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Published: October 8th 2014
Paid $300 for the two but I couldn't resell them no matter what I tried including an offer of zero percent financing. They're still with us.
Hammamet sits on a coastal plain south of Tunis. Brown hills ride the northern horizon. Silver frosted olive groves carpet the flats. At mid-day there are no shadows. The roads are fenced with fat budding cactus. Windblown plastic bags rag the spines. It is here that you will find the sheep. Gathered in flocks ranging in size from one to twenty animals, the pens stretch for miles. Each flock shepherded by middlemen trying to make a buck on Eid al-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice). The hard, dusty ground is covered in straw. The sheep stand together in an unsuspecting huddle or forage through roadside trash. Tunisian families pull up in 4-door sedans to inspect the goods. They are immediately set upon by men dragging bleating animals behind them. A sheep will run you $200 US. Deals are cut and the sheep are stuffed live into back seats or trussed into car trunks like noisy Christmas trees. This is Old Testament stuff. Abraham, Ishmael and sacrifice. It's a lot to take in at first blush.
A Tunisian kid in a Yankees cap pulled a ram up on its hind legs and pointed to the pear-sized gonads. 'Please look' he asks me in
Claus Takes A Rare Rest
It is time to cut off his Ritalin supplier.
French. The vagaries of livestock shopping. Karen has wandered off with Claus looking to pet a ewe. I wasn't petting anything. The holiday was nearly upon us and the salesmen were pulling out all the stops.
We flew to Tunisia from Berlin one night. Skimming the east coasts of Corsica and Sardinia. Spider webs of light marked the island towns and cities. The weather in Europe had turned decidedly cooler and the days were becoming very short. I felt for Noah who was about to begin his second winter in Germany. A Florida boy far from home. But then I remembered my two winters in Germany, my buddies, the everlasting memories of that time and suddenly I didn't feel as bad. Besides, why should he get out of it? Noah is doing well. Looks good. Likes his work. Looking forward to his future while enjoying the present. What more can a parent ask?
We put up at our friend Claus's place in Hammamet. Claus Schall is a guy we met in Santorini, Greece back in our salad days. He usually dwells in Stuttgart with Ulf. Noah, Karen and myself stayed with them back in January. Good people with
a wicked sense of humor and a full measure of Schwabisch hospitality. They keep a beautiful, terraced apartment in Tunisia that is fully stocked with Leberkase and good bread. It has been our pleasure to know them for nearly three decades now. Reelin' in the years.
One afternoon we drove around the bay to the town of Korbous. The Mediterranean is a brilliant Windex-Blue. Oleanders give everything a spritz of neon-magenta. Crumbling cliff faces shadow the road. The area looks like the south of France in summer. We have lunch on a terrace high above the sea where a rock slide has blocked the road. It is sunny and quiet. The waiter shuffles over with the menus and disappears back into the restaurant. Lazy day for us all. In the distance is Tunis. Just beyond it is the ruined city of Carthage. In its heyday Carthage was Rome's equal. After suffering through 16-years of Hannibal's abuse and three Punic Wars the Romans had had enough. They burned Carthage to the ground in 146 BC and sold the surviving citizens into slavery. Carthage blazed for fourteen days. In the end nothing was left. An American military cemetery overlaps the site
The Old Mosque
It may be 15 x 20 feet in size.
of Roman Carthage. Dead upon dead. US soldiers who died in places like Kasserine Pass and Hill 609 fighting Rommel's Afrika Korps were buried together in Carthage. I find myself wishing Jack Denson were here with his fists full of American flags to throw the boys a bone. I think they would have appreciated it.
It is morning on the Sunday of sacrifice. By now every garden around Claus's apartment has a bleating sheep in it. Separated by walls, the sheep can hear but cannot see each other so the bleating intensifies. The sheep have been with their new families for as long as a week. The kids have ridden them around like wooly ponies. The women have fed them on grain and salt. Tunisians rarely sacrifice the sheep themselves. There are men who specialize in this task. Around 10 AM a scooter comes down the rutted street and stops. A middle-aged man carrying a doctor's-bag of recently-honed instruments begins knocking on doors. Within an hour the mob's bleating has ceased entirely. The silence of the lambs.
For the next two-hours we watch Tunisians hauling sheepskin pelts and dressed sides of meat down the street. A man on
the balcony across from us clumsily reduces a side of mutton with a hand-axe that looked as old and dull as the one my Dad kept at the bottom of his tool box. Later that evening, Claus's neighbor brings over a plate of roasted mutton. We couldn't.
Hammamet has a pretty little harbor dominated by a 15th-century fortress. There is a souk there selling souvenirs and motel-art paintings to tourists. There are vendors passing out free samples of home-made nougat and candied nuts. On the other side of the fortress is a Mosque and a tomb strewn cemetery. We sit in an old, shady cafe next to the fortress drinking coffee and watching French tourists pass by. They never fail to amuse me. Luxury resorts line the beach south of the cafe. A few colorful fishing boats are beached on the tide-line. Hammamet has stumbled as of late. Windowless, half-finished hotels stare hollow-eyed at the sea. The construction cranes above them are stiff with rust. Restaurants come and go. Unemployment in Tunisia is nearly 16% now.
The food here is very good. Fresh and appetizing. Crisp, pastry sandwiches called 'Briks' are filled with cheese or tuna or both;
From The Hammamet Fortress
Claus and Karen on our first full day in town.
Chopped salads, crusty baguettes torn and dipped into bowls of spicy Harrisa. Excellent local olives and oil. The restaurant food in Hammamet is the most inexpensive we have eaten on our trip so far. Karen and I pig out on roasted chicken with all the trimmings, breads, dips, olives and drinks. $3 each.
We eat dinner at the home of Claus's friend. The man's name is Abdul. His home is set into one of the old fortress's exterior walls. The architectural style is called a 'Riad'. The 2-story home is wrapped around a central garden open to the sky. A rooftop terrace overlooks the sea. Abdul has worked at many jobs in places like France and Italy. The home's furnishings are contemporary. Abdul's cooking is wonderful. A fine evening spent breaking bread, discussing religion, food, Carthaginian history and local wines. Inevitably, the most memorable moments Karen and I share on these trips are the ones experienced around dining tables. It is raining a little when we leave Abdul's late that night and the old streets are shiny with it.
Claus drove us to the village of Zriba Olia. It is located near a fat, pyramid peaked mountain called
Claus Making Fish Cocktails
They didn't taste very good.
Jebel Zaghouan. A rickety bridge brought us across a dry Wadi. A dirt switchback track leads to an old hilltop settlement perched on a dragon-back ridge. It was once home to hundreds. Today only a few families remain. An earthquake in the 1950's rock-hammered the place into near extinction. Fluorite mining, the village's only industry, ended. The last of the villagers live together in an old stone schoolhouse. It's late afternoon and the wide yellow plains below are being split by the big mountain's creeping shadow.
A dog tethered to a post sees our car and starts to twist against its frayed rope collar. We saw nobody else around when we pulled in. Long fingers of rust-colored stone form a jagged, cupped hand that cradles the ville. Fine red dust covers everything. We stepped through the ruins. Traces of blue paint still visible on crumbling plaster walls. Tiled foyers ceiling-ed with sky. Young men started popping up around us like Meerkats. A few of them hesitantly walk our way. Surprised to see strangers. Eager to talk with anyone about anything. French, German, English, Mime. The languages become a hybrid that we can all understand. Everybody is smiling.
Dome of the Rocks
The village and all that remains.
take us to their Mosque. A tiny, brick-arched chamber with a roof and little else. A few bags of concrete mix lay to one side. The boys say that they're going to restore the Mosque but there are no tools to be seen. It's a task that their families have burdened them with to keep them close. The village's rebuilt Koranic school, established in the 17th Century hasn't hosted a student in decades. A restoration of the Mosque seems superfluous at best.
The dog has grown bored and it lays on the hard-pan, curled against the wooden post. It's getting dark and cold. When the sun sets in Tunisia temperatures drop quickly. There's no electricity in the village. A kerosene lamp glows yellow behind a window. We wave goodbye as we head back down. The kids stand with the hilltop rocks and wave back. Like all young men they look hopeful. That's how I'll always remember them.
Thanks to Claus and Ulf for giving us a Tunisian home in every sense of the word. You made the undecipherable clear and the Tunisians a face that we will remember.
For the Jack Denson reference; Go to:
One of the older cafe's we visited. This one is across the street from a 'Hammam' or Tunisian bath house. This of Tunisia area is loaded with geothermal vents that the locals take advantage of by planting the baths directly on top of the vents. Is this a good idea.....?
A 'wadi' is a ravine that is dry except during the rainy season.
We are in Marrakesh now. Heading to Fez tomorrow for a return visit. Shouts out to Noah and John M. and Agramonte who wrote AGAIN! Good luck on those eyes Karen. I'm facing the same deal when I return. To Caspar (did you see that Seattle whipping of Washington?) and Piotr and the boys and girls at Lake Matka. So many days on the road. So many adventures. So many fine people. To Ila and Peggy and Tom and Jeff and Sara and Wes and Claudia and Dog Canyon. You are all in our thoughts. Liz Ferguson; Road Trip! To the Goodbrads; Stop feeding that cat so much.
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