When the Amenbank sign comes into view on the skyline that's when I know I'm not far away from my hotel. And that's a relief after battling against the wind all the way from the Corniche, the promenade. It was windy in the medina and the city centre too, but it was not so unrelentingly fierce. Sand showers assail me. Further on, the wide sweep of the main road has been renamed- Boulevard 14 Janvier 2011 – to commemorate the ending of the Tunisian Spring - a relatively brief and bloodless uprising, at least compared with other Arab countries. The sand showers turn to dust. Dust from building works as new hideous hotels are put up. Dust from the empty pitch with a goal post at each end, which people sometimes use as a running or jogging track. Dust from the general debris that collects on the edges of the pavements and in some parts of the city, bare patches, which will either be built on or left as waste ground gathering rubble and litter.
Wearing dark clothes and a scarf wrapped round my head gives me a certain amount of camouflage but not in the medina. I enter at the other end by the food market, walk uphill and the stall holders there seem decidedly less interested in capturing my attention. At the top of the hill I'm invited into a café with a panorama. But I welcome the idea of a seat and a coffee. A Dutch couple have gone in just ahead of me. There is indeed a fine view of creamy rooftops and satellite dishes and the harbour.
The muezzin calls and the hardboard panels at the side of the terrasse bang in the wind. Their metal hinges squeak,
and the Tunisian flags strung out on a line across the back, flap intermittently with a vaguely melancholic air. Like all flags it seems, left outside in the elements, they are weathered by wind, rain and fierce sunlight, their edges unravelled, their once bright colours dimmed to a faded pink with an off-white crescent moon and star in the centre.
Outside the walls of the medina the city centre is so like Tirana of a few years ago. Full of men in black, often with leather jackets. They shout to their friends, call out to each other, greet people, talk loudly. Cars and vans sound their horns tirelessly. Crossing the road is an adventure, despite the black and white pedestrian crossings. Or rather, the faded remnants of them, which are only just discernible at the edges of roads, near the pavements. I step out onto these as if they gave me some kind of safe haven or right of way which is of course quite illusory.
Further out of town near the plush tourist hotels the zebra crossings are much more visible and there are signs near them too, which state quite explicitly – priorité absolue aux pietons. The traffic sweeps quickly along the two lane highway so these crossings are arguably more dangerous than the other ones and definitely so if you believe in the signs posted beside them. Because drivers do not stop for you. You have to wait for a gap in the traffic. But once or twice drivers did stop when I was half way across and waiting there, for a gap in the second lane of traffic. Merci I say to them, smile, and walk to the other side of the road.
The Amenbank sign is perched on the top of a tall modern building with glinting reflecting glass and smooth stonework. In the evening, the sign is illuminated. Unappealing as it is I am always glad to see it. Just before I reach it I turn off the main road into the driveway to my hotel, which is astonishingly quiet, just the roaring of the sea, and the swishing of the palm leaves. And a sudden exclaiming blackbird that darts across the garden.