July 8, 1999
by Dandelion de la Rue
THE ROAD TO TUNIS
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.
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.