to nourish a great passion for Morocco.
"The bustling pace of Casa is infectious."
Jonah Gold - @newfilterwhodis
The day starts early in Rabat, the sun hidden behind a thick veil of clouds. It’s an all too typical Moroccan morning here, grey and wet. Yet, just as winter must become to spring, the clouds must eventually break. I’m set to take the 8:30 train, hoping to arrive early in Casablanca. Similarly, I hope the sun will start shining by the time I arrive. I have a full day ahead of me, and I don’t need the weather dampening my spirits.
But I’m not taking the train alone. My travel partner today is my friend Rita Berrada. Rita is a perfect companion for such a journey. She is bursting with energy, with an infectious laugh, and an emanating warmth that at times seems all too absent from the streets of Dar Baida.
Rita is on the same train, but she also has business of her own in Casa. She has spent the last few weeks exploring opportunities in the city’s media sector. Today she hopes to gain some further insights into the city’s emerging film industry. Her meetings not-withstanding, I’ve convinced her to accompany me for the rest of the day.
We arrive at Casa Port to the usual chorus of anxious cabbies waiting outside the station’s gates. We take a quick ride, say a quick hello to Rita’s sister living here in Casa, and quickly set off again. The bustling pace of Casa is infectious. There is always another place to go, another person to meet, another experience to have.
Rita and I temporarily split ways at the corner of Blvd Mohamed Zerktouni and Blvd d’Anfa. On the recommendation of a friend, I decide to have a coffee at Villa Zevaco.
Now inhabited by Paul, the building was originaly designed by Jean-Francois Zevaco and Paolo Messina in 1949 as ‘Villa Sami Suissa.’ It is perhaps the city’s finest example of artdeco architecture. The villa’s beautiful façade is dominated by a tremendous balcony. It arcs over a verdant patio filled with tables and their eager patrons. A coffee, an email, and an hour later, Rita returns from her meeting in high spirits. We take advantage of the wifi, and I make a few quick calls, letting some friends know I’m in town for the day.
I’m all too happy that Ali Berrada is the first to call me back. Ali is an aspiring photo/videographer, with a terrific eye and a finger firmly on the pulse of this city. He is hungry, and so am I. It’s Friday, but I have little interest in eating couscous. Casa is a city of a thousand restaurants, and there’s always a new one to try. Ali says he has one in mind.
The American in me is dying for a burger, and with that in mind, Rita, Ali, and I go to Blend in Gauthier. There’s certainly no place better, or more popular at the moment. We beat the rush, sit down, and examine a menu that adds a distinct French twist to the classic American lunch.
The entire menu is appealing, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to order a Tartiflette Burger, with raclette, reblochon, magret, and a side of poutine fries. The food may have a French influence, but the décor is firmly American, accented by exposed bricks, vent ducts, and a sheet metal bathroom.
An hour later, Blend is now packed, and apetites satisfied, its time to go. We say no to desert, knowing that whats next in store will be far sweeter.
Together the three of us head off to our next destination, The IWA Factory, an emerging studio/showroom, which has quickly become a must-see here in Casa. Founded by Valerie Liais du Rocher as a youthful alternative to the city’s more established galleries, IWA, is a constantly evolving communal space. Almost every month, the showroom is born again with new talented artists choosing to exhibit their work here.
Today IWA is hosting an event for Aya Belkahia and her new confectionary catering company, Madeleine De Proust. Aya, is boisterous and confident, and her positive aura fills the room.
She proudly displays her diploma from L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu de Paris, where she graduated first in her class. When discussing herself she is simultaneously self-assured and humble. When she excitedly begins to share the array of treats on display, her sense of pride in her work becomes infectious.
One by one, we are treated to an array of treats, each one a delightful surprise. From her heavenly chocolate mousse, to her delectably rich Oreo cheesecake, Aya’s creations embody a unique style all her own. The centerpiece of her offerings is a strawberry angel cake she says took almost three days to make.
Aya sweets are made with a specific palette in mind. This is best illustrated in her delicious cupcakes, which avoid the heavy buttercream, now omnipresent in American bakeries. Instead she has chosen something lighter, fashioning them after French macaroons. After such a heavy lunch, it is a delightful change of pace.
For Aya, “cooking is an art.” And just like any artist, she is her own harshest critic. “I’m never happy, I know it can always be better.”
Here she is presenting a wide range of creations, not the least of which are her delicious jams, ranging from a delicious caramel spread, to a balsamic-strawberry preserve. It is impossible to leave without picking up a few to bring home.
With us at IWA, is a fellow admirer of Aya’s, Kenza Drissi. Kenza is an artist in her own right, and invites us to see her paintings at an exhibition later in the day. With a quick exchange of numbers, and a promise to see Kenza again in a few hours, we leave IWA on what seems too good to be a sugar high.
After a delicious lunch, and so many amazing desserts, I am determined to walk off at least a few of the day’s extra calories. Rita and I head towards Villa Des Arts to see what is in store. We take a peak inside, but before we can fully enter, we notice the time. Moroccan time has caught up with us and we are running late. Rita is set to meet her sister soon. Together they are going to Oukaimeden for the weekend.
Rita soon leaves for a weekend of snow, and I am left to venture on. I am eager to explore the city further, and with traffic getting worse by the minute, I decide to start walking to my next event.
Casa is as much a maze as Boston; a series of one way alleys, side roads, and angular thoroughfares. The only way to maintain a sense of direction is to stay on your feet, get your bearings, and trust your gut. At times it seems almost impossible not to get lost, but the Casa Twin Center provides a constant reference point. Eager to get a feel for the city, I spend the better part of an hour parsing my way through Maarif and Gauthier on my way towards downtown.
After my feet have had enough, I take a cab the rest of the way to the Hassan II Mosque. A mosque is an unexpected venue for an arts showcase, but despite my initial surprise at the location, upon arriving I am immediately impressed with the space.
Hosted within the Mediatheque here is an exhibition entitled Women’s Art World, and they have chosen today, International Women’s Day, to commemorate the show.
I am here hoping to see Kenza Drissi again. She picks me out of the crowd, says hello, and begins giving me a tour of the exhibit. Kenza is just one of the 40 female artists featured here, although we agree that, at 26, she is probably the youngest. Many of the artists shown are Moroccan, but the event also includes works from throughout Europe, the Middle East, and America.
Just minutes after meeting Kenza, she issues a friendly challenge, asking me if I can find her paintings from the almost 100 works here. To my benefit, Kenza’s palette is distinct and her style is decidedly abstract. In just a few minutes we have identified her three paintings. They stand out in the best way possible. They are bold, textured pieces demanding your attention, as does Kenza’s tenacious energy.
I have the chance to meet some of her close friends, along with her husband before I have to set off yet again. I make sure to grab a quick refreshment and a light snack before I go. I rush into a cab, and make my way to reconnect with Ali Berrada. We relax for a moment at his apartment, reflect on the day, and then head out for a relaxed dinner at La Suite.
I take a seat, catch my breath, and have dinner. But soon enough, it is time to go. I still have to catch my train home. My body is spent, my feet are sore, and my eyes are ready to shut. Exhausted, I know it’s been a good day. I met some great people. Saw some great art. Ate some delicious food. And all in time to fall asleep and wake up early the next morning to teach English at AMIDEAST.
It’s a day I won’t soon forget.