Where Are You From?

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Where are you from?" It's the first question asked of anyone, anywhere, who seems foreign there. Having often been the random white guy in an east African village or the random anglophone in a Middle Eastern souq, I have fielded the question thousands of times in my own travels, and asked it just as often. As central as it is to the pastime that I love—travel—it is a question with which I have a complicated relationship.

"Where are you from?" An innocent enough question, right? Sort of. I once read that, in a survey, New York City cab drivers listed it as far and away their least favorite thing to be asked by clients. It can grate on expats, like it can grate on ethnic minorities back in America. On some days, however innocent its intention, the question can serve as a reminder that you just don't fit in here. I have definitely felt that sting before, when someone popped the question on me, thousands of miles from home and all that is familiar.

The Casbah of Algiers: an Imperiled Heritage

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 | Casbah of Algiers, Algeria (map)

The Casbah's homes, shops, and other structures, built over centuries with traditional methods and materials, require constant maintenance. Above, braces support a wall in the lower Casbah.
Almost every first-time visitor to the Casbah, the walled historic quarter of Algiers, has the same reaction upon entering: "Wow, this place is amazing." And in almost every case, a second reaction follows right after: "But it sure is in bad shape."

Those were my own reactions on my first visit, during one of my early trips to Algiers. Since moving here two years ago, I've found many more opportunities to explore the Casbah, including some in just the last few weeks. Even today, every time I enter the place, those same two thoughts keep dueling in my head.

* * *

For centuries, the Casbah was Algiers. As I have written before (See "Come With Me To The Casbah"), the old city was the epicenter of Algerian culture and history, and the heart of the resistance against the French colonizers. Even today, the

Two Days in the Dunes: The Oasis of Taghit

Wednesday, March 18, 2015 | Taghit, Algeria (map)

"Swim Taghit": No, we didn't actually swim with the tadpoles. But while waiting to develop my film in a few months, I've gotten creative with some of my camera phone shots. Any buyers?
Just how huge is Algeria? Fly an hour north from the capital, Algiers, and you're scarfing jamón and sipping sangria in southern Spain. But fly two hours southwest to the desert outpost of Béchar and you're still in Algeria, not yet even halfway to the country's most southern reaches. Living in the comfortable Mediterranean bubble of Algiers, it's easy to forget that there's a whole country out there to explore—the largest country in Africa, in fact—but a trip like this offers an unmistakable reminder.

Our destination for the weekend was Taghit, a tiny desert oasis town 1.5 hours drive south from Béchar.

Why come? They made me do it. More specifically, a few friends had been

Walking the Hillsides of Algiers

Saturday, March 7, 2015 | Telemly, Algiers, Algeria (map)

A narrow chute off Boulevard Mohamed V.
For many people, Chutes and Ladders is merely a board game. By contrast, here in Algiers it is the daily experience of navigating the city.

Almost a year ago, in "Around Algiers: Navigating the Invisible City", I wrote about the Algerian capital's circuitous roads and about the hidden staircases that crisscross its punishingly steep hillsides. Since then, I have continued to explore the city on foot, discovering yet more stairs connecting seemingly distant points, and offering the ambitious pedestrian a multitude of serene, jasmine- and bouganvillea-lined passages through town.

Just last month, Nina and I spent a few Saturday afternoons exploring along the hillsides above downtown, in and beyond my neighborhood of Telemly. Even after

Photo Expo: "The Casbah of Algiers, from Yesterday to Today"

Saturday, February 28, 2015 | Casbah of Algiers, Algeria (map)

Coin de la mémoire: One of my photos of the Casbah of Algiers featured in the exposition.
A few months ago, a Facebook group that I follow, called "Friends of Algiers: History, Arts, and Culture", announced plans to organize an exposition celebrating the Casbah, the ancient quarter of Algiers, and issued an open call for artistic submissions.

As a longtime fan of the Casbah, I was excited to participate, and sent the organizers a selection of the many photos I have snapped there with my Rolleicord. A few weeks later, I was happy to hear that five of my shots would be featured in the exposition, "The Casbah of Algiers, from Yesterday to Today", to be organized in the Casbah itself at the National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions.

The expo opened on February 23, Algeria's national "Casbah Day", earning

In Berlin, Encounters with Hipsters Beyond the Wall

Friday, February 27, 2015 | Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany (map)

Berlin blur: exploring Kreuzberg last weekend.
Germany was never high on my list of potential destinations, but something about dating a German girl managed to change my perspective. Nina and I are now back in Algiers after a long weekend in Berlin that was admittedly far more fascinating than I had expected.

We stayed in hipster central: the neighborhood of Kreuzberg (in an Airbnb apartment of course—wait, do people still stay in hotels?) Outside of Brooklyn, you would be hard pressed to find a higher concentration of organic brunch spots, screen printing workshops, vintage shops, graffiti posing as "street art", plus flannel, beards, tattoos, piercings, and all the rest. Once an undesirable quarter abandoned to Berlin's Turkish immigrant community, Kreuzberg has been reborn as an edgy arts district (read: overtaken by hipsters). Strolling through the neighborhood gave me an instant taste of just how alternative a city Berlin is—not

A St. Paul's School Alumni Profile

Friday, February 13, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Yours truly in Marrakech, 2012.
In the latest issue of its quarterly alumni magazine, my high school back in Baltimore featured me in its "Voices from the Hill" alumni profile, reprinted below. Many thanks to Alumni director Charley Mitchell for this nice recognition.
Algiers, Algeria is home to Andrew Farrand '03. He's lived there since 2013, after almost a decade in Washington, D.C., punctuated by frequent travels and over a year living in Morocco. His love of languages has led to fluency in French and intensive study of Arabic, with stints in Damascus and Amman—and even a summer in Tanzania studying Swahili. "I owe Catherine Eiff for all that," Andrew says. "She was my French teacher through much of Upper School, and offered me my first trip abroad: an SP exchange visit to France. That trip was when I first realized I had a knack for languages, and that it was a path to a whole world out there."

Christmas Rendez-Vous: Exploring the Underground and Other Sides of Paris

Thursday, January 29, 2015 | Paris, France (map)

Winter wedding in Paris, a city of old world charm.
Winter just isn't the time to go to Paris.

That was my first conclusion from the Christmas season, when I rendez-voused with my mom and sister for a week in the French capital, followed by a few days there on my own. Paris, so verdant and effervescent when I last visited in the spring, is a chilly, rainy drag of a city in late December. Sure, it's still Paris, but with short and dreary days, it's hardly at its best.

Good weather or bad, our little family had a nice time catching up, as we had the year before in Lisbon. (At least I did, though I can't vouch that my mother and Maggie shared the sentiment!) Our Christmas meetup in Europe—neutral ground between our respective homes of Algiers, Baltimore, and Boston—is fast becoming an annual tradition, as the only time of year when we are all together.