Infrastructure and Landscaping
As an homage to French colonialism, theGuide du voyageur en Algérie is written with the specific goal of highlighting the infrastructure and industrial/economic structures which it implanted in Algeria. From this, we can deduce that its goal is to attract colonists, specifically tradesmen and industrial leaders. The guide therefore devotes some time to topics that would interest them but bore the average tourist, such as lead mines and hydraulic systems. The goal is not to attract visitors, but to highlight the “necessity” of French presence and commerce in its colonies. The author ties the French “civilizing mission” to the potential economic boom of Algeria, claiming that “once french civilization is introduced in these lands, the production will be multiplied a hundredfold.”
He also focuses on the transformation of the landscape for agriculture, describing it over at least 20 pages. The author describes the massive deforestation led by the army, mainly to clear land for crops. He omits the fact that most of these lands were confiscated from Algerian peasants, while emphasizing that they were dry and arid before being “saved” by France. Among other landscape “improvements” led by the army, he names the creation of new roads, claiming that “In several places, the ancient roman roads were used as base to create these useful new constructions.” This recycling of ancient roman structures serves to naturalize European presence in Algeria, presenting it as the natural continuation of the Roman occupation.
The description of Algiers particularly celebrates colonization. The author spends a half-page enumerating the European structures implanted by the French, including cultural (museum), judicial (various courts), and economic (stock market) centers. The destruction needed to recreate the city is only tangentially mentioned, either minimizing the impact on Algerians (“All the indigenous small store owners, chased from the arcades by the expensive rent…”) or boasting of France’s modifications, such as the forced redesigning of private homes (“these walls without any opening, which made each home seem like a prison...were now pierced with windows, replacing the sinister fences with elegant shutters.”) The evocation of a specifically French shutter, persiennes, suggests that French elegance is being artificially exported into Algeria. Europeanization is named as something necessarily positive, even though it is intrusive and forced.
The author therefore is creating a false binary between the Arab old town and and the new changes wrought by the French occupation, mimicking the supposed inherent differences between the two value systems. The “old town” in Algiers is described as a place of fascination and exoticism for tourists, but also as dirty and disordered. The writer very frequently references dark, twisted and tortuous stairs and paths, suggesting that the Arab quarter itself, and by extension the indigenous population that inhabits it, is something dangerous for Europeans. The writer himself highlights this opposition, claiming that “[the streets] had to lose their endless twists to satisfy our love of straight lines.” His binary opposition of these two systems recalls Said’s definition of Orientalism as European observers claiming authority over “the Orient,” defining it so that it so that it seems like the negative opposite of the West, inherently inferior, and thereby justifying European intervention.