Tales of the Lecrin Valley

A personal view of life in an andalusian village.

One can’t visit Casablanca without going to Rick’s Cafe and Carmen and I are no different, so off we went one evening.  We had seen the place often as it is very near the part of the Medina where Asiya and her family live, just in front of the Naval barracks.  The building has been very well restored and is not too kitsch.  It hasn’t religiously followed the film set although the bar is similar, and of course there was a piano waiting for Sam to arrive and do his thing.  We arrived early and had a drink at the bar, and tried to chat to the barman, although he wasn’t too hospitable, being more interested in chatting to his colleagues.  We were the first ones there and had a chance to look around.  Several tables had been reserved, as one would expect on a Saturday night, and a stool at the far end of the bar also had a reserved sign in front of it, I guessed for the owner,and we waited for Humphrey Bogart to arrive.  I am not a stranger to bars the world over and this had a nice atmosphere, although more from the people who were now arriving, expecting something different, than the ambience. 

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We weren’t sure whether we were going to eat or not but asked for the menu and decided that we would.  We were given the best table in in the house in front of the piano, surprised that it hadn’t been reserved and wondered if the proximity to the piano would ruin conversation when Sam started to play.  The owner arrived, dressed in a silver lamé suit, and took her place at the bar.  She had dark, almost black lipstick, and had her shortish hair done in the American, CNN presenter style, the kind where the hair never moves no matter what the owner does.  She appeared to be in her fifties and looked around her bar to suss the punters.  We ordered our meal and a bottle of Moroccan wine, the price of which would have paid Asiyah’s rent for a fortnight, and got stuck in.  The food was good, obviously French influenced, and the filet mignon I had was perfectly cooked, although with not too much taste, but I had found this with other fillets in Morocco.  The owner rose from her stool and ghosted, there is no other word for it, around the tables welcoming diners and asking if all was O.K.  I have never seen anyone so bored and so mechanically doing what seemed to be such a chore.  The waiters were a bit reticent at first but we soon got them to loosen up by practising our Arabic on them.  Then Sam arrived, or rather Issam, as he said was called but which seemed a bit too close for authenticity.  He played a very pleasant medley of tunes, asking us if the music was too loud, which we said wasn’t.  We waited for him to play ‘As Time Goes By’ as is mandatory and we finished our meal and left.  A pleasant enough evening which was nicely rounded off as we were leaving with a voice from behind us which suddenly said, ‘ ‘Ere, hang abaht,’ in a thick London accent.  We turned to see a Moroccan man dressed in a jellabah and fez offering us some publicity about the bar.  It turned out he had lived in London near Vauxhall Bridge and had picked up the argot there.

Parking in Morocco is never a problem. There are underground car parks but nobody uses them as they are too expensive at five dirhams an hour.  There are also kerbside machines and  clamping, which although a nuisance is not expensive at forty dirhams and which also gives you the right to park for the rest of the day free after you have been unclamped.  Better to park on the street at two dirhams for as long as you stay.  The system works like this.  Each street or part of a street is the responsibility of a guardian who looks after your car and makes sure it is not burgled or scratched.  They usually wear some kind of coloured jerkin and a baseball cap have a token hanging around their necks.  Whether they are officially registered or not I am not sure but I suspect they are.  My first time in Rabat I didn’t know this and thought I was being hassled when someone demanded money for parking on the street.  So I didn’t pay and my car was keyed.  I found out from the hotel staff the way the system worked and paid the guardian (who probably keyed my car in the first place) a hundred dirhams for a week which secured myself a place on the street at any hour of the day or night and his undying love.  If you are a foreigner, such as I obviously am, the guardians sometimes have a small booklet of tickets which they produce when you arrive and which state that you have to pay five dirhams in advance.  I have no idea whether this is kosher or not, but I have overcome it by having a few phrases in Arabic ready which let the prospective footpad know that I’m not a tourist and that I live in whichever town I happen to be in.  Of course, you need to weigh this against the possibility that you may get keyed if you don’t pay, so a smile and a knowing wink are useful.  Normally the guardian will accept this with good grace and smile and accept the two dirhams offered, but some don’t, so trust your judgement.  You can also get your car washed kerbside for twenty dirhams by the same guardians, sometime without being asked and being faced with a fait accompli.  This once happened to me twice in one morning, so either learn to argue in Arabic or French or carry plenty of change in your pocket.

Toilet rolls.

Toilet rolls, here in Morocco, are a delight.  When you take them from the packet the first sheet comes away from the roll ready for action with just the slightest tug from the adhesive used to seal it closed. Not so in Spain, where some heavy-handed machine or bored production-line worker has slopped a dollop of glue on each and every roll which has permeated the first six or seven layers which makes opening the roll almost impossible without wasting at least a dozen sheets.  Although these can be used by the brave of heart and the nether regions, they will normally be thrown away.  In an economy pack of 24 rolls that can amount to a whole roll of paper, a four per cent loss.  And if anyone is interested I am not pondering this matter of national interest where you may think I am, but am back in the Venezia Ice waiting for Carmen to finishing her shopping.  In fact she’s not shopping, she’s returning or changing the things she bought last week as they were the wrong size or colour which doubles the already lengthy shopping process.

Cleaners.

Here in Casablanca we are living in an apartment block in a rather affluent area.  We have a concierge who cleans my car far too often and carries out running repairs to the flat which I would normally do.  His prices are ridiculously cheap to us Westerners and his wife cleans the flat on a daily basis, does the washing and cooks for us three times a week for less than we pay our cleaner in Spain to come in once a week. But as with cleaners the world over, trying to find things after she has been in the flat is a major undertaking and often necessitates a trip downstairs to ask her where she has hidden things.  Why is it that I leave my razor and shaving brush in easy reach each and every day, every evening when I return I feel like calling Colonel Blashford Snell and a team of intrepid explorers to find them.  To give here her due, they are always in the bathroom and she hasn’t yet taken to hiding them in the kitchen or bedrooms, but she puts them in the most unusual places.  And she takes away and washes the towels every time we use them, which, if Carmen or I are alone in the flat, means a wet and naked run through the flat, across the outside patio and into the utility room to find one, and then it is usually wet.  And if the women upstairs is at the kitchen sink by the window she is treated, in my case, to a most unhealthy sight.

Shoe-shine boys.

In fact that is a misnomer as they are all at least eighty years old and can hardly bend down to do their work.  They are all dumb and drum up trade, literally, by beating their brushes against their shoe-shine boxes, normally when they are passing behind me.  Bearing in mind the recent bombing in Marrakesh and a former career often spent in places where various factions were bent on trying to kill me, you can understand why I get twitchy when taking coffee in the street.  They never speak, which is bit scary and makes me feel imperiously uncomfortable as I sit towering above them while they go about their work.  The first time I felt guilty as it was the first time since I had left home at fifteen that I had ever had anyone clean my shoes.  But I consoled myself by saying that he needed the money and paid him ten dirhams.  I swear he skipped away from me, age notwithstanding, and have since dropped my payment to five dirhams, which although above the going rate, salves my conscience.  And as I normally wear sailing shoes, I have got used to, and quite enjoy the quirkiness of walking around Casablanca with highly polished shoes and an inch of highly polished sock to match.

Mint tea.

Carmen remarked this morning that there is a high incidence of diabetes in Morocco, and having been here for nigh on six months, I can understand why.  The pastries are fantastic, but the nation drink of attay binaana, or mint tea, is like drinking liquid Kendal Mint Cake. I have already had three glasses whilst I am waiting for Carmen and am looking for the waiter to order another pot.  It is delicious and comes heavily sugared with natural sugar from a conical sugar loaf, but in case that is not enough there are a couple of huge cubes of sugar on the side in case your thing is to slip into a diabetic coma in a public place.  We should be back in Spain soon which will save me from this fate, I hope.

And here’s a new one on me.

It is Friday midday and a lot of people are dressed in jellabahs ready to go for Friday prayers.  I have just heard a muezzin begin his call for prayer, and although I am a bit Mutt and Jeff, I swear the muezzin was getting closer which was scary as it meant the minaret was toppling over in my direction.  Then, lo and behold, passing in front of me was an enterprising beggar with a car battery and a loudspeaker in a shopping trolley, playing a recording of the call to prayer.  I swear that for a second or two I felt like following him, Pied Piper fashion, to see where he was going.  Maybe one of the local mosques has an enterprising Imam who is trying to swell his congregation by drumming up punters from the local area.  Whatever, it both surprised and pleased me.  I have become used to the call to prayer five times a day, find it rather calming and it gives a sense of continuum.  Even if it doesn’t bring people to the mosque, it at least reminds them to reflect for a moment or two, on life and what is important to them.