Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Tunisia, 1987

18 Nov

Okay, full disclosure here: I’ve posted this basic story before. But that was three years ago and it’s timely given the season, so I’m posting it anew, with a few edits along the way. It’s like a re-run on TV that you can watch over and over…at least I hope it is.

I spent the Thanksgiving of 1987 in Africa. I can still smell the Sahara and taste the mandarin oranges.

Many moons ago, when I was 17 years old and still fondly dreamed that someday I’d be a famous opera singer, I took a trip to Tunisia with my best friend, her mother and aunt, and another friend. That’s right: five women (three of them still in high school) headed to Africa for Thanksgiving. Don’t you always think of Northern Africa when you think about Pilgrims and pumpkins? Okay, I didn’t either, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

I was living in West Berlin at the time, so really it was just a small hop south. We arrived, along with a German-speaking tour group, in Sousse, Tunisia. From there we drove to Kairouan, where we spent most of our time. From the bus window I saw a sign as we drove: “Libya, 10 kilometers” (it might not have been that exact distance but it was close). “Oy!” I thought, “That makes me a little nervous.” Quadafi was causing a bit of a ruckus in those days and I had one of those, “I’m not in Kansas anymore” moments.

Those moments continued as we began to explore the town. We ditched the tour group (as none of us spoke adequate German to understand anything anyway) and struck off on our own. I was not accustomed to shops that sold hookas as casually as if they were tea pots. Nor was my friend. “Are those lamps?” she asked, curious as to the purpose of the curvy pottery. “No,” our other friend replied. “They aren’t.” We left pretty quickly after that.

This is the Mediteranean Sea from Tunisia, though not the exact beach I was on. Photo from http://www.panoramio.com.

We walked past that shop and headed to the Mediterranean Sea, no more than a block away. It was beautiful and almost empty, that beach. Sometimes we were the only people there. We collected tiny shells that we left in our hotel room to dry and which, by morning, had a residue all around them and on the counter beside them. I couldn’t figure out what it was. “Taste it,” my friend’s mother said, smiling, and sure enough, as I rubbed it with a finger there it was: salt. The Mediterranean had condensed on our countertop.

What I remember best is the Clementine seller. His was a constant presence every time we went to the beach. “Clementine, mandarine!” he would call with a sing-song tone, making both words rhyme. You could hear him coming from way down the shore. He would come up to us with a basket of mandarins, their tangerine-colored skins warm from the sun, and for a few cents we would buy them from him, choosing our favorites from amongst the dozens. Then he would shuffle off, calling his song to whomever could hear. Even now, 27 years later, when I buy tangerines from the grocery store, I think of that man and I sing his lilting song. I can hear it as clearly as if he were here beside me now. “Clementine, mandarine, clementine, mandarine!” I taught my kids his song and we sing it as we peel and pop the juicy segments into our mouths. Minnesota is a long way from northern Africa. But even here the memory of the soft sand in my toes, the aroma of the hooka shop, the desert heat, and the clementine-man’s song, all conspire together in my mind, leaving my mouth watering for more than just fruit.

PS – This mandarin basket isn’t my photo and I can’t figure out where I got it from. Sorry. Does acknowledging that make it okay?!

Tunisian Turkey: A Feast to be Thankful For

21 Nov

I love this photo. A typical street in Kairouan, Tunisia, scene of my Thanksgiving, 1987.

My final Tunisian post…the Thanksgiving conclusion of a pilgrim in a new land.

We’ve all read books (or blog posts, or magazine stories), or seen movies about Americans in foreign lands feeling horribly homesick at Thanksgiving. They go to the local markets, search for turkey (settle for partridges), substitute breadfruit for potatoes and learn that they can be thankful even without cranberries. Right?

My Thanksgiving in Northern Africa didn’t even come close to such menu approximations.

And that was just fine.

I think of this as “Tunisian Blue”.

As we entered the hotel restaurant – a hotel which was far more Tunisian than Hilton – we harbored no expectations that there would be any reference to Thanksgiving. Five days in Tunisia had taught us that anything American was verboten.

A street in Sousse, Tunisia.

Having just come in from a stroll through town, where the inexplicable phrase, “between the sheets,” was shouted at us by giggling teenaged boys, we also harbored no expectations that the waiters would be overly sympathetic to our plight.

We chose to be away from home for Thanksgiving: our expectations had been changed the day we signed up.

“So,” I figured, “if I’m not even bothering to recreate the pilgrim’s meal, how about I go for something local? Something totally different; something unforgettable.”

I learned that when there is no roast turkey to be had, you opt for paella.

It came: a platter of aromatic saffron-colored rice, peppers, mysterious meats and vegetables, and several whole, baby octopus.

I wasn’t prepared for the octopus.

My traveling companions had ordered ordinary things, like French Onion Soup. I had ordered Northern Africa on a plate.

And I ate every bite.

There are many things in my life to be thankful for. Many experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world. Thanksgiving Paella in Tunisia is one of those things.

A Thanksgiving feast, indeed.

A friend of mine, along with her family, fixed a paella feast out on Orcas Island, Washington, last summer. I wish I’d been there! Isn’t her paella pan marvelous?!

Pilgrims and Pheasants

29 Nov

So Thanksgiving here in the U. S of A has come and gone and I am thankful for a fridge full of leftovers and several recipes up my sleeve to use them up. Turkey Taco soup (easy and just so different from potatoes and gravy that it’s a nice change) and Turkey Tetrazzini (it gets a bad rap, but I love it!) And, of course, turkey soup made by simmering the carcass for hours in my largest pot and adding mom’s secret ingredient – lemon juice – at the last moment before serving. Perfect for these chilly fall nights!! It’s a messy job, making turkey soup, but it’s so worth it!

Modeling her self-made Pilgrim hat.

Thanksgiving is, ostensibly, the remembrance of those first pilgrims who came to The New Land to begin their lives away from religious persecution and whatever it was that King George was doing to them that so upset them. I don’t remember the details. (By the way, that TV show – which I have never watched – called, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” really isn’t about smarts, it’s about memory. They JUST studied this stuff. It’s fresh in their minds. Yes, I am smarter than a fifth grader, thank you very much. I just don’t remember everything I learned the same year that President Regan was shot. Do you? That was 1981, by the way, just in case you can’t remember or didn’t ever know!)

So, anyway, I say “ostensibly” because, really, I don’t sit around the Thanksgiving table meditating on the merits (or demerits) of the pilgrims. I do, however – at least I try – to sit around contemplating things I am thankful for. Like my family (unoriginal, I know), my home, my hard-working husband, God, and the fact that my manuscript is now in the hands of an agent and hopefully she will love it!

Feathers. Why is this picture here?

I also am forced at this time of year to remember – and yes, be thankful for, in an “at-least-it-wasn’t-worse” sort of way – the pheasant that flew through our living room window a few days before Thanksgiving three years ago.

No. The window wasn’t open. It was November in Minnesota, for goodness sakes!

I was sitting upstairs reading a mystery novel and I’d just gotten to a really shivery part. I mean JUST. I read the creepy sentence and then “BANG!!!!” a horrible noise from downstairs caused me to jump so high that I dropped my book and had to find my place later. So annoying.

Again with some feathers. What's going on?

At first I thought it was hunters. I’d heard some out and about all day, and knew that the pheasants of the neighborhood were wise to hunker down and keep their mouths shut. I suppose that maybe it was hunters who scared the pheasant, but at least it wasn’t hunters who shot out my window.

The first thing I saw.

I walked stealthily to the stairs. I had no idea at this point what had happened. I began to creep down the five steps to the lower floor, still not seeing what on earth had happened. Then I saw it: one entire section of the front window was gone. Well, to be accurate, it was there, it just was in pieces all over the floor. Both storm-proof panes of it.

With my heart still rapidly beating, I walked toward the window, still unable to see the floor below it as we have this weird half-wall thing there which blocked my view. I rounded the corner, and there, staring up at me with its tiny black eyes, was a ring-necked pheasant. A pheasant, by the way, weighs about 2.9 pounds and is 21-36 inches long. This is no tiny birdie.

A ring-necked pheasant. Outside where he belongs.

WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW? I wish that what I’d done was to grab my camera but I didn’t. Instead I opened wide the front door, which was about four feet away from the pheasant, and looked around the living room for a way to help it to the door. I was not wearing shoes and the pheasant was ON my shoes, so I didn’t want to grab it as I’d seriously endanger my feet in the process. Plus, who wants blood drips on an off-white carpet? So I did the only logical thing: I grabbed couch pillows and began tossing them near the back of the bird so as to induce it towards the open door. I did not toss them AT the bird, just near enough to encourage it door-wards.

More carnage.

It worked. With a squawk and a rush of wings, that pheasant flew out the open door and, supposedly, back to his waiting spouse in the long dry grasses of Iowa. Not one drop of blood – either fowl or human – was spilled in the making of this tale.

The window, however, was not as fortunate. If windows could bleed, my carpet would have been ruined.
So that’s my pheasant-though-the-window story and my friends on facebook can corroborate it as I relayed it almost immediately to my waiting audience.

I called my husband at work first, though.

This is what it looks like when a fully-grown pheasant flies through your window.

“Honey? You won’t believe what just happened.”


“A pheasant flew through the living room window.”


After he hung up the phone he turned to the first person to cross his path and said, “You won’t believe what just happened.”

Thank goodness for vacuum cleaners.

Yes, we have things to be thankful for indeed. Like a husband who knows how to take care of broken windows. Not to mention the fact that, despite the appalling noise of the incident, the baby never woke up. That really would have ruined my day. I had to get back to reading my exciting book!!!

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you all – near and far – and may you find some random thing to be thankful for today.

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