Out of the Hat
Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
107Trip End Mar 09, 2008
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Unfortunately, that place is Canberra.
Its not like Rabat is a little bit Canberra, its Canberra right down to State Circle, eucalypts and the public buildings flanked by lawns plonked repeatedly down making the scale just a little bit awkward to cover on foot. Now, I like a good national capital as much the next man, but I'll confess to being a little dumbstruck at coming all this way to find such an odd slice of home.
As a nice exception, the main boulevards downtown (more downvillage than downtown) are very pleasant, and excellently unCanberra. Its wide and open and contains the only trees in an urban area we've seen.
Claude is suffering a mild sickness after a pitched battle with some of the local foods, so I set out on the second day to see some of the city on my own. Easing myself into one of the ubiquitous street cafes to watch the passersby I managed to accidentally sit down next to the only two other foreigners we saw in our whole time here (with one exception). In one of the great pieces of dumb luck that helped to open up yet another city, Peter and Anthony were Dutch students of Arabic language and culture, studying in Cairo and here on holiday. And this is a much easier world with a local speaker, starting with their ability to ask the waiter to place on the side the 6 cubes of sugar that would otherwise be the foundation of your 4" glass of hot beverage.
Being the capital, there is a little bit of pomp and grandeur to visit. Mohammed V was a popular king, having been in the right place at the right time in 1955 when the French were realising colonialism was not really for them. Following him, Hassan II, to quote most history books and foreign intelligence assessments, was a complete prick. After his death in 1999, the new King Mohammed VI showed great presence of mind by building The Great Mausoleum to Mohammed V, and then plonking his dad in there too. Way to avoid protesters.
Unlike any other grandstanding building like this, the ceremonial guards make no secret of how boring they find their employment, flicking their ceremonial royal standard from hand to hand while inflating and deflating their cheeks - and having mouthed and sign languaged conversations with the other guards. I like their freedom and their logic: they're the guards, who is going to tattle tale on them huh?
Again solely using the method of going to the most crowded and animated places, I have eaten like a king here. What Moroccans can do with a BBQ chicken served over a cinnamon and chickpea rice is awesome, and I am a firm supporter of their commitment to serving every dish (at every hour) with chips. Only one meal I had here can be classed as truly dodgy, and yet my newfound Guts Of Steel managed to easily deal with the vexatious substances provided. I think it was barbecued liver served in an oily hamburger which we consumed while sitting in a giant urinal. One and only time the Dutch guys pick dinner locations :)
You follow your superb main with any manner of sticky pastry deserts once you pass an Indiana Jones-esque task that we have been unable to suitably capture on film. Here, pastry retailing - indeed the core of the promise to the consumer about the quality of what they lovingly produce - is about bees.
We entered our first pastry shop in Casablanca and quickly left as the air was thick with bees. Local people queued calmly as hundreds swarmed around our heads, and thousands more rolled around in a sugar induced apoplectic delight under the counter.
As we have visited more and more of these little patisseries, we found the bees a ubiquitous presence. It took just a week before an absence of bees was treated with suspicion. And yet get me back to Sydney and it will once again take just a single one to have me fleeing and squealing. Mostly squealing.
I have some guilt as I have had most of the fun in Rabat while Claudine has had most of the bread rolls and daytime TV of Rabat in an effort to restore herself to health through rest. It is amazing just how fast this guilt does pass though. Where's that marinated chicken?
Rabat is a place we came to without any expectations, and even across five days I somehow have done only one or two touristy things. Yet the conversations with Peter and Anthony on their Arabic and Islamic studies while in this context have made this a great and educational stop.
Better than any trip to the real Canberra.
* * *
Rabat, Rabat, Rabat. What can I tell you about this place? Not too much really. Ask me about our hotel room, the bed and (yes, I'm going where others fear to tread) the bathroom. I can tell you all about these places in the minutest of detail as I have recently had the not-good fortune of spending numerous days in a row cooped up inside.
Yes, we had a TV! I should count my lucky stars, I know.
Iain would return each day with supplies (bananas, bread, water) and regale me with stories about what Peter, Anthony and he got up to today. Those crazy guys!
I especially lingered over the descriptions of what they ate each day: fragrant rices, oily chips, succulent marinated chickens, tasty tagines. "One more time, was the eggplant dish prepared with tumeric and onions or something else... hmmmmm?" Oh, I would have killed to be able to eat anything, anything else.
I lie. I did manage to see Rabat on day one, (before The Horror, the Horror) where we had a delightful time exploring the town in the pulsating heat in search of the Tourist Office and a Rabat town map. Armed with only a napkin of squiggles sourced from the super-keen but entirely non-English speaking Casablanca Tourist Office we set out. Along the way we asked various passersby only to come to the ultimate conclusion - several hours later - that: a) there is no Rabat Tourist Office it doesn't matter what we are told; and b) there are no Rabat maps either and yes, this is Morocco's capital city.
I even managed to share a meal or two with Peter and Anthony (so they really did exist). Well lets be honest, I drooled quietly to myself as they ate whilst I dined on tasty, wholesome, dry bread scraps.
All in all, Rabat was an eventful stop for me. Even despite everything I went through here, I still found it much more enjoyable than Casablanca ;)