I walked quite a bit before I found a cab, from my bed and breakfast in the medina to the kasbah and then down the main street. I found a cab parked and talking to another cabbie. I raised my hand discretely. He pulled over to me. I leaned down to the open passengers seat window and said Sidi Bou Said, in more of a statement than a question.
“Tfadaly,” he said. (Welcome/come in)
I got into the back seat of the hot car and took off my hat, my futile hat because it just flops over my face and I can’t see.
“3aslama,” I said, the Tunisian “hello.”
“3aslama,” I got back.
I peered over the passenger seat to look at the 3adad, (the meter) and in doing so the driver got the hint and turned it on.
We wove through traffic and I longed to drive. With every gear shift and (not so slight) jerk of the car, I thought of the art of driving, but for now I was enjoying being a passenger. Vespas passed us by, a red one with a couple riding, he wore jeans and a blue t-shirt and she a screaming blue jumpsuit and matching blue hijab with of course, Jackie Kennedy sunglasses.
We passed Carthage on the way and I could see Roman ruins from the cab. When we reached to Sidi bou Said the taxi driver dropped me off and I asked him where Cook’s restaurant was, where I would be meeting friends, he pointed up the mountain. I said, do you know that specific one, Cook’s?
“Yes yes,” he repeated, “Cook’s” and pointed again upwards.
So I got out of the car, put my hat back on and started up the hill. I stopped in a shop to ask about Cook’s.
“Lebanese?” the man said.
It’s quite irksome that every time I open my mouth to ask a question, rather than address what I’m talking about, the men—because it’s only men that do this—inquire about my nationality. But this time I was going to be stubborn, “it’s a restaurant, it’s called Cook’s.”
“Egyptian!” He seemed proud of himself.
For the love of God. I should have known I would be met with stubbornness.
A guy sitting behind the guy I was talking to (I guess we weren’t really talking, I mean, we were talking but not having a conversation, I was asking for directions and he was playing a guessing game as to where my accent came from.) told me, “it’s down the hill.”
The first guy turns to his friend and says “Hey! Quiet! I’m trying to talk to her.”
The guy in the back pays little regard to the first and says, “Across from the supermarket GM, you’ll see it.”
“Thank you!” (Yeslamu) I call out and as I turn to walk away I say “souriya” (a female from Syria) to the first man.
“Ahhhhh,” he yells after me, “Tislam 3eyewnauk!!” A Syrian nicety and response to my thank you that normally sounds charming but bothered me from this man.
I go back down where I came, turns out Mr. Taxi driver did not know what he was talking about and find Cook’s.
Several of the ladies were there already and we had coffees and juices. Eventually Wafa showed up and we all hung out some more.
Coffee with the bride & ladies
Afterwards we split off into 2 groups, 6 of us walking up to Sidi Bou Said. Ines, our resident Tunisian expert and true renaissance woman (the lady with the Tennessee Williams quote, she said I could use her name), walked us around and told us about it. Tunisian Sufism was born here and she showed us the mosque that Sidi bou Said built.
This is a country where knowledge is power. We were starving and really wanted to eat, Ines had gone home so us three ladies walked around looking for food. We found cafes with loads of men smoking hookah and no women. After roaming for an hour we decided to call it quits and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to go to bed hungry.
We hailed a cab and told him two stops. He didn’t understand why and maybe I didn’t do a good job explaining that we would be splitting up. Finally he got it. He would drop me off at the Kasbah and continue on to the hotel where the other two were staying.
I got home and shed my bags and sweaty, sweaty clothes and had a glorious shower. I sat down to write when I heard the key unlock the deadbolt of the door downstairs and heard, in a lovely French accent, “Sally?”
Sondos was home! She came upstairs and introduced me to her daughter who was with her. She asked if I was hungry or wanted a beer. Yes! How serendipitous, so she got us each a beer and made some rice and a salad, put together some cheese and charcuterie and we ate and chatted for some time. Sondos, the innkeeper, is a dancer and an actress and the more I talk to her, the more I realize how well-known she is. She leaves tomorrow for Avignon, Hamburg, and Zurich to tour with a show she is doing. And all over the house there are movie posters of films she has starred in. But she is so humble and it is a lovely experience talk to her every time!
A church in Tunis