2014年2月28日 星期五

Tunisian Tour. 9 - Sbeitla (突尼西亞之旅.9--斯貝特拉)


The following morning, we were taken to another Roman ruins in Sbeitla, a small town 264 km north-central of Tunis, quite close to the Roman ruins of Sufetula,with the best preserved Forum temples in Tunisia. It was the entry point of the Muslim conquest of North Africa and southern Europe. There are still some Punic megaliths and funeral stela there.Sbeitla was first occupied by the nomadic Berber tribes until the Roman Emperor Legio III Augusta established a camp at Ammaedara but it only came under complete Roman control between 67 to 69 CE during the reign of Emperor Vespasian. During the 2nd century, it grew quite prosperous from its olive oil production facilities. Some olive presses could still be seen in the ruins there. However its suffered serious setbacks from the Vandal invasios during the late Roman Empire period, as evidenced by temples dedicated to Germanic gods. But with the arrival of the Byzantines, recovered its prosperity. In 647, it came under Muslim control when Rashidun Caliphate governor of Egypt Abdullah ibn Saad defeated Gregory the Patrician.

A small town we passed through on our way

2014年2月27日 星期四

Tunisian Tour. 8 - Tozeur. (突尼西亞之旅.8--吐澤.)


After our visit of three mountain oases, we were taken to Tozeur (Tawzar  or in  Latin Thusuros) in the south-west of Tunisia, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, an oasis town famous for its palm dates and for that reason, it's sometimes called Jarīd (meaning Palm). Situated north-west of Chotts of El-Jarid (Al-Jarīd) and the smaller Al-Rharsah (Al-Gharsah) and popularly described as "the gate of the desert", it was an important Numidian town on the ancient caravan routes between Vescra (now Biskra, Algeria) and Tacapae (now Gabès [Qābis] and the current capital of the Tozeur Governorate and was already settled in Roman times before its conquest by Amazigh (Berber) tribes after which it stayed a quasi-independent area until the rise of Ḥafṣid rule in the late Middle Ages. In the 14th century it was an active marketplace. Now the town relies more and more on tourism and every year, between November and December, an "International Festival of Oases" would be held there.  It used to have an extensive system of open surface irrigation canals first developed by the Arabs in the 13th century but now it is used less and less because the water there has  been artificially pumped off, leading to the decay of many old oases around the city. The city was the birthplace of a famous Tunisian poet called Aboul-Qacem Echebbi (Arabic: أبو القاسم الشابي‎) (1909-1934) whose elegant and powerful words have been used in the current  Tunisian national anthem.

Entering Tozeur

 The Habib Bourghiba Avenue of Tozeur, its main street

2014年2月26日 星期三

Tunisian Tour 7 --Chebika, Tamerza & Mides (突尼西亞之旅 7 -雪碧加.塔瑪哲.米德斯)


After a good night sleep, we were on our way again: to another part of Tunisia which we're told would be an oasis high up in the mountains: Chebika in the Tozeur Governorate at the Western side of Tunisia.at the foot of the mountains of the Djebel el Negueb. Many scenes in  "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" and the movie "The English Patient" were shot in that region.

A last look at our hotel

In Arab, this place is called Qasr el-Shams or "Castle of the Sun" because it was built on a height constantly exposed to the sun. In was once a Roman outpost, named Ad Speculum and before 1969, it was a mountain refuge of the Berber people. But in that year, there were some torrential rains which triggered a mud slip which effectively destroyed the entire mountain village up there. You can still see the rows of terraced rocks protected by wire meshes at the side of the mountain to prevent further landslide. There are just a hundred or more people living in the buildings below that former town now, living on tourism, selling desert roses, postcards, semi-precious stones, souvenirs and mementos.

2014年2月25日 星期二

Tunisian Tour 6 --Douz (突尼西亞之旅 6 -杜茲.)


After seeing how some Berber people live in underground caves, we were given a taste of the Sahara, nearly 300 miles south of Tunis, in the suburbs of a small town called Douz, and about 1.5 hour  coach journey away from Matmata. Douz has been called the "gateway to the Sahara"  because in the olden days, it was an important stop for the trans-Sahara caravan routes. Even now, a 4-day International Festival of the Sahara would be held in November or December each year when there would be camel wrestling, horse races, salugis ( a game in which a player would snatch a ball from another and then keep on passing it to a third and the third  and the fourth etc would do the same), music and dancing and the traditional caravan market days are still continuing. Douz has also been called "the ultimate palm oasis" because there are more than 500,000 palm trees there.

This is where we would have our camel ride.

The camels are waiting

2014年2月24日 星期一

Tunisian Tour. 5 - Matmata (突尼西亞之旅.5--瑪特瑪它)


The following day was a day of mainly on the road.  We went to Matmata (Arabic: مطماطة‎ Maṭmāṭah), a small desert town hidden amongst the hills in southern Tunisia where about 2000 people live in the traditional underground caves dug out from the sides of the dry yellow earth. The people there were Berbers, the oldest original inhabitants of North Africa who are thought to have been living there since the Roman times. Their homes, called "troglodytes" , are a bit like those found in the loess caves in Shenxi, China.  Each such house has several rooms, some used as storehouse, others as bedrooms connected sometimes connected to each other by underground tunnels. They got no kitchens. They cook their food in  earth stoves a little distance away from their where they live. So are their latrines. They got their water from wells dug deep into the earth. But now, they got government supplied water. It is said that for centuries, no one knew that they were until 1967 when there was a huge flood lasting 22 days which inundated such underground homes and the locals were forced to seek Government help. Since then some above ground homes have been built but the majority of the local rebuilt their own homes because they were used to this way of living. According to their oral history, their ancestors thought of this way of hiding from the Egyptian tribes sent by the Romans to kill them during the Punic War. Like ghosts which came from nowhere, they would emerge stealthily and quietly from their hideouts during the night to attack their enemies some distance off and kill them off and then immediately went back to their caves. This strategy proved so successful that they had remained there ever since.

We started quite early and had to drive several hours. The restaurant where we had our rest stop for a coffee before we reached Matmata

2014年2月23日 星期日

Saturday Fun

There are many people in this world one can avoid if one doesn't want to encounter them.  But there're two kinds of people whom one can't avoid. One of the them is the tax man. The other is the doctor. But the medical professionals can't be all bad. Some of them can be funny too.


A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a Harley Davidson
motorbike when he spotted a well-known heart surgeon in his shop.
The surgeon was there, waiting for the service manager to come and take a look at his bike.
The mechanic shouted across the garage, "Hey, Doc, can I ask you a question?"
A bit surprised, the surgeon walked over to the mechanic working on his motorbike. 

The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag and asked, "So Doc, look at this engine. I open its heart, take valves out, fix 'em, put 'em back in, and when I finish, it works just like new. So how come I get such a small salary and you get the really big bucks, when you and I are doing basically the same thing?"
The surgeon paused, smiled and leaned over, and whispered to the mechanic...
"Try doing it with the engine running."


One day, Brian bumped into his doctor at the supermarket.
“Hi, doc!” Brian exclaimed, “I’ve been meaning to tell you, remember those voices I kept on hearing in my head? I haven’t heard them in over a week!”
“Wow! What wonderful news Brian! I’m so happy for you!” his Dr. exclaimed.
“Wonderful?” asked a dismal looking Brian.“There’s nothing wonderful about it. I’m afraid my hearing is starting to go now!"


Patient: How much to have this tooth pulled?
Dentist: $100.00.
Patient: $100.00 for just a few minutes work?
Dentist: Well, I can extract it very slowly if you like.

Hope you'll survive long enough to see the next round of weekend fun.

2014年2月21日 星期五

Joao Maria Pires and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Joao Maria Pires is one of my favourite pianists. Definitely she's not a Martha Argerich. Nor is she a Rubinstein, a Richter nor even a Horowitz. She doesn't need to be any one of those. She is herself. She plays always with grace, with delicacy, with sensitivity, with intimacy, with poesy. I got almost every one of her available CD's in Hong Kong ever since I first learned about her years ago. Last night, I finally got a chance to listen to her live on stage. I was shocked when she appeared. She dresses so simply and occupies so little physical space, something which seems so incongruous with the size of her talent. She walks on stage so informally that one could easily have mistaken her for one's next door neighbor and yet in that casualness, one finds so much natural poise, so unlike the studied gait of some of the other musicians which appear on our musical stage.  She played for us Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor. Op 54. She was accompanied by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra ("SCO") under a slim young conductor who dresses as if he came from the 19th century, called  Robin Ticciati, the SCO's principal conductor for the last 4 years.

2014年2月20日 星期四

Opera Unlimited

It's often the case that after the artist or the orchestra has finished its formal programme, they would be so delighted with the response that they would give what's called an "encore" (again). If we're lucky, we get two. And if we're even luckier, three. But four! Simply unbelievable! I'm not joking. That's exactly what we got at Saturday' before last's concert by the HKPO batoned by Korean conductor Jung-Ho Pak in a night of  arias, overtures and extracts from a huge variety of operas with the Korean coloratura soprano Sumi Jo as soloist.  Sumi Jo certainly enjoyed herself, throwing herself into the relevant roles in the different operatic scenes with obvious gusto and in the final piece, Offenbach's Olympia's Aria about a toy doll, she moved about as if she were a mechanical doll which required periodic winding by the conductor before she could continue and the conductor came prepared with a huge wooden winding device which he would pretend to apply to her back, drawing some unrestrained mirth from the usual staid concert crowd. There are so many songs from more than two centuries of operas and arias that it would be impossible for me to describe each not even in the briefest detail. So I must give up doing so. In short we had:

The Overture from Rossini's Il Signor Bruschino

2014年2月19日 星期三

Tunisian Tour. 4 - El Jem Amphitheatre (突尼西亞之旅.4--伊利捷的古羅馬鬥獸場)


After lunch, we were taken to another world heritage site, the amphitheatre at El Jem, ( Thysdrus in Latin)  a small town in the Mahdia Governorate ( province) of less than 20,000, town built by the Romans from former Punic settlement, which was known in the 2nd century BCE for its export quality olive oil production and later became the seat of a Roman Catholic bishopric. The amphitheatre there was built in the 3rd century by the Roman proconsul Gordon, when it was the second largest Roman city in North Africa after Carthage. However when Gordan proclaimed himself Emperor in 238, the Roman soldiers loyal to the then Roman Emperor Flavius turned against him and El Jem was destroyed and has never since quite recovered. 

We drove out from Tunis after lunch and on our way passed through this very unusual looking two-tiered clock tower standing on a calyx like trapezium base.

2014年2月14日 星期五

Tunisian Tour. 3 - The Medina of Tunis (突尼西亞之旅.3--突尼斯之麥地那市集)

Our next stop is the the old town of Tunis, called in Arabic "Medina" or more correctly the Medina Souk ( or Suuq). According to some historians, this part of Tunis was first built in the 723 by Obeid Allah ibn-al-Habhab to celebrate Tunis as the capital of Tunisia but other historians argued that its building was ordered by Hassan Ibnu-Nouauman who led the conquest of Tunis and Carthage. Whatever the truth may be, it has become a world heritage site since 1979 probably because it contains more than 700  monuments of different historical architectural styles eg. Roman or Byzantium, Andalucian and Arab, including palaces like La Marsa, Bardo and Ksar Said and the Dar-el-Bey (Bey's Palace) which combines a variety of architectural and decorative styles from many such  periods and is believed to stand on the remains of a Roman theatre as well the 10th century palace of Ziadib-Allah II al Aghlab, mosques, mausoleums like the Tourbet El Fellari, Tourbet Aziza Othman and Tourbet El Be,  about 200 madrassas or zouias (religious schools) like the El Bachia, Slimania, El Achouria, Bir El Ahjar, El Nakhla including in the case of the Zitourna Mosque, a university, oratories, fountains and historic shops (souk/ suuq) which showcase not only Islamic architecture, sculpture but also its urban planning and the arts under the two great Muslim dynasties which affected life in Tunisia, the Almohads (1127-1247 ) the second caliphate after the death of Mohammad (originally from Mecca but later based mainly in Damascus in what is now Syria and after being ousted in Damascus by the Abbisads moved to Cordoba, southern Spain and the Hafsids (first as governors on behalf of the Almohads but from 1229 to 1574 as kings in their own right). It is supposed to the the most completely preserved Islamic heritage site in North Africa. It was the commercial, economic, political and cultural centre of not only of Tunisia but also of the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe from the 12th century to the 16th century. About 100,000 or about a tenth of the population of Tunis still live in it. The buildings here can be divided into domestic houses, official and civilian buildings like government offices and libraries and commercial quarters eg. the neighborhood of El Bey Tourbet and the Kasbah district is where all the judges and politicians live whilst the streets of Pacha are mainly military and bourgeois.

This is Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul of Tunis, the only active Catholic Cathedral there, right outside the entrance to the Medina Souk. There are now an estimated 20,000 Catholics in Tunisia but not more than 500 of them regularly attend service, mostly in Tunis. This beautiful church was completed in 1897 when Tunisia was still a "protectorate" of France, something which first started in 1881. The other cathedral is St. Louis Cathedral in Carthage, a little north of Tunis, also built in the 19th century but after Tunisia got independent in 1956, the cathedrals were taken over by the Government but in exchange, the Catholic church was permitted to continue to operate because freedom to practice one's own religion is guaranteed by the Tunisian constitution, now being redrafted. The Anglicans and the Jews are also allowed to practice their own form of religion here.  Theoretically the archdiocese of Tunis operates 12 churches, 9 schools, several libraries, 2 clinics and a monastery and it does cultural and charitable work throughout the country.The history of the Jews in Tunisia goes back to Roman times. But there are now much less Jews in Tunisia than before. Prior to 1948, there were more than 105,000 Jews in Tunisia 70,000 of whom were subjects of the bey of Tunis, 30,000 of them French citizens, and 5,000 were Italian citizens but in the 1950s, around 55,000 of them immigrated to Israel and 40,000 to France and the rest to other countries. By 2011, only 700 Jews were left living in Tunis, with another 1,000 on the island of Dherba. Despite such small numbers, the Jewish community in Tunis still runs 3 primary schools, 2 secondary school and a yeshiva ( a religious school specializing in the study of Talmud and the Torah). On 12th January 2014, the Ennahda-led government led by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, nominated René Trabelsi, a kippah-wearing Tunisian Jew from Djerba and the owner of a large tourist agency to be the new Minister of Tourism.

2014年2月13日 星期四

Tunisian Tour. 2--Sidi Bou Said(突尼西亞之旅.2--西迪.布. 賽伊德)

Our next stop in the tour is a really beautiful little town some 20 km north of Tunis: Sidi Bou Said. This town was originally a little known fishing village called Jebel El-Manar (or fire mountain) because there used to be a fire burning at the spot where we find the present lighthouse to help returning fishing boats to berth safely at the village port at night. We were told by the local guide that it got its name from a Muslim saint Abu Said ibn Khalef ibn Yahia Ettaimini El-Beji, born in 1156 at Beja, who first studied and taught religion and science at the Zitouna mosque in Tunis, then went for a long pilgrimage to the Middle East and upon his return, retired for meditation in this village as a marabou/marabout and eventually died and was buried here in 1231. A marabou ( derived from Arabic word "mourabit" or "mrabet" , means "one who is garrisoned", referring to the religious volunteers who manned the ribats (small frontier fortifications) during the Muslim conquest of the Magreb in the 8th century) is a Qur'an scholar or religious teacher or a wandering holy men who survive on alms or a murshid ("Guide" or spiritual director) in the Sufi tradition who would sometimes make amulets for good luck or preside at various Islamic ceremonies, tell the future and otherwise act as a guide to the lives of his followers. But today, "marabout" in the Berber language means a saint  or simply a teacher, who leads lodges or schools (called "zaouïa") of a Sufi tradition called Tariqah (طريقه Ṭarīqah: "way", "path" seeking for the "ultimate truth"). Abu Said is regarded by the residents here as a local saint and his mausoleum here has now become a place for pilgrimmage. In the 18th century, the Husseinite Beys (Turkish governors who later conducted themselves as  kings) and other wealthy people began building villas and residences here and it gradually becomes a small town.

The town from a distance

2014年2月12日 星期三

Tunisian Tour. 1 Tunis: Carthage.(突尼西亞之旅.1-迦太基帝國遺址)

The trip to Tunisia proved a most rewarding journey both in terms of photographs taken and in filling out certain blanks in my knowledge of ancient history of certain Mediterranean civilizations and present day conditions of a mainly agricultural country at the northernmost tip of North Africa with a very rich and complex history heavily influenced by its historical and cultural heritage from Semitic Canaanite Phoenicia, Italy, Turkey,  southern Spain and France.

2014年2月11日 星期二

Tour to Fujian 4.2 -old Amoy (福建之旅4.2--舊日廈門)


Our tour of Fujian concluded with a brief tour of the old Amoy which had been there long  before the 2nd World War (which in China meant the defensive war against the Japanese invasion which started in 1931) with suitable postwar and post-1978 modifications.

At the head of the street, we saw this sign which says that it's a Chinese cultural historical heritage street.

2014年2月10日 星期一

Tour to Fujian 4.1- A Garden City (福建之旅4.1--花園城市)

One of my most surprising findings in this trip is how outwardly clean and pleasant the physical environment in Amoy is.

 If possible, I would take a leisurely stroll along the banks of the enclosed sea/lake very morning.