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Sunday, August 12, 2018

An Interview with Albert

Photo: Wikimedia
He stays in Hôtel du Poirier on the rue Ravignan on top one of Paris’s Montmatre hills. The site is one of the most picturesque in Paris, however his hotel room is dark and empty, it has only a table to write on.

It is is easy to understand how in this dark room, “ one feels like a stranger, hearing the sounds of a city that has suddenly become strange. I am not from here—not from anywhere else either. And the world has become merely an unknown landscape where my heart can lean on nothing”, so he wrote on his notebook.

That morning he looked relaxed and greeted me with a warm handshake. The television broadcasted loudly the celebration of France World Cup Team at the Champ Elysees. The crowd seemed to be excitedly drunk in paradise with France flag waving seen everywhere. It seemed that he had been watching the celebration on the television before I knocked on his door.

Knowing him as a passionate football fan, I then said to him:
“ Congratulations for France winning the World Cup for the second time, you must be very excited about it.”

His big eyes gleamed and he smiled broadly:
“Indeed I am so proud of them. I can see the diligent planning, the hard work, the relentless discipline and the brilliance of the young striker Kylian Mbappé, the fast midfielder Paul Pogba and the unwavering defense of N’Golo Kanté, Raphaël Varane and Samuel Umtiti. Great team work, that’s what football is all about.  And also as what their trainer Deschamps said:  “We did not play a huge game but we showed mental quality, and we scored four goals anyway.”  Good job.”

I said:
“ I heard of your great enthusiasm with football, once you were asked to choose Football or Theatre, you answered football without hesitation.”

“Yes when I was young I played as goal keeper for the Racing University of Algiers, we won the North African Champion Cup that time. I learned from football about the sense of team spirit, fraternity and common purpose, it is a great way to learn. After many years which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and duty of man I owed to this sport.”

I said:
“Well said Albert,  I can feel your intense enthusiasm and engagement with football,  your great appreciation of football, which is in such a striking contrast with the feeling of emptiness, alienation, indifference in most of the novels you wrote. For instance  in contract with your euphoria of the World Cup, listen to what you wrote in the opening of The Stranger which became one of the famous opening in literature: “Mother died today, or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”

“I spent many summer days at the popular beach Les Sablettes, in Algiers. I lived in destitution during my childhood but also in a kind of sensual delight, enjoying swimming, sunshine, sand and football. I am a Mediterranean man, with a healthy body worshipping beauty and the body like the ancient Greeks. I was placed midway between misery and the sun. Misery stopped me from believing that all is well under the sun. and in history; the sun taught me that history isn’t everything.
My teenage exciting life were cut short when, at the age of 17, doctors diagnosed tuberculosis. Constantly short of breath, I was forced to abandon a promising football career, and would suffer relapses throughout my life.

At the age of 27 I left Algiers for Paris after losing my job when the Alger républicain newspaper ceased publication. I had a job at Paris-Soir newspaper that paid three thousand francs a month for five hours of work a day, all in an unfamiliar setting. My work at Paris-Soir newspaper was uninteresting, I was in charge of laying out page four, organizing a mish-mash of columns and typeface. Whether I worked a day or a night shift, I would come back to my dark hotel room in Montmartre. One day, from atop Montmartre I saw Paris as a monstrous fog beneath the rain, a city that felt both crowded and empty, and where my heart could lean on nothing. I would always look at Paris with a stranger’s eyes.”

I said:
“ Nevertheless in that dark hotel room in Montmartre you wrote your famous novel The Stranger, the novel with the famous opening, about  Meursault who experiences the detached feeling from reality making him feel as a stranger in his home town in Algiers. The story has a very strong absurdism flavour,  the feeling of entirely cut-off from others, listless, affectless, alienated, and the lack of meaning of life. What is absurdism to you?”

“On the day of his mother’s funeral procession in Marengo, the most intense feeling he has is the strong heat, the unbearable glare from the sky, which made him feel the blood veins pounding in his temples. His mother’s funeral itself does not have any meaning, he doesn’t weep, he doesn’t care to see the body of his mother in the casket for the last time.

The return journey to Algiers after the funeral seems almost like a relief for him. Back in Algiers he decides to go to swimming and met Marie Cardona at the pool, then they swim together, in the evening  they watch a Fernadel comedy movie and make love in bed later in the night.

However, the next evening he says from his balcony: “Another Sunday gone, mother buried, tomorrow back to work, and, really, nothing at all has changed.”

I said:
“This “Mediterranean” outlook anchors your views to the place you grew up and to evoke its sense of harmony and appreciation of physical life.  Sun tanned bodies enjoying the beaches and the sun of Algeria, swimming, playing football, drinking and girls.  In contract to that sunny life of Algiers,  Meursault says about Paris as “a dingy sort of town, to my mind. Masses of pigeons and dark courtyards. And the people have washed-out, white faces.”

Yet the same blinding sun as on the day he buried his mother, which gave him pain especially in his forehead , and all of the veins pulsating together beneath the skin, the same brightness and heat of the sun like that caused him to shoot an Arab to death for no other apparent reason than the unnerving brightness and heat.

It gives the impression that while Meursault while enjoying life under the Mediterranean sun,  on the other hand the intense blinding sun caused him to fail to make him make sense of his mother’s funeral, and the same blinding sun gives him no other reason to shoot the Arab to death.

Is this why you titled the novel as The Stranger, living the Mediterranean life intensely, enjoying the sun, brown bodies naked on beaches, dancing girls with perspiration,  yet detached, indifferent and outcast from life? ”

Albert, citing his novel The Fall:
“ I am here without being here: I was absent at the moment  when I took up the most space. I have never been really sincere and enthusiastic except when I used to indulge in sports, and in the army, when I used to act in plays we put on for our own amusement. In both cases there was a rule of the game, which was not serious but which we enjoyed taking as if it were. Even now, the Sunday matches in an overflowing stadium, and the theatre, which I loved with the greatest passion, are the only places in the world where I feel innocent.

But who would consider such an attitude legitimate in the face of love, death, and the wages of the poor? Yet what can be done about it? I could imagine the love of Isolde only in novels or on the stage. At times people on their deathbed seemed to me convinced of their roles. The lines spoken by my poor clients always struck me as fitting the same pattern. Whence, living among men without sharing their interests, I could not manage to believe in the commitments I made. I was courteous and indolent enough to live up to what was expected of me in my profession, my family, or my civic life, but each time with a sort of indifference that spoiled everything.
I lived my whole life under a double code, and my most serious acts were often the ones in which I was the least involved.”

I said:
“At the closing of the The Stranger, Meursault facing his death penalty  under the guillotine acknowledges that existence is meaningless, yet he now rejoices in the sheer sensation of being alive.”

Albert, citing Meursault:
“ And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

This is an imaginary interview in memory of Albert Camus.


  1. Well done! I love how you wove in book quotes and biographical information to tell a story.
    Thanks for dropping by my La Peste post.