I can't quite explain it, but my visit to Baja last weekend really had me missing North Africa.
It's been eight years since my Morocco trip and six years since Tunisia, and in that time that's passed I've occasionally tried to recreate my experiences, south of the Mediterranean, with mixed results.
And then somehow—in the Valle de Guadalupe of Mexico, and even in Tijuana—I was reminded of traveling with strangers, speaking a foreign language as best I could, trying whatever food was put out in front of me, sipping wine 'til I fell asleep.
It's a wonder that it took me so long to visit Moun of Tunis, LA's only authentic Tunisian restaurant, in Hollywood since 1977.
The brik is good, though missing the tunafish I remember, and unpredictable whether the egg yolk will be runny or fully cooked.
And then, of course, there is the bellydancing.
They've got dancers booked every night—even if they've only got one reservation for two people.
But usually, there's some kind of group huddled around the large, engraved metal tabletops...
...celebrating a birthday, or maybe two.
The first time I went to Moun of Tunis, I went alone, without a reservation. I had no idea what I would encounter when I pushed through their blue double doors. But I was quickly greeted by the owner, who welcomed me, sat me down, and waited on me hand and foot.
He's from the city of Tunis, but he's been an American citizen since the 1980s. He goes by the name "Ben," a nickname derived from his surname Ben-Mahmoud ("son of Mahmoud"), and a name that most native English speakers can understand.
He serves Lebanese beer, French wine, and Moroccan soup, bastilla, chili pepper hot sauce, and mint tea. He hires a bellydancer who was trained in Egyptian style.
It's not all North African, but it's all technically Mediterranean. All these countries might not get along out there in the world, but for a couple of hours inside this gorgeous haven with its stenciled walls and keyhole doorways, it all kind of works together.
Now, what does any of this have to do with Mexico? Well, I haven't quite figured that out yet. It just might be the experience of something outside of my own life. The hospitality of strangers. Letting myself be vulnerable to new experiences with new people, eating foods that might make me sick, drinking water that might not be safe.
And going to bed early at night, tired and happy.
On the Sidelines
Photo Essay: Arabian Nights