For a total of four years, Pat worked in TUNISIA based initially in their main city of Tunis, so as a result I spent a number of Christmases there. Although in the main Tunisia is very hot, in winter the temperature drops to below freezing sometimes, necessitating a warm jacket at the very least!
Going there for Xmas has one big advantage – it’s Muslim and they don’t celebrate Christmas – so absolutely no glitter or glitz, or Santa or reindeer. You leave it all behind in Paris or London or wherever and arrive to invigorating sunny days and heady nights where only lights sparkle in their watery reflections.
Of course, there is the advantage of being able to go and spend Xmas Eve at a hotel like The Residence (my favourite hotel in the whole world !) who go over the top with glitter and glitz and French food to die for with not a turkey or a cranberry in sight. I remember one menu which said it had ‘poached wolf’ for the main course ! Now there still are wolves up in the mountains, but I had never seen one and on enquiring from our Tunisian friends found out that the French word Loup was actually a kind of fish and had just been literally translated !
We usually return there on New Year’s Eve and take a room for the night as their floor shows are legendary. Tunis is the original home of Contemporary Dance Schools and past pupils return for this one night to Tunisia to show off their mind-blowing skills in order to welcome in the New Year. One time when we went the whole show was put on in the huge Roman swimming pool with scantily toga-clad young men brandishing real flaming torches as they walked down into the water. After a good sleep in the preceding afternoon, I usually manage to stay up till about 3am and then wander back to our room to the scent of Neroli which pervades the entire hotel and sleep soundly till noon. Poor Pat has to be at the office by 8am, but he manages to sneak out without waking me and leaves me to my dreams.
Breakfast on New Year’s Day is spent beside a small indoor pool filled with floating flowers and a huge inverted Xmas pine tree hanging upside-down over the pool. Not a single decoration on it, but a high up window is opened and the local wild birds come down into the tree to feed on the resin and chirp and sing their small hearts out. Formidable.
On a couple of occasions when Pat has been away in a country I can’t visit due to visa problems, I have spent Xmas Day with my family here in Ireland and then jetted off to AUSTRALIA on Boxing Day to spend New Year with my daughter. This is indeed strange as they have all the Xmas paraphernalia at the hottest time of the year. Santa’s and glitter all over the place at loggerheads with the burning sun. Up in tropical Port Douglas, Far North Queensland where she lived it was also the ‘wet season’ so it was necessary on New Year’s Eve to put on a sparkly glamorous blouse on your top half and an old pair of shorts on the bottom half as when it rains there it can come up to your knees in seconds and somewhat dampens down the firework displays – but good fun and all part of the Ozzie experience as the water quickly drains away ! Also there is nothing like a boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef to celebrate New Year and swim and snorkel in the warm waters of the Coral Sea whilst everyone at home freezes ! What a wonderful and amazing country it is !
But regardless of wherever you are, I hope you have a wonderful pain-free Christmas and manage to take it easy and reflect on all the good times you have had and those to come – as they surely will.