Monday, August 25, 2008

Tunis continued......

I am going to be writing quickly, because I'm at an internet place that isn't always reliable and I hate writing for 20 minutes and then find out I've lost everything... but let's try!
Also, this is a French keyboard so the letter are in different places, so excuse any obvious typos.
Now, where were we? Ahhh, the hammam. That's a Turkish bath house, with zero sexual connotations. In fact, the men are SO modest that they (literally) shower with their underear on! I was turned away at first because I forgot to bring a towel, that's a no-no. (You should also bring soap, shampoo and a scrubbing mitt, but they will sell you those....) The scenario is that you look for the red and green stripes outside; some are men only, some are women only and some share days or times. There are lounging areas with TVs in front, but then you go back to the steam room to start the process. After awhile, one of the masseurs comes to get you. I never figured out that process or decision exactly, but I didn't wait too long.
The guy lays you down on a marble slab, and starts to scrub you with this glove that feels like wire bristles. Front and back, and then some massage and work-over, like bending your legs above your head and stuff like that... Then you shower, again WITH your underwear still on. Everyone took VERY long showers, and I wonder what will happen if the clean water supplies ever dry up in Arabia. Then you comb out, and pay up. Entrance was 4 dinar; around $3. I didn't know what to pay the masseur, but I gave him the equivalent of $4 and he seemed very happy. In other words, I over-paid. Chalk on up for experience.
The hamman was right in the medina, which is the oldest part of Tunis, going back to the 8th century!! It was originally the only thing here; a walled city with commerce and soldiers to try and keep the Romans at bay. There are perhaps a dowen mosques, and various "souks," which are the specific markets for shoes, brass, leather, clothes, etc. Of course, I have pix of it but I can't find a way to post 'em. (If anyone wants to come over and be my tech guru, I'll pay your way!!)
The entire time you walk in the medina, you are asked to "come in, my friend" and "only for looking." Since I'm not buying, I wasn't of much interest to them. But what a wonderland of STUFF from books to fez hats, to birds and art works. (By the way, they all sell sunglasses; but I would ay MAYBE 10 percent of the locals wear them...)
Hints: Buy something as soon as you can, because they hate seeing anyone empty-handed. Be persistant and don't fear just walking away. And go into the shops with the old guys, because they apply the least pressure, to the point of not caring. And I felt good when I got hit up on the oldest scam in the medina; "come see a special Berber show...." and then they drag you to another shop afterward. They say even Paul Theroux fell for THAT one!
And then the Bardo. In many ways, it's the reason I came to Tunisia, and it didn't disappoint. The world-renowned museum has some of the best preserved and most extensive mosaics to be found anywhere outside of Rome. It shows the extent of their wealth and power, as well as their artistry and thoroughness. Not much wasn't put into a mosaic, from what they ate, to sex, to the games they played. Most of it is pre-Christian, going back to the 3rd century BC. I spent the whole afternoon there, and yet felt satisfied...
There were hoards of tour buses, I'd easily guess 40 in the parking lot (yes, on a Saturday...). They all paid handsomely for the tour, but I was a good traveler and took public transportation (for about 30 cents) and paid $6 to get in, and then just horned in on the tour guides (many in Spanish, but none in English). I got my fill of Poseiden, Bacchus and Eros, all of whom were natural favorite subjects.
Sunday was a great chill day. Not that it was chilly, but rather it was so relaxed. It's the day they clean the streets, and restock the bottled waters. I just walked, and found this great kid named Oussama who wanted to practice his English, and we chatted for hours. That night there was a free concert on the main street, where they closed what amounts to Fifth Avenue off. It was nice; cuz there are very few drunks (since most Muslims don't drink, which means no yelling and fighting...)
BTZ, the men all have great haircuts, cuz there are haircut shops everywhere and they take obvious pride in it.
Finally, today (Monday) I took the local train (for $2 round trip) to Carthage, with another new friend, Rami. He didn' know where he was going, and he mostly only speaks French, but we still had a great day. The ruins of Carthage are ancient, very dilapidated and spread out over two+ kilometers. There's the "topher," where they think children were once offered as sacrifice to the gods; and the museum, which pales to the Bardo. But we also got to see the President's home and nearby mosque (HUGE), and then finished the afternoon at a seaside restaurant having fresh grilled fish that was excellent.
A few quickies:
Eggs are never refrigerated, always just out.
Someone told me that many of the women in Tunisia who wear full face scarves and robes are often doing it as a silent protest against the government, because they think the government is too liberal here.
It's funny to hear "Jingle Bells" as the ring tone on peoples' cellphones... And I did see my first Santa Claus -- a paper cut-out used as decoration in a story window, in August.
That's pretty much brought us up to date. I leave in the morning for Gabes, and then down to Matmata, where the troglodyte cave/hotels are, near where they filmed the original "Star Wars." Somehow it seems fun to be staying in a cave during the Democratic National Convention, taking place in my hometown of Denver, Colorado. Go Obama!!!
Still, it's good to be here...