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

Thursday, January 29, 2015 | Paris, France

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.

Places to Go: Constantine, Algeria

Thursday, January 22, 2015 | Constantine, Algeria

A 1920s footbridge spans the Rhumel River gorge, connecting Constantine's two halves.
In addition to publishing their annual "52 Places to Go" list every January, each month the New York Times Travel section solicits and publishes readers' "Places to Go" recommendations.

This month I decided to toss my hat in the ring with what I hoped was a unique and timely suggestion: Constantine, the unique and timeless capital of Algeria's east, which I've been lucky enough to visit several times. In my writeup, I packed as much color as I could within the strict 100-word limit, and also submitted three photos:
Constantine clings to the cliffs above Algeria's own grand canyon – the Rhumel River gorge, which plunges hundreds of feet below the city's dozen historic suspension bridges. Though little known abroad, Algeria's third largest city is home to lavish Ottoman palaces, an Oscar Niemeyer-designed university, and ornate hotels from the French colonial era. Timgad, Algeria's most impressive Roman ruin, is just down the road. Constantine's already vibrant cultural scene—the peak of which is an annual summer jazz festival—is getting a boost this year, as the city has been named 2015's "Capital of Arab Culture". Special events are planned year-round.

Arrows from the Bow of Exile

Wednesday, January 14, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria

"You shall leave everything you love most: this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first. You are to know the bitter taste of others' bread, how salty it is, and know how hard a path it is for one who goes ascending and descending others' stairs."
Background photo by author, in Casbah of Algiers.
Life in North Africa can feel far from home and its many comforts. On the tough days—of which there are many—I sometimes recall this quote I came across last year from Paradiso, the third volume of Dante's Divine Comedy. Somehow, I draw strength from the words, perhaps because they are a reminder that the daily difficulties of life abroad are inevitable, and have always been so.

Are We All Charlie Hebdo?

Thursday, January 8, 2015 | Algiers, Algeria

"Love: Stronger than hate." (Source:
Yesterday, when the news broke of an attack by masked gunmen on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the Internet—that worldwide repository of timeless wisdom and oh-so-well-thought-out status updates—was soon plastered with the #WeAreAllCharlie hashtag and its many variations (#IAmCharlie, #JeSuisCharlie, #NousSommesCharlie, etc).

When I saw it, I instantly thought back to Le Monde's famous September 12, 2001 editorial "Nous sommes tous des américains". Many also shared the hashtag out of solidarity with the victims. But statements that some posted alongside the hashtag imbued those simple words with wildly differing meanings: an impassioned defense of free speech, a battle cry for embattled secular values, a simple statement against violence, a denunciation of Islamist terrorism, a cry of French national pride... The reasons people shared those words were infinite.

I realized this a few hours later, as I watched the backlash start. (If you don't live in

"When In Doubt, Go Out": Team Algeria Does Marseille

Saturday, January 3, 2015 | Marseille, France

A partial group shot of the weekend's ever-changing cast of characters, at Chez Etienne pizzeria.
"When in doubt, go out" is a maxim I long ago learned to follow on those nights when a friend calls to invite me out but I'm feeling 50-50 about it. Almost every time, those somehow end up being the quirky, epic, unexpectedly memorable nights out.

In recent years, I've practiced applying that maxim to larger decisions. I now try to beat back my own inner wimp when weighing new jobs, international moves, or the possibility of hopping on airplanes for whirlwind last-minute trips. If you're on the fence, go.

Back in November, a few of my closest Algerian friends were dogging me to join them for a long weekend in Marseille. I had way too much work to do here in