Ten things to like about Tunis 1

Sitting on the hilltop where Hannibal planned to humble Rome.

Watching the President’s security men holding hands

Meeting Taxi driver, Mohammed Ali (not the boxer he says) who found my camera when I left it on his back seat and who drove like a demon to find me.

Catching the breeze under the trees on Bourgiba Boulevarde

Having an excellent four course meal at Restaurant Carcassone for A$4.50.

Drinking ice cold mineral water at the blue and white hill top village of Sidi Bou Said.

Breaking my glasses and having a new pair delivered within two hours.

Riding the rattling, TGM tramway with Tunisians having a day at the beach.

Getting a visa at the airport and being told to leave the restricted zone to withdraw the required ten Dinars from a local bank.

Seeing the young fellow in the Souk who stopped to help a woman tourist get a wheel chair across a curb.


Venice wants your Euros! Reply

The Venetian approach to tourism was set by a couple of ninth century, local business men who stole the rotting corpse of St Mark so that it might be brought back home for a basilica which attracts tourists to Venice to this day. At least in those days, Venice had real industries; even if it was trade with the Orient, which generated fantastic profits after Venice left its Christian business rivals in Byzantium to be exterminated by the Turks.

Venice today is a beautiful theme park, where even the locals can’t afford their own prices and commute in daily from the mainland. Instead of wearing Mickey Mouse suits, they dress up as gondoliers, itinerant artists or marble statues.
They only have one thing in common. They want your Euros.

Take the case of the rather rude granddad and grand mum, who according to the guide book, run an authentic family eatery. They shout at you, “No restaurant!” which means there is no menu with set prices so that the tapas they sell you cost as much as a full meal.

Modest restaurants that do have a menu, serve even more modest meals, with entree size, main course servings. Tiny glasses of wine there, cost as much as a whole bottle of the same dubious vintage sold at a nearby store. The store meanwhile sells cans of coke which cost three times as much as at the hard to find supermarket. At least the store sells things you can consume or use, which is more than the hundreds of stalls which offer identical paper Venetian Masks and innumerable coloured glass bottles allegedly crafted on the little island of Murano.

Murano itself is a carefully sprung tourist trap. Most new visitors to Venice head straight for Saint Marco Square of saintly corpse fame. Before they have made it half way across the square they are approached by a nice man offering a free water taxi ride to Murano where, as a special, one day only tourist attraction, one can see the famous Venetian glass being made. This seems a great deal because the water taxis, driven by muscular men wearing gold chains, are far too expensive to be hired as taxis, and seem to be mostly the preserve fat Americans rubbernecking at the apparently deserted palazzos. At Murano, the newbies are ushered straight into a Fornace (furnace factory) where they can see a worker making a glass dolphin. After depositing a “tip” for the maestro, the tourists are ushered upstairs to see the unique masterpieces. Only today, (presumably today is saintly stolen corpse day) the glass can be bought at a special forty percent discount. At this point, I realised I had seen similar, unique masterpieces before… back in rural Australia for a sixth of the price! The “guide” who was wearing a very snappy, Italian linen suit, could see I was hesitating. I was thinking that a man who wore such a suit , crease free, could not be working too hard making too much glass.

“We can ship your Murano glass anywhere in the world for free!,” he said. This did not seem to be particularly efficient to me, rather like flying bricks to Australia.
As I headed for the door, our new friend the “guide” was offering even more special discounts. Too late!! Outside I discovered a row of little shops selling “similar, unique masterpieces”. In fact, the further one got from the Fornace, the cheaper they got. Indeed it seems that the really unique feature of Murano glass, is that the further one gets from Murano, the cheaper it gets.

The same goes for Venice. The further you get a way from it, the more you can afford being a tourist.

Don’t talk about the war! Reply

One is told to forget any preconceptions of war museums when it comes to the Imperial War Museum North at Manchester. “You’ll never have seen anything like this before!”, wrote the Newcastle Evening Chronicle.

They were right!

In fact, what there was to see was very strange indeed. Most people who went there seemed to agree. An interactive display at the museum recorded that most visitors felt it had not increased their knowledge about the war. Even fewer felt that their attitudes to war had been changed by the museum.

Why is this so?

At the Imperial War Museum North, visitors find only a few wartime artifacts on exhibit. There are hardly any attempts to explain or contextualise what has been selected. War is presented as a series of personal experiences rather than what silly, old fashioned modernists saw as a result of imperialism, colonialism, competing economic interests or just plain loony tune ideologies.

The War Museum is located what had been bombed out dockland, a place where real people died defending democracy. It is housed in a vast new European Community financed building designed by the “world renowned architect”, Daniel Libeskind. Libeskind said that his work tried to “address a multidimensional problematic”. “The exhilarating aspect of such a trajectory, at least for those engaged in it, is that its goals are unknown and its ends indeterminable and uncertain,” he said. I interpreted this to mean that he didn’t know what he was doing. This seemed to be confirmed by his Museum in Manchester.

Sadly this very strange and very, very expensive construction seems as empty as the heads of those who curate it. Inside, the building has no straight lines and innocent visitors such as my self become quickly lost. A helpful guide told me that this effect was intentional. “People get disoriented in wartime,’ he said. “The building helps visitors share this experience”.

“People also get killed in wartime, and some of them deserved it” I thought uncharitably. Being naieve, I thought that people went to museums to learn something but this was clearly old fashioned thinking. The guide directed me to the wartime multi media experience. On the walls bombs fell, guns banged and lights flashed, momentarily illuminating displays, which included a British 17 pounder gun, a Hussar’s hat and a nurses uniform.

War had been uncoupled from history to create an entertaining show. Maybe the curators had read a post modernist cartoon book which told them that all history was opinion and all opinions should therfore be treated equally, however mis-informed, deluded or as they say here,”balmy”. The museum and all it contained was a gigantic intellectual fashion statement.

When the lights came on, I found that there was an East German Trabant motor car at the centre of the room. Losing it, I remarked that “Trabants have about as much as do with Imperial war history as my left boot!”. “Exactly!”, replied my post modernist pommie companion, gesturing triumphantly to a large but previously unobserved window display of left boots.

At this point, I noticed that the nice men with radios and uniforms were moving closer. They helped me find the exit which thanks to Daniel Libeskind’s multidimensional problematics, was well hidden. Maybe in wartime, many people cannot escape from other’s silly ideas. Was this intentional?
Confused, I launched myself on a trajectory to the pub.