Sunday, June 28, 2015

sousse, tunisia 2006

I am grieved to hear about the terrorist attack and deaths in Sousse in Tunisia.
R and I walked on that beach in 2006.

The sand was fine, the water milky with foam. The weather wasn't warm enough yet for swimming.

A significant sector of the population of Sousse depends on foreigners spending money--staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, buying pottery and embroidered djellabas in the souk. When I told Tunisians we were from Canada, they still called us les européens.

The world over knows Europeans like to drink wine. In Sousse I saw something I'd never seen before outside of a designated tourist district: wine glasses on restaurant tables. I asked a waiter (doubtfully) if they served wine. Of course, he said. Look, we have glasses.
Was I foolhardy to expect wine? To be so non-Muslim in a Muslim country? Tunisia is a wine-producing country. There are centuries-old vineyards transplanted from Bordeaux in Tunisia. I saw them. But the Tourist Office claims (because I asked) all the wine is exported. Every last bottle.

In Sousse that evening R and I returned to the restaurant. This waiter wanted to know what kind of fish we were having. Whatever we said, he would bring us a platter with raw fish to approve before it was cooked. There was no point waving it away. If you didn't look, the waiter urged you to notice the eyes on the various fish, even to prod the flesh.
I asked for a glass of wine. I wasn't trying to disturb the customs of the country or be offensive. I had been told there was wine. But of course, there wasn't. The wine glasses were a clever ruse to get Europeans into the restaurant. Once they'd chosen their fish and it was being cooked, they had to stay.

When I asked for wine in a restaurant where I had been assured there was wine, although I was in a Muslim country, was I more sinned against or sinning?

Here's a cat pretending it's not suffocating in that cabinet under the midday sun. I opened the door at the back for it to escape. It stayed there. Somewhere I've included this stubborn--or lazy--orange cat in a story.

Here's me in a hotel taking notes. The window opened onto the Mediterranean. That, too--the view onto the blue green water--is somewhere in a story. Also the fabric, bordered with pompoms, that lined the walls.

One day I was walking and saw this deranged-looking person walking toward me. This was after I'd been in Tunisia for a month and had gotten used to everyone having dark hair that was either tied back neatly or hidden by a hijab, dark eyes and skin that was browner than mine. This person had short crazy red hair and blue eyes bugged out of a pale, freckled face. Then I realized she was my own reflection.

From Sousse we went to Mahdia by train. At one point the train stopped. We sat motionless for an hour. We had no idea why. None of the other passengers seemed concerned. We sat like the others waiting/hoping for the train to start again. Nobody else admitted to speaking French or English--except for a man who got onto the train and tried to sell us a lizard that looked like a brown spotted Gumby crawling up his T-shirt. Finally we heard shouting down the track. No one else reacted. Not as inshallah as the others, R and I decided to look. The train was on fire. It was all we could do to rouse the passengers, who still sat in their seats, to get off the train which was not going to move for the next few hours.

After our stay in Sousse and Mahdia, we went to Dougga where we visited the Roman ruins. If you are in Italy and visit the Colosseum, you will see how European restorers have tidied the place for tourist consumption. The Tunisians didn't give a hoot about Western history, though they were smart enough to know when they could milk a few dinar out of Western tourists. Without actually honouring a past they didn't believe in, they charged an entrance fee and allowed us to visit Roman pillars as they stood, still intact, with sheep grazing around them.

I don't know how much of the Tunisian economy is dependent on tourism--the hotels, the restaurants, the trips into the desert on camels, the embroidered djellabas and slippers--but tourism in Tunisia has been stopped now. Who suffers the most? The tourists will simply go somewhere else. What about the Tunisians trying to keep their families fed?

Here are Shaima and Jahil whose parents fed us. They asked me to take their picture.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

sea breeze blue skies Gaspé June 2015

Already home again.
We got up at 5, emptied the fridge, stripped the bed, packed the car. The sun already shone over the water. Clear skies, blue to the horizon.

By 6 we were buying coffee at Tim's in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. The car we'd rented had satellite radio so we found a station playing what they called Classic Vinyl. Eric Clapton, the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, Pink Floyd, Neil Young.
When I listened to this music in the 70s, I assumed I misheard the lyrics because they often made no sense. I had a boyfriend who sat over the record player and lifted the needle off the LP every 10 seconds so he and his friends could discuss what they thought was being sung. Sometimes record jackets had printed lyrics, but not always. It was hard for fledgling, would-be rock stars to look convincing if they weren't sure what they were singing.
"Where will it eat us from here?"
"I don't think it's eat. Sounds more like heat."
"Where will it heat us from here?"
"Maybe he means heat like...?"

Driving back to Montreal, we groaned at the lyrics which I could now hear were nonsense, repetitive nothingness, or--more rarely--poetry so inspired it withstands sense. But yeah, it would take earnest 16-yr-olds to try to rationalize drug-addled illogic.

We spent our first day by the sea cleaning floors. In the spring, a friend had gone with R to plaster the drywall on the second floor. I was impressed by how smooth and clean the walls and all the corners and edges were. I meant to take a picture but I was too exhausted from scrubbing floorboards, filling and emptying buckets of water.

I went for walks and let the wind blow away bad thoughts. I wanted to test my new hiking boots on the rocks.

When I bought the boots, I explained to the salesman that I wasn't only shopping for good soles, ankle support, and waterproofing. I wanted boots that would also look good with a skirt. He was dubious. Sure, I told him, a skirt. I couldn't believe he'd never seen a woman in a skirt and hiking boots. Listen, I said. A short skirt, leotards, wool socks, hiking boots. I waved at my legs to show him but I was wearing jeans and his imagination didn't stretch that far. Though I could see he was trying. Finally he squinted and shook his head. Well. I wasn't offering to return to the store and show him.

R and I walked around the headland to the next village where he propped himself against a log to finish reading his book, I Refuse by Per Pettersen which he recommends highly. I shed my boots to wade into the frigid water for as long as I could stand the cold. In the grass behind the log where R was now napping, I spied a wink of lavender. The bloom was no larger than a fingernail but as intricately pleated as a Georgia O'Keeffe vulva. It was--it had to be--a wild orchid, braving the salty wind off the sea.

That actually happened on different days--R reading and R napping--but when the sun is high and the waves wash in, time runs into a single endless day.

We had beer and pretzels on the beach; wine, salad and pan-fried turbot for supper while the sun set. Sunset lasted long into the evening. At 10 pm there was still orange smudged along the horizon.

I got some writing done, sitting in my corner by the stove--just a little fire lit for the companionable murmur of the flames--looking out at the sea and the sky.

A long drive for such a short stay, but how can I not go, given the chance?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

you killed my husband / the rationale of grief

Here's a story I was told--a story a grief counsellor uses in seminars on coaching people how to deal with grieving family members and spouses.

A woman's husband had asked to have his ashes scattered in a particular place. The woman asked another couple to go with her. When they arrived at the lake or mountain or golf course--it doesn't matter where the place was--they discovered that the urn was sealed. There was no way to open it. The trip had taken long enough that the woman was determined to leave her husband's ashes in that place as he'd wanted.
The man who'd driven her there said he had an axe in the car and could break open the urn. She agreed.
An axe isn't a whittling knife. I don't know what she imagined was going to happen--how he was going to open the urn with an axe.
What he did was smash it with the blade--at which point she howled, "You killed my husband!" She was inconsolable, insisting that her friend had killed her husband with his axe.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

grimms fairytale "the seven ravens" / die sieben Raben

Here's a Grimms fairytale I remember from childhood because of the illustrations. I was particularly taken with the way the girl strapped a stool to her back--and not just any stool. It has carved legs. No collapsible, lightweight camping stools in the world of fairytales.

The Seven Ravens

A man had seven sons and still no daughter, much as he longed for one.
--nice that he wanted a girl, but less practical that he wished yet another pregnancy on his wife

Finally his wife told him she was expecting again. When she gave birth, the child was a girl.
He was delighted, but the girl was frail and small, so needed to be baptized immediately.
--what exactly happens to children, who die unbaptized, has plagued Christian theologians since forever. When I was growing up and taught Catholic belief, I was told they go to limbo. It's an indeterminate state of neither heaven nor hell. Spiritual dusk.

The man told one of his sons to run to the spring for baptismal water. The other six hustled along, and since each wanted to be the first to fetch the water, the jug was knocked into the well. They stood, not knowing what to do. Not one of them dared to go home.
--another version of spiritual dusk

As they still didn't return, the father grew impatient and said, "For sure they've started playing some game and forgot what I told them, those godless brats." He grew afraid that his daughter might die unbaptized, and in his vexation cried, "I wish they would all turn into ravens."
He'd hardly spoken the word when he heard flapping in the air over his head, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying up and away.

The parents couldn't take back the curse, and as sad as they were over the loss of their sons, they found comfort in their darling daughter, who every day grew stronger and more beautiful.
--I'm surprised at so little grief over the loss of seven children, but let's keep the story moving.

For a long time the little girl didn't know she had brothers, because the parents were careful never to mention it, until one day she heard people saying that, although she was pretty, she was responsible for the misfortune of her seven brothers.
--don't you love the slant gossips take? How about, for example, blaming the father who cursed the boys?

Troubled to hear this, the girl asked her parents if she had brothers and what had happened to them. The parents realized they could no longer keep the secret. They told her it was heaven's fate and not her fault that her birth had caused it.
--heaven made the father curse his sons? The mix of religious belief, magic, and superstition in this story is dizzying.

The girl's conscience bothered her. Every day she told herself she had to rescue her brothers. She had no peace nor rest until, telling no one, she set out into the world to search for her brothers and free them, cost what it would. She took nothing with her but a small ring from her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a small jug of water against thirst, and a little stool for when she was tired.

And so she walked, farther and farther until the end of the world. She came to the sun but it was too hot and frightening and ate little children. Hurriedly she ran away toward the moon, but it was too cold and scary and mean, and when it noticed the child, said, "I smell, I smell human flesh."

The girl ran away quickly and came to the stars. They were friendly and kind, and each sat on her unusual stool.Then the morning star stood, gave her a chicken bone and said, "Without this little bone, you won't be able to unlock the glass mountain. Inside the glass mountain are your brothers."

The girl wrapped the bone carefully in a small cloth and set out again, walking until she came to the glass mountain. The great door was locked, but when she reached for the cloth, where she had wrapped the bone, and unrolled it, the cloth was empty. She had lost the good star's gift.
What should she do now? She wanted to save her brothers but had no key to get into the glass mountain. The good little sister took a knife, cut off her little finger, and pushed it in the lock which happily now opened.

As she walked in, a dwarf approached. "My child, what are you looking for?"
"I'm looking for my brothers, the seven ravens."
"The gentlemen are not home, but if you want to wait until they arrive, come inside."
The dwarf carried in the ravens' meals on seven small plates and seven small beakers. From each plate the girl ate a crumb, and from each beaker she took a sip.
--that's right, echoes of Goldilocks. If it works in one story, why not another? Please note, though, if any surprise guests want to make their presence known in my house, I would request that you keep your oral bacteria to yourself.

In the last beaker the girl dropped the ring she had brought from home.
Suddenly she heard flapping and felt the air stirring. The dwarf said, "The gentlemen ravens are flying home."
They arrived, ready for their supper and sat at the table before their food and drink. One after the other said, "Who has eaten from my plate? Who has drunk from my beaker? This was a human's mouth." And as the seventh emptied his beaker, the ring rolled toward him. He recognized it was a ring from their father and mother, and said, "By the grace of god, if our sister were here, then we would be saved."
When the girl, who was standing by the door heard the wish, she came forward, and the ravens became humans again. They hugged and kissed each other and made their happy way home.

--a footnote about a German verb in that last sentence. The siblings didn't hug each other. They "hearted" each other. "Und sie herzten und küssten einander..." Current texting lingo existed long before Facebook.