Portus Magnus

An Englishwoman in Algeria

I breathed the air of history all unaware, and walked oblivious through its littered layers.

-Annie Dillard

Our house, the Villa Robineau, had been built by a pied noir family in the early twentieth century on a cliff separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land.  It was the most imposing house in the small village of Bethioua, and had been built in the Anglo-Norman style, with a gabled slate roof and long, lugubrious windows.

Like everywhere in Algeria, the past intrudes on the present and sometimes, a sudden shift in perspective could allow you to see things as they had once been. The house, built with such love and care, had once had a clear, unobstructed view of the sea creaming against the rocky outcrops, or swelling smooth and glassy, clear and deep, within the shelter of Arzew bay.

Whenever the country simmered in a heat wave…

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