Monday, September 17, 2007

My return to Algiers, 20 years on

Albert Bensoussan's return to his native Algiers was an unsettling and unrewarding experience (via Los Muestros):

"When I returned to Algeria in 1982, 20 years after the exodus, my city did not find grace in my eyes - no grace whatsoever. I wandered ceaselessly in the curiously shrunken streets and on the seafront, excising distance, beauty and splendour from the disorienting, present-day city.

"Yes, Algiers was abandoned, and hard as I tried to remember faces and things, nothing stayed with me. I 'repatriated' myself (to France) proclaiming as the only souvenir of my trip the emptiness of human geography. For in the new landscape of the 'independent' city, where street names had changed, where the sea was out of bounds and the Admiralty enclosed by barbed wire, where the language I heard was obviously different, where the city was so oddly the same yet so stubbornly other, I recognised no face, no friendly look, nor the slightest empathy.

"The Great Temple where we prayed, in the very heart of the Casbah - no longer Rabbi Abraham Bloch square as it had changed its name - appeared to me incongruously disguised with a tacked-on tall minaret on the left-hand side. The very present escaped me as in a porous dream, or a persistent nightmare. I know I cut short my stay as I could bear it no longer, as if in a restless sleep I had suddenly turned over and fallen out of bed."

The rest of Albert Bensoussan's article (French) describes how the Algerian synagogue in Netanya has been endeavouring to maintain the continuity of the Algerian-Jewish tradition in the Land of Israel.

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