Wednesday I'm visiting friends of friends in Casablanca, an hour and 15 by train down the coast. T & V had wonderful things to say about their train from Marrakech, and I enjoy train travel in general. I like seeing everything in between. Mostly on this trip I keep my nose in my book, though. The windows are filthy, and the flat, dry countryside is dull and tired. Toward Casa the blue sky turns brown as we pass the industrial area. And then I'm there, and Bouchra greets me and introduces her friend and fellow A-T mom Latifa, and I'm treated to the contrasts of Moroccan life yet again.
Just beyond abandoned factories are acres of new construction. Across the boulevard from crumbling residential and small shop buildings is one of the largests mosques in the world. What a structure - rising white and green-roofed from the shore both imposing and delicate by turns, set out on a peninsula so you can get far enough away to take it in all at once. We don't find an easy place to park without going down into the underground garage, and we have lunch reservations in just a few minutes, so we decide to come back later. So I don't take any photos.
I should know better be now!
Lunch is at a fabulous restaurant hidden in a complex of shady courtyards behind a façade undergoing heavy renovations. Behind the dust and disorder, paradise.
Bouchra and Latifa ply me with questions while we wait for the other guests to arrive - Professor Bousfiha and his assistant, and another friend Wafa. Then we start all over once they arrive. These two women both have children with ataxia-telangiectasia, the disease I worked on for my dissertation, and a community I've kept in touch with over the years. My job has taken me in other directions now, but even my limited expertise is like pennies from heaven for these two. Latifa spent 3 hours on the train from Meknes just to see me here. What should the physical therapist pay particular attention to? What can we expect in the future? What cures are being worked on? Where can I take my child to get some real help? They have no support here in Morocco, aside from the good will and accumulating expertise of Pr B. He's a pediatric immunologist, which is very important to A-T patients, but there's no expert neurologist in the country, no oncologist with experience with these radio- and chemo-sensitive patients; and the physical therapists are just winging it.
We talk a lot, and also have lunch. Bouchra wants me to eat everything on the menu. I have to taste this, and have some of that. She orders me food enough for two or three people. It's all delicious, but please, leave me something to discover tomorrow! Then we have the servers take pictures of us, and she presents me with a gift - a traditional necklace displayed in a big frame. Thank you, thank you! I'm quite embarrassed to have forgotten the box of chocolates I brought for her from France. It's sitting in my luggage at the riad.
Once lunch is finally over, we have to take Latifa to the station for her train home, and then we have time to do one thing. The traffic is horrendous and there's no way to move around town quickly. One thing. Tour the gorgeous mosque? Or take a stroll around an area of traditional shops? I would like to pick up some Christmas gifts, and it is useful to have a pair of natives around for the bargaining... Naturally, I pick shopping.
Oh, and I do get some cultural tourism in there. We end up right next to King Mohammed VI's palace, and admire it from afar. It's a real pain when he's in residence, because they block off a lot of streets and make life difficult for the whole part of town. He's not In today, thank goodness.
The three of us window shop, and I end up with a nice shade for the ceiling light in my bedroom. Bouchra holds up a mirror in an intricate silvery frame, and I remark politely that it's well-made. Before I know it she's wrapping up two of them, one for me and one for our friend in Clermont, Mireille. How very kind! I'll be careful in the future not to admire anything heavy or large or delicate - I must get it all home somehow, and my last leg of travel is by train. Lots of hauling. We wander among the rug merchants and happen on one with a nice stock of persian silk carpets. I can't figure if it's Wafa or Bouchra who's looking to redecorate her living room, but we have them display carpet after carpet. We leave with none. I would have really loved to buy the spectacular 4x6 foot one with flowers and curlicues, but even in Morocco real silk carpets cost a fortune.
It's about time to elbow our way through the traffic to the station. You never know just how long it's going to take. Faster to walk, I'm sure! We get there with plenty of time to buy my ticket and read a few pages of my book. I would like to finish the book before leaving it at the riad in exchange for a non-fiction volume about a journalist travelling through the middle east. In fact, even if I don't finish my book, I'll leave it. It's a memoire of a year some English author spent in the south of France. I should really give up on reading those.
In my train car are a pair of Americans, students at the end of a semester in Morocco.
Once in Salé, I hurry home to the riad. Double-time because it's quite cold out. I'm still stuffed from lunch, so just retire to my room with my computer to review my slides for tomorrow; and send a message home to JP.