Salam Aleykoum! This post is part of the Moroccan Fridays series in which I aim to shine a light on the country I grew up in. Here, I strive to explore various topics, swaying between reality and legends, geographical wonders and curious traditions. You can discover previous posts here.
Casablanca was originally known under the name of Anfa before the Portuguese took it over in the 15th century AD and renamed it Casa Branca. When the Spanish kingdom annexed Portugal, Casa Branca became Casa…Blanca – “white house”. Surprisingly (in my opinion), the name remained unchanged under the French Protectorate. Perhaps “Maison Blanche” didn’t have a ring to it.
In the 18th century AD, most of the town was destroyed by an earthquake. This led to yet another name change by the sultan who rebuilt it and gave it a meaning in Arabic : A-ddar Al-Baiḍaa (“still white house”). Both names are used today but in the 10 years I spent there, Casa was (and still is) a widespread nickname.
That being said… I won’t
bore entertain you with any more etymological facts. Instead, let me take you along on a trip down memory lane, a bike ride in the streets of the white city…
The sun is high in the sky, glowing behind a thin veil of haze. Your fingers are drumming on the handlebar, dancing to a melody you’ve been humming all morning. You cycle away into a narrow, one-way street framed by bourgeois villas adorned with bright shades of purple and red bougainvillea. The air is particularly heavy, not even the slightest breeze. You squint and scold yourself for having forgotten your sunglasses.
Upon turning left along Rue Socrates, you catch a glimpse of the stadium’s roof. Already, you can hear the crowd cheering. Wydad vs. Raja – a classic game. You can imagine the players sweltering on this muggy day, beads of sweat running down their brows. The fans are chanting from the top of their lungs. Dima Raja, dima Wydad, dima Raja… You stop at the red light of a deserted intersection. It is as though the whole neighbourhood has fled behind the walls of Stade Mohammed V. A sudden roar takes you by surprise. Sometimes, absence and presence are so close to one another they can easily reach out and hold hands.
Red, orange, green. You turn left and ride along a wider road bordered by tall palm trees. Gradually, the chants fade away and are replaced by the typical hustle and bustle of Maârif – Casablanca’s shopping district par excellence. Two young boys emerge a few feet in front of you; you hit the brakes to let them cross. On your left, a billboard is advertising a local gym – one subscription = a free sheep for the upcoming Aid el-Kebir.
As you make your way past an old man pushing a cart filled with empty 5 gallon water bottles, a street vendor calls you over. You try to resist but the sweet aroma of ripe mangoes pulls you closer. You end up cycling away with a kilogram of tangerines and a handful of honey, melt-in-your-mouth dates. You got a good deal, or so you were told.
Eager to go home and wash your fruits, you take a shortcut and zoom past Massimo Dutti, Prada and various other fashion designer stores with no prices on the shop front. Further ahead, the West Tower rears its head above the neighbourhood. Or maybe it’s the East Tower, they are identical after all.
A minaret echoes nearby . The sun is at its zenith, the Zhur prayer has begun. You take a right and breathe in a blend of scents emanating from a spice stall bursting with colours. Saffron threads, ginger roots, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds, fennel bulbs… You have no time to focus, another scent steals you away. A small patisserie has opened its doors wide. You salivate at the thought of honey-soaked, spongy baghrir pancakes and flower-shaped, deep-fried sesame pastry, dipped in honey – better known as the indulgently sweet chebakia…
You lock your bike around a lamp post and enter a realm of temptation you’ve already yielded to. You can’t help it. The diet shall begin tomorrow.