Tunis To See You, To See You Ellipsis (Out of Service, Out of Africa: Returning To Europe, Reading an American Book)

My five day trip to Tunis was a colossal series of fuck ups. My baggage lost by the airline, my debit card cancelled by my bank, a cold contracted through terrible diet (a carton of orange juice, a nectarine and some insipid salad in a sandwich the entirety of my fruit and veg consumption), filthy accommodation (the only youth hostel in town – I’d avoid it) and sharing a dormitory with a very, very ill and strange man.

The toilets were bad too – no paper anywhere except the airport (and very difficult to find in a shop, hence my literal theft of shitloads when querying the status of my baggage), rarely clean, floors wet. All of them. Don’t go barefoot.

BUT, I did see some truly excellent ancient ruins, marble sculptures, mosaics and bronzes, both “on location” in Carthage and in the modern Bardo Museum, a lavish palace now home to the self-proclaimed “treasures” of the region. Elegant ancient art, swimming pool size mosaics, lots of them, as well as beautiful, highly decorative 19th century architecture. Worth a visit.*

Sadly, my time in Tunis was marred and limited by the daily visits to the airport (four in a row), yet I did enjoy the bustle and the variety of the city. Although the huge, old, medina was packed full of shoppers, so were Zara and United Colors [sic] of Benetton. Although the main museum had a tank and a jeep with a rear-mounted assault rifle flanking its gates, although guns and razor wire were everywhere, although I was specifically told to not leave the hostel after dark by the proprietors, Tunis didn’t actually feel that dangerous. I felt much less like an argument, a fight, a brawl, could burst out on the pavement beside me than I did in Morocco. However, the armed guards and the occasional deathly silence did perhaps give one a sense of the potential for something really fucking serious to kick off. Nothing did, though. Which is good, because my now unchargeable camera would’ve run out of batteries if I’d tried to Blair Witch a revolution.

I’m writing this on the ferry to Palermo, a journey I am unable to consume any food or water during due to the Italian company’s refusal to accept Tunisian currency. Which is the kind of thing one should be told before boarding. Most people on the boat are curled up, sleeping on blankets on the floor, which I don’t like. I’m embarrassed on behalf on every one of them. How can anyone find dignity in sleeping on a blanket in public? The corridors here look like makeshift hospitals built in sports halls after natural disasters. It’s incredibly crass. Also, people have “reserved” seats, spread out on sofas like they were in private, I saw a man hanging up wet clothes to dry from a luggage rack… I’m not quite back in civilised Europe yet.

UPDATE: I wrote my blog, then went seeking a chair to sit in to sleep. The selfish fucking cunts I am sharing a ferry with are either in the footwells, behind doors, across corridors, or spread one person over four big, comfy, padded seats. Unbelievable. In the end I just picked a man who looked weedy enough for me not be physically threatened by and made him move his feet. His smelly feet. Of our four chair row, he has three, I have one. The only substance to have passed my lips since 2.30 is the contents, dry, of a Tunisian high-strength Lemsip equivalent. I wrote this eight hours after that, ten hours (at least) before I will have access to euros and thus consumables. At least my time in Tunisia has ended on the same note as it began…

(Book bit: Over the last two days I have read a short novel, N. Scott Momaday’s 1969 Pulitzer winner, House Made of Dawn. Tbh, I wasn’t really convinced. Though I liked moments of it, I felt it wanted to convey more time and more politics and more feeling than it was able to in 170 pages. About a Native American who returns fucked up from the Second World War, there are the issues of displacement and addiction and class and race that I often find enjoyable, but the text reads too quickly – too many things happen, not enough is explored, explained, considered. Though Momaday is clearly trying to follow the Hemingway school of terse, I felt that he wrote action, rather than actions, in a misfired attempt to convey personality and character. Wouldn’t recommend.)


* If you’re in Tunis. Image

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