Interview for the Ecomusée du Val de Bièvres
Exposition Pieds noirs ici, la tête ailleurs Date : 9 June 2011
Interviewer: Alexandre Delarge
AD : Could you, to begin with, tell me about your family history ? Not only yours, but your ancestors as well. ANON: So, ancestors. On my father’s side, his father, so my paternal grandfather, came from Valencia, from Spain. And well, how did he end up landing in Algeria ? I don’t know, I know that my grandparents and my father were born in Relizane in Algeria, which I think …
AD : So both your parents ? ANON: Both my parents … No, because my father was born in Relizane and my mother, she comes from a nomadic family. Actually, we called them ‘gypsies’, and they worked the … what do you call it, this plant that grows in the desert …
AD : Osier ? ANON: No. Uh … the … Oh damn. And his father had a business and moved around with the plantations. And it was … oh shit ! Damn ! oh I’ve drawn a blank ! I think that it’ll come back to me later.
AD : But, a gypsy with Spanish roots ? ANON: Yes, they’re called Cortes, Sebastian, it’s … etc., etc., you know. So there you go, and … so my parents, my mother, she was very religious like most gypsies actually …
AD : And what is more, they were Spanish. ANON: And Spanish moreover, well, were very religious, just like my grandmother who nearly became a nun, actually. My father was the sin before she’d had a chance to make her vows [He laughs]. So, as it happens, they got married, they had five children, five children of which I am the youngest, and … well we were in Oran, in a small area called Victor Hugo, and my father rented out a small house with a little bit of land which he farmed. He grew broad beans, peas, haricot verts, some … well a little of everything.
AD : But he was farmer by trade ? ANON: Not at all, no, no ! He was a blacksmith and he used to work at the town hall as a civil servant, at the town hall of Oran, so at the workshops there.
AD : And what did your mother do? ANON: Housewife, as it was at the time for most women, since few women worked … very few. Anyway, as I recall it. And so we were in this area until it all blew up more or less in a political sense, regarding the ‘events’, and after we left to end up in an ‘HLM’ (social housing) in an area which was, quote unquote, ‘European’.
AD : Because Victor Hugo wasn’t a quote-unquote ‘European’ area ? ANON: Not at all because it was mixed, actually, there was a mixture … well there were some Algerians, there were some Spanish, there were … it was a happy mix, you know !
AD : And so, when you say that you left this area during the events, when was that ? ANON: Well, I think that … we left in 1962, so I think that I must have been 7 years old, 8. Yeah, 7, 8 years old. Because, actually, the ‘Front’ was getting closer to the town and we all more or less moved to the centre, not directly to the centre, but it was the suburbs of Oran, you know.
AD : Which is to say that Victor Hugo was a suburb ? ANON: Oh yes, it was a little village, yes !
AD : And what was the name of the new area ? ANON: Delmontes ! It was called Delmontes.
AD : And so that was in the centre of town ? ANON: Practically. We were near the centre of town. But there was something that I… it’s always the same, eh, in any case, I was 12 years old when we left, so … I saw it all as a child, actually, my memories are those of a child’s and with the thoughts of a kid, well. Who understood a lot of the things that took place afterwards, but let’s say at the time, I remember, when we were at Victor Hugo, eh … we had a family table, well my parents’ table, because they had rabbits, chickens, piles of things like that, and we would sit 25, 30 people to the table on Saturdays and Sundays, and so well, it was very eclectic, you know, it wasn’t just Europeans !
AD : You mean for Sunday dinner? ANON: Yes, serving Sunday dinner. I mean, there was just as many Arabs, Jews, because there was a Jewish community … as many Spanish people, as there were ‘pieds-noirs’, actually, all mixed together … Well, now, I was little, so I didn’t understand at all whether they all belonged in the same group, whether they all had the same political beliefs … probably ! Even though, even though ! You can’t know anything about it, personally, I don’t know anything about it. But that being said, it was all the same … they were gatherings which were for me, later and that is to say now, brought me a lot in terms of … in human terms, because well, it’s true that well … when you’re a child you are impregnated by what’s going on around you and the environment. And it’s true that this humanism came out of these gatherings. And I think that I learned a lot about people, quote-unquote. Yes, I think so. And that’s what influenced me the most, which influenced me a lot more than … in Algeria, in any case. Which is to say, that I don’t regret anything, I don’t wish anything had happened, I didn’t … anyway, I was small, I was young, but it really let its mark.
AD : You were still 12 years old when you left ! ANON: Yes, 12 years old, yes. Well, after, by getting older, effectively there are memories which are more and more, that have refined more and more. And that, well, I think that it’s age which makes us go back ! [He laughs] We tumble back into childhood ! And from there, effectively, I have some memories, but they are memories where, I tell you, I’ll say it again, I have no sadness ! I have no sadness ! There are things which are very clear. That’s a part of my life, but nothing else. A part of my life in which I didn’t have … well, no doubts, no problems, apart from childhood ones, and the discovery of the whole pile of things that one can discover between the ages of nought and 12 years old, you know, that’s all.
AD : So, no ‘nostalgérie’ [Nostalgia + Algeria] as they say ?ANON: Exactly, exactly ! No nostalgia, no nostalgia !
AD : Tell me, I just want to go back to your mother’s family history. Do you know why she came to Algeria ? ANON: I know absolutely nothing about it!
AD : And on your father’s side ? ANON: I don’t know, I know that my mother, his father was born in Algeria, yes … her father … It was for ‘alfa’.
AD : Alfa as in the plant ? ANON: Yes, absolutely !
AD : Like ‘omega’…ANON: It’s alfa.
AD : Funny. And so what did they make with that ANON: From alfa, well …
AD : Braiding ? ANON: Yes, braiding ! Things like that …
AD : Like wicker then ? ANON: Yes, absolutely.
AD : It was the equivalent of wicker in your country, right ? ANON: Uh huh.
AD : Speciality…ANON: Yes, it was over there. Yes, that happened there. But well, regarding … I didn’t do any research, it’s … it’s a shame because my sister, she did some research. She did some research, uh … she went back to 1850, I think, both sides of the family came from Spain, actually.
AD : But quite a long time ago, since they were already in Algeria in 1850 ? ANON: Uh … No, no, they were still in Valencia, and it was well after that that it came about.
AD : You spoke about your father just then. Your father is from Valencia and your mother ? You don’t know ? Your sister worked on the … the paternal side ?ANON: Paternal side, yes, especially. Because the mother’s side, it’s …
AD : Yes, it’s a lot more complicated with gypsies. ANON: They you have it, it’s a lot more complicated because, in any case, I don’t know if they had any official documents [état civil], well, apart from the fact that they’d tried to settle them down … Especially, for what it’s worth in Algeria, you know, because they wanted to settle them, make them sedentary. In the same way that they wanted to the settle the Touaregs, and they absolutely wanted them to be sedentary because they didn’t like having nomads. Even now, no state, no government likes it in any case [He laughs]. Well. We had proof of it afterwards.
AD : And on your father’s side, were you aware of any reason for why they emigrated ? So your great-grandfather, is that it ? ANON: Yeah. Well as for that, I haven’t managed to pin it all down in time, but … well, is it, it must be around … no, not even, it’s not around 1936, it’s not 1936, it’s not because of the advent of Franco, it’s nothing to do with that.
AD : No, since your father was born in Algeria ! ANON: I don’t know then !
AD : Your father …ANON: Me, I think, eh, for me, I think that they were people who, at the beginning, tried to make the most of, actually, of the event and of the thing that was developing in Algeria. Because, there were the French people, the first who were over there, and they must have heard talk of it. Certainly, certainly that farming was prosperous and that they could grow everything they wanted, etc. etc. on … on Algerian soil ! So I think that that was it at the beginning, in my opinion, that had rather been opportunists ! Who wanted to immigrate, I mean, and why not. But well, it’s not a criticism [He laughs], I’m not criticising.
AD : It was most of them, I think…ANON: I think it was that. So, was it because of – I don’t know – because I don’t know what the financial situation in Spain was at the time. They must have been certainly poor enough, at least, they must have been lower class if they wanted to profit from, I don’t know. Or well, maybe that I have great-grandparents who were running from the law and who were … some great criminals … or murderers, I know absolutely nothing about it ! [He laughs]
AD : Okay. So we’ll move on, could you tell me about your daily life in Algeria, what it was like, what memories you have. So, up to the age of 12 years old, it would mostly be around school, uh … school, family life, you’ve already started to talk about it ! ANON: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, no, no, but it was school, it was public school like we knew it at the time, with the schoolteachers, with European instructors, for the most part, because there were very few well-educated, I mean, erudite … very few Algerians at the time who had access to school and … who could go beyond all that. So, in my opinion, everything at school went well, I had Arab as well as Spanish friends, that … no, from my childhood, I don’t have anything in particular, it was a completely ordinary life of a child, normal !
AD : Rather rural, then ? Because you were in a village, is that right ? ANON: Yeah, no, but we went to school in Delmontes, all the same …
AD : Ah ? When you were in Victor Hugo did you go to … because there was no school ? ANON: Eh, no. Not in Victor Hugo, no, no, in Victor Hugo … I remember, opposite our house, there was this kind of refinery which belonged to ‘Shell’ or I don’t know who … but no, no, my childhood was fairly traditional, without any major upsets, without problems, just the little concerns that I child can have … The only thing which affected me was when we left for … for Victor Hugo. It was during the day, because in fact there was a building, the building where we lived on the second floor, I think, yes, the second floor, and just below on the … the kitchen window was there, and just below to the right was a cafe. A cafe which was run by a ‘pied-noir’ and that, it still affects me to this day, because I think about it sometimes, not just sometimes, all the time. A guy, an Algerian arrived, he was delivering beer, all kinds of drinks for the cafe, in fact, etc. And then I was at the window and all of a sudden I hear a noise and ‘bang’, the guy falls behind his truck. He had been knocked down by I don’t know who …
AD : When was that ? ANON: I was … I was 10 years old ! I was ten, eleven years old !
AD : So in 1961 ? ANON: Yes… 10, 11 years old, there about, there about! And that, I have to admit that … well.
AD : Yes, that’s affecting. ANON: It really affects a child, yes, besides, it has affected me to this day. And so, and summing up what I experienced during my childhood, when I would see all these people around a table, uh … anyway, well … the people left, with whatever it was, un rabbit, a chicken … vegetables, whatever, things … and then my father had a little …
AD : He was generous, he gave all sorts, that’s right ? ANON: He always gave … He always said, ‘keep your share moving’ [He laughs. We didn’t live like the big property and land owners, eh … because, well, there were lots of people who effectively, when the ‘pieds-noirs’ arrived in France, thought that all the ‘pieds-noirs’ were land owners, you know ! In the same way that most people, in their mind, an Israeli, in the same way, automatically has lots of money, you know. Well Israelite, whether they be over there or in France, or all over the world, in any case, people thinking that they’re … that they have dosh. It’s crazy !
AD : All Rothschilds ! ANON: Yes, that’s right, exactly ! Exactly, but it’s curious all the same what people can … well, can imagine, can think, I don’t understand. For me, personally, I don’t understand.
AD : And so, there were incidences of murder there, this murder ? I mean around you, from your perspective, I mean … ANON: In my mind, I saw that with … firstly, I was, yeah, I wasn’t well, you know. I was sick and strangely, I didn’t tell anyone. Because I was alone at the window. I was the only one at the window because you know that at the time, at the time and moreover, in that building, in that building, we were … no, it was the first floor. And anyway, just in front of us, there were these people, a family, who are … I won’t say the name because it shouldn’t get out … who were more or less in the OAS. And I learned, I was 9 years old because … because we never talked politics with my father. Politics was taboo. And well, now, I’m beginning to understand because effectively I think that in the overseas territories, it must be difficult to … to talk politics while you’re on the other side, you know, of general opinion, actually.Because my father was a Stalinist communist. We had lots of fights [He laughs when we started to talk about politics, well, I didn’t agree with Stalinism, of course. And then … so I learned at that time that he was communist and Stalinist, and then we were just in front of people who supported the OAS, you know. And later, afterwards, I said to myself, when he told me all of that, because he told me this story afterwards, we were able to start discussing it … and he said to me, they could have jumped at any moment, you know, luckily there were these OAS people across from us, because … it could have been catastrophic!
AD : Luckily there were OAS people across from you? ANON: Yes !
AD : Who protected … in the sense of their presence ? ANON: Well, yes ! They couldn’t blow up the house next door, because they would have got caught up at the same time ! And I presume that all that they had …
AD : Because they knew that your father was a communist ? It was known I suppose ?ANON: It was known because I learned a lot later, afterwards, yes, when we were discussing, I must have been 22 years old, that Oran had, in fact, been the biggest communist town according to the elections, actually. I didn’t know. I didn’t know, and I presume that … I think that it was 1958, you know, I’m not sure. I …
AD : So we a communist mayor ? ANON: Yes ! I think so, you know ! Check the information, but I think so, yes.
AD : 1950, you say ? ANON: 1958, 1957 or 1958, you know. And so I think that everyone knew it, because … and what’s more, when there were the events in Algeria, eh … the entire right waing side, the far-right, like the OAS etc. made up open up the window and bang on the pots and pans ‘Algérie française, Algérie française’ [French Algeria, French], you know. Well, and then …
AD : What was that scene that you were describing ? ANON: That scene, it was when we were in Delomtes, there were these kinds of demonstrations, you know, people were protesting for French Algeria and I presume, it was the period where de Gaulle was in Algiers, or Salan and all the … all the generals began to make their show for ‘French Algeria’ etc. And the OAS actually made us, all the ‘pieds-noirs’ to open our windows, take our pots and bang ‘Algérie française’ on the pots, you know.
AD : To the rhythm of … ANON: If not, banging … it really crashed, you know, it rang out.
AD : And so you think they were forced to do that, then ? ANON: Well for my father to do it … he also banged on the pots, he let us bang on the pots, but … well ! The window was open, they knew where we lived ! So … well, they were in the minority all the same, people who were for ‘French Algeria’ eh, for an Algeria …
AD : Independent ? ANON: Yes, with a French administration which governed from far away, so there weren’t many people for it.
AD : And so on this point, when you say that you didn’t talk about politics, you didn’t talk about politics with your father, but in Algeria - but was it the Algerian situation or your father’s principle, he just didn’t want to talk about politics with you, you know, with his family ? ANON: I think that it was the principle. It’s a state of mind with my father, I think. I think because, I tell you, I learned, it was quite curious … we had to go to Arcueil, because, at the time, I played sport at the Kosma in Arcueil with Maurice Pigot, actually and all that. And … it was talking with him afterwards that I understood, and I asked him the questions and he told me, yes, in any case, it’s like that, the communist party. He gave me this whole speech and all that, and I said, well, listen, no ! I didn’t agree with him at all, you know.
AD : Ah so, you started talking politics with him quite late then ! ANON: Yes ! I tell you, I was 9, 10 years old ! So, effectively, was linked to the fact that we lived in Algeria and to the events etc. etc. Because my father didn’t want to integrate to France as a ‘repatriate’, actually. Because he had looked for, at the time, for two years, he left us there, the 5 children, yes, with our aunt, in the Midi in France. He left us there because he was looking for a way to stay in Algeria.
AD : So, he ‘repatriated’ you, quote-unquote … ? ANON: Us, absolutely.
AD : You, the family ? ANON: The children.
AD : Okay, you are going to tell me that later in more detail after, and so he’s in 1962, is that it ? ANON: Absolutely.
AD : And he stayed for two years, until 1964, something like that ? ANON: He stayed there for two years.
AD : Yes, so, to around 1964, is that right ? ANON: Yes, there you go, that’s right. 1964, 1963, because, actually, he came and went several times because he wanted absolutely, well, to integrate … to integrate in the country, to stay in the country, you know. I don’t think that it … how can I put it … it was out of bitterness or by … no, he wanted to stay over there because he through that it would be useful. And I came to understand that a long time afterwards. He thought he would have been useful to Algerians who stayed there, and who were going after something new, and that he could have, him, eh … maybe, quote-unquote once again, ‘educated’ some of the Algerians in what he knew, actually. Smithery, all that, and I think that was his thing.
AD : Well, it’s good ! ANON: [He laughs ] I don’t know if it’s good, but anyway, eh … one thing is for certain, is that … people like that, I’m talking about my father and my mother, they are certainly people – I’m speaking for me, you know - … who deserve to be know. Who deserve it, because … I tell you, in human terms, well, it’s an extraordinary thing, you know, they never really thought about themselves, they never made anything for themselves, they never went down that path. They always had a certain kind of generosity and then a kind of … well, a kind of valour, you know, values that we may be losing, alas. At a push, you could go as far as to say that we don’t respect our neighbours any more, but it’s true, it’s true. For me, it’s seems that way. And there you go.
AD : And your mother, she followed you in 1962 ? Because you were talking about your aunt earlier ? ANON: Yes, yes, because we stayed with our aunt for a while, because my father left maybe two or three time, two or three times to try and negotiate, but my mother followed him. My mother didn’t want to leave him alone [He laughs].
AD : Yes, so, actually, they spent less time living in the metropole but they were rather … is that it ? ANON: There you have it. For me, what I think is that, well, they made us safe, us the children. And they tried to see if they could move in over there. And as there were political problems at the time, it was at all Boumediene who came to power directly, it was Ben Bella, so from that moment, Ben Bella, having been educated by de Gaulle in the Fresnes prisons, so [He laughs], so there you have, it wasn’t done.
AD : His reinsertion …his, his ‘graft’? ANON: Yes, [He laughs … Well, my father would have preferred to stay there, now, what would have happened, I don’t know.
AD : And so for you, do you remember when you arrived exactly ? ANON: So we arrived, er, in 1962, in 1962, we left. The boat left, I remember from the port of Oran, and the port of Oran burned down straight away afterwards. They set set the port on fire, I don’t know why, anyway. But well, it’s always the same, at the time, it’s quite curious because the events didn’t affect us in a very, very … it didn’t affect us very much in the sense of the political games that we didn’t understand. We didn’t know what it was about. But for me, the first foot I put on the boat, I said to myself, oh fuck, that’s it, the trip, you know. I’m going away ! I’m going away, I’m going to France ! Because France, it was, well, like today beside, it was the country where you wanted to be. Why ? Pffft.
AD : Well, yes, but it wasn’t country where your father wanted to be ! Who was it that wanted to be ? ANON: I did ! I’m talking about myself ! I’m talking about myself !
AD : It was you, when you were small you wanted to … ? ANON: There you go !
AD : And do you remember who it was who could – you were small, of course – do you know what is was that set off your departure, was it a particular event, what was it, after the signing of the Evian agreements ? ANON: Eh … Yes, yes, it was after … what people feared, because the OAS people didn’t give up, didn’t spill, even with the agreements! And what scared my parents, I think. That was why they wanted to leave and to keep us safe, because they were more clashes and the clashes were more and more terrible and that these guys were shooting whoever, wherever, and however. I think that it was that. I think that it was that. And we left really, it was so simple, the Independence agreements were signed, I think it was in March. Yes, that it. Signed in March and we left there in April, or something like that.
AD : Ah yes, quickly ! ANON: Yes, straight away, afterwards. Yes, quickly. And so I think that well … they wanted to house the children because afterwards, they carried on, I tell you, they wanted to stay over there. Anyway, there you go.
AD : Okay. Do you remember leaving clearly ? You were, I don’t know, how did it happen, you know ? Details ? ANON: Oh, I wasn’t singing I left my country, no … not at all, no … or how they’re beautiful the girls in my country, no, not at all. First of all, because I was young, I was little, 12 years old, I was discovering you know !
AD : And girls …ANON: Yes, we didn’t really care [Laughter ]! Although my first ‘flirt’, I was 11 years old, but … no, it was … honestly, it was a huge joy ! So the joy, was it that it was France or the act of going on a journey ? That’s one of the mysteries in my mind .. then, I’m telling you, I tell you all this as if I’m 12 years old there ! I don’t understand it, I don’t know.
AD : And so the whole family leave then, at this point in April ? ANON: Exactly.
AD : So you were waiting there with all your gear, was that it? ANON: Eh … well, yeah there was all this stuff … yes, it was quite comical … yes, quite funny [He laughs]. Well like when you’re fleeing somewhere, in all cases like this where you’re fleeing, practically … You feel like you’re practically being chased out and then it was … yes, it was essentially bags, things, whatever … eh those leaving in the boat … I don’t know … it was quite curious, because on that trip, apart from the fact that we were excited to be leaving, to be travelling, that eventually, the rest, it was … it was … for me, it went by quite calmly. On the other hand, I remember that in the boat there were so many people who were a lot more angry than I was, who were the age that I am now, and who, for them, were in states of … in terrible states ! Because they left a big part of their life, maybe their possessions, maybe … maybe family as well, who were still there, who had decided, etc. But the trip in itself, no.
AD : And so you carried a lot yourself? Even as a kid of 12 years old? They gave you a lot to carry, no? Did you carry something, you know, a little bag or I don’t know what? ANON: Ah no… no, like I said, I had extraordinary parents!
AD : Ah well, they … ANON: Oh, no, no, no! We left, for us, it wasn’t that we were fleeing, you know, it was …
AD : Oh yes, so they put you in this mind frame, as well. ANON: Completely, completely. And I think that my brother and sisters also think the same thing, I never spoke to them about it. I never spoke to them about, actually, because, well. For me, it was nothing, you know.
AD : And so you take the boat, where do you arrive? ANON: So we arrive in Marseille! And then it’s that it begins [He laughs]
AD : Exactly, so how did it go ? ANON: Exactly ! Well, I remember, we’ve arrived in Marseille, because my mother actually had a brother who was a farmer and who had moved to Port-de-Bouc, exactly. A large port … well a large port, it was a port. He moved into Port-de-Bouc and he had goods, he house, etc. … land, pastures, whatever, etc. … and who, although, you know how it goes in families at sometime, there’s always tension. He had been angry for I don’t know how long. … So he managed to, well, they get on more or less, because there was my mother’s brother and two sisters who were there, who had goods and who sheltered us with my aunts, her children and then a whole bunch of people. They put us up all the same for a long time, until my father found a job in France. Until the moment when he knew that he couldn’t move back to Algeria.
AD : So after 1964 ? ANON: Yeah !
AD : So you stayed with your uncle for at least 2 years? ANON: Oh yes, yes, yes! Yes, we arrived in Arcueil, in Arcueil, they had finished the Vache Noire low-rises … it had just been finished, it must have been 1963 … end of 1963, beginning of 1964.
AD : Oh okay, because then you left for Arcueil? ANON: No, after, I explained to you, because my father still had some … no, actually, because my father thought that in any case, he couldn’t earn his salary without working. Because you know, at the time, the ‘repatriated’ had financial assistance, whatever, etc. He didn’t want any of it, not at all, he’s single-minded [He laughs] He’s stubborn but to his advantage because, well, there are very few people like him who reacted like that. And so he, no, at first he prospected a little all over, he was in Albi, Toulouse, all that. He had meetings, etc. And then, well, it didn’t happen. And actually, at the time in Arcueil, and it was Marie-Lucie Dahor who was the mayor in Arcueil, and who hired him as a, well, in the municipality, actually, and he took on his role as a civil servant again. Because he didn’t want to touch any of the money, without having, without …
AD : Because he was a civil servant? ANON: Yes, of course !
AD : So he had already been a civil servant in Algeria ? ANON: Exactly !
AD : So, he didn’t lose his status, except that he found another job as a civil servant [fonctionnaire] ? ANON: Eh, I think he found it difficult to recuperate, actually, from all the years before, I think it was difficult for him, because there were administrative problems … but on that point, I don’t know, I really don’t know. But anyway, he still didn’t want, he didn’t want to ear a penny, besides, he had refused, I remember from the time, all the things that were offered to ‘repatriates’. He never wanted to touch this money.
AD : But that means that you lived on what for nearly two years, you know ? Your mother didn’t work, your father didn’t work either ? ANON: No. I think that they had some …
AD : Some savings? ANON: A little savings. I think, I think …
AD : Then maybe your uncle didn’t ask for rent money …ANON: I think so, maybe the rent was free as well, that I don’t know, seeing as I didn’t … I didn’t ask, to be honest.
AD : And so, at your uncle’s home, so you were saying, I didn’t understand … so lots of people were welcomed, aunts, but who are on your father’s side, is that it ? Because there were two aunts on the maternal side ? ANON: Exactly, and my uncle.
AD : Who lived in the same place ? ANON: Ah yes, because they had quite big houses, you know !
AD : So they were all in Port-de-Bouc, around the property on the farm ? ANON: Exactly ! Because, what’s more, there was my father’s sister and her children who were there …
AD : So they were ‘repatriated’, as well ? ANON: Yes, practically at the same time. So, there was also – because my mother had educated a cousin, a woman who had got married in Algeria, who had 3 children and who came as well, because the uncle – do the brother of my mother – had proven his generosity and then he welcomed everyone there. In any case, there was quite a lot there, we were in a small area …
AD : So there was a paternal aunt, a cousin on your mother’s side … ANON: Yes, with her children.
AD : The aunt, with her children as well ? ANON: Exactly.
AD : All of you …ANON: Exactly, and then there was also my cousin’s in-laws, of my cousin who was there, but it was enormous! A whole area … luckily it didn’t heave like a souk, but it was a bit like that! [He laughs] !
AD : And so did they all stay for long ? ANON: They stayed for quite a long time and then, afterward, each one left, each one found jobs, apartments, etc. Some of them are in Istres, others in Miramasse, others in Marseille. Others left for the Doux, others in Brittany, others in Menton … in all the different regions ! It’s true that, well, at the level of the family after that, the family evaporated. … There are cousins and their children that I don’t even know anymore ! That I don’t know at all. I don’t even know their existence, in the same way that they don’t know if I have children, if i have grandchildren, etc. etc.
AD : Does that mean that these family connections weren’t maintained ? ANON: Well no … You know, from that moment, it’s quite curious, but from that moment when, well in a family, there’s always one or two people who bring bring everyone together, actually. From the moment those one or two people in the family pass away …
AD : Who brought everyone together in your family ? Are there people who did that in your family ? ANON: My mother.
AD : It was your mother ? ANON: My mother, yes, who brought everyone together.
AD : But on her side or on both sides ? ANON: On both sides. Both sides, the two sides, and then after, well … well, as that happens in families, in France at the time, you know, I mean … She wasn’t the smartest but she knew how to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, who managed to make everyone get along, you know.
AD : Yes, and then who invited people to Sunday dinner, etc ! ANON: There you go, exactly ! It’s absolutely that !
AD : And so that, did that carry on in Arcueil ? What was life like in Arcueil? ANON: After, in Arceuil …No, in Arcueil, after we arrived, there was obviously friends, ‘metropolitans’ quote-unquote. I don’t like this term very much and … they rather kept to themselves, actually, they all had … No, it was hard, it was hard for them.
AD : Does this mean that you think they changed psychologically, or regarding social relations, I don’t know ? ANON: Social relations, no, with the others, no. Problem, well, seeing the importance that my father had, in the sense that he carried the politics, because it’s … there was only that, you know, there was only that. And on the other hand, he never spoke about it, it was strange ! Considering the importance that it had, in any case, no, to the contrary regarding exterior social connections and all that. But among the ‘pieds-noirs’, it wasn’t his thing, you know ?
AD : So, he didn’t keep up … ANON: No, he didn’t keep his ‘pieds-noirs’ friends, his things, his whatever … however, there was a person that I remember who would come to the house from time to time, eh … but well. He wasn’t that interested in him because he would systematically chew over the same things, someone who lived in the past then, apparently, I think that the past didn’t realise interest my father, you know, because … anyway, I know one thing, is that for me, before 1980, in 1978-1979, I went back to Algeria because I had an Algerian friend with whom I would eat couscous because he had a restaurant [He laughs ], and then, we forged this friendship on the basis that I was born over there, etc., so we shared things and all that. Then, we kept this good relationship, he said to me, look, I’m building a house over there, if you could come, all that. I said, no problem, tell me, if you have little odd jobs, even if you have little plumbing jobs, because I could feel that coming as well [He laughs, that’s not a problem, I can do that for you. And then, actually, I left and I went back, I said to my father, would you like to go back to Oran, and all that …
AD : It was in Oran, your …? ANON: No, no ! It was in Algiers, it was a place that I didn’t know at all. And … I told him, I’ll pay for you and Mum to go, no problem … they never wanted to !
AD : Oh yes ? Did he say why ? ANON: No. No, he didn’t say why. But I think I know why, yeah ! I think I know why because I had the same reaction, actually, when I arrived in Algiers. I arrived by boat at … I arrived, I arrived over there, I had the feeling, although it was a place that I didn’t know at all, you know, because the east part of Algeria, I didn’t know. I arrive, and I felt like I was at home, you know ! Quote-unquote, once again.
AD : But rediscovering something … ANON: Yeah, roots ! Maybe ! I don’t know, I felt, I liked the way it moved about everyway, scolding everywhere you went and all that. I love, well, I like, I like that, you know ! Anyway, it can’t be like that all the time. I had the feel then and from the moment when I was in Algiers, I said to my friend, you really shouldn’t go to Oran ! Because I was born in Oran, and then after, well …
AD : Why not go to Oran? ANON: Because I think that, like my mother, there’s a heap of memories, actually, which would come back to the surface and then a heap of places which, in getting old, have become clearer, become clearer ! I know that my father, well, when he was over there, he was president of a boules club you know, where there were volleyball games on Sundays, whatever, where he would go when we were kids and all that. I certainly know where I was born, I remember the bar, the people who lived there and who we would see quite often, a bunch of memories like that ! And then … ah, I’m sure that I would have cried, you know ! I would have fallen apart [He laughs]! I think, but not because of nostalgia ! Once again ! It’s … it’s quite strange because it’s … I don’t know, I don’t know. Or well, are these childhood memories … something nostalgic? Because of ageing, maybe ! Maybe, I don’t know.
AD : So it wasn’t fear of being overwhelmed by the country ? ANON: Oh not at all, to the contrary ! The opposite, the opposite ! Because over there, when I was at my friend’s place in Algiers, he says to me, you can stay here. I have a lorry, I’ll get you hooked up in haulage and you can work ! I said, no, I’m ‘pied-noir’. They didn’t know any way that at the time I left, I was 12 years old, there were maybe some people, and moreover, it was Kabylia, so maybe there were people who were killed because of it all during the events, during the war, and all that. I said, I don’t want any trouble ! I don’t want to end up with a gun to my head ! There’s no point!
AD : But when was that ? ANON: In 1978, 1979 ?
AD : Oh yes, not so long ago ! ANON: It was before the ‘fils’ and all those people, in politics …
AD : Yes, it wasn’t, it was quite fresh, you know. It was 14 years after the Evian agreements ! 16 years, but still, well … ANON: Yes, it was all still brand new, it was still recent ! Besides, the proof if that, well, I had made … because my idea [He laughs], my idea at the start when my friend invited me to Tizzi, actually, it was 50km from Tizzi-Ouzou, my idea was actually to leave, to go to Tizzi, pass through Tunisia, Lybia, Israel, Egypt, and to go up through India, actually, etc. It was my idea. But actually, I stopped, Gaddafi stopped me at the border [He laughed], the idiot wouldn’t let me pass ! Well, I didn’t have a visa, I didn’t have any … I didn’t have anything to pass through, so, I didn’t get through. But … it’s true that in Kabylia, I met people who picked me up in their cards and I hitchhiked my way ! And … from the moment that I spoke French and I didn’t speak any Arabic, eh … I felt resentment, resentment, from the young people, people who were 30 years old, 35 ! So … after I said to myself, well.
AD : People who were around your age, then. ANON: Yeah, yeah. I said to myself, well, they’ve probably gone through things, their families, actually, etc. While on the side of our family, I don’t know how they got on but there were no deaths, nobody was injured, nothing at all, you know !
AD : And you could speak Arabic ? ANON: No, no. But my parents could speak Arabic ! My father spoke Arabic, my mother spoke Arabic, Spanish, French as well … uh … no, no, but on the other hand, before the Evian agreements, we had to have been in CM1 [Year 5, 4th grade] … CM1 or CE2 [Year 4, 3rd grade] I can’t remember … And at the time, I was the only student, it’s funny that, we did that every Thursday, Thursdays, because at the time we didn’t have class on Thursday, yeah that’s right … yes ?
AD : Yes, it was Thursdays, yes. ANON: Yes, it was every Thursday. It was Thursday and actually my father had decided that I had to learn Arabic.
AD : At school? ANON: Yes ! And so every Thursday, for an hour, I had a teacher, I was all alone and then he taught me Arabic .
AD : But that didn’t … you didn’t keep it ? Did you ever speak Arabic ? ANON: No, because it remained, you know, we did that for 6, 8 months !
AD : But with your class mates, you said, were there Arabs in your class ? ANON: Who spoke French !
AD : Ah, the would speak French, were they allowed to speak Arabic at School ? Or was it allowed? Could they speak Arabic or was it forbidden? ANON: They could speak in Arabic on the playground ! No, because they kept their language, you know! Anyway, from memory, they would speak Arabic! I mean, the insults were in Arabic in any case! [Laughter]!
AD : And outside, did you have Arab playmates ? ANON: Of course !
AD : What did you speak then? French as well? ANON: French, French ! French, because we didn’t speak Arabic ! We were the conquerors [He laughs], so it wasn’t up to us to learn the native’s language!
AD : But at the same time your mother and father spoke Arabic ! ANON: Absolutely, absolutely ! No, no! At least, it’s not … I don’t feel that way, I mean, it was good, the whole administration which was in place, in any case, was automatically in French, it was French administration. The school was French, there wasn’t any Arabic, you know, at School! I’m telling you, only my father wanted me to learn Arabic! What for? Pfft.
AD : And at the end of the day, to your knowledge, all the Arabs spoke French, and when they found themselves with a … I don’t know what to call them, a European …ANON: An Algerian, yes …
AD : Not Algerian, a pied-noir, or a European, or I don’t know, they would straight away speak in French ? They didn’t address each other in Arabic? Is that it? ANON: Unless the European could speak Arabic !
AD : I mean yes, but it’s not written on one’s forehead ! ANON: No, well, I know that my father with his friend who came to help him out, over there, and who came … I think he must have come from the mountains. I don’t know if he didn’t come from the Aurès … I’m not sure … And he farmed his bit of land, this guy, on my father’s land, and gathered up bits and pieces. He only spoke Arabic! He spoke very little French.
AD : All right, but they knew each other. I mean, when you met someone randomly in the street, or in the shop, or I don’t know where … ANON: Most of the shops … There weren’t any Arab grocer’s, you know, very few! Actually, most of the shops, the little grocery shops, the little corner shops, whatever, they were run by Europeans, they were metropolitans! Actually, or ‘pieds-noirs’! But otherwise …
AD : What I mean is that it didn’t happen veyr often that you would all of sudden be confronted with Arabic, is that it, if I understand it correctly ? ANON: No, that’s right.
AD : So … including the Arabs, then. ANON: Yes, I don’t remember … I don’t remember seeing an Algerian not speaking French ! Around us, you know, well, maybe … people from the mountains, or … even in the same way, some Touaregs would speak French, so, at the same time … No, no, there weren’t …
AD : Right, so, there was no motivation to … ANON: There was no motivation to learn Arabic ! So why did he want me to learn Arabic, or that I learn to write in Arabic … What often came back to me, afterwards, actually, because around 27, 28 years old, I wanted to pick up my Arabic classes again ! I noticed that it was a lot more complicated He laughs]! It’s not at all like Latin languages, and then, well … it was too difficult. It needed to have been implanted over there, at the time, when I was 8 or 9 years old … it would have been a lot simpler!
AD : Because when your father was small, I can’t remember what you said, and your mother, they also lived in that same spot, near Oran ? ANON: Oran, yes !
AD : It was the same, they didn’t often, it was the same place, they weren’t in the country, then ? ANON: Actually, yes, yes they were ! It was the countryside, like I said, it was out in the suburbs, like being these days in …
AD : Relizane… ANON: Yes, Relizane, Relizane is in the East of Algeria, well, between Oran and Algiers. My mother was born in Arzeu, the port of Arzeu. It’s a port which traded oil, stuff. Anyway, Arzeu is a big port and my mother was born there !
AD : So, that’s a town, whereas Relizane was rather maybe … ANON: It’s also a town. But actually, they were out on the outskirts, a bit! Like, we’d say, today, Paris and then Seine-et-Marne, you know! Nearer, anyway, beyond Fontainbleau!
AD : So maybe they had more need to speak Arabic in a rural area rather than an urban one ? ? ANON: They spoke it, they spoke it, and my mother too, because of my father’s farming, with the ‘alfa’, and in any case, straight away she would meet nomads. Since she was a nomad herself! From what I think I understood, because, well, it’s always the same, from the moment that a gypsy is sedentarised, they’re no longer a gypsy. It’s a rejection of being a gypsy, you know, it’s absolutely mad! Well, it’s like that and so she was confronted with that – and then I remember, because I also recently learned, 5 or 6 years ago, that her father, so my maternal grandfather, spoke 5 or 6 languages! So, a desert dialect, you know. He also spoke Russian, English, French, Spanish, Italian, and then I don’t know what. I don’t know how they did it. I have no idea [He laughs]. And …
AD : We’ve already mentioned it a bit, but what are your memories of the war ? Actually you haven’t talked about the war up to this point! ANON: No … No I haven’t spoken about the war because we were quite far off from it at the same time … well I think … Pfft, how to put it … I think that my parents did their upmost to make sure we were kept away from it all.
AD : To protect you, is that it ? ANON: Well yes. I think so, I think so. Based on the fact that we never spoke about it at home, and moreover we were small, you know, we didn’t talk about it, the news, well, pfft, it was the news, from my memory, it was rather one-sided [He laughs]. There was not a lot of opposition, uh … no, about the war, no, apart from the kind that went out into the street just in front of my …
AD : And [banging on] the pots. ANON: Ah yes, and the pots.
AD : You were there everday ? ANON: It was dreadful ! It was dreadful!
AD : Everyday ? ANON: Yes ! Practically, practically every day, in the evenings, you know!
AD : And you say that you were young, but you were 12 years old in 1962, and your brothers were how old, your brothers and sisters? ANON: So my older bother was 18 months older than me, so he must be 62 years old … hold on !
AD : 18 months, so he was born in 1948. ANON: Yes, that’s right, 1948, yes, 1948. He’s my older brother.
AD : He’s the oldest? ANON: Yes, he’s the oldest, yes.
AD : Ah yes, you were really … There were 4 of you? ANON: 5 !
AD : 5 ! And there was 19 months between the first and the last? No, that’s not possible! There must have been twins! ANON: No, no, not at all ! I said that my father … He was born in 1948, and I was born in 1950.
AD : Yes, and then there was what ? ANON: Then, my sister, who must be 65 years. So she must have been born in 1956, or 1955. No, not as old as that.
AD : Oh, so you’re not the youngest ? ANON: No, I’m not the youngest, no, oh no, no, between the oldest …
AD : That’s why I thought … ANON: Between the oldest and the second, I was thinking about the oldest …
AD : So you’re the second ? ANON: Yes, the second, the second.
AD : Oh okay! ANON: No, my sister must be 57, or 58 … yeah 58 years old. My first sister is 58 years old, the other sister is 56 …
AD : Yes … that makes it 1953 … And the other she’s … ANON: I don’t know anymore …
AD : Anyway, something like that, I mean, anyway. And you’re the second, so effectively, the oldest was barely 14 years old when you left, basically! ANON: Exactly !
AD : Yes, you were very young … yes, that’s what I didn’t get … So there you, in the middle of the war, you were being protected by your parents, of course … ANON: It seems that way to me, or else I’m the only one to think that …
AD : But, for example, I don’t know, but people have told me that, in the period just after the Evian Agreement in any case, that were, precisely, lots of shootings, lots of gunfire … One person told me that one night they looked out the window and saw shots fired, and … ANON: We heard it. We heard it. But again, eh … my parents were there and we … we only heard it, you know, that’s all. Nothing more. But it’s strange, because this story didn’t affect me the most, you know, I don’t know. That thing … No, honestly, while now there’s this other thing, in the mind, you can’t hide some things in your head … I don’t know, I don’t know. About this, honestly, I have no idea. But on the other and, well, I know that when we arrived in Marseille, it was there that, actually, lots of things changed, well, for me, I mean.
AD : Which is to say ? ANON: Oh well, to start with, it was a stormy reception, eh, it was awful! We were more or less rejected, all of us, the ‘pieds-noirs’ were rejected!
AD : Yes, which is to say ? What do you remember? How did that materialise for you? ANON: Well for me, it actually materialised because I felt this rejection from a lot of people! I mean, a lot of metropolitans, in any case. And I remember one thing, until the age of 18, 19 years old, me, I wasn’t born in Oran, I was actually born in Marseille.
AD : That was what you were saying ? ANON: Yes. In order to get into the movement, etc. because I felt all the same, somewhere, for a relatively long time, that it was actually quite difficult to integrate. It’s strange, but there you, that’s how I experienced it. As if there was a rejection. Then I heard quite a lot of bad thing when we arrived in Marseille, there were loads of people who were there to remind us that we weren’t from the country and that we had come to eat up their money, you know, to gobble up their daily bread! A little like what’s going on now with all the immigrants, you know, I mean well, there you go. That’s why I’m doing …
AD : And what concrete things do you remember ? Any … any events, gestures, remark? ANON: No, it’s more about the way people talk ... actually, it’s more about a feeling, because, well, sometimes a feeling, you don’t have to explain whatever it may be, you just see it straight away! It’s good or it’s not good, you know! I mean, that’s me, it’s not …
AD : And when you were in Port-de-Bouc you were still going to school, I imagine ? ANON: Yes of course !
AD : So, precisely, what was it like there ? ANON: Well, exactly, I met people there, people from the country actually, who were born there, in Port-de-Bouc proper, Marseille, or around it and all of that. Actually, we made friends with loads of people and well … especially thanks to one person who was my age at the time and who took me to play sport, introduced me to track etc. And that’s how, through sport and school, and all that, that I managed, bit by bit, to integrate myself.
AD : So the difficult aspects of integration was mostly in Marseille, less thant in Arcueil ? Because you quickly get to Arcueil in the end, in 1963, right? ANON: Yeah, I was 13, 14 years old. 14 years old, yeah.
AD : So, what you were just saying refers more to the time spent in Marseille ? ANON: In Marseille, yeah, but …
AD : Or did you find the same thing, the same feeling, in Arcueil ? ANON: Well I mean that the feeling in Marseille stayed with me, so it wasn’t the move from South to the North that was going to change me, actually, my integration, I had to make it work anyhow! Because it was like that, and it was in my mind to do so, actually.
AD : And when you were in Port-de-Bouc in Marseille, you were surrounded, there weren’t many ‘pieds-noirs’, did you have any close ties? ANON: Actually, there were a lot more ‘pieds-noirs’ in that little hamlet there, where my uncle welcomed us, but for me, personally, I’m still talking about me, I split off from it, I really wanted to split off from its influence and I didn’t want to stay in this backward-looking state, actually, and … because, well, telling stories about Algeria, it’s enough, you know. It didn’t interest me one bit! I was think more about what was in front than … than being on any [incomprehensible] which was brutal before and that, that’s a part that I want to completely cover up. There you go.
AD : But I imagine you did have, occasionally, some sadness ? Since you didn’t feel integrated ? ANON: Never ! No sadness! For Algeria even? None.
AD : No ? But you were young over there, when you arrived ? Non ? ANON: None ! Oh honestly, I have none.
AD : You had already turned to new things ? ANON: Well I think that, pfft, like everyone else …
AD : No, not like everyone else ! ANON: I mean, personally, it’s my motto. You can’t live on the past. If you live on the past, it prevents anything new which could move on into the future. If not, maybe just taking what was negative in the past … and turning it into a positive! Which is more or less always the case every time! [He laughs].
AD : And so, on this point, have you ever come across people, especially in Port-de-Bouc, that you have fled from because they were stuck in the past, going on about the past? You’ve often found yourself confronted with that? ANON: Yes, oh yes !
AD : With people of your own age? ANON: Oh no, people of my age, no, no, no, no ! It was more the adults who … older people who would just bang on about the same thing, stuff, stuff like, well, actually, we left from one country to another which didn’t have the same ways, the same … yes, it was the same culture, but with a completely different way of seeing things compared to us, you know. Because Algeria for us, it was, it was a small village, eh, each of us, we all knew each other, well … etc. They tried to do the same thing here but they realised very quickly that it wasn’t possible. Because, well, what’s more, society was changing. We were becoming more and more individualist, so well … communities didn’t extend very far … But as for me, I tried to avoid all that, I … I didn’t want to stay in that situation, absolutely not, absolutely not! It was maybe borderline a little bit selfish as well, in the sense that I wanted to keep my own memories and I didn’t want my memories to be completely warped. Because eventually memories and dreams start to warp [He laughs]! And I know that I didn’t want that. I mean, I think so, that’s how I analyse it now, eh, but at the time … at the time, no, I just had to get myself out of that hub. What’s more, well, 14, 15 years old, it’s generational war! So there’s loads going on, you know! Lots going on. So well, that, and that, and that, and that, it’s a lot ! So I looked after myself, and then [He laughs] …
AD : On this note, you were talking about this question of culture/not culture, is there, shall we say, a ‘pied-noir’ culture ? What is it to be ‘pied-noir’? Over there, here?ANON: Pfff… Oh other there, here, anyhow, there’s what, there’s only the Mediterranean that …
AD : I mean, these two periods, you know, I mean, it’s not only the Mediterranean …ANON: Yes, but I mean… pfff… No. No, no I don’t think so, no, because, anyway, we’re all very well aware that the Mediterranean basin is the cradle of everything, eh, anyway. People travelled, they circulated, they passed on tonnes of things, loads of things which came, I think that all … all the collective conscience that we can have in any case, no … no, personally, I mean, having lived, and aged, and all that , because I’m no longer a spring chicken, for me, I’m leaning more towards universalism actually. I don’t want to be from such and such place, it’s all the same to me, all the same.
AD : But aside from you, do you think that there’s any, any practice, any customs, any ways of doing things, ways of … I don’t know what, which are common to these people that we call ‘pieds-noirs’, over there, when you were here, I don’t know …ANON: Yes but … the problem … yeah, no, but what I mean is that the problem is different. Which is to say, between the moment that we arrived in France after leaving there with a certain way of looking at thing, because there’s also that, a certain way of looking at things, and well. In a climate, because, it seems to me that the climate is very important actually. In a climate where, well, it rains, I don’t know, but in my opinion, it rains not even once a month, but three weeks of the year, or maybe a week of the year, but it’s a real downpour and then afterward, ‘poof’, there’s the sun, etc. I think that that can change a lot! So what did we know more about than the metropolitans at the time, I don’t know, maybe a cook will be able to tell you, well I dunno, the couscous and paella! As for the rest …
AD : Well, that’s culture isn’t it…ANON: Yes, [He laughs], that’s it !
AD : Language ? Manners of speaking? ANON: Ah the accent, yes, the accent, of course !
AD : And any expressions ? ANON: Ah well yes. There actually are some ‘pieds-noirs’ expressions which are quite funny, but … none that come to mind … Yes, yes, there are some funny ones, like there are some funny ones in the Midi in France, where it’s true, when you get there and you don’t know, what it is! Yes, there are some, the kind of, ‘je vais là bas-haut’ [I’m going up over there’] or the … ‘descends ici en bas !’ [Get down off here ]. Well It’s nothing much, it’s nothing much! But I think that the culture is exactly the same! I think that the culture is exactly the same, and yes, there are ways of living, actually, which is completely different! But that being said, these ways of life, you encounter them in Marseille, Lorient, or Strasbourg, anyhow, they’re totally different ways of life! But … nothing particularly struck me. Maybe as well because I wanted to completely integrate myself and [He laughs] to be in with metropolitan life, I dunno!
AD : And so, precisely, were you ever struck my a moment, well any occasions, Sundays, gatherings, big reunions, big dinners … ANON: In Algeria, yes. In Algeria.
AD : Did that last with your parent afterwards ? ANON: No, no, not as it happens, because when we arrived in Arcueil, after it was a bit … I would say that it was a bit every man for himself, actually. Each family more or less closed up around themselves, did their little thing and then faded away bit by bit. And then after, when the children, the grandchildren arrived etc, well, we started again, but I mean, to the point that it was among ourselves, you know, with the descendants of … myself, my brother, my sister, etc. But only among family with people, wives, partners … But otherwise, no, it wasn’t … but still with all the pomp, of course, because it’s true that … Well, they say that in the Maghreb, and that’s true because I saw it in 1979, in 1978-79, I saw it, those … when you receive someone, I can’t remember the word … damn!
AD : Host ? ANON: Very good hosts, yeah … They entertain, actually, they know how to entertain. Welcoming. They are welcoming. And it’s true that, well, with some ‘pieds-noirs’, but my parents are a bad example, eh … I have a very bad example ! But it’s true that they are generally very welcoming people, you know. It’s quite strange because … we have more of an Arab mentality, in terms of the mind eh, than a metropolitan one, you know ! Although we’ve lost it now!
AD : What is the Arab mentality ? ANON: Exactly that, the sense of hospitality, this sense of helping out … because well, I’ve hitchhiked in Algeria, I met some amazing people! Guys who really slapped me across the face! Listen, that put me in my place and I’m pleased, because at the end of the day, I realise that what we think up here, it’s not as good as that, you know! And that’s amazing!
AD : You mean, in terms of giving, of generosity ? ANON: In terms of giving, of generosity, of hospitality, I met people while hitchhiking, I took the train for a bit, in Tunisia, there was a guy who took me, took me to the train station. He said, where are you going? I said, to Algiers, because I have to go back now. Do you have any money? No, I don’t have any money. The guy gave my 5 dinars, he paid for my ticket, pfff … it’s exceptional !
AD : Someone you didn’t know, then ? ANON: Well that, pfft ! Not from Eve or Adam, you know! The guy … this chap who picked me up, his mother was sat in front, he had a Beetle, his mother was in front. He stopped, he opened the door, he didn’t even ask where I was going, eh! He says to his mother, get in the back. Oh I said, no, I can get in the back, I thought he was opening the door so I could get in the back! He put his mother in the back, and then put me in front, and then took me to the Algerian border, you know, to the journey’s end! He gave me 3 dinars so I could get something to eat, etc., on the train … And then after, on the train, I meet people, absolutely amazing, you know, I was going to Constantine. The guy, he passed around the hat because I only had a ticket for two or three stations. The guys passed around the hat so that I could get to Constantine, and then in Constantine, he put me up for the night in his home … Well, an absolutely crazy thing, you know, the … the slaps, the slaps! And it’s then that I say to myself, I say, thank you Dad, thank you Mum, you know. Because well, in that sense …I knew it, I knew it! I knew it! But actually, maybe what I was looking through all that, it was more or less a confirmation and to say to myself yeah, anyway, leave it all behind, racism is bullshit, you know. And it’s good for nothing.
AD : It’s the conclusion of the Algerian War then ? ANON: For me, yeah ! Yes ! I think it’s harmful, actually, then, well … because, well, memories, no, I don’t have any real memories of the war, whatever, eh … I don’t know if you’re going to find, moreover, because well, it’d have to be people who are lot older than I am! Who are at least 75 or 80 years old, even more!
AD : Yes, no, well it’s definitely a generational issue and that it’s starting to get a bit far off, you know, to get thing. But yes, also sharing small events … there you do, impressions, events, a fact … the murder, the pots, etc.! ANON: Ah yes, yes.
AD : These are also thing, it’s part of that, as well, the atmosphere of the time ! Of your age, as well! ANON: Yes, that’s it. Because, well, I was only a child !
AD : As it happens, did all your family leave Algeria ? ANON: All of them.
AD : Nobody stayed behind then ? ANON: No one stayed there, eh … no. Apart from my grandfather who died there and is buried in Relizane, you know. Otherwise … otherwise, no one is still over there. To my knowledge! No, no. Nobody is still over there.
AD : On this point, those who are buried over there, was that ever an issue? ANON: No, because, I don’t know how it happened, but at one point, well, it’s true that the cemeteries were abandoned actually, etc. But I think that in … before 1980, I think there was an agreement, no, with all the people in the cemeteries, etc, that they leave the tombs as they are. I think so, eh. But I think that they’ve remained over there, you know.
AD : No, they didn’t destroy them. ANON: They didn’t destroy them, no. Because at one point, it was all abandoned, but that, no … No, no, not at all.
AD : And no desire to go back for them or to repatriate them, as some people have done with the bodies ? No? It’s not your thing? ANON: No, no. For me, well, the problem is that, when we were growing up etc., we notice a lot of thing, we notice that the wars or the movement of war on the left or the right, only served some people, and then … anyhow, you never have on the front line a … a fat cat holding the gun, you know! They send to war [He laughs] the little, poor guys who don’t understand a thing. They don’t understand a thing because they don’t know why they’re fighting. While … anyway, for me, I’m quite … I don’t know, on Algeria, of one thing I am sure, it is an incredible country, I lived … I lived in Oran, we know Oranie a little bit, because we moved around a bit, but there’s a part that I don’t know at all, to the East, Algiers, Tizzi Ouzou, and all the little villages around, it’s pfft … it’s absolutely amazing! Honestly …
AD : You’re talking about when you were there in 1978 ? ANON: Exactly, in 1978. That these people who are older than me, my father, my mother, or others, miss these landscapes, this way of being, because, well, they don’t run about over there, eh, it’s a bit like Switzerland, eh [He laughs], very gentle. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. They miss it, yeah.
AD : Do you remember how people would refer to people like you, did they say ‘pied-noir’, first of all, in Algeria, did they say ‘pied-noir’ ? Among yourselves, how would they …
ANON: Pied noir. Oh no! Among ourselves, no, we were … Europeans ! The European quarter.
AD : And did the term ‘pied-noir’ already exist in ‘pied-noir’ ? Who was it used by ? ANON: It seems to me that it has been … It was mostly used by the … I mean, in my opinion! Mostly by the metropolitan, eh! And also by the Algerians because, well, history says that we arrived with black boots, whatever, well … that’s a load of crap, we know nothing about it, but they called them ‘pieds-noirs’. The Algerian also called them ‘pieds-noirs’!
AD : So the Algerians called you, the Europeans, ‘pieds-noirs’ ? ANON: Yeah, ‘pieds-noirs’ yeah ! ‘Pied-noirs’ or Franssaoui, the French. The French. But the term ‘pied-noir’…
AD : But fundamentally, you didn’t hear it yourself ? While there? ANON: Oh yes I did ! Because, look, I did, it’s coming back to me, because there were these kinds of key rings with black feet. Two black feet! Yes, actually, I think that was made fashionable by the OAS, and then by all the fascists who were … and who waned Algeria to remain French, I think so, I think so!
AD : These keyrings existed in Algeria ? ANON: Yes !
AD : Three-dimensional feet, is that it ? Because I’ve seen some … ANON: Yes, there were two black feet, the feet were black, and the surrounding was white. I think that it was two feet in a circle.
AD : Yes, I’ve seen two distinct feet, like two real feet, but in miniature. ANON: That’s right. I mean, even that, my parents have never … they’re not obsessives, so they didn’t care in any case!
AD : But when was the first time you heard the term, do you remember ?ANON: Oh it was when we arrived in France.
AD : So that was the custom ? ANON: Yeah. It was when we got to France, and yeah, apart from these keyrings, which were in Algeria, otherwise … yes, because, anyhow, when we were there and there were these little fights, it was ‘dirty pied-noir’, dirty whatever …
AD : Ah yes ! On the playground it was ‘dirty pied-noir’? ANON: Yes, yes, of course.
AD : So Arabs who were saying this to you ? ANON: No, they were French !
AD : Ah but… ANON: Here, I’m talking about here !
AD : Yes, in metropolitan France. And over there ? ANON: No. No.
AD : If they insulted you, it wasn’t … ANON: I never had …
AD : You never got into arguments ? ANON: No, honestly ! Honestly, no! I don’t remember the school playground … where there were fights and where … never. Honestly, never. First of all, because of the discipline wasn’t like it is in schools today, because … first of all, there was a lot more of us … And no, no, no! Honestly, no! I mean 12 years old, it’s young to have ... loads of memories.
AD : What does the word ‘repatriated’ mean to you ? It’s one variant. ANON: Well, repatriated is …
AD : You’re repatriated, you have been repatriated, in an administrative sense. ANON: Exactly … so, repatriated in all the sense ! Not only administrative [He laughs] … that’s why I was talking about, just now, about … integration, actually, into the metropole, because repatriation is still something… it’s quite strange because throughout the whole trip, for me, it didn’t shock me at all. But form the moment when there were ‘pieds-noirs’ on dry land in Marseille, the mulling over of it all really began … Because we saw the cadres which arrived as well, with all the clothes, all the little bits that we had over there, because they called them the cadres …
AD : What are they ? ANON: The cadres are these iron things with door where you put clothes, you know, like those thing that travel on the … oh what is it called in French? [ He laughsAD : I dunno, cupboards ? What is it, wardrobe? ANON: They’re kind of … containers !
AD : Oh, containers ! ANON: Containers.
AD : Because you had sent some of your belongings by container ? ANON: Yes, we got them back after. But what they put in containers, they called them cadres, but in the containers, actually, it was all the books, clothes, it was, eh … irons, televisions – no, there was no TV at the time – radios, things, stuff … And all of that arrived in containers, you know!
AD : Oh yes! So you managed to recuperate some of your furniture ? ANON: Not all of it. Because the furnishings and all that remained behind over there, and we salvaged from memory our clothes, actually. And important bits of paperwork, admin …
AD : You mentioned beds ! ANON: No !
AD : Ah no, I dunno, I misunderstood. ANON: No, no, no, not beds. No, no.
AD : So just clothes ! ANON: Clothes, yes, clothes, papers, shoes …
AD : Objects… ANON: Yes, yes, that’s it, No, no, there were no beds. Oh no, no! No, no, there was none of that. It was really just the essentials. Only the essentials left and the rest, it must have been given out to people in the neighbourhood, I think. I think so.
AD : So, repatriated? ANON: So, repatriated was that, it’s the container, it’s opening the contained, I remember, my mother who was crying while opening the contained, because it was all rotten. He had been on the quayside in Marseille for a long time, and we had to throw much of it away. Repatriated, for me … for me, now, because at the time … yeah, it was, it was through integration, actually. It had a link with integration. In what way, I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you, pfff … a repatriation, it’s …
AD : So, do you feel a bit ‘repatriated’ ? ANON: Oh yes! Oh yes, yes, yes ! Well, I wasn’t home, actually … I mean, I wasn’t at home anymore. And … yeah, I wasn’t at home anymore, and the problem is that, it’s a bit like everyone during this kind of event, actually, you’re in a place where there is a circle, an environment, etc., and it is brutally smashed up. And when you get to the other side, actually, there’s nothing. You have to rebuild! For a kid, that can be hard as well! And it’s from that moment that, well, you don’t understand anything anymore, you don’t understand anything anymore … you just try to … to create, well, a new hub, you know, and areas of interest … not the same that we had, but actually, you tend to seek out the same ones, uh … and you go from discovery to discovery, actually, at my age. At the age I had when I was repatriated.
AD : So … what does ‘pied-noir’ mean to you ? ANON: Pfft !
AD : Nothing ? ANON: Now, nothing anymore.
AD : At one point you were ‘pied-noir’ ? You’re no longer ‘pied-noir’, you’re still ‘pied-noir’, you’re … ANON: Well I’m ‘pied-noir’ because I was born there, but well … At a push, I would say that, it should have been like the Tunisian actually, where the Tunisians were Jewish, but Jewish Tunisian, you know. And I would have wanted to me, I don’t know, metropolitan Algerian, you know, something like that, I haven’t a clue [He laughs] … or Catholic-Algerian, I don’t know, I haven’t a clue [He laughs]! No, to my mind, no, not really ‘pied-noir’, because I didn’t have, I mean, I think that I don’t have the ‘pied-noir’ mentality.
AD : What is the ‘pied-noir’ mentality ? ANON: Oh … the ‘pied-noir’ mentality is … that we’re the best, that we’re the strongest, we’re the biggest … this famous song, that they had, I remember, when we were kids, then afterward when I did my military service, we would sing [He sings] “We are proud, to belong, to those who will die”. It’s a bit like that [He laughs]! I mean, it’s idiotic. No, no, no, the mentality, no, no. And I come back once again to the mentality of the parents that I had. I probably arrived at the right place at the right time, when I should have, when they taught me, despite themselves, eh, about humanism, humanism you know. A bit of being a brother to the poor, you know, [He laughs], Franciscan! A bit like that!
AD : A bit communist as well ! ANON: A bit of that ! Anyway, it’s great, a communist, a former nun, I mean, well, it’s a strange mix! And so, isn’t precisely that mentality and that vision that I had, which comes from there, because each one, they are … actually, they’re humanists, they look for the good in others, sometimes by excluding themselves from well-being themselves. I dunno, I dunno. But for me, on Algeria, it’s what I’ve held on to. It’s more an homage to my parents than to Algeria itself, you know. I think so! Yes, that’s it. We have to stop with … because there’s testimony that can be, and which are, or will be, anyhow, exorbitant, tainted by hatred, or sometimes hateful, because … well, I’ve heard it, I’ve also seen people who, ‘the Algerian is still an Arab’ you know. But in the sense that ‘Arab’ means … it’s nothing.
AD : In a derogatory sense? ANON: Exactly, completely derogatory, that they’re absolutely nothing, you’ll get nothing from them, you know. There’s a lot of that. And I think that there are still young people of my age, I think that there are still people like that, because they were systematically bathed in this kind of backward-looking state where people … still remained over there, while being here, you know.
[…]Yes, the only thing to end with, is that what really made my mind up, was to make the connection, actually, the connection with what we call ‘the pieds-noirs’, repatriation and more or less, the immigrants today, you know. You notice that, I mean, once again, this is my feeling, eh, I notice that we’re having more of less the same difficulties, and maybe the same difficulties in terms of integration and reinsertion, if we can call that reinsertion, of some North Africans today [Maghrébins]. While it’s not at all the same thing, although it is exactly the same thing, I think. I think that, actually, it is the same thing. We have some many difficulties, I mean, not for me now but for them a lot more, in the sense that they’re not at home anywhere, you know, not in France, not in Algeria when they go back.
AD : Yes, except that it’s not the case for you, visibly. ANON: It’s not the case for me. For them, it’s worse.
AD : And you have children, you said ANON: Yes.
AD : Are your children ‘pieds-noirs’? ANON: No, they’re French. [He laughs]. It’s stupid ! They’re French, of course. In the same way that the ‘pieds-noirs’ are French, you know, that’s it!
AD : No, but it’s the same thing, because if you were French, you have been, you said to me that you were no longer ‘pied-noir’, but your children are … So it’s something that disappears, then? ANON: Completely, completely ! There’s an origin, but anyhow, the origin is France, eh, since the ‘pieds-noirs’ were French ! Under French administration, the civil status was French, it was all French … no, my children, no.
AD : And do they have any connection to Algeria ? ANON: None. None.
AD : It’s a foreign country, then. ANON: Exactly. None. No connection to Algeria, and we weren’t the kind to … yes, maybe their grandmother must have told stories, eh … to my children, well …
AD : Your mother ? ANON: Yes, my mother. Probably, in her lifetime, she must have told them some stories, either about me or on life over there, probably! But they’re very scattered memories, quite far off, and then, no, no, no. They’re French. They’re born I France, they live like I live, no, no, no, no. No, no. No, no. There’s no connection. There’s no, for me, no nostalgia ! None !
AD : But I mean your children ! ANON: Yes, well exactly ! If there was nostalgia, I would have talked about it to them. But we’re so caught up in day to day life, anyway … I mean, caught up in the sense that we go to work, pay our taxes, we do everything you’re supposed to you know, to get by, but we’re so involved in that that, at the end of the day, it stays in the past … we don’t live in the past.
AD : Since you’ve used the word ‘integrated’, from what moment did you feel like you had integrated ? Can you date it, or talk about a moment where you felt like it had happened? ANON: Well, it’s strange … Because I went through all the same periods, during my first marriage, I remember, I remember … she had an uncle who called me a ‘marron’, I was a ‘marron’!
AD : ‘Marron’? That’s quite derogatory, right? What does that mean? ANON: It was an insult. Well, that I’m not white. That I’m ‘brown’. You know [He laughs]. So that was that, it began like that. It didn’t matter anyway, I got her, we got married, I had children with her, we got divorced afterward, but that was something else, eh … from that point on, I said to myself, old boy you’ve got to do something.
AD : From the divorce ? ANON: No, from the moment that he called me ‘marron’. I must have been 17, 18 years old. That affected me. From that point on, I got interested in politics and I wanted to fight against all these bastards.
AD : And that’s what made you feel like you completely belonged here ? ANON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And integration came about through sport, at a push, a bit through politics, and through the fact that I could develop my own personal political ideas, actually.
AD : You were an activist ? ANON: No, never, never. I’m not an activist, because … you notice that it’s for nothing …
AD : But you could have been elected, or I don’t know … ANON: No ! No. No.
AD : They’re personal reflections instead ? ANON: Absolutely, completely personal. And then I’m maybe still not mature enough to campaign, to be able to fight against certain ideas, because I think that would be more or less violent when faced with racism, faced with the far right [He laughs], I would be violent. I was violent once, without any punches, without that, but just verbally. Because they really got on my nerves, I couldn’t help myself, the guy next to me had nothing else to say and I had to present my arguments, you know. There you go, but it got violent. There you have it, we’re coming back to what I told you until now, you know, it’s …
AD : Okay. ANON: It’s a bit … For me, I find it complicated [He laughs], to be able to live in complete harmony with yourself. Finding the right path, the right way isn’t easy … It’s a reflection, you know, a constant reflection. We’ll see!
AD : It comes with age ! ANON: That’s exactly what I tell myself !
AD : So you are on the right path ! Everyone is on the right path [Laughter] ANON: I’m on the right path [He laughs].