Monday, 21 March 2011

Infrared Tunisia I

On the left you can see the Trans-African Highway, Route One, running from Cairo (behind the camera) to Dakar (ahead). Beneath it and further along was Tunis' main drag, the Avenue Habib Bourguiba. At each end there were armoured cars, humvees, trucks, razor wire, and bored-looking soldiers scanning the passers-by. In between the checkpoints there was a small demonstration but at no point was I dragged from the crowd and stamped to a pulp, as at the end of The Day of the Locust. Neither did I ride a tank or hold a General's rank.

I was curious to see what Tunisia looked like through the electronic eye of an infrared camera, so I took myself to Tunisia and found out. Here are some of the results. I used the exact same camera that appears half-way down this post, with the same lens but without the battery grip. See that above? That's in Sousse, between two beaches. In March 2011 it was either closed or abandoned for good, probably the latter, but the locals used it as a hangout.

I stayed in Sousse, actually in Sousse rather than up the coast where the package tours go, because I am value-conscious.

That's one of the towers at the entrance to the Habib Bourguiba Mausoleum, in nearby Monastir. Bourguiba seems to have been a popular fellow; a lot of the streets are named after him, all across the country. I stayed on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Sousse and visited the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis and probably the one in Monastir without realising it.

Above, the moon; and above that, and below, the colosseum at El Jem, with a slit that puts me in mind of the slit in James Woods' chest in Videodrome. Don't worry, there will be more pictures in the next post. I travelled by train and relied extensively on my eTrex Legend HCx to tell me when to get off and where to go, what clothes to wear etc. El Jem is a short train ride away from Sousse, which is why I stayed at Sousse; it's a strategic location, with rail links to Monastir and Tunis as well. Here's the train station at El Jem:

Fifty minutes in the distance is Sfax; roughly two hours later the line terminates at Gabes, and thence by car or bus to Matmata and Medenine and Tataouine, or on to Libya. Not at the moment though. That would be unwise. Behind the camera, Sousse is an hour away, Tunis roughly two hours beyond that.

Next up, the Strait of Sicily, beyond the beach. There seemed to be two classes of beach; covered in rocks and glass for the locals, lovely and smooth for hotel residents, e.g. not the locals. I found a Doc Marten boot, just the one. No-one was swimming because the temperature was a freezing 19, 20c, with a breeze.

I have no idea what the ship was doing. It was there all the time, just waiting off the coast. Perhaps it was a different ship each day, waiting to go into port. I call the following photograph "Self-Portrait with Colosseum".

Colosseum was also the name of a rock band. They did a song called The Kettle which is the best jazz-rock song about a kettle. Next, Tunis, although I didn't take many pictures in Tunis itself. At this point you've probably realised the problem of using a wide angle lens all the time; there are only so many ways to compose a shot.

This is my enduring memory of Tunisia, and North Africa in general. A patch of waste land with bricks and bottles, and a broken warehouse and a worn-out palm tree, and cars going by, and the smell of diesel and rubbish. And nestled amongst all of it were some wonderful things; probably made wonderful by money that could have cleared up the bricks and bottles and the broken warehouse and so forth. No doubt a Tunisian person visiting Slough or Glasgow would have had the same impression of the United Kingdom. I'm not sure if there are wonderful things in Slough or Glasgow, though. Food about equal.

I speak only of the surface, not of the people. I did not interact with the people.