The Usual Suspects in Casablanca

May 12th was our wedding anniversary — 32 years of married bliss and blisters. (We know, we know — we don’t look old enough to have been married that long. But we were only 7 at the time.) So we wanted to work in something special for the occasion, before our afternoon shift of teaching English at the language school. Fortunately, Casablanca offered just the ticket: lunch at Rick’s Café, which is modeled after the legendary “gin joint” of the same name in the movie Casablanca — which happens to be very close to the top of our all-time favorite flicks.

Rick’s Café

Opened in 2004 by a company calling itself (drum roll please) The Usual Suspects, Rick’s offers a serving of cinematic nostalgia to international (particularly American) tourists with food and drink accompanied by live music at certain times. We doubt if the musicians are as striking as Dooley Wilson (who actually was a drummer who just faked playing the piano) but the performances feature American standards of the Bogey era, including obligatory renditions of “As Time Goes By” (which was sung at our wedding), sometimes several times a night. All presented in a setting that pretty closely approximates the film set.

Since we got there just as they opened for lunch, we didn’t get serenaded by the band. In fact, we had the place almost to ourselves, though the other customers filtered in pretty rapidly. Supposedly there was a dress code of business casual, with no shorts or tees. But we saw a few people (probably Americans) clearly violating these guidelines, and no thunderbolt struck them.

The menu offered limited choices for us non-carnivores, but we did manage to find something suitable. It was not spectacular, but satisfactory. After we’d eaten, we moseyed upstairs to the other dining sections that were perhaps even more authentic-looking, if the word authentic can be applied to Tinseltown iconography. There was one room that was strictly for photo ops; there were no dining tables, but there was a (non-functioning) roulette table, and a vintage (non-functioning) bar. There was also a retro black-and-white television that played the classic movie on an endless loop. This was definitely much better than our 30th anniversary, when our business had shut down because of the pandemic and we were working temporarily in a warehouse while being paranoid about catching the virus because there was no vaccine yet.

The next day, we went on another outing, back down to the shore and to the Hassan II Mosque. On one side of the mosque is a naturally occurring swimming hole formed when ocean water was trapped on the other side of a rock barrier. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of boys were swimming in this pool — yep, just boys. And a few of them were going up the ramp to the mosque’s platform and jumping off into the water, about 30 feet below. Until security caught them and chased them away.

There was a naval ship docked in the harbor, and swarms of sailors were flowing out of its innards. As we couldn’t see any national flag or other emblems that might indicate the vessel’s origin, we became very curious about it, and speculated that it might be from Spain, or England, or Italy. (In our perception, the uniforms didn’t look at all like those of the domestic navy.) Finally, we went into a café that two of them had just entered and asked what country they were from. Looking a bit puzzled, they replied… Morocco. Such a disappointing resolution to such an intriguing mystery.

On another day, we had to seek out the local office of Air Arabia to book a flight for an upcoming leg of the tour — Istanbul to Abu Dhabi. Yes, we’d tried to book it online. Numerous times. But we kept running into trouble getting our credit cards to go through — from either of our banks. They’ve both been known to give us a hard time when we’re traveling — which means all of the time — but usually it’s just a matter of flagging our purchases at businesses when we make them with any frequency. Lately, however, there’s been a whole new level of headache, and it’s sometimes been even hard to make purchases online — including airline bookings. Usually we can get around it by going through certain travel websites (eDreams has been a good one) or using a PIN but this time nothing worked, so we had to go and do the in-person thing.

Interacting with Art

The office was small and cramped, with only two agents working, and about a dozen people waiting. By the time we were done, there were at least a dozen more in line, going out into the street. But after an hour or so we had our tickets in hand. And yes, we paid for them with a credit card.

Can you tell Kimberly might be missing her skateboard?

Strolling through a park near the Judicial Center, we came upon hordes and hordes of pigeons. Now pigeons are not particularly noteworthy, but just because of the sheer volume, we stopped to take some photos. Whereupon we were approached by three different photographers who were hanging out and offering their services for hire to tourists. Who’d want to pay to pose with pigeons? Apparently, some people do.

On our very last day of volunteering at the language school, a Sunday, we finally taught at the downtown Casablanca campus — 5 sessions each of 25 minutes. And then we were done with Casablanca. The next day, we packed our bags and walked to the train station, where we caught a train to Rabat, about an hour’s ride. Rabat is a more economical jumping-off point than Casablanca, at least to Spain — which was an economical jumping-off point for our next destinations.

The airport in Rabat is tiny, the smallest we’d used yet. (That would change a few weeks later, but we’ll get to that in due course.) Our plan had been to snag some dinner while we waited at the airport, but the options were sorely limited. Finally we settled on an alleged veggie burger which turned out to be mostly potatoes. Potatoes and bread, a starch sandwich — all we needed was a side of macaroni and rice, and the meal would have been complete.

The flight was about an hour late, but there was still plenty of daylight left as we zoomed over Gibraltar. And the incredible view from the air made us want more than ever to put our feet on the ground down there. For the time being, however, we still had Barcelona to look forward to.

Pigeon Parking Here

May 12-17, 2022

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