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July 8, 1999

by Dandelion de la Rue
 

THE ROAD TO TUNIS


    We left on our long flight with great anticipation. 
I had spoken so often of North Africa, the mysterious casabas, the smells of spices and hookahs, the little laughing children, the chickens and donkeys roaming through the dusty streets, the hustlers selling "genuine amber, genuine scarab, no baloney."  I wanted bread baked on hot desert stones, complete with ants.  I wanted to smile at the camels and watch them smile back.
     I recalled the large green plants and flowers everywhere, the assortments of greens seen nowhere else, I think.  And, most important, I wanted to walk in the footsteps of the ancients.  Here in America, we don't have very many footsteps of ancients.  Sure, the Indians were here, but I don't know where their footsteps are, and anyway, it's just not my gene pool.  They weren't MY personal ancients.  My personal ancients, the ones who fascinate me the most, lived in the Mediterranean world.  I wanted the footsteps of Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony, Hannibal, Homer.  I wanted to walk where Ulysses walked.  I wanted to look out to sea and see the ghosts of the ancient pirate ships.  I wanted Third World, because it's my opinion that they are closer to the history I seek.  I thought Tunisia would be Third World.
     I also thought an interesting group of adventurers would live there, most of whom would look like Humphrey Bogart or Michael Douglas.  A little community, I thought, with perhaps a coffee house just for expatriates, a place where we would discuss things, write poetry, drink cheap red wine.  I wanted to KNOW Tunisia, really know it, know which hustlers sold the real amber, which politicians to bribe for a fast escape or favor, which roads led to Rome.  I imagined sauntering up to a group of American tourists getting off the plane, casually telling them, (as I fitted a fresh cigarette into my amber cigarette holder), to avoid the third camel on the left, he bites.
      Just before we left, I'd found an old picture in an antique store, a picture of the Three Stooges trying to find the road to Tunis.  I mentally added the three stooges to my "walking in the footsteps of" list, not knowing how truly prophetic this would be.
      But in the meantime, before I discovered there were really four stooges, I reveled in the thrill of the open sky.  I saw the tips of Greenland and Iceland.  I flew over sunken viking ships, perhaps even the iceberg which slew the Titanic.  I wondered if there were any movie stars on board, and glanced around.  Everyone slept, except an old man who alternately smoked and fondled his rosary beads, reminding me, with his fear, that flying is for the brave, the courageous, the bold.
 
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