Out of Algeria

Whidbey writer recalls a childhood in a turbulent time

  • Sunday, October 15, 2000 9:00am
  • News

“Andree Ploss hasn’t seen Algeria since she left as a 12-year-old child, in 1956.But the feel of the heat and the white sand, the rich smells and tastes of North Africa, and – most of all – the friendship of an eccentric old Catholic priest, have been a part of her life ever since.Ploss, who lives in Freeland, recalls her childhood days as the daughter of French settlers in what was then a French colony in North Africa in a recently-published e-book, Little French Girl, Pied Noir, available on the World Wide Web and on computer disk.Pied noir, Ploss explains, means black feet, a widely-used nickname for the French-speaking colonists in Algeria, although she’s still not sure quite how the name came about. For most of her childhood, nationalist forces were building toward the revolution that ended with Algerian independence in 1962. Ploss and her family returned to France long before the last days of the struggle, for their own safety, and there are shadows of the building turbulence in her story. But for the most part, her short memoir is a loving recollection of an unconventional friendship with an unconventional priest, Cure Chanson.I wanted the story to be happy, Ploss said. I wanted to erase the bad memories and only remember the happiest times.The story begins when Paul Garnier, a construction manager sent to install power lines in a remote Algerian village, settles his beautiful wife and two small daughters in Cure Chanson’s cluttered and dirty presbytery.There was no where else for the family to live, so Jeanine Garnier bowed to the inevitable, once the quarters had been cleaned from top to bottom, Ploss said. And while her mother waged an ongoing battle to protect her children from the unwashed hands and questionable food offered by the Cure, 6-year-old Andree found a staunch friend and tutor.The 70-year-old priest took her to Muslim weddings and Jewish funerals, and showed her the rich mix of cultures around her.He taught her how to catch crows – because he liked having them around – by lying in wait in a thicket, holding out a gluey stick for the birds to land on. He carried her off to adventures on the back of his old bicycle or on the rump of his noisy donkey.I learned so much from him, Ploss said. He took me with him everywhere he went. I could speak to anyone.More than 40 years later, the Cure still comes up in most family conversations, said Ploss, and is still a presence in their lives, firmly at the center of their memories of that time in Algeria.Ploss came to the United States as a young woman in 1963, and although her travels with her husband, engineer Richard Ploss, have taken her to Saudi Arabia, she has not yet returned to Algeria for a visit.I would like to go back, she said. I thought it was my home. It is very hard to accept that it never was our home, that we took it from someone else.Over the years, Ploss says she has studied the question of Algeria intensely, trying to find answers to why things ended as they did. She’s studied the Koran, too, and says There is no hate in that book. What a true Muslim carries in his heart is love, not hate.She still doesn’t have the answers to why her people and the people of Algeria couldn’t live together.But she does have a heart full of memories of her friendship with a most unusual man who loved all the people of Algeria.And now that her book is done, she said, I won’t lose my memories. —————-Andree Ploss will sign copies of Little French Girl, Pied Noir, on disk Friday, Oct. 20, from 5-7 p.m. at Flowers By the Bay, 1609 E. Main St., Freeland. Susan Johnson of MountainView Publishing will also be available to meet readers at the signing. The e-book is illustrated with Ploss’ pastel drawings and some of her art work will be available. Ploss will be one of the featured writers at Art of Whidbey exhibit during the Uniquely Whidbey Trade Fair in Coupeville today and Sunday. Little French Girl, Pied Noir, is available at http://www.whidbeybooks.com. For information, call Ploss at (360) 331-4552. “

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