Day 19: A Field Report from North Africa

Day 19: Tuesday, 30 April 2019 – Fez, Morocco (34.0181° N, 5.0078° W)

“Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies…”
Marrakesh Express lyrics by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

There really is a Marrakesh Express…it runs through Casablanca en route to Fez (6.5 hours) , where we imagine many of our travelers at least started their day. Where they are now is anyone’s guess. My guess? Gibraltar or Seville…maybe a few lingerers in the smokey cafes of Tangiers.

So you know…the Road Officials left Marrakesh this morning, hoping the Dior Express flight to Lisbon with dozens of pouty-mouthed models (Was that Haim sisters  we saw in 1st Class?)…and then onward after a brunch with a former major metro art museum director to Porto, the final meeting place of the teams on Friday.

A couple videos from Marrakesh…the souk-area at night: Call to Prayer & a 360 of the Circus.

A few photos pilfered from the blogs…

A Drum Circle…

Ying 2.0 eating sheep brains…

50% of Ying 2.0 & Lazy Monday getting henna

A day spent looking at rugs…well, the mint tea was free!

The Tanneries of Fez…

Goats head soup anyone? Mick? Keith?

The Straits of Gibraltar  shipping lanes (aka the Pillars of Hercules)

SLO Folks…got to Gibraltar fast!

That said…here’s what I can report from Morocco….

First, if you have any romantic notions of Casablanca, that we last visited in 2004 (they are still looking for the credit card fraudsters)…a port city that forever recalls the black-and-white movie era…complete with  foggy steamships and fedora hats, forget it. It is a busy African city bulging at the seams. If you are thinking about author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, strolling its wide Art Deco building-lined boulevards on his way to Dakar, or Timbuktu, forget it.  No one, aside from diplomats currying favor, stops here any more…Bogart and Bergman are long gone, and Hollywood magic can only bring a place so far and any glamour Casablanca might have actually had pre World War II, wore off a long time ago. It is now a rough-edged metropolis of probably 5+ million.

The really great cities of Morocco are the so-called Imperial Cities: Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech. With Fez and Marrakesh retaining that medieval Arabic/Berber feel. Fez is my favorite because it is so other-worldly…a true test for any traveler lacking nerve with its labyrinthine-like medina Fes el-Bali is…maybe the world’s largest car-free urban zone…that is a maze of twisting alleys and crowded souks. It was a Mandatory Scavenge for our travelers…and they will be better for having seen and done it.

So, about Morocco’s political situation—now that I’m safely gone from it’s bureaucratic grasp—36 million people with an average age, like most Middle Eastern nations, a young 26.5 who earn statistics say, about $7,500 per capita…and that the unemployment rate hovers around 10%. Is it safe? Yes, we had no problems and felt no threat—it is just chaotic, hectic, crazy and many people are desperate—but not violent. What does it’s future hold? Well, I don’t believe that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists…maybe not; maybe there are secular, liberal, market-oriented moderates out there…seeing that a growing middle class serves their tenure… What bout the Arab Spring? It was canceled. There were no Middle East dominos…places like Tunisia, Morocco have been facing economic problems and allegations of corruption in ruling circles for decades. But Morocco and Jordan (and now Algeria?) do allow limited freedoms of expression and have so far been able to contain any real regime changing protests….Like Jordan, Morocco’s monarchy has strong support among sections of the public—BUT Morocco’s reputation was damaged after Wikileaks revealed allegations of increased corruption, in particular the royal family’s business affairs and the “appalling greed” of people close to King Mohammed VI (who in 1999 succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, Hassan II)…that said, things appear stable, the economic pie is growing and they are entering the 21st Century. Whether theocratic aspects remain neutral, is another thing; but they keep a tight leash on everyone with their Chinese-like surveillance-systems and French-like local policing system.  Nuff said…

Okay…tomorrow starts the Euro report…BTW May Day tomorrow!

What would Bill do? Maybe…maybe, not!