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.

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.
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