In Brief (but not so brief....)
On Thursday the newspaper announced that a new law would allow people to take paying guests in their homes. Will tourism be born again? There are cash machines in Algiers, but no one takes credit cards, and if you want a really good meal you’d better go to someone’s house. Or better yet, go to an Algerian wedding. There aren’t even any postcards on sale in the streets of Algiers. With luck, you might find leftovers from the 1960s, covered in dust.
An American social scientist who works on the economy was here in the 80s, then in the terrible 90s, now again this year. What a pleasure and relief, she said, to see people enjoying an ice cream on the street.
An Algerian cab driver jokes with his French passenger: “I plan to sue the French government for abandoning me at age eight.”
The fashion forward modern Muslim outfit: headscarf in a beautiful chiffon fabric tight blouse and full skirt. It all matches.
People like to say there was no Arab spring in Algiers because everyone was still traumatized by the violence in the 1990s. On the other hand, the “Place des martyrs”—the big gathering place at the base of the Casbah—is completely blocked off for public works (metro etc). And during the events in Tunisia, there were so many police in Algiers that the city, long known as “Alger la blanche”, white Algiers, became “Alger la bleue”—blue Algiers. Also, out of the blue, the university professors got a 200 percent raise in salary last year. Making their salaries comparable with their Tunisian and Moroccan counterparts. How to measure the chilling effect of the death of a gentle activist in Oran?
GENEVA (27 April 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, on Wednesday expressed deep shock and sorrow over the killing of a political activist he had met on a recent official visit to Algeria.
The expert had met Ahmed Kerroumi, professor at the University of Oran, and member of the opposition party Democratic and Social movement (Mouvement Démocratique et Social) and the Oran section of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie), during his official mission to Algeria from 10 to 17 April 2011 organised at the invitation of the Government. Mr. Kerroumi was one of the civil society representatives with whom the Special Rapporteur discussed the human rights situation in the country at a meeting in Oran on 15 April. He reportedly disappeared on 19 April, and his body was found in his office on 23 April.
Thursday was the first day of a three day conference sponsored by the newspaper El Watan, the opposition paper, for the 50th anniversary of independence. A special issue of the paper, distributed at the conference, was full of rage. Headlines: “Algeria is the only country in the world where power is hidden, clandestine”; “Jacques Chevallier [the last mayor of French Algiers] thought that Algeria could become a new California”; “Rich country, poor population”; and also: “Violence, corruption, pollution, civil irresponsibility, inequality… evils eating away at the country.” From an article on everyday life: The city is filthy. There is a cancer of satellite dishes, because there are no movies to go to, no culture at night. And what happened to the Mediterranean diet? The streets are dotted with Fast Food takeout shops: sandwiches filled with omelets and French fries, bathing in harissa; pizza made of thick dough, “improbable” tomato sauce with a sprinkling of hamburger, and a few olives covered in fatty cheese, topped off by a layer of mayo. The drinks are loaded with sugar. Diabetes and obesity are on the rise.
A filmmaker at the Glycines asks: is this your first time in Algeria? You’ll be tired all the time! The city is intense, there is so much to figure out, the conversations are animated, the positions so complicated. I have that chatty confused conversational style of the newly arrived. And people who really know the city nod their heads in sympathy and tell me yes, that’s how it feels at first, that’s what it’s like. Don’t forget to drink a lot of water.
Last night, driving up the narrow San Francisco-steep streets on the way to Notre Dame d’Afrique, the ‘sacré coeur’ at the top of the city, our car stalled next to a group of Algerian men crouching on the side of the street, playing dominoes. It was about 11 pm, and they invited us to join them for tea.
Algiers: the dialectic of suffering and pleasure! This morning, with my hosts from the Glycines, I took a little boat from the port to a strip of land off the red lighthouse where there’s a “club” called the Espanon. Like a guinguette on the Marne. Swimming in that urban setting, across from the canonical view—European city on one side, casbah on the other--I remembered the scene in The Plague where the sanitary workers in Oran take a break and remind themselves of life’s pleasures amid the horror. Their moment of respite.