Showing posts with label MARSHAL FOCH. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MARSHAL FOCH. Show all posts

Casablanca Morocco - Rick's Cafe

Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre in Rick’s Cafe in the movie
Monsieur, ou est “Rick’s Café” s’il vous plait?

When setting a novel or a TV show or a film in a particular city, writers sometime create an exact location for events. That location then takes on a life of its own and becomes famous. Therefore, when visiting that city, it’s very natural to want to visit that location. Huge numbers of visitors to London try to visit 221B Baker Street, the fictional home of Sherlock Holmes. Another example is the Cheers pub, location of the long running TV series of that name. When I was in Boston, I unsuccessfully attempted to visit it. It’s so easy to forget that these locations exist only in the imagination of a successful writer.

Churchill and Roosevelt at Casablanca conference
Half a century ago, I was determined to visit Rick’s Café, a location used in one of the most popular films of all time. Rick’s Café is an upscale night club and gambling den in Casablanca. The film of that name won the 1943 Academy Award for best picture. The part of Rick, the night club owner, was played by Humphrey Bogart as a tough guy with a kind heart underneath it all. In the film, Nazi Germany had not occupied Casablanca but had left it under French Vichy control. Yet the atmosphere in the film was full of fear. When I had an opportunity of visiting Casablanca in 1963, Rick’s Café was the place that I wanted to see. One heard much more about Casablanca then. In addition to the film, Casablanca was the site of the 1943 meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill at which the policy of unconditional surrender was agreed upon. This was the first time that an American president had left American soil in wartime. The new policy left no room for World War II to end by negotiation, so Casablanca witnessed a momentous decision.

Marshal Foch
I was a passenger on a French liner called “The Marshal Foch” as it made its way from Nigeria to Italy, stopping at the major ports in North and West Africa. This ship was named after the supreme commander of the allied forces in World War I. It was Marshal Foch, who accepted the German surrender on November 11 1918. He hated the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, saying that it was a recipe for another war 20 years later. He died in 1929, so he never was able to boast about being exactly correct in his timeline. However, he was buried next to Napoleon in Les Invalides in Paris, so perhaps that compensated.

Everything about the ship was aggressively French, from the permanent smell of Gaulois cigarettes, to French accordian music everywhere, to the fact that nobody among crew or passengers would admit to knowing a single word of English. As the ship made its stately progress into the port of Casablanca, I saw a fine French city with wide straight boulevards and big buildings which would not have been out of place in Paris. I wanted to see Morocco and a North African Arab community, but that was not what I found. The place was just as French as the ship on which I was a passenger. After the French occupied Casablanca in 1907, they simply created a French city. Morocco regained its independence in 1956 but, six years later at the time of my visit, Casablanca was still irredeemably French. I asked to see Rick’s Café, but they denied it existed. They tell me that Casablanca looks very different now. In the 1990s, King Hassan II of Morocco built a huge mosque and named it after himself.

Morocco Casablanca Hassan II Mosque
It dominates the city because it possesses the tallest minaret in the world which, at 650 feet, is quite something. Visitors to Casablanca can now go there, instead of making a fruitless search for Rick’s Café.

UPDATE: When writing these notes, I did not know that a new place opened in Casablanca in 2006. It's name? Rick's Cafe! Try visiting and let us know what you think.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on October 14, 2008.

Metz France and Trier Germany - A Tale of Two Cities

Maginot Line
This is a tale of two cities quite unconnected with the Charles Dickens classic of that name, in which the two cities were Paris and London.  Instead the two cities here are Metz and Trier, which Pat and I visited for the first time in April 2010.  As the crow flies, these two cities are less than fifty miles apart.  Even though they are in different countries, their histories have so much in common.  Both cities stand on the same famous river, the Moselle, which continues to give Reisling and several other fine wines to a thirsty world.  Yet, between those two cities, lies the frontier between France and Germany.  Across that frontier in 1871 and 1914 and 1940, poured invading German armies.  The events of 1940 were anticipated by the French, who had greatly feared another invasion.

Consequently, starting in 1929 and at great cost, they built along the frontier in this area a huge chain of fortifications named The Maginot Line after the French Minister of War at that time, Andre Maginot. This foresight went unrewarded because, when the Germans invaded in 1940, they simply circumvented the Maginot Line by entering France via Belgium.  At about the same time, similar events were taking place in the Far East, where the huge fortifications of Singapore on its seaward-facing southern side did not prevent a Japanese invasion over land via Malaya in the north.  Various parts of the Maginot Line have been preserved and can still be seen in the area between Metz and Trier.  This contrasts with my experience of the Iron Curtain.  After visiting Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia last year, I wrote on this website of my surprise that I saw no traces of the Iron Curtain. An important piece of 20th century history seemed to have vanished, even though many people had died in their attempts to escape across the Iron Curtain and thereby reach “the West”.  At least the Maginot Line seems to have avoided a similar disappearance.

Click on video of Metz, France showing St. Etienne Cathedral and market.

The great cathedral in the French city of Metz is called St Etienne. It was consecrated in 1552, after being under construction for several centuries. We toured the cathedral, with its magnificent stained glass windows and one of the highest naves in the world.  Afterwards, we lunched in the sunshine at a pavement café in the Place d’Armes.  This is a rectangular area, which is the center of Metz and is surrounded by elegant buildings.  One side is occupied by the Hotel de Ville – “city hall” as Americans would say or “rathaus” as Germans would call it.  The opposite side is occupied by the cathedral itself.  On the outside of the cathedral has been fixed a tablet to commemorate the events that took place in the Place d’Armes on November 26th 1918.  It was a march past before Marshal Foch, who commanded the French Army in World War One.  This took place only a couple of weeks after he signed the armistice that had ended the war.  An important term of that armistice was that the Alsace-Lorraine region, in which Metz is a major city, was returned to France after over 40 years of German occupation.

Click on video to see performance of La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem.

Marshal Foch
It is easy to imagine what a joyful day it must have been for those French people in the Place d’Armes in Metz on November 26th 1918, as Marshal Foch took the salute. His troops marched by before cheering crowds, with tricolor flags flying to the sound of “La Marseillaise”- the French national anthem.  They may not then have foreseen that, by 1940, Metz would once again be German.  Yet perhaps they did, for why else would they have built the Maginot Line?

Porta Nigra
The nearby German city of Trier has the same tale to tell in reverse.  It was invaded in 1794 by the French under Napoleon and it was not liberated until his defeat twenty years later. Trier claims to be the oldest city in Germany, having been founded shortly before the birth of Christ. Just as we did in Metz, Pat and I lunched at a pavement café in the sunshine close to the city’s most famous monument. On this occasion however, that monument was not a gracious medieval cathedral. It was instead something very much older. It was the Porta Nigra, which in Latin means “black gate”.  It was a great city gate built by the Romans in the second century AD.  One can only marvel at how so large an edifice had been constructed in those days and at how it had lasted for literally thousands of years.

Karl Marx birthplace in Trier
Trier was the birthplace in 1818 of Karl Marx.  After lunch, Pat and I saw the house in which he was born. This reminded me of my boyhood in North London, where Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery. I always resented how communists from the Russian Embassy in London were permitted to make their respectful pilgrimages to his grave. Would I have been allowed in Russia to have visited the graves of the last Czar and his family?  I think not.

Karl Marx in the Reading Room at the British Museum

Marx wrote “Das Kapital”, which became the bible of communism, in the reading room at the British Museum in London.  Marx is not my favorite export from Trier. Their Reisling is much more to my taste.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on June 1, 2010.