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.

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.

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


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


Hand-made pottery from Nabeul

Hand-made pottery from Nabeul


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


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

29 April 2014

Peach trees in flower in the Tunisian countryside

This beautiful photograph was taken in the Tunisian countryside in late March.  The peach trees were in blossom and the flowers were a gorgeous pink or pale magenta colour.  The countryside was looking at its best lush and verdant with different hues of green.

Although its botanical name Prunus persica refers to Persia (present Iran) from where it came to Europe, genetic studies suggest peaches originated in China, where they have been cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture, circa 2000 BC.  Peaches were mentioned in Chinese writings as far back as the 10th century BC and were a favoured fruit of kings and emperors. As of late, the history of cultivation of peaches in China has been extensively reviewed citing numerous original manuscripts dating back to 1100 BC.

The peach was brought to India and Western Asia in ancient times.  Peach cultivation also went from China, through Persia, and reached Greece by 300 BC.  Alexander the Great introduced the fruit into Europe after he conquered the Persians.  Peaches were well known to the Romans in first century AD, and was cultivated widely in Emilia-Romagna. Peach trees are portrayed in the wall paintings of the towns destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD, with the oldest artistic representations of peach fruit, discovered so far, are in the two fragments of wall paintings, dated back to the 1st century AD, in Herculaneum, now preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Peach was brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, and eventually made it to England and France in the 17th century, where it was a prized and expensive treat. The horticulturist George Minifie supposedly brought the first peaches from England to its North American colonies in the early 17th century, planting them at his Estate of Buckland in Virginia. Although Thomas Jefferson had peach trees at Monticello, United States farmers did not begin commercial production until the 19th century in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and finally Virginia.

Peach flower, fruit, seed and leaves as illustrated by Otto Wilhelm Thomé (1885).
The above image by Otto Wilhelm Thomé is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

22 April 2014

Media vita in morte sumus

Apologies for the lack of blog posts.  I have not felt like writing. 
My father passed away on the 26th March.  May he rest in peace. 
He had lung cancer and emphysema.  He spent the last week of his life in hospital in the Intensive Care Unit in an unconscious state.  Even though we were able to come together as a family with my brother and I traveling from afar to be by his bedside, we were unable to speak to him before he died.

This past month has been an emotional roller coaster ride with highs and lows.  There has been laughter as well as tears.  My father had a great sense of humour and we would remember funny anecdotes and laugh and also cry.  

Now that he is gone, I try and find consolation from family and friends as well as from books and music.   The Latin saying, "Media vita in morte sumus" (In the midst of life we are in death) strikes a particular chord with me at this time.  It reminds us that death is never far away and we need to be mindful of this fact and acknowledge our own mortality whilst at the same time doing our very best to lead a meaningful life.  

21 March 2014

More beautiful doors

I have often waxed lyrical about a visit to the Medina in Tunis.  It really is a veritable feast for the eyes, reminiscent of Aladdin's cave.  There is so much to see and do and my enthusiasm for it has not diminished even after more than a decade of living here.  As people who read this blog know, I have a particular penchant for Tunisian doors.  So without further ado, here is a selection of more beautiful doors.

19 March 2014


The gorgeously colourful plants in the above photographs are called Kalanchoe.  They caught my eye on a recent visit to a plant nursery in Tunis.  The fleshy stems and leaves give an indication that this is a succulent plant.

Kalanchoe is a genus of about 125 species of tropical, succulent flowering plants in the family Crassulaceae, mainly native to the Old World. Only one species of this genus originates from the Americas, 56 from southern and eastern Africa and 60 species in Madagascar.  It is also found in south-eastern Asia and China.  Kalanchoe beharensis from Madagascar, can reach 6 m (20 ft) tall, but most species are less than 1 m (3 ft) tall.  These plants are cultivated as ornamental houseplants and rock or succulent garden plants. This plant is known to the Chinese as "thousands and millions of red and purple" (萬紫千紅), and is commonly purchased during the Chinese New Year..  They are popular because of their ease of propagation, low water requirements, and wide variety of flower colors.  These plants are the food plant of the caterpillars of Red Pierrot butterfly. The butterfly lays its eggs on the leaf and after hatching the caterpillar goes inside the leaf and eats the leaf from inside. In common with other Crassulaceae some Kalanchoe species contain bufadienolide cardiac glycosides which can cause cardiac poisoning, particularly in grazing animals.
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