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For the past month, I've been reading about the riots in Tunisia. It has a particular poignancy because of my albatross-of-a-book, the 200K Sisters of the Sundering I've been shopping around for well over a year now. In it, there is a period where the city of Tessara breaks down in rioting, and some serious nastiness results.

The sad part is that Tessara is based, at least visually, on Sidi-bou-Saïd, which in my memory is a peaceful, beautiful place, where nobody is upset, and people go about their lives with optimism and security. It was because of this version-that-only-ever-existed-in-childhood-memory that I chose Sidi to represent Tessara because a vicious street-war there is about the most awful thing I could imagine happening.

Just before Christmas last year, on December 18, a young man in Sidi had his fruit-and-vegetable cart confiscated by the police because he couldn't afford the peddler's license. In despair, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. After that, and more protest-suicides, riots broke out, which may well overthrow the government in the months to come. With the price of food inevitably going up, this may become an endemic problem in Tunisia. It is not a wealthy or well-run country by any standard, but up to now it's had a sense of peace and stability.

Well, that's not entirely true. Back in '77 or '78, I don't remember exactly, a riot in Tunis was my first exposure to this kind of event. The police were given shoot-to-kill orders to enforce a curfew when riots broke out because the government ended their subsidy on the price of bread, and the cost of a loaf shot up from 10 millimes to around 150, I think it was. My dad was running late one night, and my mother and I got up on the roof to see him walk home just ten minutes before curfew. It was one of those firsts that you get in your life, when my mother's terror at what could happen gave me an inkling of just how tenuous our existence is on this earth. Every day we survive by the skin of our teeth, but we go on living as if we will live forever. It's part of being human.

I guess it's the inability at that age for me to reconcile the riots happening in a place that I always felt safe and happy—I was always excited by the prospect of taking a walk around Sidi, and I've always had dreams about it since—maybe that's why the riot in Tessara crept into the book. But it's sad to see it happen in real life. Very sad.