Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Today the newly elected Tunisian Parliament, the first democratically-elected parliament this small country has ever seen, gathered along with a number of guests-of-honor at the Bardo Palace. 

Today Béji Caïd-Sebsi was sworn in as the President of Tunisia, the first democratically-elected president this small country has ever seen. 

Today Mr. Caïd-Sebsi honoured the three victims of political assassination during the reign of the religious party: Lotfi Nagdh, Chokri Belaïd, and Mohamed Brahmi.

Today Béji Caïd-Sebsi went to the Presidential Palace to take over his official functions there (although he plans on living in his own home).

Today Tunisians have achieved what seemed impossible 5 years ago--a democracy. They have thrown off dictatorship and extremisms. They have persisted despite corruption, chaos, filth, and the possibility of civil war. 

Today, finally, I would like to introduce myself, for I have maintained a relative anonymity in this blog because I have lived under dictatorship and with uncertainty. 

I am Nadia Mamelouk, PhD., 
aka MulticoloredPieces, 
aka MulticoloredSnippets.

I am an ex-pat American artist from Oregon living on a small citrus farm with my family. In addition, I have made a commitment to teaching English in a Tunisian university because, like the whole country, the educational system has been in free-fall since the 2011 Revolution...I hope I can help in some small way. 

Today I can see myself better.

Today I have very short hair for "Bootcamp" over at the Sketchbook Skool. 

Today I might be regretting the short haircut as it is snowing all over northern Tunisia and within 5 miles of my house.  

Today is a new day full of Hope 
and so we begin the New Year full of Hope.

May your New Year be filled with Hope as well.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Finally the Holidays

The run-off presidential elections, scheduled for the 21st of December, have had everyone in Tunisia concerned and on edge. The borders to Libya were closed. A voting center was attacked in Hafouz (central Tunisia) when someone started shooting at soldiers, resulting in the death of the assailant. There was an assassination attempt on Beji Caid-Sebsi, one of the candidates, on the eve of the elections. All leaves and holidays were cancelled for soldiers, national guard, and the police who were at every voting center. 

A family member volunteered to be an observer as thousands of observers were required to help the voting process run smoothly. Tunisia's elections under dictatorship have always been falsified, consequently the role of the observers was even more important in order to break a very bad habit. I drew an observer's badge into my small sketchbook to commemorate this historic event.

And historic it is. Tunisia has never had truly democratic and free elections for either Parliament or President. It is now official: with 55.6% of the vote, Beji Caid-Sebsi of the 'Nida Tunis' Party will be the first democratically elected president of Tunisia. 

The need for vigilance remains. Certain Western powers and their satellites are unhappy with the development of a true democracy in the Arab world. Certain Gulf countries do not want to see women sharing equality with men in a Muslim country (nearly half the Parliament is women). And certain thugs associated with dictatorship would like to grab back power and bring back the dictator. This budding democracy must be defended, tooth and nail.

Although much work remains to be done, a festive mood is in the air and it is the holidays. The Transition Period has come to an end and Tunisians can celebrate the New Year with hope.

May you have a peaceful and joyous Holiday Season.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holding Things Together

Basically, things are holding together. We're trying to get to the end of the semester and the beginning of school vacation and to the last round of the presidential elections, which coincide, interestingly enough. Thankfully, the first truly democratically elected Parliament in Tunisia has begun to function. As soon as a president is elected, a government will be formed by the majority party, "Nida Tunis." There is, of course, some urgency, as it feels like we're adrift on a rudderless boat for the moment.

Consequently, in the spirit of things holding together and holding things together, I stitched up a sketchbook/journal. The idea of a sketchbook as a holding place, a Memory project, pleases me. I could complain about the limited availability of good art supplies, however, I did manage to find rather heavy (224g/m2) Canson paper in packets (24x32cm/9.5"x12.5") at the beginning of the school year. I unabashedly admit that I bought ten packets. And that felt like luxury. 

Apart from the paper, I made do with materials I found at home. I made two covers by gluing 3 pieces of recycled lightweight cardboard together for each cover. Then I painted 4 sheets of Canson paper with watercolors, which I glued onto the covers. 

I folded my Canson paper in half to make the pages and stitched it all up. 
For sewing, I used a thin cotton string that I waxed by running over a piece of bee's wax. Fortunately, there are some good instructions on Youtube. The inside covers gave me a chance to play with the bits and pieces of leftover painted paper.

I LUV my new sketchbook/journal. 
It satisfies my soul in every way.
Yes, I'd say that we're holding things together with style! 

NB: Blogger has insisted upon inserting the annoying word verification despite the fact that my "Show word verification?" setting says "NO". I suppose I'll have to shoot off an email to Blogger. My apologies for the inconvenience of the word verification--the technology is wonderful when it works, but, when there's a glitch, what a pain in the neck....

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Further Entanglements

Happily, parliamentary elections in Tunisia (October 26th) went smoothly and the outcome was not disastrous. "Nida Tunis" (the Call for Tunisia), which groups the major center and leftist parties, won 86 seats out of 217, while the religious part won 69. Although "Nida Tunis" does not have a majority, it appears that they will be able to work with other small parties to form a government.

The first round for the presidential elections on November 23rd went relatively smoothly as well. However, the results were rather surprising. While the "Nida Tunis" candidate, Beji Caïd-Sebsi, garnered slightly over 39%, the current president, Moncef Marzouki, managed to get 33% of the votes. As the pre-election polls had shown him at less than 2%, one can only conclude that the religious party threw their weight behind him since they did not have a candidate in the running. 

The run-off elections would be December 14th, if nobody contested the results of the first round. However, Marzouki registered 7 complaints at the last minute of the 3-day filing limit in a bid to buy time (sore looser). This now has to go to court. Elections will be no later than December 28th.

In the meantime, the country sinks into limbo as there is no real governmental authority in this transition period. The school where I teach reflects the state of the country--it feels like we're on the edge of chaos. I can't remember having such a difficult teaching job. And yet, students and teachers keep plugging along with a certain amount of courage...

Sometimes I wonder if my work isn't a direct reflection of my distressed environment. I have coveted a jeans bag for a long time and so made one from a tall stack of old jeans that I can't bear to throw out. I love working on the soft blue and white of the old fabric. I stitch from the top and only catch the upper threads, so the denim is not tedious to work.
It's looking like Tunisia's future--entangled. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Memory in Memory

A couple of days ago, it was my Tunisian sister-in-law's birthday. Affectionately called Tata (diminutive for "aunt" in French), she lived right next door and had received the Final Invitation to Eternity the week before. So for the last couple of weeks, I have been engulfed in Tunisian funeral rites and receiving family and friends coming to express their condolences. My daughter managed to fly in from the States in time (funerals are within 24 hours in the Muslim world) and we said a last goodbye to Tata with the support of cousins, nieces, nephews, and family friends.

While helping to put things in order, I came across a watercolor that I did for her in 1988 for her birthday. We had little people hanging around then so playful ideas, like teddy bears, appeared. The painting was at the bottom of a sack, and a bit worn with yellowed, spotted paper. I cut it out, spatter painted a new background, glued it on, and sent her a happy birthday message in a prayer.

May she be granted peace and may her birthday celebration bring her joy in the Beyond. 

In loving memory of Tata (November 1945-November 2014).

Friday, October 24, 2014

Memories of Kindergarten

Homework for Sketchbook Skool this week was about telling a story, drawing from memory, and drawing upon Memories, particularly about the first day of school. In addition, imaginative elements could be added, such as dinosaurs, dragons, or dancing dogs (now there's an alliteration--comes from teaching literature to obstreperous students--and that would be a consonance. I better stop analyzing or I could go on like this all day...).

This type of project requires l-o-n-g reflection as kindergarten was over half a century ago, but I did manage to dig up a memory of THE first day of school. Little did I know at that time that I would be a student for life. 

Anyway, in the meantime, I had been doing a small sketch in pen everyday for a 75-day challenge (the point being to develop a habit of drawing and improve line work). Each page contains a quote, a short diary entry, a drawing and a "take-a-line-for-a-walk" (paraphrased from Paul Klee). One day, I sketched a stack of books on a small table in the living room. Two remotes were perched on top. --Light bulb--

So the Book Stack Beings found their way into my drawing, which was about the only day I e-v-e-r cried in school. In my family, we had a new baby brother and we were therefore 3 kids five and under. I imagine my parents were overwhelmed. I got on the school bus as directed and went to kindergarten, however, nobody explained the procedures and that school was only a half day. At one point, all the kids disappeared and I found myself alone and abandoned. The teacher came running: "Why aren't you getting ready to go home, Dear?"

And yet, I remember that the stacks of books were magical...

Of course, I put the SBS teacher, Mattias Adolfsson (the boy with the cowboy outfit and glasses), in my class, along with an Edward Lear figure (the boy standing on his head) from the front page of the "Book of Nonsense" whose limericks I have been teaching.

My drawing took me all week because of the detail work. 

The combination of Memory and fantasy made the project fun, however, upon reflection I find this type of illustration not really to my liking (although Mattias's work is wonderful). It feels imposed, stiff, and puerile--for me. 

It doesn't speak to me because of my daily reality in a country that teeters on the edge of chaos. The temporary government has little authority, increased administrative problems make my working environment kafka-esque causing a huge waste of time (I'd rather be blogging), garbage continues to pile up, and the whole country is tense because of elections that will take place on Sunday (Oct. 26th). The stakes are high and the religious party, which is well-funded (from the Gulf), is not known to be "fair-play." Religious extremists with Kalachnikov machine guns are doing their best to sabotage the elections, with an increase in terrorist incidences. Facebook appears to be cut off for the time being (which cannot be a good sign).

The drought currently plaguing Tunisia (it has rained maybe five times since June, that is, in 5 months) represents well the political and economic situation of this small country. I should be stitching or sketching a drought, a blighted landscape, not a kindergarten... 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rosie's Sister

I dressed up my sewing machine a bit in honor of Rosie, who has been on my mind recently.

For those unfamiliar with that World War II poster girl icon, Rosie the Riveter, here's the original image by J. Howard Miller. This poster was used to persuade 6 million women to go to work in the armament and aviation industries when men marched off to war. The patriotic red, white, and blue tells the viewer to serve the country in its time of need. It was a very successful propaganda campaign indeed.

Rosie's image seems to appear frequently these days and came to mind when I wanted to express an idea about my sewing machine that had nagged at me for awhile. And so, Tessie the Tailor, Rosie's sister, came into existence.
Having a professional interest in the representations of women in the media, I found myself reflecting on the image and analyzing it as I drew. The point of the Rosie image was, of course, to convince women that they were strong enough to do a man's job (as if they didn't have enough to do already). In fact, it is a masculinized image. I found it interesting to examine the feminine features as compared to the masculine features of Rosie. 

First of all, what's in a name? The name contains the hard consonants of R, S, and T that suggest masculinity while the "ie" of Rosie brings it back towards the feminine. However, "the Riveter" carries strong connotations of masculinity. Consider other aspects of the image:

Feminine Traits                Masculine Traits

1.  red scarf                   1. blue working clothes
2.  a few escaping curls   2. black hair (a harsh color)
3.  red cheeks                3. square, firm jaw  
4.  small nose                4. firm chin
5.  shaped eyebrows      5.  black eyebrows with a no-nonsense expression
6.  mascara                   6. black eyelashes emphasize the hard, no-nonsense look 
7. lipstick on full lips       7. lips turned down at the corners       
8. one well-manicured fingernail 8. the hand is very large
9. ---                             9. a muscled arm that has the sunburn of a worker
10.---                            10. The flexed arm that ends in a hard fist
11.---                            11. The figure itself is not elongated or elegant, but 
                                    rather broad and stocky.
12.---                            12. Thick neck.

At this point, the scales tip toward the masculine and one may wonder whether Rosie was a man or a woman. It's not that women don't have traits listed on the masculine side. There are women with strong chins and square jaws, like me, for example. However, the sum of the male traits gives an overwhelming impression of masculinity. 

In addition, the power establishment was only letting women into the work force as lowly workers. There is no suggestion of possible promotions, career, or any sort of professional aspirations. Women were going to give a hand--temporarily. 

Obviously, the artist was a male and, consciously or unconsciously, created an image that told women they had to be more than they were; to be a woman was inadequate. Looking around at representations of women in the media today, I'm not sure we've made much progress. We must remain vigilant. 

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I want Tessie the Tailor 
representing MY sewing machine at all!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo, 2

Campers at Grandma's Boot Camp delighted in getting away from camp for an excursion. The Bardo Museum in Tunis houses one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world--a wonder to see. 
One large hall contains mosaics of Roman houses in Tunisia, each one the size of the wall. To get such detail, the pieces of mosaic are minute.

Note the soulful look of the bull.

From the chained dog in front of his doghouse in the upper right corner to the elegant woman choosing jewellery in the bottom row, this sophisticated mosaic exudes human activity.
And of course, complex borders (to die for) frame each work.
This one is particularly interesting for the horse, and for the woman spinning with a drop spindle on the left.
For those interested, click to enlarge and read the information given by the museum about Roman houses.
The subject is dear to my heart as there was a Roman house in a field behind us. My Roman-rock plant table is proof. Recycling at its best.

And then, back in the States, my eldest granddaughter is studying Rome in school. However, she's too embarrassed to tell the teacher about what she has visited...ahhh, teenagers!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Flower Power or Sketchbook as Memory

Remember Flower Power in the late 1960s? My mom had a different take on that. She loved fine china with all its complex and flowery designs, and checked out junk and antique stores regularly in search of teacups in Spode or Lalique or Royal Albert...the list of companies in her mind was lengthy. I suspect her collection grew once all the kids went out into the world, because to amass such an extensive collection on my dad's meager teacher's salary was quite a feat. And she would use them lovingly, when friends would come around, on formal occasions, or just for her afternoon cup of tea. There were flowery, decorative stacks of them in the dining room to brighten the grey, drizzly Oregon winters.

Truth to tell, I raised my eyebrows and never quite understood. Give me a big, sturdy mug so I don't have to worry about breaking anything.

Recently, however, with the online classes at Sketchbook Skool, my thoughts have turned towards the sketchbook or art journal as a work of Memory, as a commentary on one's life to be bequeathed to loved ones eventually, to the younger generation. I tend to use my Textile Sketchbook/Art Journal in that sense, but, paper and paint never tempted me much. That may be changing. One of the assignments concerned teacups and suddenly there was a torrent of outpouring from SBS students remembering mothers and grandmothers. This seems to concern women in particular (what is it about teacups?), but the Memories were there.

This forced me to think about 18 of my mom's teacups gathering dust in my cupboard. I looked them over and realized they really are beautiful. I chose one and started a layout over two pages.
Because of the complexity of this design, I got distracted by another cup in blues that seemed just a bit simpler in design. (Hmmph! It still took me 3 weeks to finish.)
I glued a recycled watercolor painting to the corner. I like the yellowed paper and the hard lines of the geometric patchwork design that contrast to the swirly florals. Done with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, I had fairly good control over the floral design. Then the moment of truth came when I added the watercolor shadows.
After spending so much time on the finicky flowers, I nearly had two heart attacks when I ruined it all twice...however, if I've learned one thing at Sketchbook School, it's to keep going. And so, it all worked out in the end. And I thought often of my mom--OK, Mom, got it, teacups are useful (to paint). A series may be developing here.

Now, I find it comforting to think that maybe one day my granddaughters will sit and sip tea from their great-grandmother's teacups while looking at their grandmother's sketchbooks. They will remember... Memories of Flower Power...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo Museum, 1

As the Bardo Museum in Tunis contains one of the most spectacular collections of Roman mosaics in the world, the Camp director decided to take campers to visit and sketch. However, the palace itself is worth the visit.

The Bey (King) of Tunis resided in the Bardo Palace, which was constructed in the 19th century, until it became an antiquities museum in 1885.

The museum has been renovated and extended, however, one can see the former splendour of the palace.  Leading up to the front door, a series of lions stand watch. The National Assembly now meets in that section of the palace.
Some exquisite ceilings can be seen.

I could live under this ceiling.
Maybe the most spectacular and certainly over-the-top: an ornate mezzanine floor.
It's hard to know what to admire first, the woodwork, the painted ceilings, the metalwork, or the gorgeous marble of the columns.
And of course, lovely tile work graces many walls. 
Memories of Istanbul, for the beys were of Ottoman descent and kept ties to the center of the Empire. One can't help but admire the sophisticated use of pattern and color. 
I'll have to go back when the weather gets cooler.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If the Shoe Fits...

After the Little People left, I vowed to do some Spring Cleaning early, you know, some deep cleaning, organizing and junking stuff that will never be used, especially in my workroom, which is really my playroom, but don't tell my family (I keep the ironing board set up and ready to go to keep up appearances). In the corner, a framed pen & watercolor painting from the 1990s leaned against the wall, out of use and forgotten.

It was just at this moment that the cat decided to have an accident (he tried to tell me he was desperate) on the frame of the painting...which in turn required a thorough cleaning of the whole corner. I took the picture out of the frame, washed the frame and put it in the garage for future use. The painting was yellowed so I tried to put it in a drawer, however, it was too big. I'd have to roll it up.

Then I looked it at, I mean I looked at it. I remembered...I remembered the lovely Tunisian wedding shoes with the tapped design in silver foil, nailed onto a wooden clog. They dated from 1940 and belonged to my Tunisian mother-in-law. The craftsmanship was outstanding, but one shoe was obviously made by an apprentice and the other by the master, seen in the clarity of the detail work.

Then I remembered the hours spent gripping a Rotring pen (maybe a 0.2 or smaller). It probably took me more time to draw them than it took to make them. I framed it up with a patchwork design. 

These clogs are not particularly comfortable, but the modern ones are worse. My daughter's wedding shoes are too narrow, less attention is paid to the craftsmanship, and the designs have been simplified. Yet, they're pretty to look at.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the sketchbook as a "travail de mémoire", Memory, which is linked to recycling as well. I took my "fancy" sketchbook (Stillman & Birn with heavy paper), painted a background with watercolors, then cut out and glued on one of the shoes.
Of course, I had to tell the story of the shoes and the painting. Maybe one day a family member will read it. Memory, memory...
The patchwork sections frame a watercolor of figs. I like the contrast of the yellowed paper and the stark white of the journal.
That old painting has taken on a new life and I like to look at that "fancy" sketchbook often. Now the shoe fits much better... 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp 2014

The Little People have headed home after another summer at Grandma's Boot Camp. 

Taking care of cats (do they really need all that attention?) was the first order of business. 

Then, there were the birthday parties. GD2 (second granddaughter, now 7) loved the fairy cake

GD1 (now a grownup 12--"What do you mean, Little People???") devoured Harry Potter's Sorting Hat (complete with magic wand).

Notice the leathery effect on the back. Man, that was a delicious cake--chocolate through and through. I get a sugar high just thinking about it! Cake credits go to my friend and fellow sketcher. 

Besides piano practice every day, the girls spent several days at the beach, and we worked on our sketchbooks, sometimes at breakfast.
GD2's breakfast sketch

GD1's breakfast sketch

We did our annual visit to the Roman city of Uthina.

Just imagine that what appears to be a hill is actually a buried city, which is s-l-o-w-l-y being excavated. We visited the water reservoirs that served the city--incredible constructions. 

And then we took out our sketchbooks and sat for awhile at the temple on the top of the hill.
GD1's sketch at Uthina

GD2's olive tree at Uthina

Back on the farm, GD2 practiced driving the tractor.

OK, I admit that it sounds like we had a lot to do, but, after a busy and stressful school year, the kids (of all ages) arrived at the farm and simply collapsed. Sometimes lazy is good and one just needs time to grow. Take the case of GD2's new tennis shoes, a subject for sketching at the beginning of summer.
GD2's tennis shoe sketch

GD1's tennis shoe sketch

On the day of their departure, I found GD2 sitting on the steps and fussing: "Grandma, my shoes are too tight." Sure enough, the new tennis shoes didn't fit anymore and we had to scramble to find a pair of sandals suitable for traveling. 

And they almost had me participating in the ensuing crying fest. But Grandma does not cry--she has a reputation to maintain. It was close, though.