Hammamet on a waxing gibbous moon

Heading out of Tunis from Tunisville Train Station
Tunisian landscape in fleeting images escaping my quizzical gaze due to train travel. In some sense this gives me a sense of peace as all I can do is behold the beauty of the moment of landscape as it parades by. I feel calm & sedated by the late afternoon sun bursting in through my window seat as it tantalizes me to dare to ponder what knowledge the landscape indeed does hold. What memories those mountains must contain. Why was that strip clear-cut? Is there indeed a trail that leads up to those repeater towers? Can I get there? Will there be bandits awaiting our caravan on the other side? Where does the desert begin? So, this is my mode of thought on the train...
Introducing Hammamet- The sun nearly setting presented a romantic welcome. We wandered down Avenue Habib Bourguiba instinctively heading for the sea. The sea delivered. It always delivers. The moon is rising over the kasbah and and I'm ready to rock. The Hammamet Kasbah is especially intriguing as it's backdrop extends down onto the shores of the Mediterranean, broken only by a sweet promenade. Incidentally, it looks as if there is a little longboard break that goes off during storms... So solo ojo and myself, weary from our journey as well as anticipating where exactly we were going to sleep later that night, settle into a dreamy little outdoor cafe where throw pillows, carpets and big blocks of white limestone reigned. The open sky hovered above us with a faint outline of distant stars, cafe direits were served, sheesha (water pipe) loaded with tufa (apple-flavored tobacco), Tunisian Arabic rhythms flowing through a sweet sound system, incense wafting- hedonism (as in pleasure minus pain) prevailed in those moments. The minimal lights of the top of the kasbah hinted at the grandeur of the spectacle that we beheld: what were those walls of the kasbah trying to tell me? The history, the people, the battles, the architecture hinted at these truths, and the intoxicating smells took me back in time.

As time passed, soon we realized we needed to secure a sleeping spot for the night. I entertained the thought of sneaking onto the roof of the cafe right in the shadow of the towering kasbah walls... Reality found us wandering on the beach en route 2 kilometers towards Hammamet sud. A suitably dark spot of open beachfront between resorts determined our journey came to an end for the night. Setting up camp took all of... 2 minutes! Out came the sleeping bags and into them we went. Good night. Of course, I slept with one eye open for a long time as I had heard about the infamous 'bandits' that roam the beach. At some point I came to my senses and while watching the moon glide across the sky towards the west fell asleep. When I awoke the moon had already set, and my familiar night sky had emerged front and center stage. Cassiopeia was the first to catch my eye, then Pleiades, and finally the dippers big & little and Orion. As I laid awake and listened to the stars, I realized that Orion appeared as if 'he' was leaping out of the sky and diving into the ocean head first! This thought entertained me for quite a while- until contemplating what I would do if/when the 'merman' would rise from the ocean and come onshore and sweep me off my feet and take me back into the dark, murky depths with him to live in his oceanic kingdom. Yes, I must of dozed off at this point...

The moment of sunrise was a symphony of silent cacophony. I can't exactly recall what woke me but the noise of the sunrise indeed was brilliant in its textured hues of arrival. The silhouette of a long decrepit ship lay in waste a few meters from our sleep spot in its haunting splendor. Like an exoskeleton of a creature that still sparked life in its decay (and haven't I observed this phenomenon so many times in my archaeological career). 

said sleeping spot
we decamped (haha!) and headed up the beach to search for an early morning coffee. The town was still asleep at 8am but we did find this sweet space here serving illy Coffee- which was GREAT! Furthermore, a mamma kitty and her 2 kittens entertained us with their antics and all around good attitudes towards being street mascots. Their chocolate croissants were also pretty tasty and much appreciated.

this, of course, is Don Quichotie... 

but what is more interesting is where this found-objects sculpture is... It is the present day site of the International Cultural Centre, but is in fact a mansion designed ( & built) by Romanian millionaire George Sebastian. It's temporary inhabitants included architect Frank Lloyd Wright, uhhh... Erwin Rommel (Nazi commander) while the house was Axis HQ during WWII (he was supposedly a big fan of the baths there), and Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister during WWII) - who wrote his memoirs from here. The entire property is in a state of decaying splendor, and not exactly worth the $5 Tunisian Dinar entrance fee. Not to fear though, we made our efforts worthwhile in the end and roamed through the orchards there finding in our possession many succulent pomegranates, some aloe vera cuttings, and another clipping of another plant- which shall be the start of my small garden here in Tunis (Lil`D you should be proud of me- and I definitely thought of you during my diurnal raid- haha). 
Rommel's baths...
solo ojo's eagle eye spotted this mini turtle/tortoise creature guy- who peed when picked up. Poor thing was scared.
nice living no?
and... then we went back to the beach...


First Contact

The Great Feast of Eid-ul-Fitr

Like the color of silver,
in the night sky,
the new moon rises,
the holy month has past,
the fasting is over,
tomorrow is the great feast of Eid-ul-Fitr.

We will eat spicy chicken,
and mouthwatering pakoras,
I'll call my neighbors,
and friends on the street,
may the peace of Allah,
and joy of Eid,
be with everyone.


Eid Mubarak!

I awoke this morning calm. There was not a stir amongst the magnificent date palms that line the avenue on my street. Through the filtered light coming in from my curtains on my bedroom's french doors, I viewed a haze of sleepy pink and yellow hues patterned on silhouettes of the city dwellers as the day begins. The corner venders are slowly setting up shop. The men are all shuffling to and fro. The man at the coiffeur pour hommes salon des artistes is sweeping his partition of sidewalk. I watch all this in wonder. I am full of gratitude to be a bit-part player in this moving picture show- a voyeur at best. I hide behind my curtains taking in the wonders of a life unknown to me until this moment- a life of a Tunisian denzien in Lafayette.

Looking at life below on the streets, it is textured with a sort-of fiction-esque mood. I find myself wanting to impose a logic to these characters as they go about their daily deeds. For you, my audience, I want to entertain and delight with the sounds and smells as I feel them. This experience is so vibrant and all the more heightened as it has just been down-pouring for 10 minutes and all my imported cast of characters have taken to the awnings for temporary relief. Oh the memories of 5 Corners, my beloved nest in the jungle of Maui for my new readers, floods my mind now as the heavy rains floods my salon.

Thunder is pounding the city so now my assorted cast has taken on the appearance of animated figurines in slow motion as seen through a hypnopompic dream where the set is seemingly flying through the air. It is like a strategic chaos as people are darting in between traffic looking for a space of relative safety from the oncoming invading army of raindrops and exploding ordnance.

The plot thickens, of course, as it is the last day of Ramadan- hence the above poem... (the "little") Eid begins tomorrow. Eid-Ul-Fitr marks the end of the month-long fasting during Ramadan. It is a day to thank Allah for giving the Muslim people the endurance to observe their fasts- especially relevant when Ramadan falls in the summer months when it is extremely hot and everybody is working and not drinking or eating from sun-up to sun-down. Eid officially starts when the 1st sliver of the new moon is visible, or, when Ramadan is officially over. So, on this day, or evening as sunset is the start of a new (lunar) day in Islam, all greet each other with, "Eid Mubarak"! Everybody wishes each other good luck.

From what I understand, everybody dresses up, children everywhere get gifts from friends and neighbors, and there is lots of food!

In other news, I've been asked by a few to take pictures while in the Medina (oldest part of the city with all the souks, etc.), but as of yet I have felt it inappropriate. Not to say that others aren't, but I kind of want to get established 1st and perhaps have people become familiar with me, and not seen as a tourist. Pictures will come soon. I hope I can abate you all with pictures of my new flat & neighborhood taken today...


So... here we are: It's 2:15 p.m. & I'm off to find a clothes-horse thingy to dry laundry on. First contact, the title of today's blog, hasn't really been explained, and cannot really, but just know it was a fantastic evening last night & much progress has indeed been made...
signing off from North Africa,


Day 2: Tunisian Outpost

Day 2: 01/Sept./2010
Through a thinly veiled haze of jet lag and associated hazards, i.e. sore throat, aching body and general confusion as to where north, south, east & west is in this new city I call home, I emerged this evening in search of sustenance. I have arrived on the Mediterranean shores at the end of Ramadan- which means procuring food during the daytime is next to impossible, in public anyway. My temporary residence is in the El Jardin area of Tunis. This area, at first glance, seems pleasant enough, and close to work with a 10-minute walking commute to work. I’m not sure I will stay in this area though as there is so much of the city to check out, and so very little time to do it.

Tonight, while in the elevator at Hotel Ariha, I was going up to meet a colleague for some dinner and some ‘talk story’ as we say in Hawai’i. As I was getting off on the wrong floor Analisa (a fiery Italian woman with loads of energy) stepped into my existence and now we are forever bound in that ‘happenstance’ meeting circumstance. As well we are now Face book friends- of course…Analisa (originally from Naples) was temporarily in town from Roma visiting friends. In a matter of a few seconds we were in the elevator together on a mission for some supper. My original dinner date did not appear at his doorstep when we finally found the right floor so we went off together.

Myself, I was weak from not eating since my arrival on Tuesday late morning (I could barely get out of bed to go out and get food but I knew the situation was soon to be dire if I didn’t find any), and Analisa on her last evening in the city before flying out in the morning. We scoured the streets looking for a restaurant but to no avail until we came upon Café De Palmerie on Rue De Egypte in the Lafayette neighborhood. As it is Ramadan only certain food was prepared. I had the most delicious Chorba and some crunchy filo pastry thing with an egg inside and some spices that topped it off. I devoured my food as we devoured our life histories. Together we had traveled the world, each relating different experiences and how they were to shape our lives. Analisa is an actress and I have been invited to Rome to see her perform. Of course I will make this happen.

Munir, a musician friend of Analisa, joined us afterwards for tea and conversation. Munir is apparently a fairly well known musician here in Tunisia (jazz-fusion, Sufi, etc) and he invited me to his performance on September 4 in La Marsa, a coastal community/resort area a few kilometers from Tunis.

So this is my story for the day but the point I want to express is that life is just so … happenstance. I started out my evening with every intention of having a difficult journey from jet lag, not eating, and general flu-like symptoms, and ended up encountering 2 more amazing people that populate the planet. I spoke neither French nor Arabic and Munir little English but all 3 of us were able to communicate and make a connection that will bind us together forever. This is a beautiful thing and one of the main reasons for my incredible journey out of the comfort of what I know to what I don’t know and just throwing myself into the arms of destiny.

On an ending note, I can’t wait to see our pictures posted on Face book! Now if only I can rid myself of this nasty sore throat that has attached itself to my being, trying to suck out the very life inside of me…