Saturday, April 25, 2009

Casablanca -- Pure Poetry

Photo of the Casa Blanca Oriental Lilies from the web page of Wild Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT.
By Pat Browning

A couple of paeans to Casablanca, the movie, the city, the legend.

First, a poem, THE MOVIE by Jim Spurr, which appears in the Red Dirt (Oklahoma Character) Anthology 2007, hot off the press. Spurr’s poem is funny, with a bittersweet edge, just like the 1942 movie.

Second, my own remembrance of Casablanca from a visit 30 years ago. Brief excerpts from an article I wrote for The Hanford (Calif.) Sentinel.

By Jim Spurr

Why argue about it? There was only one great one.
Who would interrupt a conversation
about Casablanca?
Or worse, change the subject?
The others were all short shorts in comparison.
The whole movie has been put to memory by some people.
There ain’t a literate person on the planet who can’t
quote at least one line from it.
Bogie. Bogie? Could he act? Who cares.
He could light a cigarette (ok, ok so it killed him),
hold it and smoke it better than the Marlboro Man
ever dreamed.
Women loved him (Not my grandmother. She was into
Don Ameche. Who can account for bad taste?)
Today’s women still love ole Bogie and long for the day
they can admit it. (Okay, so I don’t really know that.)
“Here’s lookin’ at you kid.”
“We’ll always have Paris.”
And Louie:
“There is gambling here. I am shocked
(as the croupier hands him his winnings).”
“Round up the usual suspects!”
And we all know that Louie knew one sure way
for a good-looking dame to get out of Casablanca.
Louie was a very heterosexual guy.
And there were Nazis singing
while holding cigarettes between thumb and index finger.
Damn little can look more absurd than that.
The fog! The trenchcoats! The song. That great song!
And a story with continuity.
And only one subplot.
And it all came together in a glorious ending
just as the dawn of WWII darkened the world.

Herewith, my personal remembrance of Casablanca, a lovely lady with a shady past.

I first set foot in Casablanca in 1978 as part of a tour group, and fell in love with Morocco. Some excerpts from an article I wrote for The Hanford (Calif.) Sentinel giving my first impressions of Casablanca:

In the case of “Casa,” as everyone calls it, if you liked the movie, the city may be something of a disappointment. It’s like meeting a lovely lady with a shady past – your imagination keeps trying to bridge the gap between appearance and reputation.

There is, alas, no “Rick’s Place" in Casablanca. Nobody named Sam plays piano and the plane to Lisbon is a Boeing jet … On boulevards lined with palm trees, businessmen in dark suits mingle with local folk wearing djellabas, burnooses and caftans. A veil here, a fez there, slippers and sunglasses everywhere …

And what of the old image? Well, if you knock on the door of a disco at midnight, you may see a pair of dark eyes peering through a slot, while you stand there wondering if “American” is a proper password. (It is.) You may hear an occasional guarded reference to the “white market,” which apparently still exists, like a skeleton that keeps falling out of the closet. Guides warn against “long fingers,” as they call pickpockets.

But this is tame stuff in today’s world. You are as safe in Casablanca as you are in your own hometown, and how safe that is depends on some extent on you.
Keep in mind, that was written 30 years ago. How much, if at all, Casablanca may have changed is not for me to say.

But thank our lucky stars – we’ll always have Bogie and Bergman – as time goes by.


Kaye Barley said...

As always - I LOVE your travel stories, Pat. This one was no exception. Thank you. I'll travel to all these exotic spots vicariously through your wonderful words.

And this poem!!!!!! Loved this poem!!!

Wendy said...

Pat you REALLY need to write that travel book some day :) Thanks for the trip to Casa!

Ben Small said...

I was a bit disappointed in Casablanca, the city, not the movie. Morocco is a very poor nation, and I thought Casablanca showed it. Run down, streets full of beggars. I much preferred both Marrakech and Fes, although I got sick in the latter. Forgot about Pasteurization, and drank some warm milk offered by the hotel manager. But drive out in the country in Morocco, and you see the poverty...everywhere. Stone huts clumped together, no electricity, no running water, just a community well, women and children tending goat herds. But the people seem happy, although there's an undercurrent. The King is relatively young and he's promised reforms. He owns seventeen or so large palaces, but if he doesn't deliver the reforms he promised, Morocco could become a very violent country. I included some of this in THE OLIVE HORSESHOE. If you go to Morocco, go with a tour group or take the hotel's advice and arrange for a hotel-provided guide. Otherwise, you will be mobbed by beggars, pickpockets and other unsavory characters.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Ben:
I hated Fez. Thought it was the dirtiest city I had ever seen. Absolutely loved Marrakech and Tangier.

Re slums in Morocco: Today's Chicago Tribune has an article on the cleanup going on -- slowly. It says in part:

"It is viewed as one of the king's key policies, part of his pledge to bring a measure of social equality to a fast-changing country where money has flowed into business and tourism, while the poor living in near-medieval conditions in city slums and downtrodden villages have gotten little.

Morocco's slum clearance is part of the broader Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 by the United Nations, which seeks to "achieve significant improvement" in the lives of 100 million slum dwellers worldwide by 2020. The world had over 1 billion slum dwellers in 2005, the U.N. says.

Morocco has already labeled 30 of its 83 towns "slumless," including Agadir, an Atlantic beach resort popular with Western tourists. Chihab's ministry estimates that on average, 4,000 families are rehoused across the country each month.

Though Chihab is "absolutely certain" the overall deadline will be met, she concedes authorities now face "quite a few difficulties that are slowing down the project." And some critics say the problems mean the estimated 800,000 people still in slums could be much harder to move than the first half already in new houses."

I didn't see Morocco's slums, but then I didn't see Bombay's slums either. Tourists seldom do. Thank God.


Earl Staggs said...

Like Kaye, I always enjoy your travel stories. Wish you'd do more of them.

As for slums, I no longer have a desire to travel to the so-called "exotic" places. I had a habit of slipping away from the glitzy tourist areas to see how the locals lived. Hawaii, Acapulco, Caribbean ports -- poverty and pitiful living conditions are the same no matter where you find them and I found it depressing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Earl:

Sorry my Casablanca post struck a nerve with you as it apparently did with Ben.

I always looked past the poverty when I traveled. We all have our turnoffs. As a travel agent, I had clients who came back from Caribbean cruises complaining about the poverty in Haiti. Personally I never went to Mexico mainly because my stomach doesn't travel well, but also because the culture doesn't appeal to me, and so on and so forth.

In the countryside in India I saw women sweeping dirt out of their huts. But when I was growing up in rural Oklahoma our nearest neighbor lived in a log cabin with a dirt floor and I remember being surprised at how clean that floor looked. I'm sure it wasn't. How clean can dirt be?

Well, drat! I got into this conversation and now I don't know how to get out ....



Helen Ginger said...

I went to Morocco a few years back, maybe 10 years ago. I think I was struck by the mass of people and, yes, poverty. Probably part of the claustrophobic feeling of so many people was really our fault. Our kids went with us and we kept having to stop and pose for pictures. Every time we took a few steps, more people would surround us. My son is very tall. I think people thought he was some basketball star.

I'm also not good at haggling over prices. And you're expected to do that there. We did come home with a beautiful bowl and a tapestry.

It wasn't like Casablanca, the movie, but I'm so glad we went.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Helen:

Different strokes for different folks. Fortunately there's a wide world for us to choose from.

Morocco (and the whole Iberian Peninsula) was dirt cheap during the late 70s, so I was there many times with various groups. I liked Portugal, thought Spain was interesting, and absolutely loved Morocco.

One of my favorite memories is of a side trip to Tangier a friend and I took while on the Costa del Sol. The ferry from Spain, a guide, overnight at a fancy hotel, the belly dancers show at a nightclub -- all for $69.
We had a million laughs, and still talk about it from time to time.

We spent hours in the casbah. The snake handlers and peddlers didn't bother us, and neither did the hordes of little boys. Someone had taught me the Arabic for "go away" and it worked like a charm.


Mark W. Danielson said...

I can't help thinking of the movie, Casablanca, as the airport terminal used in it sits directly across from the LAX FedEx ramp. Of course, that isn't its original location, but it's nice LA preserved this fine example of art deco buildings.

Anonymous said...


I'm curious. What was its original location? I can't imagine that it still exists -- 1942 was so long ago, and air travel has changed so much!

I haven't been through LAX since coming back from China in 1986 or thereabouts. LAX was so big and strung out I hated it. I always went on long hauls via SFO if at all possible.


Helen Ginger said...

Hi Pat. I didn't mean to sound like I hated it all. I didn't. It was very interesting. We only made a day trip over from Costa del Sol, so we didn't get the full experience. We did have lunch at a place with belly dancers, though. And my son wasn't bothered by those wanting pictures. He's used to it by now. He sort of stands out in a crowd, so to speak. I think it would be good to go back when you had more time to explore and meet people. Get out of the tourist-y area.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Pat, the old art deco hangar near the LAX FedEx facility is one of the original buildings from Mines Field, which later became LAX. There used to be 3 or 4 of them, but LA saved only one. This building was moved slightly to it's current location.

The FedEx facility currently sits near the WWII North American Aviation P-51 Mustang flight test area. During the Korean War, they moved their test area closer to Sepulvida Avenue for their F-86 jet fighter.

During WWII, this entire area was covered by an elevated mock city to protect them from enemy bombs. There's quite a history there.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, that is news to me. I worked for North American Aviation in Fresno about 1955. It was a test facility for a fighter plane -- maybe the F-86, don't remember.

When they up and moved out to the SoCal desert facility I stayed in the Fresno area. Never regretted staying put.

Is there a web site where I can read about that mock city? Sounds fascinating!