Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

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The Boogie-Boarders Of Casablanca

Rick's Café, Casablanca, Morocco

March 12, 2011

"I saw that there were no hidden meanings, that everything was just the way that it is, and that I was already alright." ... 
"You must remember this: a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh." ... Herman Hupfeld, As Time Goes By

This essay, The Boogie-Boarders Of Casablanca, is the fourth in the quadrilogy Morocco Series, March 2011:
  1. Marrakech With A "C"
  2. Dancing With Life
  3. Celebration In Essaouira
  4. The Boogie-Boarders Of Casablanca
in that order.

It is also the sixth in a group of seven on Surfing:

In contrast to the towns and villages of the rest of Morocco, Casablanca is a big city. It's more than that actually. It's population of around 3.8 million people makes it a big city for any  country. It would take you hours and hours  to walk from one side of Casablanca to the other - a few more probably if you factored in seat of the pants  navigating its winding streets (street signs are optional of course, as seems to be the local Moroccan tradition), all of which are veritable museums for the most stunning varied display of muddy potholes of all shapes and sizes imaginable.

It's modern and it's ancient. A quick look around shows people dressed in upscale Halston  and Gucci  alongside women wearing burkas  and dresses which cover every part of their bodies, and men wearing full length caped berber  gowns despite the heat. Street vendors cook on the sidewalks near salons de thé  selling sweet Moroccan mint tea in teapots which look as if genies  would emerge from them if you rubbed them just the right way. Nearby a man sells dubious quality water from a wheelbarrow loaded with filthy bottles. But by and large, the streets aren't crowded. There's a lot to see - to be sure. There's just not a lot of people around looking. This city has close to four million people - plus tourists. Where are they?

Casablanca is home to the fifth largest mosque in the world, the intricately ornate behemoth Hassan II  which accommodates a staggering one hundred and five thousand  worshipers at once. It's minaret is the world's tallest at six hundred and eighty nine feet. Walking around Hassan II, my daughter Alexandra and I are truly in awe. It's not that we haven't seen huge houses of worship before. We're both seasoned travelers. We've visited a veritable plethora of churches and cathedrals and synagogues and mosques and kramats  in our time. But for sheer size, Hassan II is breathtaking. Churches, cathedrals, and synagogues have pews and chairs. Hassan II, like all mosques, simply has open uninterrupted carpeted space, giving the impression of a vaster interior, an interior which is already  truly vast. To be sure, there are other visitors to Hassan II on this day Alexandra and I visit. But given the huge campus it comprises, there are actually very few people here. Where is everyone?

Rick's Café, another Casablanca icon, is also high on our "must see"  list. Modeled after the quintessential gin joint  from the movie Casablanca  in which its owner Rick Blaine aka Humphrey Bogart utters the most misquoted line in movie history ("Play it, Sam" not "Play it again, Sam") to piano man Sam aka Dooley Wilson requesting As Time Goes By, Alexandra and I enjoy Rick's Café all to ourselves, having braved the deluge of a sudden rainstorm to get here. There's just the two of us plus the charming Arab Maître D'  who speaks flawless English in a heavy accent, and the fez  festooned barman who offers us local olives and nuts with our drinks (Alexandra chooses the indigenous Casablanca  labeled beer - I, less adventurously, settle for a bottle of ice cold Heineken)  at the empty bar. And while it's certainly a daunting and rare treat for us not to have to share this mythical place with anyone else, again I find myself wondering "Where is  everyone?".

We're at a sea wall near the harbor - Casablanca is, of course, a port on the Atlantic ocean. It's sunset - a dazzling, massive, bronzed and golden sunset. And there's a crowd - a very big  crowd. And what  a crowd it is. So this  is where everyone is ...

But why?  Why are they all here?

There's men. There's women. There's children. There's policemen. There's soldiers in military fatigues. There's the women in burkas. There's the men in berber gowns and traditional Arab head dress. There's locals and there's tourists side by side. There's people of all races, of all creeds, from all countries, and - I imagine - of all religions: Muslims, Christians, Jews. They're speaking all languages: classic Arabic, Moroccan French, English, Japanese, Chinese, German, ... you name it - I hear it spoken here. Parked near the wall are buses, taxis, cars, wheelbarrows, bicycles, indeed transport of every imaginable description. They line the street. No, they block  the street. It's an impassable phalanx of vehicles and people hundreds of yards long, hundreds of feet deep. It looks as if the drivers simply drove their vehicles here, then just stopped in the middle of the street, got out, and left their vehicles right there.

There's dogs walking around in the crowd. There's chickens and livestock in cages on some of the stationary trucks. Everyone  and his brother is here. And everyone seems to be looking out to sea. But no ships are coming in. And no one's looking in the direction of the sunset. So why are they here? What are they looking at? We haven't seen a crowd like this anywhere else in Casablanca - indeed, there's no one  anywhere else in Casablanca (of course, that's an exaggeration - but it makes my point). So what brings these  people to this  place?

And then suddenly I see it. I see what they see. I see why they're all here, and I get it. And when I do, I break out in joyous laughter. Wide eyed and open mouthed, all I can say - softly and slowly, over and over again - is "WOW! Oh ... my ... God! Oh ... my ... God!  This ... is ... so ... AWESOME!"

Beyond the sea wall, some nice waves are breaking toward the beach. They're about six feet high but not moving very fast. They form peaks on the sand bars, then break - left and right. Typical beach break. Not spectacular surf. Just nice, warm, easy, playful waves. And in the waves I see about five Moroccan children surfing!  They're not standing up on surfboards. They're on their tummies on what I think are boogie-boards. But as I look closer, I realize the cost of a state of the art Morey Boogie  probably exceeds these kids' families' annual income, and what they're using as boogie-boards (and very deftly, I might add) are offcuts of wood shaped  like the real thing ie like a Morey Boogie. And these kids are tearing up the waves  on their scraps of wood boogie-boards. They take off on feathering peaks. They turn. They angle toward the unbroken shoulder  of the wave. They hang back just enough  to get tubed, and then they kick out  and paddle back into the line up and wait for the next set.

The crowd is loving it! The biggest  crowd of onlookers I've seen in Casablanca, is oooh-ing  and aaah-ing  with each ride, with each kid getting tubed, with each kid occasionally getting wiped out. The woman wearing burkas are loving it. The men in berber gowns are loving it. The Arabs are loving it. The tourists are loving it. The police are loving it. The soldiers are loving it. With each ride, everyone waves their arms, animatedly talking about it with whoever's standing next to them. I can hear ooohs  and aaahs  in classic Arabic, in Moroccan French, in Spanish, in German, in English, in Chinese, in Japanese, in more languages that I can distinguish. Again I realize all the ooohs  and aaahs  come from a cross section of just about every religion  on the face of the Earth.

So this  is it! This is what all these people have come to see. This is what a cross section of all humanity  have come to see. All cultures. All creeds. All languages. All classes. This crowd isn't looking around the city of Casablanca. This crowd isn't taking in the Hassan II, the fifth largest mosque in all the world. This crowd isn't patronizing Rick's Café, arguably Casablanca's best known icon. This enormous mixed crowd has spontaneously assembled here for one reason and one reason only: to watch the boogie-boarders of Casablanca play and have fun in the surf with their home made boogie-boards - that is to say, with their offcuts of scrap wood shaped into beta  versions of the iconic Morey Boogie. This is the central attraction for this enormous cross section of humanity. They're all here, they're all drawn  here to watch a bunch of kids playing and having fun in the surf ie living a life they love. And through them, every person in this vast and varied crowd is vicariously  also living a life they love.

The boogie-boarders of Casablanca have transcended it all, and with their transcendence, they bring along everyone else  to transcend it all with them. They've captured the hearts and the imaginations of an enormous cross section of the population of Planet Earth. But perhaps on second thought, this really isn't surprising after all. Perhaps what it comes down to is this: what we all  want is the freedom to play and to have fun. We're divided by country. We're divided by race. We're divided by class. We're divided by creed. We're divided by wealth  (or lack of it). We're divided by language. We're divided by religion. But what we all have in common, what brings us together  is we want the freedom to play and have fun. How simple is this? How profound  is this?

I look over at Alexandra. She doesn't see me looking at her. She, too, is totally engrossed in the boogie-boarders of Casablanca. Her hair is afire, backlit with the blazing backdrop of the setting sun. She's lit up  - literally - just like everyone else in this huge and fabulously varied crowd.

In terms of calling people from all walks of Life to come together in a way which makes available to them a life they love, neither the might of the G-7  nor the collective persuasive powers of the United Nations has ever succeeded in even getting close  to accomplishing what a couple of rag tag  kids, the boogie-boarders of Casablanca, are accomplishing simply by playing in the surf, having fun with offcut scraps of wood.

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