Sep 19, 2016
TRAVELING ALONE, Part 8—“Where is Everybody?”
The final big event for the 11th Festival of Fine Arts in Monastir was a reception to show off all the paintings done by the artists, in the location at what was hoped to be the future Museum of Contemporary Art in Monastir. We were to meet in the lobby to get on the bus trip to the building, so I went to my room to rest, for just a few minutes. I thought I would lay down for about a half hour. I was exhausted.
We were to meet at 5:45, bus to leave at 6. I woke up out of a dead sleep at 5:40. If you can picture the old cartoons with little speed lines and clouds of dust kicked up behind the characters, you aren’t even close to what went on in my room over the next few minutes.
I got to the lobby, out of breath, still in a sleep-induced daze, heart pounding, rehearsing my apologies, knowing that things were probably running late and everyone was still sitting around, waiting. I rushed into the room and found
NOTHING. NADA. NIENTE. ZIP. ZIFR. For a moment I didn’t even see the clerk. I tell you, it was an eery feeling. It’s like you’r in the middle of a time/space continuum of some sort. I went to the dining room. Silence. I looked outside. Cars speeding by. Nobody.
At this point I assumed I was early, that everyone else was late (because that’s the kind of ego I have). I jokingly went up to the concierge and asked, “Where is everyone? Am I early?” Expecting a chuckle of agreement.
Instead I got a tick of the head, a slight lift of the eyebrows (you would have to know an Arab to understand my reference to this movement, but it is usually accompanied by a slight sucking of the teeth). Basically it meant I was out of luck.
“They are gone.”
“Gone? I’m only 5 minutes late? How could everyone have gotten on the bus so quickly? What do you mean?”
“They left early.”
My brain could not compute any of this.
“About an hour ago.” (That’s another part of the story)
“Where did they go?”
Tick, eyebrows, teeth. Accompanied by a shoulder shrug. Great.
Basically, I was out of luck. No idea where the venue was, no way to get there.
Did that stop me? No. No, it did not.
I remembered that the opening events (two weeks ago) took place at Cap Marina (Cape Marina); there was a building there that was the art center, maybe THAT was where the reception was. Or, at least, near it.
OK. I had a destination. Now I needed transportation.
There was public bus transportation, but I had only ridden that with others. I was not comfortable riding it on my own, to a place I did not know. A TAXI!
Long story somewhat shortened…
The concierge told me I could hail a cab on the street in front of the hotel, on the opposite side of the street. I asked him how much he thought it might cost me. Maybe 6 Tunisian dinars; maybe more. I went back to my room to get the paper we received at the beginning of the Festival which described the event. No address, but a description.
I went across the street and stopped a cab. “Can you take me to the marina? How much?” “15 dinars.” “No, I was told 6!”. We agreed on 10 (I considered that 6 plus a generous tip, and was in no mood to do the usual negotiations). Deal.
At the Marina
He took me straight to the marina (about 10 minutes, if that).
I walked through the entrance, out towards the water, and
Where? I thought maybe I would hear sounds of a party—What was I thinking? Nothing.
To the art center. Locked.
Asked around, did anyone know of an art reception, a party, a large group of people, artists (feeling more foolish by the minute). I found a marina policeman who understood ‘reception’. He walked with me AALLLL the way to one end of the marina. To a hotel. With the word ‘reception’ over the desk. Sigh. I asked the concierge about the event, showed him the paper, he had no clue. Sigh.
I told the policeman this was not it, and we walked back towards the entrance, where he…walked into the marina police station, and closed the door. And left me alone. I guess he had figured he had better cut his losses. I was beginning to feel the same way. It was hopeless, and I was a fool.
On the other hand, it was beautiful, balmy evening in Monastir, Tunisia. I would be going home soon, and I had not had much time to just walk around and enjoy the area, by myself.
So, that is what I did. I walked along the waterfront, feeling the gentle breeze, just being ‘in the moment’. Along the way I asked several people who where in kiosks if THEY knew anything about the event. They did not.
By this time I was almost at the other end of the marina. One last man gestured for another man in a car to drive over. He was a teacher, on his way home. I told my sad tale once more, and could understand my paper well. He said he was not aware of anything going on in the marina tonight. He also suggested that I might want to head back to the hotel. I told him I would, but wanted to walk around a bit more, it was such a beautiful evening. He shrugged, and said, “As you wish.”
I walked on a bit further, and then realized He spoke the truth. It was getting late in the evening, the sun was starting to set, and it would be dark soon. The marina was pretty deserted.
I did not feel any specific alarm, but it occurred to me that I did not want to look for a taxi (or get into a taxi) in the dark. I did not know how well lit the entrance to the marina would be, so I headed back, walking briskly. By the time I got to the entrance darkness had fallen, and the whole place was lit up light a Christmas tree. There were lots of people arriving, walking around, getting out of taxis. I caught a cab that was unloading its fare, he said 15 dinars, I said I had only paid 10 getting there, he agreed, and we drove back to the hotel.
AND, I got to see a small part of Monastir at night, outside of the hotel grounds and beach. Beautiful.
When I got back to hotel, everyone was sitting in the dining room, and everyone wanted to know how I liked the exhibit. When I told my sad tale, many people (the ones I had been hanging with) said they missed me, but figured I was somewhere else in the building. And there were 2 buses, so all assumed I was in the ‘other’ bus. It was nice to know I was missed and thought of, and they were upset. Apparently at the last minute word had gone around that the event would start an hour early, but somehow I had been overlooked. If I had not gone back to take a nap, I would have been in the lobby to hear. Oh, well. I had my own adventure, and it was lovely.
I guess I must go back, to see the art. And find the future Museum of Contemporary Art in Tunisia. We know it is not in the marina.
Advice and observations:
1) When there are tours, agendas that are being set by others, places that are destinations for a group, always get street addresses, write them down, do not rely on others. WRITE. IT. DOWN.
2) Always establish the price of the taxi fare BEFORE you get into the taxi. You can still tip if you wish.
3) When local people suggest you head back, you should. They probably know more than you know. In retrospect, I don’t think the teacher thought I was in any danger, but I was a woman alone in a secluded area.
4) You can miss a lot when you take a nap.
5) Adventures come at the strangest times.
The coffee story (and water) will have to wait until another time….and if you knew my addiction to coffee, you would know that it really can't.
Ellen Zinder says (Sep 20, 2016):
Good story, and good advice!! This was written so well... I could not wait to find out what happened next.
Linda Hollett-Bazouzi says (Sep 20, 2016):
Thank you, Ellen! That is high praise, indeed!