January 15, 2013

tea_290The words fingered into the dust of the battered little Renault van in front of my taxi in from the airport suggested this was going to be a very different place from Algiers. Not that I go around looking for differences. In fact the reverse is true. But “Lord of the Rings” above an exhaust belching smoke was as fine an indicator as any that this would be a different city. Read more

The Genie of Fez

January 13, 2013

genie290The Genie from Fez strode the streets, enjoying the morning and pretty much minding his own business, which he had to do given he was from out of town, when he noticed a man and his donkey nestled into a driveway in Rue Rouget de I’Isle. The donkey was hitched to a small cart into which the man had collected an assortment of recyclable materials which he later sold in order to eke out a living.  They were sheltering out of the rain which had descended on the city at no notice after the day had dawned bright and clear.  Genies are impervious to rain and cold, so he had not really noticed the downpour. Read more

Birds of A Feather

January 11, 2013

r1-290Rooster and Cockerel lived in a bachelor pad on the heights above Algiers. Though very much the same they were in fact two very different beasts living in the same town. At six o’clock every morning Rooster would drag his tattered tail out onto the balcony. He had no idea where Mecca might be located but he would hold his breath and then when the imams down the road called for prayer he would let rip with gusto. His calls were echoed up and down the escarpment, for Algiers is a Moslem city after all. Every other apartment echoed his call and the as the peach first smeared the dark blue of the morning sky they went out of their way to call awake and stir the faithful. Cockerel had long since ceased hearing these early morning calls. But if they ever penetrated his sleep it was a light touch and he would roll over in his bachelor nest, ruffle the feathers of his latest hen and drop back off to sleep. Rooster didn’t mind and was not the least bit offended. He could live and let live. Read more

Walking the Casbah

January 10, 2013

casbah290There was a canary called Farouk. He sat in the window behind a dirty curtain installed when the French were in control and trilled his song across a filthy narrow lane three stories above the cobbles. Three tenements down his trill was answered by another, though Farouk did not know his name.  Farouk was a little vain and did not think his neighbour’s song anything to write home about, though he was glad of his unseen company.  But nor did he know the name of she who trilled from across the roof tiles and in a neighbouring lane, a song he could only hear if the wind was not blowing. On those days they would sing for each other. He would always save his sweetest and choicest notes for her. They were never to be squandered and left to drop on the cobblestones below. He would swell his chest and sing his heart for her, and she for he, though they would never see each other in this life. Up here on the hill the wind always seemed to blow. Cold from out of the north when the days were short and the doona fogs had to be pulled off the city each morning. Or oven hot, winds from out of the desert south that melted the city into the summer copper sea. But Farouk would sing anyway, whether he could hear her or not. For what else could he do? Read more

Welcome to Algeria

January 8, 2013

algiers290Ha, now I know I’m alive – this place is more edgy than sleepy old Verdun. Taxi at the airport? No such thing. Just Boris the Bullet Dodger and all his dodgy mates in their little, dusty Chevrolets. Yes, Chevrolets. More Cevy compacts than tiny French cars.

How much to the city?


Nah mate. Some bad Española if that helps.

I have some English (Anglash).


He punches 3000 into his phone.

It feels about right given the distance into the city and I’m in no mood to haggle. So we walk out past an empty taxi rank and into an ever darkening car park , over piles of rubble and rubbish. We arrive at his dusty little car and he goes around the back and opens the boot. I wait at the front. We get in the car after an argument about my backpack. There is no way that is going in the boot. I am on edge already and being as careful as I can be. No way is that bag leaving my hands. I am now hyper alert. Read more

Farewell Verdun

January 8, 2013

Verdun290The thermometer  at the front of the bus says its five degrees but I could care less really. I have just realized we are driving down the Voie Sacree  or Sacred Way on the way to Bar le Duc, places I have referenced in the novel. The Sacred Way became such when Marshall Petain established it for the sole purpose of resupplying the garrison at Verdun and even posted military personnel along its route to ensure farmers didn’t use it to shift their turnips. Good for him. Read more


January 7, 2013

heart290_1The old man picked his way up the long road from Verdun. He skirted mules carrying bread, horse drawn wagons full of supplies, the endless procession of coughing munitions trucks and the equally endless procession of ambulances creeping back the other way. No one tried to stop him. He had been here before and they knew his white hair, weathered face, and bandy legged walk. Besides, they had too much of their own cares to be concerned about this man in his tweed jacket and bright rimmed glasses, who seemed hell bent on getting in harms way.

The old man had indeed been here before. It was a trek he knew well but these days the incline up onto the escarpment above Verdun caught his breath and he paused now and then to regroup and to pull out his old tin of cigarettes, light up another and then keep trudging. He had been smoking them ever since the battle started and the pungent scent somehow took him to other places, away from the horrors of what he lived through.   Read more

Verdun – and A Girl with a Map

January 6, 2013

Fleury290Never trust the directions of a woman armed with a map. Especially do not trust her if she is behind the counter of the city’s tourist bureau counter.  Just walk up here, through there, cross there and you will be at  the Verdun Memorial. Oh, by the way everything is closed in January. Of course it is. Read more


January 5, 2013

Haudainville290‘Haudainville?!’ exclaimed Fred of Verdun. ‘There’s nothing there.’

‘Well, I have a farmer set out from there in a story I have written.’

‘Really?’ He laughs. ‘I happen to know some farmers in Haudainville. But there is still nothing there.’

Well, yes and no. There is the beginning of a story there and I want to see this natal place.

But Fred proves his local knowledge is on the mark.  But I get ahead of myself. It’s not light until 0830 so I linger in bed and don’t rush to get going. I will be walking up a country road shortly and don’t really want to be doing that in the dark. Besides, I have been awake most of the night reading as I try and put aside  my jet lag and the last of that headache. Read more

Fred of Verdun

January 4, 2013

Verdun290It only takes ten minutes or so and we are in open country. I am mildly surprised. Though how open is hard to say since it is still dark . But we are running fast through cuttings and against the first hint of light I see the outlines of winter trees. As we roll towards 0900 the day is bright enough at last for me to see the rolling farmland though at this speed I am only catching the briefest of glimpses. The cloud is hanging low and it’s a grey day. But it’s not raining which is a good start and I am encouraged by a weather forecast that suggested the next three days will be clear and sunny. We’ll see – this is the middle of winter in Europe after all.

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