From an October 2007 letter: We’re in Rabat for a Pan-African Community Radio meeting. In the evenings Suzi and I are free and wander Rabat. Suzi says “we could live here.” Rabat is a walkable city, relatively clean, French art deco, relaxed without the hassle (or excitement) of Casablanca. A teenager grabs Suzi’s hand and starts doing henna artwork before she can protest. I, of course, have to pay for it, a temporary souvenir of Rabat. She is the only really aggressive tout we’ve encountered. It is so unlike Cairo, Casablanca or Marrakech.
On Friday we had only morning meetings so we had the afternoon to explore. The Moroccan capital has a certain gentleness. Friday’s call to prayer is not overly amplified. We can hear it outside but it does not blast through closed windows. The prayer sounds more intimate, like a conversation with God, not an exhortation blared out over distorted speakers. Following Friday prayers men stream out of the Mosque at the King Hassan tomb. Many have prayer rugs rolled up under their arms or over their heads shielding them from the midday sun. They exit a gate guarded by two horse troops in traditional uniforms. At the tomb itself the guards have rifles with beautiful inlaid work on the stocks. Looking at the rows of columns in one of the monuments brings to mind Cordova in Spain. And that’s not strange because Rabat was the town from which the Arab invasion of Spain was launched and the place where the refugees settled after the Catholics re-conquered Spain, commissioned Columbus and imposed the inquisition. 1492 was a busy year.
Rabat is a cat friendly city. People leave out dishes of water and food. I’ve read that cats are self-domesticating; they choose to become pets, to adopt people. We watched this process as young cats sidle up to us doing the leg rub thing. “Is he going to give me water? Will she leave me food?” A guard at the Hassan tower bends over to play with a small cat who is rubbing against his shiny shoes. A little boy is playing with a toy truck in the middle of one of the medina’s walking streets while a small kitten with the biggest eyes is trying to make contact with the kid, who could care less. In the shade of the Andalusian Garden a pride of cats sits in the sun, four different bowls of water sit on the walk for the cats to choose from. One shop keeper replenishes a pile of kibble outside his shop as three cats wait. No mice in his shop.
There’s a new network of walking and bike paths along the river with new shade trees. The New Town, (early 20th century) outside the Medina has broad streets and shady squares lined with French colonial Art Deco buildings (see separate post) including the Alaska Ice Cream Bar. Rabat is a pleasant relief from Casablanca, Casa in miniature without the hassle. It’s like the contrast between Bratislava and Vienna. Suzi’s right, we could live here.