A Crazy Lady and Paris Part Deux
Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
53Trip End Oct 17, 2008
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Something is definitely different about Tunis and I was having a hard time placing it until I was on one of my two balconies last night. I was watching the city wind down for the evening along Avenue Habib Bourguiba (it's a desirable location so I had to place drop a little to impress!) and it hit me...not once had I heard the sound of the muezzin over loudspeakers several times a day like elsewhere in the Arab world. Tunis is definitely an Islamic city but since it's a secular it doesn't seem as hardcore about it.
It's a city full of contradictions the more I thought about what I had seen. First off, it was Ramadan but this was the first place outside of Malaysia where eating is not strictly forbidden during daylight. So is it completely secular or a place that also lives by Sharia law? I could even eat all I wanted (out of public view of course) without worrying about being arrested. I guess in Tunisia Ramadan is like Lent where you give something up but still sneak it on the sly. I wonder if Allah knows people are just paying lip service to him behind those papered over windows at restaurants.
And just a side note on Malaysia since I mentioned the place...it was the only country I have visited in the Muslim world so far where Ramadan is as commercialized as an American Christmas. Ramadan donuts at Dunkin Donuts. Ramadan buffet specials. Ramadan lights hanging downtown. Ramadan department store sales. There was nothing commercial about it in Tunisia though and the only reminder that it was even taking place were the closed restaurants during the day and the times for sunrise and sunset stated prominently in the paper for those who fast.
Back to Tunisia though...another contradiction...is it French or Arabic that is supposed to be spoken? I heard both and even the tv stations and newspapers are one or the other. A lot of people just seemed really comfortable letting either language roll of their tongues. So how do you know who speaks what? Is there some kind of unwritten code? For me it was easy since I don't speak either but I wonder how Tunisians navigate this bilingual world.
Is the place European or Arab? Almost every woman I saw out in public was without any type of head covering and most of the young girls embraced western makeup and clothing styles that left little to the imagination. Everywhere else I had been the women covered up in robes from head to toe. At most maybe I saw their faces, a lot of times just their eyes and all the time never the outline of their bodies unless she was of ample girth. You wonder what is behind door number 3 in those places but not so in Tunis. It all hangs out for Allah to see.
The women in this part of the world are also more fiery than in the Middle East. This was indeed the first Muslim country where I have seen woman challenge their boyfriends and husbands in public as well as the first Muslim place where I saw men and women touching each other on a sidewalk. People so full of life out in public were such a refreshing change from other places devoid of it like Kuwait. If it weren't for Ramadan, I felt I could have been anywhere in southern Europe.
One thing is for sure though, a good fight in public transcends any world you happen to be in. A young girlfriend and boyfriend were breaking up, and they added some spice to the already colorful streets for me and about two dozen sunburned Russians. Even though the yelling was in Arabic there was no mistaking what it was. For good measure she even grabbed his silver flip phone, snapped it in two and tossed both halves into the crowd of rubbernecking Russians. Now that's some good entertainment you would never in a million years get a front row sidewalk seat for in Bahrain. I don't habla Russian but I'm pretty sure those beefy women dressed in mismatched clothes were yelling "you go girl."
One of the only robed and covered women I saw in Tunisia made a public spectacle of herself and husband at airport in Tunis. It's ironic that a woman so hidden from the world through her clothes would stand out so vividly in a crowd. This older woman bulging out of a yellow robe and white headwrap just stood up, raised both arms above her head and started singing something at the top of her lungs. She sounded just like Elmo but I was quickly seeing this wasn't some benign episode of Sesame Street. Next thing I knew she was spinning rapidly while chanting and the Tunisians in the room were starting to get extremely anxious. The Europeans and I thought it was kind of funny, and we started laughing but that prompted some nasty, nasty looks from the Tunisians. If I could have bottled the looks we got, I'd sell it to mothers everywhere to use on their kids.
What cultural divide we had inadvertantly crossed by laughing at the crazy lady in yellow I don't know but we seemed to now be hanging over a cliff. By this time the singing changed to clenched fists and yelling, and her husband kept raising his hand to her as if he was going to knock the hell out of her but he refrained each time. She just got nuttier and nuttier and the Tunisians in the room were getting even more visibly upset by whatever she was screaming. I had gone from thinking it was funny to wondering if my flight was going to be a one way jihad into the ocean if she was on it.
I got to thinking that maybe I shouldn't have eaten on the sly during the day since it was Ramadan after all. This could be Allah exacting his revenge for my transgressions. Maybe Air France should play some of those Allah Akbar preflight prayers to appease him. All I know is that when 3/4 of the people in the gate are visibly upset over some crazy lady's diatribe in Arabic, it's time to take note. The security guards did nothing about it and just pawned her off on the flight crew who turned out to be going to Munich. Lucky them. But really lucky us headed to Paris since we blasted off with a full plane minus one crazy lady in yellow.
Before I left Paris the other day I had booked a room at the same hotel so I wouldn't have to run all over town again looking for a place. It's Friday afternoon and the city is absolutely packed so it's a good thing I did. I sprung an extra $11 for a private shower (still no private toilet though. Not available at this hotel) so I wouldn't have a repeat of the Golden Girls incident. Who knows if they are still lurking in Paris.
This afternoon I am going to explore Montmartre and other areas I missed earlier this week. I am just going to walk and walk until my feet fall off since it's the best way to take in this city. I'll get some more pictures and try to have them on here if I can find an internet place along my route.