A journal for the literary traditions of Tunisia.

Between the Maghreb and the Mediterranean

The countries of North Africa have been known to stimulate and affect the literary set. Paul Bowles’ musings of Morocco are transportive and absolutely bewildering in their insight and accuracy. I have been thinking of The Sheltering Sky a lot lately, as I’m soon to be swifted on to my first journey into the Moroccan Sahara next month. Albert Camus writes evocatively about Algiers in The Happy Death and I always find myself rereading a particular passage during the summer months that walks me through the olive groves to the house at the top of the world.

But what about Tunisia? I’ve been hard pressed to find a literary escape to Tunis and Sidi Bou Said. Consulting a Tunisian acquaintance, she recommended the romantic poetry of Abou el Kacem Chebbiand and the existential writings of Mahmoud Al Messaadi, through I’m struggling to find English translations online. I did manage to find poets, Amina Saïd and Moncef Ouahibi. (Ouahibi offers a particularly saucy rendition, which I found quite beautiful.) There must be others and they must be accessible. Some investigation is required to entice the traveling reader.

I have also hold ulterior motives for bringing us to Tunisia today. I’ve decided to introduce a souk on For Eyes Like Oceans. First up on offer are some beautiful leather and wool rug pouches, completely handmade by artisans in Tunisia. More to come soon. Enter the SOUK ici.

And some poetry to finish this Sunday night. xA.

 

daily the sun slits its own ghost’s throat (excerpt)

as we would wish the instant takes its dazzled form

time blurs over like a landscape

we live the two halves of our lives

like a journey that will perhaps remember

the names of islands birds ports

of the white wake of boats cities beings

of the cycle of arrivals and departures

and we fall in love with night

because each night celebrates a dream’s wedding

and we fall in love with day

because life begins with each day

Amina Saïd / Translated by Marilyn Hacker

/

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

In the morning, when water was falling in threads, I was putting my first sentence in order/ I would write it and cross it out to write it/ I glimpsed, right here from the window in old Porto, the phantom of a woman reading on her rocking chair on the balcony of the house across from me. She was indifferent to the flat Acanthus leaves. It was getting dark around her/ I thought a bit and then left my things and took my binoculars/ All I saw was a wren bird, a mysterious light veiling her hands, amber ornament, tight pants, legs parting and closing as she read/my first sentence (I knew Qayrawan when hungry caravans were drawn by carriages and walls/Dawn was zigzagging up the slopes of its mountains/Illuminating half-open doors and children waiting on steps, or running in tunnels like rats/Rain had the smell of musk that day as it fell on its brown bricks and on toasted bread in its streets/Water was falling down in threads)/ I was saying that a glass of porto and the drone of two flies on the window of the bar hanging in the river’s sky at Porto are all I need to write the joy of two wet bodies hiding in the orchard’s grass. I remember two thighs opening for me like seashells. Her mouth wet as a date at times, warm as pastry at others. Rain tasted like grass and water was dropping down in threads. I was on a chair in the balcony/Surrounded by flat Acanthus leaves as they flash/I was reading what I was going to write when I glimpsed the phantom of a lady standing at the window in the house across from me/Binoculars watching me/ The water in crystal was dropping down in threads.

Moncef Ouahibi / Translated by Sinan Antoon