21 August 2015

Redback spider (Latrodectus hasselti)

A female redback spider Latrodectus hasselti guarding her egg sacks
This is a photograph of a female redback spider taken inside a galvanised steel shed in Australia.  Rather worryingly there were several redbacks inside this shed and interestingly many of them had woven large untidy webs at each of the four corners and were guarding silken egg sacks which resembled nibbles one might serve with an apéritif.  Initially, we were rather alarmed to see so many venomous spiders in one place and when we were telling a friend of ours about it later over a cup of tea he said wryly, "never mind the spiders, it's the people you have to worry about."  Perhaps there is an element of truth in that observation.  At least with redback spiders you know that they are venomous and if you don't disturb their habitats then they don't cause you any harm. 

The redback spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) is a species of venomous spider indigenous to Australia. It is a member of the genus Latrodectus, the widow spiders. The adult female is easily recognised by her spherical black body with a prominent red stripe on the upper side of her abdomen and an hourglass-shaped red/orange streak on the underside. Females have a body length of about 10 millimeters (0.4 in), while the male is much smaller, being only 3–4 mm (0.12–0.16 in) long.
Mainly nocturnal, the female redback lives in an untidy web in a warm sheltered location, commonly near or inside human residences. It preys on insects, spiders and small vertebrates that become ensnared in its web. It kills its prey by injecting a complex venom through its two fangs when it bites, before wrapping them in silk and sucking out the liquefied insides. Male spiders and spiderlings often live on the periphery of the female spiders' web and steal leftovers. Other species of spider and parasitoid wasps prey on this species. The redback is one of few arachnids which usually display sexual cannibalism while mating. The sperm is then stored in the spermathecae, organs of the female reproductive tract, and can be used up to two years later to fertilise several clutches of eggs. Each clutch averages 250 eggs and is housed in a round white silken egg sac. The redback spider has a widespread distribution in Australia, and inadvertent introductions have led to established colonies in New Zealand, Japan, and in greenhouses in Belgium.

 The redback is one of the few spider species that can be seriously harmful to humans, and its preferred habitat has led it to being responsible for the large majority of serious spider bites in Australia. Predominantly neurotoxic to vertebrates, the venom gives rise to the syndrome of latrodectism in humans; this starts with pain around the bite site, which typically becomes severe and progresses up the bitten limb and persists for over 24 hours. Sweating in localised patches of skin occasionally occurs and is highly indicative of latrodectism. Generalised symptoms of nausea, vomiting, headache, and agitation may also occur and indicate severe poisoning. An antivenom has been available since 1956, and there have been no deaths directly due to redback bites since its introduction.

Café des Nattes

In December last year, our 12 year posting in Tunisia came to an end.  Although I am no longer living there as an expatriate I wanted to write a couple of more blog posts about places of interest in Tunis that I did not get a chance to write about before I left and I will then shift my focus on to our new posting. 

There are some fabulous cafés in Tunis. 
Café des Nattes is a fine example, it is located in the picturesque suburb of Sidi Bou Said.  Steep and well worn steps lead up to Café des Nattes and a beautiful welcoming arched doorway entices people inside.  It's authentic interior is particularly cosy and intimate.  Several large columns painted in dark green, red and white stripes are particularly eye-catching.  It's definitely worth a visit just to imbibe the ambiance.  I used to come here to have a glass of mint tea and either enjoy the company of friends or else to relax with a good book.  If you like observing people going about their daily lives then you will enjoy sitting on the balcony which overlooks a small village square.  If you appreciate architecture and interior design then you may prefer to sit inside on colourful hand-woven mats made of palm leaves.  As well as mint tea and depending on availability they sometimes serve freshly squeezed orange juice and at other times they have lemonade as well as soft drinks.  There is a glass display cabinet opposite the alcove of the open plan kitchen which houses a delectable array of Tunisian pastries.

Café des Nattes
Rue Sidi Bou Fares, Sidi Bou Said 2026, Tunisia

22 December 2014

A reflection on life and circumstance

I apologise once again for my lack of blog posts. 
Just when both myself and members of my family were gradually getting accustomed to coping with the death of our father earlier this year, my uncle died suddenly five days ago and the family has once again been plunged into mourning and reflection.  

Unfortunately, the death of my uncle coincided with a time when we are in between postings having completed one overseas posting and about to take up another.  This has meant that as much as I wanted to, I could not attend my uncle's funeral.  As I would have had only two days to make a visa application for my return journey into the country we are temporarily living in, (the application procedure for a single entry visitor visa normally takes up to ten working days).   We were biding our time, attending business meetings, familiarising ourselves with the country at our next posting whilst awaiting the necessary work and residence permits prior to going away on annual leave.

At times like these, it makes me think that the life of an expatriate is often much misunderstood by some people who have never had to leave the comfort zone of their home, family, friends, city and country in order to go and live and/or work in another country.  Being an expatriate comprises of much more than a string of social occasions and parties.  

By its very nature, being an expatriate means that for reasons beyond your control, you inevitably end up missing and unable take part in important family events throughout the year such as deaths, funerals, births, weddings, birthdays, visiting relatives in hospital following an operation, illness or an accident, taking turns in looking after elderly parents and/or relatives and participating in religious holidays and celebrations as well as other family related events and gatherings which you would have otherwise participated in had you been back at home.

So, as Christmas and New Year approaches this year, let us spare a thought for everyone who is far from home and who will celebrate the festive season away from their friends and family. 

6 November 2014

La Caleche Cafétéria et Pâtisserie

La Calèche is the French word for a horse-drawn carriage.  
It is also the name of a quaint little Café et Pâtisserie which was established in 1980 and in my opinion has the best ambiance and the most delicious cakes in the whole of Tunis.  

Unlike many other cake/pastry shops all of the cakes are freshly made on the premises.  Everyday there are at least 17 different kinds of cakes to choose from.  It is possible to buy a slice or I suppose you could also buy an entire cake although I'm not sure about that as I have only ever bought slices of cakes from there.  

They use Segafredo Zanetti coffee and you can buy a café express - espresso coffee or café crème - coffee with cream and café au lait - coffee with milk.  They also serve freshly made citronnade - lemonade and jus d'orange fraîchement pressé - freshly squeezed orange juice as well as other kinds of coffee such as macchiato, cappuccino and chocolat chaud - hot chocolate and herbal teas.

At La Calèche one can also buy delicious healthy lunch-time snacks such as salads, quiches and salad rolls with cheese and/or tuna and a myriad of other simple and quick dishes either to eat there standing up or to take-away.  

It is a popular and well known haunt of the nearby office workers and although it is busy throughout the day it becomes particularly congested in the mornings and at lunch times.

 Next time you are in Avenue de la Liberté drop in for a coffee and a slice of cake and you will soon become a regular at this great little Café et Pâtisserie.

Bon appétit!

2 August 2014

These are a few of my favourite things ...

When Julie Andrews sang, "My Favourite Things" in The Sound of Music she was not referring to wrought iron railings/fer forgé, exterior wooden window shutters and Tunisian tiles!  Then again, these are a few of my own favourite things. So, I was particularly pleased when I took part in the guided tour around Tunis a couple of months ago to appreciate its architecture that I was able to take photographs showing different examples of wrought iron railings/fer forgé, exterior wooden window shutters and Tunisian tiles so that I can share them with you here on my blog. 

Here is a YouTube video clip from the film The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews 
singing "My Favourite Things".

I really like the blue wooden shutters in this photograph together with the beautiful floral plaster work on either side it is so effective and so pleasant to look at.

This apartment had a banister with wrought iron/fer forgé in the form of peacocks.  It is quite difficult to make out the form of the peacocks you have to look very, very carefully.  Until you can finally pick put the peacock shape the black wrought iron/fer forgé can almost seem like the renowned ink blot test otherwise known as Rorschach Test used by professionals for psychological evaluation!

This sequence of tiles were just inside an apartment block in the hallway.  It is so common to see tiles being used in this way in Tunisia.

Great wrought iron/fer forgé on the window it also acts as a deterrent to would be burglars.  It looks good with the blue wooden shutters.

Another example of tiles in the entrance hall of an apartment building.

This wrought iron/fer forgé work was part of a gate and I thought it must look very aesthetically pleasing when both sides of the gate are closed and the unusual circular pattern forms a full circle.

Here you can just see some attractive tiles on the side of an apartment building. 

Lovely pale blue wooden shutters together with rather old and worn out looking wrought iron/fer forgé railings on the balcony.

Here the wrought iron/fer forgé railings on the balcony caught my eye as well as the elegant architecture of the balcony above.

More details from the exterior of an apartment building with pretty plaster work and the chevron pattern around the window at the top as well as a little balcony with another example of wrought iron/fer forgé railings.

Floral rather bright tiles from the entrance hall of an apartment.  The pattern on the tiles the circle with the swirling dividing line reminded me of the yin and yang pattern one sees throughout Asia.  Although the yin and yang are usually black and white contrasting colours in a circle to represent the notion that opposites attract.

More beautiful wrought iron/fer forgé railings, pale blue shutters and gorgeous architectural details can be seen on the balcony above.  I particularly liked the washing hanging on the line from the balcony above.  It really adds to this photograph and gives it a certain sense of je ne sais quoi that is French for "I don't know what", in my view the washing really enhances this photograph.  It demonstrates that people live in these buildings and get on with their everyday lives.

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.
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