In Tunis, New Hopes Built on Old Stones

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 | Tunis, Tunisia

Nina in Sidi Bou Said
After nearly a decade of living in Algeria and Morocco and traveling across the Arab world, last year I finally made it to little Tunisia, Algeria's small but plucky neighbor. Since an initial weekend trip to Tunis with Nina and friends, I've returned to the city twice more for work. Meetings kept me from ranging farther than Tunis and its posh seaside suburbs, so I have yet to see the rest of the country, but I'm already becoming a fan.

Tunis rings a series of bays and inland estuaries along the Mediterranean coast. Spacious and verdant, it feels far less congested than Algiers, where the buildings cram in around a single bay. From the ancienne medina and the colonial-era downtown it's just a short drive through the suburbs to the ruins of Carthage, the ancient Punic city that rivaled Rome in its heyday (and then was sacked by it in 146 BC, ending said heyday). Last spring Nina and I joined our friends Ryan and Alex in exploring all that's left of the once-great city, now just a massive collection of topsy-turvy pavers, tumbled columns, and eroded baths scattered among the coastal pine forests.

Matrimony and Patrimony in Tlemcen

Friday, October 18, 2019 | Tlemcen, Algeria

The Medersa of Tlemcen, a colonial-era school built in the mauresque style, is getting a new paint job.
"Are you from Tlemcen? No wait, maybe Kabylie? No wait, Khenchela…?"

Ever since I settled in Algeria over six years ago and set about converting my Moroccan Arabic to a purely Algerian one, strangers who meet me invariably ask me if I'm from Tlemcen or one of these other regions. It's a reasonable guess, since these are the parts of Algeria known for having the most blonds—a category into which I fall unambiguously.

But perhaps the stereotype needs review. In 48 hours in Tlemcen late last year, I only saw two natural blonds! (We remain a rare species—though not nearly as rare here as you might guess, if you haven't visited Algeria, a country more diverse than most outsiders realize.)

I was in Tlemcen (تلمسان; pronounced t-lem-SAN) for my colleague Mehdi's wedding, which took place in his home village of Ain Youcef, a short drive north of Tlemcen city itself.