By Bonnie Blanchard
Part 1 of 5 parts: Casablanca
Riding a camel only looks romantic. Sore and tired, I ease myself next to a wood-burning fire; it had been a long and lumpy journey on the back of the camel into the Sahara Desert. I find myself staring up into a sky studded with stars big as dinner plates, thinking that despite my sore body, I had achieved a life-long dream. As a kid, I would pore over pages of the National Geographic, staring at the photos, and think that someday I would visit exotic, faraway places. Now, I wasn’t reading a magazine; I was actually here, in Morocco, the quiet of the desert enveloping my group like a velvet blanket. And to think I was only here in Merzouga, Morocco, because I noticed a sign in Somerville, Massachusetts, 12 years ago.
It happened like this:
As I drove through Union Square, Somerville one day, my eyes caught sight of a building sign that said Moroccan Caravan, Gallery and Showroom.” As a kid, I was captivated by the exotic places in the world and North Africa, deserts, and camels were on my travel list. So I stopped to investigate.
As I approached the doors to this shop, which were situated way in the back of the building, I stopped short at the threshhold, confronted by a world of color and texture; I was immediately drawn into another time zone. There was a photo of a souk – or tent in Fez or Marrakesh. There were layered rugs on the floor, metal lamps lit and hung from the ceiling, assorted ceramics atop counters, and musical instruments perched on stands. I felt as if I had walked into someone’s living room in a foreign country. In the background a CD could be heard playing songs by Gnaouan musicians. The Gnaouans originally came from what is now Mauritania on the west coast of Africa below Morocco. It is believed they had extensive political and trading ties with Morocco. Their music is a rich Moroccan repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms. I continued absorbing all, speechless, until I was greeted by a friendly face.
Welcoming me was Addi Ouadderrou, the owner of Moroccan Caravan, an emporium of Moroccan goods, and, as I soon found out, a resident of Malden. For the next hour and a half, I was introduced to his Berber heritage, Moroccan culture, and how he came to this country about 20 years ago. Discovering a strong Moroccan community 15 years ago, he opened his import store that supports handmade crafts created by Moroccan artisans.
I got to know Addi and the many people who comprise our Moroccan community. I learned that he arranges and leads tours to his homeland. And finally I was able to go on a two-week trip Morocco guided by him this past fall. Addi organizes and makes about five trips annually to Morocco. These are custom designed trips that combine a depth of knowledge and history of Morocco and create a once in a lifetime experience. Many of his travelers have taken multiple trips with him. His generous personality and experiences put any traveler at ease. I arranged for a trip that would begin at the Atlantic coast at Casablanca, then go to the interior northern plateau city of Fez before crossing the Middle and High Atlas mountains and the Sahara and then back across the southern section of the high Atlas range to Marrakesh.
After landing in Casablanca on a misty morning, our adventure trip began with a visit to the beautiful Hassan II Mosque, which stands on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. At 660 feet by 330 feet, it is the largest mosque in Morocco and the 13th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 689 feet. Begun in 1986 and designed by French urban planner, Michel Pinseau, the construction took 35,000 workmen 50 billion man-hours to finish the building, which was completed and dedicated in August 1993. Walls are of handcrafted marble and the roof is retractable. A maximum of 105,000 worshipers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque’s outside grounds.
(Click on photos above to see slideshow.)
With the exception of some Italian white granite columns and 56 glass chandeliers made in Murano, Italy, the famed glass capital of Italy, all material is from Morocco. The cedar wood used for carving is from the middle Atlas mountains, the marble is from Agadir, and granite is brought from Trafraout in southwest Morocco.
Walking around in your stocking feet, (yes, shoes are removed,) gazing up down around and out, you can see that every surface reflected craftsmanship, a dedication to detail and purpose, and overall sacredness.
Because of the interior spaciousness and the varied materials and patterns designed, and its position at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, one could not help but feel a deep sense of spirituality here. We needed to digest all this and what better way than a refreshing meal featuring seafood in a local restaurant overlooking Casablanca’s shoreline before we set off on our next destination, Fez.
To learn more about visiting Morocco, contact Addi Ouadderrou, owner of Moroccan Caravan at 285 Washington Street in Somerville. Moroccan Caravan is a showroom and gallery of all Moroccan products. See www.moroccancaravan.com or call 617-833-1503.
Part two: The Wonders of Fez