Roadside Tunisia

Tunisia is a small nation with a ridiculous amount of tourism, but the impact is small because crackers are penned up in fantasy-island prison complexes called "Zone Touristique". Big respect to the genius who dreamed up tourist apartheid, the walled compounds, the excursions only under the careful watch of wardens. The only flaw: the financial benefits only line the pockets of a few (see below). Driving anywhere in rural Tunisia forces you to pass directly through the center of an uncountable number of miserable towns. They are notable only for their consistent lack.... here you will find neither parks nor plazas,�there are no shade trees, no space for pedestrians or bikes,�the buildings have no thermal mass for moderating the intense heat, and of course there are no solar panels in this sun-baked desert. Reminds me of the bleak prairie states where I grew up, swapping the green of grass for that of Islam. Each town does have at�least one supersize billboard featuring the crooked mug of Mr. Permapresident. Aside from self-aggrandizing propaganda, there is one other thing the state provides in spades: police. The medieval custom of city guards is still in vigor, your first clue of an approaching village is the pair of omnipotent cops, oddly trimmed in white patent-leather, conducting security stops. Beyond the forgettable towns, deeper into the desert, the landscape swallows humanity's dull folly. Stunning salt plains, decomposing mountains, views so wide and deep that you can see the curvature of the earth. Palm-shaded oases nourished from tricking creeks, stolen swims in hidden lakes and waterfalls. Homeless camels, sprinting rodents, many birds. You can sleep in a palm hut, in a mud cave, or in a faded colonial hotel, in any case you will likely be the only guest. Another pleasure is Tunisia's distance from the straightjacket of wahabism, the current pop sensation from the Saudi crucible. Magic still exists here, or at least low-income people who believe in magic, if the number of Zaouias scattered across the land are any indication. A Zaouia is a sufi mystical sites that mark the tomb of a marabout (saint). Active mysticism means that music, dance (and often trance) survive within their original social context, not as a packaged re-creation. I don't usually mention gigs, this will be an exception. Le Fest took place in the desanctified cathedral of Romano-Moorish design at the acropolium of Carthage.... AND it was a perfect audience. Love it when people cheer and whistle while I play, especially when it's an informed public that can trainspot instruments & rhythms.