First impression: a giant mosque faces a plaza ringed by coffee shops and cafes (with a road directly opposite). At the corner, away from the mosque, the paved road turns, and the view is red skies and minarets. We keep walking away, and the pavement quickly gives way to mud - but on a quite broad road, nothing like the enveloping claustrophobia of Tunis' souk. On either side, men hawk their wares, trying to get you to talk to them: "Jellabah! Do you want a jellabah?" "Where are you from?" "No charge to look, come on in!" "Hey, how are you?" "What are you looking for?" In the mud is a forgotten Tut head and scraps of paper with Arabic on them. We stop for a minute - and suddenly our group is gone we know not where. We plunge into a side alley. Now the press is much tighter and the sales pitches more direct - no eye contact and ignoring everyone is the only safe way to proceed.
At any rate, Sharif found his lost lambs and took us up a flight of stairs to a whole 'nother level of Bizarre and the no haggle shop, where for 12 quid we got: three shell inlay boxes, two Anubis bottle openers, one printed sheet, one t-shirt, and two bags of dried hibiscus flowers. Then I was dragged to an inlay shop to ogle a gorgeous Â£120 coffee table (tempting but ...), returned to get J, haggled a boy down from EÂ£65 (Â£6) to 30 for a red Pashmina, picked up some scent in a quantity slightly less than that offered by the perfume shop we visited earlier (minimum purchase about a half pint at Â£20 for more scent than I've used in my life) while J sat outside in a chair a _total stranger_ offered to him and ... it was cash only and we'd run out of money. Whew! And we'd finally found the phrase that silenced the shills!
We made it back to the plaza and the coffee shop where Sharif was waiting. I was going to just sit, but, enthused by my good haggling and encouraged by Sharif (who offered to lend me money and pointed me in the direction of some items I'd missed from my list), I plunged back in the fray, secure I was no longer torturing Mr. Shadowdaddy with potholes and staircases. I managed to not find my peacock jellabah or the red King Tut teapot I'd seen earlier in the trip, but I found some hand-blown wine glasses that started at EÂ£150 each and ended as 4 for EÂ£120 _with the guy following me to the coffee shop to make the sale_. (What a pest, it wasn't even his shop and he almost made me late for the bus, but I get the feeling they all know everyone anyway as he got someone at the coffee shop to lend him EÂ£10 so he could give me change!)
I was chipper and babbling when we got back on the bus - I was perfectly on time!- but then I kind of collapsed during dinner and suddenly my day was over. I mean, it's not like I hadn't been going pretty damned hard since 6 AM (okay, with a nap, but still, Egyptian museum at 10 AM for three hours!), and this damned cold still has its claws in me and even if I had fun I must must get some sleep! Miss you all, thanks for your texts ... *zonk*