|BARGAINING IN THE INTERNATIONAL|
My favorite city was Tunis, romantic Tunis, steeped in history, mystery, and men. The local women rarely ventured onto the streets after dark, and in the daytime, most of them were swaddled in white raiments from nose to toes. What they looked like underneath, only their husbands knew for sure.
Floyd had assured me I would be safer on the streets of Tunis at any hour than I would be in Boston at high noon. First thing in the morning I left him brooding over his coffee and made for the "souks." The marketplace of any city is a happy hunting ground for camera bugs.
Before I had taken half a dozen pictures, I realized I was being followed. The lad was about sixteen, his name was Ali, and he was trying to tell me something. I finally gathered, more from his limited English than his voluble French, that he was the best guide in Tunis. Maybe he was. I never had a chance to find out because from then on, Ali was not only my guide but also my shadow. He was grateful for the few coins I gave him at the end of the day and fell into step beside me the next morning as I left my hotel.
Communication was a problem, but that didn't stop Ali. With the help of smiles, frowns and gestures, he conveyed to me that he appreciated the opportunity to practice his English.
"Who's your friend?" Floyd asked when I met him at the hotel at noon.
"He's adopted me," I said. "Seems to think I"m his mother."
After lunch, Floyd and I went by cab to Carthage, site of General Hannibal's stand against invading Romans. I took pictures of a mound of rounded stones for catapults, a carved face without a nose, and an arm without a hand. I was dutifully awed by the presence of ancient and honorable ghosts.
Ali was waiting for me the next morning. I told him I would not need a guide, as I was leaving the following day and wanted to shop for souvenirs. I tried to say goodbye, but Ali would have none of it. Gesticulating urgently, he doused me with a torrent of French interspersed with words like "zee armee" and "les muneetions." There was something I must see before I left, he insisted; I would take pictures, I would be happy.
"Is it far? Will it take long?"
|ALI, THE BEST GUIDE IN TUNIS|
The mam'selle did it. It's the only way I can explain following a young stranger onto a tram as crowded as a tin of sardines and setting out for an unknown destination. A munitions factory? An army base? Oh well, it would be something to talk about over the bridge table when I was dummy. Meanwhile, maybe I could get some interesting shots of my fellow sardines, if I could free my elbows enough to get the case off my Nikon.
My prospective subjects immediately stopped staring at the funny foreign lady and averted their faces. Shucks, camera shy. The merchants at the Souks were used to being photographed, but obviously the natives surrounding me were more superstitious.
"They theenk Evil Eye," Ali explained.
All right, I thought, I won't offend them. Then I saw a picture I couldn't resist. Ali and I were standing on the back platform of the tram, behind a row of seats facing each other in pairs. Looking over the shrouded head of the woman sitting in front of me, I saw that she had a beautiful baby in her lap. The child was gazing up at me with innocent curiosity.
As I raised my camera, a woman opposite the mother pulled her veil tighter and gave a warning nod in my direction. The mother turned, then bent over her child protectively, covering all but one eye, which continued to regard me with steadfast interest. I snapped the shutter.
After a number of stops, Ali announced, "We are here." The sign over the station said "Carthage," the place my guru and I had visited the day before.
|ONE EYE REGARDED ME WITH STEADFAST INTEREST|