Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Didn't Go To Rick's Cafe

Of course I didn’t sleep on the plane. I never can, in spite of having had a beer with “dinner,” such a nonevent all I remember for certain is a slab of Tilamook cheddar and a stunningly bland chicken cutlet. Oh, I made a good try at it—closing my book, shutting off the light, practicing deep breathing, even placing the complementary sleep mask over my eyes until they started to water at an alarming rate. So no sleep, which I’m regretting now, but at the time there was a gift involved.

The stars over the Atlantic were astonishing. Unsullied by manmade light (as long as I used the book to block out the strobing wing beacons), they sequined the sky. I couldn’t stop looking.

Traveling at well over 500 mph with a steady tailwind, by about 2 a.m. on my body clock the stars gave way to gray dawn and glimpses of the ocean under the clouds. Then a ship—red hulled, I think, the superstructure painted white, a plume of wake—and the first pinks and golds and blue of dawn and then, suddenly, there was the coast.

“Africa,” I said to the Danish doctor sitting beside me. After four days spent at JFK and a sleep tablet-induced nap he was…gratified, I think, to be a little bit closer to home. I watched as the dunes gave way to flatlands patchworked in shades of green.

It looks like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. As we descended I could make out adobe (is that right?) buildings, palm trees, trucks, cars, cows, cactus, people and then the runway. Down the portable staircase on to the tarmac and, during the short wait for the bus that would carry us to the terminal, I watched the wind toss the fronds of a stand of palm trees—they look like elegant pineapples. It’s humid in Casablanca, even when the wind is 7 a.m.-cool.

I won’t bother to describe waiting at the baggage claim—this is one universal hassle. I did get to witness the arrival of some sports team (I think it might have been…no, I have no idea which team it was) and the frenzied papparazi waiting for them as I sat with another member of the group drinking a benign cup of tea in the airport lounge

Because I am a guest, I settled into the back seat of a waiting Mercedes sedan and watched Morocco reveal absolutely nothing but these things:

A tractor on the airport service road towing a flat-bed on which sat seven men dressed in boots, long blue pants, sweatshirts or jackets

A donkey tethered in the shade of a small grove of stunted trees

A young man on a magnificent horse, cantering along the side of the road at the roundabout exit of the airport

Cows grazing just on the other side of the culvert as large trucks hauled payloads along the highway at 100kph—some of the trucks carried cattle; a smaller pickup was loaded with crates of remarkably scrawny live chickens.

Women in djelabas and head scarves walking over bridges that seemed to transit from one area of complete desolation to another.

Broad carpets of bright red poppies waving up and over gentle hillocks alongside some kind of grain and the unmistakable unfurling of corn stalks (way higher than an elephant’s eye on this April day).

Structures that looked like ruins until I realized each unit was topped with a satellite dish. There were also lines of laundry drying and I caught flashes of people (children? men? not women) on the roofs.

We drove through an orderly and gorgeous greenbelt (established in the 1980s by Morocco’s ruling monarch—I’ll have to look up his name because I’ve had no sleep). Then, suddenly, Rabat—the parts of which I saw remind me, somehow of Queens, but this is so NOT Queens.

The bottom line, so far (and I’ve only been here seven hours) is that Morocco is “sudden,” it’s beautiful and I don’t know a thing about it except that I like it pretty well.

More to come after I’ve slept.


Daisy said...

Thank you, E. Can't wait to read the next one.

Pam said...

Fascinating. A totally different first impression than I had coming by ferry from Spain.

Carol Henry said...

Oh, Elizabeth, you and your words are such a treasure. I'm so glad we met. P.S. I'm sending a link to your blog to a dear friend of mine who has been to Morocco and loved it.

Neil said...

Nice. Do tell us more. The cats miss you.

Anne said...

I still have no idea what's going on, but it sounds pretty great.

Donna said...

Your words make me yearn for my first impression of Africa next week.

AJ said...

This is beautiful, Hilts. I especially love the detail about the satellite dishes. Thank you.