Interview for the Ecomusée du Val de Bièvres
Exposition Pieds noirs ici, la tête ailleurs
Date : 04 July 2011
Interviewer: Alexandre Delarge
AD :Where did you live ?
ANON:So we lived in Oran, in Algeria. It’s quite near Morocco, near Tlemcen, Sidi-Bel-Abbes. Anyway, it was a very European city, from what I remember and what I’ve seen. And then from what people have told me, but it was a very European city in the sense that there were a large number of buildings. It really was a city, a real city. And moreover, it was a city where we spoke almost as much Spanish as French. Since it had been a bit … anyway, lots of Spanish people had come. And then, it had been colonised at a time – I won’t date it because I wouldn’t know – before it was occupied by the French state and then … used Algeria as a crutch. We spoke Spanish, there were Muslims but not that many. I have the feeling that there were more Europeans than Muslims. So that in our … when I talk with friends from Constantine, from Algiers, they tend to say that it was three quarters-quarter or half and half. But for us in Oran, I felt that … we were more Europeanised.
So my childhood memories are … nice ones ! I only have nice memories. I don’t really have memories that are … uh, really, apart from the last years between 1961 and 1962. Where maybe there were acts of violence by such and such side, which was very bad for the general atmosphere. But the start of my life, I found that … One memory has stayed with me and … maybe it’s something that all the children who live somewhere have, eh, surely, but Algeria at this time, was a good place to live!
My parents weren’t very rich. They were employed by others. My mother worked which already is something at time when women didn’t work very much. I saw my mother work all the time. She was a bookkeeper. My father worked in the service industry … I mean he was a decorator, but his job was as a decorator for the Opera in Oran. He was also a tenor at the Opera, so, uh … at the same time as being the decorator, he also sang tenor as an amateur. So he would also sing sometimes for some operettas. So we were brought up with the opera. And afterwards, he still worked in decoration, but in that way, uh … for an employer in Algiers. And so he was the director for a metallic furnishings factory. So mum and dad worked, so it was uh … It was a comfortable life. I couldn’t say that we were well-off, but it was comfortable.
As for my school career, it was average … (He laughs). I didn’t spend much time in school because … I spent a little bit but just to get … the problem with my school career was that it was bungled by the ‘évènements’ (’events’ i.e. the war ). After a while the schools stopped opening and I was behind in school by the time we came back to France. There was a gap with the French kids, you know. The kids from … what’s the word … from France, you know. Anyway, I was going to say … there’s another word for it, I don’t know.
AD :I don’t know … metropolitan ?
ANON:Metropolitan, exactly. (He laughs). And so my school career was nice, in the sense that there were a lot of friends, very mixed. They were schools where everyone was mixed, Muslims, French., there were girls, there were boys. I mean, we weren’t together but … the mixing was done in the way it is today … Mixing isn’t like it is today. I mean there were mixed classes, but with girls on the right, the boys on the left, and then we could meet. In terms of atmosphere, I only have good memories. I can’t tell you that … I think they are memories of games, memories of friendships, people … which were absolutely lovely. So that’s … I’m referring to being small, from what I remember. So we lived in Oran, in the suburbs of Oran which was called Ekmul. Ekmul was the top of Oran, which is to say when … for those that know Oran, it was near the arenas.
AD : How do you spell it ?
ANON:Ekmul ? E, K, M, U, L. And so … it was near the arenas, so it was a place where there was a bit of traffic, the big avenues, and for the ‘corrida’ (bullfighting) it brought out a lot of people. So we had a lot of … traffic, people passing through. At that time, around 8 to 10 years old, I was on my own a lot. For example, my parents went to visit family but I was inclined to stay behind and be with friends in the neighbourhood. I hung out in the street, because eventually the parents took their children to the beach or something like that. And so I was on my own, so I hung out at the corner shop, all that, if there was something open, it was … well …
AD :You said the school was disrupted, what do you mean by disrupted ? What happened ?
ANON:Well I mean, when I started in sixième ( UK: Year 7 Scotland: P7), I was already behind but I … when I started it was already 1960, … 1959-1960, I did a year of sixième straight after the cinquièm which had been a bit … truncated. Because, in the middle of the year, the schools had been shut. It was because of the attacks and the actions that had been quite deadly for the … for children, so they preferred to turn the schools into barracks. I spent practically a year and a half without going to school.
AD : Practically until you left ?
ANON:Until I left, practically. My parents gave me lessons with an uncle who was a school teacher. He tried to maintain a certain kind of stability in my studies. But it wasn’t that, I was more interested in playing and going to the beach with my … my friends’ parents or my parents, and then, uh … it wasn’t the same strictness as the normal school classes, you know. My brother was older and they sent him to France, to a boarding school. He did his bac (UK: A-levels, Scotland: Highers) in Nice. So he was in an older age bracket, and was quote-unquote luckier than me, if you can call it that …
AD :How much older was it ?
ANON:There was 3 year … he was 3 years older.
AD : So when you say you were starting sixième, he was bascially already in highschool, then!
ANON:Yes, in seconde (UK Year 11, Scotland : 5th), or high school yes. So regarding school, it was a problem because it was limited, you know. After coming here, in the metropole, I was completely out of sync compared to the others. And then I went to a technical college and there you have it, I learned how to do my job, but it didn’t lead to much. It was really … the issue of coming back from somewhere, you really had to squeeze the kids in, you know. What the parents did was a bit … they also had other fish to fry, find somewhere to live, a job, and so the kids, they put us in the first place they could, and then … And the wave meant that effectively, we found ourselves in a technical college, where we learnt a trade. I learnt about sheet metalwork, and h … but we found ourselves with pieds-noirs friends. There were a lot of them!
So, it was three years of metal work, without a hitch, but … I should have thought about it beforehand and say to myself that it was something that I wasn’t sure about doing … Afterwards, everything went so wel that, I got the CAP (professional qualification), I didn’t do meta work for long, because I didn’t like it … I didn’t really like the factory, you know. And so, uh … well afterwards, I carried on a bit differently. But, so there you have it!
But to go back to Algeria, we lived in Ekmul in a … oh it was a little suburb, which you could compare to Fresnes, eh, with little buildings a bit like that. Quite big, little gardens, plots of land. The arena isn’t far, there were also the casernes (barracks). So it was quite a varied place, very nice for children. My parents worked, uh … I don’t know, I didn’t know whether my parents complained about the heat or anything. But for children, it was a great place, you know, I … I really … anyway, when I talk about it, it’s with joy because … I really enjoyed my childhood you know.
AD : To come back to schools, you said that it was mixed ? But you started by saying that there weren’t that many Muslims in Oran?
AD : So there were few Muslims at school ?
ANON:There weren’t that many, but a few.
AD : And friends, you had friends who were…
ANON:There were Muslim friends ! If you asked me today, have you found any on Facebook, I wouldn’t know what to look for. I don’t remember. Uh … on Facebook, there are people who find my name and say … well, I don’t do it because I can’t remember. So maybe, if I saw them … I don’t know. But anyway. I haven’t done that. But let’s say that yes, there were always, in every class, and very good friends with whom I was … I went to their parents’ homes and they came to my house. It wasn’t a problem! There was never a problem! For me, and even with my parents, there really wasn’t ever a problem. Now, afterwards, the animosity means, little by little, effectively, the atmosphere made it more and more aggressive … more and more strict, if you can say that. But after a while, until the last years I believe, 1960, I think that I didn’t have … I always had Muslim friends with whom we … we hung out … After well, my parents changed the environment. They preffered to lived somewhere more centralised. So in 1960, my parents found an apartment in town. So, that cut the ties with … my little group of friends, you know, which meant I studies a bit more and try and improve myself rather than stay in … with the guys in the street. Well, quote-unquote of course, because they didn’t want to leave me outside, but well.
AD :And it was a more European neighbourhood in the city centre ?
ANON:The city centre, yes ! It was more … No, the city centre, the interesting side of the city centre … it was about having everything within arm’s length, It’s true that when you are a bit out of it … uh, but everything was close by. I mean, when I say that, it’s a joke, because actually, you could walk everywhere. Today, you take the car to get to the market, while in those days everything was on foot you know.
AD : Why did your parents move ?
ANON:Oh, because the ‘events’ were taking place … you kno, there was neighbourhood where it was starting to be … which were being shaken up a bit, there were more events there, there were bombings … and since we lived in Ekmul, it was Muslim … I mean it was European, but all the same. Very close. Let’s say, what we’d call the Muslim neighbourhood wasn’t far away. Just down some steps and a whole neighbourhood which was very Muslim. Which meant that after the events, effectively, we didn’t feel very safe going to the town … but quote-unquote ‘still’, you shouldn’t … I think that it was that pushed up to leave was the fact that we needed the space. The apartment was small. Before my brother left, there was four of us and we had three rooms, and mum wanted something larger. So I think it was more that and being in the centre! I think that the fact of living in the middle of town, there was something nice about … being close to friends … and the comfort of the town, I mean … cafés, restaurants, all this atmosphere of the town, you know.
AD :And were you subjected to these problems .. these attacks … what happened ?
ANON:Of course we were … whether it was near or far, we felt it. But I think that before my school closed, the last memory I have, the school shut down straight away afterwards, were the attacks between the OAS activists against the Muslims. And that happened in broad daylight and nobody did anything about it. I mean, I never saw anyone intervene. And sometimes … that’s a memory that I can’t forget. But coming back home, in the bus, I saw someone get killed by a group of people just because he was Muslim ! And I saw that. Yes, I saw that. And that affects you, that leaves a mark. And in contrast, I also saw bombs and explosives, I mean I saw that! I heard it, next to the house, you see it after … it’s a lot to say I saw it, you don’t see that kind of thing. But on the other hand, the acts of violence were more of less the same thing, you know.
On the other hand, in Oran, it was very European so there were certainly more people who were ready to rip into the Muslims than Muslims who would rip into the French, but … but that, it came and went. It like getting caught in a wave and the backwash! So, it hits you, you go down, they go up – that’s what the violence was like, you know. But in Oran, shouldn’t exaggerate, it wasn’t the most violent place … it was a nice place to live! Until the end, you know, up to the very end! I don’t think my parents and their friends left because of the violence! They left because there wasn’t any more work or because they felt it was over and they had to go somewhere else and that it wasn’t worth staying behind. But if not, until the end, we had a nice time, eh … going to the beach, having picnics in nice places … Oran was, there was Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz is a bit … I mean, it’s a bit like in Marseille, it’s this saint who, like in Marseille, I don’t remember the name of the saint in Marseille, but which looked over and protected the boats coming and going, and uh it was the same thing …
AD :The Madonna !
ANON:Exactly! And it was the same thing and uh … if you like, on the top of the mountain there was a forest, so you could picnic. It was called Misserghin, if I remember it correctly. There were little becks of water, things like that, and we had a lovely time there! We had really nice times there, up to the end, at the beach, in the sea!
AD :But Oran isn’t on the sea !
ANON:Yes of course it is ! On the Mediterranean! You have the Mers el Kébir port which is … no, no, Oran is a big port and then, the French Army used Mers el Kébir as a war port, where the sailors would disembark. But on the Mediterranean side of Oran, you have sandy beaches, and you could walk for kilometres and the water would only come up to your calf! And if I miss something … well Algeria after independence wasn’t like Tunisia or Morocco, they invested in tourism because had things that would attract tourists. To bring people. Well. That didn’t happen, maybe it will happen later, we’ll see.
AD : And so to continue with the Algerian period, it was, I understand, very cheerful, very lively. But I wonder, for example, in terms of customs like cooking, were there any dishes … because that’s part of a way of life, isn’t it?
ANON: No, of course, of course ! There were specialities! Each family had its specialities, but there were some really well-known specialities to Oran. There’s something that you eat in Nice, in the Vieux Port, which is called ‘Socca’. Socca is a big kind of pancake made with corn flour, and we had the same thing in Oran. It wasn’t in the shape of the crepe but it was a kind of flan made with corn flour which was called ‘Carantica’. It’s kind of life food for the poor, working men’s food. I mean that the Carantica vendors go about with their cart, in front of a factor or a school, shouting ‘Carantica, Carantica’. And everyone would come, they’d open a bit of bread, put in a bit of Carantica, salt, pepper, and it was filing! Like a flan, you know, but it was delicious. It was delicious. So, that’s a dish from Algeria, from Oran and Algiers. I don’t know about others because my friends from Constantine, the don’t know it … The classic dish, from Oran of course, is paëlla, Valencian paëlla. It was traditional to go to the beach together and to share a paëlla.
AD :That you cooked there on the beach?
ANON: Oh yes, often, yes ! We called it … we went to the ‘Cabanon’, it was a café which was like a cabin, there was a big room with table football and … you could play pingpong. And you would let the manager know that you’d be going down with ten, fifteen people, make us a paella, and they’d prepare it … After swimming we went to eat … It was really … it was royal treatment. Of course, you’d have watermelon, obviously there were plenty of melon … Of course I’ve completely forgotten couscous. Which wouldn’t be right! But of course, traditional couscous … Well, for me, coming from a Jewish family so it was a particular kind of couscous, with meat, meat balls, with a particular recipe by my mother …
AD : She made it ? So you would have couscous?
ANON:Oh of course ! Couscous is traditional food for all people in the East. I mean, of course. But uh … they’re very simple dishes … everyday food … but often with a Spanish twist, like tortilla, Spanish omelette, potatoes and beaten eggs and … Pieds-noirs mums, in general, I mean I don’tknow if it’s mums, but since we’re talking about pieds-noirs, pieds-noirs mums tend to be amazing cooks. I mean that they can make a feast with very little. I remember Dad coming home sometimes with people who came round to … do business with him. So he invited them over, and in no time at all, since it was always a surprise, there was no mobile phone at the time, so he would just turn up and often with nothing at all, she would make incredible meals. I think that, well, it’s the kind of thing that gets lost a bit. Now we buy everything ready made, which is another thing. That’s modern life! [He laughs].
AD : And so you ate a lot of different things?
ANON: Yes absolutely.
AD :From couscous to paëlla to I don’t know what.
ANON : Yes, yes, of course. All of that, couscous, paëlla et a big dishes …
AD :Yes, but you didn’t eat that everyday ?
ANON:Yes, we didn’t eat like that everyday. We also had food like, here we’d call it a cassoulet, a toulousian cassoulet, do you see what I mean? A dish with beans and sausages, things, well we’d call that ‘Tachina’. It was exactly the same, it was something you cook over six, seven, eight hours, and then you’d eat for lunch on Saturday or Sunday. And you could eat the leftovers since once it was cooked it was fine. But they were big meals. Anyway, the food was like what you have in the south of France. Lots of tomatoes cucumbers, onions … you know, olive oil … no, it’s what you’d see … it was life in the south, you know. Sunny.
AD :I want to go back to … so tell me about your family history, beyond yourself ? Where do you come from?
ANON: Well … for those that don’t know, my family name comes from Spanish Morocco. So, from the Spanish-Moroccan border, which is Melhia. My great-grandparents came from that country, that I don’t know at all, but is the border with Morocco. They came down because of the economic situation, you know.
AD :Where did they come down form ?
ANON:From Morocco, I mean, Spain. Morocco, then Oran to work. You know. So my grandparents were already … I think that it was my great-grandparents who came from Spanish Morocco, and that my grandparents were already settled in Oran.
AD : Born there.
ANON: Born there.
AD : Your grandparents.
ANON:My parents were born there, I was born there. When I say that my parents were born in Oran, my father was born in Oran but my mother was born in a small village not far away, but still in the region of Oran.
AD : Normally you’d have 8 great-grandparents, do they all have the same story ?
ANON: Well … I know where my family name comes from. On the other hand, I think that it was a similar story, but I’m not sure. Because, actually, a large part of my mother’s family lived in Morocco, in Casablanca. So I think that my great-grandparents lived there too. I think that it was just the parents who came to live … but that’s a question mark, I’m not …
AD : But it’s a similar history.
ANON: Yes, in my opinion, it was the economic situation, it wasn’t … I never heard stories about a pogrom or anything to push them elsewhere or I don’t know what, no, nothing like that.
AD : No, I meant that, they could have come from Malta or wherever…
ANON: Oh no, no! In that sense, no-one came from somewhere else. Well it’s possible that they came from Spain, that’s possible, but I wouldn’t know from where.
AD :Yes, anyway, we won’t go back … So generally speaking it was that.
ANON: Yes, anyway, we were talking about the food. It’s a very southern style, you know, it’s like the food in Nice … when we arrived in Nice, for example, in 1962, we were welcomed by some parents who were already there. I can tell you that we were surprised to find the same customs and ways of doing things. So we didn’t feel very alienated. Which was reassuring because we were really in the deep end! And my parents didn’t have work, and we told to go up to Paris, or down, I don’t know …
AD : Oh it depends
ANON: Exactly. Go down to Paris, because my mother … my father didn’t have family but my mother had two sisters in Paris. They had already found work, so they housed us and from there, they got accustomed to it and they found work. They found it hard to get work but it didn’t drag on too long. The only … the difficult thing was housing, in the first instance. I think that was longer than finding work. I think my mother set us up straight away in a school, my brother carried on studying, he studied medicine. So he went to university and all that. I went to school and there you have it. We started our new lives a little adoptive French people.
AD :How long did you stay in Nice?
ANON:Not only, three months.
AD :Oh yes, three months, so the time to …
ANON: I was 14 when we arrived in Nice, and we went up straight away. By the autumn we were already in Paris. And then it was a very cold winter, 1962, it was … for us, it was. It was awful. Especially as they got me into a school in Versailles, so I had to take the train and all that … I think I spent most of my time off sick, you could say. [He laughs].
AD : And who housed you in Nice ? What was it like? Did you take the boat?
ANON:Well, listen … when we left Algeria … when we had to leave Algeria, but it was a decision … because my parents were going round in circles, their situation was going getting more and more difficult, a lot of …
AD :Economically ?
ANON: Oh yes, economically, because a lot of … their employers had already left. A lot of our family had already left. And so they … my parents were more or less ran their shops. They held on to them as long as they could, but afterwards … well, there were no supplies coming in, in terms of materials or the metallic furnishing but … well it wasn’t that. Actually nobody was buying anything! After a while there was no money in circulation ! My mother was a bookkeeper, she worked for a company that made native fabrics. So it was fabric that they sold to Muslims and the people who bought this kind of fabric came from the south, but who were coming anymore because it was a very good time. So after a while, they were running the shop but they couldn’t do it anymore. And then, they felt that … anyway my parents and the adults who were there felt that something was happening and they had to leave. Although a lot of people were saying ‘Don’t go, you won’t be disrupted, it’ll be fine’. Well, they made the decision. They shut up the apartment, we each took a suitcase, and left for the airport. We left by plane. So we waited, I think, a good part of a day for a plane to take us, outside for a bit with lots of people, moving little by little …
AD :When was it ?
ANON: June 1962. June 1962, end of May beginning of June 1962. And we arrived in Marseille, directly to Nice since the brother of my father was in Nice. And he looked after … he managed the University of Nice building. So … at the time, it was the school holidays, there wasn’t anything going on. And he put us up in a classroom in the university.
AD :So he had been there a long time, he wasn’t Algerian ?
ANON:Oh no, no. He had left a year or two before. He was more organised …
AD :Becasue he felt what was coming ?
ANON:Well yes, because you know it’s a question of work. People left earlier because they could tell that their business or their job was falling apart. So, if they didn’t start to … Those who could hold on, who still had a salary, they stayed for as long as possible, you know. It was a bit … And then, my parents were responsible for their bosses’ businesses who had already left. They were in France … I’m not saying that they weren’t worried about their own businesses, they had their revenue but they were worried about the danger or … until they had to bring the shutters down! And that was how we left, we shut up the apartment leaving everything behind, furniture … Friends after independence … who were there, they sent us our …
AD :So you got everything back ?
ANON: Yes, yes, yes partially, yes.
AD :Oh yes !
ANON:Everything except my lead pistol ! [He laughs]
AD : Stopped you from getting into trouble ! [He laughs]
ANON: So that was how we got back in 1962. We were put up in Nice, so you know, Nice has this amazing side to it which is always moving, there’s always something going on. When we arrived it was the Lion’s Club which … it was the Lion’s Club conference in Nice, so there were American Majorette Marches, there were orchestras. So I can tell you for a small ‘pied-noir’ which had just arrived, it was extraordinary! And I tried milkshakes for the first time, we hadn’t tried them before … I have nice memories of it.
My parents tried very hard to find work in Nice but it didn’t work out … actually I should also say that there was a big age gap between my mother and father. 15 years. So my father was already almost 60 when we came back. So finding work was the hardest part and my mother found it easier. As soon as we arrived in Paris, either because we had family or because we knew more people, there was more mixing, and everyone found their place. Everyone started working. Mum kept three or four accounts at the start, and in the end she found a job in a good company and then we were off.
AD : Because your mother’s sisters arrived at the same time ?
ANON: On no, that’s not it. They had been there for a long time. One of them lived in Morocco, not Algeria. So she had been in Paris for a good decade. The other had lived in Algeria but left two years before us, so they managed to establish themselves. So they had already set things up for everyone who was coming last. They rented housing, so we lived with two or three families in a house. For the children, I won’t speak for the adults, it was great! For parents, the crowding was a bit embarrassing and then … I suppose there were tensions because each one of us wanted to be … had our own prerogatives and all that. I understand, but for children it was a great playground you know. We were mixed up with girls and boys of the same age … so it was nice. The start of the Johnny Halliday years, so we … [He laughs]
AD : Because there was a solidarity in the ‘pied-noir’ community ? At the time or later?
ANON: In general, because … anyway, apart from … if I can pull up on some stereotypes but, in general, what I saw … the fact that families would help each other out, it was a good thing. That the sister would help a sister or a brother or a friend. It was …. That happens naturally and I saw that with my parents. Now, when I look around, I think even the metropolitan community helped us … some helped the new arrivals because, it’s true that we all arrived en masse, not just a few of us, but effectively, I think that people melted bit by bit into the [French] population, with their customs. They played the game, started working.
AD :But the house in Gani, they weren’t family, they were …
ANON:We were with friends, it wasn’t family, but we knew them.
AD :People you knew from over there?
ANON:Yes, we knew them from there.
AD : And so you ended up, you rented a house…
ANON:The house had been rented for us by … there was someone who, she had been in France for 20, 30 years. It was a University professor who had the house and who rented it to us, their second house at the time, for people who lived in Paris, Gani was still a second house. So, they had the house for two or three months, and everyone had the time to settle in and to find … so I think the first apartment that we found, it was on Boulevard Saint-Marcel, in the 13th arrondissement, after Boulevard Blanqui, then we had an apartment through social housing in Montreuil.
AD :With your parents ?
ANON:Yes, with my parents. So, the was a gap before the apartment in which my parents could spend their final days.
AD :And when did they move there ?
ANON:They really got stable from … they arrived in 1962 … I’d say 1964, they had this apartment, until their deaths in 1988, 1988-1990.
AD :So in the meantime, three or four homes.
ANON: Yes, three houses, that’s it. Yes, with Gani, it was four, and five with Nice. Yes, I would say three, where it was just the family. Because after Nice, it was a mixture of … there were two families … three families in Gani.
AD : So in order it was Nice, Gani …
ANON:Nice, Gani, with Paris a little bit, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I’m not saying it was very good [He laughs] But it was only for a month, because there was an empty apartment. So they rented it to us, because that’s what it was like, at that time, everyone was helping each other out.
AD : Anyway, what was the welcome from the metropolitans like, generally speaking, not just in terms of the housing but the reception?
ANON: To be completely honest, as a 14 year old kid, I didn’t notice any animosity or anything. But I found that … we left somewhere, and we found ourselves somewhere else. But my brother and me … He was more used to it than me since he had been in Nice for two years. And the fact that you could meet up with your friends. Because actually, in Nice and Marseille, you couldn’t avoid the ‘Algérie Française’ car horns [drivers sounding their car horns 5 time to the syllables of ‘Algérie Française’] and you felt like you were in Oran or Algiers. Very honestly, I didn’t feel any animosity. And even in school, afterwards, I never felt any aggression, telling me that I’m a ‘pied-noir’, or my accent compared to others, uh … no. My parents, honestly, I didn’t hear my parents … Maybe they complained because they couldn’t find work, because it was saturated or because it was … at the time, it was easier to find work than it is today. They spent a lot of time … Dad, yes, because he was older, but my mother found work straight away. So it wasn’t full time work, she had three or four account to do, but she managed to find a regular salary. Dad worked intermittently until he was hired by the ‘repatriates’ to do administration for …
AD: Do you mean at the ministry?
ANON: At the ‘Ministry for Repatriates’. But, I didn’t ever hear him say that he was made to feel unwelcome by the shopkeeper, I mean, I don’t want to give the impression it was idyllic, but in terms of what we felt. Maybe others will say something completely opposite, but … it wasn’t the case with my family. We always felt welcome. So I think that for other, 70% of them were made to feel welcome, I think that there might have been a dispute of something … People from Algeria don’t have the same temperaments as people from Paris, but it became folklore and the folklore stuck, you know. Because straightaway these restaurants opened up, people got used to eating spicy food and pieds-noirs dishes, or food which was in a pied-noir style. It became the thing to do at the time. Everyone got used to everyone else. And I think everyone got to work, I think for the pied-noir community in France, a lot of them managed to, a lot of them got by on their own once again at the time.
As far as I’m concerned, once I got back to France I spend three great years working in metal sheeting, but, it didn’t lead to a lot but I enjoyed it, it was doing what my dad did. My dad was a decorate but afterwards he worked in sales and I said to myself that I would enjoy that! It suits me because I like to talk. I tried it, my parents really wanted me to get a job … whether it was a normal job. So I was an electrician afterward, a bit, three months here and there. And then I went into sales, and there you have it. That’s what happened.
AD : Because, you mean, that sales isn’t a proper job ?
ANON: Well at the start, my parents didn’t think so …
AD :Even though that’s what your father did ?
ANON: Yes, yes, even though … but it wasn’t it … you know, my brother was a doctor, it stood out ! [He laughs] In my family, it’s true … all my cousins were pharmacists, dentists, doctors, or … well, obviously, it stood out. But I played my cards right and they were very proud of me, so it worked out fine.
AD : And so what did you do afterwards ?
ANON: So I was very lucky ! I think that it’d be very hard to do the same thing today. I manage to do it even without qualifications … So, I took it day to day, but first I worked in records. I was working at a time when French records were very popular, all of that. I went to a big record company at the time in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, worked there for 6 years as a sales assistant. Apart from that, afterwards, I was saying – I wanted to move into being salesman. So I ended up working in this big Anglo-French-American group, Unilever, in sales. And it was really good, I liked it a lot. I had a ball at work, you know.
AD : So you moved from studying metal work to record sales ?
ANON: To record sales, yes, yes ! But at the time, you could do anything ! So … it something opened up, you went for it. Managed wasn’t a problem, if they needed someone at the time – well, they would consider whether they needed specific knowledge, you know – it was 8, 9, years after my military service so … my ear was to the … it was enough to ask, do you know about … but of course I did ! And that’s how it would start, you learnt on the job. It was really easy. People who had been there longer were open to it, they taught you what they knew.
AD : And how did you end up living here ?
ANON: Well as I said, we lived in Montreuil, at Croix de Chavaux, until I was 25 years old. I got married, I still lived in Montreuil … a little above Croix de Chavaux with my wife for about a year. We found another apartment in Bagneux when our first child arrived, so … Bagneux and then Villejuif, I was granted the apartment through my employer. And then our second children arrived, and I’m still in Villejuif to this day.
AD :And why did you leave Montreuil ?
ANON: Oh it was a small apartment, a little studio ! Afterwards we took a three-roomed flat, and then 4 rooms, we got bigger !
AD : But it’s a change of location ! It’s quite a distance between Montreuil and Bagneux.
ANON: Yes, but everntually … it wasn’t about distancing myself from my family or … no, it was an opportunity you know. No, I couldn’t say that I chose Bagneux because it was more residential than Montreuil or … no, not at all. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about that … there was flat which had just become available and we jumped on it.
AD : I was just wondering, when you were in Algeria, what language did you speak with your friends ?
ANON: French ! French, no Arabic at all. I knew the swear words in Arabic, that’s all. On the other hand, my parents and I, especially my parents, but me as a result, we spoke spanish. For example, we went on holiday to Spain, we didn’t go to the mountains [in France], we went to Spain. I think that my first holidays in France was to Cotteret, because I had asthma, well not asthma, but my breathing wasn’t good … So they told us, you have to send your child to Cotteret, I think I got to know the rest of France and Cotteret that way.
AD : And these are holidays that you took when you lived in the metropole ?
ANON: No, no, in Algeria !
AD : Oh, so you left Algeria while you lived in Algeria ?
ANON: Oh, yes, of course, we were like everyone else, we went on holiday and we went on holiday to Spain.
AD : But it’s endless holiday in Algeria ! [He laughs]
ANON: But you’re right ! It’s true ! But my parents had paid leave and they spent it somewhere else. So we often went away with family, with friends … we met up with … So their favourite place was Valence, Alicante. At the time, it was Spanish, you know. Because today, it’s very Europeanised over there now ! Over there, we tried to find the flamboyant side, singing Spanish you know.
AD : And so you had been to France before 1962 ?
ANON: Yes, through holiday clubs ! I also went to holiday clubs. My parents sent me. I was in Orluchon, in the middle of the countryside ! At the time, you still fields being ploughed with cows and who … it was quite surprising for us !
enAD :But that was in Algeria as well !
ANON:Yes, but not in the towns ! [He laughs]
AD : And so you were saying that you had Muslim friends, so did they speak Spanish or French ?
ANON: They spoke French ! They didn’t know Spanish but why not, because actually the intonation of Spanish was very common in Oran … when we went to … there was a neighbourhood called Marine, near the port, and when we’d go down to this neighbourhood, practically all the houses, it was a bit like Old Nice ! It was the old town of Oran, and there were a lot of Spanish families. And when we went down there, it felt very Spanish. You know, tapas bars. And my parents, one day they were having an apretif with some friends – they didn’t go down on their own, parents didn’t leave their children behind to go get drink. Everyone came down, the sea wasn’t far off, the port wasn’t very far away. So they were drinking an aperitif and eating what was essentially dinner. I always remember, each portion that we’d eat was called ‘la tonne’. So we took a ‘tonne’ of dauphinois potatoes, a ‘tonne’ of spicy snails, a ‘tonne’ of chips, a ‘tonne’ of … it was a plateful ! It had the connotation of an enormous amount and it was only a plateful, you know ! [He laughs ]. And everyone was there, ordering more and more ‘tonnes’ of snails, a ‘tonne’ of mussels. It’s a little thing but it was typical of life in Oran. Maybe the rest of Algeria was the same … they led different lives but the atmosphere was the same ! The Algérois [from Algiers], had the same thing more of less … but for Oran, it felt like the good life, you know. Most of them will tell you … I mean, older people who left Oran, I can tell you that for the older people it was very hard, very hard.
AD : You parents, for example?
ANON: Exactly, it was very hard for my parents. But … older than my parents, the ones they really had to drag away because they didn’t want to leave. Those people really suffered, because they were out of their zone, their environment. My parents suffered, it’s true, but … obviously, I mean, I spent 14 years in Algeria, sometimes … so you’re asking me to look back on it but it was … I mean, there are things … but I was 14 years old ! I think that for 20, 30 year olds who lived there, went out on the town … it must have been a wonderful life ! When you hear them talk about it, you have the impression that it was idyllic ! Well, maybe it was as idyllic as that but the way they experienced it … Because, well, you can embellish it but it wasn’t as … good ! Truth is stranger than the fiction that we want to believe, you know … but the way I lived, I think it was a very good life.
AD : So you’ve talked about the Spanish quarter in Oran, what was the Muslim quarter like?
ANON: When we lived in zone two, you could call this a central part of town. When we lived on the high side of town, you could call this the suburb. There was a crossroads called Rue Tlemcen, it was the Tlemcen crossroads and there were three roads: Boulevard Joffre, on one side, and then on the other a road which went up to Ekmul, and another road which went up to the ‘village nègre’. That’s what we called the Arab village. So … we stopped going to the ‘village nègre’. I mean the ones that surrounded my police or soldiers, but we didn’t go there because they knew that … if they went because it was to cause trouble. It was a bit like the ones who went down to the French quarter, at one point, they stopped coming down and we stopped going up. And when one of them tried to sell potatoes in the French quarter, he would definitely get caught out, and if someone wanted to sell something in Arab quarter he would definitely get caught out. And when I say caught out, I mean that they’d get themselves killed, you know … that was the logic of thing, that was the logic at the time.
AD : And that was around 1960 ?
ANON: Yes, between 1960-1962 it was awful. We didn’t leave our neighbourhood, didn’t move around. And if you left, you left with a convoy. I don’t remember doing that but if you ask me about my memories of Algeria outside of Oran, I remember taking the train once. Around 8, 9 years old to go to Algiers, to visit Algiers but that’s all. I had relatives in Sidi Bel Abbès. We went to visit them in a village, it was a real village, for us it was an incredible journey! But in reality, as the crow flies, it was 100, 120 km from Oran, no more! Maybe I’m exaggerating. We took paths used by mule-drivers to get the little village, where there was just a bakery and nothing else. I mean, like they say, the church, the bakery, the town hall, and that’s it, you know! And the bar!
I have some good memories of Arzeu, Arzeu was a fishing town, there was salt in Arzeu and there were some amazing beaches with lots of fishing. But my clearest memories are from the school holidays. So my dad would take me to work with him. I didn’t do a lot but I’d help, quote-unquote, the workers who brought the materials, to deliver them. So I delivered with him, and I think they’re some good, some excellent memories. It gave me, as a child, a bit of freedom to go off with the driver to deliver furniture, going for a swim after a delivery, eating a sandwich and coming home. For a child, it was a great trip.
AD : Did you go to the ‘village nègre’ before 1960 when you were a kid ?
ANON:Oh yes, of course !
AD : What was it like ?
ANON: So the Muslim quarter was, how to put it, it was a bit … today you can go to the flee markets in Barbès, it was full of stalls like that … with little houses that were never more that two stories high, often painted in whitewash or in colours, but with these windings alleyways, not very clean … and you could find everything there! Sometimes cheaper than in town. And as a kid I loved going to the ‘village nègre’ because I found things, I loved buying toys, things like that, which were cheap. And when they started to give me pocket money I knew where I could go and haggle for it, cakes, things like that. That was when we could go there without having to worry. But it was very colourful, it was … think of the flea markets on Barbès, so the old furniture, stalls covered in cloth, clothing, fruit, vegetables, bursting with people! People all over the place, carts, donkeys with carts, people transporting … it was noisy … it was very lively! It was very lively, very colourful! So there was this village that we called the ‘village nègre’, and there another quarter, the Marine quarter, around the port where there were Spanish people on one wise and Muslims on the hillside, with their little houses … with houses that were more structured, two or three stories, in concrete and stones. But there weren’t only these little houses, there were … I was going to say ‘HLM’ [social housing blocks], but it was rather housing with interior courtyards. So that, I should specify that, that was Ekmul for example, there was a U-shaped house. So, there was a landing corridor that was in a U shape, like that. So, you could go from apartment to apartment that way, and then in the courtyard below and above there were terraces, where people could hang their laundry, but also a place to have parties on the terraces.
AD : It was collective living, in general.
ANON: Exactly, so above the people had a communion, a bar-mitzva, a wedding … or to redo the carpets … not the carpets, sorry, I mean mattresses. They would beat the linen and redo the mattress, these are some memories … I don’t know what I was going to say because I think that …
AD : What … what were your experiences of the Algerian War? You mentioned the ‘events’, but what about the war?
ANON: Yes, our experience of the Algerian War was the surge in protests … at the time, we hadn’t … it was taking place somewhere else. Oran hadn’t been too affected at one point. It was somewhere else. So we heard about it on the radio, from people coming from Constantine, other places, who would tell us, look, there was an attack, then there were the attacks in Algiers. Well. In Oran, it wasn’t at all obvious! An then in 1960, 1959 … let’s say that 1960 was when we had the first attacks. If I’m not mistaken, you know, maybe it’s not the exact year, but we started having attacks quite late. Where people were killed or people who … car bombs, bombs in shopping centres. After, the attacks were done by the other side, by the OAS, who planted bombs in Muslim shops.
So it came and went between the two sides, but as far as we were concerned: I was a young adolescent who didn’t really understand. I went out in the streets with my friends and we wrote on wooden boards ‘Algérie Française’ [French Algeria]. We didn’t spell very well, maybe instead of ‘Française’ we wrote ‘Franssaise’. And we would sing, whistle, and protest in our own way. Our parents came, thwacked us until we came home. I mean that, we had this in our minds. Beeping, whistling, that was all very present. We would get in a card, beep the horn, open the window, whistle … that was the recurring theme. There were more and more protestors, demonstrations were called for. In the city centre, you had the ‘place d’armes’ where we often went to protest, so people came down … and we’d meet up there. You couldn’t sleep very well … I couldn’t sleep until I had heard the first round of gunshots from the military who weren’t too far from our house. They’d shoot cats, rats, whatever they saw. It was after the curfew. So curfew is at 9pm, say, as soon as the sun set, around 9pm, 10pm. And that was when you started to hear … and we’d say, oh, gunshot! Now we can go to sleep! And there were periods when the violence came from the Arab side and you could see helicopters coming, it was visible, because we had windows to the left and right. If we heard a noise, we went to the balcony, we went to the window on the other side to see, we tried to spot it. There were tracer bullets which told us, okay so that’s where something is going on. We lived with the sound of gunfire and bullets. But they weren’t close, they … We weren’t scared at any point. My dad, at one point, we went to the pharmacist, came out, and then the pharmacist blew up! Yes! So we said, everyone said, you just escaped. Someone died and a few injured. Well! But it didn’t create panic … we were almost, it had become, like what is happening elsewhere today. I mean, that it had become completely ordinary that people got used to the murder, to the sound of the canon, and you can live there and say that you have a good life because as long as we’re not affected, everything is fine, you know.
It’s true that we weren’t directly affected and we didn’t realise it. We saw what was happening but we didn’t realise. And it really took us until the last months, when it was a lot more agitated, and we really began to get scared. When my parents started to get scared. As a kid, I don’t think that I, uh … I didn’t actually realise what was going on, but … my parents started to saying to themselves, if we want to save the family, we have to leave now. And when they left, it’s true that for them, they left in time. Now, they could have stayed without being affected, but we know that afterwards there was a lot of violence in Oran … around June 1962, July 1962 … after independence.
AD : So the last months are around March until June …?
ANON: We left in June and it was … we saw people leave. Because, actually, what made you panic was seeing people leave, you know! When you started to see Pierre, Paul, and Jacques have already left and you’re the last ones in you building. And well, you start to say to yourself, well we have nothing left to do here. And that’s how we … because our friends, our relatives, our neighbours moved and … they started to move, we had to do the same, you know. But it wasn’t through panic or because we were forced or we were threatened, not at all. We never felt, at any point, threatened or did someone say to us, get out or else … your life is in danger. Never, at any point.
AD : And your grandparents, you still had grandparents at the time?
ANON: My grandparents lived over there at the time, yes.
AD : From both sides ?
ANON: Uh no, not on my father’s side … they had died, but on my mother’s side yes. And they left, relatively early to … Paris. Because one of their daughters was in Paris, she hosted them, well before us.
AD : And that was because they had already felt they had to …
ANON: Yes but they were already old by that point … it was almost … asking them to come to Paris was almost an opportunity for one of the girls who were there, to have your parents at arm’s length rather than … to have them somewhere where it’s going badly, you know. It was about making sure they were housed safely, cherishing them, having them nearby. What’s more they helped out, there were young children so … while being house, fed, they could also babysit! But it was a lot more … I see it that way, rather than it being that we were forced to leave you know. So they were retired, as well, they were older people, my grandparents. When they were in Paris, they must have been about 70 … 75 years old for my grandfather, 70 for my grandmother, and then … my grandfather didn’t last much longer, he died a few month afterwards, a 76 or 77 years old. I don’t remember. But it wasn’t long. It was more as … get them out first, you know, because it was people who didn’t have anything to do, they didn’t have to work, or look after land, no, the kids asked them to come home, you know.
AD : You mean that whether there’d been a war or not, they would have left? Maybe?
ANON:Maybe, yes, maybe.
AD : At the same time, you were saying that this uprooting would have been terrible for people of that age!
ANON: Yes, maybe. But my grandparents lived in Morocco! So they had lvived in Morocca for a longtime and then they spent a little time in Oran. They spent two months in Oran to see family and then went back to Morocco. Why earlier? Well, one explanation could be that decolonisation took place earlier in Morocco. My family in Morocco left, that’s why I said that my mother’s sisters left for Paris, one for the United States and lived in New York until she died. The other, Paris. Because they were in Morocco and soon as the French left Morocco, they left. And not because they were in a bad situation but because they said to themselves, there’s nothing left for us to do here, you know. So, they came back and my grandparents, effectively, because they already lived with them, I think that it’s continuity. That’s how it happened.
AD : When was the first time you heard the word ‘pied-noir’?
ANON: Oh, that’s extraordinary! Yes, you have … it was coming here, you know! I didn’t know what a pied-noir was, you know! I didn’t know I was a pied-noir, I didn’t know that … that we were given a nickname, and … so to understand the term ‘pied-noir’ you have to go back quite far … It was the French from Alsace who came to Algeria, uh … because, to follow this, you have to know that they survived several wars and eventually, they survived because they were told that there was land to be farmed, you could do good things in Algeria. And that was how the term ‘pied-noir’ came about, according to what I’ve heard. It was people from France who settled there … but I learned about it after I came here!
AD : And do you remember the moment? The context ?
ANON: The context is when some people would say … were called ‘dirty pied-noir’ and we didn’t understand why. So … as I was just saying, I never had thing kind of problem. But some people would say, they called us ‘dirty pied-noir’, we came to eat the bread of … well, quote-unquote, you know [He laughs].
There was the accent to. ‘Pataouète’. My parents spoke French, I speak French, I don’t speak Arabic. I speak a bit of Spanish. My relatives speak Spanish, but I think we also have an accent … So, amongst ourselves we’d say, listen do you realise that those of us from Oran have a ‘pied-noir’ accent! While the Oranias were the most … we prided ourselves on being the most Europeanised, the most ‘French’, if you could say, with a good accent … and then we would say, have you heard how he talks! Where do you come from? Oh, you’re from Algiers! Oh that’s it! He laughs So we became very critical of our peers who carried around their very strong accent, and then, actually, listening to it, when we listen to what we record you can notice that there’s an accent, you know.
AD: So if I understand it, you never heard it directly, but you heard the term ‘pied-noir’ in discussions around you?
ANON:No, no, of course we heard it, but at the start …
AD : No necessarily negatively?
ANON: No, at the start, it wasn’t negative. I mean, pied-noirs, I didn’t hear that. Anyway … very honestly, it would be a lie to say that I heard it … it’s not true.
AD: Since you’ve been in the metropole, you have built relationships with your compatriots – I don’t know what word to use – other ‘pieds-noirs’, the community?
ANON: Yes, of course! We’ve … of course! Around us, even after … becoming a young adult, I would meet ots of … because it was still fresh, you know, after my military service, it was still very fresh and there were still soldiers in Algeria who were coming back. So on that side, it was still fresh. And ourselves, we often crossed each other on a night out, when we went dancing, you could hear the accent when they sing, you know it instantly … where are you from, and straight away it’s I come from Algiers or Oran or … it was a point of recognition! You work together, you recognise each other! It’s like any … I was going to ethnicity, uh … well, you meet, even in my professional life, I met people who were small business owners, out of necessity when they came back. They were carpenters and then with a bit of money, they set up small shops, … well, and it worked! They took on some staff, it worked! So you meet shop-owners, you hear the name, you have a name and it sounds like an Algerian name, so straight away you open the door, you know. Like a ‘Breton’ who needs to look up something, if they come across the name of someone from their country, it’s easier, you know!
AD : And your friends, neighbours?
ANON: Of course, of course! Today, as the president of an association … people around me, for a lot of these people who were born in Algeria, in Tunisia, or in Morocca, uh … now, there is the next generation who have been born in France, so … but who still keep the memory of their parents, so it’s still very, very strong. You see that there is a culture … even the young people who were born in Paris, in Marseille, in Nice, they keep the culture of their parents, whether it is cooking, or culture … They talk to you about it. They didn’t kno Algiers, Oran, or Algeria but they talk about it as if they lived it first hand. And we’re always quite surprised by … by things they say sometimes, I say to myself, hang on where did you see that … So I say to myself, maybe! They had what their parents told them, you know. They only had what they were told. And so maybe, I leave it be, I say, why not?
And today, if you can … I mean to say that we are living our lives, we’re in real life, you know, in the present day, as pieds-noirs, as former pieds-noirs. I’m part of an association which brings together a community of religions, catholic, Arabs …uh Muslim, Coptic, protestant, and we work together, we do exhibitions together. We had one in Fresnes not so long ago. And we wanted to come together for several years and it worked! It worked really well! As soon as there was a conflict on the left or right, everyone shut up in one go. We shut up and move on. Because what’s going on abroad you have to leave it there where it’s going on, you know. So it’s difficult, because everyone has their own sensibilities, but luckily. You give up on the partisan speech and find a way of talking with brings everyone together. We gather for a conferenced, when we want to we have a community barbecue .. there you go, it can be done.
AD : So you’re the president of two associations?
ANON:No, I’m the president of an association, but I’m in the AIVB association who has a president …
AD : What is the AIVB ?
ANON: It’s for the Val be Bièvre [Paris] Association Intercommunautaire du Val de Bièvre . And so, it groups together all the presidents of each community and other. But now, at the start there was 4 or 5 of us and now, there’s about 20 presidents of each town in the Val de Bièvre, L’Haÿ les Roses, Arcueil and others.
AD: Does the AIVB have anything to do with Algeria?
ANON:Oh no, not at all.
AD : There’s no link? Because your group has a link with Algeria, right?
ANON: No, the group for which I am president doesn’t have a link with Algeri. It’s a cultural association which has no link to Algeria. It brings together a number of Jewish people who have come from all over, from the Maghreb, Morocco or Egypt. When find more or less the same intonations throughout … the same sensibilities, you know. And we have all more or less had to leave our towns, our countries … And along the way you find similarities. At one point or another, you don’t feel as at home as before, you get your suitcases and you leave, you know.
AD : You mentioned young people who are sensitive to, or have a knowledge of Algeria. Are these young people, who were born afterwards, are they also pieds-noirs?
ANON:Oh, yes, yes!
AD : You have children. Are they pieds-noirs? Do you say that they are pieds-noirs?
ANON: To be honest, the term ‘pied-noir’, uh … we don’t use it a lot at home, you know. In the early years, let’s say, the first 10, 20 years, when we were still in the … and even sometimes, we’d say, hey, is that an old pied-noir there? Just to say … but to be honest, I don’t think that they think about it. They live their lives as classic normal people, French people, so they …
AD : There are no more pieds-noirs?
ANON:There are no more pieds-noirs?
AD :And even you?
ANON: Even me! Even me, I don’t talk about it, I mean, the term ‘pied-noir’. It’s just nice to talk about it … and I don’t know how I would label someone as a ‘pied-noi’, hey pied-noir! No that doesn’t happen. It’s done, it’s over. My wife and I, we … you remind me that it’s been 50 years since we came back from Algeria, so we’ve been here for 50 years. Three times as long as we were there … so that means that, you know, we’ve forgotten …
AD : And so where are you from? If I ask you like that, where are you from?
ANON: It’s a good question! Yes. I wouldn’t dare to say that I’m from Villejuif! Now, I’ve been there for 30, 30ish years. Yes, I could say that I’m from Villejuif, ‘je suis un Villejuifois’, but I don’t … I don’t feel … No, I am a pied-noir.
AD : You’re from over there nonetheless.
ANON: Yeah, I’m from there. Because I was raised there. And I understand Pagnol, all these people who wrote about their childhood. It was something that I … I never worried about it. But your question is a good one: when people ask me where I’m from, I’m not from Montreuil, not from Nice, except when I don’t want to share that I’m from Algeria! If I want to hide that I’m from Algeria, effectively, I … “Oh I’m from Nice!” [with a provincial accent]. I’ll start to … to play around with accents. But it’s not true! It’s true that you are always attached to their place of birth. Yes. Even if I don’t have many memories, that nothing’s left, only photos, films, that we can have … either because we have Muslims who went to Oran, who took films, because we asked them to film places where we lived, to try and see … the neighbourhood where we went to listen to music, where … When we see it again but it’s not the same thing, it’s true that it’s not the same thing. The population tripled there as well. Oran was very modern, it is less so. It’s not that it’s not moden, even if there if its overpopulatedand that there isn’t infrastructure that goes with that. It has regressed rather than progressed. So, when we make comparisons and people say to us, look at what I’ve found about Oran, look at what’s going on, we say … well, we didn’t go back but … let’s keep our memories as they are in our minds.
AD : You’ve never gone back? You didn’t want to?
AD :You never went back ?
ANON:Never. But I did … for a long time, I wanted to! And recently, a member from our association who is a Muslim from Oran, French but with double nationality and having friends in Oran, he said to me, listen, honestly, come and visit! Come, come and reimmerse yourself! And that made me really want to go. It would be a lie to say that I wouldn’t go, but it would also be a lie to say that I’d definitely go. Because I’m not sure that I’ll go, but, you know. The door is open!
AD : Well. And you have, because it’s important, a connection on the ground, you have ancestors who died over there, who are buried over there?
ANON: Oh, yes, my grandparents are over there!
AD : So, would a motivation be to see what’s become …
ANON: No. Really, you hear bits and pieces of information about some cemeteries … haven’t been destroyed, but the tomb stones have ages, that money is needed to … I know one thing. Is that the Muslims will never touch the tomb stones. They don’t do anything, if they don’t have the money to improve them, but I don’t think that they … unless the need for territory becomes apparent. But no, I haven’t heard anything. I worry about it less and less, since, my parents are here. They’re in a cemetery in Paris. By maternal grandparents are here, paternal are on the other side. And I didn’t know my paternal grandparents very well. So my mind is less prepared to remember. But it’s true that they’re over there. It’s true that it was really tragic for some people to leave their parents in the cemeteries, to not be able to bring back the bodies …
AD :I think that some people repatriated the bodies.
ANON:Yes … of course.
AD : For you, how would you define yourself? What does it mean to be a pied-noir? Apart from not being born over there, of course?
ANON:Oh, I don’t know.
AD : It’s difficult, since you’ve said that it doesn’t exist anymore [He laughs]
ANON: Yes, but I dunno, the ‘pied-noir’ mentality and all that. But I’ll start talking in the abstract … it’s not really very concrete. Because today, I don’t think I have … I am a father, and my wife is a very Mediterranean mother, very eastern, uh … with 50 years of life here, I mean, I still have a very strong sensibility that we have been left with our relatives. Actually … if I must define sensibility of what is left of my pied-noir side, is what has been left to me by my parents. Because, actually, I reverberate a lot of what my parents told me. So I didn’t learn much about being a pied-noir, I progressed in seeing it around me and I know how it works. So if in my sensibility, I am closer to my children, we worry a lot about our children, in the sense that some people will say, stop, you’re being a mother hen or an overprotective dad! Yeah, that’s it, to be a ‘pied-noir’ maybe it’s that! People who are always calling to know if their kids got home, even the boys! They’ll call to know if everything’s okay and if their kids are okay! To the point of exhausting their children who tell you, it’s okay, you’ve already rung me this week, twice is too much! If that’s it, then yes. I am a pied-noir in this way of being. Other will say, you are like a Jewish mother or … it’s also a possibility! But it’s not only that, it’s the pied-noir environment, a family environment, things that we don’t do anymore, you know, things that we can’t do any more. Our children are on the left and on the right and we can’t say to them, come on, let’s all meet together at the house. No, that’s over.
AD : Still from time to time!
ANON:Yes, from time to time, but when I say that I have this sensibility, I really have it because we’re always talking on the phone, now with mobiles, texting, emails, and everything, we spend our time …
AD : And cultural traits? Cultural practicses? I don’t know, we talked about food … about language … ‘Pataouète’ is an accent really isn’t it?
ANON: No, honestly, I … in my family, I can’t say. Some families, I have Moroccan friends, for example, who were born in Morocco, the Muslim culture was stronger than the French. So they went to Arabic school, they learned French. So they spoke both. So, you can say that their culture, also, is the ability to go home and speak something other than French if they want to. And that’s what they do sometimes, beause they’re reconnecting with their roots. But no, I don’t have that. With my wife, she doesn’t speak Spanish, so I cannot say that we’d get by a bit in Spanish and French, no, not even! Oran wasn’t … in Algiers they spoke more Arabic, everyone spoke Arabic, you know, because the town was more concentrated. There were more Muslims and so people learned more easily. Not in Oran.
AD : But Pataouète is more than an accent! It’s expressions …
ANON:Not Pataouète, no! Well, listen, not in my house anyway. No. I’m sorry but I don’t know [He laughs]
AD : You haven’t told me, is your wife pied-noir as well? You met her in …
ANON: Yes, I met her in France but she’s pied-noir. But she’s got a different background! She was born in Algiers but she spend her childhood in Tunisia because her parents, for work, you see, left for Tunisia. They worked for the railway. So she was in Tunisia until the age of 8 and she went back afterwards … So she went back in 1955, 1956, a lot earlier than I did! So for her, it’s just scraps! Still, for me I was there until I was 14 years old. She was only there until the age of 9, and so we don’t have memories of … It’s often memories of food, you know, happy memories … not so much of … She didn’t have any problems in Tunisia, when they came back there was no … unpleasantness, you know. It’s not at all the same thing for Algeria, you know. I think we have exhausted the … [He laughs]
AD : Yes, I think we’ve covered the important parts …
ANON: One thing is for sure, that I wanted to, I mean, to end with. Just to say, in interviewing me, it’s about Oran, I mean it’s Algeria and it’s Oran. It’s maybe not the best case, but you will be able to find someone else to interview because Oran … was a bit behind of everything that went on. It really was just in the last years. The violence and … and to have clearer ideas about Algeria, going a bit deeper, it’s people from Algiers, of course, and Constantine. People who lived in Bône [Annaba], Constantine, all of that. They had a closer relationship with the Muslims. It was harder, the Muslim pogroms against the Jews, against the Christians, and the same thing the other way around, the violence. But everything of that sort, we didn’t have in Oran.