Book Review Travel

We’ll Always Have Casablanca: Getting Out of Morocco and Racing Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos

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Casablanca felt very different to the other Moroccan cities I visited. Very European, actually, in terms not just of architecture, but also in vibe, feeling, tone. A sleek, modern tram system whisks one past crumbling colonial buildings, the locals speak French as, if not more, frequently as/than Arabic, there were hawkers rather than hustlers in the street, and my cheap hotel (no hostels!) was three minutes from main square Place Mohammad V, in what felt very much like a Casablancan Soho. Lots of cafes, lots of seedy-looking bars, lots of shops selling things that people, rather than stoned tourists, might actually want to buy. A place where people live, not a place where tourists go. In fact, I was the only backpacker/twatpacker I saw whilst there – including on the train to and at the disappointingly inefficient airport* – it felt nice to wander through busy, wide boulevards, getting lost, not being bothered, seeing drunks singing in the street. I managed to have a beer and two tapas for only two euro – an amazing achievement in Morocco. Casablanca was, is, a city where modern Moroccans live – a cosmopolitan, busy place that combines in culture and design (clothes, food, bars/restaurants, buildings) the country’s Islamic heritage with its renowned colonial splendour. I am glad I visited Casablanca, for an opportunity to see a more “real” Morocco, a 21st century Morocco, though perhaps I could have got the same experience wandering through the Ville Nouvelle in either Marrakech or Fes. (I did visit the Ville Nouvelle in Tangier, but it was as dingy and sleazy as the rest of the town.)

As I travelled to and from Casablanca, I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, a (for him) typically odd book about the forming of the last human colony on earth, narrated from the perspective of the ghost of Kilgore Trout’s son a million years in the future. Financial markets collapse in the mid 1980s, and the handful of people aboard a luxury cruise heading to the Galápagos Islands end  up alienated and the only humans safe from a Children of Men style infertility disease. Vonnegut’s narrator discusses the evolutionary changes humanity has undergone in the last thousand thousand years, as well as explaining at length how the initial survivors ended up marooned, and what part each of them played in the continuance of the human race. It’s often fun, though (it’s Vonnegut) it does make many extended points about greed, violence, war and the faults with contemporary society. I also found the last few pages, as the reader learnt more about the narrator, to be rather surprisingly moving. Though not quite packing the punch of Slaughterhouse 5 or Cat’s Cradle, and lacking the big laughs of Breakfast of Champions, it was an enjoyable book from a consistent writer whose politics I agree pretty whole-heartedly with. One of my favourite things about Vonnegut, like Graham Greene, is that he wrote so many books I will almost certainly never run out of a fresh read whenever I get the annual (or so) urge to read one.

Not his best, but an interesting and an enjoyable book.**

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*Thirty minute queue for check in, five minute queue to fill in a form, ten minute queue to find out whether or not I would receive an on the spot extra bag search (I didn’t), twenty minute queue for passport control, ten minute queue for hand luggage scan, twenty minute queue to buy a coffee, boarding not beginning until ten minutes after the flight should’ve left, then a five minute return to queue on the gantry as the plane hadn’t been CLEANED before they started letting people on…

**In stark contrast to Ulysses, the last novel I read. Ie, widely considered Joyce’s masterpiece, yet boring and about as fun as smashing a kettle into your face when you don’t have the same kind of mental health issues as I do.

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