Syria (and local politics)
I have no idea how the increased involvement of the big armed camps will develop in Syria. Looks like they are trying to find a way to not invade or bomb Syria. All the big gun toters are already “involved”, and have been for years, but things are hotting up. But I feel like writing something about it before I am overwhelmed by another example of civil war or armed aggression or armed intervention or UN involvement or whatever will come next whenever it will come. Or, get wrapped up in local activities and think I know nothing much more than anyone else about Syria. These last few years have been particularly full of interesting events in the world at large. For me “interesting” usually means some kind of instability or surprise. It also means trying to understand so many countries, so many cultures and so many histories that I get overwhelmed from time to time. Most of the year 2011 was like that. New movements everywhere, in places I knew nothing about.
Concerning Syria, there has been no pressure to join people doing some kind of action anywhere around here. Although Holland was acting the big warrior, I don’t think I could have gone to a single demo to stop him, here or in Montpellier. Maybe something happened in Paris, but I don’t go there. Last week I mentioned to a friend in our local Attac, that although I had an ophthalmologist appointment, could he mention the word “Syria” in the serious, but informal meeting that takes place in “The Local” (see previous blogs) every Monday morning. The question has never been discussed by Attac as far as I know, although I do miss meetings. Nothing in the minutes. He mentioned it, which was rather nice of him, and the informal Monday morning coffee chat decided that there was nothing to do, the invasion was not going to happen, there was no action that would be taken. They did not want to do or pretend to do anything. No other group in town, including the non-violent collective have talked about it. It is simply not happening for me on the action front here. Due to my limits, the idea of me starting a group on my own, in Bedarieux, just for Syria or other big power invasions, is not on.
So what sense have I made of what is going on, based purely on reading and a lifetime of following politics at some level, although usually not about Syria. In fact, although I should be, I am not even really up to date and following the Palestinian Problem. So I might be getting some things very wrong. Or more likely “taking some side or other” which I don’t fully support or even know I am “taking”. In some quite real sense, I don’t really want to have to study Syrian politics that much at present. There lots of things I would rather do.
I look at a map and guess that the boundaries of Syria were drawn up by various empires in some office in Paris or London. When I go back and (briefly) look at the history of Syria I am overwhelmed with the complexity, invasion, violence, changes of government, changes of boundaries, family power mongering and so forth that have gone on during most of the twentieth century. It seems pretty obvious that a civil war, and uncertainty about boundaries and identity is totally normal for Syria. I am almost embarrassed that I should even begin to make my views known on this country when I don’t know so very much about it. Really foolish to even try. They are not a very stable and happy nation-state. Bound to be trouble until things settle down some day.
So whatever happens, there is going to be a big mix of various ethnicities, some of whom probably want their own country, and are being oppressed by the current state of Syria. I forget all the names, but there are Kurds, Armenians and “others” who are ten percent of the population. Various pockets of Christians. A few long time family and regional conflicts. These quite normal conflicts are usually important, but have nothing to do with the game being played out right now. So we pretty much know that, in the case of Syria, there is a good chance of civil war, although the duration has taken some people by surprise. The civil war will mix these ethnicities and in this case the religions in a way almost no one can predict. For example, I have no idea exactly who the rebels are, what precise religion (although everyone says they are some kind of Muslim nutters) is promoted or allowed. I have some idea where they get weapons (from anyone who will sell, of course). I have no idea if the rebels or the Assad Gang have some deep “support” in the population of Syria. None of the leaders intuitively appeal to me, as much as I know. It helps me “choose sides” in conflicts if I think one side is somehow closer to the values I have, or more likely to create a world I want to live in. In this case, as far as I can tell, neither of the sides in the Syrian civil war are groups I can relate to. My actual real “compassion” or “support” do not extend to anyone at all in the world. I hear there are plenty of urban, semi-cosmopolitan middle class educated lefty people in the cities. But I guess they have no real voice right now, or maybe they all got busted. I am not sure what “the young Syrians” might be or are doing. They are usually pretty crucial in any opposition these days. It is always a bit difficult to have some kind of anti-government agitation in the middle of a civil war, when the gun toting opposition is not one you support. I am presuming the wild Muslims (if it is them who are “the opposition”, might not be close to the values of the middle class/student types I mentioned. So it seems, on the surface that there is no serious actor in the civil war I can support. Damn, that would have made it simple.
So how to end it, since I can’t pick a winner and support them. Maybe, just let them fight it out. So far, 45,000 soldiers of the state have been killed, some 35,000 regular folk and the rest were militia killed by the state. I trust these figures a bit, but I keep hearing them, so 100,000 dead, no telling how many injured, seriously or not. Some millions of refugees are “living” in tents in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey. Some say the biggest refugee problem in history, probably there have been others as big, maybe not. So it does sound on the surface that, like nearly any war, it is a bad one for nearly everyone. So for me the question is how to stop it. Normally I join in with people protesting against it and maybe send out some emails, maybe write a blog. Not a lot, but what I can do without disrupting my life too much. This time however, I am unable to easily find anyone whatsoever in France or my practical France who cares one way or another. So I write a blog.
I was going to go over who the war might be good for, who might be promoting it, but there is an article a friend sent that does that already, and takes up less space than I would.
As I mentioned, my most militant group talked about Syria recently and decided the war was not going to happen, that a way would be figured out so the USA didn’t have to blow away some military targets with missiles, the ones with perfect accuracy and no collateral damage. This was before the recent developments in “weapons confiscation”. The USA does not really want to go to war, certainly “the people” don’t. Same in France, same in Britain. No one will believe the “surgical strike only” line, nobody will really be taken in. No one actually believes that Syria is a threat to the USA or France or the UK.
All of these major imperial countries in the world have committed war crimes by any serious definition, the USA for sure, for many years. Most anyone who reads this readers will remember Agent Orange or napalm or matches lighting up a village or Dresden or Iraq …. Why exactly does “everyone” get so wildly upset about gas use? The obvious answer is that it is somehow “more odious” and “internationally illegal”. Yet I am sure every single country does gas attack and defence research and development. They sell the stuff to any buyer. Honest, I would not put a gas attack as nearly the most horrible thing that a state can do to rebels. I mean the French! I will be mildly interested if the launching and the creation of the gas was entirely local or that some of the stuff was bought from …? Only mildly curious. Admittedly they stopped outlawing nasty pieces of death technology years ago. Everyone has them. I am saying I get equally angry, upset, depressed about ANY kind of violence. Sometimes I even think that they should outlaw everything after swords and sticks. Mind you, Ihave to say that when I saw the apprently real videos of dead bodies and such, it really was quite upsetting. After all thee years of dead bodies bombed, gassed, irradiated, deprived of water or land, it seems I can still be upset. I am happy about that, but it never means that because something I read about or see somewhere upsets me cannot determine my actions. Too many things. I get upset when I see publicity on the asses of racing cyclists. Really.
I guess I have moved to a position of some kind which is fairly merciless, maybe even a little less than compassionate. Maybe even a bit silly. I figure, overall, that if a bunch of people, for reasons of colonial leftovers, religions, politics, or just plain power seeking, end up in a civil war, with thousands being killed, I say leave ’em to it. Although making the lives comfortable for anyone who flees might always be a temptation. Clearly if a person or a group have some connection to an area, they have a lot more interest. For example, it doesn’t take close observation for me to notice many of my Jewish friends have an intense interest in Israel, usually, but not always, Palestinian supporters and Israeli government critics. One might visit Syria, or organise specific interventions of a peaceful kind. One might hook up with a group of one side or another and help them win. For example, if there was a Bulgarian civil war, I might be on the phone to my family there, to figure out how they were fixed or what was going on. Mind you, I think most of my family there are some kind of aspiring capitalists, and my uncle certainly was a tool of the ruling class, until they dumped him. But I have cousins I quite liked when I saw them forty years ago. Or if my good pal were Iraqi or whatever, I might have taken a greater interest in Iraq. And no doubt if my local chapter of Attac or my Collectif Non-Violent had ever mentioned Syria. But really, I hear nothing locally. So I am in favour of letting them kill each other. If any government made a serious effort to stop them killing each other, then I would support that. Unless of course “their solution” meant continuing death to soldiers and civilians. So let them continue. Anyone selling arms to Syria in the last year should be tried and convicted of supporting war crimes. Maybe.
I start from the rock bottom assumption that if people want to be fanatic Christians, fanatic capitalists, fanatic Muslims, any kind of enthusiastic form of government, then let them do it. If they start messing about with where I live (the Syrians are NOT), then I might try to preserve my lifestyle. But if these various nations in various states make obviously bad choices, and kill each other, it is not up to me to study their history, cultures, language and then try some non-violent way to end the conflicts that have lasted centuries. Unless I had an authentic interest, of course. If there was some kind of serious genocide going on, and seriously oppressive regime crushing people on account of race or level of wealth, I might feel more strongly than on the basis of religion. My view is that when you get “too much religion”, like in the Middle East, including Israel, you end up with some pretty awful politics, and lots of death and destruction. Nothing new. Nothing that can be done, except try to make sure there are not too many fanatics around.
Things is, I am a bit of a fanatic myself. So I sometimes have a bit of sympathy for extremists. But I find some people’s activities is utterly unforgivable and awful. Like the rich. Like the financial classes. Like rapists. Like petty thugs. I would be in favour of somehow not allowing that class of people to exist. Since I don’t like immediate death sentences, or kneecapping (although that often seems right), I guess I am in favour of appropriate education and political action. However, there is no way I am going to actually go to Syria, ever, for any reason. I don’t even know a Syrian. So mostly I have to keep informed and see if any group I find out about has the right ways to act. Then I might decide to support them somehow. Assuming I don’t already do “enough” for some other anti-war pro-justice related activity throughout the world. In general, I guess I had best always be in favour of promoting and improving non-violent activities and politics. I am better than some on that question and with my actions, but not all that good really.
Now that I have nearly finished, I have to admit I was right at the beginning. Every time I have a little doubt about some aspect of this civil war, I google a bit, and find new information I never knew before. Basic information, not just a date or a name. For example, I really never used to understand what an Alawite was, if there were lots of them, what role they played and so forth. Those of you who know more than I do will realise this is pretty essential information. I only really have a rough idea now. The other thing that struck me is that since Syria is so different, as a culture and a place, I don’t have the intuitions that balance reading and learning about Spain or Mexico or Denmark. Those places are more familiar, I might have been there, I might have known someone of that place, I have hunches and guesses as to whether someone is lying to me or covering up. With Syria I just don’t know.
I think that writing about conflicts in places I don’t understand is not what I should be doing. But at least I found out about that. Hope the next blog is better.
Reflecting on Cycling Forums
I went out for a ride today, pretty much the same kind I have done for months. Somewhere between 25 and 50 k (60k once), and often with another mission, like visiting someone. Today I rode to Lamalou and back by a couple hills and some country roads. Had to pay the physical therapy bill for the last time I was off the bike with a “bad back”. I will get the money back, but here you sometimes pay, then get the money back, which creates loads of job in the bureaucracy. Good ride, very satisfying and tiring way beyond what I expected. I don’t think I am very fit, and I think the anaemia affects me more than people think. Still, bill paid, some lovely roads revisited, and an extra half hour on the nap, which more like “sleeping” than “a nap”. I was tired.
However, the event that spun off this blog was posting on one of my bike forums, about the Tour of Britain. Here is the situation. On one of the forums “the consensus” is that the Tour of Britain (now happening) is a second rate race, with not a very interesting parcours. It can be won by someone who wins by several seconds, a sprinter who can climb a bit for example. Most of the days a good rider doesn’t lose time. Someone can win because ONE break got nine minutes on one day due to foolishness on the part of the peloton and lack of strong teams. Someone can win by doing well on the ONE serious climb in each TOB. That is, one can win by a big action on one stage, possibly just luck. Also a good performance on the one time trial can win the race. There are usually no serious mountaintop finishes (as in Spain, France, Italy), although there are some hard hills. None of the teams are really full strength, not remotely like what could be the “Tour Team”. They have young guys riding for “experience”. World Tour people have never heard of many of the riders and some of the teams. Several of the foreign teams are only invited to ride because World Tour Teams are otherwise occupied. Looking at the big-time teams that are riding, like Omega, Movistar, Garmin, (Sky is a slight exception), you can tell they are not taking the race ultra seriously. They might send one really good guy, like Quintana, Martin, Cavendish, but the rest of the team is constructed for various reasons that make one realise it is not “the first team”. The TOB is a good place to spot guys who might be stars in the next five years, as they have a chance to shine without loads of serious World Tour riders around. So that is the consensus on the Tour of Britain in the first forum. Most of the critical types on that list would freely admit there are moments of serious racing in the TOB. They could also see that some of the countryside has a richness and beauty that speaks to them. They also recognise a good move, a gutsy ride, and so forth. But overall, they think it is a second rate race. I am on that first list. I also think it is a second-rate race. I can’t help but think that it is obviously so.
The other, or “second” list, is newer, smaller and composed of a few quite distinct people. I like this list as well, and am maybe the fifth or sixth most active participant. On the other list I am maybe the tenth most active participant. But the core of the second forum is people who left the first list for various reasons. They are also primarily Brits, as the second list was composed of people who left an Anglo-immigrant forum (where some of them were “a thread” nested within the larger forum). A lovely story of break, fusion and creation, whatever I think of the particular reasons or history of this or any other break-fusion-recomposition. Totally normal kind of thing that happens all the time and in which I am deeply interested. Anyway ONE fairly minor reason for the bike forum split is that some of the members of this forum are reasonably pro-British. For example, if there is a Brit riding, with a chance of winning, they will for sure, and quite seriously and passionately support the Brit. Nearly always. They will always be delighted with a British rider flowering on any stage. Apparently, these British enthusiasts were criticised, (sometimes harshly I gather, but it was before my time), as the first forum is more international, or with people living in many countries, keen or knowledgable about the riders of various countries. The Brits range from the pretty seriously patriotic to the “of course I know more about British cycling, I am British, I only read in English”, “I rode those roads” “That lad lives near me” … type of thinking. On this forum I fall into one end of the spectrum. I am partly a Brit who loves the roads and knows a fair bit about British cycling (I read mostly articles in English), even though I am trending toward knowing more about non-British cycling too. Especially French. This pro-British group of Brits, is generally a bit pumped up about the TOB. One of them recently said the TOB was “real racing”. We are still discussing what he might mean, but I think he meant honest racing, by decent riders, in a lovely countryside, without huge pressure of the global scene and with a degree of unpredictability, but above all British. Recently there is also with a very good chance of a British win of some kind, or Irish. Recently, the Brits have also had teams or riders who can explode into the sporting consciousness. I bet there were thousands of spectators on the road who just wanted to get a glimpse of Sir Bradley and Cav, wearing his recognisable British champ’s jersey. That’s who they knew. In the last few decades there has been little to cheer about on the world scene in terms of British winners. A rider here, a rider there, some of them quite good. For young British riders on second rate teams, or those older ones settled in Britain without any desire to go to “Europe”, the Tour of Britain is the biggest race of the year. Which is true. For a few years there was a World Tour type race, Leeds Classic, Wincanton Classic, at which I once took a photo of Phil Liggett (or was it Paul Sherwen?) alongside my partner. But the TOB is the biggest deal of the year. The guy who won the stage yesterday, a powerful, young sprinter who can also climb a bit, will probably sign a contract with a World Tour team based on being good enough to win that stage. The same goes for the young puncheur who won the stage today. The TOB never has a decent mountaintop finish, so no climbers are ever discovered here. I guess this is to do with settlement history, a flattish geography and lack of snow for ski resorts. There can be hilly courses in the UK, but at the finsh they need enough space for busses and trucks and cars, and dramatic mountaintop finshes is not how the TOB evolved. It is pretty much doomed to never have a parcours any more interesting than the ENECO Tour.
So I feel a bit awkward sometimes on the second forum, the one where people are genuinely proud of the TOB, and of being British, and of Britain itself. I am not like them, even though I am a British citizen. I actually chose to be one, they never have. To be clear, I am not like Americans either, even though I am a citizen. I am not like French people, although I decided not to become a citizen. I love all those countries and others, but those especially. They are all full of qualities one can admire and enjoy. But my identity is clearly more complicated at the lived and emotional levels in relation to nations and states.
The other thing that ruins many of my posts on these forums is that I am a trained-up serious critical intellectual, even though the purely academic side of things was never my comfort zone. If I see something that is not what others see, it is not because I am looking for it. I am just looking and I see it. The TOB is a second rate race, full stop. Anyone trying to make it equal to the top eight day type stage races, is just wrong. My fellow forumites, most of whom I like, should not brag about it and exaggerate its qualities. Although I can see that anyone with a serious dollop of patriotism (left or right makes no difference), can feel hurt a bit by criticism of their Home Tour or even lots of other things about their country. Although I admit Brits are a bit more laid back than Americans or French when faced with criticism of their ways (speaking generally). One of the most active contributors on the forum is a rather nice guy who loves cycling, even though we got off to a difficult start. But now we seem to recognise each other’s differences, without getting too freaked about it. We are almost “friends”, and I certainly would like to have him for a neighbour. However he is rather patriotic, kind of gets worked up about things. In fact, he is even quite regional, quite proud of exactly where he is from, and where he lives. I am not even sure he ever lived in France, although many of the contributors to this second forum do. But if I go on about what I see in the TOB, short climbs, nothing much decided on tops of climbs, narrow approach roads, second rate teams etc, he (and a couple of others) would be genuinely annoyed. I try not to do it too much, because it is only a bike forum, and they are nice guys who brighten my days and with whom I share a passion. Who am I to be a drag? But the truth of the matter is that I am a trained-up professional critical person. That is, I have good reason to be like that. Like a lawyer, a book seller, a social worker or an artist act like one of that kind of person, even if they are retired. The other thing of course, is that I feel strongly that being critical and judgemental is a good skill and a satisfying practice. Between the training and the inclination, I could become insufferable in certain places at certain times.
Anyway, that is what happens when I contribute to cycling forums. Pretty much normal life once removed by typed words. If I didn’t have lots of really excellent friends, I would possibly wonder whether such a critical person could have any friends. Obviously there is more to it than that. The funny thing is that (excepting one Welsh woman who lives in Spain), I am the only human being who can be on both forums at the same time. Don’t get the wrong idea, those are the only forums I have ever been active on. One guy tried the switch at the invitation of the new organiser, and was more or less chased out by some slightly unnecessary critical comments. But my only bi-fourm colleague pretty much ignores one of them now. So there is just me who can enjoy both. Same thing happens in Bedarieux, in real life. Most people cannot be active in more than one political or social group, although some do. But when two groups are in conflict and one is active in both, it gets interesting. I shall leave real life conflicts for another time. Virtual ones are interesting enough and pretty much the same.
Cine Club Bedarieux (with Collectif Non-Violent)
I am already getting behind. The powerful swoosh of the rentrée and the blossoming of meetings about all sorts of stuff, and classes and gatherings of all kind starting, patterns being disrupted and being created, makes things more time and energy consuming. True, normal life goes on, Market Day morning happens and I hardly say a thing about it in the blog. Although I wasted some of this past Monday morning seeing the ophthalmologist to find out that I should get my cataracts done very soon. And then I even baked a cake for the Collectif Non-Violent rentrée meeting. Other than the wife of the president, everyone else bought stuff or picked it off trees (plums and figs). Anyway we ate well and charted the New Near a bit. In fact we more or les decided to ease up on the pretty much failed “increase the youth awareness about non-violence, and focus more on local economy, decroissance type of issues. I have never been much intrested in youth around here, as I hardly know any. Turns out the people in the collective are not well-connected with “youth” either, as I suspected. “Villes en Transition” might get some direct airing in meetings for the first time in Bedarieux. But tonight I went to the first meeting of the new Bedarieux Cine Club.
There has been a cinema in Bedarieux at least since I have been here. Other than the rare occasion, it shows newly released French movies. Not that many people went when they could drive to proper big screens with good sound systems. I am not sure exactly when it stopped being a paying business. So ‘the town”, which means the mayor, has bought it. Mayors in France can buy anything that is up for sale, in the interests of the people. The council is putting lots of money into the revitalising, digitalisation and 3Disation of the place. I think I heard the figure of 450,000 euros. There is a big budget for “culture” in this town, as the mayor is quite keen to bringing people into the 21st century, make them better than “traditional Bedariciens” who tend to closed off and care little about the outside world, although they do have powerful and deep local relationships. IN some sense that is complicated to unpack, Bedarieux both embraces and resists outside influence. This first public meeting was fronted by a woman who has only lived in Bedarieux for one year, but who has some experience of cinema. I missed exactly what. She was flanked at the top table by the “Minister of Culture” for the town, and a couple of other local worthies that I have seen around, but don’t really know. I probably knew 10 people in the forty that were there, although I have seen a few others around. Without getting ahead of myself, I think what I saw and heard was the aspiring cultural elite which is not quite the same as, but related to “the middle class of Bedarieux”. I think maybe even leftish inclined, but I am not sure.
There is no doubt that the club will happen, and I have no doubt they will recruit enough active members for the organising committee to get it going. For some people it is a dream to be able to work on a local cinema, choose the films, animate discussions, and generally get involved. A good pal of mine will be one of those people, but he was not there. I think the Cine Club will take his time and his heart (to the detriment, sadly, of the Social Forum). As the local lefty town councillor pointed out, they should really go all the way and municipalise the whole thing. Top to bottom. Then it would be run by public money, and a couple of jobs created. Looks like somewhere it has already been decided that the town will not RUN the thing, but will provide huge backup and subsidise it here and there, including training and paying the projectionists. So a partnership between volunteers and the local state will slowly evolve over the next few months.
I myself will not be able to act in this process in any but the most specific and punctual ways. I might help organise a themed film series, or now and again invite a film and producer to come to town. What became quite clear is that although I am not deeply comfortable in the middle class and its social events when the language is English, there is no chance at all that I could survive and act skilfully inside the French middle class. I admit that the Bedarieux middle class is more accessible to me, especially since I know some of the people, and one or two will be friends. But the strain on not being too direct, of accepting the obvious as obvious (“normal”), and the basic deep difficulties of being complicated in French are too great. I can do it in the Non-Violent meetings, as I did two nights ago, and I can sometimes even act effectively in Social Forum meetings. But amongst what might be called totally straight people, I am not very at ease, unless I know them. So I can focus on other activities, especially since others can do whatever I could do anyway. I am not a genuine film buff anyway. I just adore the cinema, big screen, good sound system, almost any movie will do.
I will give you an example of how French these folks are. I agree, they ARE French. They SHOULD be French. But sometimes they don’t even know they are French. Know what I mean? As sometimes Americans or British people just don’t even know they are being “English” or “American”. Thinking of a name, quick agreeemnt on just having a direct, honest, straightforward, descriptive name like the Cine Club Bedarieux or Bedarieux Cine Club was never going to happen. Seems sensible, unambiguous, everyone will know what it is. But they are trying, without anyone saying anything, to find some local personality who has something to do with the cinema, and naming it after them. Like they name schools after someone, rather than Bedarieux Primary School. Trouble is, there is no one really famous, no actor, no director, only a few semi-connected personalities from this area, who have made it big in the French cinema world. Of course almost no one would know who this guy is. Certainly the name will be a male name. Nearly everyone will have to ask who this person is, thereby educating them in the filmic history of the area. Why not just call it what it is? Although one guy suggested Cinema Paradisio, but I could tell he wouldnot fit into the ruling group.
The room was arranged in one of the usual unreflected “traditional” formats. No one ever dares to try a circle, except my tribe. At the front, ranged in a row behind a table, were four people. Two women, two men. The Minister of Culture, the woman meeting organiser, and two others, one of whom has coffee nearly every Saturday with my friend Jean-Claude. JC is bike riding along the Danube with his wife and another couple, but he will be activeon the final committee. In addition to forty of us, there was one guy in the front row who obviously runs the Beziers Cine Club. http://cineclub.biterrois.free.fr/ He had lots to say, but always talked to the front table, so since I was at the back, I missed a lot of what he said. He had a habit of laughing at private jokes no one else got. A useful participant, but just talked all the time. There was no talk of principles or overall visions, just a phrase now and again. The “detail people” won out, people being very practical about the organisation of the association. Probably quite good for a first meeting, but a little less exciting for people like me, assuming there were others like me who were interested in bigger conversations. I guess those kinds of conversations need to go on over coffee. Exact sequence of this, how big or how much of this or that. No doubt by restricting talk to the details, many latent conflicts were avoided. People like me who like making latent conflicts manifest were a little bored. On the other hand, it was a good way to get the thing going, avoid much reflection, just get it done.
They talked about putting on a film once a month or maybe once every fortnight, so it is not going to affect my life for some months. They also didn’t seem very visionary, as with publicity of the mairie, they should be able to fill up a small cinema room once or twice a week. Still, start small I guess. Maybe before Xmas, maybe not.
There was talk about involving the schools, which would be a very good idea. Would there be a ticket system and what kind? Probably buying a card with a dozen admissions. How much? Maybe four euros a go. Discussions after the films, very good idea and will happen often. The whole thing will be part of tarting up an kind of dilapidated, slummy, poor peoples’ area of town.
I did like the local lefty guy. He had a good point about how halfway this was, and how much other cultural activities would suffer. He also had the closest thing to an argument with a long-time opponent of his. The opponent plays alongside the lefty in the Harmonie Bedaricien. They are clearly opponents over the long term. Hard to know how far to go with basic criticism in a small town. The two opponents didn’t even agree on what the town council had decided. This cinema is going to take a huge percentage of a substantial cultural budget for at least this year and next. The lefty thinks it could be spent better on smaller projects, rather than a glamour project. I don’t agree with him and since he was sitting next to me and whispering his notions in my ear a lot, it was a bit tricky. I admire many of this guy’s persistence, rebelliousness and critical qualities. But sometimes he just seems too straight, too syndicalist, too left. Still, an honest man I think.
Maybe four euros a go. Although we were all surprised to hear from André, the Bezier guy, that a film could cost 1,000 euros to hire. There was some debate, but I lost most of the details of that discussion, as there was a sudden eruption of several conversations at that moment. “1,000 euros, I would never have thought that much” … In fact, the whole meeting was not really very skilfully animated. The guy from Beziers talked way too much, not enough was heard from the floor. Still, it will all come out in a few months. There will be some movies.
A very good pice of news for the New Year. Later for the non-violent collective. It was a busy day since I also went out for a quick ride and watched half an hour of the Vuelta.
Forum des Associations
All day Saturday, from 11h00 to 18h00. Sponsored by the mairie and held in the new purpose built spectacle building on the edge of town. There is one every year to mark the Rentrée. The new building itself can have audiences of 500 seated, so the venue can attract pretty classy acts for Bedarieux. Small kitchen, entrance hall of some size, then the main hall, which has a superb back drop of the hills behind it framed in a massive window. In this case it was filled with small stands and a couple of performance stages. Many of the 120 or so associations in Bedarieux displayed themselves and their productions. There are about 70 on the complete list for the day. For most of the day I identified myself as a member of the Collectif pour le Non-Violence. We shared our space with the League for the Protection of Birds, the famous LPO. I could have moved up to the Attac stand, shared with Solidaire a kind of coalition of leftish unions, I think. But I thought life should be more simplified for one day.
There were other groups like the cycling club I belong to. There were the people from the aerodrome and the gliding club, as well as rugby, football walking, tennis and so forth. The cultural group included the Mushroom Group, bonsai, bridge, photo, dance teachers, martial arts teachers, twinning committee, blood donors, musical groups of all kinds, including the “brass band” (Harmonie) of the town, over 100 years old. Trade unions, Scouts, parent-teachers, veterans’ groups. It really did go on an on. The guy that write for the Midi Libre is a cycling buddy. I should do a blog on him. Full list of gropus here http://bedarieux.blogs.midilibre.com/archive/2013/08/29/forum-des-associations-780263.html
One of the early reasons we looked into Bedarieux as a potential home was that our landlady in Montpellier had a good deal to do with some kind of rural social work. She said that the town had the liveliest association life of any town around. I thought that was a good thing, and no doubt over the months it might have oriented us a bit toward Bedarieux. It is true that a massive funding of the associations has been a policy focus for our mayor. In fact, this morning the mayor came by every single stall, shook everyone’s hands, and told us all how important he thought the “vie associative” was to life in our town. I think he was actually sincere, although there is an election next year, and he got elected by shaking hands and spending money on a happy life for us all.
After I took a couple of turns around the building, I spent an hour folding leaflets and chatting with the odd person, while others went off for lunch. Then I got to eat, which meant a hugely long queue. Satiated, I watched the line dancing group perform. That is the group that Naurika used to be in. Satiated, I went home to have my nap before returning for a last go. I had a long conversation with one of the members of our group as soon as I got back. Altogether I must have spent five or six hours there. Having the time to have long rambling conversations with people is one of the advantages of the event. Or two short chats with the same person. Sometimes there just is no one at your stand and you can chat. I stayed until the brass band wrapped up the day with its short performance, only five or six pieces. They are pretty good and I know a few people in the band. One of my life goals is to be able to play the tenor sax with the Big Band, an offshoot of the Harmonie. The Big Band plays traditional “big band music”, plus arrangements of other songs. So my top experience would be to be able to play “Birdland”, the Weather Report piece, with that band. I would be quite a satisfied person after that. However, I have to buy a tenor sax or get one somewhere, and practice for at least two years, really hard. I am not at all a natural at music, but I did play the clarinet in high school, so I don’t start from nowhere.
It was a very good day, although the food was a tad simple. I forget which assoc did that job. One thing that resonates is that we came to live here because there was a lot of action, a lot of activities. We got that right! It is true that I have failed to find a good taiji teacher in the valley, but maybe I have not looked closely. But there are so many groups meeting and performing and learning that it does make the mayor’s support very important.
The only new assoc I joined was the old peoples group, the Foyer Verdaguer. http://www.foyer-verdaguer.fr/ They organise a stunning number of activities, including the softies walk I want to try out on Monday afternoons. I thought about joining Restos du Coeur, a volunteer charity which gives food to poor people in the winter. The group finds a way to collect it, it is a national group. Then the food is distributed to people who pass the test as being “deserving”. The number has been steadily rising over the last years. But that requires some semi-delicate verbal interactions in French. I am not good enough. Although I could certainly sort out the bags that are given out. Maybe next year.
Life in the big town. Action never stops.
Just a quick word on the Social Forum before I report on the tonight’s meeting. There were only six of us, but oddly the meeting almost started on time. One knows meeting times around here, and fifteen to twenty minutes late, it begins. Any more than fifteen-twenty minutes late is a drag, a bit lacking in respect. Any sooner is a miracle. We have “the Midi quarter of an hour” before any meeting or event starts. We, the Forum, never once talked about whether we would could organise our event of the 11 October, we seemed to just assume it would happen, and went ahead and organised it. Well, nearly organised it. We still lack a musical side as the original music group said no when they got back from holiday. We are looking for a bit of background music while we eat the meal and maybe a bit of dancing after that (doubtful). The meal is to be brought by everyone, and shared. What I knew as a “potluck” all my life, and what in Yorkshire we call a “Jacob’s Join”, and what the French don’t really have a single clear word for. Before we eat we have a serious “animateur” who is going to organise an hour and half where we discuss and debate, in small groups and large, with little tricks and so forth, the subject of “decroissance”. What we mean and what we want. Voila, done. We seem to have enough money in the bank to pay for some good music and to pay the animateur’s expenses and maybe more. The Social Forum may yet live. The main purpose of this event is to attract a few more people to do the work to organise the next social forum. We shall see, but it is nice to be a little bit optimistic about this nearly vanished group.
Tonight was the Citizen’s Assembly. I was totally in “first meeting, listening mode” to check it out. I wanted to not talk, just listen. I expect these citizen’s Assemblies happen all over France, as this is a project of the Front de Gauche. Front de Gauche is a local and national coalition between various forces of the left, even the radical left, the real left, whose “leader” is Jean Luc Melanchon. He stood for President last time around. Got hammered. But in certain places, here and there, including Bedarieux and the valley of the Orb, they did not do that badly. Hundreds of people voted for them here. All the Front de Gauche people I know are also in other political social groups, but I don’t know the history of all the people at the meeting. I only knew a dozen. Many were clearly old politics people and were some kind of leftist, local variety. So on to the meeting.
First things first. The arrangement of the tables and chairs was in a long rectangle. This means that you could not easily see the faces of the people on your side of the rectangle. No one was introduced, their names remain a mystery, except for the ten people I knew. Everyone was white. Accents mostly local. Eighteen men, 7 women. Mostly older ones talked, but there was a smattering of middle aged and one or two young folks. There was no chair or animateur. People interrupted or went on for a bit longer than their share. The air conditioning was on, even though it was not hot outside or inside. I had to put my pullover on. The lights had to be used for the first time, the days are getting shorter. There were several microphones, but they were not passed around. One lay by the side of one of the “talkers” during the whole meeting, never got passed, and it was hard to hear the speakers.
There were several working groups on subjects like youth, culture, social affairs, work, sports who made some kind of report. Although somehow hearing the reports of the working groups was not the point of the meeting. Only one report was formal, the rest just orally given. The idea of these working groups is to get together a programme so that the Front de Gauche can win a few seats at the next municipal election in 2014. NO WAY they can beat the mayor, who is on his fifth or so term. Been mayor for 25 years or something. Not a bad mayor, very sympathetic to “alternative thinking”, compared to most other mayors in France. He funds various associations to the tune of 5% of the city budget, an “investment” of 439,000 euros. There are 120 associations in Bedarieux, in fact the Association Fair is tomorrow. Nothing much would change in town, and my taxes would be way lower, if the mayor were not proactive and a bit trendy.
One faction within the group is clearly bound by budget limitations, austerity, what is “not possible”, mostly keen to cut spending on this and that. They have no imagination and are sufficiently negative to put me off the entire group. One of them wanted to cut the budgets of the associations. This is the dumbest possible policy change. The associations are the only saving grace of the town in many ways. They provide specialist needs and interests for many people. I belong to six. Without the money from the Marie, many of them would spend time raising money and would not spend time putting on events. There were others who want to increase the budget for associations, which is more my attitude. I can’t even imagine being in a group which has as its main policy focus to spend less money on public and social life. And it is pretty clear that in France, here anyway, right now, the only place there is money to do things that are not “profitable” is the state. Our local mayor has a budget of 25 million euros. In fact, the Mairie is practically the only way to finance any kind of project that is innovative.
By the way, the people who I mostly agreed with are already members of other associations that I belong to. However, they believe in elections and taking over the power of the state to do good things. I don’t.
Too many times I heard “combat” as a metaphor for the kind of politics they wanted to do. Too many times the National Front and its danger were batted about. I could not believe that one guy even came out with equality, fraternity and liberty, and then added laicité, of course. While cute, this is totally old fashioned and the mark of an old politics. Have I done a blog on Laicité yet/
I realise during the meeting that I am more of a “Towns in Transition” type guy. I would begin with my focus on the civil society groups in action, not on winning seats at an election to take over the power of directing the budget of 25 million. Although I am happy to admit that I would prefer leftists in control than rightists. Then there is an outside chance to get some funding for projects I like. I am doubting I can act in a meeting where the format is rectangular, the budget limits everything, and the air conditioning is on and no one cares to turn it off.
My own proposals for working groups would be the same as theirs, except … Finance and build a all weather pool and fitness centre. Purchase one or two of the old huge buildings and have a MDJ, a youth centre. There is a huge house for sale which would be prefect. Oddly no one mentioned it, and I was stunned that maybe none of them knew about it and I did. Fund initiatives for co-housing for older people and for mixed ages. Both. There are retired people in Bedarieux who can pay. And those who can’t. The housing models are easy enough to see elsewhere and build right here. I would also have a workshop on non-French European immigrants. Like the English speakers, but also the Belgians, the Scandinavians and the Germans. There must be hundreds of them in the valley, but no one ever talks about them. What problems do they bring, what benefits? What needs do they have and how can they be met? And I would immediately construct and refurbish an old house as a centre for associations and action. Late cafe, dancing, music, meetings rooms, kitchen etc. There is nothing like this in town. The mayor would also be unlikely to fund a centre for alternative power and ideas. I would have a workshop on violence in Bedarieux. Why are nearly all the single older woman I know afraid to walk in Bedarieux at night? Nothing much even happens now that they have closed ALL the bars, so the Maghrebin, Gitane, and vanilla French lads don’t get drunk at night and have fights between and among themselves. But there is still fear. Why? Nothing much goes on in town at night. No restos can succeed in the city centre, no one is there. Those would be my projects and workshops.
Anyway, enough about that. It was fun to go, not too boring and above all, free. I am glad I went. I will go once more, but I am afraid they are not my kind of people. I have too few years left to work with people who have old fashioned, narrow minded politics, although I might vote for them in the elections. I should also say that the general sense of the meeting was that if anyone had a new idea for a workshop, they just had to propose it and animate it. Very open, yet at the same time very closed.
So tomorrow is the “re-entry” into French life, start of the school year, re-opening, re-assembly, the return. Many things happen, many things change. Most people are back from holidays, only groups like the older people without kids are populating the beaches. News stories focus on how much the carrying bags for books are, plus the long list of material every student has to have to start the year. Everywhere there are Foires des Associations, when all the groups in town put on an event with entertainment for kids, stalls for everyone to join up for new activities or talk to friends. The outdoor swimming pool closed two days ago. Meetings of associations begin, I had one last week, and this week and next I have four. Nearly everyone is finished with family and visitors and we all heave a great sigh of relief. Living in the South of France has its advantages and disadvantages. Which relative would you visit, the one around here or the one in Alsace or Lille? People compare stories about how it was a hard or easy summer with visitors. Some retirees that I know are taking off for the break they never got in the summer. Kids are back in school, and the traffic in front of my house will increase immensely. My street is the way back from the main high school, a private high school, the sports centre, the boulodrome, the camping car park. Damn those traffic planners.
Market Day is changing also. Nearly everyone is back, the streets are full, but most of the tourists and second home people have gone. Soon the biggest cafe on the main street will stop having music drowning out the conversation. The visitors love it of course. They like a bit of music and drinking in the sun. Most locals have to find another place to go and chat with their pals, but across the street is an alternative, with NO music. Over the summer many people didn’t come to the market, either away on holiday or just not coming, since no one else was coming. Tourists filled up the place, but only when the weather was good. When the locals come during the regular year, they come every week, not just when they can sit in the sun and listen to a band drown out any decent conversation. Normality is in slowly gaining ground.
My first political meeting was the Collectif Non-Violent. Only four of us, when there should have been maybe eight or ten. Most had reasons for absence linked to the rentrée. Usually involving taking kids back to the other family they live with, or bringing them back to the family here they live with, or still having one last weekend away. Many stories about the last days of the holiday on TV as fillers, between reportage of the Syrian scene. We had a really good meeting. We had not even registered (nor had our partner Attac) for a stand at the Foire des Associations on Saturday Next. One of our members is dynamic and efficient, he simply rang the mayor’s office and booked the stand, even though the deadline had passed. Then he spearheaded a moderately well focussed effort during which successful plans emerged for the details of the day. We all had done it before, so no problems. We even semi-agreed on a focus for the year, something to do with local development, villes en transition, decroissance and the like. It appears that some other groups might organise similarly themed events as well, so it could be a fine focus, maybe a bit of co-operation. I am the only person in all three of the major activist groups, so there might even be a bit of unity to my political activity this year.
So far, my only political group outside Bedarieux, Americans for Peace and Justice has not scheduled a meeting this year. One of grumpiest/critical ex-members has pointed out (yet again) we don’t do anything, even protest agains the USA going to war with Syria. My own feeling is that the APJ group is pretty much dead, even if a rather decent network of friends is left. Maybe it would be more accurate to say the group is hibernating. Yes, resting.
Tonight I went to the first meeting of Attac, where I proposed the simple scheme I invented six years ago, (but never actually organised) for publicity/communication amongst all the “alter-groups” in the valley. I finally found a French guy who can do some work I can’t do, but which is necessary for the scheme to happen. The same guy who was the action man in the Collectif NV above. He knows computers a bit (surprising how many “militants” around here are uncomfortable with computers), is very efficient, and has no real enemies anywhere. I think I might have one or two myself, so he can also do talking and phone calls easily since he is used to it in his work and also is French, therefore easier to understand on the phone and a better writer of emails than me. He has only been here a hear or so, but a good guy. This scheme is a simple email list where either of two people in each group can send and will receive emails from all the other groups. Easy, but never happens currently. Vincent is keen. I have written the main letter, got my wife to translate it properly and have begun to recruit the responsible people from each group. Could mean the difference between 30 and 50 people at each event the various groups organise. Should it succeed, I will be very happy and very satisfied.
Then the final wood delivery is coming on Wednesday. When we stack it, we should have nearly enough to last the winter. Stacking it all, wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow takes longer each passing year. But it happens. Always feel a bit better when that is done. It is not green, it has been sitting outside at the wood guys’s place for almost a year. I should really burn wood that has beedn frying for two years, especially the chene vert (quercus ilex), a very dense wood. But I have only got that far ahead one winter since I have been here.
Some things should have been done that aren’t, but that is the rentrée, the deadline when you know that you have messed up again. No trip planned to see my pal in Lancaster. No trip to see another pal in Montelimar. No trip planned to see my son in Portugal. Never did the big cleanup on my office, although I did make a beginning. Didn’t ride the bike that much, although I had a medical excuse for some of that. Not all a disaster though, as I did the big trip in the Pyrenées, plus a little one (Pyrenées) to see an old friend, plus a weekend in Nimes to go to an Attac summer university and to visit a guy I like who lives there. Lots of swimming.
Leaves are falling in the street and in our garden. After the heat of summer, our ”prairie” (NOT a lawn) is finally growing, so needs a trip before it stops in a month or so. I like to try and strim it at the exact moment in the autumn, several days before it stops growing, so it looks neat and tidy for the winter. We need to fit in a quick trip to the sea after the beaches empty out a bit, while the water is still nice and warm. We usually try to go at least twice, once when it is good before the crowds and once after. This year the weather was hopeless before the end of June. So we missed it totally.