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Posts Tagged ‘friends’

Finding Direction in Having None

January 25, 2010 3 comments

Casually munching on gaufrettes while working through my lunch break. I’m preparing an urgent sales pitch Elyes decided to tell me about at 12:28. It’s naturally due at 2 pm. Gah. Our work processes here are pretty haphazard and there’s rarely room for pre-planning. When there is room for pre-planning, the final project requirements end up changing so much that it’s the  equivalent to having never been been preplanned in the first place. 

However, one could argue that a bit of disorganization is good for me. A few weeks ago, I was complaining to friends over a pile of cheesy crepes that I have never been lost in a city. I’m so anal and OCD, I have always had my every hour planned out to the minute. Utter planning freak. There’s a yogic axiom that a relaxed mind leads to a sharpened intellect. Easier said than done while in the US and worse still when you add my self-created stress over time and detail. It’s impossible to relax while glued to my sated agenda.

But in step with the wisdom of the yogis- and contra that of modernity- I’ve found that I’ve produced some of my most creative work or learned some of the most complex things in mere seconds while here in Tunisia and it’s by virtue of the fact that I’m living at a tortoise pace. Fml. How will I return to reality?! 

Perhaps here’s a simple answer: Fati once said to me, ‘In Morocco we don’t like to plan too much because excessive planning leads to nothing’. I at first thought this is the most counter-productive philosophy I have ever heard but retrospectively, I see it’s not. Some of my biggest life breaks dropped from the sky and some of my favorite memories came from a lazy Sunday. 

Like yesterday for instance. I opened my eyes up at 7 am, sent out a hoard of text messages, then woke up slow. I made rose petal tea. I cooked Indian french toast. I did yoga. I read. I beautified with a face mask. I journalled. I cleaned. I played with the new turtle my landlord brought. Fine, so not so lazy of a Sunday but you get my drift. I finally walked out the door at 1 pm, with patisserie magenta ‘madelines’ in hand. (tip: they’re most nummy because the bakers add lemon rind!)  

Anna, Thameur and I had no idea what we wanted except that we didn’t want to travel. (Lavi was the exception but heureusement, negated by majority rules)  Stomachs led the way to Avenue Bourguiba where we got crepes-to-go before heading to the Medina. 

The Medina is an example of the Mediterranean influence on Tunisian city planning. Encased by the fortifying castle walls, the winding alleys of the Medina are typically alive with overloaded stores, cafes, and people. But since it was a Sunday, most Tunisians were home watching soccer and for the first time, I saw the beauty of a tranquil Medina. The absence of activity let the sunlight fall in all the right angles and permitted the architecture to receive its due appreciation. 

We drifted through the Medina up to the grande mosque Zitouna. None of us had had the opportunity to wander into the alley ways beyond this mosque, either due to lack of energy from battling crowds of shoppers or due to a lack of time from battling crowds of shoppers. The opportunity to explore unadulterated was ripe for the taking.

We took a left then a left then a right then a left. With each footstep, the buildings got more and more beautiful, decorated by chance with vines, whitewash and splashes of traditional Tunisian doors.  What I love about Tunisia is how you can jump from Mediterranean to Arab in a split seconds. In one instance, you can feel as though you are deep in the south of Spain and in the next, as though you are back with the Pachas.

After exploring and sun basking, we took a coffee then went onto Baba Soukh for its famed kafteji. Unexpectedly, once we reached there, everything was closed. This had now become an imposed lazy Sunday and I did not appreciate. Thameur called one of his friends to help us navigate the foreign turned terrain of centreville-au-dimanche. The thing of it is, when stores close for the night, they are boarded up which makes it more difficult than usual to remember nameless streets that lack their tell-tale landmarks.

Thameur’s friend, the explosive Algerian, works for Club Med and has been living in Tunisia for 2 years. We walked and walked through God knows what, where or how. Foreigners following a foreigner. 

Suddenly we arrived at a random hole in the wall. Final destination?! Noooooooo!

But this hole in the wall served a mean ojja,  a tunisian speciality of spices, pepper, seafood and sausages. Thus in spite of it being a grimy, testosterone teeming resto, it served us up a scrum-didly-upmtuous dinner of five stars. (Case in point, I burned my tongue nicely from an impatience to gorge.) Hyper piquant et hyper savoureux, a rare break indeed for Tunisian cuisine! We ate till the point of food coma, doused our burning tongues with plum smoothies, talked about happy nothings, and somehow found our way back home.

And so just like my days of work, where unanticipated projects and opportunities crop up, I’ve been exploring Tunisia in unforeseen junkets, where my darling Tunisian friends spend lavishly on us interns to make sure we take home the best memories of their country. And it’s worked. I have a fantastic cache of memories, the most evocative coming from a day unplanned. Certainly adding a bit of this ‘mode de la vie’ is invaluable for surviving the concrete jungle upon my return, n’est-ce pas?

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The Multipurposed Tunisian Cafe

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Cafe des Delices, captured in all it’s beauty by Patrick Bruel here, is a famed Cafe in Tunisia. I went there for the first time during Ramadan. Each time I visit a Tunisian cafe, I can relive that incredible evening teetering high above the coast, smoking a sheesha and sipping tea with the boys of @.

But this weekend, I got to attach new meaning to my generic idea of the Tunisia cafe. One would think, that with my final month in Tunisia, I would seek out something new, exciting and unexplored. Truth be told, a Tunisian cafe is a wonderful way to get to know the country and its people. 

While the initial  weekend plan was to go to Bardo Museum on Saturday, by the time I reached Passage after work, we were a tad too late to capitalize on the museum’s tomes. We decided that we would go to La Goulette for a walk and dinner instead. La Goulette is a beautiful port of tunisia with delicious but pricey restaurants. Before making our way over there, Anna realized she desperately needed a coffee. Going for a coffee in Tunisia is no Starbucks ordeal: you sit, wait for your order, and  then with the tiniest little cup of coffee, you spend one hour sipping it. I actually quite enjoy the pace of this proper break in the day- even though I always finish my coffee in 10 seconds flat. 

We spent 2 hours at the cafe before taking a taxi to La Goulette. We walked up the beach but then as the sun slid behind the buildings, it got too cold to go any further. We went into another cafe and this time, had tea and a sheesha. Anna and I took an apple flavored sheesh while Houssem took the real deal, a flavor slightly worse than a cheap cigar. 

Omar came by to join us later and as per usual, his presence cranked up the laugh factor. Soon though, it got too cold to stay even in the cafe so we moved on out to search for dinner. As we walked together aimlessly, we saw bright lights and found a restaurant titled Restaurant Cafe The Vert. 

We went inside and were met by an inviting wall of warmth. The place was beautiful, with peach table cloths, candles and flowers. The boys decided to have a feast and ordered the special 3 course meal of assorted Tunisian salads, seafood tapas and a giant grilled fish with white chardonnay. 

I have never before seen how my food goes from the backroom to the frontroom so this restaurant had a surprise in store for me. The waiter took us to the kitchen to chose our fish and I of course went camera happy ( and kept singing that McDonald’s commercial for a fish burger “Give me that little fish, give me that fish!”. )

Filled to the brim such that our ears turned bright red, we decided to head home. On our way to the train station, we ran into Malek, Melissa’s boyfriend. He had heard rowdy crowd of English speakers and came out into the streets to see who it was ( there are only a few English speakers in Tunisia so there’s a large chance if you know one, you are two degrees away from knowing them all!)

“Malek! What are you doing here?” 

“I was in the mosque studying the Koran with my friends”

All of us say , “Oohhhhh” with a nod in appreciation/reverence.

He stares at our solemn faces for a millisecond then bursts out laughing “HAHAHAHA!! Studying the Koran?! Me?! My friend has an apartment attached to the mosque and a bunch of us are drinking there  together.” 

Shocked faces replace our somber ones, “Aren’t you supposed to be studying for exams?!”

“We’re doing that too. Definitely more drinking than studying though. Its better for your brain you see.”

Children will be children.  After chatting with Malek, we wound up huddled one on top of the other, waiting for a train. Once back in Tunis, we met up with the rest of the gang at the Hotel International. There, we had drinks at the bar with a bunch of Austrian travellers before we went  into town.

It was truly freezing that night and we quickly dipped into the first known watering hole. From being a slab of gray wall, the moment the door opened, it was as though I had been pushed into a new world. An authentic Arabic band was beating away at drums and violins as a young girl danced. The chandeliers were on low and candles lay scattered over tables with ancient cigarette burns coloring the table cloths. Men and women sat together, closer than I had ever seen at any cafe, and waiters kept going around refilling glasses. A sole bartender worked his area with spouts and bottles crammed together into one neat corner that could be easily hidden with a drop of a curtain. I almost felt as though I had walked into a 1920’s bootlegger joint.

The following day we woke early to go to Dougga, a set of Roman ruins in the mountains. Constantina, the Greek intern, and I talked the whole way up as Anna snoozed and Houssem studied. Once we debarked, I was stunned with the tranquility. Far from Tunis, we were in blown away by the crispness of the air and the lustrous greenery of the rolling farms that surrounded the Dougga ruins. I think I found the landscape to be more beautiful than the ruins themselves! We were in a perfectly preserved part of Tunisia where you could see every ounce of its Mediterranean connection to Spain, Italy and Croatia.

We meandered the mazes of the Roman leftovers, raced up the colosseum for photos, walked through the country side where a herd of cows nearly mowed us down, soaked up some sun lying in the grass, and then we went for a coffee at the Cafe. 

The Cafe at Dougga is situated right on the side of the mountain, with long leaves from trees draped artfully across the terrace and a small stone wall being our only safety net lest we get too giddy. Incredible is all I can think of. Purely incredible. This cafe was nestled in the most ideal of locations where we could see the mountains, fields, small huts, ancient runs, and olive orchards while we listened to Arabic music and the far away calls of sheep to master.

 Thus, in one weekend, I experienced Tunisia by Cafe….and I would gladly do it again!

Vicissitudes of Tunis

December 14, 2009 2 comments

Just got back from lunch at Foued’s and am savoring both the lingering tastes of a Tunisian home cooked meal and the memories of a lovely weekend past.  I’ll start at the beginning. Thursday I officially finished with my applications and celebrated light by going out for a coffee. On Friday I went out for a dinner nearby at a restaurant that tried to be the spitting image of France. Though the possibility of that is slim- Tunisian cheese is far too bland :p- but the live music and overall ambiance was authentic and a nice change of pace. I highly recommend my Tunisian based readers to check out Angelina Restaurant.

Saturday, I got up before the mullah- 5:00 am- and was hit by a harsh flashback of highschool swim team. I could literally smell chlorine it was that visceral. I put that aside and decided to profit  on the day by writing a few postcards for the holidays, doing an extra long yoga routine, then making myself a nice breakfast that included a makeshift oatmeal I found at Carrefour. I’m quite happy with this discovery, oatmeal here is $10.00! Once well fed and well erranded, I headed off to work.

Yes, I work Saturday mornings.  We are in the middle of putting together a big presentation so it was definitely a rare moment of continuous work. It’s a little bit frustrating because everyone here is ADD and a task of 30 minutes often takes 2 hours. My boss and I will be discussing something then literally, mid sentence, he will cut himself short, pick up the phone and make a call for something unrelated.  I’ve just gotten used to bringing my laptop with me whenever I go to his office so that when it happens, because it undoubtedly will, I can surf twitter and indulge in news briefs catering to the ADD. Ironic eh?

Anyhow, I got permission to leave work early to spend time with my friends. I took the metro to Centreville and met up with the girls to go to the Soukh. It’s an Aladdin-esque looking bazaar that spans many winding streets lined with glittering trinkets and knock off shoes. It’s sheer maddness over the weekends, an embouteillage des gens, where traffic lights for people would probably solve nothing.

We all did some great holiday shopping, and with Fati by my side, I turned out to be a pretty good barterer. A few hours in, it was time to replenish so we went to SucreSale. I ordered a slice of pizza, partly because I am thoroughly amused at how they serve pizza here: thin crust, usually caked in tuna, which is then folded over, reheated, and served up hot! Pizza sandwich in a jiffers! Haha! I waited 25 minutes for this acclaimed pizza sandwich though. Why? Another amusing story. I waited for 25 minutes because there was one person making the bread, making the pizza, making the crepes, serving the pizza, serving the crepes and then passing the bread to the sandwich station where three people were standing… and one was working. With all happening at a Tunisian pace, it was too painful for me to watch such a hodgepodge while hungry so I contented myself with the Arabic music videos playing on the plasmas all around. Still, I think I’m going to put a note in the suggestion box that says “Ford style assembly lines + cocaine in need of importation.”

After eating, the Soukh alleys were too clogged to make further headways so we wrapped up our outing and headed home. DJ F-black wanted me to see him mix and work some of the lights, so I went back to La Soukra to get dressed while everyone else went out for a sheesha.

DJ F-black is a ginormously tall ex-basketball player, originally from the dessert, and has a fabulous laugh that makes me feel at home. I adore him and the way he explains things. He always peppers conversation with “tatta tee, tatta taat” (this or that) “cahao”( that’s that) or “boulot boulot’ (work work) and has appropriate hand/head gestures to signal likewise. He came to me chercher around 7:30 so that we could go to a restaurant on the beach for…pizza! Haha, to think I was a person who once upon a time wouldn’t touch pizza with a ten foot pole.

Actually, this restaurant is incredible, both in decor and quality. If I could, I’d eat pizza from there everyday. The pizza is oven baked, paper thin crust and covered with shrimp and calamari. Delicious! After a great dinner we headed over to Gammarth for the reception party where F was going to mix.

The reception took place at Hotel Residence which is a 5 star hotel with chocolate mousse to match. A little background, F-black is one of the hottest DJ’s in Tunisia, hott as in he’s high in demand ( and easy on the eyes too). He charges a lot and only works for the upper echelon so this Saturday was the first time I mingled with the high of the high in Tunisia. I could totally see colonial residue dripping off of these people.

The reception party started off with live  Arabic music that transported me far away. The beating drum, the eerie violin and the young woman’s husky, powerful voice proved to be utter hypnosis.  I could feel my every cell swaying with her calls. The invitees were dressed in long evening gowns with low backs and steep heels, tuxes and bow ties,   primmed up do’s and glowing skin. By far the most gorgeous individuals I have seen here despite their noses always being pointed sky-high.  A few drinks in fortunately, they dropped the snooty semblance and got busy on the dance floor.  I’m in awe at how these people move from the worlds of the west to the east, just like that.

Around 12 am, the lights go off and F-black starts up with deep techno. Anis, another fave techie, made sure the serveurs kept my glass continually full of champagne. By drink number 5, I was predictably no longer mingling, but rather, up on the ledge behind F-black with my drink, my slims and myself, dancing away and having an amazing time. Music is definitely my baby.

I got home at 5 am and crashed for 4 hours, before I had to wake up  and give my landlord’s wife a yoga lesson. Never again. Never everrrrrrrr again. Teaching yoga drunk is impossible.

I cut the class short and lay in bed with fennel tea I made from fresh picked fennel my landlord gave me. Something unimaginable then happens. As I’m dozing, I suddenly hear banging on my door. Long story short, there’s a little boy with a packet in his hands that has…my camera! My camera! Quelle surprise! Quelle joie! Quelle absurdite! Unfortunately, the memory card was taken so my life has a void from the summer on. But I have my awesome camera back in my possession so it’s worth repeating: Quelle surprise! Quelle joie! Quelle absurdite!

Too full of happiness hormones to keep resting, I decide to get out of bed and go with Samy for a barbeque he was holding at his place. Samy is the ex-model, ex-football player who manages an events company we work with a lot. I was supposed to give him a yoga lesson this morning as well but said I couldn’t because of work….he caught me shortly after this mensonage stumbling into the epicerie buying a mountain of carbs to soak up stubborn alcohol. Caught guilty in the most embarrassing of ways. I looked like death.

Definitely wanting to rectify this social faux paux, I got dressed and he picked me up for the barbeque. It was great plus I love his apartment and the company he keeps. Samy’s brother barbequed blue fish ( i always sing “red fish, blue fish, one fish, two fish” whenever i get served this and no one knows what Im talking about because their childhoods were without Dr Seuss. Noooo! ). We lounged in the sun around drinking wine, munching cheese filled olives and picking out the bones from the fish. I like boney fish, it reminds me to eat slowly, lol.

I then left the bbq to meet the girls in Sidi Bou Said. Unfortunately, I was late by 2 hours so the second I get there, we all crammed into Omar’s car and went for a ride of pure laughter. My group of friends here are so great,  I just can’t believe it is all coming to an end soon. Fati is leaving in December, Me and Anna in February, Denise and Omar in April. That truly is one of the worst parts about Aiesec, it facilitates close friendships that are destined for an unprepared farewell.

We decided to cancel our plans for the Electronica Fest at the Acropolium because we were feeling old and moche. Instead, we went to Carrefour to scout out Christmas decorations for our upcoming themed cocktail party. I can’t wait! Christmas makes me abnormally happy. I’m one of those sorry Hall Mark brainwashees who gets ready for Christmas in November. I can’t help it!

After figuring out what is best for what,  Omar drops me off at mine. I get into my pyjamas and start to read this pretentious piece of French literature for about 2 minutes before a heavy heavy sleep sets in and gets me a ready for a final week with my friends. It’s so depressing. Come Decemeber 20th, Ill head off to London for Christmas vacation— and come back to find us one short 😦