Tunisia 3 Belgacem Abderrazak Mosaic artist of Eljem


   Travelling west as we have been doing you’re never quite sure what time it is.  On our final full day of sailing I looked up to see the sun directly overhead but our clock said 3  PM.  When we arrived in La Linea we had to put the clocks ahead 2 hours…something to do with UTC time and Daylight Savings Time.  It was quite disconcerting but it meant we could go to sleep 2 hours earlier than usual.  We had been standing watches on and off for 6 days and nights so our time clocks were off anyway.  Today we woke up 7:15 am La Linea time to cool dampness.  Lots of fog outside: The Rock of G was totally hidden. Lots of fog inside my head too…I think I’ll be a bit off until my internal time clock is fully reset.   We have boat work to do before we take off for any land travel.  Seville is what we’re thinking but we’ll see. 


The American League won the All-Star Game for a change.  Maybe that will benefit the Red Sox come World Series time.  One can only hope!

Belgacem Abderrazak  Mosaic artist of Eljem  referred to as AB

Our friends Eileen and George in the US and Jo and Mick in Port Yasmine all recommended we visit El Jem for the coliseum and the mosaics.  They were certainly correct!  But we also made a friend and spent several interesting hours with him at his shop, atelier ( as they call studio workshops in Tunisia) and his favorite restaurant conveniently located next to his atelier. 

   During our first visit to El Jem we toured the coliseum and the mosaic museum.  But we also visited several mosaic shops and discovered the one of Belgacem Abderrazak.  We spent a good deal of time looking at everything and finally settled on mosaic letters for DORAMAC and a small pomegranate mosaic for me.


My pomegranate mosaic

“Called Granada in Spanish and grenade in French, the pomegranate gives its name to the city of Granada, the drink Grenadine and the grenade because of its shape.”  Info from our friend Roy Moulton

When Randal was selecting the letters he realized the space where the M should be was empty.  But the very helpful shop woman called AB and he came on his motorbike to bring us one.  That’s how we first met


Selecting the letters


Belgacem Abderrazak   and Randal


Very helpful woman who runs the shop.

She, thankfully, could understand my bits of French mixed with bits of English


Randal couldn’t resist so we bought this mosaic our second visit.

  It was also during our second visit that we were invited to AB’s atilier just outside of town. 


I can’t believe I didn’ take a better photo of the mosaic behind the men as there’s a funny story behind it that you’ll read later during our visit to The Bardo Museum in Tunis.  The man in stripes , his friend from the restaurant next door, speaks English the way I speak French…but between us we could help the conversation somewhat.


Selecting and cutting pieces to make the correct size and shape; the tool looks almost the same as what blacksmiths use to trip horse hooves.


Laying out the pieces (like puzzle pieces) over the design pattern which will include a pomegranate.


AB was really patient explaining the craft to Randal through their shared language; mosaic.


Pattern of a horse for a future mosaic



In ancient times beeswax was used to protect the mosaic; now it’s beeswax and petrol


AB’s commissioned mosaics around Tunisia and the world; hotels, embassies….


This was part of a mosaic commissioned by a man in France which made me think of the song:  “Sur le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse l’on y danse. Sur le pont d’Avignon l’on y danse tout en rond.”

http://www.mamalisa.com/ tells the story of the bridge.

When I started singing it, AB smiled because, of course, he speaks French and maybe this was commissioned to go with the song.  He also explained to us that when he created a modern mosaic of his own design he signed his full name in Arabic and in English letters.  For mosaics of ancient images he just signed his name in English letters. 


Big pieces of stone that will become tiny mosaic pieces.

AB was washing the dust off to show us the colors


After they were broken up, smaller pieces were piled outside the cutting room.



Watching AB cut some of the stone with no guards to keep his hands from being chopped off.

After our tour we drove AB back to his shop in town and his motorbike.  We invited him to come for lunch with us.  He smiled and said he knew a better place with fresher food and not touristy.  So back into the car to the restaurant next to his workshop.  If you’ve ever picked your lobster or even just visited the meat counter at Kroger or Shaws, you shouldn’t shudder at restaurants in Tunisia where you pick your sheep.  Funny how we have a much harder time eating a food that comes from a cute wooly animal than one with pinching claws or no face at ll; like clams or mussels.  We had a foreign business etiquette book in the Reference Dept back at RCPL.  One suggestion was, “Slice thinly, chew slowly, swallow quickly.”   And it’s not as if I’d never eaten ribs before…..

Fresh bread, chopped bell pepper caviar like my mom used to make,  harissa — seasoned chili paste with olive oil (often served with mayo to take up some of the heat!) and barbequed lamb ribs.  You ordered your meat by weight….  Of course barbequed anything tastes good and so did the lamb ribs….