Polling for this presidential election is nearly constant, both in “key battleground states” and in the nation at large. As a bemused inhabitant of one of those key battleground states, I admit that I check the polls . . . well, we won’t say obsessively. But often.
Recently, however, a rather unique poll was brought to my attention–the UPI/CVOTER/WIN-Gallup International Poll. The poll asked 26,000 people in 30 countries outside the U.S. how they would cast their vote for President of the United States of America if they were allowed to vote in our election.
A whopping 81% went with Barack Obama. Many countries polled well over 90% for him. In Iceland it reached a nearly universal 99%. Romney, on the other hand, led the polls in just one country: Israel. And even in Israel, his 65% was anemic compared to the overwhelming popularity of his rival everywhere else.
Although Obama’s lead is also widening at home, the race is much closer here than it is for people abroad. What is it that makes them all so sure? Well, I’ll let the candidates speak for themselves.
Here’s Romney’s foreign policy in a nutshell, straight off his website:
“I am here today to tell you that I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century. In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world.”
Do you hear what I hear? Step out of your own shoes for a moment and imagine that you’re hearing about Romney’s “conviction and passion” with the ears of an Englishman, a child in Afghanistan, or a woman in Sudan. What can you expect from this man if he becomes the most powerful man in the world?
To round out the general impression, we have what can only appear to the outside world as a systematic campaign of insults to other countries (politely described as “gaffes”), along with Romney’s blusteringly naive description of the President’s brilliant tactful diplomacy as “weak.” As Karl Inderfurth puts it, in Romney’s projected foreign policy we see a return of the “swagger” of George W. Bush. Heaven help us all.
By contrast, here’s an excerpt from President Obama’s speech to world leaders at the United Nations this week:
“So much attention in our world turns to what divides us. That’s what we see on the news, and that consumes our political debates. But when you strip that all away, people everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes from faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people – and not the other way around.
The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people, and all across the world.”
The vibe’s a little different, isn’t it? In Obama’s message, and in his actions as president, I see a strong ability to listen to and communicate effectively with people of other nations and cultures. I see a skillful use of tactful diplomacy to resolve problems, avoid escalating conflicts, and calm the strident voices that scream for war. I see a real commitment to respecting the leaders and people of other countries, and working together to make the world safer, more prosperous, and better for all of us.
He lacks the hubris that puts the United States at the center of the universe. He quotes Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. He appeals to the “better angels of our nature.” And so to me, it’s no surprise that people polled around the world look to him as someone they can trust to put the interest of humanity above narrow national interests.
Well, why does it matter? Those people can’t vote anyway.
No, they can’t. But that doesn’t mean that the man in the Oval Office doesn’t affect their lives. Sixty-two percent of polled individuals said that American elections highly impacted their own countries. America influences the world economically, culturally, militarily, and in a myriad of other ways. The world desperately needs a U.S. President who can build on common ground, bring people together, and set an example of wisdom, restraint, and moral courage.
To put it bluntly, when I consider America’s superior military capability and the past ten long years of wars abroad, it is clear that for many people, the choice of who becomes President of the United States may be literally a matter of life and death.
I believe in God. And I believe that every person living on this earth is a child of God. Every person. Italians. Pakistanis. Colombians. Congolese. Iranians. In this election, I vote for my brothers and sisters who can do nothing but look on in awe, in suspense, in dread, as in a very real way we decide not only our own fate, but the fate of the world.
These people may speak different languages, pray in different ways, and live very different lives from mine. But like them, I long desperately for a world of hope, of understanding, and of peace. This election, I vote for them; for us; for the belief that we can stand together and choose respect, love and solidarity over superciliousness, hate and war. My vote is a vote for the voiceless.
September 29, 2012 11 Comments
When I was dating Tony, one of the interesting things that he told me about himself was that he had lived with his family in Indonesia as a teenager. While living there, they spent a summer visiting family in a little town in Idaho, where their exotic expatriate exploit made them instant celebrities. An article even appeared in the local newspaper about the American family who were living in Southeast Asia, and had now brought their international selves home to grace tiny Aberdeen Idaho.
It became an even better story after the same thing happened to us. In 2008, we moved our little family to Chiusa di Pesio, Italy so that we could reconnect with our Italian roots and claim our long-lost Italian citizenship. It was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in Chiusa, and our very existence there caused something of a sensation. It seemed that everyone had already told everyone else our story. Still, in due time, we were visited in our home by a local reporter, who wanted to publish an account of us in the weekly paper, just in case someone had missed it.
We were flattered, but a little embarrassed, especially after we read the article, and she gushed so liberally about us. Still, it was quite a novelty to read a story about ourselves in the newspaper in the first place. I mean, how often does it happen that you end up in the paper just for being you?
Well, not as infrequently as I thought, apparently. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a reporter from the Daytona Beach News Journal. He had stumbled upon my blog, and remarked that he thought we didn’t really fit in here in Deltona. In fact, he went on to speculate that we probably weren’t going to be around long. I guess reporters can say anything.
Mark turned out to be very nice, though, and we spent a lovely morning chatting. It’s not every day that a captive audience spends an hour and a half listening to your life story, acting really interested and even taking notes. I found I enjoyed it thoroughly. Yesterday, we bought a paper so we could clip it out for our scrap book. And since our family scrapbook only exists in the form of this blog and our family website, here it is:
If you can’t read the small print, the full article is here. Mark took some liberties with the quotes, and bit more with the facts, so if you know us well you can amuse yourself by spotting errors. But at least when he quoted my mom he got it perfect.
August 21, 2012 2 Comments
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I am a sucker for expat memoirs. So I picked up this one as a matter of course, without even glancing inside the cover. Maybe I should have looked a little closer.
As an author, Eloisa James’ normal genre is romance novels. But I don’t think even that explains the bizarre format of this book. It is, I kid you not, a compilation of her Facebook status updates for the year she spent in Paris. This means that the entire book consists of disjointed 5-10 line paragraphs. There are a few longer sections (of 2-5 pages each), which I paged through and read. But the rest of this book is virtually unreadable.
If you have a hankering for Paris, instead check out Adam Gopnik’s delightful memoir, Paris to the Moon.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Tony and I watched the movie that is based on this book, and he asked me to check it out for him. So of course I ended up reading it myself too. This did turn out to be one of those cases where the book was better than the movie, mostly because the plots were very similar, and the movie was visually stunning. Nicole Kidman was lusciously villainous, and Pullman’s alternate-reality-London was gorgeous.
My favorite part of the book/movie was the premise of people’s souls (called “dæmons” in the book) walking around outside their bodies in the shape of animals. Sort of like a cross between a best friend, a smart pet, and just a really good justification for talking to yourself. All in all, this was a fun book, but nowhere near as profound as it was trying to be.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This one was OK, but not nearly as interesting as the first one. I personally think that authors who are working with multiple universes should just stick to one or two, because there’s not really time to develop the differences in more universes, and they end up being boring caricatures. Also, the plot in this one kind of meandered. In fact, I can’t even really remember it a week and a half after finishing the book.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
This trilogy was already mediocre by book 2, so the only reason I read this one was that I was sick in bed, and it was the closest thing at hand. Unfortunately, even just compared to books 1 and 2, The Amber Spyglass is exceptionally bad. Not only does the narrative fall apart, but Pullman’s already thin allegory crosses over into pages and pages of downright preachiness.
Evidently, some Christians have objected to the series (and the delightful movie based on The Golden Compass) on philosophical grounds, but I object to it on purely artistic grounds. Still, if your teenager is reading this and your family is not atheist, you might want to have some discussions about the author’s rancorous portrayal of both religion and God.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am, of course, still reading this series. One of the things I love about it is that I am still looking up new words (with the touch of a button–I love my Kindle!). I highly recommend reading Trollope to anyone preparing to take the SAT or GRE.
I’ve also unbent my feminist ire a little. In Phineas Finn, bad husbands are given no quarter, and the woman are portrayed as well-rounded, complex characters. Trollope is still not exactly progressive, but he might not be as bad as I thought. Plus, I’m even getting interested in 19th century British politics. Who’d have thought?
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This replaces A History of the World in 100 Objects as my bathroom book. What a wonderful, informative, fascinating book. Whether you need to know what picadillo is or how to pick a good kohlrabi, if it has to do with food, it is in here.
Today I perused the cheese glossary, and found that I’ve tried 47 different kinds of cheese. There are also glossaries of sausage, shellfish, sauces, pastas, and herbs, among others. And then there are the many tips scattered throughout the book for ripening persimmons, creating a quick brown roux, and six steps to the perfect hamburger.
With gilt edges, a ribbon bookmark, and profound culinary quotes beginning each chapter (“Cooking demands attention, patience, and above all, a respect for the gifts of the earth. It is a form of worship, a way of giving thanks.” — Judith B. Jones), this is a book to be treasured, read, and referred to often.
August 9, 2012 2 Comments
I have not always been a friend to Facebook. I am way too old to have grown up using it in high school. Actually, I’ll admit it, I’m even too old to have used it in college. I found out about Facebook from my kid brother long after all the cool people were already on it. I finally broke down and joined on 12 November 2008. According to Facebook, that important date (which appears prominently in my snazzy new Timeline) ranks right up there with being born and graduating from college.
Like most users, I experienced the initial infatuation with Facebook, as it put me back in touch with various long lost friends. And although I never took photos of myself kissing Zuckerberg’s photo, I do have warm fuzzies over Facebook’s important role in the Arab Spring. Since then, however, my feelings about Facebook have deteriorated from sarcastic ambivalence to downright hostility.
However, Facebook has recently undergone a rehabilitation in my affections. Here’s why:
I never experienced small town life until we moved to Italy, and lived in a beautiful little village on a mountainside, with a river running through it. If that sounds just unbelievably romantic, it was.
There was a church bell tower that chimed the hour, a tiny, cobblestone village square, and a picturesque castle up on the hill, within whose ruined walls we once held a very memorable family home evening.
But what was really a change for us Southern Californians was the fact that everybody seemed to know each other. And not only did they know each other, but they seemed to actually have time to talk. They would have lengthy conversations with anyone they met while out and about in the narrow, cobblestone streets. Which generally happened several times a day.
The result of all this, as anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows, was that everyone also knew everything about everyone else. Especially about the bizarre Americans who had dropped in from nowhere claiming that their great-great grandfather was Italian. We even got written up with embarrassingly complimentary exaggeration by the local newspaper.
At first, it was startling to realize that my everyday doings were common knowledge, and I should consider pretty much the whole town friends (or at least acquaintances). But after a while, I got to kind of like it. It was something feeling like you belonged somewhere and would leave a real hole if you went away. And sure enough, eventually, we did go away. In fact, we’ve moved several times since then.
From my peripatetic perspective, it’s near impossible to picture living my whole life in the village where I was born. But I have to admit that the idea fascinates me. What if all my favorite people did live in the same little village? What if I had the chance of bumping into them every day on my way to buy bread before dinner? What if I casually knew what was going on in their lives, whether I’d talked to them lately or not, because word just gets around in our little town? What if?
Here’s the problem: my favorite people are scattered all over the world. Everywhere we go, I meet new people that I’d love to have as friends forever. By now it’s far too late for all, a majority, or even a reasonable plurality of my friends to live in the same geographical area.
And here’s where Facebook comes in. In a kind of a virtual sense, Facebook allows me to have that sense of community I crave with people who, in Goethe’s words, “though distant, are close to [me] in spirit.” Because I want to know more than just the “important” things that turn up in a yearly Christmas letter. I want to hear the little, mundane things that make up the majority of our lives. I want to know the funny thing your kid said, what your new hairdo looks like, and that mortifying mix-up that happened at work today. You know, the instagrams of life.
Really, what I’ve noticed lately is that a few minutes spent on Facebook is a bit like that walk to the bread shop in Italy. I can climb a volcano in the Philippines with Jerry. I can peek in on Erin’s lovely picnic in England. I know what Shelly got in her CSA basket in Washington this week and what Kelly in Utah thought about Spiderman. Jo Ann keeps me posted on how much garbage has been thrown lately on our beloved Tunisian beach. If I’m lucky, sometimes Carla even gives me a glimpse into the life of that lovely little Italian village.
So while I may never transplant my life permanently to a tiny village where everyone knows my name, maybe I don’t need to. Facebook is my global village.
July 12, 2012 4 Comments
One of the things almost sure to be heard in a Mormon testimony meeting after someone has traveled (whether it’s across the ocean or just to the next town over) is an expression of gratitude that “the Church is the same no matter where you go.” To a certain extent, it’s true. We all sing the same hymns, although every ward congregation seems to have its particular favorites. We all read the same scriptures. Sunday meetings follow the same general format, even if the meetings are in a different order. Sunday School and other lesson manuals are standardized and translated into over a hundred languages, and on any given Sunday the whole worldwide Church is studying the same lesson (give or take a week or two depending on how organized the local Sunday School teacher happens to be).
We’ve traveled and moved around the world quite a bit, and I’ll admit that I do appreciate the general “sameness” of Church meetings. It’s nice for my children (and for me!) to know that no matter how different the country where we live may be, when we go to Church it will feel familiar. But I also deeply relish the little differences. For example, in Italy when I arrived at Church I was greeted not with a handshake, but with kisses on both cheeks (and sometimes the top of my head too). There is nothing like being kissed thirty times in a row as you walk in the door to really make you feel welcome.
Among my favorite things about attending church in a foreign place is meeting new and different people with whom I nevertheless share many things in common. Church members are always some of my first friends in a new place. And you don’t always meet the people you would expect. Our branch in northern Italy naturally had some Italians in it. But many of the members there were from Argentina, so while Italian was the official language spoken from the pulpit, there was a lot of Spanish floating around in the halls. We also had some members from Nigeria, with whom I conversed in mutually broken Italian for several weeks. Finally one day we laughed in embarrassment and relief when we all experienced the sudden simultaneous epiphany that we were attempting to speak a foreign language with a native English speaker.
Testimony meeting in our Irish branch was a luscious bouquet of accents. There were Irish members from various cities, someone from Latvia, South Africans in both vanilla and chocolate skin tones, a cute little family from France, a missionary from the English Midlands, and then us. The missionaries had a hard time convincing one young black South African man to come back to church, because he was afraid the white members would shun him. When he finally came one Sunday, my heart was touched to see our white South African family be the first to go up and introduce themselves to him, and then invite him to sit with them. From then on, he was taken in as one of them, and sat with them every week, enveloped in the love of their family.
Our branch in Florence may have been even more eclectic, although it varied a lot from week to week, since many worshippers were tourists just passing through. One sweet woman in the branch really took us under her wing, although we were only there for a couple of months. She was from Peru, and had lovely thick black hair and a dark complexion. Her husband could not have looked more different. He was from somewhere in Eastern Europe, and his ruddy face was crowned with a profusion of curly blond hair. I loved the fact that they had both come so far from their native lands only to meet each other in this Italian melting pot and fall in love.
Aside from the obvious surface differences, another fun aspect of Church in different places is the subject matter of Sunday School discussions. General topics like faith, following Jesus, and loving our neighbor, come up everywhere, of course. Lessons on the Word of Wisdom typically revolve around alcohol, smoking, or coffee. In our Filipino Sunday School class, however, we skipped discussing forbidden stimulants in favor of a heated debate on whether we should ever be eating meat at all, since in the Philippines it is never cold, and winter is just a distant fantasy that nobody has ever experienced.
In fact, Filipino Sunday School was always interesting, because they have a lovely cultural tradition of respect towards the elderly. Invariably, at some point in the lesson there would be a venerable old man (a little hard of hearing) with bizarre ideas on every subject, who would lecture until it was time for the closing prayer while the rest of the room sat in reverent silence. The ward we attended in Manila was a downtown one with many English speaking foreigners, and meetings were generally conducted in English. Somehow, though, whenever the speakers in Sacrament meeting told a joke, they thought the punch-line would be funnier in Tagalog. So I’d laugh along with the rest just to be sociable, and then lean over to ask my husband what I was laughing about.
Some of my most spiritual church meetings have been the simplest ones. There’s something about missing all the usual trappings of church that shows you the importance of what’s left without them. One of my favorite Sacrament Meetings ever happened when I was on a semester abroad in Syria. There were of course no local congregations, and our group of BYU students was on a long bus trip that Sunday, so we had Sacrament Meeting right there in the bus. I watched my friend Kyler walk down the aisle, swaying a little with the movement of the vehicle on the bumpy road. His hands were carefully cupped together around a little pile of broken bread, which he offered reverently to each of us in turn. Something about the expectant silence of the usually rowdy bus and the intimacy and humility of the bread coming straight from his hands to ours, touched me with strange profundity. It was as if we had turned the mundane world inside out for a moment and made it suddenly holy. The very incongruity of participating in the familiar ritual in such an unexpected place shocked me into really seeing it, as if for the very first time. I pictured the last supper, and Christ’s hands holding out the bread to each of his disciples in turn. It was a visual reminder of how personal his act of offering the Atonement is to each of us, and I’ve never forgotten it.
We spent most of last year in another country without the benefit of organized church presence: Tunisia. Just like in most Muslim countries, we were cautioned not to be too open about our church membership or meetings. We felt wonderfully blessed to find that there were a couple of other Mormon families in the country too. Every Sunday we took a taxi, then an hour-long bumpy, smelly, death-defying public minivan, and then another taxi to meet in the home of a member for a very simple church service. We would sing a hymn, watch a Conference talk, partake of the Sacrament from the smallest cups in our host’s cupboard, and then sit around in a circle for a Sunday school discussion while one adult rotated out to teach our tiny, five-child Primary.
Our meetings were held in Carthage, a well-heeled Tunis suburb built right on top of the ancient Carthaginian capital and its Roman successor. When we visited the nearby mosaic museum, we found this beautiful tiled baptismal font designed for immersion baptisms. St. Augustine lived and taught in Carthage, and many early Christians met martyr ends in the ruined Roman amphitheater just down the street from where we met for church. My favorite weeks there were our testimony meetings, where it was not a question of if you would bear your testimony, but when. Gathered together as a tiny band of believers in a country full of chaos and unrest, we poured out our hearts to one another and were spiritually strengthened. In those moments, I felt a powerful kinship with the ragged, persecuted members of the early Church, who must have also met secretly in private houses on those same Carthage streets, shared the Lord’s supper, and borne testimony to one another.
We’re back in a “normal” American ward now. We meet in a nice chapel with over a hundred other saints in a well-functioning ward with all the requisite auxiliaries and activities. It’s something I missed when we were away, and I love being back in the comfortable familiarity of American Mormondom. But sometimes, sitting in my cheerio-laced, padded pew, I close my eyes for a moment and imagine myself in one of those more far-flung places. Immersing myself in those distant scenes of worship, I touch a little more deeply the core of what it really means to be a Saint, and thank God for the experience of difference that illuminates the familiar with a rich new light.
photo credit: Baptismal font
July 9, 2012 1 Comment
I keep starting more books, and can’t seem to finish many of them. But here are a few reviews to start off the year:
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Having done a very similar thing myself, I enjoyed reading Jennifer Wilson’s account of how she took her family to the Czech Republic in search of her ancestors. I loved all the little details of their acceptance into her ancestral village, and how she and her suburban American family learned a different way of living and seeing the world. However, the book lacked a certain internal consistency and completeness. At times, Wilson simply rambled. And she kept bringing up interesting themes and then dropping them without warning, never to be revisited. The concluding chapters read a little insincerely, almost as if she’d written them before she ever went, and been planning to write the book all along.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I certainly enjoyed reading this book, since I’m as weak in the knees over the Italian language as Hales. However, this is more of a light cultural history of Italy than the “love affair with Italian” of the subtitle. She does attempt to tie the narrative together with little incidents in her quest to speak Italian, but much of it just comes off as bragging about how much time she’s spent on her many Italian vacations. Hales’ prose is also sometimes a trifle too sexual for good taste (although one could argue the same about the Italian language), and it’s all a bit too self-conscious. And she will keep making sweeping generalizations about all the languages in the world, even though it’s fairly obvious that Italian is the only one she’s ever tried to learn. Still, I learned a lot of new phrases and interesting etymologies, and my Italian “cultural literacy” was certainly enhanced. This book is definitely worth a read if you have anything more than a passing interest in Italy and Italian.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Stunning. Really stunning. I don’t know what’s kept me from reading Dune all these years. I’ve always wondered how George Lucas pulled the genius of Star Wars out of thin air, and now I know he didn’t. The entire feel of the Star Wars movies is there, and several characters and scenes were lifted almost directly out of this book. (I’m a bit annoyed at Lucas now for turning the powerful all-female Bene Gesserit into the male-dominated Jedi. But whatever.) However, Dune stands on its own (as does Star Wars) as a masterpiece. The thematic breadth is epic, the symbolism apt and profound, and the depth and scope of literary allusions quite impressive. It’s a ripping page-turner too. And Frank Herbert knows his Arabic. This book totally made me want to go back to Tunisia and spend some time in the desert looking for sandworms.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
So, I was warned that there’s a sharp drop-off in the sequels to Dune, but I thought I’d give this one at least a try. It was O.K., but resembled a little too closely the pulp science fiction that kept me from reading Dune for so long in the first place. The main thing I enjoyed, again, was tracing the origins of Star Wars. I can’t say I really liked the plot. Unfortunately, Jessica, my favorite character (and Duke Leto, my second favorite) are both virtually absent from this book. Duncan is just creepy, Alia is . . . strange. Paul is more tragic and haunted than ever, but less likable. And there are no really grand epic vistas here. Herbert puts in some interesting philosophy, but nowhere near the depth of the original Dune. I will probably not be continuing on with the rest of the several books in the series.
I eventually got bored with this one and dropped it somewhere between “In the Ruined Citadel” and “Abominable Heresies.” Kirsch revels in the sensational. His narrative is liberally peppered with his own scantily supported suppositions, even as he tries to observe the forms of a well-researched, fairly scholarly work. Still, I enjoyed reading some of his clever theses, especially in the chapter “A Goddess of Israel,” in which he advances the idea that women may have written some of the oldest parts of the Bible.
View all my reviews
What are you reading (or planning to read) this year?
January 3, 2012 No Comments
Sorry for leaving you in the lurch for the entire second half of December. We had a family wedding, and it just all ended up busier than I thought it would. But nicer too.
I’m still not going to blog here on Casteluzzo today (well, any more than I am right now), but I do have a post featured on Heather’s Women in the Scriptures blog. I discovered her blog just a month or two ago, and have been enjoying both current articles and her extensive archives. As the title denotes, Heather focuses on studying the women in the scriptures. It seems like that would make for a pretty short blog, right? Well, after having read her blog, I realize that there are a lot of women in the scriptures that I never even noticed or thought to study. Heather’s posts are interesting, insightful, and a great jumping-off point for further personal study.
Heather is a Mormon, and during the past few weeks, she has taken a break from scriptural women, and is doing a guest post series on Mormon women who live outside the United States. I was delighted when she invited me to post on my experiences as one of a very few Mormon women in Tunisia.
Fortunately, while I wrote the post several weeks ago (when I had time), it was just posted yesterday, leaving me a great excuse to not blog again today. I had a wonderful time reminiscing about our time in Tunisia, and the special moments we shared during our tiny meetings with the few other members of our church in the country.
Enjoy the article, and don’t miss the opportunity to browse around on Heather’s wonderful blog!
December 30, 2011 1 Comment
I blogged today over at Times & Seasons about what Mormons and Muslims have in common. Pop on over and have a read: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/10/mormons-and-muslims/
October 24, 2011 No Comments
The Tunisian police are holding a sit-in today to protest all the police stations that were burned during the revolution, and make sure the 23 police officers on trial for killing demonstrators during the weeks leading up to President Ali’s exit get a fair trial. They’re considering a general strike if the sit-in fails to produce the results they want. Ben Ali’s power base was largely drawn from the police force, and so the police now feel that they’ve been unfairly blamed for the violence during the protests in January.
Unfortunately, the past few weeks in Tunisia have seen a foiled bombing plot by Qaddafi, and fighting and deaths due to rioting and tribal conflict in the south, as well as a rash of muggings and car break-ins in our own neighborhood. This on top of the fact that many in Tunisia are expecting a further deterioration of the security situation ahead of the democratic elections next month. It’s things like these that make the idea of a police strike a bit unnerving.
But after we fly out of Tunisia this afternoon, I won’t have to check the news for these sorts of events. Or at least I can check my usual news in a more detached way, because it won’t cause me immediate practical consequences. It will be weird to read the news about Libya without wondering if tomorrow I’ll see Qaddafi sunbathing on my beach. Or go to Church every Sunday morning without first checking the the curfew and security state in Tunis. Tunisia has been in an official state of emergency for our entire time here.
And I thought we were completely out of the woods until yesterday, when my Guardian news feed reported that the general strike planned for the entire country of Italy today would be affecting air traffic. Our flight home goes through Rome. In fact, we have an overnight layover there. I could just see being told at the last minute (after we’ve moved out of our house and everything) that our flight from Tunis would not be allowed to land in Rome. Or getting so delayed that we missed our flight the next morning. “Blah,” as Toad would say.
I’d hoped it was an exaggeration, but further investigation revealed that even staff of Alitalia and other Italian airline companies (including pilots) would be participating in the strike. Fortunately, we’re flying Tunisair (a , our flight originates internationally, and we are supposed to land at 6:50 p.m., a couple of hours after the conclusion of the 8-hour strike, all cited by a friend in Italy as good reasons to hope that our flight might be unaffected. Better yet, our hotel has a shuttle service, so we’re not trying to rely on nonexistent public transportation or hopelessly scarce taxis once we get there.
Still, the whole thing just reminds me of the day we arrived in Tunisia. There was a general transportation strike that day, rendering taxis the only viable means of public transportation. And our taxi driver told us that even taxis would be joining the strike on the following day.
Knowing what I know about efficiency and punctuality in both Italy and Tunisia, I am just crossing my fingers that arriving a few hours after the strike won’t subject us to 8-hour lines or whatever might be the rest of the fallout from an entire day of nobody working. Because my curiosity to know what a major international airport looks like after everybody in it has been striking all day is not strong enough for me to want to see it in person.
Can’t I just click my heels together three times and say, “there’s no place like home?”
September 6, 2011 2 Comments
Yesterday Tony and I went on our last date in Tunisia, to Hammamet Centre. We hadn’t been on a date in a month, since our babysitter was doing Ramadan. And somehow in the intervening time we forgot how much we hate going out to eat in Hammamet. Unlike most places I’ve been, the only really good meals I’ve had here in Tunisia were at people’s houses. Apparently, none of the good cooks here work at restaurants. None of the good waiters do either, unfortunately, so the whole “going out to eat for the experience, not the food” doesn’t really work.
As a result, we haven’t been out to eat in months. We usually just take a picnic to the beach on our date. But we decided for our last date here we would go out to a restaurant in downtown Hammamet, next to the Medina. We’d been to the restaurant before, so we had no illusions about the excellence of the food, but it was in a nice location and had outdoor seating (a must, since we’re having a hot, muggy spell and in every one of the restaurants advertising air conditioning last night we could see it mounted on the wall, but they weren’t running it).
We sat down with the menu and ordered. I had briq and mechouia salad, both Tunisian staples. Tony decided to be adventurous and order spaghetti carbonara. They might as well have christened it “pasta surprise,” since pancetta, (Italian bacon) an important component of the dish, lacks even a remote equivalent here in Tunisia. I was horrified to see the pasta come out topped with pale pink floppy slices of Tunisian bologna. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our camera with us. Just imagine a plate of spaghetti mixed with mysterious lumps that on further inspection appear to be thin, flaccid, wadded-up slices of a gigantic hot dog.
After taking a bite, Tony realized that they also hadn’t seasoned his food at all (black pepper is another key ingredient of pasta carbonara). It took him a few minutes to attract the waiter’s attention to ask for salt and pepper, and several more before the waiter reappeared with only salt. By the time Tony had flagged the waiter down again to persist in his request for pepper, the pasta was getting cold. When the waiter never returned, Tony finally went back to the kitchen to search for pepper himself. He was able to find a lone pepper shaker and returned triumphantly to the table, only to discover upon attempting to pepper his food that the shaker was virtually empty. He even took off the top and tried to dig out some pepper with a knife, but to no avail.
At this point it was obvious that #1 The restaurant didn’t have any pepper; #2 The waiter knew very well that there wasn’t any pepper; #3 Instead of telling Tony he didn’t have it, his solution was to just bring salt and then disappear; #4 Had we confronted him, he would have found it unreasonable in the extreme that we would expect a restaurant to always have pepper, or him to acknowledge and apologize about the lack thereof. Sigh.
I’m sure the strength of our feelings about the dastardly lack of pepper had more to do with our personal frustrations and stresses than the actual deficiencies of the restaurant/waiter. Still, it was one of those “in case you weren’t 100% sure you were ready to leave” moments.
By the time we’d finished our meal, it was dark, and we walked out on the beach. As we were watching the waves roll in, we noticed a little black dog scrounging among the fishing nets, and of course couldn’t help but think of Luca, whom we had given to the sweet little Italian lady in the gelato shop a few days before. He was supposed to be in his new yard, with his new papillon-mix girlfriend Lucy, but at that moment we were sure he must have escaped and be wandering hungry and homeless on the beach. We walked toward the dog, calling, “Luca!” He watched us warily for a moment, turned and barked (at which point we realized he was more heavyset than Luca, with the wrong ears a much bushier tail), and then trotted off on his merry feral way. Yes, we miss our dog.
September 3, 2011 No Comments