Oran breathless

Oran:
breathless

 

Oran breathless
You’d envisioned bright blue sky, a sensual warmth, a culture shock, a biting cold sea, somewhat stark villas and untamed streets. Oran, which has a feel of Palermo to it, is not geared for tourism but for travel in itselfthe reason why we love it so.

1.

Talents emerging from the crowd

Some cities lead double lives. They have the intriguing aura of a split personality. You have to forage endlessly to plumb their depths and explore their hidden side. In this very ordinary stationery shop near the Grande Poste, the boyish 46-year-old offering you a choice of colors for your notebook cover turns out to be a keen fisherman, as well as a shift manager in the chemical industry. Plus he makes trees for scale models. He has fashioned as many as 70 different species, on a scale ranging from 1/50 to 1/200. The hardest one to make is the cedar. His favorites are the more elongated ones like fir or cypress. For the foliage, he cards sponge fibers, a technique, he says, from Kabylia, his grandmother’s birthplace. His name is Berzou Salah.

Papeterie Librairie

22, rue des Sœurs-Benslimane.

2.

In the footsteps of a disgruntled Camus

Albert Camus is the ideal guide to the city. Or so you thought. As it turns out, reading between the magnificent lines of Summer, you realize that Camus looked at the city more than he experienced it. Hard up, he observed it discontentedly, from a very algérois perspective. Algiers and Oran are a bit like Paris and Marseille: one has an unsettling sense of superiority that leaves its free-spirited, untamed counterpart indifferent. So you could visit Oran through Camus’ gaze, but his impressions quickly descend into irritated, bitter comparisons. He makes no mention of the inhabitants, preferring stone and dust. This bittersweet rapport even makes you wonder if the restaurant Cintra hasn’t taken its revenge on the writer, whose portrait now hangs near the toilet door, while the owner’s has pride of place in the main room. Following in Camus’ footsteps, take a seat on Place du 1er-Novembre-1954 and watch the passersby; down a beer (and shed a tear) at the Cintra; daydream over a book in the Sacré Cœur cathedral that’s been converted into a library, on Place de la Kahina.

le cintra

16, bd de la Soummam.
Tél. +213 560 00 03 46.

3.

The taste of the city: sea air and salt

As is often the case, incomprehension fosters indulgence, and then come the first rays of sunshine. Time to give up Western ideas of cuisine and its rigid techniques and tyrannical ingredients, and allow yourself to experience a friendly, easygoing, shared togetherness. Take in its quirks like karantika (chickpeas, beaten egg, cumin and harissa spread on a hunk of baguette) and pastries mixing honey, dates and the idleness of unruly appetites. That said, there will come a time when Oranese cuisine will decide to move on to the next level and revel in the sensation it will cause.

La Comète

1, rue de la Paix.
Tél. +213 (0)41 29 45 84.

4.

Before the deluge

Tourism is still in its infancy in Oran. Visitors are welcome (the word is repeated like a chant), but people aren’t sitting around waiting for them. They’re left to their own devices, ignored almost, as if they’re not really there. But what might look like a serious downside is actually an advantage. For what visitors see is a city at ease with itself, that goes about its business and doesn’t much like posing for photographs. This is the joy of a stay in Oran: discovering a land and a strong, unique city. Faces like open books—if you only just look into its shadows (its humanity), blend into the surroundings and take it by surprise, as here, in Fort Santa Cruz. 119

5.

The sea’s cruel sparkle

Oran has a strange relationship with the sea. To all intents and purposes, it turns its back on it; snubs it and ignores it, cutting it off with two boring industrious ports (the commercial one and the military one at Mers el-Kébir). Then you chase it along the Corniche (or toward Kristel), on roads like kites that falter and veer in and out of endless bends, looping on themselves, bumping up and sliding down ravines, rising again in the djebel (mountains). And then, at last, the sea. Full-on, cool, bracing. The wind has its say, too, jostling, searching, then heading off, while the horizon line languishes in the distance.

6.

Oran’s semi-clandestine nights

Night takes its time here. At midnight, it still hasn’t made up its mind. It lingersSpanish-styleon the Corniche, the boulevards and small streets. Then it gives itself a shake and kicks off at the dance clubs and cabarets. Then it dawns on you that Oran is a pleasure-loving city, enamored of endless nights and song, with always the same stories of sad men and happy adventures; of the women they wait for who don’t look back. These are evenings spent with cool beer amid fragrant tobacco, and sometimes a look or two that will immortalize you. As day breaks, you realize that Oran makes you feel good. A cabaret? Le Mélomane in the Saint-Pierre neighborhood.

le Mélomane

Rue Dloundi-Mechmech-Mekki.

7.

Kamel Daoud lovestruck for his city

Slipping into a city’s skin is something you can prepare for with music and writinglike that of Kamel Daoud. His book The Meursault Investigationa follow-up inquiry to Camus’ The Strangeris like a magnificent tangle of wisteria draped over a gate that eventually prises it up. It’s one of Daoud’s gentle victories over Camus. His vision of Oran is all the more scathing and penetrating in that his bites seem to hunger for a kiss. He speaks of its composition, its nonchalance, its port-city spirit: “Oran isn’t the gateway to Algeria, it’s a window onto it.” Afterward, you visit it with quite different eyes and ears: consonants and vowels float through the air, words fill people’s eyes. Oran still has a literary soul.

À lire

Meursault, contre-enquête Kamel Daoud, Actes Sud.

8.

Life in the raw

Oran’s great strength is doubtless its humanity, its insouciance, its timeless way of life. Venturing into the streets of the Medina Jedida or the Planteurs district produces the thrill of the urban hubbub, a hint of adventure. You can stroll around, stopping here and there, wander for hours and hours, absorbing the successive eras crumbling at the balconies. There’s the market, of course, with its sensual swaths of fabric and shifting atmosphere, and the evening hours before nightfall. Perhaps it’s in the early hours that Oran is at its most exposed. Before it awakes. Unwittingly, it is offered up, intact.

9.

Compelling heat

It’s not so hard to make it your friend, to let it organize your day, to follow its every gradation and accept its hold on you. It imparts a sheen to the skin and soothes the body right down to the bone. After a while, it echoes your silence, heightens your solitude, determines your speed. Then you can read Oran in Braille and explore its metalanguage: the way it builds the city, shrinks the size of the streets, casts shadows; those moments of floating calm, of a flickering disquiet. Along the bumpy roads under the car, the beach, like the heat, turns us to stoneon the brink of essence.

10.

The birthplace of rai

Rai was born in Oran, with masters such as Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami. This potent concentrate of Oranese folk, flamenco, jazz and Egyptian sounds has exploded, amplified today by Auto-Tune, its robotic laments remastered with beatboxes and wah-wah pedals. Rai has a big local scene, including Amine Matlo (left), whose striking glasses artfully conceal his gentle nature. These songs speak of the city through recurring geographical references. It’s a way of touching on the heart of the matter, on feelings and on “discernment” (rai means “advice” or “opinion” in Arabic). Oran is a singing, polyphonic city whose feverish (original) creativity models the contours of its songs.

Royal Hotel Oran

Ideally located near Place du 1er-Novembre-1954, this hotel built in another century (1920) and dating from a dreamy era (Oran the Radiant) isn’t as modern as the latest ones, but it’s the perfect place for a visit of the city. There is no cold steel here to cut you off from its history. This is without a doubt one of the most disconcerting places in the city, interacting with the broad avenues, sidewalks and elegant succession of palms, streetlights and balusters. It captures the Oran of yesteryear, with its vintage vocabulary, and the Oran of today, with its streams of businessmen and travelers. The 112 rooms (including 19 suites) are agreeably complemented by a spa, hammam, two restaurants and a bar that’s filled with the enveloping, nostalgic aroma of tobacco. Dotted here and there are Orientalist works (both originals and reproductions) by Étienne Dinet.

Royal Hotel Oran mgallery

1, bd de la Soummam.
Tél. +213 (0)41 29 17 17.

http://royal-oran.hotel-rn.com

Carnet d’adresses

Varsovie double page

Papeterie Librairie

22, rue des Sœurs-Benslimane.

le cintra

16, bd de la Soummam.
Tél. +213 560 00 03 46.

La Comète

1, rue de la Paix.
Tél. +213 (0)41 29 45 84.

le Mélomane

Rue Dloundi-Mechmech-Mekki.

À lire

Meursault, contre-enquête Kamel Daoud, Actes Sud.

Royal Hotel Oran mgallery

, bd de la Soummam.
Tél. +213 (0)41 29 17 17.

http://royal-oran.hotel-rn.com

Restaurants

La Comète

This respectable institution specializes in grilled fsh, although its paella is nothing special. The diners are predominantly male, and the decor evokes the 1950s. Perfect.

1, rue de la Paix, Oran.
Tél. +213 (0)41 29 45 84.

Le Corsaire

Popular with locals, this spot in a small square has a terrace. The menu is predictable, with grilled fsh, briks and paella.

9, place de la République, Oran.
Tél. +213 (0)41 39 31 20.

Le Petit Chalet

This restaurant is ideally situated, with staggered terraces descending gently toward the sea. The food is freewheeling, but the service is delightful.

Ain Franine, Kristel.
Tél. +213 542 35 66 47.

Villa Saint Tropez

With a name like that, you are bound to be very private, a touch snobbish and eminently Marseillais—just like the owner, whom everyone calls by his frst name (Éric), even those who don’t know him. Cuisine of tapas, fresh fsh and Moroccan specialties. Superb patio. Not everyone is allowed in.

31, rue Mohamed-Ben-Tayeb,Oran.
Tél. +213 551 74 24 18.

Le Titanic

This den in the heart of the city has a welcoming ground foor and, in the basement, a veritable Spanish enclave. Hearty food and live soccer games on TV. A particularly good spot for an aperitif.

5, rue du Président-Hô-Chi-Minh, Oran.
Tél. +213 (0)41 33 44 03.

Shopping

Farah

The owner of this pastry shop is still in shock. This year, her daughter was voted Miss West Algeria and her little makrout (semolina, butter, honey and dates) were awarded a prize.

12, rue Ibn-Batouta-Medioni, Oran.
Tél. +213 (0)7 71 39 75 94.

Épices

This small shop run by the smiling M’Barek sells an array of spices, turmeric, saffron, caraway, fennel and anise, as well as fresh herbs.

74, avenue Djellat-Habib, Oran.

Humer la ville

Le théâtre régional d’Oran

Built in 1883 in a Baroque style.

Place du 1er-Novembre-1954.

Fort de Santa Cruz

For its ravishing panoramic views of Mount Murdjajo, as well as the chapel of the Virgin (with a replica of the Vierge de Fourvière in Lyon).

La gare d’Oran

Its neo-Moorish style, a product of colonial planning, is like a journey within a journey. Daily train service to Algiers.

Plages

Take the Corniche in the direction of Andalouses, almost 2 kilometers of fne sand. For somewhere even wilder, head east, to Kristel, a little fshing port with the restaurant Le Petit Chalet just nearby.

Overview
Overview
Address Book

Going There

www.airfrance.com

FLIGHT FREQUENCY

AIR FRANCE has four fights a week to Oran from Paris-CDG.

Arrival airport

Aéroport d’Oran-Ahmed
Ben Bella.
À 12 km.
Tél. +213 (0)41 59 10 31.

Air France KLM offices

À l’aéroport.

Bookings

— Depuis la France :
Tél. 3654.
— Depuis l’étranger :
Tél. +33 (0)892 70 26 54.

Car rental

Hertz à l’aéroport.
Tél. +213 555 06 62 29.
www.aifrance.fr/cars

Acknowledgments

Sofane Touadjine
Agence KASR Wahrane,
location de voiture avec
chauffeur.

© Parko Polo / Central Illustration Agency. Carte illustrative, non contractuelle Map for illustration purposes only