Friday, December 14, 2007

Tournage dans un jardin Algérien

Just a quick note to say that I'm famous. Or I will be in about six months when the film I just took part in gets released. That's right folks, I'm spitting out the bad milk of academics and sipping the sweet wine of movie-stardom. Or at least that is what I assume will happen after the Academy sees my powerful portrayal of one of a group of paparazzo running toward an elevator in an obscure Algerian film. That's right, and I got paid. They pay extras! What kind of crazy mixed-up Planet of the Apes world is this?

But really, I went and participated as an extra in this Algerian film, and I have to say that after seeing the magic first-hand, the movie business sucks. Early mornings. Endless repetition. Lots of standing. People telling you to be "more lively" on the 32nd take. I have to say that it was a fun experience, I got 20 bucks for my efforts, and just maybe I'll be able to see myself run by in the background of a scene on the big screen. Of course, it will only be on the big screen for a week in some art-house cinema in Paris, but maybe I'll be in town for it. I will put up some exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos when I get motivated enough to plug my camera into my computer.

This is also another way of saying that things here seem pretty normal. That goes for everyone except my doctor friend, who still has a lot of very sad work to do. But the rest of society as a whole is so Post Traumatic Stress Disordered from the recurring violence that you don't notice too much at the cafe or on the street. And just in time, the Corsair is getting even more Causal. I'm going to Paris to meet Jess tomorrow night, and might post from there (like the exclusive photos I promised just a few sentences ago), but maybe not. So see ya'll later, and as Cicero said: "NON-ILLEGITIMI CARBORUNDUM."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


If by some miracle there is news of Algeria in the US press, you will likely hear that there were two bombs here in Algiers this (Tuesday) morning. So far (this is about three hours later, there are around 28+ reported killed and 45+ wounded. They were car bombs that went off outside of the UN building and a police training facility, both in the same area called Beni Aknoun, near a bunch of government ministries and the like. I would estimate the area is about a mile or so from the Glycines, and to give you a picture of how loud car bombs are, I was laying in bed for the first one and it rattled the windows and shook the whole building. I got up and went out onto the terrace, and the second one was not quite as loud but still like the loudest thunderclap you’ve ever heard. I actually thought it was a construction crane dropping a huge metal beam or something of that nature. But everything is fine here as far as myself and everyone I know is concerned. I will post more info at some time when I know more.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Tradition of all the Dead Generations...

I can't remember if I have already written here about the physical city of Algiers, so if you think you've heard it all before, there is a whole world of grad-school basketball talk going on over at, check it out (and witness the template for the Cas. Corsair)...

Algiers is on the coast. It means "islands" and has been a habitation for some thousands of years. The land upon which the city has been built and rebuilt is hilly, green, and bright with sunshine. The hills fall down to the coast, not unlike the middle section of California; they aren't precipitous, but they definitely slope. Because of this the town is based on winding switchbacks and stairs. There is no way to get anywhere without a significant change in altitude, the whole place is more vertical than any city I've been in. More than San Francisco, more than Seattle...I guess a bit less than this one Greek island I was on once but can no longer remember the name. And you thought I wasn't getting old.

What all this means is that the city has tons of steep back alleys and stairwells connecting two streets that run more or less perpendicular for a few blocks. Along these stairways are little shops: butchers, chwarma shops, cobblers (yes, cobblers - it seems that no one throws shoes away in Algiers), men's clothing stores, tobacconists, and photocopy salons. I would imagine there are other types of stores as well.

There are great parts of the city where you are turning the corner on a stairway, there is a white and blue building on your right, a green and white state school on your left, lines of shops on the street below, and as you come around the corner you look up from the stairs to see a blindingly crispy blue Mediterranean in the near distance. It can really be stunning. Then you get to the bottom of the stairs, are almost bowled over by the stench of urine, mobbed by mosquitoes, knee-deep in trash, with a bunch of unemployed twenty year olds silently watching you in a kind of menacing manner (they probably have university degrees and speak three languages, but you try being unemployed with no hope of employment for about three straight years and you'll look menacing, too).

Couple that menacing unemployment with the fact that no one is on the streets after 8pm, that there is nothing apart from a few man-bars even open after that hour, and that the Algerois - due to about ten years of generally random violence that ended in the deaths of about 200,000 people at the end of 170 years of terrible governance - have internalized a curfew that keeps them from even thinking about interacting with others late at night, and you have the deadest city of millions this side of Salt Lake.*

The city has the physical set up to be a really interesting, really fun town. A few nice restaurants moving in, a little paint here and there, a nightclub for the kids, some decent employment, a working infrastructure to repair roads and take away trash and provide services to the population, a complete overhaul of the political/economic structures that keep a handful of very very corrupt guys/parties at the head of all the major industries and government know, just a few little things and this town could be a real gem.

I must admit to liking - or at least to having a grudging respect for - the fact that Algeria is sticking with the Thursday-Friday weekend. No matter what happens to the country I hope it maintains its quirks like that, it helps give the place its character.

I'm not going to conclude with anything here, I just (note the rhetorical move) think that it is a shame that things have gone so poorly in Algeria for so long that a place like Algiers, which could be a beautiful, amazing town that everyone would want to come see once in his/her life, is instead a poor, poorly run city that people try to avoid.

*I have never been to Salt Lake City, have no idea how many people live there, and am only guessing that it is boring. I'm standing by that guess, however, largely based on their basketball team from the 1990s.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Legislative action on the part of the League

I was just made aware of this, which will be of interest to fans of baseball, sports in general, and cursing:

read more about it here:
All that and not a single "carnsarnat!"? I feel cheated.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Cultural Patrimony

While I haven't been doing too much that would pass for excitement lately, I do have some few things to share with the ether:

On Thursday I went with another American, Jacob, and his Algerian journalist buddy to watch the voting for municipal elections. Never mind that it was pouring rain. I mean really pouring. Remember when I wrote a while ago about the heaviest rain I've ever seen, and being caught in it? Yeah, it was like that, but coupled with standing in the street under a flimsy umbrella - on purpose - for a few hours. We did get into one of the polling stations, and I even saw with my very own eyes a box of ballots being counted, but we were quickly shooed out of there. Prior permission necessary.

I guess they don't want people doing any kind of counting of voters. The official number was 42% of the population turning out, in the Biblical rain. A newspaper here, El Khobar, called 18,000 people, a pretty good sample, to ask if they would vote. 4% said yes. People definitely were not knocking down the doors to the polling stations where I was. This is what leads to claims of fraud. That, of course, and the rampant fraud.

I have also been to the National Archives, an imposing Soviet-type building out in the middle of nowhere. There are many security checkpoints, seven heavily-armed policemen on duty, a week-long waiting process to get clearance, and about seven workers for every researcher. Probably more, actually, as there is all kinds of construction going on.

Now that I think about it, at lunch-time in the canteen there are at least 50 workers of various titles, and I am one of usually three people using the reading rooms. So that puts it at about sixteen workers per researcher. But hey, at least the bloated, oil-rich state is employing people. Its a step up from building another presidential palace or funding another two-week trip for the finance minister to France.

Ted Williams was Basque-American.

The 1976-77 TampaBay Buccaneers went 0-14 for the season, getting outscored by an average of 20.5 points per game.