Interview for the Ecomusée du Val de Bièvres
Exposition Pieds noirs ici, la tête ailleurs Date : 29 September 2011
Interviewer: Alexandre Delarge
Inventory number : 2011.13
Transcriber: Annette J.
Alexandre : So, let’s start, could you tell me about your family history in Algeria? José : Well when it comes to pieds-noirs and to Algeria itself, there are different categories of pieds-noirs. So, my parents were refugees from the Spanish Civil War. They left after the war. They weren’t exactly political refugees, my father had political refugee status but my mother, well, they were people who left Spain when Franco. They didn’t have any choice, they could either go to South America, Mexico, or to France which was nearest – and they knew about Argelès [concentration camp for Republican Spanish Refugees] – or Algeria. So, my parents left for Algeria. My father didn’t know my mother at the time. He was 16-17 years old, landed in Oran which all the Spanish pieds-noirs preferred! And my mother, I’d have to look up the dates, but she was younger than my father. She must have arrived, around 12 years old or something like that.
Alexandre : So her parents migrated? José : Her parents yes, and my grandparents on my father’s side,, they came with their parents. My grandparents came over in the ‘40s – I need to look up the dates but it was after the Spanish Civil War.
Alexandre : Yes around that time, but your father, he must have been around 25 or something like that. José : He was younger than that
Alexandre : Yes, she was younger, he was with his parents José : Oh yes, my father was with his parents and so was my mother. My mother’s case is different because my grandfather came to Algeria first. He had been sentenced to death by Franco, so he got out of there. He was sentenced to death in absentia until after the end of Francoism. But he left for Algeria well before the end of the Civil War or just afterward. I can’t say exactly, how long it was between the end of the war and his arrival in Algeria. But no more than 5 years. Around that time. I can’t be too precise.
Well, they were Spanish refugees in Oran, like a lot of people. Oran was really a Spanish community. You didn’t need to be able to speak French. My grandmother practically never spoke French, her French wasn’t very good when we arrived in France because everyone spoke Spanish in Oran. French as well, of course, but Spanish as well. Everyone understood Spanish, and spoke it. So my parents were Spanish refugees, not the children of settlers, French business people or something like that.
Alexandre : They arrived young ! The family arrived in Algeria not that long ago ! José : That’s right
Alexandre : And you were born there ? José : I was born in Oran
Alexandre : I don’t have your date of birth in front of me, you were born in ’53 ? José : In ’53.
Alexandre : Okay, so you left afterwards José : I left Algeria after independence in 1962
Alexandre : Okay, was it during July 5th ? José : huh ?
Alexandre : Do you mean after July, when did you leave ? José : Actually, my parents had no intention of leaving Algeria. Politically, they were on the left. So independence wasn’t completely unfathomable for them. So they could stay after Algerian independence. They didn’t think of leaving. My dad was a cobbler, he was some middle-class guy, weren’t colonists. For them, it was important to stay over there because their work was there. My mother was a seamstress. So I think for them, actually, they left Algeria after independence because something happened in Algeria on the 5th July. I don’t know if you know about that …
Alexandre : I don’t know José : We should. It’s extremely important.
Alexandre : Go ahead, tell me José : It’s very important, you can look it up online. Because there was an FLN demonstration on 5th July, so after independence, 3 or 4 days afterwards.
Alexandre : Independence was the 3rd José : Yes, and the official proclamation was on the 5th, I think. There were demonstrations that ended up in an execution of, the deportation of the pied-noir majority who were in the street. Do you see, it was very important.
Alexandre : Where did this happen ? José : Oran
Alexandre : In Oran José : Oh yes, 5th July in Oran. It was an extremely important event which had gone unnoticed, until now, with the internet. There are things that are coming out of the woodwork. But loads of people disappeared, killed, you know. So, this demonstration descended into violence because of an OAS provocation. But that wasn’t true because the OAS mission wasn’t there anymore. They had all left. There was, actually, some sort of rivalry between two factions of the FLN at the time, Ben Bella, and then another more radical faction. I can’t remember which one was more radical. But there was a provocation in Oran to show that the FLN – who controlled Oran – didn’t have control, if you like, to discredit them. So it was an internal conflict.
Alexandre : A struggle for power José : And loads of people died and my parents got scared and said ‘We can’t stay, let’s go’.
Alexandre : And so you left on - José : 26th July
Alexandre : 11 days later then ? José : Uh, yes it was around two weeks later. My aunt had tried to get tickets for the boat which were really hard to get at the time because everyone wanted to leave at the same time. So it was really, a bit last minute.
Alexandre : You remember it ?José : Because on the 5th, we wanted to stay, but left on the 6th.
Alexandre : But can you remember it ? José : I remember it.
Alexandre : You weren’t older ! José : Yes, I remember. I remember organising our departure. I mean, one of the serious problems we had with that kind of thing was that there weren’t any cases, there were no suitcases left! Everyone was buying suitcases, you went to the supermarket, you went to the Prisunic – it was called Prisunic at the time – that tonnes of stuff. You went to the modern department stores, I can’t remember its name – there were no more suitcases, no trunks! Everyone was on the hunt for suitcases! A funny thing, running around to get suitcases. I remember that, getting suitcases to put things in and then getting the cadres [crate]. Well the cadre is a part of ‘pied-noir’ mythology. It’s a big wooden box where you pack your furniture that they chuck on a boat and you’d get back on the other side in France. They were called cadres. So there were cadre makers, guys who made them and measure them like you would an apartment, according to the available space inside: 12m2, 15m2. The bigger it was, the more you put inside. And I remember that we had one – I can’t remember how big – 12m2, it must have been. We had to put everything inside, all the furniture we wanted to take with us. We put them in these famous cadres, filling them upright to the last minute as I recall. We tried to fill them up as much as possible. There was a little bit of room left and, as my dad was a cobbler, at the last minute he put in this machine for sewing leather. And then we left.
Leaving was a bit scary, with everything that happened on that fateful July 5th which had only been the day before. We were scared that it would start up again. There was worry about … some guys on the FLN side knew my dad, who said to him ‘No, you should stay, we’ll give you a gun’. My dad said ‘No, I can’t, I have to leave’. So we left in a rush.
We got to France, to Marseille. We spent the night with some people who had already got there and then we left. It was like that, bit by bit, staying with a family who had already settled down a bit. So, my grandfather, my maternal grandfather had a brother who had a farm near Toulouse. We went there while my uncle, my mother’s brother, was doing his military service in France. My family on my father’s side were Spanish socialist, communists on my grandfather’s side, so uh, my uncle had communist tendencies and want to take part in the war in Algeria against the Arabs, you now. So he was drafted in France, for three years. Which went he would spend his service in France and not go to Algeria. So he was already here, in Paris, in Bourget near La Porte de la Villette, near Bourget airport. So at that time, he was in the army in Bourget, the air force was there at the time. So he prepared our arrival, we arrived near Toulouse, a little place called Beaumont de Lomange, near Toulouse. More or less. We were there for two weeks, I’m not sure. When I came back to France, I started the new school year and then we landed in Paris, in a two-roomed apartment where my Uncle lived. So we landed there, with 2 families. My mother’s family and then -
Alexandre : In Bourget? José : And a bit of my dad’s family.
Alexandre : In Bourget José : Meanwhile, my dad’s sister, who had been in Algeria, left. But since she was married to a civil servant, they already had somewhere to go. Because civil servants when they left, they had leads they could follow, a job to go to. They weren’t exactly in Paris, but they had somewhere to go. A bit like the postal services, you see. They knew they could come here. So it was a bit different. My parents were French because just before coming – no, I was French, since I was Spanish for a bit -
Alexandre : You were born - José : They had me naturalised, but my parents were Spanish. Alexandre : They were still Spanish José : They were still Spanish
Alexandre : They had you naturalised. I don’t know how that works, how you were, you were born on French soil ! José : No, at the time, it didn’t work like that.
Alexandre : It didn’t work like that José : No, you had to be naturalised
Alexandre : Okay, because José : It was after
Alexandre : OkayJosé : At the time, you took your parents’ nationality and then your parents would decided to naturalise you or not. So I was naturalised.
Alexandre : When you were in Algeria José : When I was in Algeria, very little time before the -
Alexandre : So they had you naturalised, but they didn’t ? José : No
Alexandre : Why, didn’t they want to ? José : No, they made the point of staying Spanish, but they got French nationality a long time later, in France.
Alexandre : Okay José : My dad was quite -
Alexandre : And so, your uncle was there and he was a Spanish immigrant. José : Yes, my uncle, he had to get citizenship as well, he had to I think.
Alexandre : But he came from SpanishJosé : Oh yes, my uncle was born in Spain as well. Alexandre : Both sides José : Everyone was born in Spain
Alexandre : And the ones with the farm ? They were also Spanish ? José : They were also Spanish. But they arrived well before the Spanish Civil War, because there was a lot of immigration.
Alexandre : So what was life like for you in Algeria ? Your lifestyle ? José : Well, lifestyle, that depends, like in all places. Your place in society.
Alexandre : Yes, but for you ? José : Well, as I said, my dad was a cobbler, but, from what I remember. I was born and for 8 or 7 years, we all lived in one room.
Alexandre : Over there in Algeria ? José : In Algeria. We were in an old house where there were Europeans and there were Arabs. And I remember that it was just one room with toilets outsides. We lived there for 7 years. I mean, my parents had their bed there and I had my little bed to one side.
Alexandre : You were the only son ? José : And my dad struggled for a long time as a cobbler. And then he managed to … socially, we advanced ourselves a bit and we managed to rend an apartment next to the cobbler’s which was in the centre of Oran. It was a lot more, well a lot more room, it was great you know. And then a year later we had to abandon ship! [He laughs] There you have it.
Alexandre : They bought the apartment? José : Huh?
Alexandre : No, they rented it ? José : Rented, it was rented. They bought, what was called a ‘bas de porte’ at the time. In other words, a sum of money that you earned at the start, like a kind of deposit, as far as I understood it. But it wasn’t bought.
Alexandre : But it was for the workshop, the shop next door? José : No for …
Alexandre : Oh it was for the deposit, on the flat. José : We lived in this place, and then my mum wanted to have a second child and it was far too small. It was really uncomfortable. It was hot, you know, and then like all people, you prefer to live somewhere bigger. So eventually, the cobbler’s was doing better and all that, so they found this place. I remember that we visited quite a few places at the time, which weren’t bad at all. Eventually, we ended up there, next-door to work, you know.
Alexandre : So they had a little workshop with a shopfront then? José : Actually, they had a cobbler’s, yes a shop front, a wooden bar in the front of a house. Because the houses often opened onto courtyards and then the house was around it. I mean, the living quarters were around it. And in the entrances, there were often these wooden shop fronts. A bit like in Paris in the 19th arrondissement, the 20th. You see things like that still. It was actually like a wooden hut, the cobbler’s.
Alexandre : So really small José : But extremely well located! It was on the busiest shopping street in Oran, where there was a market every day. A market every day where people went to do their shopping. So after a while, they got by, they made their living. It was really busy which allowed us to rent this apartment. So for me, uh, in terms of … but I had a childhood which – I never wanted for anything. At the time, things were different you know. It wasn’t – there weren’t the same temptations as today Now, kids want everything straight away. There wasn’t television, well, there were two chains. Kids would make up games you know, but I never noticed that … even as a kid from a modest background you know, which was the case. I never wanted anything outside of our social class, I mean. On the other hand, with the war, it was everywhere. We were afraid you know, we lived in fear because there were these shootings. When we went out, we walked around Oran and all that, we went shopping where there were shootings. And the 5th July, I nearly went out because my uncle was in the Army and he was on leave in Algeria. And we decided to go to the beach and meet his fiancée. When we left to go meet her is when it all started. So it was me, my uncle, his wife, stuck in Oran, unable to go home. So we took shelter in a house where there were Europeans, they let us in, hoping that the guys with the machine guns wouldn’t start going into houses, killing everyone. So we barricaded the doors with mattresses, it was touch and go.
Alexandre : So you remember people walking around like that, it wasn’t something which was restricted to one area José : No, it was all over Oran. I mean, there were groups of people who were killing anyone who was European, or who they didn’t know. Some people said there were disguising themselves as police, other people said they were real police officers. Actually, they were deporting a lot fo people from place and they were never seen again. You should look into the 5th July in Oran.
Alexandre : Yes, yes. José : There’s a lot of history about the 5th July in Oran on the internet. We were lucky, you know. In that house, then around 6pm it calmed down, the gun fire stopped. So we left, we went home and my parents hadn’t heard from us, thought that we had got ourselves shot and all that. So they had also left at 6pm to come and find us in the street. Well, we found each other but there were bodies in the street.
Alexandre : You remember that José : Yes, yes.
Alexandre : Even if you were 9 years old José : Well, we lived in fear. Because when the FLN attacked it was the same, you know. If you went to the movies and you picked the right screening, everything’s fine. If you pick the wrong screening, it blows up, and people would come out with their arms, legs, blown up. These were the attacks, you know. And on the other side, it was the OAS as well. There were the two sides. So we were living in … Well, as Europeans, wer were scared of the FLN because they targeted areas where there were Europeans. The OAS – they were a bit folkloric because I had family on the left and family on the right, and so we knew people who were in the OAS. And they would dynamite anyone who was on the left, or leaned to the left, sympathetic for the independence movement and all that. But legend has it that when they came to lay dynamite at our house, the guy said ‘I’ll put it next door, you know, in the Arab’s house we blew up last night’.
Alexandre : Yes but that was because you were family. Because the bombing was still quite effective, you know José : quite ?
Alexandre : effective, I mean, they - José : Yes, they were real bombs and things. But I mean, it was a complicated situation because there were people in the OAS who weren’t necessary in the extreme right. There were even socialists who were pro-OAS because, well, they were defending their lives you know. It went beyond the political divide. It’s easy to say in hindsight that ‘Yes, but the political analysis, independence all that’. That’s true, but when it’s your life, the life you’ve built that you have to drop all of sudden. These guys didn’t agree with that. So they took whatever measures, you see what I mean? So the OAS in Algeria, well in OAS, it was a bit folkloric, you know, in my opinion.
Alexandre : And there wasn’t – because there were threats from the OAS, ‘No don’t go, or we’ll shoot you down’, weren’t there threats like that? But maybe not for you. José : Yeah but pfff
Alexandre : Maybe you didn’t see it that way José : Yeah but, for me, at the time, I didn’t – but there were people who were threatened, who were know to be on the left, a bit pro-independence. Independence didn’t really bother me either.
Alexandre : And so, your parents were on that side? José : Yeah, my parents were on the left
Alexandre : Were they threatened ? José : They weren’t especially opposed to Independence. As long as they could stay, you see what I mean? It didn’t bother them. How to put it – they thought that they would be able to live in the same way as before, with even more than before perhaps. It wasn’t really an injustice for people to have their independence. It seems to them that it made sense, politically, you know.
Alexandre : But they were never threatened for that? José : Uh, yes, my grandfather, who was a communist, one day a guy from the OAS put a gun to his head. Because my grandfather worked with my dad in the same cobbler’s. And they said to him ‘We’ll blow your brains out’. But it was empty threats, nothing happened to him. But it was terrifying all the same. It’s true, though, that the OAS led attacks, killed people. They killed communists and things like that. But, it was – as Europeans, we were scared about the FLN attacks.
Alexandre : You were still quite small at the time, do you remember what you understood about all that? What did they tell you? What did you notice, obviously the shootings - José : Oh, when you’re a kid, you believe whatever the last person told you, in general. But I know that –
- to go back to the games we used play as kids. We didn’t have GameBoy or whatever, when you were kids, with friends whose parents were on the OAS side, well you played OAS against the ‘fellagas’ [Algerian fighter]you know. That was the game. It was sort of unthinking. When you’re 8, you don’t think about things politically. When I listened to what my grandfather or uncle had to say, they’d say ‘Yeah the bastard OAS’ and all that. Then we were on the side of the ‘fellagas’ against the OAS. But that was it, we were two things. It was things you pick up on as kids. The only objective thing that you pick up on is the fear. I know that I was afraid. When we came back to France, I mean, when we arrived in France, I can tell you, I breathed a sigh of relief for the first time. It was complete fear. I’m not joking, when you went out in the streets, there was gun fire everywhere, indiscriminate, like moment of panic that were created. You didn’t know if it was the army who shot or if it was the OAS, if it was the FLN. Which it couldn’t be because, before independence the FLN was cordoned off, I mean the Arabs were cordoned off in the neighbourhood called ‘le village noir’ in Algeria, where you couldn’t leave, if they left -
Alexandre : you mean Oran ? José : Yes, sorry, Oran! If they left, it was either madness because they’d get picked off by the OAS, you know! In general, these guys didn’t make it 300m before being shot at – or they left to lead an attack. So they shot them because they thought that they were going to bomb something even if they had nothing on them or some got through the net. It wasn’t the FLN shooting, you know! There were bombings, yes. So it would happen, for example, in the market, in road I mentioned. They would sell vegetables, things like that. So you could get people who came down with the vendors and plant a bomb or something like that. So that could effectively [spread] fear. Either the FLN bombings or the OAS shootings. A stray bullet, you know, something like that. But it was distressing, you know, when you went out in the street, when they opened fire in all directions! Because you didn’t know if you, and the noise of the bullets, that was something! The bursts of gunfire. You don’t know where it’s coming from, if its near or far, if it’s okay, if we’re going in the right direction or not, so it’s really scary, it really terrified me.
Alexandre : So that was it for you, are all your memories of Algeria like that? José : No, no, that’s because it was a period which – I’d say it’s because at one point it was a lot quieter in Algeria, until the age of about 5 or 6, I don’t know, maybe until 1958. It was around that time, before the attacks started happening. Algeria was a laid-back place! Uh, even for people who didn’t have a lot of money. There were this Spanish pied-noir community, uh, my dad was socialist, so there was a whole kind of – of thing which brought all the Spanish socialists together. A kind of socialist cultural centre thing, where people went to go dancing on a Sunday afternoon.
There were a life like that – and, because it’s extremely important, it’s my feeling, on the left, the right and all that, that the people who were really put down were the Arabs. Even by people on the left. It’s a colony – the colony, it means – the point of a colony, originally, is that there a people who are inferior and that’s why you have the right to teach them how to live. That was the feeling, even though we were all good, I remember that my Arab friend as a kid – we still had Arab friends, in the house where we lived, even if you were European and you had 3 Francs and 6 Sous, you’d give something to the Arab so he could eat. There was this kind of quote-unquote ‘condescension’. It wasn’t really condescension because there was still humanity in it, you know! But there was this side, uh, not of being inferior, that’s quite a harsh thing to say, because it suggests a bit, even a bit Nazi, but kind of that we had to teach them how to live, you know! You see what I mean? We had to teach them how to live, or how to do something …
Alexandre : And how did it work with you as a kid? You had some, you played, you went to school José :
So there were some, like anywhere, social organisations like you have in any society. There I was, son of Spanish people, the French pieds-noirs were above us. There used to be a house in France, because we had family in France. Because they were the first settlers. So, we were additions to the work force, the Spanish work force I mean. You could say people who were a bit – how can I put it – a bit less, less well, socially inferior compared to – I mean, I’m generalising here! There are individual cases and, after all, we were settlers, we were still above the, uh, the Arab population even the Spanish emigrés and all that. We were still places above, that’s how it is if you go to Miami, where the Latinos have taken the rank above the blacks, because before there were whites and blacks – and the Latinos have gone in between the two, who, if you like, have supplanted, uh, the social level of the black who really found themselves in the long proletariat struggle, it was totally a bit like that, you know! Even in terms of, everything that was European was socially above the Arabs. Among the Europeans there were different social classes, we were still foreigners compared to the French who had Algerian origins going back to 1900. But well, there was always this kind of ranking which was always there. And for, as a kid, I had French friends who had TVs, who had well, they went on holiday in France, they told us stories that in France there are forest – there are no forests in Algeria. There are sandy beaches. So that way, we were in a lower class which was still there, you know.
Alexandre : Exactly, there were relationships with, you played with, you really had, you went round each other’s’ houses, I don’t know – how did it work? José : Yes, actually, until the events in 1958. People really lived alongside the arabs because there weren’t these attacks, there wasn’t anything like that. The way we lived together wasn’t the same, there were differences. We played together as kids, all that. We did play together. On the other hand, for example, at scool, uh, there was a selectivity. I remember very well, that the arab children had a more difficult time with the language and all that. So, they often didn’t do very well in the – quote-unquote -
Alexandre : in the rankings José : They were all put at the bottom of the class.
Alexandre : Oh I see, not well ranked then José : Not at all, not well ranked, because they didn’t have any access to reading materials or whatever, not as easily as – Well, it’s about culture. When you arrive from Spain, the world war, on my father’s side, we came from the ‘petite bourgeoisie’, if you like, we were a lot more – we had access to education and things like that. We didn’t speak the language, that was the difference but, in terms of our educational level, compared to the Arabs who were really low at the time, there was this difference, you know! The Arab was always at the bottom of the class, even if was able to come to school with everyone else. The reality was that they were always put at the bottom.
Alexandre : And there were a lot of them, what was the ratio ? José : I couldn’t tell you
Alexandre : You don’t remember José : There were a quite a few, but not that many. There were quite a few. Alexandre : And so, you would play in the playground together, even outside school?José : Yeah in the playground, I remember, in a song that I wrote, there’s a passage about this, where I’m playing with my Arab friends when I lived in this house where there were Arabs. Because we lived all together, you know, next door neighbours.
Alexandre : And the big house in Oran afterwards was in 1961. José : No, then, it was just French people in that house afterwards.
Alexandre : And what’s more it was in ’61. José : In ‘60- ‘61, well it was something else, it was a middle-class building. It’s true that in terms of, I remember having a relationship which was a bit – from what I remember you know, it’s not easy -
Alexandre : And did you parents hang out with them as well? José : No, no
Alexandre : It was just the kids who had Arab friends José : I mean, they visited the Arabs, but no, the kids played together because they played – even amongst kids, even with the childish games there were differences. I mean, when we played cowboys, the Arab played the bad guy
Alexandre : He was the Indian José : Yes exactly, he’d play the Indian. Exactly, it was the same with other people. We never had an Arab come to our house for dinner, even if my parents were on the left. It’s not that they didn’t want to. It just wasn’t thought about. If you watch the film ‘Le coup du sirocco’ - I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, you have to see it because it’s a really good illustration of what I was saying. It’s good, a bit dramatic and all that, but still accurate. And you see the relationships for what they really were, I mean, we liked the Arabs, and this story that people like to tell now that, we did live together as French and Arabs, like, ‘Oh well, we get on, I don’t understand why’. No, it’s not true, with a lot of people I talk to, there was always, always, always this big social difference – there was never equality. Of course, we lived together, not beating the cleaning lady if she did her job well. Do you see what I mean? That’s still living together. It’s not equality. There was never equality. There was never, I mean, in any case in my family, which is broadly representative of – I, I, of other families in the same class.
Alexandre : Yeah, and quite progressive if I understand you. José : Quite progressive, but, it was more than that. If you go back to what Marx said at the start of the century, the violence of his racism is breath-taking! When he talks about Africans, things like that, because at the time there were still colonies, and the colony is about teaching people about how to live, if you teach them how to live it’s because they don’t know how to live, that their way of life isn’t right. There was this side to it.
Alexandre : And, uh, as a kid, you learned to speak in French straightaway? José : I went to school and I could only speak Spanish. My parents spoke Spanish, you know, so it was their problem you know, how was I going to – and eventually I learned French very quickly. Within two weeks, I understood what was going on.
Alexandre : Yes, at that age. José : No, I learned at school like that, at nursey, right in the deep end.
Alexandre : So that means you always spoke Spanish with your family. José : Always, always. Later, when I started to speak a bit of French, I couldn’t actually speak French, I spoke French with my mother and Spanish with my father and mother.
Alexandre : Starting from Algeria José : From Algeria, yes, yes, it was Spanish with my grandparents because they didn’t speak French. And I spoke French with my – with people who were a bit, if you life, people who were a bit more fluent in French. With people who found French harder and didn’t speak it very much, actually people who stayed in Spanish, I would speak Spanish with them, yes. It was simpler.
Alexandre : And Arabic, did you speak Arabic? José : Oh no, it’s the same thing as inviting an Arab to your house. Arabic speakers tended to be the settlers at school.
Alexandre : You mean, the exploitative types? José : They needed it to communicate. But in town, like it was in Algeria, we spoke Arabic words, such as ‘Hurry up, how much is it?’ you know, things like that. It was more in the farming regions, in the villages, uh, but in town no, the ‘pied-noirs’ didn’t necessarily speak Arabic. When I say, spoke Arabic, I mean be able to hold a conversation – words, things, the daily expression that you learn like that, we knew those I mean, amongst Europeans even – the Europeans would speak a kind of Arabic.
Alexandre : You had conversations José : Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Alexandre : And, uh, I’ll go back to, generally, it seems quite clear how that could happen in Algeria. Later, your father, you came back, did you father carry on with the same job, he was still a cobbler or did he change? José : No, no, he worked as a cobbler. It was extremely difficult, because over there, he was an artisan, he had his shop. He even had people who worked for him because after a while he managed to grow his clientele. So he even had workers. And when he came here, he lost it all. I mean, he had to find a job as a cobbler but as an employee. So he worked for quite a few different bosses in conditions that were good and bad. After a while, he managed to get his on shop and be an artisan again.
Alexandre : Uh huh. And your mother ? José : My mother was what you’d call a seamstress in Algeria. Near the end, when my dad was doing quite well, she managed to stop working. After all, my brother was born around that time, when we arrived here in Paris, we had to go back to work. Even a bit of cleaning, housework, and sewing, shortening the hems for neighbours, kid’s trousers, that kind of thing. A bit of work between neighbours, cash in hand, to be able to – and after a while she got into the Galeries Lafayette, working as an adjuster for clothes. So always in that kind of work. They had a tough time, I mean, a difficult period of about 10 years, between their arrival from Algeria until the 70s, it was tough, you know. Later on, he started to work again in a good way, he worked a lot.
Alexandre : That was when he managed to work self-employed, is that? José : No, he was self-employed a long time before that, but he struggled for a long time. It had started to get really busy, uh, in the ‘70s when he died of cancer.
Alexandre : Ah well, that’s unlucky [José laughs]. So you had your brother then? José : So, my brother, he -
Alexandre : After your arrival? José : No, he was born in Algeria in -
Alexandre : in Algeria. José : He was born in ’60. No, in ’61, so he 1 years old when we left. He was barely 1 years old, 11 months even, so for him Algeria is -
Alexandre : It’s not really real, blurry José : His only memory is of the plastic that went off below our house – which sent my mother off in a rush to give birth.
Alexandre : The plastic ? A bomb? José : Yes, a bomb. Because there were bombs ever night, and when it was close it made a lot of noise.
Alexandre : And that triggered her labour, is that it? José : Well, yes, she left, so he must remember the sound of it.
Alexandre : You’re saying that you imagine that he remember it [They laugh].José : He must remember the noise.
Alexandre : And so, for the – you arrived in Montpellier, living with an uncle? José : No, no, not Montpellier. Near Toulouse.
Alexandre : Oh yes, sorry, near Toulouse, then later Le Bourget? José : Le Bourget
Alexandre : And then, how long did you stay at Le Bourget? José : We were in Le Bourget while we adapted, overall, we were there for a month or a month and a half. And then my parents found an apartment, they bought it, they bought a 2-bed in the 13th arrondissement, with the credit at the time which was astronomical. But at the time, it was a lot, for them it was a lot.
Alexandre : Especially since they weren’t very settled economically! José : Well, at the time the problem was the housing crisis. There was very little available to rent. So you had to try and buy. It was a little thing, 2 rooms, a kitchen, in the 13th arrondissement in a building which was completely unsanitary. And at the time, it must have cost 25 thousand Francs, if I remember, it was the price at the time. I always remember their monthly repayments which was 260 Francs.
Alexandre : You have a great memory. José : Oh yes, I remember because these 260 Frances, which must be the equivalent of – I don’t know – 1200 Euros, a monthly repayment. So, they bought it and there you have it – moved into the 13th, my mother, my mother, my father and me.
Alexandre : And then? José : And then life went on, I went to school in the 13th.
Alexandre :Did you live in that flat for a while ? José : We stopped moving around. Until the ‘70s, when my father bought his shop. After years of, ever since he arrived, he had a couple of employers like that. Then he moved to Porte de Clignancourt at first, into a shop, he managed it. Oh no, actually I’m talking nonsense, because he didn’t go straight in as an artisan. While he was at Porte de Clignancourt, he managed it, he didn’t own the shop. So, that’s when we, since there was a flat above the shop.
Alexandre : Oh, so it was when he bought it José : Exactly, he moved flats, we left the apartment that we had in the 13th to another spot in the 13th at Poterne des Peupliers. That’s when we changed apartments. But that’s all about, compared to the pieds-noirs, it isn’t –it’s about changed in your life, I mean, actually, rebuilding your life. In fact, when my father left Algeria he must have been 35, something like that. Or 39, when he left. At 39, he already had his life which was, especially, as an artisan, he had his livelihood that he had built, a place in society that he had built, day after day. Building a clientele, I mean it’s not something that falls on your lap, it’s not a job like that, it’s really a thing. And when you get to 39, and you have nothing left, you’re starting form scratch as if you’re 17 and you have to start again. You start a new life, you know. Later, when he got his shop and we moved into the flat, it was like the reconstruction of his life was complete. It wasn’t just a change in circumstances. He really hard to rebuild everything.
Alexandre : As you say, it was hard, uh, I imagine it wasn’t the same thing for you. But for your parents, how did it manifest itself, I don’t know, do you remember any instances, depressions? José : Well, I remember the first Christmas we spent in Algeria, uh, in France. Coming from Algeria, uh, over there in Algeria, Christms was a special celebration. I mean, my aunt would dress up as Father Christmas and we had presents and things, it was a great party. And later, we arrived in July so our first Christmas was in December. I remember it very well, we were watching TV, it was cold, my dad had a kind of dressing gown because the flat was damp, we were in this house they’d bought, and they were crying. And they were watching the TV, there were these Christmas songs, I don’t know which ones. Compared to the ones that we had had in Algeria, I remember that, well, for them to buy me a presents, it was very tall order because they had no money. My grandmother said ‘well, I’m going to get you something nonetheless’ and I remember, we couldn’t go crazy, my mother had given us a budget. I think that it was, uh, I don’t know if it was 50 Francs, a thing like that. I managed to get a thing that cost 60 Francs because my grandmother push it to an extra 10 Francs. So we had fallen on hard time, while in Algeria, we were fine. I could ask for whatever I wanted, well not whatever I wanted, but it was … we really in a miserable situation. And I remember my father crying that night, Christmas night, he was crying. My father always wanted to go back to Algeria, even after being here.
Alexandre : And your mother ? José : Because there were people who stayed behind over there and who sent him letters saying, for example, there was someone who look after, to whom he had left the shop. He said to him “Yeah, you have to come back, it’s going well here”. My father was always tempted to go back to Algeria because here in France, it was a real struggle! And anyway, very shortly afterward, these people also came over to France, the economic situation wasn’t viable. Because in order to repair the shoes, you also have to sell shoes, people have to buy them, you know! It wasn’t working. People didn’t have the money in Algeria, after independence, people weren’t getting their shoes fixed, you know!
Alexandre : And so, he never got used to living in France? José : No, no, not really. Not really.
Alexandre : And your mother ? José : It was easier for my mother, yeah, my mother, well it depends on your mentality. My mother is more open, was more open, to looking for new things like that. While my father was more traditional. He never got used to it. A little bit towards the end, just before getting sick. He got accustomed to it, because he managed to get himself into a stable situation. But there was always a bit of pain. Even in Algeria, he was still a bit Spanish, he wasn’t like, the pieds-noirs are French, but my father never felt ‘pied-noir’. My father was a Spaniard, the pieds-noirs were French, uh, later we became ‘pied-noir’ by definition, but his mentality was that he was Spanish, not French.
Alexandre : and are you? José : Uh, I’m French because, for me, I have my Spanish side because it’s my mother culture, but I’ve always lived in France somewhere. I was born in Algeria, but it was France.
Alexandre : And pied-noir ? José : pied-noir
Alexandre : You are pied-noir José : Uh, good question [Thinks] I don’t proclaim the fact that I’m pied-noir, do you see what I mean? I’m not … It’s not my identity. If it’s an identity, because that’s what people call me, but uh, there’s a pejorative side to it, all the same, tied up with it.
Alexandre : You don’t call yourself that, you mean? José : No, when I say to people, so now there’s another side, it’s when you say that you were born in Algeria. You have to specify that you are pied-noir because if not, you’re an Arab and I’m not an Arab either. So I’m forced to say it, you know, in order to explain it to people. That’s I am pied-noir, so I’m a French person from Algeria, but I don’t claim it either, like that. Uh, maybe because I came when I was young that I don’t have it. But even a big part of family, which came later, have never claims the ‘pied-noir’ side. It’s the French, it’s the French pieds-noirs for claim it. But the ‘pied-noir’ association stuff, it wasn’t for us, in my family.
Alexandre : And what it like for you, coming to the metropole? José : Because, actually, the pieds-noirs, they’re like anybody else, you know! They’re like everyone else, I mean. Just because you’re pied-noir doesn’t mean you’re not like everybody else. There are nice pieds-noirs, there are idiots, there are whatever. I mean, it’s why we’d announce ourselves as pieds-noirs because we are all from the same place, share the same folklore, I would say something cultural. It’s not about, I would say, communautarisme, it’s not – we have the same folklore, maybe it’s a bit pejorative but we have the same identity like that, culture, you know. We react – for example – there’s a thing called, which you could put into your exhibition, I don’t know.
Alexandre : Yeah, go ahead, I’m listening José : Are you going to make things to eat?
Alexandre : Well, we thought about it but not for the exhibition but maybe on the opening day. José : Because there’s a dish called Kalentica. A traditional dish from Oran which is like a kind of flan made with olive oil and chickpea flour. And the other day, I don’t know why, I wanted to watch a recipe video on the internet, and there are loads of people who talk about that kind of thing. Which is actually a kind of flan that’d we’d eat as kind when we left school, you’d eat it hot in a -
Alexandre : Oh it’s served hot? José : Yes, it’s served very hot in a bit of newspaper, and that’s what gave it flavour! [They laughs] The newspaper wrapped around it and there was a guy who was talking about it and it was exactly right. It’s Proust’s Madeleines when you talk about it! The word, you get the smell which comes back to you. So we have this identity side to the smell, to songs as well. Because as a musician, because sometimes I do things for the FNACA [ Fédération nationale des anciens combattants en Algérie, Maroc et Tunisie (FNACA)] or for people who have connections to Algeria or things like that. I’ve ended up doing, there’s, for example, there’s are popular songs that people refer to. I don’t just mean Enrico Macias, who came later because Macias is a different thing. He’s a storyteller, but for the lived experiences of people it’s Dario Moreno, singers like that. The Latino-Americans who came on tour in Oran, the, Gloria Lasso, there’s a whole popular heritage. So, I know where people recognise themselves, you know! The jokes, things like that, the way of life, the anisette, the apéro, loads of things, that you get in the South, in Marseille, or I don’t know where. It’s kind of the popular way of life, like that, daily life, yes, there’s really this pied-noir side, you know. Well, I mean, that’s the folklore, you know. For the rest, people are all different from each other, it’s not, and then, the only point in common is political at a certain point, they had an option. Most of the peids-noirs were against independence. So that’s what they have in common, it’s not a small thing, it’s an important thing that people converge around, politically, around this thing. Whether you’re on the left or right. Because you shouldn’t believe that people on the left were for independence, I can assure you. There were people here and so and even in France, even in France in the communist party, take someone like Albert Camus with his declarations on the attacks, on Algeria, or things like that. Go online you will see this guy, he wasn’t very clear either, a guy on the so-called left, well, you shouldn’t really touch his Algeria, there are limits you know. That’s a colony thing, that you forget, that we forget, because with history – Look at the Spanish, they colonised the whole of South America in a way that was a lot worse, extermination and so on. But now, it’s normal, who holds it against them that they exterminated half of the Indians of South America, it’s become normalised. Look at South America, they speak Spanish and everything. There’s always this Spanish side, there was always this side to the Spanish because, I make South American music, so I have been in contacts with some Indians and all that, there’s still this very complex side, this uh, Spanish side, thing. But after that happened, the world is made that way, the world was built through war, colonisation, invasion.
Alexandre : And you were saying that there is this cultural heritage, or, I don’t know what, can we talk about, this way of life, humour, what is it, is there a specific pied-noir humour? José : Uh, there’s the accent to start with. So the pied-noir accent, actually, it’s – there’s first of all a pied-noir language. What we can call the pied-noir language. It’s something that they call ‘le jaico’.
Alexandre : That comes from Spain, clearly, ‘le jaico’. José : Well, exactly, I don’t know exactly where that comes from because actually the Spanish pieds noirs mix Spanish with French, I mean, that they mistakes, what we call “faux-amis” [‘false friends’], I mean that they, uh, make up words, either Spanish taking Spanish words that they bring over more or less so that sounds like French. Or the French who bring over words when they speak with Spanish people, uh. For example, uh, to say ‘pente’ [slope] we say ‘pentica’. The ‘pentica’ is a mixture between ‘pente’ and ‘costita’, which is a Spanish thing, it’s mixture like that. There was this way of speaking. And later there was this way of speaking, the intonation. [He speaks French in a ‘pied-noir’ accent]. You see, in my opinon, that’s pied-noir, with Arabic intonations. Do you see what I mean? Uh mixed with French. That’s how I’ve always imagined it, as a kind of intonation that you find in Arabic, mixed with French. And Italian, because there were Italian and Spanish people. This mixture of the three intonations that you now find in Argentina. If you like, in Argentina they speak Spanish with an Italian accent. I mean, people speak Spanish but it comes out in this Italian accent, because actually Argentina is packed with – it wasn’t colonised by them – but there was a massive migration of Italians. So it stayed like that, they’ve kept the accent and, later, the official language was established at random but with these intonations.
Alexandre : Um okay, and so, how do you spell ‘Jaico’? José : J-
Alexandre : Okay, JJosé : A
Alexandre : A-I José : I
Alexandre : C-O José : C-O, but it’s really a written word.
Alexandre : It’s not written. José : It’s spoken language.
Alexandre : Okay José : Jaico is a mixture.
Alexandre : So, there was a pied-noir language in Oran? José : Yeah
Alexandre : And on the Algiers, Constantine side, they would speak pataouëtJosé : Oh yes, pataouët is different.
Alexandre : Yes was it spoken elsewhere or what? José : PataouëtAlexandre : or was there < i>pataouët where you lived, in your neighbourhood in a specific part of Algeria? José :
Uh, no, it’s a bit like - pataouët is different. I think that < i>pataouët - I might be making stuff up I’m not sure - jaico was spoken between pieds-noirs, and pataouët was when an Arab tried to speak French.
Alexandre : Ok.
José : That's Pataouët – you can get the ‘La Fontaine’s Fables’ in pataouët. That’s important for your exhibition!
Alexandre : ‘La Fontaine’s Fables’ in pataouët. José : Oh, it’s really important. [Alexandre laughs]. ‘La Fontaine’s Fables’ in pataouët, the wolf and the lamb: “One day it was hot, hotter than the sirocco wind, a little sheep who was thirsty of it a lot, went off to the oued, the water was as cold as ice, which me my brother told”. You see, that’s pataouët. It’s Arabic mixed with French with uh, actually, the mental construction of Arabic – I can’t find the right word, uh, with French words but still. ‘A little sheep who was thirsty of it a lot’, if you translate it word for word, that’s how it would be said in Arabic, but with French words. That’s what you get, pataouët.
Alexandre : And so, why do you think that it’s really important that there’s ‘La Fontaine’s Fables’ in pataouët? Because it wa a register, uh, it was used a lot you could hear it often? José : Because ‘La Fontaine’s Fables’ in pataouët is part of all that. To be frank, it took the piss out of the Arabs, because they spoke like that. The Arabs didn’t write La Fontaine’s Fables in pataouët. It was part of this colonial teasing, do you see? That won’t please the pieds-noirs.
Alexandre : a comedian, [José laughs], he’s a comedian. José : I don’t know.
Alexandre : But will we find it José : I don’t know it exists. I gave my uncle this book, I could maybe find it for you, I’ll have to call him.
Alexandre : Yes, but we’ll have to find a recording as well as a written copy. José : Huh ?
Alexandre : Well written, it loses some of its flavour José : Yes but there aren’t any.
Alexandre : There aren’t any written copies José : One thing that was really ‘pied-noir’ was the Hernandez family. Have you heard of it? The Hernandez family were a theatre troupe, so it was really important for ‘pied-noir’ culture. It was a bit like ‘Plus belle la ville’ on the TV in Marseille. It was about life in the local neighbourhood of pieds-noirs. That was one of those things, uh, and pataouët is that actually, Arabs who speak French… Well I think that’s it, I always heard that, later there were different versions of it. Some people said that pataouët is this, pataouët is that.
Alexandre : So the Hernandez family perform in the, the -? José : It was in ‘pied-noir’, in classic ‘pied-noir’.
Alexandre : But did you see them perform ? José : Huh
Alexandre : They were plays that you saw in the theatre, no? It was on the TV? José : Uh, there were records, they came in vinyl records. Sound recordings. The Hernandez family were Robert Castel, who was an actor who later took roles in France as an individual actor, you know. It was a pied-noir theatre troupe.
Alexandre : Well, was it in jaico and pataouët. But that wasn’t necessarily how you spoke? So, it’s language, relationships, everything that made up ‘pied-noir’ culture. José : Yes, well, what makes ‘pied-noir’ culture for me – I mean, it’s my perspective as a kid at the time – I don’t have an adult perspective, I don’t have this point of view of, of, of – First, we were more in the Spanish community in Algeria so, we met French pieds-noirs but let’s say that, it was like in any town, village, there was feeling of a popular culture you know? And for pieds-noirs it was anisette, it was Sundays on the beach, it was a shared heritage. Everyone, it was the ‘corridas’ [bull fighting] because there were ‘corridas’ in Algeria, you know, it was food. Food was really …
Alexandre : Apart from Karantika what food was there? What would you eat? José : Well, actually, for me, we ate Spanish food. Uh, I know that for pieds-noirs who are Italian it’s the same, an Italian thing would be ‘polenta’, things like that. Otherwise …
Alexandre : And for you? What Spanish food? José : Paëlla
Alexandre : Paëlla José : Paëlla, it’s quite a basic thing. We ate a lot of fish. But we ate whatever was being produced in town. It was a town with a lot of fishing, so we ate a lot of fish. But for me, it’s the same, you know, there wasn’t any couscous, I discovered couscous when I came here. Even in terms of food – I’m talking about Oran, in my neighbourhood, and according to my memory from when I was 9 years old – I’m not talking for everyone, even couscous was an Arab thing, it wasn’t a, it’s was almost a thing that –. As a kid, I remember hearing about couscous. It was something that we’d see, for example in our building where we lived, where there were Arabs who made couscous and we’d take it. Well, we would see it being prepaid, you know, the women had this paste, red hands, stuff.
Alexandre : HennaJosé : So they made semolina with it, it was gross, a thing thing like that, there was this side.
Alexandre : Oh so, you would take some couscous, with your neighbours, you - José : Yeah
Alexandre : There was a system where you would share food? José : Yes
Alexandre : Both ways José : Yes, both ways. I mean, actually, the Arabs would bring us couscous and sweets, and things, all that. And my parents would lend them money, we’d give them cash if they were broke. There was this side to it.
Alexandre : So, they wouldn’t share some paëlla José : No, no.
Alexandre : It wasn’t - José : No
Alexandre : It wasn’t entirely symmetrical José : No, you can see the difference there. Essentially, we gave them money but it wasn’t an equal share. I mean, when we lend them money, it means that there put at a lower level in a way. And the other person that brings you something will bring you whatever they can. It was in the little details like that where you see it wasn’t an exchange. There was a difference. So there was a difference, so this story about cohabitation, there was cohabitation because people lived side by side. But it was an equal cohabitation, that’s not true. When you hear that in reports on the TV, it’s nonsense, you know. Because you can have people who are being exploited live alongside the people who exploit them. Even if a small business holder doesn’t realise it, that he’s exploiting, uh, he’s in the same system, you now, he’s at a level when he still taking part in the exploitation. Even if it’s as an underling, he’s still a beneficiary of this exploitative system.
And so, you can’t talk about, what’s more with this ideological side that we still carry, colonisation. We still have the principle, the fact that you teach people how to live, who don’t live normally, you know. Who are a bit quote-unquote savage, you know. So, that’s the ideological basis which meant that colonisation could take hold. Why would we arrive somewhere if it isn’t to colonise people, if it’s not to teach them how to live, if it’s not to nick their belongings, which makes us thieves! Eh well, so the things that absolves is that we bring culture, that we bring civilisation. Later, it becomes clear that it’s not the basis of colonialism. So if there isn’t this, this colonisation, there always have to be that what we did was for the good of others. Because there’s condescension for the poor which means that it’s like that – that’s the basis. I’m not sure my ‘pied-noir’ friend … [José and Alexandre laugh]Alexandre : And the couscous that they brought you, you said it put you off a bit, but did you eat it anyway or did you put it in the bin? Just occurred to me.
José : Good question, yeah it was difficult to stomach because … this ideological side like that, the differences was really, really deep. It was visceral. Do you see what I mean? It’s not something that, if, that’s what is really awful about colonisation, is that it really gets into people’s subconscious when it’s repeated that these people are inferior, they’re not like you. And you start to feel that as a reality. That’s an example, essentially there was this repulsive side to the food, you know, when we arrived in France we saw people fall over themselves to find somewhere to eat couscous in the restaurants in Paris. We said to ourselves ‘But they’re crazy, they’re sick those guys!’. [José and Alexandre laughs]Alexandre : And became the national dish! José : Huh
Alexandre : It’s become the national dish José : Exactly, you know that’s the quote-unquote interesting things about colonisation. It’s how people who, even if politically they are – because, people say this guys is a colon [settler], he’s making money, he’s exploiting people, he didn’t want to leave – I can begin to think that he planned the whole thing, he arrives, he’s a settler. But when we entre this, uh, intermediary phase, socially and that, we still get this mentality, that when it’s really depraved in the ethical difference between peoples. It quickly get embedded in people’s subconscious.
Alexandre : Um, okay, let’s cross the Mediterranean. You arrive, I was wondering when, what were relationships like for the ‘pathos’ [another term for a French settler in Algeria]. I don’t know, maybe they didn’t call you ‘pathos’ when you arrived. José : So the ‘pathos’, the French were called ‘pathos’ in Algeria, of course, and it was, uh, people who also lived in Algeria but didn’t have any, uh, people who came to work, for example, who were French and were in Algeria.
Alexandre : Okay, for short term work José : Exactly, who worked. Who were sent on missions from France, they were ‘pathos’. The ‘pathos actually came from, I mean I think, I’m not sure where that came from. I think that ‘pathos’ in Spanish means ‘duck’. But I never understood why, if it came from the word ‘duck’, or where it came from as an expression.
Alexandre : Yeah, so when you got to France, what was it like with the French from France, from the metropole? José : Uh, quite bad.
Alexandre : For you ? José : I mean, quite bad. Well the whole thing reverse, the quote-unquote racism, was turned against the pieds-noirs. I mean, for example, in the square people would say to me ‘Go back to your country!’.
Alexandre : Oh yeah José : So, kids would talk about you know, go back to your country. It’s because, it so happened that, well, the French pieds-noirs had the advantage. Because they took most of the – buildings had been constructed for me, they took the HLMs [social housing blocks] as a priority and all that. So people who had been waiting for a long time to get housing say all these people come before them so, we already were getting a reputation as colonisers, arriving with these suitcases full of cash. It was things like that. Like they say, ‘one hand in front, on behind’ that’s the ‘pied-noir’ expression.
Alexandre : Naked José : We left naked, one hand in front, one hand behind, and the suitcases stuffed with cash [José laughs]. It’s the classic thing that they say about the pieds-noirs. They were loaded, the were cry babies, things like that. That they came back with loads of money. They didn’t have any problems. Some of them were organised and did have money over there and money over here. A whole load of people who were intermediaries, small business owners and all that. Le coup Sirocco is a film which is really worth watching, because it’s a good film, and it tells the story of this racism at that time. In Le coup Sirocco, the guy has grocery shop, so when he gets to France, in a horrible little hotel, he has to rebuild his life and so he gets a job in a convenient store. Because we should note that some settlers or the quote-unquote settler mind-set, is one about taking the initiative, you know. I mean, when you get somewhere, there’s nothing there, and we – that’s another reason why people didn’t want to leave. Because even if they felt somewhere that the country wasn’t really theirs, they had build, they had built things. That’s also important. It’s difficult to be a builder and then drop it. So the guy’s in a convenience store. He’s put on the fruit and veg stand in the pied-noir way. I mean, something that brings in lots of people, peppers and things. He brings in people, he had a clientele, you know, he goes “Come and look, whatever, all that, it’s the pied-noir stand, and all that”. And the boss turns up one say and says “Uh put that away, this isn’t the casbah”. So that’s the kind of the little racist thing, like “Go back to your country”. You’d get dirty looks, even more so because we were Spanish. I mean, my parents didn’t have the same correct, fluency in French. So there was this side to it. It wasn’t malicious, because later there was this human side to it. But at the time, when there was this mass migration of Spanish people in France, people who came to work, which was linked to the Spanish Civil war, which was more economic migration at the time. It’s like the Roma, it’s not like … It was Spanish people who migrated, who got there, so there was a level of mistrust and all that. But we didn’t suffer from it too much.
Alexandre : But your French is perfect ? José : Yes, mine is.
Alexandre : With an accent a bit José : At the start, I had to have had a bit of a ‘pied-noir’ accent but I adapted to it, in terms of accent. I mean, when I speak with Latin-Americans, Ecuadorians, they don’t speak the same way. I manage to immediately pick up their accent, I end up speaking liking them, I pick up accents really quickly.
Alexandre : And so, despite all that, did you also experience with those kinds of rejections? José : Yeah, but that not too much. Some time, I’d get “Go back to your country”. But it still hurt.
Alexandre : And I wonder if it was the same, because eventually you went to the South, maybe not for very long, then around Paris. Was the feeling the same, like in the metro, because there wasn’t the same amount in the South as there was in the Ile de France region. José : Well, I cannot analyse it accurately, because we were staying in a tiny village, so we didn’t really have a lot of contact.
Alexandre : Near Toulouse. José : So I don’t really remember the reception we had.
Alexandre : You couldn’t have stayed for long ? José : But I think it must have been the same because, I think that even the fact of coming to Paris, the big city, there were places with different kinds of nationalities and cultures present. There were Russians and things, polish, that whole side, they weren’t French but it was easier. So, my aunt was in the Yonne, where there were a lot of pieds-noirs. There was a big difference in the culture, which meant adapting was difficult. But pieds-noirs adapted wherever they went. Because the pieds-noirs have this generous side, even if it’s just showing off sometimes, still, a pied-noir is someone who like to connect with others. Because what really surprised us was when people didn’t talk. In the building where we lived, in the house where my parents bought their apartment, people didn’t say hello in the stairwell. And elsewhere, I’d cross loads of people in my street. And it was always awkward, so in Algeria, it was a thing that was really – you didn’t know anyone, you walked passed but you said hello, if you’re on the same floor or a different door there were people who didn’t say hello to us. They opened the door, shut the door, and we walked by and they didn’t say hello and that was something that really – even for me as a kid. It really shocked me. I said to my ‘But why won’t they say hello’.
Alexandre : And it was because you were pieds-noirs? José : No, no, it’s because of their customs
Alexandre : Because it isn’t done José : Now, people don’t say hello to each other either. I’ve been going to Salsa classes for 7 years, you dance with a lot of people, you dance together you know, well it’s ‘Hello’, ‘Good evening’. Most of the time, they don’t even say goodbye or hello when they arrive. But that’s the way of life in Pairs. That warm side doesn’t exist anymore. I think that was the hardest thing, and I think that pieds-noirs would meet up a lot because, it’s true that they would meet up a lot as a community and all that. But let’s say that they like to be together because there’s this warmer side to them, the memory that comes back.
Alexandre : And so, tell me, why did your parents come back to Paris in the end? Other than your uncle, because there was also your uncle in the south? José : No, no, well, it was my mother’s brother who was there. Well there was work in Paris, you know. There was work, the biggest chance of finding a job at the time in Paris.
Alexandre : So it was really - José : But, it could have been Marseille, it could have been Nice. There were places where there were loads of pieds-noirs. Perpignan. I have a holiday house in Perpignan. It’s full of pieds-noirs. They drew me over there, but they were the pieds-noirs who left during the Spanish War and who arrived in France.
Alexandre : Spanish pieds-noirs José : Uh, I mean, the refugees, not pieds-noirs.
Alexandre : So there are loads of Spanish people José : Spanish people who came to France. The pieds-noirs went straight to the town because they already had an anchor there. So, that’s why people went to Perpignan, they were people who had Spanish family in Perpignan. And we, we didn’t have family anywhere. We had family near Toulouse but it was an uncle we didn’t know very well. We landed there randomly. After two weeks we went to Paris.
Alexandre : Where there was another uncle? José : And we knew someone who had place to crash. Once my father found work quite quickly because he was a very good cobbler. He found a job quite quickly. But my dad was an artisan deep down and he couldn’t stand his bosses. So he struggled a little bit with the work. At a certain point, he had had enough of bosses, really he was an artisan and he didn’t want to have a boss.
Alexandre : Do you remember the first time you heard the term ‘pied-noir’?
Was it in Algeria? José : Yeah in Algeria.
Alexandre : You heard it there. José : Yeah.
Alexandre : Was it between ‘pieds-noirs’, or not? Or were you too little to know? José : No, because in Algeria, people, yes they’d say we were ‘pieds-noirs’. But I mean. It’s true that we heard it more in France as a social category. Because we were pieds-noirs in Algeria but well, the people who lived in Algeria were ‘pieds-noirs’.
Alexandre : Um, according to what you’ve said, it was kind of pejorative? reJosé : It was less about culture when they say ‘pieds-noirs’ here in France. It’s all that. It’s the food, music, things like that, the sun. It’s life in Algeria when they say ‘pied-noir’. Over there, ‘pied-noir’ it’s like when you said ‘Bourguignon’ or ‘Catalans’ you know. Every time you’d say ‘pied-noir’ it was everyday life, so we were ‘pieds-noirs’ because, you know, I knew in France what ‘pied-noir’ originally meant.
Alexandre : What does it mean ? José : It’s about the, the. At the time of the initial colonisation in the 1900s, the Arabs didn’t wear shoes, they often went bare foot in the Maghreb and all that. And the French had black boots. The soldiers, and so that’s where it comes from. They wore black shoes. They were the ‘pieds-noirs’. It comes from that.
Alexandre : Well, it’s an odd origin. José : Yes, yes, the real origin is that the soldiers had black boots. So all the settlers later became ‘pieds-noirs’, the French were people with black boots, black feet.
Alexandre : And, to follow up on the welcome to France, you were saying that there a certain amount of mistrust, rejection or racism. But there were mechanisms of support. Were you also assisted, helped … not necessarily you specifically as a kid, but your parents when they arrived? José : In terms of support?
Alexandre : Yeah José : Uh, quite little.
Alexandre : Quite little. José : Yeah, quite little. Maybe in other places where people were more concentrated. In Paris we were quite isolated, you know? We didn’t have other pieds-noirs around us. We had a few friends who came from Algeria and all that, we saw each other from time to time. But there wasn’t really a system of support among pieds-noirs. Because actually, the pieds-noirs who were French, we got housing quite quickly because they could get housing, benefits, things like that, all the same. Often they were people who worked in administration, they found work here. The ones who worked in business no. I, the support side of things, it isn’t something I remember particularly, in the sense of financial assistance.
People adapted quite quickly. That’s the strength of pieds-noirs. I mean, being the first to head out. You see it in South America too. Sometimes I see people here who come from South America, who are really young. Who aren’t even my kids’ age who still come home for dinner, still unsure of themselves. And I see these 18 year old kids who from the back end of nowhere and arrive in Paris and within a week they’re looking for work. The side of the quote-unquote ‘conqueror’ like that. It’s not scary to arrive in a new place, we are able to adapt really well. With the passage of time, with hindsight, 10 years isn’t very long, in 10 years they rebuild their lives. It’s because there’s some kind of energy inside, a thing, you know. It’s also why they didn’t really like the pieds-noirs. Because they got by really quickly, faster than the metropolitans. Because they had the mindset to take the initiative. And there were people who didn’t like that because, you know.
Alexandre : And for yourself, later, when you left your parents, you went straight to Cachan? José : Oh no, no, I stayed in the 13th arrondissement with my parents until I was – later I got a student style pad and I cam to Cachan because I’d met Claire, uh, who you know, who lived in Cachan.
Alexandre : She was the one who told me about you. José : There you have it, that’s how, and then it was life as normal which has nothing to do with [Algeria].
Alexandre : How long have you lived in Cachan, it’s been a while? José : Uh, officially, since around ’75, so that’s 35 years.
Alexandre : Yes, so not as long as since your arrival in France. José : No, no, no. They were short period, I started living in Cachan when I was 22 years old. I left Algeria when I was 9. So it was 12-13 years, it’s an extra life. As a kid, it’s normal. Kids evolve like that. It’s the adults who eventually, in short periods of time, rebuilt their lives relatively quickly. But well, in cultural terms as well, because, we weren’t exactly immigrants in the sense of here and now, you know. A Turk or whatever, he arrives and doesn’t know the language. An African you know. They don’t know the language and whatever, they don’t have the same access to the culture, access to a thing, a way of life. It’s not the same as between a Spanish and French person. Well, outside of the fact that one eats sauerkraut and the other eats paëlla, it’s more or less the same. You see what I mean? It’s Judeo-Christian. The same foundations, so the adaption is easier. So at school, the pied-noir children, they integrated straight away. Now, there are problems with the African kids who don’t know the language. I put on performances in schools. The kids from Yugoslavia or something like that, after the breaking up of Yugoslavia, they were 10 times more integrated with French kids that the kids from Gabon, you know. It’s not the same rhythms, the same cultures. It’s very different. The pieds-noirs adapted quite easily. Well, everybody has their own history.
Alexandre : And so, you have children, does Algeria, pied-noir mean anything to them? José : No
Alexandre : So, there’s no transmission of, I don’t know what José : No, my one regret as a family is that we never went back to Algeria.
Alexandre : Ah you’ve never gone back. José : No, for me it’s a thing, well, it’s a kind of curiosity. There’s two of us who’d like to go back, me and my uncle.
Alexandre : Your parents have passed away ? José : My mother is alive but I think for her, Algeria didn’t really make its mark. What was more important for her was the Spanish Civil War. That’s what broke her a bit. Algeria was just a stage, in the sense that she doesn’t even like the pied-noir folklore. That annoys her a bit. Whereas my dad, he wanted to go back there to work. But right now, it’s just me and my uncle who want to go back. We’ve said ‘Shit, it’d be great to do back’. So I looked on Google Earth to find the roof of our house where I was born. It’s still there, but well, there was this political instability in Algeria, when there were the attacks. I didn’t want to go back and find myself -
Alexandre : in that. José : Exactly, like when I left and I left, no. There wasn’t a lot going on in Oran but I would go back there, I would go back … on the other hand, there are plenty who have gone back.
Alexandre : And if you go back, would you go with Claire, the children, or would be an trip on your own? José : My children are grown up, they’re 32 and 29, they don’t care at all. [They laugh] It would definitely be with my wife, Claire, because well, if I go back it’s for these things, it’s not to see the country. It’s to see the street again, to see the area. To say to myself “that must be the spot where I was born”. I have a friend who is a drummer from Oran. He told me once, he went back to Algeria for the first to find the street where he was born. I mean, he knew the street where he was born, he had the address and the street number. He got stuck and asked someone in the street where it was. The guy explained to him that the road is over there, uh, you have to go by there and there. He knew where it was. He walked around the twon a bit and then a little bit later he decided to go the house so he goes, finds the road, and he remember the house because there wasn’t a number. He knew the house and knocked on the door of the apartment and the guy who answered was the guy who’s given him directions in the street. [They laugh.]Alexandre : That’s funny. José : It’s extraordinary. The guy who opens the door is the one who gave you the directions. He lived there. He randomly met the guy who lives in the house he left.
Alexandre : Where he was born. José : It’s crazy. It’s funny. But it’d be more that than to visit because actually the pieds-noirs didn’t travel very much. They stay put. There was the beach right next door. The pieds-noirs in Oran went to the beach and that’s it, they went out for a bit, there were 3 or 4 things next door. They didn’t go on holidays or things like that. The French, they’d go to visit their family in France. It was fancy, to go on holiday in France. It was something. People who went on holiday in Brittany, wow, that was something! But no, the pied-noir in Oran stayed in Oran, you know.
Alexandre : So going back would be for nostalgia’s sake then? Do you, like Benjamin Stora says, do you have ‘nostalgérie’? [Nostaliga + Algeria]. José :
Yeah, I’m nostalgique. But well, quote-unquote it’s almost theoretical nostalgia. I understand that people really did live a big part of their live with the – because nostalgia is about the memories we have, emotional moments from our lives you know, from your children to – I don’t know what – to 30-35? That’s what makes yur life. For me, it was from 1 to 8/9 years old. So I’m nostalgic for, actually, I’m most nostalgic for what my parents experienced. Moments when my parents were happy. Because it was never the same after they arrived in France. Because over there, I saw them happy. So, it’s more about going back to, maybe to an atmosphere that made my parents happy at that time. And for me, of course I was also happy. But for me it’s more out of curiosity. I’ll say to myself ‘Look, I used to live there, I saw this and that’. You can remember things, the little thing. It’s more this side of a funny curiosity that I – but in terms of nostalgia, there’s something of that in me. I think to myself ‘you were uprooted from somewhere’, it’s horrible, you know. And by going back to that place, it’s an echo, you know. If I really feel something or absolutely nothing. It’s really something I’d like to do. What scared me, I mean, going back to places where I was afraid, actually, where I felt a lot, I often felt afraid. Diving back into those childhood emotions from which I was completely cut off, because when there’s continuity in your childhood those emotions spread out, they disappear, but there they were cut off.
Alexandre : And what stopped you going there? Because it’s been quite a while since you’ve come back [to France]? José : What’s stopped me> Well, it was quite dangerous not that long ago. I really didn’t want to find myself in all that. I went on holiday to Morocco for example, I didn’t have a good time. Really, there was this feeling from the Moroccans of ‘Go back to your country’, it was the other way round. And that, as a pied-noir, I really took that to heart. Because we’re not used to that, it’s the opposite in general. And we had a bad time of it. I was worried that the mentalities in Algeria would not be the same anymore. That it would be, so, first of all there was that worry. I mean, worry that – and quite simply, objectively, there were periods when it wasn’t easy with all the attacks and everything. I said to myself, shit, if I managed to escape the attacked in ’62 to end up caught up in the ‘90s, it’s not worth it.
Alexandre : And so, you told me that you were looking to recapture the time when your parents were happy. Does that mean that you didn’t see them happy in France? It seems like they weren’t that happy after. José : No, not happy. We were always happy, despite their struggles. You could say they were happy. But let’s say, they had a carefree side. The younger side. My parents were young at the time, they went dancing, they went to the beach, well, this side which was – as soon as we came back from Algeria, that’s when there were problems all the time, money problems, my dad had to work but it was hard to find work, it was hard to find somewhere to live. Uh, my parent’s jobs weren’t very well paid, you know, so it was always a fight to eke out a good living. We were still happy, do you see what I mean? But there was a carefree side to it, it’s okay, we’re okay. When you have the pressure of making ends meet at the end of the month all the time, all the time, it weighs you down.
Alexandre: So he was in this situation practically to the end of his life? José : No, it got a lot better later. Around ’75 to ’80, from ’75 it was a lot better. It wasn’t, we weren’t throwing money around but it was a lot more comfortable, my parents started to go out to restaurants, see friends, they started to live the life they had in Algeria, where they were more stable financially. Seeing friends, living a life that wasn’t just obsessed with making it to the end of the month. There!
Alexandre : So on this point, in terms of their social life, in Algeria or in France, was it with friends or family? Or both, I don’t know? José : Relationships?
Alexandre : Yes, social life, did they go out with friends or just family?José : No, they -
Alexandre : Because I get the impression it was very family orientated. José : Well, I mean when we arrived from Algeria there were – we were friends with a lot of pied-noir families who had arrived, family people, people that we knew well. Because essentially it was really hard to connect with the French, especially my dad as an artisan. He didn’t work with people, didn’t have work colleagues. My mother worked and had colleagues who became friends, because she worked in the Galeries Lafayettes so she had colleagues. It was easier to make friends, you see, and even then her friend, the husband was pied-noir and the wife was French. But there was still a pied-noir, the pieds-noirs were everywhere. But it was like that. Later, it was … A lot of Spanish from Spain who hadn’t been to Algeria, people who came later to find work in France. There was a strong Spain community, my parents were Spanish so, it would be for the language, the culture, the food, and then for the way of life. They saw their Spanish friends more often. We had French acquaintances, neighbours all that. For my parents the French were always ‘The French’. It was a higher class, they didn’t trust them somehow so, there weren’t that many French friends, not many.
Alexandre : And did you develop this sense of community, friendships with pieds-noirs? José : No, no, not at all, because I saw as more of a way - I find it really funny, the humour which, sometimes its really funny, but well, I’m not particularly attached to it, you know, I was too young. I think that the fact that I was too young, I wasn’t really, I didn’t really spend my whole childhood in, in the pied-noir space. I think that there are loads of things which, I mean, this pied-noir side is a bit divulged now, I think.
Alexandre : Um, you mentioned humour there. Is there a pied-noir sense of humour? Can you define it or is undefinable? Is there something specific? , et José : Well, it’s something a bit different which, there were Jewish pieds-noirs who had a sense of human, the Jewish pied-noir sense of humour but that you find here, humour with a pinch of salt. Popeck, things like that, there was that humour. There was also the Spanish sense of humour, I mean, there was a sense of human pied-noir, yes, when you look at the Hernandez family, that’s pied-noir humour.
Alexandre : Um, okay. José : It’s a bit self-depreciating, it’s similar to Jewish self-depreciating sense of humour, black humour. It’s something like, the baker who goes out with his wife on the street in Algeria. There’s loads of people in the street because there’s a protest: “We want work, we want work, we want work”. And the missus says “Tell me Maurice, isn’t that young Wako over there with a placard”. “Yes, that’s him”. “Well give him a job”. So the protest goes by, they call out “Wako come here. If you want work, that job I can give you a job. But tell me why there’s 3000 behind you?”. [They laugh] Or another: There’s the guy in Algeria, in Oran, who’s always borrowing money from everyone, asking for cash, sponging off everyone. Everyone tries to avoid him. All of a sudden, another guy sees him at the end of the street, can’t avoid him, so he says to himself “That’s it, he’s going to ask me for something”. So he meets the guy and says “How’s it going”, he replies “And how are you?” And the other one goes “remets la poussière, remets la poussière”. [They laugh] That’s pied-noir humour, if you can define it, it’s tongue-in-cheek, self-depreciating, quite funny.
Alexandre : Okay, well, I think we’ve talked about more or less everything. I was wondering if you have any objects from Algeria that represent that history in your possession?José : No
Alexandre : So, you mentioned a song, that’s like an object José : Not really, no because, no not really.
Alexandre : Are there things? José : Uh … [long pause] There was a thing for kids, for example, what we called the ‘casseroles’ in Algeria
Alexandre : Yes of course, I know what you meanJosé : The saucepan concerts
Alexandre : Oh yesJosé : I mean, some nights the OAS would say tonight it’s the ‘concert de casserole’, so everyone took a saucepan and a wooden spoon or just a spoon, went out on the balconies and banged out the syllables of ‘Algérie française’ [he enunciates the 5 syllables of French Algeria in French ]
Alexandre : All night? José : Yes, it started at 10 to about 3 in the morning. The ones who stayed out latest were the winners you know, he made as much noise as possible. The whole of Oran was [he repeats the syllables] ‘clacla cla, cla, cla’. It was a racket, the pied-noirs that you are going to interview will be able to tell you about that. The ‘concerts de casseroles’, and you’ll be interested to know what we saw on the balconies. And you wanted them to see you out on the balcony.
Alexandre : Because if not? José : You see?
Alexandre : Yeah. [José laughs] Beacause if not, it wouldn’t be good for you. José : So I remember -
Alexandre : You did it? José : Yes, but my parents [He laughs] That’s also the humour. They didn’t use a saucepan, they took the lamp and went ‘tap tap tap’ with the light, so it made less noise.
Alexandre : YeahJosé : Because we did it, we had to
Alexandre : Even the kidsJosé : It was fun for the kids
Alexandre : YeahJosé : They told us “Take the saucepans and bang it all night, bang, bang, bang”. Anyway, in the film ‘Le coup de Sirocco’, you see the family arrive in Paris and there’s this woman from an association who is there to welcome the pieds-noirs. Actually, to give out the addresses of hotels, she’s in cahoots with the hotels to put up the pieds-noirs and all that. So she gives it to them, they’re in the train, the door compartments are closing, she gives them a card, she closes the compartment door and goes like that [José taps our the 5 syllables of Algérie française]. It was the rallying call, you know, it was that and the saucepan concerts. You couldn’t be against it, you had to, but for us kids it was really fun. That’s a particular part of the folklore around that.
Alexandre : You had to join in … out of fear of retaliation José : Yes, it was better to show yourself. Although some people closed their curtains, because the thing was if you were French was to put the French flag in your window. And the saucepans, you had to do, you had to show yourself as going along with it.
Alexandre : So, don’t say you still have this saucepan? José : I’m not going to bring you a saucepan
Alexandre : Okay, so you don’t have anything from this period José : Oh no
Alexandre : Because you said you brought back stuff in a 12metres2 crateJosé : That was different because I later learned that these famous ‘cales’, we called them ‘cales’ was all wet when we got it.
Alexandre : Ah yesJosé : But it was all ruined, you couldn’t use it, all the chairs, the fabrics, at the time the chairs were all – so it was wooden, everything was chucked out. My dad’s machine was completely rusted and everything. They knew it couldn’t have happened on the boat, they weren’t stupid, it was like that. We had to practically chuck it all away. The TV, everything we had put it, the TV I think we dried out. Actually we later learned that, I don’t know if it’s true, I’ve heard that it was the CGT [trade union] dockers. When they got things that belonged to pieds-noirs on the quayside they threw them into the water.
Alexandre : Ah yesJosé : A really stupid thing!
Alexandre : Yes, there’s truth to thatJosé : But that’s what I heard, but it’s not surprising because it was inexplicable. I’ve only recently heard that. It was an episode where the CGT guys were ordered by the CGT that everything related to the pieds-noirs was extremely – all the stuff went – hup – in the sea. All ruined. So when you got your furniture, you couldn’t keep any of it, it was all chucked out.
Alexandre : So there’s nothing left of - José : No
Alexandre : no material trace - José : No
Alexandre : of your life in Algeria.