TUNISIA: A moment in Carthage

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The cathedral is not used for God anymore. It has been turned into a concert hall, where the other day a pianist played as a few souls wandered amid the ruins on a bluff overlooking the sea beyond Carthage. He was practicing for the evening’s performance, toying with notes, circling back on them until they smoothly fit beneath his fingers. The music may have been Bach.

Carthage. The name conjures much: sea lanes and Romans, Phoenicians and Greeks, queens and pirates, falls and rises, Christianity and Islam, and now, disposable cameras and the slap of tourist sandals on cool stones. Pews have been removed from the St. Louis Cathedral, built by the French at a time the French ruled much of North Africa. The holy water fonts are dry, but the cupolas and the keyhole-shaped alcoves — a striking blend of eastern and western architectures — are well-preserved.

The piano player slipped into a minor key. He hunched over his hands, as if whispering to them, coaxing something that wouldn’t come, until he found it, and released it into the afternoon light. His name was not given, nor asked for. He was a man in a white shirt sitting on a stool in a church along the Tunisian coast. Before him had come warriors, kings, martyrs and missionaries. He kept playing, even as the door closed, the music growing fainter as the car wound down the hill.

— Jeffrey Fleishman in Carthage