This Is Oran: Radiant, Rhythmic, and Raw

Saturday, December 9, 2017 | Oran, Algeria (map)

Oran's central train station is just one vestige of its colonial past.
Aboard the westbound train from Algiers, it takes a full morning to reach Oran—plenty of time to ponder all the usual surroundings—the scenery, the fellow passengers, your shoes—before working your way down the list until you're pondering the very air around you.

It's an especially vivid air, punctuated by a rhythmic clanking that keeps time alongside the rails' steady, high-pitched hiss. Above the seat backs, the passengers' heads undulate side-to-side in unison as they murmur prayers, rustle through the newspaper, or cluck over children. A thin film of dust tints both the landscape and the car's interior a faint goldenrod. Lacy airborne seeds from a local weed waft through the carriage, glistening and leaping as one each time a mustachioed businessman or anxious mother returns from the cafĂ© car. As the door crashes open, the wind sweeps in a pungent marriage of manure from the freshly plowed hillsides and the acrid tang of hot steel—an odor from the depths of an industrial cavern somehow misplaced here amid the blinding midday sunlight.

"Inside the Battle of Algiers": Where to Buy, and US Book Tour Info

Thursday, September 7, 2017 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

(Video by Allaqta. Subtitles enabled by default. Video also available on YouTube.)
Inside the Battle of Algiers is officially here! After two long years of translation, I'm excited to share this book—and an important chapter of Algeria's history, from one of its most prominent heros—with the English-speaking world.

Purchasing Information
You can purchase the book today in paperback or e-book form via:
  • the book's publisher, Just World Books,
  • or your local Amazon site, and
  • other major booksellers worldwide. (If your favorite bookseller doesn't stock it, invite them to order here today.)
U.S. Book Tour (UPDATED)
This month I will also accompany Madame Drif on a book tour to several cities on the US east coast. Books will be available for sale and signing at each event:

Washington, DC
  • Monday, Sept. 18, 1:30pm | Woodrow Wilson International Center | RSVP here
  • Tuesday, Sept. 19, 6:00pm | Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Mortara Center for International Studies | RSVP here
New York, NY
  • Thursday, Sept. 21, 12:30pm | New York University Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies | Event details
  • Thursday, Sept. 21, 7:00pm | Alwan Center for the Arts | RSVP here
  • Tuesday, Sept. 26, 7:00pm | Nomad Restaurant | RSVP here
  • Friday, Sept. 29, 6:15pm | Columbia University | Details here
  • Sunday, Oct. 1, 6:00pm | Anthology Film Archives | Tickets here
Boston, MA
  • Monday, Oct. 2, 4:00pm | Harvard University Kennedy School of Government | Event details
  • Wednesday, Oct. 4, 12:00pm | Tufts University Fletcher School | Details here
Finally, if you missed my behind-the-scenes look at the translation process, I think you'll find it an enjoyable introduction to the book: "Translating Madame Drif".

Enjoy your reading!

Translating Madame Drif

Monday, September 4, 2017 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Six decades after executing the attack that made her a wanted woman and changed her country's history, Zohra Drif has no apologies and, at 82, remains every bit the warrior. (Photo: A. Farrand, 2017)
"I have a bomb down in the basement. I should really go get it out of there."

The dignified elderly woman seated beside me on the sofa tried to swallow a chuckle as my gaze snapped up from the scrawled-over pages spread across my lap. "Pardon?" I stammered out.

It was a Saturday morning back in March, and I was in a sunlit home on a serene Algiers hilltop, fully absorbed in debating final edits to my host's memoir, when she so casually mentioned the bomb.

But her admission shouldn't have surprised me, since this was no average octogenarian. No, this was Zohra Drif, the freedom fighter who, as a young law student in 1956, carried out the bombing that would prove one of the most decisive acts of Algeria's liberation war.

"Oui, j'ai une bombe," she confirmed, in her typical flawless French. "Well, it's a sort of shell of one…" Years ago, she explained, a farmer had offered it to her husband, Rabah Bitat, one of the original architects of Algeria's revolution and, like her, a prominent post-independence leader. "The freedom fighters used to stash them in private families' homes for safekeeping from the French patrols." Returning the bomb he had faithfully kept hidden away for decades was this farmer's way of showing his loyalty to his country and its revolutionary heroes.

"Anyway," she continued, "It's a kind of cylinder shape, and when you shake it you hear all sorts of nails and things rattling inside..."

When you shake it. Because of course, being the fearless Zohra Drif, she would shake the bomb.

Young Algerians, Tell Us Your Stories! A Video from WikiStage Algiers

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Video of my presentation on the importance of storytelling at WikiStage Algiers 2016. Translated subtitle translation available for those who don't speak French. (Click here to watch on YouTube.)
Say what you will about Algerians, but they sure aren't boring. All over the world, everyone has a story to tell, but that seems especially true of Algerians—and all the more so given how isolated the country is, and how few chances Algerians have to share their stories with the wider world.

Back in December I delivered a talk at a TEDx-style event here called WikiStage Algiers, organized by a prominent local university club and attended by several thousand local students and youth. (If you missed it, be sure to read my previous article on that experience: "WikiStage Algiers: Young Algerians Tell Their Stories")

This week the organizers published the above video of my talk. (I spoke in French, guessing that would be the best way to connect with my audience, but for non-French-speakers YouTube offers translated subtitles in the video settings menu.)

In my talk, I discussed the importance of storytelling and urged Algerian youth to share more stories in whatever form they prefer. I closed by inviting young people in the audience (or even their friends or others) to send me short stories, promising to select a series for publication here on my blog. I published those earlier this year, but want to let everyone know: My offer remains open. I'm collecting a new round of stories and will publish a second series as soon as I receive enough submissions. Similarly, I encourage any aspiring young Algerian filmmakers to enter the "Algeria's Best Kept Secret" film contest throughout the month of September 2017. 

Thank you again to the talented organizers of WikiStage Algiers for giving me the opportunity to share this message with young Algerians. Keep telling your stories!

This is Paris: City of Two Faces

Monday, August 28, 2017 | Paris, France (map)

Paris's Museum of Natural History, which few tourists find time to visit, contains several imposing galleries of skeletons, all arranged by Victorian-era curators and seemingly untouched ever since.
Understandably, most visitors to Paris can only stay long enough to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and similar must-see attractions. With few exceptions, those classic destinations are classic for a reason, and well worth seeing, but spend more time in the city and you'll have the chance to explore the up-and-coming and edgy, the multicultural and worldly, the odd and the downright macabre.

Having returned many times over the past years (it's just a quick 2.5-hour hop from Algiers—short enough to make a weekend of it), I've managed to work my way down the list and see several of the oddities that—unbeknownst to many visitors—are among the city's most intriguing sites.

From Tuscany to Cinque Terre, Sampling the Lavish and Relishing the Simple

Monday, August 7, 2017 | Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, Italy (map)

Vernazza, a picturesque paradise in Cinque Terre.
Still buzzing from the excitement of the sumptuous Roman wedding, Nina and I wrestled our bags into a rented Fiat and headed for Tuscany. It was still early May, so the days were long, the air was sun-baked and warm, and the Italian countryside was in bloom.

We drove to Orvieto, a medieval town whose defensive walls melded seamlessly into the rocky outcropping on which it sat, dominating the fields of grapes and orchards all around. In Orvieto we climbed the ancient bell tower, savored prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches in a tiny shaded piazza, and strolled along stone streets flanked by gelaterias and artisan shops selling everything imaginable in gnarly hand-carved olive wood.

By the end of the day we had traversed Lazio, skirted Umbria, and entered Tuscany, where we settled for the night in a b&b outside Siena. It was a 15-minute walk to the central Piazza del Campo, the vast, seashell-shaped central plaza dominated by the city's famed tower. For two days each summer since the 1500s,

La Dolce Vita: A Roman Wedding with an Indian Twist

Monday, July 31, 2017 | Rome, Italy (map)

The man of the hour can enjoy two drinks at once if he damn well pleases.
I would go anywhere for Joe, and he knows it. That was surely all the more true when he told me he was getting married.

Hailing from the US east coast and living in North Africa—with friends scattered across the globe—I have certainly made some long journeys to celebrate nuptials in recent years. But this time around the trip was an easy local jaunt, since Joe and his wonderful bride Christianne decided to get hitched just across the way in Rome—an easy 2-hour flight from Algiers. Joe is a former roommate and among my closest friends from my Georgetown days, and he and Christianne had even made the effort two years earlier to come visit us in Algeria—getting themselves added to several Homeland Security watchlists in the process (sorry again, guys!)—so there was no way Nina and I were missing this one.

We organized with friends to rent an apartment along Via Giulia, a block from the Tiber, and spent a few days before and after the wedding festivities exploring the city. If we failed to eat every last bowl of pasta in Rome or make the bartenders weary of mixing Aperol Spritzes, it was surely not for lack of effort.

Then vs. Now, Here vs. There: Making Sense of the Beirut Blur

Thursday, July 6, 2017 | Beirut, Lebanon (map)

This Beirut trip was a chance to see how the city had evolved since my last visit a dozen years earlier.
Khalil and I never really met back in college, but we recognized each other's faces well enough to make the connection one summer evening at a mutual friend's party here in Algiers. "Hey, didn't you go to Georgetown?" Like me, Khalil had moved to Algeria in recent years for work. We've stayed in loose touch since that evening two years ago, catching up occasionally at functions around town. Then back in March, an invitation hit my inbox: for no particular reason whatsoever, Khalil and his wife Julia were inviting us and a few dozen other friends from around the world to a party at his family home in Beirut.

On the face of it, Lebanon seemed a bit far to travel to just for a party. But Nina and I both had a few friends there we wanted to see, and we were keen to escape Algiers for a long weekend somewhere different. Besides, Nina had always wanted to visit Beirut, and I was eager to see how it had changed since I was last there 12 years ago. "When in doubt, go out"—right? In the end, it was an easy choice.

When we checked in at the Algiers airport, we discovered that a large group would be making the trip with us, including several close friends. Team Algeria was going to Beirut.