Thursday, January 13, 2011

Come Again To Carthage

Right after I quit my last insurance job, before we knew that the economy would tank and Barry would not be able to sell his house for two years, Barry and I and another couple took a Mediterranean cruise - our last big vacation.  One of the stops was Tunis, in Tunesia.

I can't say that I'd ever had a burning urge to visit Tunis, but it was one of the regular stops for that particular cruise and I didn't mind visiting the site of ancient Carthage, even though all the ruins to be seen there now are artifacts of a later Roman settlement.  Barry and I rented a cab for the day.  The approved-for-tourists, almost-English-speaking driver took us to the approved-for-tourists ruins, an approved-for-tourists restaurant for lunch, and an approved-for tourists shopping area in the old town during the afternoon.  We had an unexpectedly lovely day.  We toured the small but well-arranged museum at Carthage, wolfed down our perfectly grilled fresh fish and astringent local white wine at noon, and bought two small stuffed camels (toy, not real) for Barry's granddaughter after the proprietor of the curio shop took us up to his rooftop for a panoramic view of the city.  The weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny with a breeze from the sea, and the older part of town, although crowded with souvenir stalls, was self-consciously charming in whitewash and turquoise accent paint.

Our cab driver kept up a running commentary on how safe Tunesia was compared to some of the other countries in the area and what a bargain it was for tourists.  We agreed that it seemed peaceful and friendly, but once back on board the ship and out of earshot of the locals, we commented on the incredible number of police we had seen during the day.  The presence of a cop on almost every corner gave the city something of the air of an armed camp.  We agreed that the area was peaceful because the locals didn't dare be anything else.

Apparently we were wrong.  We watched the news tonight of riots in Tunis in shock.  Let me be clear; the police we saw there looked more SWAT team than Andy Griffith.  No one would go up against them lightly.  The residents of Tunis must be very desperate and very determined.  Already 40 of them are reported dead.  We hope the government is able to settle their grievances without resorting to slaughter, and that our helpful cabbie and cheerful waiter and chatty toy seller are all safe tonight.

"In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks, and waft her love
To come again to Carthage."
~William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

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