The first thing I noticed about Rabat as we drove in over a large, moderately-crowded bridge with a view of the Atlantic was CITY. Bigger, off-grey buildings hugged each other, as stores with bright flashing lights occupied the sidewalk. People were everywhere – either walking briskly through and along busying streets or lounging casually in cafes (which I immediately noticed were more populated with women, especially those sitting in the front). And the street style was an art of its own: a hybrid of simple tradition and foreign novelty (Internet trends). Though djellabas were more common in Fes, Rabat was home to the “Djellabas and Converse” look, unique amidst a sea of t-shirts, sneakers, jeans, and baseball caps, and of course, being the political capital of Morocco, suits and military uniforms. Makeup magnified natural beauty, sunglasses were worn not only as a desirable statement piece but as a necessary sun-protector, and jewelry added the second dimension of fashion creativity…people, both young and old, playing with colors, patterns, traditions, and modernity.
Everything was just bigger. Roads boast four lanes, and the side streets are twice the size of Fes’s more normal avenues. Albeit by the water, Rabat simmers in a faded grey…there’s not a lot of greenery, and though the same in Fes, that city does sprawl lavishly in the backyards of great mountain ranges. Conversely, Rabat offers a unique seaside-city vibe, attracting both foreign and local tourists alike to its calm, yet crowded beaches. Interestingly enough, though, the city’s parks exude serenity, seeming to ignore the city bustle and hum of taxis.
But when we first meandered through the streets, I immediately knew I liked Fes better. Or I was just used to the intimate, perfectly chaotic yet somehow relaxing Fassi city. Or, at the very least, I was now experiencing culture shock, which I found odd seeing as though I had only stayed in Fes for a few weeks.
Both cities seem to have mastered the art of beautiful (appealing) chaos, but there is a difference between the two. Fes was indeed busy: kids always kicking a soccer ball around, men swarming cafes in the evening, women chatting as they walked, store keepers setting up their stores in the morning when we would head off to school, selling with locals throughout the day, resting in chairs and smoking at the hint of slowing business before packing up at the end of the day. But every day, albeit brimming with life, I would see the same people for the most part – the same men sitting in their souk in the morning, sipping espressos and reading the news with cigars in tow, the same smells of baked pastries emanating from the local riad’s kitchen, the same cats lounging in the sun and others picking fights over food from the trash…even when I was farther from my home, deep into the Medina, I would recognize people. I remember one night when I was walking home from a café, I recognized a young guy walking with his father that I normally would see closer to my home. Yes, he was probably the tallest person in all of Fes, but it still made me smile that for just a few weeks, I was already becoming well-acquainted with the loving community. It was a good busy…Bustling but not so much so as to prevent people from sitting on sidewalk benches and beginning a conversation with a perfect stranger.
In Rabat, if there are benches, not many are sitting on them. Cafes are full in the afternoon, though unlike in Fes, those very same cafes become vibrant restaurants into the late night. Not only do warm golden lights keep the city alive, people seem to protrude from their shells of work to convene at various local joints, bars, and lounges. Especially during a bright, sunny day, and thankfully with a slight breeze, kids will play in the street near our house and others will mill about through the pop-up markets that sell fruit, chickens, clothing, food… Dogs, not cats, wander around, and birds fly overhead, dotting the cerulean blue sky. The beach close by makes it a popular destination; and not just for tourists. In fact, most of the water-lovers are local, simply enjoying a quick dip and admiring the soft lap of waves. When we visited the beach, I dressed in pants and a shawl, expecting cools winds especially because it was dusk. Instead, only an occasional breeze whispered through. The waves didn’t crash with intense reverberations; rather, the splashes, spins, running, playing, from those enjoying the rolling water created the most whitewater.
In writing this post, I’ve realized it’s hard to say one is better than the other, or even that I like one over the other. I love the intimacy of Fes and the familial focus; I love the energy only an ambitious coastal city can harbor. They’re just different…but also somehow similar…I guess that’s the pure inexplicability, and therefore wonder, of it all.