Our man [formally] of Amsterdam

Postcard from Tunis
December 16, 2009, 21:54
Filed under: Tunisia

Brunch last Saturday at Schipol was overpriced and crap: stale foccacia and two-day old lettuce, airports can be like that. Well, $200 and 2 hours later lands you on the northern tip of Africq; aka Tunisia (this arabic keyboard is a challenge). My driver, Mohommad, was there to meet me, courtesy of the prebooked hotel. We passed two road accidents on the short drive from Carthage airport to the hotel, both involving taxis. (Note to self – see what the trams are like).

Check in and venture out. This town, this country, is ruled by one man – Ben Ali. He keeps changing the constitution so he can serve another presidential term; (wonder if this zill get censored?) Posters of his heavily Photoshopped face are everywhere. Cheaper than statues, like Lenin used to do.

Where are the women? I mean, the streets and especially the cafes are full of men smoking and staring at all the other men passing by. “Bonjour,” they say every step of the way as I amble down Ave Habib Bourguiba, Tunis’s main thoroughfare. Big wide pavements on either side of the street, separated by a median strip lined with lush green trees.

More bonjours; usually followed by “Francais, Deutsche, Espanol, Italiano, Anglaise?”
“‘allo,” I say in response, before eventually sucombing to the offer of mint tea. Ah, my first in Africa in over 20 years; this one sweet, hot and with pine nuts.

Quickly darkness happens and so does the cold on the edge of the desert. Tea done, I venture a short distance into the rabbit warren that is the medina, but still manage to get lost in its narrow bustling streets. “Place de la Victoire?” I ask repeatedly in an attempt to find my way back to the main gate. I give up, take a seat at some restaurant and order food; passive smoking is mandatory with every meal. Why didn’t I pick up that phrase book at Schipol instead of the crap foccacia?

The couscous with chicken arrives almost too soon (what else?) It could feed 3 people such was its size. I do my best for 2. The whole time I’m eating, a ssickly thin cat circles the table, even jumping onto the padded bench right next to the meal. I stretch my leg out and introduce my size 9s to its nose, with speed. It recovered behind the bar and came back for more. I rushed the eating to be rid of the plate and my feline friend. After that another mint tea, which is complimentary. The waiter puts down his cigarette and comes over to clear: “A fini?”

He then proceeds to pick the chicken bones and leftover pieces of meat and places them on my side plate, right there on the table in front of me. After that, he puts the side plate on the ground a few metres away for the cat, giving it a pat on the head for good measure. Then he cleared away my main plate.

“Merci.” I got the check and thought: Deep in the medina, this is where it’s at; welcome to Tunis, mind the cats.


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