#1 Tunisia, Sept. 11, 2005

Dear Everybody,

I’m typing on a French keyboard, so if I don’t catch all the mistakes, you’ll know why. ( a and q are mixed, as are m and , and all the other punctuation marks; numbers are on the shift key, etc).

As usual in my Islamic country travels, my hotel turned out to be cheek by jowl with a mosque that had a VERY powerful PA system and I definitely got the call to prayer qt 5:30 A.M. This particular muezzim added lots of trills and curlicues to the ‘call’—it was really quite beautiful, if early and loud.

I am in Tunis, staying at a youth hostel in the medina (the old Arab city) which is a former palace with remnants of grandeur (gorgeous Spanish tile on the walls) but no towels or toilet paper. Tunis has very little English (French and Arabic), very few Internet places (I looked long and hard for this one), and not many backpackers. It does have lots of atmosphere, many coffee houses, good food, and at the moment, hot, humid weather.

After a walking tour of the medina on Thursday, I had lunch at a restaurant with the locals. The limited menu offered (in French) ‘1/2 something agneau’ which I chose since lamb is my favorite meat. I noticed that the waiter hesitated and said something in French that I didn’t understand. The ‘something’ turned out to be a lamb’s head. Once when I was in Istanbul, Turkey I took a boat over to an island that had racks of lambs’ heads barbequing but I didn’t have any. I often wished later that I had tried one so years later when Jeanne Johnson and I were in Istanbul we took the same boat to the same island and we looked all over for lambs’ heads but there weren’t any. Well, Jeanne, now I’ve eaten a lamb’s head. I ate the tongue and the brain, but no, I didn’t eat the eye. It came with a red pepper/tomato sauce and French fries.

Friday I took the tram to the Bardo Museum, mistakenly getting off two stops too soon. So I got back on the next tram and got to the museum. The building was a 1600’s palace of the Beys and very beautiful in itself.






Since Tunisia is packed with old Roman city ruins, there were zillions of lovely mosaics and statues that they dug up around here, all wonderful and beautifully displayed.







I took the tram back to the medina and had to fight my way through throngs of people—it was their Sabbath and I gather that they also shop ‘til they drop on Sabbath afternoons.

Lunch after the museum was in a beautiful upscale restaurant (a restored palace) where I tried the Tunisian red wine—surprisingly good. I had cous-cous with vegetables and lamb.

Many, but by no means all, of the women wear the hajib over their clothes and a headscarf tightly wound around their head and neck, but not covering their face. It’s very hot here, so I can barely stand to look at them. Some of the men wear ‘dresses’ to midcalf and a small hat on their heads, but about 3/4 of all the people wear western clothes.

I had breakfast on Friday at the hostel with two young French women who left soon after leaving me as the only guest, although the proprietor and his family live here so I wasn’t alone. On Saturday another young couple came—Kate and Tom from Glasgow, and we had a nice chat—that’s the way of hostels.

That day I took a local train to La Goulette, an old port on the Mediterranean. It was a pretty spot, and after walking around town and the seashore and visiting the fish market, had a lovely loup fish lunch, after selecting the fish from a platter of 8 kinds of fish, displayed by the waiter. Kate told me later that loup is seabass.




Many of the buildings here are white stucco with blue doorways and shutters.










The city of Tunis also has a French overlay—bread, signs, spoken language, ornate buildings—from French colonial days. Tunisia gained its independence in 1956 and has had only two presidents since then.





The first, Habib Bourghiba, secularized Tunisia, outlawed polygamy, and encouraged the education of women. The present one has his picture everywhere!

I’m getting used to my new camera—I’m now (finally) digitized. It really is an adjustment—and then I discovered on the Internet that they charged me twice when I bought it a couple of weeks ago. I imagine I’ll eventually get it straightened out.

Today I took the local train again (like our Minneapolis light rail) and went to see Carthage, one of the most powerful cities of its day. ‘Its day’ was 814 B.C. when it was built by the Phoenicians, based in what is now Lebanon, who were fantastic traders. Carthage was their African outpost which became more powerful than Tyre in Lebanon. They were finally done in by Rome in 142 B.C. who leveled it. Julius Caesar rebuilt it about 100 years later so the old stones that I saw today were mostly from that era.

After Carthage I got back on the train and went to Sidi Bou Said, a darling white stucco town with lots of blue balconies and doors. I toured an 18th C. house of a Bey, still owned by the family, that was full of treasures.








Then I had another wonderful lunch overlooking the Mediterranean, made better by a long chat with a Basque couple from Spain.

Tomorrow I leave for Bizerte on the north coast of Tunisia. I’m surprised at the scarcity of Internet places so if you don’t hear from me for awhile, this may be the reason.

I hope you’re all fine.


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