Saturday, August 01, 2009

Adventures in Moknine

This morning H asked me if I wanted to ride along with him and a friend on a tour of the city. When he told me his friend is a blogger, I decided I had to go. We made some stops to photograph things that his friend writes about in criticism of Ksar Hellal, this city, and then we crossed the line into the bordering city. On Wednesday morning H and I had come to this city to the gold souk to buy some fish charms and beads with which to make earrings. The souk is held in a small square near the old Jewish section of town, so that was where we headed today, to look for interesting scenes to photograph.
Our first stop of interest was at the front of a jewelry's tiny shop, where he sat outside pounding flat the links of a chain he had soldered together, of 9 carat gold. He showed us the hands, about 2 inches long and flat, which he makes by pouring molten silver into molds. With kind hospitality he allowed me to photograph him at work. We set off from his shop and rounded a corner to find some fascinating old buildings, and a curious cat.
Ksar Hellal and Moknine, while close neighbors, are very distinct and rivals of a sort. Women from Ksar Hellal are advised not to marry men from Moknine, but apparently women from Moknine are very satisfying wives. When H's grandfather was the "Sheikh" of Ksar Hellal, he was beaten up in Moknine, so H never much liked the town. However, our good friends back in Texas are from there, and her family has always been very welcoming to us, inviting me to weddings which I photographed.
We went on down this street, watched by the people going by and 2 men seated in front of a mosque. H and the blogger began talking to them and found that one of them had worked with H's uncle as a carpenter.
We turned another corner, and kept photographing. A young girl slipped into her house and I photographed the interesting door knocker- a hand. Soon she came out again and addressed me in lovely sounding French. "Jou no par pa frances" I told her. The blogger joined us, and soon called H to translate. She was inviting me to see her house, and old traditional one. Of course I accepted, and asked her her name in Arabic. "Samar," she told me.
When we walked in her parents were relaxing on mattresses in the entry way, and quickly leaped up at the sight of me. They welcomed me in and her father invited me to look at the house. He spoke to me mostly in French, explaining (by writing it down) that the house was 150 years old. They took me into a narrow room on one side of the large courtyard and I photographed the vaulted ceiling. On one end was a raised platform that was formerly used as a bed. In the middle of the courtyard was a more modern house. The girls posed for me in front of an interesting door. The mother brought me higo- cactus pears, grapes, and filled a plate with the figs drying in the courtyard. They told me about their three kids, and I told about my two, and my husband from the nearby town. I think they thought me a tourist and didn't realize I had a connection there. I tried to explain we have friends from Moknine in Texas, but I'm not sure it came across. I thanked them and left, and the adventures continued.
We went on to the section of town where pottery is made, and I got out of the car to photograph an outdoor kiln. Everywhere were piles of the small pots used to catch octopus. Some men were sitting at the door to a large warehouse, and we went in to find a potter throwing pots. We got a whole tour of the place. One end was filled with curing pots, and out back was a kiln in which they had fired pots that morning. The pots went in through the top, and then the fire was stoked in an underground cave beneath the kiln. The fire was fueled with sawdust (and I think sometimes the olive pulp left from oil extraction). It must have been out for a while, because despite the hot day the cave was not uncomfortable; in the winter, the guide explained, they sat on a ledge to one side to keep warm.
His two sons- one a baby- were there and I spoke with them a few minutes. An older boy helped out by putting clay into the machine that pressed it out in long logs about 5 inches around. The potter than twisted these ropes onto the pot he was forming on the wheel. He worked quickly, probably finishing one pot every 5 minutes or faster. A couple of men sat in the doorway to catch the breeze, watching and talking, drinking "builder's" tea and smoking.
The willingness of people to let me photograph them and their pride in showing us around their homes and businesses is really wonderful. I'm certainly glad I didn't decide to stay home today.

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1 comment:

Loma Kath said...

What an amazing day! I can't wait to see the photos.