memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Méchoui

ANNABA (formerly French Bône and Latin Hippo) is a town and Mediterranean port in north-eastern Algeria, close to the Tunisian border.

Its location on a natural harbour (Gulf of Annaba)  between Capes Garde and Rosa early attracted the Phoenicians, probably in the 12th century BC. It passed to the Romans as Hippo Regius, was the residence of the Numidian kings, and achieved independence after the Punic Wars (264–146 BC).

Hippo Regius later became a centre of Christian thought, housing the Council of Hippo (AD 393) and forming the bishopric of St. Augustine (396–430).

Destroyed by the Vandals in 431, Hippo Regius passed to the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 533, and about two centuries later (697) it was overcome by Arabs. An early centre of piracy, it remained one of the small cities of northern Africa under a succession of rulers until the French captured it in 1832. In 1848 it was created a commune administered from Paris.

Annaba rises from the shore up the cork-oak-covered slopes of the Edough foothills. The old town with its narrow streets dominates the centre of the city and is grouped around the Place du 19-Août and its early French houses and the Mosque of Salah Bey (1787). The 11th-century Mosque of Sīdī Bou Merouan was built with columns taken from Roman ruins.

The new town, built since 1870 along both sides of the thoroughfare Cours de la Révolution, contains the cathedral (1850) and basilica (1881) of Saint-Augustine.

Annaba also has the international airport at which I landed on 1st November 1971 for a two-year stint of work.

Here is a scrap from my memoirs:

On one memorable occasion the Company itself invited everyone, in honour of the visit of the Chairman of the Group, to a barbecue on our beach – when I say barbecue don’t go thinking of burgers, sausages and steaks; this was a Méchoui – a whole lamb cooked on a spit over a big fire – the aristocrat of barbecues.

So a convoy of Renaults and Fiats made its way up the winding road up the pine forest and down the other side at about 5.00 in the afternoon. Rashid, the barman of the Paradise Hotel, supplied the previously slaughtered and skinned lamb and set up a makeshift wooden bar under the trees. He and his assistant had arrived about two hours earlier in an old van full of boxes of booze and supplies and proceeded to gather all the bleached wood flotsam from the beach plus dried sticks and logs from the forest to make an enormous fire.

Various wives vied with each to bring large vacuum-Tupperware boxes of tasty snacks, cold salads, fruit, cakes and puddings of various sorts. All that afternoon the gleaming golden meat grilled slowly over the incandescent glowing coals of the great fire. One person was designated to feed it continuously with dried wood while another’s task was to rotate and baste the meat periodically.

Later we all gathered round the fire in the dusk to feast.

The hunters had worked well that year

And we all gorged on the kill.

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