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Operation desert date
Rating: (5.0) (5 Votes)

September 13th, 2004

Pros: Tunis - Spectacular
Cons: Very Hot

Well, lets see. When we last left our hero he was caught, beer in hand, in a perilously laconic situation off the southern coast of Italy. Many of you may have asked. Can our hero possibly survive five more weeks trapped in the role of European playboy? To discover the truth you will require: the reading ability of a dyslexic grade three yet the stamina of a prizefighter. Enjoy.

Here begins Episode Two of this lethargic travel log. As promised, in this installment our hedonistic hero battles through the fascist strongholds of Sicily, then crosses the Mediterranean to initiate a Rommelesq move through North Africa, only to return to the European theater before landing on allied soil in Canada.

Now, my mother once told me “A clear conscience is usually the sign of
a bad memory”. Well I had always thought I had a photographic memory. I just forgot to buy film. As a result of this, and my near vegetative lifestyle, I am a bit hazy on where the last two months have gone. So I will start at my most cognitive memory of Sicily.

We were in Palermo, capital of Sicily and a city once said to rival the spectacle of Rome. Renown travel writer Arthur Symonds said "Perhaps there are few spots upon the surface of the globe more beautiful than Palermo,". This statement says to me one of two things. Either Mr. Symonds had never been to Palermo or he found a great stash of narcotics and did not get of the ferry. Further investigation points out that Symonds died in 1900, and back then Palermo was indeed beautiful.

However it appeared to me that at the turn of the 20th centenary the maintenance crew went home for their afternoon siesta and never came back. So you can still see buildings with pock-like facades where bullet holes and shrapnel marks damaged them in The Italian Revolution and Second World War. To add insult, to injury in what could be a magnificent city, the famous Sicilian mafia discovered that they could make more money in construction than they could in pimping and protection. So through a combination of their usual ‘leverage’ and lack of construction knowledge they set about rebuilding the city post WW2. The result, a city that appears to have been constructed by a bunch of left handed lemmings after a night on the piss.

But Palermo did have one astonishing attraction; a place that I like to call ‘The Disneyland of Death’. Basically some four hundred years ago the vain aristocracy of Palermo decided they were such a handsome bunch they would look good dead or alive; I think there are probably a few Melbourne Grammar Boys out there who can empathize.

So in the catacombs beneath the Capuchins Cathedral they had themselves strung up so family and friends could visit them long after their death (don’t get any ideas Mum & Dad), some of them even stipulated in their Will’s that they would like their clothes changed to keep up with the latest fashions (how Italian). So four hundred years and three thousand corpses later they created a necrophiliac’s fantasyland where you can pay a monk a couple of Euros to go down and hang out (no pun intended) with the dead people. You could almost say that in one day I saw more stiffs than porn star Jemma Jamison has in a lifetime.

After three weeks of floating around in the sunshine with the folks on Free Spirit, the tyranny of the lifestyle started to get to me. You guys with jobs and work ethics will never know how hard it is being a slave to a pleasure centric lifestyle. But like many slaves before me I went in search of liberty and freedom.

I have always thought of myself as a black man (at least from the waist down) and so it was only natural that after obtaining my freedom I would head back to the ancestral home of well-endowed man. So to Africa I headed.

As I drifted to sleep on the star lit deck of a trans-Mediterranean ferry I dreamt of the: Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans and most recently French who may have gazed at the same stars whilst crossing the same seas to attempt to conquer the small wedge of land that now comprises modern Tunisia. By dawn I could see the outline of the capital city, Tunis, faintly looming on the horizon. It is a city founded on the ancient ruins of Carthage; one of the few civilizations to have the audacity to challenge ‘the might of Rome’.

Easing back into a half sleep I imagined the spectacle of the Ancient metropolis that once dominated this skyline and the Southern Mediterranean. A massive cultural, political and economic center that was home to the legendary Carthagen General Hannibal; who famously brought war elephants over the Alps to attack Rome on it’s home soil.

Unfortunately for Hannibal, and Carthage the Elephants were the great grandparents of Dumbo and so the Romans just laughed at them and chased them back to Carthage pulling their tails and calling them big ears [Authors note: there may be some historical inadequacies in this passage]. The consequence was equally tragic for modern day tourists, because the Romans were so incensed by Carthage’s audacity that they ordered the city ‘destroyed so no seed remained from which to rebuild’. What the Roman’s left the Vandal’s (as the name suggests) and the ultimate demolition team –time- took care of.

Although I may have been disappointed with the ruins, Tunis itself is spectacular. Due impart to its recent history as a French colony it is considered the Paris of Africa. It is a majestic city bursting with charm elegance and cultural substance; in part a product of the highbred influences its history and geographical position has yielded.

Before departing the comfort of Italy I had read in a guide book ‘it is not recommended to travel on the interior of Tunisia during the months of July and August do to extreme heat’. Ah, I thought to myself guidebooks are for freaks and geeks; not the Mellett Machine and so: tossing the guidebook in the bin, to the deserts of North Africa I headed in a 1980’s Ford station wagon that looked like it would break down more often than a widow at her husbands funeral.

Do you know what I found out there in the desert? Sand. And loads of it. Every town I went to had listed under major tourist attractions ‘famous date orchid’. I discovered Tunisians are more fascinated with dates that the average poof at the Sydney Mardigras.

To make matters worse the guidebook was right. It was hot. Most days it averaged over 45 degrees. I was sweating like a pedophile in a playground. It was so hot that I did what German Field Marshal Rommel would have done. I lifted the pace of the attack. I started moving like I had dropped my dick in a deep fryer, visiting up to five towns a day until I reached the coast.

On the way to the coast I met Fahmi, a Tunisian university student who offered to show me around his town, Suisse, he then offered me a place to stay with his family. So for three days I hung out with Fahmi and his mates on the beach. I said good-bye to his family before we left to see an African cup soccer match. His mother gave me a hug and said in French ‘you now have a Tunisian mother too’. Soo quite.

With my work in North Africa complete I boarded the ferry back to Italy. I got a bit smarter on the trip back and booked a cabin and, due to cool air, I slept like a mummy on Valium. I awoke. It was 10am. We were supposed to be in port by 8:30. But the engines were still running? I dived out of my room just in my boxers (an uncommon sight on a Muslim ferry) and ran up to deck, there was no land in sight. Shit, I thought, the ferry must have come back to Italy docked and was now heading back to Africa. After ten minutes of panic I discovered that one of the engines had broken down and so we would not be in Italy for another hour and a half.

I wont punish you further by telling you of the next 10 days on the boat with the folks, you have suffered enough. For reading this far you should be awarded a noble prize for literature.

As they say in Tunisia hamdoullah
Thank God, or was it watch out for the hairy Australian