Tunis_Thursday 24 May 2012

ImageImageOn Monday I moved from the pretty Bauhaus house in a more residential area, to a traditional home in nearer the heart of Tunis, in the medina. It is a beautiful home that attracts a steady stream of visitors, mostly writers, historians and artists, but I have also met two women farmers.

One of them arrived bearing honey, honey from bees fed on flowers. Most of the honey here is from bees fed sugar. This farmer also finds time to be an artist and was dressed in a chic Japanesque ensemble. She told me about a bleak post-revolution development in urban life. The new government in its vast wisdom recently decided to empty the jails, of all criminals, and so the country is awash in a crime wave. Apparently there are gangs organized to prey on farmers in very rural areas, stealing livestock and crops after they have been gathered at harvest. This crime is particularly mean at this time as the farmers are also suffering from labor shortages. Despite the steep unemployment rate, it is difficult to find workers who are willing or able to engage in the physical exertion of farming.

I have heard of increased crime in Tunis as well. Yesterday two young local women nearby were held up at knifepoint for their purses. I think I will assume the form of a fat woman when I am out with my camera.

Another farmer is an octogenarian woman. She and her husband are a very elegant couple who practice the Bahá’í faith. I had seen photos of her on a tractor from 50 years ago, so it was great fun when I met her to realize that I was dining next to the photogenic farmer.

On Tuesday evening I joined a new German acquaintance at her tennis club. The way there should be lined with beautifully trees dripping in wisteria-like blossoms, but that day the trees lining the avenue had been butchered. Perhaps in addition to saving money on prisons, the government found a cutrate gardening service.

That night I joined another American on the roof of the Hana Hotel, which has open terrace seating affording a wonderful semi-panoramic view of Tunis. In another country this place would be exclusive, but here they prefer to cater to beer drinkers. I wanted to hazard a glass of the local wine that they served, but was told that it was not available, even though they had bottles in plain site. Apparently the waiters have some bizarre aversion to serving wine. A nice local fellow attempted to explain why it would bother them if others saw me drinking wine and decided to order it also, but I remain mystified.

After Hana we repaired to what was billed as the official communist hangout of Tunis: JFK. It only served beer and smoke. Initially there were only 4 other women to 25 or so men, but as the night wore on the ratio moved closer to a balance, the majority of the women appeared to be foreign.

Before going home, we stopped for dinner at a highly flourescented Tunisienne restaurant, where one of my new local friend’s ate half of a sheep’s head Observing his enthusiasm for this rare treat was enough to keep all obvious comments in check. A !/2 sheep head is not an appetizing item to have on the table. I had to stifle a few grimaces and focus very hard on the vegetables in front of me.

I am off to the desert tomorrow where I expect to encounter all sorts of new and exciting taste treats.

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