Remembering Mediterranean Vacations
In June, after the examinations marking the end of the school term and before summer vacation, we enjoyed a relaxed rhythm. We still had to attend school, but we spent most of our time chatting. Our teacher read us little stories, commented on them and pointed out the moral. In the evening we would walk in small groups and look for girls our age; we would come across them, and that would be enough to boost our pride as pre-adolescents.
July was the starting point of our summer vacation. We separated since we had to follow our parents to Hamman-Lif, La Goulette or even Saint-Germain or Radès. Some of us went to summer camp or to relatives in France. Hammam-Lif and La Goulette were two beaches located on opposite coasts along the Mediterranean. In summertime there is a warm ambiance created by the charm of these cities when they are invaded by the inhabitants of Tunis, who are running away from the heat of the capital.
Nights were enchanting and we would spend the greater part of our nights there on the beach, along with entire families - all searching for the coolness of a calm sea.
I loved to stretch out on the fine sanded beach, staring endlessly at the purity of the sky lit up by millions of scintillating stars. My mind was empty and I was fascinated by that far-away world with which I had established some kind of link. I was removed from the surrounding noises. I could no longer hear the spiels of the ambulant vendors on the beach.
The most remarkable evening was that of July 14th. That night, shopkeepers had converted the beach into various areas: one for cooking, one for dancing, with lampions, tables, chairs and another for the musicians, The crowd started to flock as soon as the sun went down. Some people lay down on the sand, and others sat at a table, attracted by the smell of broiled food such as "meshwee"(1), or "merquez"(2). Vendors were selling "briks"(3), "bonbolonis"(4) and small bunches of jasmine, the strong perfume of which would mingle with the different aromas from hot dishes. The men wore jasmine behind their ears; as for the women, they adorned the low necklines of their blouses.
At 9pm, fireworks were set off above the sea. A rare and colorful sight lit up the water, contrasting with the pure and starry sky. When the fireworks were over, the bands started to play - opening the way to frenetic and impatient young people. The girls had ensured that they would look beautiful, their suntanned complexions and dark eyes exerting a definite charm on the boys. The feast continued until the wee hours of the following morning.
(1) Various grilled meats
(2) Very spicy fresh lamb sausages, grilled
(3) Very thin dough, filled with meat, potatoes, eggs, spices, deep fried
(4) Fresh doughnuts