Tag Archives: travel


JL Tyler PhotographyI was in Tunisia in September 2001, and despite the short period, saw much that impressed me. I’d wondered about Africa for years, not knowing what it held, and yet wanting to see it – any of it, all of it. The little I saw I’ve turned into a few vignettes which I hope you enjoy.

I have not included the entire text as these stories will be published in the near future. If you wish to read the full text or enquire about publishing rights, please contact me here.

1. Necessary Evil

The Oriental Palace Hotel wasn’t the most impressive hotel in Tunis – that distinction belongs to the strangely inverted Grand Hotel du Lac (a structure resembling a pyramid stood on its point) – but it was listed as “five star” in our guide book and, with exchange rates, was affordable. We booked a room from Italy and looked forward to Mediterranean Africa’s first class treatment.

2. The Spice of Life

Tunis is a quiet place, saccharine even, a market town of amber hues and the scent of sandalwood. Habib Bourguiba, the main boulevard, is a tree-lined concourse illuminated in the night by art-nouveau fixtures (think: arches over entrances to the Paris Metro); they turn the city a golden-orange like the Saharan sand. Lining the avenue are moderately-priced hotels, artisan collectives, the city’s only mall, and an off-beat church or two.

3. Attacking Carthage

We walked in Tunis, and it was always hot. We left the Hotel Carlton and walked west. It was mid-morning. At the newsagent stands alongside the road – little cardboard kiosks catering to walkers and drivers pulling over to the sidewalk – the glossy magazine covers were rippling and warped from the blistering, direct sunlight.

The train was stifling, a poorly-ventilated local linking Tunis to Carthage and beyond. Despite the rich, eastern suburbs it eventually served – La Marsa, Sidi Bou Said, Le Corniche – it shuttled a motley crew to points prior. We passed through areas with names like La Goulette (the gullet), Le Bac and Le Kram, where locals got on, sweated, and got off. At Le Bac, the doors smashed open beside us, and a grizzled face with one pulpy socket empty of its eye poked in. He was filthy; his hands were scabbed and black from grime. He held fast to the doors as he swung his head inward and about. When he entered the car fully, the doors rattled shut behind him and he moved through the crowd muttering prayer, or curse, or entreaty.

4. Cafe Life

Tunisian cafes are dark and suffused with a smoky moodiness, and though they lack the life and light of Paris, they are no less integral to one’s day. The Cafe Ezzitouna is within the medina and is dark and oaken rich in color. It is quietly respectable (its name means “The Cafe of the Mosque of the Olive Tree”), and its customers are Medina shop clerks on their breaks. Dim yellow lights light wooden benches along the walls; some are covered with flat, green cushions, some are bare. Every few spaces there is a round pedastle table with copper inlay, and on each is an ashtray. The wet heat of the room is barely disturbed by the dark fan rotating against the carved ceiling, a pattern of squares and crosses. People talk softly if they talk at all.

Failing to Trek

I’ve been to Nepal twice and have yet to make it on a serious trek. What I did instead was hike smaller trails, walk around cities and towns, talk to people, think about where I was and what it meant, and write.

Below you will find the opening paragraphs to seven vignettes from Nepal. I have not included the entire text as these stories will be published in the near future. If you wish to read the full text or enquire about publishing rights, please contact me here.

1. Off to a Good Start

It could have been worse. I was in Thailand; I could have been rolled.

The first morning of the trip, I woke with a jolt and a fierce chill running up my spine. I fell out of the clean bed, the three-star bed chilled by three-star air-conditioning, and stumbled into the bathroom to vomit into the beige porcelain toilet. I stared at the spiral stains in the bowl, stains made from high mineral deposits that have flowed through the bowl for too many years, and waited for my stomach to empty. The wake-up call – a shrill double ring of the hotel phone – sounded again from the other room as my head continued to droop forward. I stood up and coughed, then washed my face and hands. I was afraid to look in the mirror.

2. Something in the Air

Katmandu had shed its night, the dark that descended as I walked alongside the Royal Palace, the dark that brought out the gargantuan bats, the dark that hid broken sidewalks and breaking streets. But as I walked the sleepiness out of my system that first morning, the monochrome grey light at six AM showed nothing more than small carrion birds fighting with the garbage. The city moved barely a twitch. With no real light, it didn’t seem alive.

3. Perambulations and Pick-me-ups

There’s an aspect to Asian travel I learned of personally during my days of shoestring hitching, but which I’d forgotten in these last few years: it involves never getting to your destination in the way you intend.

4. Double Chubby Chuck and a Side of Fries, Please

After flying into Katmandu with my guts significantly strung out, I was appreciably apprehensive about the food. I tried a single grilled cheese sandwich, and this led tentatively to soup, then rice. After my first morning walkabout, I stopped at The Bakery Café, a well-lighted restaurant near Durbar Marg, to test my constitution. Scrambled eggs should be safe enough, I thought, then paused to contemplate the bacon.

5. Walk on the Wild Side

“If you meet bear,” Kamal said, “be aggressive.”

Our group of five stooped low to the ground, the better to see below the brush that thickened at chest-height. The Chitwan jungle was a maze of animal paths that ran helter-skelter under a thick canopy above – boars, tigers, leopards, and bears lived, walked and fed here. Trees were coiled with vines and choked with thick, sweaty leaves; the sky was a forgotten blue; dark, green nature surrounded us. We walked slowly, cautiously, crinking our necks to see forward.

6. And Then There’s The Himal

Tal and Ina were staying in a bungalow next to mine. At first I thought they were French because they stared as I came and went but silently refused to respond to my greetings. Tal was medium-height and slightly overweight, he had thin black hair and was almost bald on the top and back. Ina was a Mediterranean beauty, small and buxom, innocent eyes, skin like olive oil, long wanton hair and a penchant for wearing skin-tight t-shirts and spandex leggings in bright colors. They were playful with each other, and too young to be passionate.

7. All Day, Doing Nothing

Pokhara is a comfort zone. It has the rocky roads of a frontier town, the oxen carts in the street, the piles of cinder blocks, the blacked-out nights, but it also offers hot water showers, fresh croissants, and the tranquil Lake Phewa to drift on or gaze across while contemplating nothing important at all. It is a silk cushion on an up-country train.

Italy Apologia

DSC_9415_JTHRF_sfItaly Apologia

Italy, as any writer who’s been there can attest, is a dream location. Interesting locals, weird tourists, astounding buildings and cities, a history that befuddles the mind trying to comprehend its events…. I spent an insignificant amount of time in Rome, Naples and Pompeii, and from this cursory glance, wrote a series of stories.

  1. Apologia
    We were woken by a swishing, muffled roar. I opened the shutters of the hotel and looked out into the pale light of our first morning in Italy. The highest floors of the buildings opposite were bright with sunlight and shadows hugged the corners down below. The lane was narrow. The buildings across were uniformly five and six stories, and created a canyon of brick and slowly descending light. The cut stones of the lane below were coated slick and dark with the slithering trail of a street washer now passed. The rumble and swipe receded as it crawled down another gorge.
  2.  The Secret of Service
    “You go there.” He was young and not young. A head of black wavy hair, crisp collar on his white linen shirt, an apron, still clean, covering black trousers with a thin silk strip down the outside of each leg. His five o’clock shadow looked unintentional; I imagined him telling the younger waiters to go home and shave when they showed up looking the same. But it gave him a casual authority over the tables. We followed his finger to the wall.
  3. Trading Places
    “Let’s take a walk to the Pantheon, just to say we’ve seen it, then find a restaurant for lunch.” H. has a practical approach to the trip. She wants to see and appreciate the art and culture and history Italy and Rome offer, but she has accepted more readily the schedule we are on. She is making the necessary trade-offs.
  4. Opening Doors
    A single question kept coming to mind as I walked the streets of Rome: how old is this? With monuments and noted buildings, histories are readily available, down to the month and day, but on the street there are no answers. When was this wall put up, this dark imposition with iron bars embedded into its windows and a layer of soot coating the top half of each brick? Or this road? The cobblestones are evenly separated and spaced as if by modern design, but the surface is worn smooth by time, much time.
  5. A Tale of Two Cities

At first glare Naples had nothing that was natural or organic, no subtlety. The only free movement was a shirt sleeve blowing in the wind. In the Quartier Pendino, a valley of grey apartments ran five blocks long and seven stories high. Blotting out the sunlight that fought its way down the narrow canyon was a tangle of tablecloths, towels, shirts, sheets, underwear and black-netted stockings, tied and strung across from building to building. A web of trapped insects straining to escape.