Thursday, January 26, 2012

le bateau du retour: the return vessel

One of the most startling aspects of Pied-Noir narratives is the near absence of the actual voyage away from Algeria. All eyes were fixed on Algeria as the boat slowly tugged them away. Marie Cardinal's photo-documentary book Les Pieds-Noirs, for example, ends abruptly with vague references to the departure coupled with ads for vacation in France and a photo of a large liner.

There is often a large disconnect between the process of leaving Algeria and the vessel that took them away. Certainly, their minds were elsewhere at the time - needs for lodging, the new life before them, the traumas of what had just transpired before the departure. Conditions were poor for most the Pieds-Noirs during the departure, the voyage, and upon arrival. Maybe there isn't much to remember about the relatively short voyage that would entirely change the course of their lives.

Today, however, I stumbled upon a website with a page dedicated to these ships, specifically the Kairouan. The Popodoran blog's bi-line is, "Je viens d'un pays qui n'existe plus: Oran pour ne jamais oublier..." 'I come from a country that no longer exists: Oran, so we never forget...'  Although some of the photo inscriptions recount other voyages than the exodus, one remarks, "tu m'as ramené en France quand j'avais 10 ans en 1962. Jamais je ne t'oublierais" 'you brought me back to France when I was 10 years old in 1962. I will never forget you.' The collection concludes with images of the Port d'Oran upon which was painted the inscription, "Ici la France" 'This is France.' The contributors recount the pain of their departure.

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