#2 Tunisia, Sept. 18, 2005

Dear Everybody,

Carrying my backpack, I walked through drippy weather in Tunis (it had rained Hard the night before) to take the tram to where one can get a louage (shared van). Announcing my destination of ‘Bizerte’ a few times sent me from one to another of the traffic men. The louages (vans) are color coded—mine had a red stripe denoting Bizerte and other north coast destinations—others had yellow stripes or blue stripes.

It took less than an hour to reach Bizerte but where the louage let us off was not where the guidebook said they would. It was a long hot walk with my pack to the hotel that I had chosen, which I finally found.

Bizerte is a lovely town on the Mediterranean with forts, markets, a medina and the port to enjoy. Monday night I decided to eat ‘in’ and (finally) found a bottle of wine to buy, some wonderful cheese and good bakery French bread. Now, how to open the wine bottle? Since airport security confiscates wine bottle openers, I no longer travel with one. I asked at about five places—restaurants, hardware store, grocery store, my hotel—but nobody could open my wine bottle. I finally left the bread and cheese at my hotel and took the wine bottle to the most upscale restaurant in town, and there, the bartender happily opened it for me! In this Islamic country, none of the casual restaurants serve anything alcoholic—not even beer.

The next day I visited the Old Port. Now THIS is how one always hopes a foreign country will look—lovely colorful boats bobbing in the water in front of whitewashed buildings, all with blue doors and balconies. I sit at a sidewalk cafe in just the right temperature with a tiny breeze, sipping my morning espresso. No other tourists; lovely old waiter who carefully counts out the money that he takes from my open hand—I must learn French numbers—and everyone greeting me with a ‘bonjour’ but nobody hassling me. Perfect.

I took a walk, without Charles Boyer, through the Kasbah, a 16th C. fort with a medina within, along with a huge number of cats—I’ll bet I saw a hundred that morning (no dogs).

 

 

 

 

I climbed up the Spanish fort and had a stunning view of the Mediterranean, the town with all its mosques, and the Canal, which connects the Mediterranean with Lake Bizerte.

At an appetizing market I bought goat cheese, olives and pears for my evening snack. Lunch, that day, at the same restaurant that opened my wine bottle was not a huge success, starting with the waiter saying, “One?!” no less than FOUR times until finally I said, “Do I look like three?” mentally reducing his tip each time he exclaimed “One!?” Still it was a lovely setting overlooking the Canal and the Sea, with a group of shirtless muscular boys playing soccer below the balcony where I was seated.

My sister, Jeanne, emailed me asking if I remembered the old song, “Dirty Gertie from Bizerte”—no, I don’t—but who else would remember that ‘Bizerte’ as being this Bizerte!

I took a louage to Sejenane, driving through Tunisia’s bread basket—true in Roman times and true today. Huge fields had already been harvested and ploughed under for the next planting. I took another louage to Sidi Mechrig—a kind of ‘end of the earth’ place. I stayed in the town’s only hotel overlooking the Mediterranean and an old Roman arch.

 

 

 

On the way interesting rural people got on the louage.

One woman wore a beautiful Berber homespun red dress with silver Hands of Fatima on the bodice. Some of the men wore Spanish style broad brimmed straw hats.

Overlooking the Sea, I relaxed by finishing reading “Brick Lane” by Monica Ali (thanks, Gayle). Now I have only one book left and I don’t think it will be easy to find English books in Tunisia or people to trade them with.

The louage stopped for gas after we were all loaded in (naturally) and a sign (with pictures) on the gas pump said, “No smoking,” “Turn off your motor,” and “No using your cell phone.” (??)

One night was plenty in Sidi Mechrig—the wind blew hard all night, rattling doors. I think I was the only guest, which made it kind of spooky, especially when I had to grope around for light switches in the pitch dark when I went down the hall to the bathroom at 2:00 AM.

The next morning I waited expectantly for a louage—and waited and waited. Finally a pickup truck appeared. I asked, “Sejenane?” (name of town where I could get a louage to Tabarka, my next destination). The driver nodded ‘yes’ so I threw my pack in the back of the truck and climbed in. When he dropped me in Sejenane I tried to pay him but he absolutely would not take the money.

There was another wait for the next louage to fill up with people (they go when they’re full) giving me an opportunity to photograph lots of rural people in town for an outdoor market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the women had elaborate silver ornaments on the bodices of their homespun colorful dresses.

Now I’m in Tabarka which is a very likeable town with quite a fast Internet service—what a treat. In Bizerte it would take several minutes for a screen to come up; I could read about 6 messages in an hour!

The weather has now cooled off and is perfect. I have spent some time walking about, visiting the marina, Les Aiguelles (the Needles—some rock spinacles ) and later in the afternoons, I take a dip in the Sea. Afterwards I plant myself on a chaise under one of several thatched umbrellas that apparently belong to a nearby hotel. A young man inquired (in German) if I were staying at the hotel; I told him that I wasn’t. He said that I would have to pay 5 TD to use the chaise and thatched roof; I said I’d give him 2; he agreed and the deal was done.

I was observing a local couple—he wore a swim suit and sat on a towel on the sand; she wore red slacks, a long sleeved white tunic shirt, and a red and black headscarf covering all of her hair. She sat directly on the sand, barefoot (no towel for her) next to and slightly behind him. I didn’t notice them ever speaking to each other. He went swimming and she remained sitting on the sand. He eventually returned and sat on his towel. After a bit, she stood up and rolled her red slacks up to her knees and went ankle deep into the water. Then she began walking on down the beach, splashing slightly (barely) in the water. His eyes followed her—there were other young men further down the beach. In fact, his eyes were glued to her. She walked quite a ways, then turned around and walked back. Now he only glanced at her occasionally. She seated herself again on the sand, next to him and slightly behind him and they resumed their silence.

Yesterday during my afternoon dip in the Sea I had brought a Herald Tribune to read. Unfortunately when I went into the water a big gust of wind came up and blew my newspaper all over, into the Sea. My dip consisted mainly of chasing wet newspaper and gathering it up.

Today I shall go to Ain Draham which I read is up in the hills.

I hope you’re all fine—I really like Tunisia.

Carol

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