Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Manufactured Response to Absence - Algiers

The exhibition Manufactured Response to Absence has just opened at the Modern Arts Museum of Algiers. Here are a few photos of the artwork displayed. The best piece of them all is by far the inside of MAMA itself.


Modern Arts Museum of Algiers

Saturday, 12 October 2013

On monochrome, wombs and Algeria

I was intending on briefly presenting the two volume comics Waratha (the Heirs) but I've changed my mind.  Instead, it is the preface that caught my attention.

Waratha was published in 2012, the year commemorating Algeria's 50 years of independence, and this subject matter is the focus of this collective album.  There are five works per volume.

Etienne Schreder prefaces that there is a majority of women cartoonists in this new group and asks: "Is it a sign of our times or a sign that women's interest lies more in stories that draw on roots and origins?  It is true to say that the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence woke up in them stories anchored in their family memory, or in their own experience. Men, true to themselves, trusted more in their imagination."  [my bold] According to Schreder, himself a cartoonist, women cartoonists are anchored in the womb, while men, unbridled, less womby, give fuller flow to their imagination. 


At this point, in a parallel world, my hands have gone through the preface's lines and have grabbed Schreder by the hair, note the typical female fighting-style, swear-words burst out of my cartoon speech-bubble, swear-words shaped like marshmallows that morph with speed into steel pins with ink on their ends, they splash and crack Schreder's spectacles, so many insults that can't be spoken because they would be censored, plus they could be interpreted as slightly racists, but Schreder's not sure they're racist because he can't think, he's blindened by the bright green of my Hulky skin... I release my hold and withdraw
shedding a caramel tear or two or three, away from this immensely offensive preface, written by a foreign guest, invited to comment on the effort of a so say new generation of multi-faceted beings.

But I can't go through paper, my wrath will find no expression, though one day in a non-parallel world I might just meet him and then...

Perhaps I should laugh about his summing up of wombmen relations and agree to the equation that women equal verity, and men fiction. But, I can't, it would make life and Algeria so monochrome and both aren't.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

FIBDA 6 - The International Comic Strip Festival in Algiers

FIBDA opened on Tuesday afternoon, and Wednesday 9 October was its first full day.  I'm so glad I was able to make it as I walk away from it with exactly what I was looking for, Algerian comics in Derja among which Algerian Love, and a better idea of where Algerian mangas and the Algerian language in writing are heading.

The below are works that caught my attention and made it in print and on FIBDA's stands.

There was an overwhelming amount of French language comics, a minority of modern standard Arabic, and a few but solid comics in Algerian Derja (ok, I've only seen one, with another not yet published in full but whose plates were exhibited, yet there could have been 10 more I didn't spot, right).  There is at least one other Algerian Derja comic book in the mix, to be published by next year, written by Nawel Louerrad (who also writes in Arabic). She was present to sign and promote her French album.

Z-Link editions promotes Algerian mangas, written in French and in Derja. Among the French language albums : Houma Fighter by Said Sabaou and Loundja by Amir Cheriti and Yasmine Boubakir (there's also Nahla and the Touaregs, Drahem, The Revolution, in brief their whole collection!)

Bendir and Laabstore are two magazines in French that promote Algerian mangas. Laabstore's stand was filled with their 2012 volumes, a year dedicated to celebrating 50 years of Algeria's independence.

Laabstore is glossy, attractive but a little short (46 pages), while Bendir is more substantial in content and thicker (70 pages).  Both are sold at 200 dinars.

Waratha (the Inheritors) is a two volume collective work, written in French and published by Dalimen Editions. It features "the next generation of Algerian cartoonists" so the back says.  The same group worked on a first collective work called Monsters also published by Dalimen, in 2011. Each Waratha volume features 5 authors. (Separate post about this album to come later).

Also on display was a comics collection of over 60 volumes called The History of Algeria (Tarix el Djaza'ir), written in modern standard Arabic. Only the middle-part was on display so I do not know when does the History of Algeria is said to start. Each volume is drawn by a different illustrator but I do not know if the scenario was given to them whole, and written by one individual only.  It is supported by the Ministry of Culture and published by Kaza Editions.

Kaza editions also publish several historical comics written in modern standard Arabic. By historical I mean comics about the region's pre-colonial history and its heroes:

The Berber warrior el Kahina, with the Berber symbol topsy-turvy.

The heroes of the Arab Maghreb:

The "Algerian hero", Rais Hamidou.

There were several publishing houses present in fact. I've already mentioned Dalimen editions who have a large stand with pricey albums, all be it hardback covers and thick glossy paper. I'd rather they were affordable, quality is too often made to rhyme with high cost and it shouldn't, it is feasible to print good quality for (a wider) distribution at reasonable prices.

Dalimen also had organised a collective exhibition featuring the work a young group of cartoonists who followed a training, from March to July 2013 under their wing. My favourite, unsurprisingly, is a forthcoming album written in Derja called Fatm'as Memories (Dhikrayat Fatma) written by Safia Ouarezki and drawn by Mahmoud Benameur.

There was also Amine "Floyd" Djaballah's work "Suspended History", who set out to trace the history of Algeria, from independence to the last words of Mohamed Boudiaf (RIP).  There weren't many plates of his on display and the below is typical, plates are composed of drawings and few words (in French) if any. I hope there is already, somewhere, and that there will soon be, everywhere, a history of Algeria told in Algerian, we shouldn't only find DZ history told in French or modern standard Arabic exclusively).

Lazhari Labter Editions were also present with (Algerian) comics in French, I didn't see any other language on their table or shelves.  

They published, in the French language, a fantastic and heavy looking book called : a Panorama of Algerian Comics from 1969-2009.  I would have loved to get it but I'm broke so it will have to be for next year.

Foreign comics were also promoted, under the largest tent, where I found a shelf for Moroccan comics, with a tri-lingual work called a Tagine of Rabbit (Un Tagine de Lapin) translated into Moroccan Derja (written with the Arabic script) and Tamazight (written in neo-Tifinagh).  These two were fine price-wise (400 Algerian Dinars, 50 Moroccan Dirham, each, for 22 pages) but the other foreign volumes on display cost from 1,500 Algerian DA for about 10 pages to at least 4,000 DA. Gulp.

Finally, the albums of the usual famous suspects were present (Slim, le Hic among them). Slim's editors, Enag, also seem to mostly promote French language albums (with the stories of Algerian historical figures such as Yougourtha by cartoonist Moulay) with some albums in modern standard Arabic.

Among the up and coming, you can now find El-Andaloussi (L'Andalou)'s first album just published called E= MCA (written in French). You can browse El-Andaloussi's work on his FB page here.

I shall now go back to finish Algerian Love (written in Derja with the Arabic script)...

... an awesome manga by Mohamed Amine Rahmani.

What about Albert ?

I’ve been party to several Twitter and email exchanges around the French author Camus (yes, French) in relation to Algeria over the last week or so. This speedily composed but typical sentence suffers from at least three identity problems. One of the main questions in the French media is: Camus is a controversial figure in Algeria. Wait, that’s not a question mais on s’en fiche, French media agencies don’t ask questions, they’ve already got the answers t’as compris.

France is apparently celebrating the man’s centenary, while Algeria has just celebrated 50 years of its independence, who is mocking who. It goes without saying that by ‘France is celebrating’ we are talking about a small wannabe elitist group (elitist is like punk in France, it’s been long dead), unrepresentative of discussions around the table in flat-screen-TV obsessed homes, ZEP schools, monolingual universities, and unemployment agencies around the country. But should Camus be dropped in the onion soup, it would not be to discuss his Algerian or French passport, nor whether he is the icon of French youth.  At no point in my schooling were we ever asked: is Camus a French or Algerian author, is he a controversial figure in Algeria? My school wasn’t a bad one, it’s just not what generations upon generations of lyceed and universitied individuals are (dare I say “ever”) asked to consider.  French literary circles debate whether or not he could be hailed as a philosopher, so France can peacock about him. But then we have Sartre.

So is Albert Algerian? Should 20 to 30 year-old Algerians care about Camus’ mother more, and what about justice?

It seems to me that these questions are strictly French in that they emerge from the continuing propaganda in France of a single identity and a singular allegiance. 

Why should Algerian youth give a thought about Camus unless they study him of their own free will and independently enjoy his work. This author is 100 years-old this November and FIBDA started yesterday.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Flat Search

I am writing from Algiers where I landed three months ago for the sole purpose of bouncing elsewhere (haven’t been East or West yet, far South and Kabylie only for now).  I’ve been in Algeria for close to five months today I’ve realised, first six weeks then this uninterrupted stretch, moving from friends' extra fresh to family's extra fresh to hotels' empty dar.  I can’t say I’ve had a preference for a place, everywhere I’ve been to I’ve really liked.

I’m not bored, nothing’s caused me anger nor dejection (not even cyber cafés’ illusive internet connections, power cuts and being force fed). Complete strangers have been as kind, generous and funny as family, and have become good friends. Friends and family/s have fibbed the same fibs. They’ve also warned me when they fib so that I won’t fall into fib-traps that no one lays anyway. I’ve known love and heart break already (to the left, to the left). No guy’s been sleazy (apart from the dude am meeting tomorrow).

I’ve gone to the dayra where admin is helpful, and where I’ve barely queued 10 min every time I’ve been to get photocopies read, stamped, discussed, exchanged and signed. I’ve not been swindled (the opposite, I’ve been offered money, genuinely, on several occasions), nor threatened (except with cake eating). I’ve travelled in buses, fourgons, taxis, private cars and my pumps, at dawn, in the middle of the night, alone or accompanied, and it’s been tranquil apart from the near death experiences on the National 26 that come for everybody regardless of wealth, car type or heel height.

I love Algeria. Hemmlagh thamurthiw. All this love is not overwhelming, not excessive, not confusing. It’s a deep, vast, steady kind. I’m probably going to die tomorrow, right.

Should I not die though, I’ve got to figure out where to live and empty the massive suitcases the Lufthansa hostess shouted at me for but let me take without charging the excess weight. I’ve got my stuff spread across three wilayas and it’s about time I gathered it.

I’m going to try and stay in Algiers because I’m not sure why - but it’s not to do with better opportunities. The opportunities to make a great life here are everywhere and there are so many.  I’d make a better living and have a better quality of life outside of the capital but I’m saving that for later.  I do have the great hope of landing a university post so that I get allocated a civil servant (rent free) flat (well, what did you take me for…).  In the meantime, as I have no ma3rifa, I’m going to continue with my underpaid job to finance my bankrupting doctorate degree. 

My flat search started a while back, and so far I’ve been unsuccessful, I’ve encountered a strong counter current on this oued. When I looked for a place initially, I asked both friends and family for help, particularly family since, not being completely naive, I knew before we started I’d have to have a male representative, preferably of the same patronyme, fronting my rental. At first, I sensed some reticence from both camps but was assured they’d hunt. When nothing came but Ramadan, I didn’t push. I bit on olive tree wood and waited. This wait was my first experimentation with, and later conscious acknowledgement of, Algerians’ most practiced activity (forced upon or performed as a matter of habit)... waiting. Really builds your endurance.

After Ramadan, I was told by friends that I didn’t need to leave, I was loved, I had everything under my paws, what wasn’t there could be made to appear at my bidding day or night. All a vast exaggeration but its being worded touched me nonetheless. Little do they know of course I’m a recluse, I’m a freaking hermit, a loner, and little did I know how much of a solitary soul I actually am.  I began to find others' presence 24hours a little smothering, especially when I need time alone for the simplest things, reading, writing, the bathroom, talking on the phone to men.  So I said I’d give up searching and stay with them. Basically, I lied, I am a devious European after all. 

As for family, the wake-up call on how I would only get sulky support came earlier. The wonderful thing within  family is that it’s rough and candid. Staying with friends for long periods has made me appreciate staying with family. I realised my father is the only person I have here I can throw things at, scream at, try to bite and make up with over coffee to sober him up while he gives me his future lung cancer smoking excessively. The family tribe, headed by my uncles, had given me a hint of how the land would lie early on: you can live alone but with us. What? That’s when I started looking into the etymology of alone (separate blog post about alone to come). When, undeterred, I started asking the local shop keepers to help me find a flat, my family understood I’d raise hell and shame very quickly. So they bent a little and began to pretend looking. I was thus taken to visit garages where I could set up an office during the day and come back to the family home at night. They also took me to the empty rooms of their friends’ houses where I’d be under a vigilant eye. Then they asked me to be patient. I nodded. In Kabylie, unsurprisingly, a nod means yes, but in other places it can mean no, right, and it’s that no-nod I meant. Once again, basically, I pretended to leave it be. They twigged I did of course, I have a circuitous kind of mind, that same one they have.

So I took a cab and came to Algiers. I’d equally take a cab to go anywhere else in Algeria where there’s an internet connection, a bedroom for my sole use, at a reasonable rent. Deep down, I’d love to Baudelaire my stay = live in a hotel, for the winter months. But then it’s going to raise to the fore the other issue I haven’t yet mentioned. Renting alone as an Algerian woman, I’m on an Algerian ID after all. It’s not that women don’t live alone here, they do live alone... with other women, generally speaking. For a landlord who is usually a guy, a woman alone is a potential headache and source of disrepute. They don’t mind whom they take the money from really, and they wouldn't get moralistic with a stranger, they don't give a Djurdjura monkey. It’s just that they can’t screw up their reputation. I just asked the hotel manager where I am staying today, to let me stay here two weeks and give me a worthwhile price, which either way is going to burn my budget straight to poverty. It’s not the discount he started pondering on first, he asked the receptionists if I’d been misbehaving since I’d arrived (basically, was I a prostitute).

Now, I just wanted to write a story, so I made it lengthy but the biggest hindrance of all to my flat search can be resumed in one sentence: money and of course whom you know will get you a flat fast with no questions asked.  That's my only problems really. I've no large budget and I don't know the right folks.

There’s of course an easier way out of this roomlessness than flat searching on conditions. As @Toophyk on Twitter suggested: register on Meetic.com. The DZ version of it probably is to once again come back to family and friends and ask, not for a flat this time, but for a guy who’d be willing to trade his flat… what am I saying… a house and gold, for a foreign passport. Being all out of love, I may just do that.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Most things get done tomorrow but not

"Most things get done tomorrow but not." ~ me.

I’ve been here for about two months now. My status so far… the pace of my walk is still too fast, my Derja is abysmally poor, my Kabyle equates to French with hand signs and I can’t decode men/women interactions.

I have noticed that I use the future tense a great deal (rah this, rah that) while the Derja speakers I’ve met so far don’t use it that much, even little. I’m of course thus far translating my English and French thoughts into a broken tongue and this is where my future tense-abuse stems from.  In English and French, we use the future tense quite frequently I now realise.

Instead of the future it is the active participle that I’m hearing being used, or the simple present, in situations where my corrupted ears expect a sawfa equivalent (the active participle corresponds or is similar to the English present continuousI’m ….-ing).  If I were an el-Watan newspaper journalist I would conclude that Algerians don’t project themselves in the future, are stuck in a present where an unstable political scene, a human-rights-abuse ridden society and a suffocating social situation rule. If I were an Independent journalist I would conclude that Algerians like most Africans and Middle-Easterners unless they're from Qatar can’t express subtleties… however, I ain’t either.

Tense usage in Arabic is quite fascinating I find, in that it is so supple. Although we find strictly speaking the past, present, future, and their continuum, their use does not correspond to the Anglo-French-LatinLangs version, pardon my truisms. I should give examples here but I won't. Anyhow, perhaps tense in Derja is just as lithe, and perhaps I haven’t figured out the future’s place.

It just dawned on me that whenif one day I finally find Algerian futuristic fiction, will the story be told in the past or the present tense, or will it occur in a continuum whose extremes are imperceptible?

Perhaps this different tense perception explains why most of the things that I’m told will happen between now and tomorrow -which to me means the day after- remain undone in the future.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Algerian Detective Story Writers - Top 10

{(under expansion)}

Although titled "Top 10", this is now a Top 11 and expanding. These detective novels are by far the better crafted crime novels I've come across. Check out the whole list here however, they're all worth a read!

1- Maurice Attia - Alger la noire (2012, Barzakh) 
[Alger, the black city]

Available with Barzakh here and with Actes Sud here.


2- Amel Bouchareb
Sakarat Nedjma (the flutters of the star)
(Chihab eds, 2015)

See here for a review.

3- Amara Lakhous 
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, (transl. 2008)
Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet,  Europa Eds, 2014

4- Rahima Karim - Le meurtre de Soma Zaïd (2002, MARSA eds)
(The murder of Soma Zaïd)

5- Salim Aïssa 

Adel s'emmele... Alger, ENAL, 1988.

Mimouna, Alger, Laphomic, 1987. 

6- Abahri Larbi 
Banderilles et muleta. Alger, SNED, 1981.


7- Adlene Meddi
La prière du Maure (2008) [The Moor's prayer]
Le casse-tête turc (Berzakh ed.) (2002) [The Turkish Chinese-Puzzle]

8- Mohammad Benayat
Fredy la rafale, Alger, ENAL, 1991.

9- Boualem Sansal
Le serment des barbares, Folio, 2001. 

10- Youcef Khader
Délivrez la Fidayia! Alger, SNED, 1970.
Halte au plan «terreur». Alger, SNED, 1970.
Pas de «Phantoms» pour Tel-Aviv. Alger, SNED, 1970.
La Vengeance passe par Ghaza. Alger, SNED, 1970.
Les Bourreaux meurent aussi... Alger, SNED, 1972.
Quand les "Panthères " attaquent... Alger, SNED, 1972.

11- Khadra Yasmina
L’automne des chimères. Paris, Editions Baleine, 1998 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
Morituri. Paris, Editions Baleine, 1997 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
Double blanc. Paris, Editions Baleine, 1997 [Commissaire Llob mystery] 
La Foire des enfoirés. Alger, Laphomic, 1993 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
Le Dingue au bistouri. Alger, Laphomic, 1990 [Commissaire Llob mystery]
La part du mort, Julliard, 2004 [Commissaire Llob mystery] 
Qu'attendent les singes ? Julliard, 2014 [Inspector Nora mystery]


My readings were initially guided by this excellent paper. If you have any other pointers, and suggestions, do get in touch.

La Saga des Djinns by Djamel Dib

Djamel Dib is another novelist whose name is said to make the top 10 in the Algerian detective-story writers category. Another francophone writer, sorry about that.  Dib is said to be part of the second wave of Algerian detective novel's development (started from the mid-80s). 

The Djinns' Saga (La Saga des Djinns) was published in 1986 by the Entreprise Nationale du Livre.

La Saga des Djinns starts off well enough. It is set just outside Tamanrasset on an oil dig in the mid 80s. The inislimen Moussa Abegui is on his way to his zaouia to enter a long meditation. He knows trouble is coming (1) and blood is about to pour as an ancestral secret has been violated.  He is very good friends with Obed, the director of the oil dig managed by an all Algerian crew of specialists.  As Sheikh Abegui makes his way followed by a strong sense of unease, three murders occur on the rig. 

That is when inspector Antar arrives, assisted by his two detectives, l'Apprenti and le Moco. The character of Antar and l'Apprenti are said to be a continuation of l'inspecteur Tahar.  Antar is not funny though, it is the couple l'Apprenti and le Moco who are relied on to bring banter and comedy. Well, supposed comedy.  It is l'Apprenti and le Moco's series of reparties and nonsensical discussions that keep interupting the story flow, so much so that by the time they are done chewing the fat, we're nearing page 180, Sheikh Abegui whom we had left off in great despair re-emerges at around page 200 beaten up to a pulpe! And the murders continue while no one understands a thing, least of all the reader.

The story centres around the many illicit trades that enter and exit through the Algerian desert, by air and by jeep.  I found the disguised facts that Dib brought in regarding that aspect very informative, but I doubt I'll read Dib's other two novels, La Résurrection d'Antar (1986) and L'Archipel du Stalag (1989).

Dib's vocabulary range is large and very enjoyable, he is also a master of registers, going from the highly literary to colloquial French in a roller-coaster manner. It is the excess which is a spoiler.  My main axe to grind with his style is the adjective overdose and drowning the story in ramblings that are passed off as comedy. I've met that kind of comedy in a popular French polar serial before, the name of which I cannot remember. It also features an overweight assistant detective bent on repartie overdrive.

Dib apparently is "one of the most important and interesting author of the genre since Youcef Khader" but having just finished his novel  I would beg to differ though.  This novel is 237 pages of schizophrenic writing.

That is to say, it contains about 130 pages of a potentially very good detective novel, with the remainder to be placed in a recycle word-bin.  I wonder if those who read Algerian literary production and make such statement as the above cited article actually read the novels, or simply view any Algerian lit with the orientalist's paternalising eyes that make them see any such lit as cute and because the bare-footed native has learnt to write.

(1) I know... it's not a very appropriate video but while reading the Sheikh Moussa section, this track kept playing on and on in my mind's ears. Not very Tamanrasset-i, granted...