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28 July 2014

Tunis and its architecture

A couple of months ago I went on a guided tour in Tunis to look at the different architectural styles.  The thought of going on a guided tour in a city where I had lived in for more than ten years was quite novel to me. I decided to go because the subject matter interested me, the tour was given by a retired art historian and I was curious to see Tunis through her eyes and perhaps most important of all I am a firm believer of the notion that we never stop learning. 

 Although I was already familiar with many of the buildings our Norwegian guide Eva showed us it was nevertheless fascinating to listen to her vast knowledge on architecture.  During our tour Eva explained in detail the differences between Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Eclectic style, Romantic style, Neo-Classical and Romanesque and showed us examples of actual buildings in Tunis where these styles were applicable.  Here are a collection of photographs from our tour.

In architectural terminology, this is known as a pepper-pot corner feature known in French as (en forme de poivrier).  It certainly makes the apartment building stand out in the streetscape.


Above the arch of the window, it is possible to see the bust of a man and a woman encapsulated within a floral wreath of Art Nouveau mouldings.








This building has a mixture of blind arches and Venetian style mouldings.




Here is an example of the smooth facade of 1930s buildings in Tunis one of the characteristics are the rounded balconies.
























The corner pergola masonry feature provides an Art Deco note to this building.



This apartment building has a combination of arched windows, Italianate balustrades and Art Deco oculi (which is another name for circular windows).






Passion fruit (Passiflora edulis)

This is a photograph of the flower and leaves of the passion fruit (passiflora edulis)

Passion fruit is a beautiful and vigorous climbing plant with shiny green leaves and a very unusual looking flower.  It is a particularly good plant to have in small gardens as it adds another dimension in the form of vertical gardening with its attractive foliage and flowers not to mention its delicious fruit.  Climbers grow well on pergolas, fences and frames and can be trained on walls using metal wires which act as a support.  As well as adding colour and interest not to mention habitat for birds and small reptiles like geckos climbers take up minimal ground space and are good at concealing bare walls and other vertical eye sores in the garden.


Passiflora edulis is a vine species of passion flower that is native to Brazil, Paraguay and northern Argentina.  It is cultivated commercially in tropical and subtropical areas for its sweet, seedy fruit and is widely grown in several countries of South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, Southern Asia, Australia, Hawaii and the United States. The passion fruit is round to oval, either yellow or dark purple at maturity, with a soft to firm, juicy interior filled with numerous seeds.The fruit is both eaten and juiced; passion fruit juice is often added to other fruit juices to enhance aroma.
The flower of the passion fruit is the national flower of Paraguay. 
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passiflora_edulis

11 July 2014

Holiday photographs

My apologies.  It's been almost two months since I last wrote a blog post.  This year has been like no other since my father's death in late March.  It takes time to accept the loss of a parent and to adjust to the new family dynamics.  We recently returned from being away on holiday and even that felt different this year.  Still, we have to be mindful of the fact that life goes on.  So here then are some photographs from our holiday.


This photograph was taken from a look-out point at the top of a mountain range.  I'm not sure how high the mountain was but it gives the impression that it was taken from the window of a plane whereas this was not the case.


Local cherries a bargain at 4 Turkish Liras a kilo which is about 1.38 Euros, 1.88 US Dollars and 1.09 GBP.


This is a photograph of a random house in a small village we cycled to, I particularly liked the cloud formations and the beautiful blue sky.


Some local aubergines (egg plants).  The handwritten name on the cardboard roughly translates as beautiful village grown produce and is not the word for an aubergine in Turkish.





A top-down view of a cup of Turkish coffee with a small piece of Turkish delight on the side.



12 May 2014

Quercus suber (the Cork oak)

A mature specimen of Quercus suber the Cork Oak tree.


In this photograph it is possible to see several Cork Oaks where the suberin layer has been harvested. 


Here is a close-up of the thick, fissured bark otherwise known as the suberin layer which is stripped every 6 to 12 years leaving the young bark exposed.

The countryside in NW Tunisia is covered with Quercus suber otherwise known as the Cork Oak tree.  There are vast expanses of Cork Oak forest approximately 45,000 hectares in the Jendouba  region and a cork processing factory in the town of Tabarka.

Tunisia is said to export 90% of the cork which is harvested to several European countries.  Cork has many uses such as stoppers in wine and champagne bottles, in shoe manufacturing, as thermal insulation in walls, floors and ceilings and in furniture design to name a few of its uses.

Cork is an impermeable, buoyant material, a prime-subset of bark tissue that is harvested for commercial use primarily from Quercus suber (the Cork Oak), which is endemic to southwest Europe and northwest Africa. Cork is composed of suberin, a hydrophobic substance, and because of its impermeability, buoyancy, elasticity and fire resistance, it is used in a variety of products.

The cork industry is generally regarded as environmentally friendly Cork production is generally considered sustainable due to the fact that the entire cork tree is not harvested; merely its bark. The tree continues to live and grow. The sustainability of production and the easy recycling of cork products and by-products are two of its most distinctive aspects.

The trees live for about 200 years.

Harvesting
Cork is extracted only from early May to late August, when the cork can be separated from the tree without causing permanent damage. When the tree reaches 25–30 years of age and about 24in (60 cm) in circumference, the cork can be removed for the first time. However, this first harvest almost always produces poor quality or "male" cork. Subsequent extractions usually occur at intervals of 9 years, though it can take up to 13 for the cork to reach an acceptable size. If the product is of high quality it is known as "gentle" cork, and, ideally, is used to make stoppers for wine and champagne bottles.

The workers who specialize in removing the cork are known as extractors. Extractors use a very sharp axe to make two types of cuts on the tree: one horizontal cut around the plant, called a crown or necklace, at a height of about 2-3 times the circumference of the tree, and several vertical cuts called rulers or openings. This is the most delicate phase of the work because, even though cutting the cork requires quite a bit of strength, the extractor must not damage the underlying phellogen or the tree will die.

To free the cork from the tree, the extractor pushes the handle of the axe into the rulers. A good extractor needs to use a firm but precise touch in order to free a large amount of cork without damaging the product or tree.

These freed portions of the cork are called planks. The planks usually have to be carried off by hand since cork forests are rarely accessible to vehicles. Finally, the cork is stacked and, traditionally, left to dry, after which it can be loaded onto a truck and shipped to a processor.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cork_%28material%29

3 May 2014

National Crafts Fair / Salon national de l'artisanat


There is an annual National Crafts Fair currently on in Tunis at the Le Kram Exhibition Centre until the 4th May.  I visited it recently and I was pleasantly surprised not only by the quality of the crafts on show but by the variety.  Here was an opportunity to see the best crafts that Tunisia has to offer all under one roof for the duration of this crafts fair.  

There were demonstrations of village women weaving traditional Mergoum carpets from the city of Kairouan together with a selection of carpets on sale, there were woven mats, baskets and hats made from Halfa grass (Desmostachya bipinnata) from the town of Kasserine, there was hand-made pottery from Sejnane, also pottery items such as tiles, plates, bowls and vases from Nabeul, hand-blown glass products, jewellery, distilled orange and geranium flower water from the regional distilleries as well as other aromatherapy products, hand-made soaps and so on.  

If you have a chance and you are currently in Tunis I would thoroughly recommend that you go to it.  The entrance fee is a bargain at 1 Tunisian Dinar which is equal to  0.44 Euros or 0.62 US Dollars.  


Here are a selection of photographs from some of the stalls, where possible I have included their  business cards ...


Stylish ladies bags made by Hajer Messaoudi under the label Caravan Serail


Stylish ladies bags made by Hajer Messaoudi under the label Caravan Serail




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Woven Halfa grass mats made by local village women from Kasserine


A woven Halfa grass lamp shade made by local village women from Kasserine




Close-up detail from a woven Halfa grass mat made by local village women from Kasserine








Hand-made pottery from Sejnane




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Hand-made pottery from Nabeul





Hand-made pottery from Nabeul



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Different lamps, lamp shades, carpets, pottery, upholstery and furniture under the label Rock the Kasbah











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Beautiful hand-made bags, baskets and clothing under the label Topaze Creations


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