As a baby boomer, most of my pop cultural touchstones date back to the 1950s through the 1970s.
Bob Dylan will always speak more to me than Jay Z; the Kardashians are only names to me. What is it they do, exactly? I have no idea.
My all-time favorite actors and actresses are long since deceased; some of my favorite movies were filmed in black and white. But many of them — along with popular songs, books, and TV shows — have played crucial roles in developing my love of travel, and continue to do so to this day.
The first movie I can remember seeing on the big screen — around 1952 — was The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn; it was playing at my local theater as part of a double feature with another classic, High Noon.
The African Queen was an adventure tale set in World War I-era German East Africa and involved a tramp steamer, a fraught but increasingly close relationship between the strait-laced Hepburn and the hard-drinking boat captain (Bogart), and a long-shot scheme to blow up a German U-boat.
Though I was too young to follow all of the plot, I was mesmerized throughout the film: its depiction of far-off African jungles, rivers, and villages inspired my love of a continent that has remained with me for life. By sixth grade, I was compiling scrapbooks of articles about Africa and collecting stamps from there as well. When I got my first Belgian Congo stamps from a missionary visiting my home town, they became my prized possessions.
Not surprisingly, then, Africa was the first continent I visited after North America and Europe, and I’ve returned many times since, traveling to 20-some countries there so far. Would I have developed my lifelong passion for Africa if I’d never seen the movie? Maybe — but maybe not.
Why I Went to Morocco
My first trip to the African continent was to Morocco in North Africa in the early 1970s. I was compelled to travel there after multiple viewings of my all-time favorite movie, Casablanca, whose screenplay I can recite almost by heart.
Once again, my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart, starred in his classic role of Richard (Rick) Blaine. Casablanca was pictured as the kind of exotic, intrigue-filled city of my dreams.
As it happens, the real-life contemporary city of Casablanca isn’t particularly exotic at all, but I found all the exoticism I would ever need in two other Moroccan cities, Marrakesh and Fez.
Marrakesh was a must, of course, due to the hit 1969 song by Crosby, Stills and Nash, Marrakesh Express.
As I rode the train from Casablanca to Marrakesh, I kept humming the tune even as I wished the train really were an express. I naively boarded it without packing a lunch and had to watch a woman sitting across from me downing juicy oranges and some sort of delicious-looking sandwich as my hunger pangs grew and the train rumbled slowly through the desert.
But Marrakesh was worth every moment — a desert oasis whose central square was enlivened by the strangest collection imaginable of snake charmers, bizarrely dressed water sellers, jugglers, and storytellers.
I wandered the teeming souks for hours,buying a djellaba (a long hooded robe favored by Moroccan men), a goatskin canteen, a leather shoulder bag that smelled of tanners’ dye, and a hand of Fatima necklace, among other treasures that I keep to this day.
Would I have made it to Morocco without the influence of the movie Casablanca prompting my quest?
No doubt, at some point I would have — but to reach it at that time required:
- Getting out of my sick bed in Seville, Spain (where I’d had a temperature of 104 F);
- Sleeping between two chairs outside a bar in a little town in the middle of nowhere after walking ten miles in the dark (long story);
- Hitchhiking to Algeciras (where the ferries leave for Tangier);
- Being rejected by Moroccan immigration authorities in Algeciras because my hair was deemed too long;
- Catching a ferry instead to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta (which adjoins Morocco);
- Riding a bus to the Moroccan border;
- Having to convince the immigration authorities there — in French — that the big red “X” scrawled over my Moroccan visa was done at my request;
- Sleeping on a Moroccan beach without a sleeping bag and nearly freezing to death at 4 a.m.;
- Hopping a ride to Tangier on the back of a truck, where I finally got a hotel room again.
That’s how much I was inspired by Casablanca.
I’m curious to know whether you, the readers, have been so moved by your own pop cultural influences — movies, TV shows, songs, books, etc. — that they’ve been instrumental in determining where you’ve traveled and how. If so, I’d love to hear from you, either by leaving a comment or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Travel Tip of the Day: If you get to Morocco, don’t miss Marrakesh, but don’t overlook Fez, either, where the old city seems like something right out of the Middle Ages. I say this even though I got the worst case of food poisoning in my life there — ironically, at a French restaurant in the newer part of town.