“I was driven thence by foul winds for a space of 9 days upon the sea, but on the tenth day we reached the land of the Lotus-eaters, who live on a food that comes from a kind of flower. Here we landed to take in fresh water, and our crews got their mid-day meal on the shore near the ships. When they had eaten and drunk I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be, and they had a third man under them. They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return; nevertheless, though they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.” Odyssey
Our own Djerba island, in southern Tunisia, is thought to be this seductively enticing island fabled in the Odyssey. Also called the Isle of Forgetfulness, I could easily see how one could become part of this peaceful vibe and lose track of time. A simple 1 hour flight and inexpensive taxi ride from Tunis brought us to the heritage hotel Dar Dhiafa. The owners of this boutique hotel have gathered together several neighboring historic houses, then connected them, creating small, peaceful nooks throughout the meandering property. Wandering through, you round corners and duck through thresholds that open to benched alcoves, small, shaded pools, or a sitting room with a beehive fireplace. Taking to the village streets, the distinctive dome-roofed houses seem to have been formed from clay, by hand. Where ceiling height is wanted, a dome is placed overhead. If a fireplace is needed, it is patted into a corner or wall. Spot skylights, no more than 12 inches in diameter, are intentionally placed to put a beam of direct lighting on a work area or to show off artwork. All of this surrounding architecture, with so much evidence of human hands, is comforting, like a nest.
We were not offered any lotuses to eat, but plenty of fish and lamb. The fish auction at Houmt Souk is a spectacle. Village men have created egos around their auctioneering of the daily fish catch to restauranteers and house-husbands. The crowd is worked over each string of dourade or octopus until the market price is finally established.
Dar Dhiafa has a good restaurant with plenty of fish dishes, but if you make your request a day ahead, they will prepare another Djerban specialty for you: Lamb in a Clay Jar. I wrote about this dish before, and It was a thrill, not to mention dramatic, to have this home-style dish on Djerba.
I am already dreaming about wandering off to Djerba again. I can imagine some time when I find I have an unexpected week off (does that really ever happen?). I would sit with a thick book, perhaps the Odyssey, by that quiet pool, and then, when I needed exercise, I would plod, anonymously, around the village hidden beneath a cotton caftan, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and enormous sunglasses. If I ever go missing, you might start looking for me there.