Category Archives: Uncategorized

Bluegrass, Moroccan-Style

Last week a few American friends and I attended a bluegrass concert at the Centre Culturel Sidi Belyout. A Moroccan bluegrass band had been touring Morocco with a couple of musicians from the states with thick but very charming southern American accents. This kind of event is put on for free by various American associations and the State Department in an effort to promote appreciation of American culture. (insert obvious and misinformed joke about the US’s lack of true culture, har har)

As much as I loved reminiscing about Fourth of July barbeques and basking in nostalgia with my American friends, here is what really blew my mind: a bluegrass take on a hugely popular Andalusian song. The lyrics–the refrain at least, which a friend taught me and which has been playing in loop in my head ever since–basically ask, “Why worry? God will take care of me.” This was a great choice for the finale. The audience, mostly Moroccans, sang along. The combination of American folk music and Moroccan (Andalusian) folk music was breathtakingly beautiful.


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Filed under American culture, cultural understanding, Moroccan music, Moroccan-American Studies, Uncategorized

Way better than Zara (bien mieux que Zara)

Spotted at “lbal” (the flea market) in Kenitra, a city just an hour north of Rabat.
Au marché aux puces à Kénitra, à une heure au nord de Rabat.

Go Bulls! (circa 1996, when I cared). Meanwhile, in the bags department…go Turkey?
Allez les Bulls (même si on est plus en 1996). Sinon dans les sacs, allez la Turquie ?

I won’t go on and on about how cheap this flea market is compared to my favorite second-hand spots in Chicago and Madison because that would fall under a term I found myself explaining to a friend today: “tacky.”

I suppose what was most exciting about this market was not so much the cheapness of it but the familiarity of the bargain clothes shopping experience I didn’t even know I missed so much.

Bien entendu, ça serait de mauvais goût de me vanter des prix ici par rapport à mes magasins « deuxième main » préférés à Chicago et à Madison, alors passons.

Je pense que ce qui m’a le plus emballé c’est plutôt d’avoir retrouvé l’expérience très familière du second-hand shopping. Je ne m’amuserais même pas à traduire cette expression, car c’est justement une expérience que j’associe à mon mode de vie américain. Qu’est-ce que ça me manquait !

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Casa Negra

I once asked a friend what the movie CasaNegra (2008) was about. “It’s about what life’s really like in Casablanca,” he said, darkly.

A few other friends told me they hadn’t seen it: “I heard it’s very vulgar so I’ve stayed away.”

Mostly, I hear rave reviews because, honestly? This. Movie. Is. Epic.

The idea behind the film is that for the working class and those living in the city’s underbelly, Casablanca is so hopeless, so dark, and so literally and morally polluted that it should be called Casanegra

The movie is set mostly in the centreville, which is incidentally right around where I live. This used to be the commercial center of town, and it’s filled with very cool and beautiful architecture dating back to early to mid-twentieth century. In fact much of the movie is shot in and around the Assayag, an architecturally innovative building dating back to 1929 where the offices of Casamémoire are now located.

Check out the beautiful opening shots. Very Noir, heh.

Casanegra tells the story of a couple of friends, Casaoui guys trying to make it as small-time crooks. The characters are tragic, spinning their wheels and basically powerless to improve their situation. One of the main characters, Adil, dreams of immigrating to Sweden. The other, Karim, admires an upper-class woman from afar. Each character has something they cling to for their sanity. An evil gangster for instance, the kind of guy who threatens to drill holes into people’s knees, loves his little dog above anything.

One by one the characters fall apart as they realize that their dreams are unattainable and the bits of hope they cling to, fragile. At the end of the preview, the evil gangster, who’s just lost a ton of money and crashed his car, cries out the name of his dog: Nicooooooooo!

Despite the tragic and dark take on life in Casablanca, the movie is hilarious and redeeming.

Casanegra presents a bleak portrait of Casablanca, but the frustration of the characters and their hatred for the city are folded into what is basically an homage. Casablanca is harsh, but it’s home. It’s ugly, but beautiful. It’s urban grit–dangerous and tragic yet glamorous, even epic.

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Filed under architecture, Casablanca, Moroccan fiction, Uncategorized, urban life, Urban Morocco

Grand Taxi

This is the curbed version of the vehicle known as a “grand taxi.” It’ll take you (and up to 5 other passengers, plus the driver) where you need to go, if you know the hand signals to flash to the driver as he rolls past you on his route.

I most often take the grand taxi from Ben Msik, where my campus is located, to the centreville. The end of the line is Bab Marrakesh, the main entrance to the old medina. For reasons that are murky to me, the signal for Bab Marrakesh is pointing vigorously to the left with the right hand. More of a windshielf wiper motion than a back and forth, “look at this guy” gesture.

Actually, I grab that taxi at a taxi stand across the street from campus, and only need to tell the attendant, “Medina.”

I always make the gesture anyway as the taxis pull up, because I’m the kind of gaouria who likes to feel the rush of knowing the codes.

Look at me! I’m streetsmart!

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Filed under Casablanca, Transportation, Uncategorized, urban life

Learning, and teaching, the “Patrimoine” of Casablanca

I’ve hinted before at the tension that surrounds narratives of Casablanca history. During a tour I took recently through Casamémoire, a French man who’s lived here for years and wrote a book on the history of the medina, concluded his lectures with: “Je suis désolé pour nos amis marocains, mais Casablanca est essentiellement une ville européenne.” (“Sorry for our Moroccan friends, but Casablanca is essentially a European city.”)

That’s actually a much subtler claim than it sounds, but it points at the politics lurking behind every conversation about the “patrimoine” of modern Casablanca. Who created it? Who does it belong to? Who even cares?

Casamémoire is the only association that advocates for historic preservation in Casablanca. This year they’re organizing the third annual Journées du Patrimoine de Casablanca, in partnership with a few other sponsors like the city and Institut Francais. For three days the association will offer tours of historic sites in the centreville, the medina, and Habbous.

Hundreds of people are expected to take advantage of these free tours, which are guided entirely by volunteers. Regular tours are given by volunteer expects in architecture and urban planning—not your average architecture amateur or Casaphile. The Journées du Patrimoine offers us amateurs a chance to take a crash course in Casablanca history and share our newfound expertise with other curious people.

The tours don’t focus purely on architecture, but rather “patrimoine” in a broader sense. Now here’s a word that carries a lot of weight in French. Its English translation, “heritage,” just doesn’t measure up. Patrimoine is synonymous with “culture,” and implies an extremely high value for local and national identity. It simultaneously represents and defines the shared cultural heritage of a community, which is why it turns out to be a slippery term.

I’ve been attending training sessions to be a guide, and I’ve been pleased to find that although there are a good number of French expatriates interested in the architectural heritage of the city, the vast majority of trainees are Moroccan. Some people who have been living in Casablanca remarked that they had never before explored these neighborhoods, and found themselves discovering parts of the city as tourists.

For my part it was refreshing to be part of a group of mostly Moroccan visitors. If you’ve seen some of the millions of tourists coming through Morocco, it’s easy to forget that many Moroccans themselves travel, explore the country, and are passionate about Moroccan culture and history.

After our tour of the medina, I walked back to my neighborhood with two other students who were also training to be guides. We walked through the centreville, which is rich with Art Deco architecture, and chatted while pointing out the details on buildings that the women admitted they had never really noticed before. They saw in the Casamémoire training a chance to learn and meet interesting people, though they’d never before had a particular interest in architecture or urban planning.

Thanks in large part to a retired English teacher-turned-guide named Abdou, the visits took place in an atmosphere of discovery, fun, and connection with students, professionals, retirees, working class people and upper class people. It was Abdou’s idea, for instance, to all have tea at the end of each tour, introduce ourselves, and…sing songs. (Yes, our group gelled that well.)

To be continued… La Journée du Patrimoine will be held April 14th, 15th, and 16th. For those of you living in Casablanca, on Saturday and Sunday you should be able to show up at a number of sites and get tours. I’ll update when I have the complete list. I will be at the Marché Central.


Filed under architecture, Casablanca, colonialism, Moroccan History, Uncategorized, Urban Morocco


*scroll down for English*

La tradition veut que la harira soit servie pendant le mois de Ramadan, au repas du ftour. Fait à base de viande et de tomate, on y ajoute pois chiches, lentilles, vermicelle, persil, coriandre…avec quelques variations. Il n’y a rien de mieux quand on est affamé, que ce soit à la fin d’une journée de jeune ou, dans mon cas hier soir, après un cours de yoga. Heureusement, cette soupe est servie toute l’année dans la plupart des restos marocains, pour moins d’un dollar/euro pour un bol.
Traditionally harira is a soup served during Ramadan when breaking fast. Meat and tomato-based, with chickpeas, lentils, vermicelli, cilantro, parsley…or some variation of those ingredients. There’s nothing better when you’re weak with hunger after fasting or, in my case last night, a yoga class. Fortunately, it’s available year-round in most basic Moroccan restaurants at less than a dollar a bowl.

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This apartment building caught my eye during a walk with a couple of classmates last week. We were in the quartier populaire (working class neighborhood) of Hay Sadri, not far from Ben Msik where we study. Most apartment buildings are painted either white or some light, warm color like yellow or orange.

Remarked my friend Zainab: “Individualism!”

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Filed under architecture, Casablanca, day in the life, Uncategorized, Urban Morocco