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Sahara

Day 96: Algiers to Oran

Michael Palin - SaharaOran Station emphasises the point. It is a magnificently stylish example of the Mauresque style, full of height and light and space, set off by ornate wood mouldings and iron-work screens. It's been kept in very good condition, but not so the Hôtel Terminus next door. Beneath the layers of dust, the broken lighting and the holes in the ceiling, the grand vision of the French railway builders is unmistakable. Solid Moorish arches rise from the mosaic floor, a fireplace in massive blocks of grey marble is incised with the initials P. L. M., the Paris, Lyon and Marseille Railway. Above it is a mirror 9 feet high. Everything is intended to elevate and inspire, but this purpose has sadly been forgotten. No pastis here now, no freshly opened bottles of wine, no apronned waiters bustling amongst tables buzzing with gossip from Paris and Algiers. Instead, there's Coke or Fanta and a handwritten sign above a lifeless bar: 'La maison ne fait pas du crédit.'

We are eating later at the Comet, a plain old-fashioned restaurant, whose wine list and entrecôtes go a long way to making up for the Hôtel Terminus, when the flow of conversation is interrupted by the chanting of a crowd outside. It sounds like football supporters celebrating, and Said, who goes outside to check, confirms that this is the case, Kabilya JSK having defeated AC Africa from Côte d'Ivoire, to win the African club soccer championship.

The hooting and shouting grows louder and more vociferous and seems no longer entirely to do with football. I'm sure I hear the word 'Assassins!' repeated over and over. The proprietor pushes his windows shut, which doesn't do much good, and, if anything, urges the crowd on. There seem to be only two words they're chanting now.

'Pou-voir! Assa-ssins! Pou-voir! Assa-ssins!'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 96
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Oran
  • Book page no: 249

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