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Sahara

Day 94: Algiers

Algiers, Algeria 
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In the room in which Albert Camus, the Nobel prize-winning French Algerian writer was brought up. The balcony looks down on the streets of Belcourt, which he wrote so about so well.
Michael Palin - SaharaHe made much in his book of the different levels in Algiers, both literal and metaphorical, with the poor crowded down by the port and the big houses with gardens higher up the hill. It's like that still. In one short ride in a bruised and dented cable car, the atmosphere of the city changes, from villas to tenements, from well-swept streets to open ground strewn with drifting rubbish. Though the streets are meaner, they're full of life and bustling activity. One of them borders a cemetery, whose outer wall is an open-air clothing store, hung with dresses, nighties, headscarves, coats, trousers and huge brassieres, with one section entirely devoted to football strips. One of the young boys wears a Manchester United shirt, but the strips on sale are mainly those of the big Algiers club, CRB Belcourt. Various international team names have been painted on the wall, including one which just reads 'Holygans'.

The Camus family apartment at 93, Rue Mohammed Belouizdad (formerly the Rue de Lyon) is still there, above a photographer's shop. There is nothing to commemorate the fact that a Nobel prize-winner lived here, but then Camus was a French Algerian, one of the European settlers they called the pieds noirs, and he was as critical of the Marxist revolutionaries of the FLN as he was of the French colonialists. But it does mean that the room in which he worked is very little changed, apart from a sticker in Arabic on the door, which reads 'In the name of God and Mohammed his messenger'. It's small, maybe 15 by 18 feet, with grey-blue French windows opening onto the street with its neatly clipped shady trees. It faces west and even now, in November, I can feel the force of a midday sun that must have made life unbearable in the long hot summers.

The modest two-storey house may be unheralded, but it's certainly not unused. It's owned by an old but sprightly Algerian, who lives there with his wife, three sons and their wives and children. Eighteen people altogether.

One of the sons says that we are the first people to visit since 1998. I'm quite moved to be here and linger by the window for a while, looking out at the children's wear shop opposite, the milling crowd, the line at a bus stop, the ordinary everyday life of the city which Camus observed so carefully.
Algiers, Algeria 
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A wall in Belcourt is covered with football slogans. The English contribution, though misspelt, is not forgotten.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 94
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Algiers
  • Book page no: 244

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