memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘annaba’

The Flooded Plain

Annaba, Eastern Algeria.   January 1972

algeria

I stayed at the Paradise Hotel for about a month before the Company managed to arrange a furnished flat for me.

It was my very first flat – two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen and I was not yet 21 years old.

I bought a Telefunken sound-system – tuner/amplifier, turntable and two speakers, which I artfully placed at the requisite height and distance apart, angled for maximum effect for the sofa at the centre of the living room. I was fussy, I was finicky, I fiddled with them and adjusted them until they were just so.

(It was all new to us in those days – creating sound-stages, woofers and tweeters and so on).

The living room window had a tiny balcony which overlooked the dusty parched football stadium which proved useful in January as an emergency landing pad for helicopters from the American 6th Fleet during the extreme weather conditions which caused the flash floods from the mountains which inundated much of the coastal plain.

THE FLOODED PLAIN

THE FLOODED PLAIN

The previous evening the road between the site and the town was under about two feet of water in some places and it had been quite a little drama for us to get home.

The Company’s small fleet of cars consisted mostly of identical little Renault R8s, which were unequal to driving through the water and were stranded on the small islands along the road.

I however, not having yet been allocated a Company car, hitched a lift with two others in a VW Beetle driven by a visiting fireman from Head Office in Sheffield called Earnest, a field accountant (the first I’d met of the breed). He was a slow-talking, patient, pedantic and dogged Yorkshire man. He wore a rumpled dark suit and a white drip-dry shirt with a dark tie; a pork-pie hat and a pipe clamped between his teeth completed the effect.

While we expressed our doubts about the viability of the expedition he remained firm. What-yer-have-to-do-is-to-keep-the-vehicle-in-low-gear-and-keep-yer-foot-on-the-gas-pedal-so-as-avoid-stalling, he explained sternly, pointing the stem of his pipe at my chest.

So we set off though the darkness and driving rain and soon got to where the road disappeared in a large lake of dark grey water. Earnest crouched forward slightly at the wheel, pipe clenched between his teeth and drove the little car into the water. The level of water rose until it was an inch above the door-sills and started to leak into the cabin, but the gallant engine continued to turn over and the car didn’t stop its progress (although the exhaust-pipe was under water).

Thus we glugged and gurgled our way across the flooded plain, phutting and farting sedately past the stranded R8s until we reached terra firma once again. There was the smell of tobacco smoke in the little cabin – it was Earnest puffing away triumphantly at his pipe.

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.

Chukran, Baby

 

I’m in free fall,

Recoiling back through the years,

Reversing back down city-streets and moorland-valleys,

Retreating from various hypotheses and bifurcations,

Shunning burning-pits and blissful-heights alike

Until I land lightly on my feet.

I’m a cool twenty again,

Young, green and full of hope.

 

Annaba: my first job.

Skulking behind grey filing-cabinets

Yearning for her black hair, olive skin

And flashing almond-eyes.

We exchange averted glances,

But it’s just not on, old sport

Off limits, out-of-bounds

Strictly verboten.

 

Have to leave an hour early today,

J’ai Cour d’Arabe she explains,

Newly liberated from the hated French,

She’s being Arabised.

That’s cool, I think,

Chukran, baby.

 

The Flooded Plain

Annaba, Eastern Algeria.   January 1972

I stayed at the Paradise Hotel for about a month before the Company managed to arrange a furnished flat for me.

It was my very first flat – two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen and I was not yet 21 years old. I bought a Telefunken sound-system – tuner/amplifier, turntable and two speakers, which I artfully placed at the requisite height and distance apart, angled for maximum effect for the sofa at the centre of the living room. I was fussy, I was finicky, I fiddled with them and adjusted them until they were just so. (It was all new to us in those days – creating sound-stages, woofers and tweeters and so on).

The living room window had a tiny balcony which overlooked the dusty parched football stadium which proved useful in January as an emergency landing pad for helicopters from the American 6th Fleet during the crisis caused the flash floods from the mountains which inundated much of the coastal plain. The previous evening the road between the site and the town was under about two feet of water in some places and it had been quite a little drama for us to get home.

The Company’s small fleet of cars consisted mostly of identical little Renault R8s, which were unequal to driving through the water and were stranded on the small islands along the road. I however, not having yet been allocated a Company car, hitched a lift with two others in a VW Beetle driven by a visiting fireman from Head Office in Sheffield called Earnest, a field accountant (the first I’d met of the breed). He was a slow-talking, patient, pedantic and dogged Yorkshire man. He wore a rumpled dark suit and a white drip-dry shirt with a dark tie; a pork-pie hat and a pipe clamped between his teeth completed the effect.

While we expressed our doubts about the viability of the expedition he remained firm. What-yer-have-to-do-is-to-keep-the-vehicle-in-low-gear-and-keep-yer-foot-on-the-gas-pedal-so-as-avoid-stalling, he explained sternly, pointing the stem of his pipe at my chest.

So we set off though the darkness and driving rain and soon got to where the road disappeared in a large lake of dark grey water. Earnest crouched forward slightly at the wheel, pipe clenched between his teeth and drove the little car into the water. The level of water rose until it was an inch above the door-sills and started to leak into the cabin, but the gallant engine continued to turn over and the car didn’t stop its progress (although the exhaust-pipe was under water).

Thus we glugged and gurgled our way across the flooded plain, phutting and farting sedately past the stranded R8s until we reached terra firma once again. There was the smell of tobacco smoke in the little cabin – it was Earnest puffing away triumphantly at his pipe.

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