Lunch & around Lima

So the policy for work when you travel, especially on international travel, is that you get to rest for a day before working. I was very much looking forward to my rest day to well, rest, and adjust to winter (in the Southern Hemisphere), and go talk to as many people in Spanish as possible. I find it helps for me to simply talk to be more fluid again. I do this by talking to the receptionist, the bartender, the cleaning lady, the old man selling candies on the street, etc.

Well, as I was reveling in my rest day, I receive a chain of e-mails marked “high priority” from one of my bosses not addressed to me, rather I’m copied basically saying “Sally is in Lima and can go meet with X person.”

So much for rest day. I’m going to at least eat lunch first, I thought. At this point my hotel phone rings, it’s the hotel manager asking if I arrived OK, she had made the arrangements for me for the taxi via e-mail.

“Yes yes, thank you. You were so helpful, can you recommend a place for lunch?”

She recommended a place and told me on my way out to stop at her office and she would give me a map and a voucher for a complimentary drink at her recommended restaurant.

So I went down and met with Valeria, she was adorable and very helpful, she does work in the service industry and comes from an incredibly polite culture.

I headed out for lunch but of course got distracted, I found a book shop. “Can you recommend a Peruvian writer of literature or poetry?” I asked the attendant. I picked the first book she recommended which was a book of poetry by César Vallejo, a 20th century Peruvian poet.

These kiosks are all over town, I stopped here and bought gum and a bottle of water from the toothless old man manning the kiosk

I didn’t make it far past the bookshop, I was drawn into an alpaca clothing store and I started trying things on. Alpaca is the thing here!

Another kiosk and a really cool mural

 

One of my favorite plants, bougainvillea

Eventually I made my way to lunch at Restaurante Alfresco and ordered a pisco sour. Pisco is a grape juice distillate similar to grappa or brandy but the difference with pisco is that it’s distilled from grape juice whereas grappa and brandy are distilled from the skin and pulp of the grapes after the juice is taken away for wine. Pisco is both Peruvian and Chilean and they both fight over who is the true origins of pisco. A pisco sour is a very common cocktail made with very sour lemons, egg whites, pisco, and sugar with a dash of bitters resting on the egg white froth on top. It’s excellent.

View from where I sat

 

Roasted mais, bread, butter, and a pisco sour–see the bitters in the middle of the pisco egg white froth?

And then I asked the adorable waiter what he recommended. Ceviche, of course. Well, sorry Dr. Wright, I ordered the ceviche!

 

Ceviche Culantro…absolutely magnificent!!

And wasn’t sorry I ordered the ceviche!

I struck up a conversation with the guy sitting at the table next to me. He was an American guy from D.C. popping off in Lima before heading to Cuzco to hike to Machu Picchu.

Causa

Dessert lucuma

After a very nice lunch, I walked over to where I was to meet with this person. When I arrived they had no idea who I was and had not heard of the event I was a part of. Lovely. As it turns out I had gone to the wrong Hilton, on the other side of town so I got the correct directions and walked to the correct Hilton. I will say, this is not the first time I have gone to the wrong hotel in a metropolitan city. I tried to check in at the wrong Marriott in San Francisco one time and was very confused and disgruntled when they didn’t have my reservation.

Pretty prickly plant in Peru

I met with Eduardo. He was so polite and kind and asked when I had arrived, 5 this morning, I told him. He ordered me a coffee. We worked out all the details that needed to be worked out and on my way out he said, “wait wait here! I want to gift you a cookie.”

I love Peru.

My mom totally taught me to not take candy from strangers but warm chocolate cookies are a whole other thing.

Warm chocolate chip cookie with cinnamon and my new book

I walked back to my hotel to work some more…I’m going to take a serious rest day on Saturday.

Landing in Lima

I landed in Lima at 5am. Walking to customs and baggage claim always feels exhilarating after sitting so long on an international flight. I was happy to be moving my legs.

I exchanged money, the Peruvian currency is called a sol or soles (plural) which means sun in Spanish. I really like that. However, I did look up the origin of the word and actually, the sol comes from the Latin word solidus which means solid and referred to gold coins issued in the Late Roman Empire. The Peruvian currency was called sol from 1863-1985 at which point it was replaced by inti which is the word for the ancient Inca Sun God. In 1991 due to terrible economy and hyperinflation, the government abandoned the inti and the currency was renamed sol. There is a bit of continuity here, although sol comes from solidus it also means sun as a tip of the hat to the inti, the sun god.

I waited for my luggage. The conveyor belt was so slow and maybe being tired made it feel slower. I watched the same lonely yellow bag go around at least 15 times before my bag appeared. The man who had been seated behind me was also waiting for his luggage. We recognized one another, it’s like there’s a somewhat intimate connection with someone you sit so close to for several hours and even shared a few meals with. Or the mom who asks you to hold her infant so she can use the restroom, it’s an instant bond unique to travel.

I got my bag and a lady, dressed officially asked to see my bag tag—the one they gave me when I checked my bag. She verified that I had picked up the correct bag and I passed through customs.

I found the taxi window that I had been directed to via email from the hotel. A nice man greeted me, “Señorita Sally?”

He took my bag and instructed me to wait inside until the driver showed up since it was raining. A gate opened and a black KIA Optima parked. The man who had taken my bag walked to the car and peered in the window, the driver jumped out of the car and ran around to open the trunk. He hadn’t realized I was waiting.

I got in the car and he asked if I would like the air conditioner on. He sat on a beaded seat cover and spoke very delicately and politely.

“It looks like today is officially the first day of winter.”

He asked how long I would be in town and was happy to hear I would be here for sufficient time to try all his favorite Peruvian dishes.

“If you like seafood, you have to try the ceviche.” I thought of my dear doctor friend (infectious disease specialist) and my mother’s warnings about eating raw meat.

He commented about the highly congested traffic in Lima.

“Why?” I asked.

“The economic situation is stable these days so everyone has bought a car.”

He told me about a rule the government had implemented (pico y placa literally “peak and plate”) where cars with certain license plate numbers were permitted to drive on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the others on Tuesday and Thursday in an effort to minimize traffic but he said people just bought second cars. I had heard a similar thing about Mexico City.

He took me down to the coast, explaining there are no stoplights and very little traffic that way. I was delighted when I saw the Pacific Ocean crashing on the shore. Only 20 hours ago I was 4,446 miles north on the same coast.

La Costa Verde, the Green Coast of Lima, Peru taken from a moving vehicle, sorry

He pointed out the surfers and I thought about how there’s more than one way to identify with another person. Of course there’s religion and race and nationality, common language, etc. but I thought of my friends who surf and how they would immediately have a connection with a Peruvian surfer for the simple fact that they share a passion. I thought maybe we ought to emphasize similarities based on passions vice similarities based on nationality, language, and religion. Here I go philosophizing again.

Suzy’s Flower Farm

I’m traveling the Southwest with my aunt in an adorable Fiat convertible.  We have stopped in Hesperus, Colorado at her friend’s flower farm.

It is pure paradise here, the birds chirp to wake you up and Buddy the dog makes sure you’re safe.  All of the soaps in the house are made by Suzy.  The walls are painted to look like crab apple trees in full bloom. The river flows and has even created a swimming hole at the base of her property.

Last night, after sparkling rosé from Gruet Winery and salad and pizza we made with vegetables from the garden and green house, I said I wanted to take a bubble bath.

“Can I run it for you? I put magic in it.” Suzy said.

Oh my.  I have never been spoiled so.  I sat in the bubble bath with a rubber ducky and plants crawling all over the tub and window sill.  From the window I watched day turn to dusk and the purple lilacs bob in the wind.  I drank my lemon verbana tea, also from the garden, and listened to the murmur of conversation downstairs.

I walked myself the quarter mile from the main house to the tree house and fell asleep to Ella Fitzgerald singing “Heaven I’m in heaven” in my head–from “Cheek to Cheek.”

 

The house…heaven

My digs for the next few nights

I could write about this experience for days but for now I just wanted to post and check in with you, my faithful readers, because I have not been on a hiatus while I was working and in school.  But now I have graduated–although my thesis is not completed–but I will have more time to dedicate to writing.  Enjoy!

Relax in Santiago

I landed today, wiped out, it was an overnight flight and I slept for one and two hour stints for the whole flight but not restful sleep, I’m hoping for an early night tonight after our meeting but I know how these things go, meet for a couple hours then remember we are hungry or it’s time for dinner and of course dinner in Latin America is late and there goes the early night.

Our rooms weren’t ready in the morning so I went to the gym and swam laps and read my book in the hot tub.  I got cleaned up and by the time I was ready to go out for an adventure and leave my luggage with the concierge, the room was ready so I went upstairs to unpack and rest a bit.  At that point, my colleague wrote me about finding lunch, come to think about it, I hadn’t eaten since dinner last night, besides a pear at the pool, so that sounded great!  We took a cab to Ichiban, a sushi restaurant we loved from a couple years back.

Sashimi!

Tempura shrimp—the best tempura I’ve ever had

We had a beautiful meal and took an uber back.  I napped for a little while—longer than I wanted to but that was OK—it is Sunday after all.  I woke up to messages about an evening meeting (that I knew was to take place).  I got up, cleaned up, and headed down to the hotel lobby bar and ordered a coffee, late for coffee but again, when on international travel (coming off international travel!) all is fair.

Cafe con leche at the hotel (coffee with milk) with a few shortbread cookies

After our meeting, it went as I expected, let’s go to dinner which is really just a continuation of the meeting and honestly where the best work happens.  We wanted to go to the tried and true (and walking distance) Nolita but it was closed on account of it being Sunday so we walked a little further to Don Carlos; one of the guys on the team only eats red meat so it’s always steak houses.

We ordered some appetizers, provaleta (melted provolone cheese), jamón ibérico (Spanish cured pork), and our entrees which for me was a much welcomed salad.

Jamón ibérico & provaleta

Airplane adventures — Monterey to Phoenix

“Excuse me?” The little old lady across the aisle from me stopped the flight attendant as he walked down the aisle.

“I’m flying to Cabo,” she explained, holding out her itinerary, “and I don’t know what gate I need to go to.  Do I need to go through security again?  I only have 37 minutes.”

The flight attendant squatted down on the floor and looked her itinerary.  He held up four fingers and pointed to the pinky finger, “we will be landing in the high B’s,” he explained, “next you have the low B’s,” pointing at his ring finger, “after that is the low A’s, then the high A’s,” he pointed at his middle and pointer fingers, respectively.  You are flying out of gate A7 so you will need to go to the low A’s,” he told her pointing again to his middle finger and wiggling it.  “You will make two rights.”

“OK! A right and then a right.” She repeated, wide-eyed.

“Correct.”

“Do I need to show my bags again?”

“No, we trust you.”

“I just don’t want to get lost, I’m meeting my daughter in Cabo, she thinks I’m going to get lost.”

I stopped the book I was reading and leaned over, “Ma’am, I can walk you to your gate, I have a long layover.”

“I would really appreciate that,” she said with a smile.

“I’m Sally,” I reached out my hand, first to Steven and then to Liz.

“Thank you, Sally,” said Steven, he stood up and walked away, his work there was done.

“So do you live in Monterey?” I asked Liz.

“Yes! I grew up there actually.”

“Me too!” I told her.

And so for the rest of the flight we chatted, I heard her beautiful life story.  She told me about her four children, her home that she recently remodeled, all the jobs she has held, her late husband and their life together.  She was full of wisdom and a zest for life that was palpable.  “Everything is an adventure!” She would say.  She explained that “life doesn’t stop” in reference to her life after her husband’s death “life continues!”

“Are you Italian?” She asked me.

“No,” I responded, “I’m Syrian. Are you Italian.”

“You know I am but I’m from everywhere, I am the universe.”

She asked about my life plans, how I liked Monterey, she told me how she had been a hair stylist at the old San Carlos Hotel that was where the Marriott stands today.  She said that to this day she cuts hair for little old ladies who can’t leave the house, “me, I’m not a little old lady!” She threw her head back laughing.

When we landed, we walked off the plane together and walked to the moving sidewalk, “let’s take this,” she said.

When we got off, and approached the next one she said, “I’d like to just walk, I think I’m faster than the moving one.” So we walked and talked, she told me about her grandchildren and her son and his recent divorce, “you know what I told him?  Dust yourself off and get back on the horse. That’s what I believe, don’t let set backs bring you down!”

When we arrived to her gate, we confirmed that we were in the right place, checking her itinerary to the reader board.

“Come, give me a hug,” she waved me into here.  And so I leaned down and gave her a big hug, she kissed my cheek and reminded me of her address—that she had insisted I write down when we were still on the airplane—and told me I had to come visit her, “I’m usually in the garden.”

Sidi Bou Said

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.

Building in Sidi Bou Said

Streets of Sidi Bou Said

Mosque in Sidi Bou Said

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.

Around Sidi Bou Said

The Mediterranean through the buildings.

Beautiful coastline

Gorgeous door in Sidi Bou Said

Me with the door

Trying not to get burned by the door

Just gorgeous!!!!

Bougainvillea in Sidi Bou Said

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

Cool clock tower in Tunis

 

Shopping around the Medina

 

Breakfast that day at Le Chambre Bleue—a thin crepe with ricotta cheese and a tomato salad on top

Melons with almonds and mint

Right outside the door of my bed & breakfast

I spent the day shopping and wandering around the old medina, shops, and market.  It’s really an experience, especially if you’re a somewhat foreign looking female, or any female at all for that matter.  People really want to sell you things and they think that if they call to you “bonjour,” “khello,” or “come here,” you will suddenly be inclined to buy from their shop.

I saw saffron and wanted some. A man saw me looking and ran over to me. I asked where his saffron came from. He said Spain. I said where can I find Iranian saffron? Mistake number one. You shouldn’t ask people in such a competitive market to send you to their competitors.

“Follow me,” he said.

He walked quickly, with little regard for me. Another red flag.

He showed me a pyramid of saffron tubs. “The ones in blue writing are from Iran, black writing from Spain.”

Idiot Sally fell for it. “How much for the Iranian?”

“25 dinars.”

“And the Spanish?”

“10”

“I’d like 2 of the Iranian but for 35”

“Ok,” he said.

I should have known!  Barter rule 1, if the person gives in so easily, they’re ripping you off and have to walk away. Mama always said, Sally your first offer should always be half of what they’re asking for. She taught me that in one of our countless trips shopping in the markets in Damascus.

I handed him two 20 dinar bills. “Here,” he said handing me a “Spanish saffron” box, “I’ll throw this in.

“Thank you,” I said, “but where’s my 5 dinars?”

“That last one was for 5.”

I laughed out loud to scoff at his hospitality. And I walked away livid.

Next I was to buy a Tunisian jebbah (dress) for Wafa’s hammam—a traditional bath for ladies before a wedding. Nowadays the traditions have changed and become more modern. They were all over the shops but I had very specific criteria for the one I wanted. Red, tank top, and short (half-calf as opposed to floor length). They didn’t have what I was looking for at the first 8 places I asked. Finally I went into a big shop and they had exactly what I wanted. The guys helping me were so nice and immediately knew I was chamiya. “Ahla w sahla b ahl el Cham” (welcome to the people of Damascus!) Our hearts are with you, it will come back to how it was enchallah.

I hear this a lot when I travel in the Middle East since the start of the war. The Arab people feel a great solidarity for the Syrian people and feel pity for the destruction of such a beautiful country.

I bought what I needed and assured the men I would recommend their shop to my friends.  Since I liked and trusted them, I asked where I should go to buy harissa–a North African red pepper paste for cooking. They gave me directions to a good place and off I went. And didn’t find it. So I found a lady seated at a jewelry shop (who had given me directions once before and had been very kind) and asked her where I could buy harissa. She pointed me to the same place the men had told me about and gave me the name. I followed her directions, or so I thought but still couldn’t find the place again so I stopped a woman shopping who reminded me of a cousin of my mother’s to ask her where I could buy harissa. “My girl, come with me,” and took off.

So I followed. We wove through the medina and the shops and she talked and talked. I didn’t catch it all but I could tell she was commenting on the people she didn’t approve of or garbage on the street. She led me to the part of the market that sells food products—spices, olives, etc.—and pointed me to the place she herself shops.

“Thank you so much I have troubled you,” I told her

“Baaa,” she said and hugged me. “I am happy to.”

I walked into the spice shop she has suggested and was hit with the smell of spices.  I love that, black pepper, with cinnamon and cumin, brined olives, red pepper.  I found an attendant and told her I wanted to buy 2 kilos of harissa, but in 2 bags. She nodded. She had hair very similar to mine and was giggling to herself about  my different dialect.

She packaged and weighed it for me and gave it to the clerk to ring me up. I paid and went back to get more bags (so I don’t make a mess of my suitcase) and the man who was helping me grunted huh as he ripped off one bag.

“More please,” I said.

“Huh,” he grunted again as he tore off another.

“One more, if you don’t mind.”

He looked up, looking me in the eyes and started tearing bag after bag making he same grunting noise, huh, with each tear. 1, 2, 3, 4, I started giggling with glee and his face lit up. He put them in my bag and laughing, I said thank you, bye and left.

Spice shop

Spices

Spices

Harissa being packaged up and pickled garlic, olives, and capers

Next stop, marche central, the central market. There were colored crates piled high and vegetables everywhere. It reminded me of the central market in Lisbon. I walked around and stumbled upon the fish market.  People were yelling like it was the New York Stock Exchange. And the smell of the sea was intoxicating.

I asked a guy if I could take a picture of his octopi as he took a big gulp of water. He said yes, and then offered me his water bottle. I laughed said thank you took my photo and was on with my day.

Olives at the Marche Central

Inside the Marche Central

This looks like tuna at the fish market

Fish

Octopus at the Central Market

A street in the medina near my bed & breakfast

Now I wanted to walk home and put away my newly acquired treasures, shower, and relax. So I wove my way back to the hotel. After my refreshing shower, some girls also here for the wedding had written me to see if I wanted to join for lunch. Yes! They sent me a photo of the restaurant they were at and off I went, again zig-zagging through the labyrinth of the medina. I found the restaurant but they weren’t here. “Excuse me,” I asked the owner, “were there some girls here? One with short blonde hair.”

“Come,” he said, and started walking.

He walked me to a restaurant down the road, where my two friends stood.

“It’s closed,” they said.

“Do y’all still need to buy jebbah? If so, I’ll take you to this place I found that I like and then we can go to lunch from there.”

So we did.

As we walked into the jebbah shop I said, “Mr. Ziad, I promised you I would bring friends and here I am!”

He said some niceties to my friends about how since they were my friends he would be happy to help them.  The two ladies bought their jebbahs and finally we could have lunch.  We went to Fondouk al Attarine, a very nice restaurant in an old Arabic house, the type with a courtyard.

Eggplant salad

Fish couscous

Lemonade with toasted almonds, yum!

A Tunisian sweet, 3assida, made with hazelnut and some sweet spices

I was still irked by the saffron experience at lunch and told them about it. One of them said, you paid to leave the uncomfortable situation.  I really liked that analysis so I’m going to go with that because I’m still annoyed and feel played for a fool and if you know anything about me…that is something I detest.

Zeytoona Mosque

 

Adventure & Dinner in La Goulette

We had an errand to run, we had to deliver a phone charger to Wafa’s sister and brother-in-law.  They were in La Goulette, the port of Tunis.

The traffic was awful but Wafa’s friend had joined us and us three like-minded women sat in the air-conditioned car talking and getting to know one another.  This particular friend of hers has worked for the UN and the World Economic Forum, she speaks maybe 4 languages more than fluently and is well-versed in the literature of all of the languages; in fact, yesterday when we were seated at a cafe having hookah, she cited a Tennessee Williams quote that several of the Americans sitting at the table had never even heard.

So eventually we made it to a parking space, parking half on the sidewalk—Tunisian style, Wafa said laughing—and we started walking in the direction her sister and brother-in-law were.  You see, they had sent us their location on the phone before it died so we were guestimating within two blocks where they could be, as of an hour ago.  Rule #1 of meeting others, if they’re late, stay put!

We walked, peering over people’s heads in search of our young couple.  When we had roamed the street for maybe 5-10 minutes we decided a new strategy, asking the waiters at each establishment if they had seated or served or seen a couple, a girl with really short black hair and an American man with her.  No.  No.  No, but try next door.

We kept going, stopping at each establishment to speak to the host and the waiters who were working.  We stopped at one place that was internal, that is, not on the water side of the street and we asked the waiter the same question “have you seen a young couple, a girl with short black hair and an American man that is much taller than her?”

“Yes! They just went up those steps!”

So we climbed up those steps and found them eating a sandwich, charging their phone behind the counter, and waiting for us.  Success!  We gave them the portable charger, chatted for a little bit and went on our way.   Now we could eat dinner.

We decided to go to a traditional Tunisian restaurant, Le Cafe Vert.  I will let the photos speak for themselves.  Tunisia has a large coastline (on the Mediterranean) so the cuisine is rife with seafood dishes.

Le Cafe Vert in La Goulette

The bar at Cafe Vert

Tunisian “brik” — a thin pastry dough filled with egg, cheese, and meat (comes in many varieties, that was what this particular one was filled with). And no, that is not a bite I took from it, it came that way.

Salads, a tomato salad and a Tunisian salad, both with tuna

3ijja (an egg dish with small meat sausages and harissa–a North African pepper paste)

Some of our spread, grilled fish, warm salad, grilled octopus, mussels, and a couple salads, that is what is pictured! There was plenty more consumed.

Three machmooms, one for each of us, this is one of my favorite things here in Tunisia. It’s such a delicate act, arranging and wrapping small flowers around with red string.

A Day in Tunis

I was to meet Wafa at the Monoprix Menzah 6 (6 in French, seese), she instructed me to take a cab.  I wove my way out of the streets of the medina and out to the main street by the government buildings and the Kasbah.  It was sweltering and all of the makeup I had put on (I had only put it on for its SPF qualities) had been sweat off.  I could not flag a cab and I can’t standing still so I kept walking up the street, thinking I would increase my likelihood of finding a taxi…no.

I stopped a man and asked him where the best place was to take a taxi and he pointed me in the direction I was walking and asked me where I was going, I told him Monoprix Menzah seese in my best French accent.  He said “we’ll drive you to a place where you can find a cab.”

“OK, thank you so much,” and thought in my head I can’t tell mom & dad about this, as I climbed in the back seat of the two door car.

The two men introduced themselves to me and asked for my name, I told them and they asked where I was from, my Arabic is clearly not Tunisian.  I told them I was chamiya (a woman from Damascus) and my friend, Abu-Hasan, told me a saying they have in Tunisian that translates to “he who marries a chamiya, dies without worry.”  As if I didn’t already have enough Damascene pride!!  His friend, who was driving, chimed in, in formal Arabic (as proverbs are recited) “And he who makes you his friend, dies an idiot.”  We laughed and Abu-Hasan pulled out a packet of thin, light cigarettes, offering me one first.  Then he offered me a cold bottle of water from the same messenger bag.  And then a thermos of coffee.  I declined but asked if he had ice cream in there, because I would like that.  They delivered me faithfully to Monoprix Menzah seese and we went our separate ways.

I was early so I stepped in the Monoprix (a supermarket) to have a look around, despite looking like a Western supermarket with isles and boxed items piled high on the shelves, a refrigerated section, etc. it was still fawda (chaotic) with water on the floor (why not clean while the customers are shopping?), and little respect for a single file, take your turn line.

Please do not take my observations as criticism.  They are mere critical observations and I do this EVERYWHERE.  I am a social critic, not a hater.  

I bought Wafa and myself a bottle of water each and headed out to our pre-determined meeting spot. We found one another and went to do her bridal dress fitting.  After that chore was done, we were to have lunch at her mom’s friend’s house, so we called her to tell her that we were done and on our way.  She said, “OK, great we will go for a little swim first.”

Huh.  I thought, I didn’t bring a bathing suit.  Well, go along for the ride.

We bought flowers from a street-side florist and tried to hail a cab, again to no avail but now the temperature was 48˚C (118˚F) which is hot if you’re wondering.  We called the “aunt” again and told her our predicament and she sent her niece to fetch us.

The house was big, it was a bonafide house with a yard, not a flat.  We went up the outside stairs and as we turned the corner in to the backyard, found about 8 women, our mothers’ ages, swimming in the pool, talking, laughing, and splashing one another.  “Welcome to our pool party!!” Wafa’s aunt yelled.

“Come come, get in the water,”  She told us.

“We don’t have bathing suits.”

She called for her niece to loan us bathing suits.  After several minutes of back and forth, no it’s ok, really we can just sit and enjoy.  No, no you must.  Wafa said “ok, come with me Sally,” and we went and changed into the loaned bathing suits.

I must say, the water felt very nice.  We swam and played in the water until it was time for lunch, at which point we sat outside and ate a lovely meal of fish, chicken, meat, rice, salad, french fries.  After lunch we enjoyed tea and fruit and sweets and some ladies got back in the pool.

Morning walk in the Medina

I love the mornings, especially the mornings in old cities, I love walking around and taking in the still of the morning before people wake up.  Yesterday was no different, I woke up with an itch to move so I got dressed and headed out for a morning stroll.

I was predominately raised in the States but in the summers when we would go back to visit Syria, there were certain things I knew I could and couldn’t do in that society.  People might say that nobody teaches you these things, “you just know.” But in reality, your family and your surroundings teach you what is acceptable behavior, the latter comes from having common sense, observing your surroundings, and being sensitive to others, something I sometimes find lacking in the States.  Anyways, I bring this up because it is very hot here, for example, the day before yesterday we had a high of 44˚C (111˚F), but I knew I was going out for a walk in the medina in Tunis, and I didn’t want unwanted attention or cat calls, so I threw a shall over my shoulders and headed out the door.

The streets are calm and I’m captivated by the small details of the environment, enjoy the photos below of the some of the details of my morning walk.

Squash vines and cactus in a planter on my street

Beautiful

Sweets for sale in the medina

One of the bab’s (gates) of the old city, there are 7 and I apologize for not knowing which this is but I was lost. Also, don’t mind the cab in the front, it was as good as I could get but this way it’s more authentic

Ministry of Finance

Flowers growing out of a crack in the sidewalk

A flower pot decorated with seashells

Very typical door in the medina

I walked and walked and walked turning alley after alley, paying no attention to street names because what’s the point?  Each street is anywhere from 10m-1km in length and they weave and wind and intersect and so I relied on memory to guide me.  I did get lost at one point and looked up and around, saw the minaret of the mosque and was guided that way.

The entrance to my bed and breakfast

I went back home for breakfast, the bed and breakfast where I’m staying has breakfast prepared for me at 9:30, no sooner and no later:

My breakfast, ricotta cheese, eggs, tomato salad, bread — both home made and bakery bought, a smoothie, yogurt, and several homemade jams (grapefruit, pomegranate, an orange variety, apricot), & honey

The entrance to my room, more photos to follow on the inside of my room