I am not going to read what I did last year, until I finish this. So far, I have to admit that I have not studied the route minutely. I am sure I care, but some bits, some areas, are a mystery to me. I might well look at a couple of other commentators after I finish, to see what they say.
I think it looks like Tour as normal. A new kind of normal from a couple of decades ago, but it seems familiar. The luckiest and strongest cyclist will win, assuming he has a bit of help from a pretty strong team. What is noteworthy? They start in England (more below). No team time trial, which suits me. I like it to watch it live in person, but I don’t think it makes good TV and often I find the effect on the GC a little bit too much. One longish time trial, 54k on flattish countryside, I think. Second shortest TT distance this century. Some cobblestones for one stage, which is kind of interesting in a spectacle kind of way. But the truth is that although a Tour can be ruined for anyone in the first few days. A huge peloton on the cobbles, early in the race, makes it a serious crash a little bit more likely. That always seems a potential minor tragedy. Then the riders cross some unfamiliar country to take on the Vosges. I am not really familiar with the north of France, living in the south and having taken all my holidays (except one in Brittany, which is totally ignored this year) in the south. The Vosges mountains are second level, moyenne mountains, but the organisers have rather imaginatively put together some routes in those hills that could be surprisingly telling. But I don’t know the Vosges very well. There is a nod to the Alps, climbing some mountains, but the climax is meant to be the three full days in the Pyrenees and the long time trial at the very end. Four of the last five days of the race are where several GC contenders, assuming there are several, will mess up. In between the Alps and the Pyrenees they manage to skip over the entire area from Nimes to Carcasonne, so I would have to make a planned overnight trip to see the Tour. Anyone want to see the Tour for three days in the Pyrenees? Maybe we could stay with a friend?
The first two days are worth a paragraph on their own. The two stages in Yorkshire, riding many roads I know a bit, is in my native countryside. Everyone in France will see the area and many hundreds of thousands of cyclists in Britain will get the extra added Tour feeling. It should be utterly fantastic. England is such a small country that anyone who is a cycling nut will get there. And plenty of big cities within striking distance to empty out with casual fans during the Grand Depart. Nearly any cyclist in the UK will know another cyclist they can stay with during those two days. Already I have heard the plans of one small group I know. They will ride out from Lancaster into the Dales, picking a strategic viewing point, then ride back after the races. Probably a day of 150k or more, but with long hours of daylight, the rest while experiencing the joys of the seeing the Tour, and being with pals, it should pass quickly enough. Two days of long rides and seeing the Tour on the very roads you know well is probably not going to happen again in their lifetimes. It is a big temptation to go over for the first two days. Of course they have to go to London for a flat stage (where of course there will be more people), but two full days in Yorkshire could be a Tour “Memory”.
I am wondering about the notoriously bad surfaces of British roads, maybe including some of the ones in the Dales. My memory was of roads with the wrong camber on curves, and a rough surface that French roads simply don’t have. I wonder if they will do the re-surfacing that is always apparent on the Tour roads. Yorkshire roads are sometimes narrow and lined with stone walls, someone will most likely crash and hopefully not hurt themselves too badly.
There are quite a few stages for the sprinters, I might have counted nine. Five finishes up hills, ranging from the short steep to the long steep. In fact, if one counts a short steep hill early on, you could say there are six stages that finish up a hill. In fact, the five true mountain finishes are more than any time this century, except 2002, when there were also five. Plenty of time for climbers to do their deeds. There are also a few stages made for escapees. The tour will be long, hot, probably have a bit of rain, like it always is. The favourite is Froome, battling Nibali and the rest. But we shall see who actually rides in a six months. The ASO, owners of the tour, are refining the formula they have developed over the last few years. One or two little spectacle things, like Normandy graveyards and starting in Yorkshire. And the cobbles. Trying to build in one or two surprises early on, but basically structuring it so that if they have their way, it will be decided in the final time trial or the final mountains stages in the Pyrenees. If there were two evenly matched riders at the top, with some known time triallist fourth within a minute or two, then it might be good. But it is more likely that the last stage, climbing the Tourmalet from the La Mongie side, and then descending to finish climbing Hautacam will be the deciding one. That should be a very pretty two hours of TV. Wonder if I will ever ride up it again?
As for these Pyrenéen stages, they have loads of possibilities. The first ends up downhill, straight downhill, no flat bits. Someone will gain lots of time on that descent for sure. That first stage goes on a road I have never noticed while poring over my maps. After climbing a couple of small hills, it descends and goes across the valley and climbs up from Mauleon-Brousse, the Port de Bales, On my map, part of that climb up to Port de Bales is marked with red and white bands, which means a rickety old, narrow road. The descent to Bagneres looks very fast. The second stage looks like a nearly classic sawtooth, four appreciable climbs in a row ending at the St. Lary ski station. It looks at first glance that there is not much respite at all in that stage, up, down, and up pretty quickly. This is a stage where someone who is dropped early on could lose a whole lot of time and because it so short, only 125k, there could also be some riders eliminated on time delay. Although none of the climbs are classic tough ones, there really is not much relief. The next day is up the Tourmalet, ride down, and climb Hautacam, another short day at 145k. Fast racing. Very hard stages. No hard riding about for an hour or two before the action starts, and then on climb for victory. Those two shortish stages with climbs at the end should be really good.
Short note. They jump over my home, we are about halfway between Nimes where a stage ends, and Carcasonne where the first Pyrenéen stage begins. We have had plenty of starts and finishes over the last few years, so fair enough. The entire vast centre of France, Brittany, the entire Massif Central, all of Brittany and most of the west coast are totally skipped. Very oddly shaped trajectory this year. Blame it on the three days in England. I think my only hope is to find a friend in the Pyrenees who wants to put me up, maybe with a pal or two, or get a lucky reservation, Unachieved goal for 2014? Ride around watching the Tour with a few pals on bikes.
One special day could well be the stage on 14 July in the Vosges. It looks like a classic sawtooth profile, medium mountain stage. Looks awful, although the climbs are not as long or hard as the big mountain climbs. It should be quite wearing on everyone unless they somehow all agree to just ramble along. If there is some real racing, it will all end on the climb of Le Plateau des Belles Filles, on the Tour two years ago. Froome won his first stage there. It is a rather short stage, 161 k, so someone will make moves. And if they go fast, there could be some eliminations on time, even if the hills hare not awesome.
So enough for the sprinters, climbers and chancers. Some space for early drama, and clearly arranged for late drama, assuming Froome does not wipe them all out again after the first stage in the Pyrenees. What more can I say. Vive le Tour.
The meeting of the day was organised by a group of five people, who want to construct some kind of co-housing in or around town. Maybe in the countryside around here. It has been a quiet group for a couple of years, and was rooted in a previous attempt to construct some habitat groupé (as we say). For some time one stubborn, devoted woman has flown the flag around here. It would appear she has found at least one more serious co-conspirator. Co-housing (habitat groupé) is growing in many places in France, although many countries are well ahead on that path. Essentially, HG has its roots in certain tendencies in modern life, centred around how best to live with others, ow close, how separate, and how to make mutually important decisions. Co-housing nearly always is big on “ecological construction”. Participants want to live living together with chosen people, but with individual dwellings where one can be private, invite friends, fix meals. Maybe they might want to share guest rooms for visitors (allowing smaller houses for most days of the year), maybe a library, a large common room for meetings, parties, bike sheds, optional common meals and so forth. Perhaps there is some effort to share large appliances, or even heating or energy systems. In any case, the emphasis on sharing differentiates HG from privately owned or controlled houses. Usually there is some effort to create a multigenerational group as well. In any case, there are no rules that are fixed, except that tendency to be some mix between private dwellings and “a commune”. On one end of housing options we have individual families and individuals on their own. On another some kind of deeply collective consciousness and ownership. Co-housing is in between.
I didn’t go to the first part of the meeting which explored some of the basic issues, informed people a bit on how things have worked for others, mostly animated by various fairly local people with some experience and expertise. http://lemazetgroupe.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/programme-page-22.jpg Although most of you don’t read French, you can still get the idea. It seemed to be very well organised, and the 40 people who were there when I turned up for the last three hours, seemed happy and not at all tired. I was impressed with the effort that the five people in the group had made to publicise and organise the event. At least one of the guys in the group has clearly injected a lot of organised competence into the somewhat dormant group. Since this was more or less the launch of the new group, I will have to wait for four years or more for the fruits of this meeting to be realised. But I shall be there to lend whatever help I can to the overall effort. Living in a Habitat Groupé is my serious dream and I have no idea if it will be realised, here or elsewhere.
Some observations that sometimes surprised me were all I had time for in my short visit. First, I only knew six people in the room, two of whom left shortly after I arrived. There were at least 40, therefore I had never seen or met more than 30. Once again this year I am participating in a situation where there were NOT the same old faces. That is, it seems pretty obvious to me that there is something going on in my area. A little bit of effort in a particular direction, some good publicity and an attractive venue will draw in quite a good variety of people, most of whom have not gone to other recent meetings in Bedarieux. That is, there is varied and layered interest around, young and old, in slightly deviant political and social projects, “alternatives”. For me these small meetings in a totally out of the way place are indications that the pessimism and crankiness of some commentators and friends is way out of touch. Some of you will have seen “Field of Dreams”, one of my favourite movies. “Build it and they will come”. Without making to much of a small sample, it seems there are plenty of people around to do the work. But sometimes there is a distinct lack of leadership capacity to pat it into shape, give a coherent form, do some detailed organising work. Maybe that is changing a bit. New people who have that capacity to lead are popping up all over the place. It has always been my goal to be in a group full of leaders rather than sometimes around here, where I have been in groups where there is no leadership capacity being exerted at all.
On the way home, I met the English guy who is becoming quite visible in these sorts of political and social circles. He just organised the first meeting of a group called Energies Citoyennes, Citizens’ Energies. The initiative came from some opposition to a project to designed to put 17, or maybe it was 35 industrial windmills up on the closest edge of the Larzac Plateau. I hadn’t even heard of this, but someone got permission. However, just the other day, he told me, the permission was altered, the project won’t go ahead. On the other hand the group of citizens is being started to more or less try to move things down the line to medium-sized windmills and small ones, among other choices. The relation of this to Habitat Groupé is obvious, and he was on the way to chat with those who were left.
There were all kinds of people and the HG meeting who test my ability to listen carefully and learn to be compassionate. Slowly I am becoming more aware of learning from the nearly anyone, even young people, listening to people who SEEM to be saying the same thing “we” have said for ages, trying to hear what people say even if seems to be naïve, silly and obstructive. I learn from this in the same way I used to learn about taiji from those were obviously not as advanced as I was. And to teach those who know less. It is hard though.
Some woman who lives in the Alps area turned up. I gathered from her rather extensive contribution that she had already checked out a few other co-housing schemes. She did, quite usefully, bring news of other attempts, how they were going, what happened. She also talked longer than anyone, except the animateurs. In fact, one of the animateurs was not really very skilled or informed and yet talked rather a lot more than she needed to. By the end of a couple of hours, I knew some of this woman’s preferences in life, and pretty much realised she would never be living in a co-housing I worked on. When she said good-bye she simply took ten minutes of everyone else’s time to say goodbye to the two facilitators. A hard kind of person to deal with, especially if you don’t know them. She did say she lived 600k away and therefore could do not work, but she was behind us one hundred percent.
Then there was the nineteen year old kid I talked to for quite awhile, during a break. He was a bit disconnected (read very stoned). But he knew what he wanted and had no qualms telling us all what that was. He was keen on making things into a festival. Also he wanted a hectare to grow and sell his vegetables. Still, a nice fellow, but when I was talking to him and he was telling me about co-housing and Social Forums and his festival in a field, even though he literally knew nothing about either housing or Social Forums. I told him I was old enough to be his grandfather and was working on this stuff before he was born. I got a little bit of respect, but clearly he knew lots more than I did. The overenthusiastic, know-it-all, twenty year olds are always a bit difficult, especially when they know so much and so little, and yet have such delightful enthusiasm.
Then there were the people who know a few facts, and they also know that nothing very different will ever work. Usually they are people who are very local, who have lived most of their life in the area and know that nothing new will manage to penetrate the assumptions and habits of people like them. They also consider themselves to be very experienced and realistic, while seeing others as outsiders who know nothing. We had two of those, both men. They are often men, but not always. They know what is possible and they know that anything they can’t imagine obviously could not happen.
All three of these kind of people always appear, and need to be nurtured, got rid of, listened to, cut short in their lengthy contributions. That was done pretty well by one of the facilitators and so it gave me hope. Let’s hope the group makes some good moves. I shall certainly toddle along and see what I can contribute. It was a very refreshing meeting.
It is definitely autumn now. I have raked the leaves under the ornamental plum three times now, and started filling in the leaf compost bin, which will vanish into the soil of the veg patch next spring. The leaves of the cherry and the Tree of Judea are beginning to come down. Two days of rain and today a heavy fog in the morning, indicate that the “Cevenol” effect is in action. The warm moist air from the Med gets blown up north to the Cevenne mountains, where it pisses down, eventually causing floods downstream, nearer to the sea. Mostly in places where greedy mayors allowed houses to be built in known flood plains so their tax budget would increase. I have just folded up my summer short sleeved shirts and will shortly tucked them under my bed in my plastic immigrant storage bags. Naturally they will be replaced by the winter gear, heavy jumpers and long sleeved shirts. It is a real plus in life to be able to live where I can have clothes for two seasons, and use the summer ones every year. I am constantly looking at the prairie we have (not really a lawn as such) calculating when to make the very last trim so it does not grow too much more and looks neat and tidy all winter. The meeting season is underway full scale. After the deep hibernation from June to September, the associations woke up, and the flow of meetings in October is full on.
For example, Attac organised a rather successful pique-nique last Saturday. Maybe forty people there at one time or another, a few kids, some partners, local bio sausages, with pretty good home- made tabouli, locally baked bread, organic of course, with some fine home made puddings. We had it at the picnic area of the newly refurbished Pierre Rabhi Park. Now Pierre Rabhi is someone who comes often to Bedarieux, our mayor likes him a lot. He is a “quite radical agro-activist” and writer, sadly not well known in the Anglo world, but he is worth knowing about. A bit of searching in English would be a very good idea, he is exceptional. http://cycloasis.org/partners/pierre-rabhi/ There is plenty of stuff in French about him or by him. Anyway the picnic was well timed on the day, which was a bit murky and fresh. Just about when everyone had dessert and several people had left (including me), the rain came down. The other notable feature of the picnic was that there were six people, SIX, who spoke English. One French guy, the professional cycling teacher I may have mentioned, a young German who I have never seen before, a kind of unusual American woman who seems to be back in the area after some travelling, an English alternative energy guy from a tiny hamlet who seems to be adopting Bedarieux as a place to be politically active. OK, five people. Rather unusual, and rather nice actually to drift past a conversation in English or even have the option to speak English. Of course, except for the American woman, they all speak French as well, sometimes I speak French with them. In fact, I had the intriguing experience to be talking to the English guy (whose French is really good) and a French guy, but when the French guy drifted off, we spoke in English immediately. Doesn’t happen much in my life here.
Then yesterday evening, Christophe, who is a militant in Attac, and also works for the Town Council on Agenda 21 (google) organised a meeting about “the energy transition”. Funny how that concept is popping up in France this last year. I know it is new because one of the most well-informed Attac militants was saying a month ago that she didn’t know what that meant, and had not heard it before. The notion of Transition Towns (Villes en Transition) is also growing a bit, with the “manual” having been translated into French. As yet, there are no overt signs of that particular movement in Bedarieux, but I know people know about it. This meeting was very well attended, sixty people maybe. Quite a spread of participants. Elected officials, middle class folks, activists, and people from the hills dress informally (and smelling like wood smoke in the winter). One thing I noticed very happily is that the two “experts”, one working for a group called Negawatt http://www.negawatt.org/ as well as an energy co-op http://www.enercoop.fr/ and the other working for a company that consults and organises projects, http://www.groupevaleco.com/ were well informed, knew the alternatives and were very matter of fact. This “transition” is no longer an idea, but a practical path. It was intriguing to me because back in the very early seventies when I started collecting material for my edited book on Radical Energy (there was no such book on earth at the time), most of this was speculation and a few experiments. I never finished the editing job, character flaw. Now you simply inform yourself a bit, order the products and set them up with or without professional aid Even in our lotissement (suburban stye development) there are two little windmills and several solar panel arrays. Back then, alternative energy was dreaming, and a few examples. The argument had not been won yet. But today, their expert responses to questions were simple, sane and without huge debate.
The first question was about how it is all capitalism and profit, and therefore somehow a plot. But, in response, the experts said they agreed, not trying to make that argument. A huge relief to me as I have heard it so many times before. Yes, one agreed agreed it could be just capitalism in disguise, but that is why they were a co-op with profits not given to shareholders, and that he agreed with the hostile guy who thought he was going to argue. The second expert even said hey, we make a living, 6% profit, although there were few who thought 6% was a big deal. And when another guy who is off grid completely asked a question, the experts also agreed with him as well. And even argued FOR people doing it themselves and being disconnected which they agreed was one strong possibility, even though not their choice. No fights, no shouting arguments, just how can we do it, this is how you can do it. For anyone who thinks there has been no change, I can tell you we have, over the years, done a lot. I am aware, and everyone else was, that most of the developments are funded by the state, and are executed by giant multinationals, with massive industrial windmills, purely for money. But there are now at least two sides, and two tendencies, and plenty of realistic plans. Industrial built in France or elsewhere line, admittedly the bits are made here, but the assembly is more likely in Spain, Denmark or Germany. Good meeting, followed by some nice pizza and lively chatter. Oh yes, there was a movie on Fukushima, which is a total disaster, getting worse, and I don’t want to watch it ever again.
Off to the Saturday Market, a much smaller one than Monday, but the products sold, maybe ten stands, are all organic and local. So what happened? First I had my customary coffee with Yves, my pal who is a joiner, locksmith, father of five. We often sit and chat for half and hour or an hour on a Saturday or Monday, unless one of us has something more important to do. We talked about his work,and also about rich people and the nature of money. A few words about the kids. Probably my best French pal. Passed by “the English table” too, while Yves was buying some veg at the organic stall. We chatted briefly about operations, cataracts, and not much else. There are four of them who are the core of this group, and they meet on Saturday and Monday. Sometimes another couple joins them, and today someone’s daughter popped by, I think they were visitors. I take less interest in visitors than I once did. Usually they don’t really have a clue what is going on, say things that I am tempted to reply to in a critical manner, and I probably won’t see them again. But maybe it was a nice English couple who lives here full-time, and I just don’t know them. Passed down the road to the organic local coffee shop (obviously the coffee is not local). On the way, I had a remarkable conversation with two of the ex-cyclists who no longer ride with the club. Usually I don’t talk much with them, but this time we had a rather long (ten minutes) discussion about the World Championships. I seldom talk about cycle racing with my cyclist pals, somehow it never happens. Many of them are not really fans of racing on TV, others are cynical about doping and dismiss the racing with a wave of a hand and motion resembling injections. Furthermore, it is clear, when I do talk, that they don’t really follow racing, they don’t even know all the French riders, and don’t seem to care much. Others just lecture me about what they know and dismiss my observations since I have never been a boy racer. Overall, it was rather unusual. My last semi-serious conversation was with a German woman whose French is impeccable. She is an architect, and lives on a farm on the causse above Bedarieux, husband grows grapes and makes wine. She helps right now, it is the season. She is a lovely woman really, smart, part of the vague alternative culture, nice kids who almost got taught some English by me, but the idea did not become a plan. She works at what she can, a very underemployed woman. I think she might speak English better than I speak French, but we seem to have got in the habit of speaking French. And as I left Le Local (see previous blogs), I saw my friend Michel, who I think must have a new girlfriend. At least he went to the Fukushima/energy meeting on Friday night with her, and she was there with him on Saturday morning. Could be his sister, I didn’t get introduced yet. He is slightly hard to get to know, or maybe he just doesn’t like me, but a nice guy. We have been in several groups together. He built himself a bio-eco house just above ours, and is currently doing one for another friend who is a very high level windmill specialist. It was a good Saturday at the market. Next report might be on the Monday market. I love Market Days, although I don’t actually buy anything.
A few days ago, I got my bi-monthly copy of Garderem Lo Larzac (Save the Larzac in Occitan), sent in the post, to my door, in paper. I live at the edge of the area called the Cevennes, part of the Massif Central, the huge area of hills and rivers and mountains in the Centre-South of France. The Cevennes is noted for its massive limestone plateaus and rivers, which have created pretty respectable canyons between the plateaus (causses) over the last few million years. People have been living in that area for longer than anyone has lived in the entire New World. I can ride my bike up to the Larzac in an hour. I could, if I were fit, ride to and from the main town there, in a morning. However, I don’t actually live in the “Larzac community”, although it has been an idle dream for years to build a smallish eco-house up on the plateau or “causse”. It is the only place in this area (other than Montpellier) where I could seriously want to live. But for various reasons, this will never happen, dreams don’t always get to the planning stage. Although these vast plateaus are a spectacular and special landscape, about 800-900 metres high, with substantial river valleys separating them, I am motivated by wanting to live in and understand better the community of people who live there, the Larzaciens. I don’t actually have a good pal who lives up there. Nor am I really a agricultural or outside work type person. They mostly like people up there who actually have good reason to live and work there (somewhat biased against second home owners, for example). Mind you, the entire population of the Larzac is only about 5,000, so we are not talking huge numbers of people.
José Bové, the French “farmer” (now Euro MP) who “dismantled” (with others) a MacDonalds, 15 years ago during the early years of the altermondialiste movement, is the most famous guy on the Larzac. He still lives there, a lovely new eco house in the same hamlet he and his former wife moved to forty years ago. There are about 4,999 other people also living on the Larzac, many recent “neo-ruraux” immigrants http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Néoruraux , others there for generations. The voices that genuinely inspire me and whom I would like to know are “the others”, although I do find myself often in agreement with José Bové and respect his life and work immensely. Some of the actual local paysans have been the core of the movements on the Larzac. I heard some of them in one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, “Tous au Larzac”. Should you ever find it showing anywhere, it is truly exceptional.
The “other” voices are what I call “street theorists”. Any person who lives anywhere can tell stories about their life and the lives of those about them. Some people respect this social, personal and particular kind of information. Most stories people tell are about “everyday life” in its detail. This gets more or less respect as social information and useful experience, depending on how someone might understand “idle chatter”, “gossip”, banalities, “going on about” and so forth. Everyone does it. In addition to the flow of banal events that make up the detail of the lives of everyone, there is also “reflection” on those events. Everyone reflects. Sometimes people have to go on holiday or have a death in the family or lose their job or get divorced to have the special space to sit back and reflect very much. But everyone has the capacity and does reflect from time to time. There are people who seem to ONLY talk banalities and gossip, and there are people who seem to reflect a lot. Usually the latter are trained-up intellectuals, who really can’t help thinking about things, and frequently being a bit “critical”. To the annoyance of many. Since I already know lots of trained-up intellectuals (and don’t like them that much as a class of people), the people that I am often attracted to are street theorists. The “people” of the Larzac have been deeply exposed to the finest hippy organic types, all sorts of leftists from big cities, other good folks from big cities come to support their activities, professionals who ordinarily would have little to do with a bunch of peasants living in the middle of nowhere, semi-religious, non-violent people of quality who were a very strong mix in the movement of resistance to the military. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanza_del_Vasto In the documentary “Tous au Larzac” and in a couple of books I have bought recently, you get samples of the finest of street theory or deep reflection that you will ever find.
So what was of interest in this particular newsletter, although they are all quite interesting. They are short enough that I always get through one before the next arrives. I can’t say this for Decroissance and Silence, two other “alternative” periodicals I support by subscribing, if not always reading thoroughly. The big event was the extension of the deal that some Larzaciens have with the state concerning their land and buildings. I will be slightly vague about this, as I have not studied the matter in detail. Basically, in 1981 after a ten year struggle against the extension of the Military Base on the Larzac (you can look at Wiki for all this), Mitterrand said “no extension”. If you are new to this, please google things you don’t understand, like “Mitterrand”. From about 1984, the land that was NOT given to the military has been controlled by a legal structure run by the people who live on the land. In other words, THEY WON. Their deal was extended to 2083 a few weeks ago, which will be roughly ninety years after their first struggle began. I am quite certain that if a really good history of the “altermondialiste”, radical, rurally-based, eco, organic, democratic movements were written, the struggles and results up on the Larzac would be in the “top ten” of all global movements. This high ranking would be for symbolic and real successes, as well as for inspirational value. The Larzaciens also played a crucial role in the altermondialiste movement from its earliest days. The ancient movement intellectual that I am is almost a “fan” of the Larzac, and those who live there. This means that the land controlling group (Societe Civile des Terres du Larzac) can assure tenancy for a lifetime for new paysans coming to earn their living on the Larzac.
That seems to me something to be proud of. There are actually lots of young people, French and other, who want to work on the land, revitalise the countryside. They want to work in such trades or vocations beekeeper, shepherd (sheep – milking and eating), veg grower, blacksmith or growing special plants of this or that kind. They want to work and live and raise kids in the countryside. It is really quite a popular life choice, but the young people who want to do it are usually too poor to buy or rent any land. The Larzac Community (the SCTL) can make any arrangement they want for the use of land and buildings they control, and will control until 2083. They are expressly interested in young and family minded people whose work is appropriate to the Larzac. They have the experience about grants, agricultures, building in that area, they can help anyone new. So the problem of the cost of land is solved, more or less.
I should add that during this last forty years, in addition to “active politics”, the “struggles” they initiate or support, the Larzaciens have constructed a whole range of institutions that serve their daily needs. They have created a new wood industry that never seriously existed before. For example, making granules to sell for wood fired heating. Long ago they created institutions which would allow them to make the “added value” from making cheese and other milk products, instead of selling the raw milk to Roquefort cheese makers. The Larzac is part of the strictly defined area where one can milk sheep and make Roquefort in the nearby town of the same name. Previous paysans never thought of doing that, nor did they have the support to do it. The newcomers were the core of this new practice, although they make other kinds of cheese, not Roquefort. The sheep Co-op (Les Bergers du Larzac) employs 27 people and 21 farms belong to it. Nearly half the farms are organic now. The farmers have got together with three vets to create an animal care system, based on both preventive and curative care. There are 150-160 farmers and 60,000 animals under this system. Fixed price, once paid, any care is covered, at any farm. There is plenty of training and re-training of farmers. There are now weekly markets in more than one location, which are almost parties, but where local stuff is sold. These new Larzac markets, although I have never been to one, provide not just a place to sell, but like all small markets, a place to catch up, meet up and cement a community. Frequently over the years, the Larzaciens have created links with other struggles of an agricultural nature. Senegal has a constant relation with Larzac. Recently links have been made with Notre Dame des Landes, where there are efforts to use the experience and imagination of the Larzac to create “another space”, where once there might have been an new airport. Farmers in the Larzac also played a crucial role in the founding of the Confederation Paysanne, a kind of radical, small farm-oriented, alternative to the dominant large industrial farm union, the FNSEA. http://www.confederationpaysanne.fr/ There are other projects that have been created within this atmosphere of struggle and protest over the years, but I should write about each of them separately. In fact, I should write something about the history, which I have rather compressed. Still anyone can type a word into a search engine.
Oh yes. While most of the residents of the Larzac were happy to have the Secretary of State for Agriculture come for the day and sign the new deal with the Society Civile des Terres du Larzac, there were some protesters who were doing what they should be doing. It would be a minor tragedy if no one at all objected and protested, even though the vast majority were well happy with this deal. It is hard to tell from the article exactly what the exact objections were, but probably along the line of we should not trust nor deal with these state representatives of the market worshipping capitalists. The protesters had an excellent point. Although inviting the government guy to turn up and sign, and then blocking his way was a little bit, well, Larzacien. The protesters might well claim that the people who work the land should own it, full stop. People who live in a house should own or control it. Maybe through a locally organised system which does not allow accumulation and absentee owners profiting, but plenty of security. Obviously this is never going to happen without a revolution in our lives. But I was kind of pleased the protesters got an article in the bulletin, and a fair one at that. The Larzac is huge, the parcel owned or controlled by the SCTL is only 6,3000 hectares (16,000 acres). The area of the Causse de Larzac is about 1,000 square kilometres or 386 square miles. Greater London is 671 square miles. The Isle of Wight is 128 square miles. If I started at the bottom of the causse nearest to me (twenty minutes) and began driving, I can climb up to it, then drive across it and descend into the first of many massive valleys that separate the causses. That 73k drive would take me an hour and seven minutes. About the same time it took me to drive from my country town to Manchester in England. A long and gorgeous drive on one of the finest motorways in the world, the A75.
I am re-mentioning the Larzac because I got my newsletter, bought those two books, and thought it would be good to urge you to investigate this intriguing place, whether on the computer (plenty of stuff), booking a holiday for a few days (there are some really nice B and Bs (another part of the new economic order), or just taking that A75 motorway through it. It would be better to stop for a night anyway, and drive on some the little roads, or walk even. Interesting place. More than interesting. If one day we have a system which is more like what I would like, their place in that story would be exceedingly important. For example, my “non-violent collective” is full of people connected to the story of La Borie Noble, Lanzo del Vasta, and when we recently need a kind of trained up and sympa person to train us to make better meetings, we hired a woman who lives up there and who has spent some years doing this kind of work.
Hope you are inclined to read more, but that’s the blog for today anyway. Must read those books. Sadly for you, most books on the Larzac are in French. Oops, this is a bit long, and even then barely touches the surface.