tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Welcome to the Tuque Souq… what’s a tuque souq?

What is a Tuque Souq? Sadly, there isn’t such a thing, which is not to say I’ve given up looking. (Still waiting to hear from Chicoutimi, Trois Rivières, and of course the town of La Tuque, in Quebec; plus the Comoros Islands, Mauritania, Oman… so many places to explore.)

A “tuque” (pl. tuques; alt.sp. touque) is, of course, the quintessential Canadian winter stocking cap. A “souq” (Arabic sūq, pl. aswāq; alt.sp. souk) is the quintessential Arabic marketplace.

When yet another winter was descending on southern Ontario last November, my partner and I were out shopping for tuques. Our heads still bare and cold after a frustrating hour of fruitless shopping in boutique-land on Queen Street West, Toronto, I remarked that if we were in the Middle East we could just head to the tuque souq, and all of our problems of choice (or lack thereof) would be solved.

(Yes, I realize that in most places in the Middle East, wearing a tuque is superfluous at best and downright hazardous at worst; but try spending a January night in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert without one and then tell me I’m the Canadian equivalent of cultural imperialism.)

In ten years visiting and living in the Arab world, I came to admire the idea of the souq. Need a pair shoes? Head for the shoes souq. Gold bracelet? The gold souq. Spices? Cookware? A dishdasha? You got it. In a classical souq, all of the merchandise for a particular product is centralized; as a merchant, your twelve closest competitors are also your twelve closest neighbours.

One of the most phenomenal souqs I’ve ever seen is the carpentry souq in the Old City of Sfax in Tunisia. I hadn’t come looking for a wooden spoon – I was taking a long holiday weekend away from my teaching job in Sousse – but as I turned the corner from Rue de la Grande Mosque (the cobblers’ souq, by the way), there they were: 40,000 nearly identical carved wooden spoons, spilling out from the shops in long shadows onto the cobblestone street. Dozens of woodshops, thousands of spoons, one souq.

The tuque is an icon of Canada, a knit hat to keep us warm in winter. Invented, some say, by 18th-century French-Canadian trappers. Worn famously, others note, by Bob & Doug McKenzie. And infamously difficult to find – at least in adequate numbers and styles – on Queen Street West in Toronto.

Ergo, if I were starting a city tomorrow, I’d definitely go with the souq structure. Thanks to so-called multiculturalism and an appetite for low-skilled labour in a high-priced economy, in Toronto we’re not terribly inadequate in the souq department: we already have the Chinese-import-and-Dim-Sum souq on Spadina Avenue; the Linguiça-and-other-Portuguese-pork-products souq on Ossington Street; the Things-I’ll-never-afford souq at Bay and Bloor…

But I digress. The point of this blog is not to create a literal tuque souq (my tuque supply is now generous, souqs notwithstanding). Rather, to create a kind of a virtual intersection between things Canadian and the Middle East/Arab World. People, places, ideas, (bad ideas)… explorations in Arabic news, language, media, and philia.

The Tuque Souq also aims to be a collaborative effort. Your humble blogger is working on a couple of projects for which he needs to become better versed in the stories of Canada and Canadians in the Middle East (and vice versa). Got something to share under this broad topical umbrella? Ahlan wa sahlan. The souq is open. Send an email to:

- The Tuque Souq

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