Tuesday, 26 March 2013

mellow Mahdia

We are very happy to be back in Mahdia and at the Medina Hotel.  The old gentleman who runs the place is a master of mime - and makes me think he has had some French schooling.  What else would explain that Jacques Tati expressionism, (last seen by us at Chantal and Jacques' in Eccica on Corsica)?  He's a tad deaf, sneezes loud enough to shake the walls, but he has the hotel almost perfect.  There's a peaceful roof terrace where we can relax and sunbathe, and it's fairly quiet.  A steady trickle of tourists come and go.
the old Fatimid harbour

When we first came here the nightwatchman, who has a broad smile and a prominent gold tooth, recommended a restaurant to us in the evening.  We asked him was it normal price or tourist price? He paused, told us the food was good, but we should discuss the price before eating. So we went and checked it out - a little place on the seafront with a TV and pink neon lighting for ambience.  The food is good and the young man we speak to is very nice and friendly and the price is normal.   There's a big printed menu on the wall but it's ignored - we have to ask each night what they have. Lots of young guys come to eat here and seem to keep some sort of tab in a book at the till.  Back in the kitchen a couple of women are working fast to produce the food.  We return every evening.  On our second stint back in Mahdia we go back there but there's a different guy serving the food.  He speaks more English and has a bit of sales pitch when we ask what they have to eat.  And the price has doubled.  No, no, we explain, we want to pay the same price as before. He smiles and says there will be soup and salad and a little something on the side as well.  And we say yes, yes we know all this but the price was three fifty, not seven.  We are obviously keen customers but not agreeable ones.  He looks bemused.  Okay, sit down, no worries, he says, but he seems a little grumpy with us.  What he doesn't realise is that we're not there just for one night like other tourists.  We return every night.  Maybe this is a real insult to him, although really it's a compliment to the cooks.  He says things like "Have a good evening" through gritted teeth.  We say "A demain" and he mutters "insh'allah" with almost a groan. 

Friday is market day in Mahdia.  The open area between the old medina and the new town and all the radiating streets are taken up with stalls and mats covered in stuff.  Shoes, clothes, kitchenware, hardware, ceramics, glassware, diy tools, electrical items, replacement chargers and remote controls.  It seems endless.  Up at one end it gets like a car-boot sale with lots of second-hand clothes, bikes, household appliances.  We look for one of those heating elements that you can plug in and boil a cup of water with - the kind that nearly took my hand off when the last one blew up on me.  Thankfully none can be found.  The market is especially noticeable for the proportion of female shoppers.  Don't get me wrong, you see women around all the time here, but it's rare to see such numbers collectively. 

We stay for over a week.  We consider our route back to Tunis.  Neither of us wants to wild camp.  I am reminded of a conversation with Dalila when we first arrived.  She asked wouldn't we be afraid of wolves when we camped? We told her we never feared of animals (although Gayle knows I'm frightened of almost all living creatures) - no, we had more to fear from humans. She understood.  But I never actually thought we would not feel like camping here.  What's happened to us?  And then, if we don't camp, we have to get to set places where we know we can stay.  And all of a sudden we go off the idea of cycling any further.  We would if we had to, but we can also take the train back to Tunis.  Bizarrely, we seem to have gone much further on the train with our bikes than actually cycling with them.  Oh well.

With more time on our hands we read much more quickly and finish off our books.  On a hunch we decide to try some of the posh hotels in the tourist zone for left-behind novels.  The big 5-star place has a table in the huge lounge area but it's all rubbish.  Does this tell us anything about the guests in these places? We walk for about an hour around the bay and past hotels in various states: being built, closed, under repair.  It's all a bit dusty and ugly - like a brand new estate not quite finished.  A toy train full of tourists passes us on the way to the medina.  Seems a bit sad.  And then we come to an open hotel.   We waltz in and check out the lounge area.  There's a bookcase in one corner and we amble over.  A small sign says "these books are for the use of SAGA guests only".  We ignore it and stuff four decent books into our bag before checking out the pool area.  The staff address us in German.  We smile stupidly and try to ignore everyone before heading back out the front door.  Gayle wants a go at the ping-pong table but I'm too chicken. Four books! The SAGA guests will be devastated.  This 'Book Liberation' even beats Gayle's dumpster dive behind a supermarket in Corsica which produced two pain au chocolat and a cake.

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