I’m happy to be back in Casablanca after a few weeks of celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in France. While I was away I caught up on some reading:
People’s stories rarely begin in Casablanca: it is an end or waypoint of narrative, not its origin. When questioned, those who are “just Casablancans” usually relate stories of how their families came to the city from elsewhere. If we think of the experience of Casablanca according to older divisions of urban and rural, we will see it as a nonplace, a passageway. But this city is more than a transitional space between urban and the rural, the local and the foreign. Indeed, its emerging brand of urbanity might point to new combinations of identity and society. Casablanca might then be seen as a vision of what Morocco might become, even though the contours of this possibility remain inchoate.
From Susan Ossman’s Picturing Casablanca: Portraits of Power in a Modern City (1994)
What is this “emerging brand of urbanity?” It’s hard to summarize, and Ossman’s book is more a patchwork of anthropological observations than a coherent picture of Casablanca.
In Women of Fez, the city itself is not just a place, but a cultural and historical frame of reference. In fact Ossman talks about how the name “Fez” can be used as a descriptor when talking about Casablanca. It serves as a codeword for refinement, tradition, and political power. Ah, those Fassis.
Casablanca is a name loaded with meaning, too, but often in the negative sense. Clichés abound about the city’s consumerism and enormous wealth gap, and it’s not considered a center for “culture” in the way a lot of Moroccans conceive of Moroccan culture. Or foreigners, for that matter. Bogart-Bergman movie notwithstanding, Casablanca doesn’t spark the imagination or evoke the essence of the Maghreb the way other cities do.