They make great pizzas in Rabat, thin and crispy and not smothered in tasteless cheese. All the food is good in fact - I only highlight pizzas because I liked the title - but the best bit is the bill. Salad, sole and filet steak, a good bottle of wine and coffee for two people (that’s one bottle of course) with tip, set us back £24.
Rabat is about 100 kilometres north of Casablanca, but a universe away if measured in terms of civic pride. Wider boulevards, cleaner streets, shallower potholes, clearer air, quieter traffic and more discreet calls to prayer. Perhaps the last two are linked: Oxford City Council is currently debating whether to allow one of the city’s mosques to do its muezzin over loudspeakers. If they do, let it be along the lines of Rabat. Casablancan worshippers are summoned by something along the lines of a Brazilian football commentator on steroids – a noise level that I guess is necessary to compete with all the other street sounds. The DG asked a guy yesterday if they’d ever thought of bells. He smiled indulgently - it’s a national characteristic that no one admits voluntarily that they don’t have something.
The menu last night listed about a dozen items of fish:
“I’ll have the turbot aux fines herbes.”
Shrug. “Sorry, we don’t have turbot.”
“OK. I’ll have the St. Pierre aux champignons.”
“Sorry, no St. Pierre.”
“What kinds of fish do you have?”
At the newsstands, it goes:
“Do you have The Times?” The answer is either “It didn’t come today” or “There are none left”. In three days, we never saw an English paper - which after all isn’t surprising: we haven’t seen a Brit or American, or heard an Anglo-Saxon word since we’ve been in Morocco. It’s doing wonders for our French, if not our Arabic.
That's the 12th century gate to the Kasbah in Rabat. We went to Rabat on Edith Wharton’s recommendation. She was right. New monuments can be impressive, beautiful even: old ones are also moving. The walled town of Chellah, just outside Rabat, for example: first - from 20BC for three centuries - the Romans, then in the 12thC everyone left and it has remained uninhabited ever since. (Well that’s what it says in the guidebooks, but a security man pointed out the house, half-covered in foliage, and garden where the first French Governor, (from 1912) Marshall Hubert Lyautey, had lived - clearly derelict, but far from a 2,000- or 900-year-old ruin.) Edith was very impressed by Chellah; and apparently also by Hubert, whom she knew when she was here in 1917.
But there are other inhabitants who hardly get a mention: hundreds of them. They’re everywhere you look, occupying every height and mating, with a call that’s a strange rattle like a North American woodpecker in low gear. Yes, storks. All that's missing is the hoarse whisperer, David Attenborough.