Rolleicord Photos: The Haïk and the Revolution

Thursday, November 20, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Some 50 participants, including women and men, processed down the main street of downtown Algiers.
On November 1, Algerians celebrated the 60th anniversary of the start of their war for independence, and here in Algiers local artists collective "Belaredj" organized a street performance to celebrate the haïk, the traditional women's dress of Algeria.

I was pleased to spend the last day of my 20s tagging along and snapping pictures of the event with my Rolleicord. And, although I still can't find anywhere to develop the film here in Algiers, I just found a chance to do so on a long weekend in Marseille.

As I expected, the results were decent but not spectacular. (And certainly not as strong as those from the last event.) The group had been marching too quickly for me to take proper, well focused shots with my antique camera, whose knobs require significant fiddling to take sharp portraits.

But for all the fumbling it requires, the Rolleicord has its upsides. It attracted plenty of attention from the participants, making it the perfect tool for soliciting portraits. I walked past one woman in haïk just as she was telling a seedy male passerby that no, under no circumstances would she open up her haik and show him her face for a quick photo. But as soon as I passed with my camera, she

Come With Me To The Casbah

Monday, November 10, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Typiquement algérois": The Casbah is the heart and soul of the Algerian capital's traditional culture.
Back in my mom's basement in Baltimore, somewhere in a crate full of foreign coins, postcards, and other odd trinkets that I have accumulated in my travels, there is also a magazine article, its left edge ragged where I tore it from an issue of Smithsonian back in 2007. Called "Save the Casbah", the article is an ode to the famed Casbah of Algiers—and to the community activists, historians, preservationists, and local residents who were then, and are still today, trying to keep the iconic hillside settlement from crumbling into the sea below.

Out of fascination with this part of the world, I saved the article years ago, long before I ever visited Algiers. But living here has given me many chances to explore the Casbah firsthand and get to know its many twists and turns, both physical and imagined.

The Haïk: A Symbol of Algeria's Revolution

Saturday, November 1, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

One of my shots from the "Moi et Mon Haïk en Ville" event, March 2014.
We Americans only get to celebrate our independence once a year, but Algerians commemorate theirs twice: on the day the country officially won its independence, July 5, but also on the day the revolution against French colonial rule began, November 1. Today marked the 60th anniversary of the start, in 1954, of Algeria's war for independence.

Local artist Souad Douibi, organizer of the street performance/festival I attended in March in celebration of the haïk—the traditional women's dress of Algiers—took the opportunity to hold another such event on this patriotic day. The choice was fitting, given the haïk's central place not just in the aesthetic of 1950s Algeria, but also in the revolution itself. (It turns out a head-to-toe sheet is as good a place to hide guerrilla fighter as a lady. Can't picture it? Go watch The Battle of Algiers!)

As in March, several dozen women, young and old, from around Algiers answered the call to dig out their haïks (or, in many cases, their grandmothers') and assemble this morning for a procession through downtown Algiers. I met them at the

Engagement Shoot: Algeria

Friday, October 3, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Alex and Ryan in the Place de l'Emir Abdelkader, on their first day in Algiers.
Although my door is always open, I don't get a lot of visitors here in Algeria.

My longtime best friend Ryan was one of the few people to visit me when I lived in Morocco a few years back, and along with his fiancée Alex, just became one of the few to visit me here in Algeria.

Ryan and Alex's choice to spend their one week of vacation in Algeria apparently raised some eyebrows among friends back home, but made sense to us. Back in our Georgetown days, Arabic obsessed and wanting to get off the usual tourist map, Ryan and I had sat in our dorm room researching the possibility of a summer trip to Libya and Algeria. (Conclusion: not feasible.)

Though those places had seemed so inaccessible then, now that I actually live in one of them, Ryan was keen to finally visit. Alex, who has also studied and lived throughout the Arab world, was similarly curious to see if all my Algeria hype was justified.

House Hunters International, Algiers: Episode 4, "A Year Later, Still So Many Questions"

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Landlord and would-be D.I.Y. superstar Aziz with his triplets, on a visit to my terrace earlier this summer.
A year has passed since I finally quit squatting with a colleague and move into my own apartment in Algiers—only to encounter a series of comical early misadventures. (If you haven't yet, be sure to read Episode 1: "It's Worth It for the View", Episode 2: "MacGyver's Revenge", and Episode 3: "Is It Over Yet?").

There was never supposed to be an "Episode 4". But to this day, circumstances at my humble abode somehow continue to prompt some uncomfortable questions—including, most often, "What the hell am I doing here?"

* * *

Back in November, shortly after finishing the third installment of this series on the joys of renting in Algiers, I packed my bags for a week back home in the US. My timing was good, as here in Algeria the winter's first rains were just starting outside.

Oh, and also inside.

Dalmatian Sensations: Observations from a Croatian Vacation

Tuesday, August 12, 2014 | Korčula, Croatia (map)

Croatia's Dalmatian coast is supremely relaxing. Above, Korčula town.
Coming from Algeria or anywhere else, you can do a lot worse than ten days on Croatia's Dalmatian coast. Here's why:

12 Essential Travel Reads from the New Yorker Archives

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Yours truly in Paris, almost certainly reading the New Yorker.
To produce good writing, you must also consume good writing; that is why I read every issue of the New Yorker magazine religiously, no matter where I may be living or traveling. (If that approach hasn't exactly achieved the desired effect on my own writing, alas it is through no fault of the magazine's writers and editors, who consistently churn out the best content available in print.)

This week the New Yorker has opened its treasure trove. Hoping to entice new readers after a website redesign—and before introducing an online paywall at some as-yet-unspecified date this fall—for the next few months the magazine is offering unrestricted access to its online archives back to 2007, along with an expanded selection of earlier writings.

While the magazine consistently produces fascinating content on every subject imaginable, today I would like to recommend, in no particular order, a selection of the New Yorker's best recent pieces on travel, adventure, foreign cultures, and other themes explored in this blog. Enjoy these favorites while they're available:

After Epic World Cup, Gavin Reflects on Brazil

Monday, July 21, 2014 | Brazil (map)

Festive street decorations in Salvador da Bahia
In ten great posts over the past few weeks, guest blogger Gavin Lippman has shared his experiences at the 2014 World Cup with all of us back home. Today, Gavin offers his final reflections on the trip.

The World Cup has ended and it will be another four years before 32 teams restart the chase for glory, this time in Russia. So as the summer rolls on, talk of the Cup fades away, and I depart my role as a guest blogger for Ibn Ibn Battutta, I wanted to share my thoughts on the World Cup and Brazil.

* * *

The World Cup is an event truly unlike any other. The closest comparison would be a hybrid between March Madness—because of the unpredictability and sheer passion—and the Olympics—because of the nationalistic fervor this competition generates. But even this hybrid would fall a distant second behind the World Cup. While TV, the Internet, and social media can give you an idea of how things