A Tale From the Past
A buttoned-up surgeon with an Algerian-born belly dancer loosely fitted into a two-size-too-small “top” dancing the night away . . . or at least a moment or two.
No touching between the combatants — just two exuberant participants celebrating the birthdays of my darling husband, Gino, and his cousin, the irrepressible Jean-Michel Daninos. Both Birthday Boys were marking significant anniversaries. And we were passing through Paris following a trip to India, so organizing an appropriate cultural event for a November 2006 evening seemed natural.
The place? An Algerian restaurant in Paris; one of many such establishments that dot the French capital, block by city block.
Why, you ask, did these personalities, along with assorted Narboni and Daninos family members and friends, converge in Paris for a birthday dinner?
I’ll give you some family background: my late husband, Gino, was born in Algeria, a North African country that stretches from the southern border of the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and its borders include a significant portion of the Sahara Desert.
Unlike most colonial acquisitions from the previous centuries, the French considered Algeria, a French overseas province rather than a colony. Think Alaska or Hawaii. The north African country, rich with good soil, four-season weather, and much-needed land, was an essential part of French overseas territory. (Algerian oil and mineral extraction came later.)
French non-Muslims living in Algeria were considered French citizens, with all the rights of those living in France. However, citizenship was not extended to Algerian Muslims unless they were prepared to renounce Islam; even then, requests were seldom granted. *
Eventually, 20th-century reality trumped colonization. For European countries, particularly England, France, and to a lesser extent, Spain and Germany, the age of “owning” and occupying lands in foreign countries ended after the turn of the twentieth century and the upheaval of the Great War (1914–1918).
History is uneven; some African and Asian countries gained independence from European masters sooner rather than later. Attempts to manage self-rule in many former colonial lands, both for the…