August 20, 2007
Harvard Square Observer

Tunisia on My Mind - Part 1

Ernest Cassara

I pulled the car over to the curb in Harvard Square, so that my wife could go into Finagle a Bagel for a bag of the best bagels ever baked.  (Compared to their product, other bagels taste like plain bread.  Well, since this is not a food site, I’ll let it go at that.)  I then circled around the square onto Brattle Street, and drove along Church Street, where I met her with a bag full of my lunch time staple.  (Half a bagel, with cream cheese, along with some fruit and some coffee, makes a perfect combination.)

As I waited for my spouse at the top of Church Street, the sun beat into my eyes and I said, “It is hot as hell!”  But, then, a still small voice said but that’s what you said just a few days ago when you were in Tunisia!

True!  It is so hot in Tunisia that I could not help but think of the words of my favorite Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, who warned against “battening under the counterpane.”  No chance of that in Tunisia, for there is no counterpane.  One sleeps on top of the under sheet, without a top sheet.  And, as for “battening,” I observed very few fat folks in the country.  (Maybe the climate does not allow it!)

Strange!  When in Kenya, in east Africa, where, years ago, I lectured at five extramural centers of the University of Nairobi, across the country, I was not affected by the climate.  And, in Cairo, Egypt, some years later, the same, although my wife points out that in that case, since we were taking part in a conference, we spent much of the time in air conditioned meeting halls.  And, indeed, when we flew down to Luxor, to see the great temples and tombs in the Valley of the Kings, our hotel room was air conditioned.

The flight to Tunisia, by way of Paris, consumed twelve hours in the air, not counting the time between connecting flights at the spanking new Charles de Gaulle airport.

The point of the trip was to witness the wedding of one of our daughters.  (This came about as just one result of an academic exchange between her university in Ohio and the University at Tunis.)

By the way, studying the map of Tunisia, I was startled to see “Carthage.”  My mind still has not dredged up the name of the Roman orator who ended every speech with the words, “Carthage must be destroyed!”  And, since there are Roman ruins in Tunisia, I gather, without refreshing my mind in the books on the ancient world in my library, that that must have been the case.

From the airport in Tunis, it was about an hour-and-a-half drive to Jendouba, where we were housed with the family of a sister of the bridegroom.  The original plan was for us to be put up at Hakim, in the compound of the groom’s mother, in the middle of a huge farm. But, we were bounced, by a couple who had produced lovely twins.  (We had admired the courage of the little lady, whom we had met in Ohio, at the prospect of bringing not one but two little creatures into the world.  By the way, the little ones must have puzzled at being handed around to so many folks, who desired to hold them!)

Thinking that we would be housed there, the groom had had air conditioning installed in part of the house at Hakim.  But, being driven from Jendouba to Hakim, and return, allowed us to see more of the countryside and some of town life.  It was striking to observe along the roads, how many folks, after the intense heat of the day, were out in the cool of the evening in groups.

I should mention that, at Hakim, I had the company of several boys, who, since I spoke no Arabic, had to communicate in English.  Why they chose me, I am not sure, but, it may be that the other adults ignored them.

It does occur to me, however, that perhaps university professors, active or retired, deal with young people differently than other folks. In any case, it was one of the pleasures of our visit to find such bright young folks who wanted to talk to a duffer such as Ye Olde Observer!

Next week, I’ll tell you about the marriage celebration, which was quite a spectacle!


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