Sunday, March 16, 2008


Yesterday was truly an amazing day here in Algiers. Not because the bus I took was so packed that the doors couldn’t close and I ended up getting a free ride; not because at the commissariat de la police the Bureau des Etrangers guy looked up at me once, then went back to his work and grunted negations to all my questions about my carte de résidence (no, I can’t get it before I leave on Wednesday, sadly); not because it was about 85 degrees and muggy, with no wind, and there was a strange smell throughout the whole city; no, it was amazing because when I got up in the morning and went out on the balcony to look over the city, I couldn’t see the port for all the smog.

On the street in town it was possible to see the smog in the air above you. If there was an air-quality index here it would have read: unsafe for all. Or like in some Lord of the Rings movie, “The very air you breathe is like a poison to your lungs…” I’ve seen some bad smog in my day, from Los Angeles on a pretty daily basis to when I used to go up to Red Rocks to hike around and look down on Denver, the pressure zone against the mountain holding the pollution over the city like a dirty wool blanket, but I have never experienced anything like this. Breathing anywhere was difficult, even inside.

Not to worry, though, because the government has recently announced that it will stop giving new taxi licenses in the next year, to try to ease congestion. If you can figure out how that makes any sense I would love to know. Maybe the impending end of the oil age and civilization as we know it won't be such a bad thing...

In other news, I found out this weekend that sardines can be delicious. Call me ignorant, but I didn’t know that sardine was the name of the fish; I thought it was just the name of the tin filled with pickled fish of some kind. In Algiers they don’t do fish very well, that distinction is for Oran; however, they do do sardines, which in the traditional Algiers style are gutted, dipped in a spicy batter and then fried, and you eat them whole. This is a fisherman’s bar lunch here, and they are the perfect food to eat with beer. They also serve them with a peck of pickled peppers and tomatoes with onions and olive oil. It took a while, but I finally found the elusive delicious Algeroise cuisine…beer and sardines.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Oran Chrestomathy III

There isn't a single vending machine in all of Algeria.*

Here's some photos from my trip with Miguel to Oran. If I haven't said so already, Miguel is from San Antonio and teaches English here in Algiers. He has also taught English in Mexico and Yemen, and did a Peace Corps stint for two years in Mauritania. As you might imagine, he is often stopped by customs on his way back to the US.

This is snow on the ground outside of Algiers. Not much, I know, but still: freaking snow.

These are the famed snow-capped mountains of the Kabylie, to the east of Algiers (yes, you go east on your way to the western city of Oran - its Algeria, dudes).
And more snowy mountains...its almost like Switzerland, no?
You can just open the door and hang out of the moving train if you pleaseThen sometimes you just have to go out and dance the night away in Oran
This is sheeshy club time -- a place where not only prostitutes but non "working" women are welcome as well, a nice break, really, even if the music was horrible.The "Téléferique" to get up the hill on the western edge of Oran, up to the old Spanish fortWe call 'em "hill thugs"Beautiful Oran The old French nuclear sub port on the other side of the hill from Oran. The French stayed here until 1969, seven years after they were thrown out of the country. Military secrets are tough to let go ofThe fabled Lady Justice, denying it to everyone nowThe old Cathedral is now a pigeon and cat infested public library, but you can't say it isn't prettyNow I understand the whole Oran-as-Paradise-City thing (look hard)That about sums it up, there was another night of the awesomest bar in Africa, the Meloman (which I learned is Algerian for someone who loves all different kinds of music, like "Melody Man"), but no pictures, as people would definitely object to you snapping photos while they have scantily-clad prostitutes on their laps. But the singers did do "Another Brick in the Wall" again, as well as a Willie Nelson medley, which was pretty fun. Oh, and they make a dynamite paella, surprising as it may be.

*To the best of my knowledge.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I managed to get myself up in the darkness of the a.m. this weekend and get on the train to Oran, which was fun as always. It is really the port town of your dreams. And the best part is that it snowed on the train ride there. Snow. The mountains outside of Alger often get snow, but this was on the plains and down in the foothills.

I might post some pictures later, but for now I'm putting up a link to my friend's website with pictures and stories from his trip to Tamanrasset and surrounding areas. This is 2000 some odd kilometers south of Alger, out in the middle of the Sahara, and it looks like I imagine the moon to look, although we'll never know (those moon landings were faked!). But it looks like fun, so take a look by clicking here. And stay tuned for a few glimpses of Oran, from a gondola no less!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I was out on the balcony late tonight, the city was quiet, and I was watching small fishing boats move out through the harbor. Small red lights slowly moving across the black water. They looked like stars, forming temporary constellations in a mirrored sky; some were still, others shifted and swayed. From a different perspective, I imagine the stationary and moving boats switch places, new constellations coming into view, constellations I will never know.

Polaris is the north star. If you trace a line through the far edge of the Big Dipper you will find it, far enough away to stay nearly true north, yet bright enough to guide a traveler at night. There is no polestar in the southern sky, but one can approximate south by finding the Southern Cross, a constellation hovering out over the glacial horizon of Antarctica. The stars, the constellations they form, are motionless to us; they form constants against which we can measure our movement through space, through time.

The constellations are not static, however; they are not constant in our sky. Polaris is only humanity’s most recent guidepost to the north, the Southern Cross a new addition to the pole’s pursuit. Every few millennia or so the movement of the earth, the shifting of our planet through the solar system, necessitates a new star be designated our guide, a new constellation formed through which we divine that northern truth. Four thousand years ago the Egyptians and Greeks knew the Southern Cross, and Polaris was but one nameless pinhole in the ceiling’s fabric.

Four thousand years. Thirteen thousand years. One hundred thousand years. Humanity has named more polestars than years have passed since television. Yet hundreds of generations live and die under the light of that one star, that one constellation, that one escort. Some might note a feeling of insignificance in this, the grand process of life, the cosmic temporality through which everyone lives and dies. Instead I am amazed at the scope of humanity, at the universe-al timescale humans inhabit. But it only exists in history. It only exists in our creation of history. In this vast universal space-time, only that history gives meaning to our transit.