The city sits beneath the sword-like rays of the pulsing sun; it sits against an ocean blue to profundity, shores gently lashed by the trillion fins of that vast creature, air swept by seagulls’ wings. Its internal harbour is crowded with huge galleys. Its walls are 23 miles in circuit. Narrow, winding streets, many-storied dwellings, the murmur of commerce, the smell of incense and bake house blend together, as the bleating of sacrificial animals does with the thriving laughter of whores.
The merchant princes of this city are cruel and each has an abundance of chained slaves. The people are prosperous and, fed on paste of nuts and half-cooked meat, like their love piquant. So when that sun-drenched metropolis becomes a lunar city and darkness blows itself through the streets, the citizens, penetrating into their dwellings, begin by candle and torch light their masquerades.
Some wear masks made of ostrich eggs, others of terra cotta, the richest citizens masks of silver, ivory and gold. Red, green, black—each picks a colour suited to temperament, a shade of fantasy. Some are fringed with dried grasses, others with feathers—many highlighted with bright glossy beads. One has a long, thin beard, blue in colour, which hangs to the floor, wags like a lizards’ tail; another enormous eyebrows, like the wings of a crow.
Lips twisted in hideous grins.
Under the mask a timid woman becomes a demoness, a haughty merchant a weeping child. Some, with the faces of animals, give their bestiality free reign. Others assume the aspect of gods and let out furious screams as they pursue the course of their bizarre romances. The force of fertility foams like the mouth of a hard-driven horse, goaded on by the power of transformation, the power of persona.
A male torso; the mask of a crocodile. The creature wobbles around the room, its prey, a heavy-bosomed female whose face is that of a fish. The former pushes his tapered snout forward; the latter agitates her fins, her arms, the wrists of which are bangled with gold. The faintest murmur issues from the puckered hole of her lips—she is begging to be eaten alive. Needless to say, the predator complies.
We lift off the roof of a nearby mansion, see within a party of evil spirits. One has the horns of an antelope, a second those of a bull. A huge-chested, narrow-hipped man flaunts a horse-hair headdress. Truncated mouths above which jut large, upturned noses. Some have javelin teeth, some tusks. A fat woman has the head of a mule, pink flamingo feathers spewing from her ears. These beings dance like cyclones, embrace like frenzied serpents. Enwrapped in the venom of lust, bathed in a hesitating yellow light, these disguised, like beings erupted from the dens of the earth, revel in unbridled indulgence of passions.
Now down the way, towards the docks, there is a humbler dwelling, that of a common oarsman. He too, however, enjoys his night-time frolic. For when drooling darkness tongues his outer walls, and the narrow alleys of his neighbourhood are abandoned by all but sharp-toothed rats, he sits within, his only bodily clothing the avid embrace of his mistress. But what is this? The disk of baked clay that covers her face represents that of a beautiful woman. The oarsman’s own features are hidden behind a piece of painted wood, a piece of wood painted with the face of a handsome, smiling youth. They live out their fantasy of beauty—him whose nose was lopped off for being surly to a high-ranking officer; her whose face is a scar-scribbled loaf.
In Carthage they cultivate the mystery of love.