Dawn, and in the 40 ft. palm tree opposite my balcony, sparrows perch in the burrows left by dead foliage. The long stemmed leaves at the top of this tree resemble large hands but with waving tendrils replacing fingers.
Palms are key features of the beautiful hotel gardens of Tunisia but I hadn't realised, until I came here, how much the species varied.
Some sprout monstrous tail feathers, giant green peacocks flaunting upright tails. Others fountain gracefully from tall trunks decorating the spaces between fronds with orange, inedible dates. In contrast others bear giant fans straight from tomb paintings of Ancient Egypt.
In the gardens at Tour Khaleph groves of palms shade green lawns. In January the sun is a friend one cannot see too much of, but even though I have to keep pulling my chair to follow patches of sunlight moving swiftly between circular shadows, I choose to sit reading here in the palm grove enjoying the calm and peace absent from the brash sun trap by the outdoor pool where the pod of residents bask together in close proximity.
If so pleasant now what a haven that palmgrove would be in summer when the sun turns fiercely hostile. How grateful I would be then for the avenues of stubbier palms spreading their canopies over paths that lead to the pale golden sand by the open sea now freezingly cold beneath its inviting blue translucence. l
In the front gardens of the hotel a mixture of palms, pines and giant aloes provide year round protection from a more modern enemy, the chemical and aural pollution from a busy main road. Clever planting patterns here produces an effective buffer zone that ensures perfect tranquillity.
In January 2004 flowers are returning after the brief cold of midwinter.The tough hibiscus, flaunts scarlet from specimen plants and hedges sweet with the shyer blooms of honeysuckle. Geraniums shrug off lethargy. While that ubiquitous yellow mediterranean weed with clover leaves takes possession of neglected beds, beautiful in its own right.
The amazing thing about all these Tunisian hotels and their beautiful gardens, is that here in winter they cater for people on basic pensions who can use their government heating allowances, to fly south and spend the whole of January in hotels with central heating and en-suite bathrooms, pampered with delicious meals three times a day, entertained all afternoon by reps offering free line dancing, tea dances, whist and quizzes, enjoying free shows of sword swallowing and belly dancing in the evenings. It is cheaper to do this than to sit huddled in blankets round a gas fire in their lonely terraced houses. Our nation probably saves as well on National Health bills spent curing cold-related illnesses. This annual emigration gives a new meaning to the term, economic refugees.