The Haïk's Enduring Allure

Wednesday, May 20, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Many Algerians consider the haïk to be just as much a symbol of the nation as its physical monuments.
How much power can a few square meters of white silk wield? A lot more than you might think.

That was my conclusion after the latest outing, one sunny Saturday in late March, by the "Belaredj" collective, the cultural group behind the haïk events I tagged along for twice last year. (To learn more, see "Celebrating the Haïk, and Debating an Algerian Icon" and "The Haïk: A Symbol of Algeria's Revolution".)

The unique allure of the haik—the traditional women's dress of Algeria, now rare on the streets of Algiers—was in full evidence at this spring's outing, organized as always by Belaredj's founder, local performance artist Souad Douibi. Souad's other recent events (which she bills as "performances" rather than mere cultural festivals) had garnered increasing attention, as photographers—myself included—inundated Algerian social media with modern images of this classic symbol. In a country so fixated on its history, such images hold particular power, and motivated more than a few photographers to attend this spring's event.

Algiers Photos Featured in L'Eclectique

Monday, April 27, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Une touche de couleur à Alger centre
L'Eclectique Magazine, an online magazine of culture and arts "from Tangier to Baku", has just published a series of my Rolleicord photos of Algiers accompanied by a brief French text on how I came to live here and what the experience is like. It is my honor and pleasure to share the text and photos here, accompanied by a rough English translation. Enjoy:

Taghit: Photos from the Algerian Sahara

Sunday, April 12, 2015 | Taghit, Algeria (map)

A Portuguese Touareg: Jorge disguised in a chèche, the blue scarves favored in the Sahara.
Last month's trip to Taghit, a striking Saharan oasis in western Algeria, was a highlight of my experience here so far. (If you haven't yet, read my write-up of the weekend: "Two Days in the Dunes: The Oasis of Taghit".)

I passed a good portion of the trip snapping shots on my Rolleicord, assuring my travel companions that one day they would indeed get to see the resulting photos. After several weeks of waiting impatiently—and nobody more impatiently than me—that day has arrived. This weekend I was finally able to escape to a city with full-service photo labs to develop these and many other photos.

Enjoy this selection of shots from Taghit and its captivating surroundings:

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