Utica

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            Allan began the transaction of buying a friend’s motorcycle last October.  He took possession today.   Official paperwork takes some time in Tunisia, but one day, it does come through.  Today was the day.
  If you have followed Allan and his motorcycles over the years, you have seen him ride Yamahas, Hondas,  Harley Davidsons, and most recently in Nepal, a Royal Enfield, built just like the 1950s original, with no springs in the seats.  My spine took some jolts on that bike.  The bike he got today is a sweet 650 BMW, with lovely shock absorbers.  This is going to be a “See Tunisia” motorcycle. 
We took an inaugural ride to the archeological site of Utica, about 30 km north of Carthage.  Following some early spring rains this week, the countryside was lush.  Lush was our word in the fifth grade yesterday.  It came up in some context and my Ivorian student asked, “What is lush?”  I tried luxurious, which is also what the dictionary used as a synonym, but he just gave me a “what’s that” look.  I told him we would use it in context so he could get the idea.  A couple of kids used lush in their writing that morning and I interjected it into every context that worked, like the lush fur of a bat.  I should have taken them on a trip to the countryside because it is lush.  Shepherds, in their wool cloaks with pointed hoods, were tending flocks, grazing the neon green grass,  all along the route.  Artichokes and jonquils were the crops of the day and they were being sold from donkey-pulled carts and by children, along the roadside. 
Utica was one of the first Phoenician cities of North Africa.  It became an ally of Carthage during the first two Punic wars, and then scurried to the side of Rome for the third Punic war. As a result, Rome created a new province of Africa, and Utica became its capital.
Excavations have uncovered remains from all three periods: Phoenician, Punic, and Roman.  We enjoyed primitive terra-cotta mosaics up through formalized marble Roman mosaics.  But the best sensory experience for me was to enjoy these antiquities in the setting of the olive trees and herbs they have tended at the site.  The caretakers have maintained creative herb gardens with rosemary hedges and scented geraniums, among other herbs.  Our guide plucked off some rose geranium starts for me to take home.  The plants brought the architecture to life and on a late-winter afternoon, it was an inspiring motivator to look toward spring.
These tourist sites are desperate at the moment.  Our guide asked hopefully where we were from, wanting to hear somewhere foreign.  When we told him we live in Carthage, he spilled the truth that they are getting no tourists right now.  We gave him a generous 10 dinar tip for his 30 minutes of guiding, primarily in French, and some more for the entrance employees who watched our bike and helmets for us while we were in the site.  I don’t think it will take so long for tourism to pick up again, but they are going to be off for a little while until it turns around.  I’m sure there will be some great values in Tunisian tourism in the months to come.

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