Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sidi Bou Saïd

Sidi Bou Said
In which we consume fried glory.

Soufian: vaguely 35. A round-faced bonhomme with an intimidating, stubborn precision when asking questions and a flirtatious greed when urging us to eat brik after sandwiches and fricassée. When I suggested sharing fricasée he put his hand on mine in dissappointed protest.

"Mais! Ils sont petit! A chacun son mien." (But! They're so small! To each his own.) and bought three.

Amos: sweater and boots.

Me: sticky fingers.

Soufian left us at the ancient port-turned-weekend-town Sidi Bou Saïd for biegnets, café, and ambience. In that order.

It was exactly what a seaport should be, if possible. Blue and white buildings climbed steep streets lined with orange trees. One orange, too ripe to hold on any longer, rolled down the cobblestone streets toward the sea. Tourists announced their presence by turning their heads in amazement to watch that lone, fat orange.

At the top of the hill and around a few corners: imagine a four-foot square cave hacked out of the cliffside. A counter has been built at the entrance. Inside are two men, one for frying, the other for sugaring and money. The sugarer/cashier picks beignets up, one at a time, with a long stick, tosses them in sugar and slides them into white paper pockets. We bought two (approximately a three-year-old's head in diameter?) and descended into silence. They were perfect.

Only magic can take:


and make those things into this perfect cloud of tender salty sweet. It was crisp on the outside, pillowy, almost elusive, once your teeth cracked the golden skin. A man hurled himself past us, five beignets pinched between his thumb and forefinger. We neither of us said anything, but were both envious.

The rest of the afternoon was lounging on white benches over the mediterranean, sipping mint tea with pine nuts, cafe au lait, fresh squeezed orange juice. The musty sweetness of hookah drifted up from the tables below. Hours passed with nothing much happening but the sun moving a few inches, and us turning different parts of our faces into its warmth.

The taxi door closed to take us back to Tunis as the sun set behind us. And somewhere behind us the five-beigneted man and the lone fat orange had found each other. I don't know it. I didn't see it happen. But I'd like to please take it on faith.


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