What could today’s traveller possibly add to what is already known about Casablanca?
This city of four million plus has been visited by invaders, traders, colonial powers and tourists for centuries. Thousands and thousands of visitors over the years have walked through the Medina, followed the winding streets, noticing the red and blue painted stucco, the pot plants in tins, the hole-in-the wall bakers, tabacs, scooter garages and the tiny cafe with a piebald cat snoozing in the sunshine.
The city has been documented in tourist guides and brochures in dozens of languages (and even immortalised in an eponymous film which was made almost entirely in Burbank in a romantic Hollywood dream of the city). Our own tour runs once every fortnight most weeks of the year, so over fourteen seasons nearly six thousand travellers have already had the particular ‘unique experience’ of this tour. We stand in the crowded shadow of tourists who have come before us and we cast that same shadow onto future travellers. So what then can we, who are not specialists, not trained in any particular discipline —accountants, bureaucrats, two retirees from Canada, a loss-adjuster and his wife from Bristol (although there is a botanist and a watercolourist)— add to the vast thought-library of Casablanca that stretches back a thousand years to the Phoenicians who first settled here on the edge of the African forest? Or is travel just another form of consumerism, an experience that has been conjured and marketed and sold to us as a product like a pair of running shoes or the latest iPhone?
I wondered this as I watched the colours change on a wall opposite my hotel room in the early morning – from the barely discernible lightening in the triangle of sky over an undifferentiated black, to a gentle grey in which forms and planes first appear then, as the sky shifts from grey to pale blue, the wall acquires colour. The pigeons which had been roosting on the sills woke and started their burbling and flapping and parading. Then the sun reflected off windows opposite appeared as two lemon kites slowly chasing each other. By now the colours were distinct – the sooty yellow of the render, the brick red of the window sills and the blue grey of the wooden shutters, and the day had begun.