January 24, 2009

Tunisia 02: The Souk

Tea outside a hammam (the stripes tell you it's a bath house).

The metal-working district of the souk. The din of hammering is overwhelming and there are huge amounts of chemicals being spilled around without a thought to environmental or personal health.

Each street has only one "charbon" dealer and it was always a robed and bearded devout. He sits peacefully, waiting until one of the endlessly-toiling metal-workers comes to pay for another bag of charcoal. The transaction is a display of power, with the worker having to offer compliments and platitudes and the charcoal merchant eventually, reluctantly, rising to fetch a pre-weighed sack from his stores and toss it onto the street. The "customer" picks it up and, with repeated thanks and little bows, backs away to return to his forge. In the photo Keith is trying to understand the roots of the monopoly. Turns out it's just as it looks.

Views of the souk, away from the tourist shops.

In the hat-making district we are shown how the classic fez starts off as a white knit touque, familiar to any Canadian. It is shrunk and made stiff by brushing and ironing, kept to a certain size by a terra-cotta form. When properly shaped, it will be ironed and dyed either black ("Libyan style" with a little knob in the center of the crown) or Tunisian red ("the colour of our independence").

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