Just back from a rather good proper holiday with Naurika, on the Costa Brava. I have been a bit disconnected from the traditional “rentrée” for my local groups and their first few events or meetings. I have missed every single walk of the old people’s walking group, as well as the first meeting of both the Social Forum and Collective Non-Violent. I have to catch up. So adjusting to the rhythm “living in Bedarieux” is now taking place. In addition, I have had some reflections on how we took a bit of time to discover our rhythm on the holiday. But of course we were tourists and didn’t speak Spanish, what do you expect? True enough, adjusting and making mistakes you would not make at home is part of “being away”. But it is a long time since I have been to a foreign land, where I don’t speak the language.
We had trouble getting the eating right. First they confused us with a massive breakfast, all you could eat, as part of the hotel deal. Naurika had to eat two hours after her normal early morning time, so some obvious adjustment was needed. So we both filled our bellies with the “free” food, some of which was more than OK. I had bacon (not “real” bacon) and eggs on four mornings, for example. Plus fruit and pastries, and sometimes a bit of cheese and charcuterie as I searched for good “local food”. So by lunch, we really were not hungry, but we knew we probably had to eat. Took us two days to figure out that a picnic on the balcony at our hotel was sufficient and easy, as well as allowing us to take our nap at about the right time. Normally our big meal is at noon. Then there was the evening meal. By then we were a little bit hungry, so we knew we had to eat. First problem was that many restaurants don’t even open until 20h00, two hours after Naurika usually eats. I had done a fair bit of research on Trip Advisor, Petit Futé and one other site to make sure we ate well, that is, Spanish or Catalan food of some quality. The first night we ended up in a Chinese of medium quality, but copious quantity. From our local perspective, unable ever to eat Chinese anywhere, it was a treat. Then we thought we would check out the hotel menu, in case it was one of those places we would want to eat. We did so, but found that sitting down at the table at an early hour for them, meant a late hour for one of us. The food was good, but probably not close to being worth the 25 euros it cost, without booze of course, and no coffee. The next day we arrived a bit late from a drive around the countryside off the beach, to finally try out another resto I had spotted by my careful research. Sadly, and very upsetting for someone like me who believes that good research should pay off, one of the places was not where it should be, it had moved or died in the last six months, and the other didn’t start opening until 20h00. We traipsed back to the hotel just to be sure to eat something and not have to be in a heightened state of insecurity. I was very upset. Anyway by the third day we had figured out most of the tricks and worked out a schedule. From that point on we had no problems. We “just” had to adjust to the local rhythm.
Now I am adjusting again, after a three month break, to the rhythms of my life here. You problalby know that nearly all associations and all activities, except tourist oriented ones, stop completely duringJuly and August, besides decelerating in June. I am trying some new activities this year, and trying not to leave behind all the old things. So last year I always tried to go to every single walk with the old people’s association on Monday and Thursday. Walking with that group was really an eye opener and a pleasure in many ways. But can I handle coming directly back from the Monday walk and go, without nap, to the Attac meeting once a month? Maybe, maybe it would just be a waste of a meeting. And can I both go on the walk on a Thursday afternoon, arriving back at 17h00 and go to the taiji class at 18h30. I suspect my overall rule of one serious physical activity a day might get bent. Or at least a bit later in the year, I might try the walk and the taiji and see how it goes. As I age, I can do less and less in a given day. I need wee rest periods where I read, type, cook a bit or watch TV. There are other questions concerning my rhythm of life that have emerged as well. Do I continue to go into town regularly on Saturday morning for the mini organic market, where I might meet up with someone who works, and is usually not free during the Monday morning market? Or should I knock it on the head. As usual, my life consists of a number of activities, too many, that I would like to do, as well as a number of activities I would like to do in private, some of which require direct attention, all mixed up. My usual job, even in retirement is to figure out what precisely of the many things I would like to do that I am actually going to do. I still want to ride the bike, fancy going to the gym with Naurika, going to lift some weights to try to recover my shoulder muscles that wasted away some years ago during protracted illnesses, organise the scheme for sending posters of “alternative” events to every village in the area, found the “decroissance discussion group”, work on the possibilities of creating an alternative structure in the area, and find a good osteopath. Then there is the garden and creating a new bathroom. One of my eternal structures and confusions, too many things to do.
Then of course there is the rest of the world. As soon as I return home and get a bit into the rhythm, I realise that “the rest of the world” is part of my actual daily world. So my five year long effort “to visit Bob”, who lives three hours drive from here, might bear fruit or might not. My efforts to go into Montpellier to see friends and watch a movie may or may not work out. I also might buy a smartphone, and need some advice which I can’t get here. If I get the right deal, I think I could ring my niece in the USA, my son in Portugal, my cousin in NYC and people with portables in England. But of course one pays. I do hate shopping with a intuitive passion. Lately I have not managed the Montpellier trip at all.
So getting back to “normal life” is much like holidays in foreign lands where the rhythm is hard to follow at first. Of course, since I have been doing this for ages, I like even the complexities of creating a local home rhythm, however tricky that might be. It is actually never solely local for people like me. I often have immense respect or envy for people who seem to have but one obviously local identity. Everywhere there seem to be people with less complex identities. I have friends here who for many months have no doubt that they are Bedaricien, from the Hauts Cantons, where their friends and family live, and of course they are French. So what is the problem? So there are actually a whole lot of people for whom rhythm of life or identity is not even a problem. Why would it be? They live here. And they don’t think so much about things.
Anyway enough about non-Bedarieux rhythms. What am I going to do in the next year? The Social Forum is over, anything I do for another one will be very restricted. And I have to admit that I want to spend a bit more time on my personal body and mind than I have been. I want to be alone at my keyboard or doing taiji or walking or riding the bike. Frankly it is too difficult to keep up and act appropriately with other people.while speaking the French language. I can hang out and do a little bit here and there, but I have serious limits. So what will I do? Obviously I have to get the winter lettuces in, after the slugs (here!) ate my first crop. A bit of food shopping, eating three meals a day, watching some TV series with Naurika, emails with pals, reading of many kinds of information that appear on my screen … that is my everyday life. Lunch every day at home, prepared by Naurika, at 12h30, so we can eat before the weather and news is on at just before one. Market Day on Monday morning. Nap nearly every afternoon. Possible walk every Monday and Thursday afternoon. Those things don’t need much deciding. They are part of the rhythm of life here.
But there are still choices. I had the strong urge to get back to some kind of Chinese practices, mainly taiji. I spent the week before we went to Spain checking out all the possible classes and teachers I could. Four scouting activities in one week. The Dutch woman who has been teaching here for at least ten years, maybe more, just does not suit me. If I ever do a little blog on taiji, I will say more. The guy in Mons, 25 minutes drive, who does what I am guessing is a pretty authentic and serious “Wild Goose” chi gung. He has advanced students, some of whom teach classes and a big teacher who comes every year for a weekend intensive. I liked him. All the students were women (except me), so I am wondering why that is and so forth. In my experience here in the valley, there are mostly women and mostly interested in health taiji or chi gung. I think that is probably the case everywhere. Why? I went to another chi gung class, literally a three minute bike ride down the river, or a seven minute walk. It is outside even in winter I think. 9H00 on a Thursday. It is not too costly, five euros a go. But I guess I am still a bit “suspicious” of chi gung teachers that are not martial artists. Again almost all women and somehow or other I thought it didn’t suit me either. A bit too much chat about dubious medical channels and benefits. The group that would suit me is based in Arras, north of Montpellier. About and hour and half drive, although they have classes in Montpellier. A few years ago I sampled a class and it felt so warm and friendly and nearly move for move exactly like my previous form. The local teacher was another “disciple” of Cheng Man Ching and they have been going for many years. If I were really ready to do it seriously, they would be my people. But I have never been serious and frankly it would mean more two and half to three hours of driving for each class. There is one guy who lives about 35 minutes away, who has done Ba Gua as well as Taiji, and so his overall feel is a little martial and very solid. I have never managed to make contact with this guy and see how I could learn from him. Motivation? Maybe one day.
So the last try was a good one. There is a woman who teaches taiji in Les Aires, only a twelve minute drive. I had checked out someone in Les Aires about ten years ago, but it was not this teacher, I am sure. Anyway, second sentence out of her mouth in the first intro chat was “Taiji is a martial art”. She didn’t say more about it and went on to tell us what taiji classes would be like and such. She seems closely related to a larger taiji group in France called ITTCA. The big master is Master Chu, who claims direct lineage from the last of the Yang brothers, the family who invented the Yang Style Taiji during the nineteenth century. It is the most popular in the Western World. A variation of that is what I did fifteen years ago, the Cheng Man Ching style. There are larger clusters of ITCCA teachers in Nimes, Montpellier and my teacher seems to have contact with a guy in Grenoble. He seems to be her immediate teacher, although for a few euros more, one can go to stages with Master Chu every year, here and there.
So the local teacher here is a good one, an authentic taiji person who happens to have learned the Cheng Man Ching form in a previous taiji life. She liked it a lot, and so helps me make some of the transitions I have to make. The details of the hands, a bit of more elaborate movements that CMC, a bit more lifted arms (hard to do and keep shoulders relaxed). The major disadvantage is that somewhere I heard bad things about Master Chu and I can’t remember what they were. Further, their system is set up to take quite along time to learn the form. Learning a form fast or slowly is not really the point. The point is to learn to do the stuff in a taiji way. I figure I know something about the taiji way, and also about the flavour of the Yang Style (I learned the long form – 107 movements or so), about thirty years ago, could it be forty, from the daughter of Gerda Geddes, the first British taiji teacher with an authentic lineage and who was serious. It took me three years because my teacher got pregnant and gave birth before she could finish teaching the end of the form. Since I know one of the women in the class moderately well, and the teacher does not seem to mind me hanging out and practicing the form (which I don’t know) with the advanced students, I should learn faster than average. Sadly, I cannot find anywhere on the web, a clip of the form they teach. The form I can find, taught by the other two main disciples of the Yang brother, do the form differently, and in fact, maybe this guy is not so good after all. The real icing on the cake was that they also do a sword form, both sabre and epee. The epee (straight sword) form, is totally cool, really a delight. I would like to be able to practice that again, but it takes years to be able to start learning that in the ITCCA, so I might try to review the one I knew fifteen years ago.
Anyway, I have paid my money and made my choice. I am a beginning student of Master Chu’s style, which he calls “the original”. Of course I am also a student of Nigel Sutton, from Surrey, who lives in Malaysia. But I have not seen him for a long time and have not practiced the form for fifteen years. Oddly there is a guy in Perigueux who teaches my old form, has a decent size school too. Looks a bit like Nigel. They had a relation once and do the same sort of thing. But it would take me five hours to drive there, and five hours back. And I don’t know anyone to stay with in Perigueux. He is old buddies with a former neighbour of mine in Lancaster. He would be a great teacher. It is good to live in the country in many ways, but not so good when searching for a tai chi teacher. Cities are better, more possibilities.
There are some other things I would really like to begin or take seriously for a bit. I think I need to work on strengthening parts of my body for the coming years, and even for now. I need to work on the core strength, abdos and lower back. I already go to a gym class once a week, which does touch on that. But I would like to go somewhere, out of the house, and do some specific work on my upper body, including the shoulder muscles I lost about five or six years ago. Not that I ever had much upper body muscle. I figure that although the gym class is a good background, and I can do some of the stretching movements at home, it is not enough. The “natural” way to strengthen a lot of that is to swim. Certainly the upper body gets a workout. That would be half an hour drive, not cost too much, an hour in the pool and then getting home. No doubt it is possible. Another possibility is the new bodywork place in Bedarieux. True, nearly all of the clients are young, and the real heart of the place is zumba type exercise classes for clients. But I think they could give me a rudimentary programme that would allow me to do the work I need to do. Or at least to try it out. My experience so far is that I can always improve my muscles, within seventy year old limits and limits of previous medical conditions. I would like to try going somewhere, every Wednesday from 9-10 or Thursday from 4-5. I could miss the date, but normally I would go. Advantage of the local weights place, I can walk to it in five minutes. Probably costs a fortune, but why not spend it now. No driving. I also notice that I ride the bike more strongly when I have some decent arm and shoulder muscles, which I have mostly lacked for years. I think the weights place will win out over the swimming place, in the end. Just need a programme now. I can usually do some exercises (why I know that I can change) at home nearly every day for about two months, then I slack off for some reason to do with home.
Last year’s “theory reading group” is starting again. Should have begun in September, the rentrée, but it is now October. We are reading a couple of short essays by Hannah Arendt. Haven’t read anything of hers since I was an undergraduate. Eventually, we will figure out how it will be organised this year. We have three new people, who replace the only young person we had and a very old friend whose contribution I valued immensely. So now we are all way over sixty, and some getting a little decrepit physically. Old people. Some quite unwell. I am hoping I will stick with it this year. Not sure if I have the energy to fight for a “visionary reading group”, I might just read whatever we decide and toddle along. It will be rather nice to see the new people, whom I know, once a month or so, just to keep up a bit. And discuss serious theory with them. I sometimes even discuss “theory” during a social visit with them at their houses. That is quite fun.
There are several local projects that I am going to have to give up or do seriously in the next while. The project to set up a network of individuals in every village and hamlet in our area, who will put up a poster in their hamlet or village for any event that is an organised by an “alternative group” in this valley. The idea is to increase the average number of people who turn up to these events by ten. I also wanted to begin organising a committed group of immigrant cinema-goers who would support, once a month, VO English films chosen by the group. The guy who runs the new city owned cinema will put on any movie at all in one of the three studios. He does the publicity as well, and keeps all the admissions. If I can guarantee the audience we can see some good films on a big screen. I suspect that I won’t do anything about that. I am not that much of a film guy and my TV screen is pretty big anyway.
For years I have been wanting to start a decroissance discussion group as well. Get about five to ten people coming once a month to talk about decroissance. The first few months we could all agree to buy and read the monthly paper, Decroissance, available at many newsagents. Our discussion would be to react to what we read. Eventually we would figure out what to read next, if not the paper. Plenty of interest in that subject, and the people in the group would not be basically “liberal” and old. But I would have to write a really good little rap, find a core of six or so people, and organise the time and place. Not that arduous, but it does involve a number of face to face conversations. I might do that, probably not.
There there is one thing that seems to coming to the fore. There is some kind of subtle but persistent pressure from a few local people, to somehow get the various “alternative” groups to co-ordinate or organise themselves at another level. Currently the dozen or so little groups in Bédarieux who might be”alternative” are pretty much autonomous. They do join up now and again to put on a given event, share costs or publicity. But after the event they go back to their own autonomous groups. Of course some people are in more than one group, so they are well connected with one another. Anyway, someone is keen to get something together. I shall go along to the first meeting or two of that, although without any big preconceptions or expectations, negative or positive. Or perhaps with so many preconceptions and imaginings, that I have no idea what would happen. Or even what I want to happen.
In a related project, I was keen on working with a guy on ways to imagine what might an “alternative” “commune de communes” might look like. There is another layer of government, sometimes called an “intercommunalité” (henceforth IC) that has been created in the last year or so. It is a collection of towns in the valley that have to figure out what to do together and where to get their budget. They have a logo and they meet, mostly mayors of the hamlets and towns. Top down activity. My pal is a town councillor, along with another friend, both “alternative types”. So for example, the IC could all decide to build a covered swimming pool, probably in Bedarieux, and pay for it together. Bedarieux refused to build one before, because they thought they would have to raise all the money and the others outside Bedarieux (16,000 of the 23,000 people in the IC) would just pay a wee individual admission fee to swim. Anyway the IC could do anything, and would certainly provide a platform for getting a budget for some cool project. So does anyone have time for this? We shall see. I think the federation of alternative groups is much the same as an alternative IC. You can see why this might interest me. But frankly, I don’t have the French to even begin to be as active as I would like. Also most of the people are way too French for me. And I am way too non-French for them.
In any case I think I am done for now. I have not mentioned the details of the search for the alleviation of pain from my wonky back bits. This could take some time, but maybe some of the other activities might help ameliorate the pain as well. Three years ago, I had sudden attacks and pains once every year. In the past year or so I have back pains of a totally manageable level nearly every day and maybe four times a year I am thrown into bed for a day or two. The flare-ups can be big or minor. Searching for a bit of useful help on this could take a lot of time. Hmmmm.
And what did I do recently, I joined another group primarily younger people of the organic, local produce, new age culture variety, but no doubt I will write about that later. This kind of knitting together of bits into what resembles a rather busy life, in a relaxed style, is my normal style. I expect that as time goes on, there will be less bits, and time will still be fully utilised. I didn’t mention that I read books a lot as well. And magazines too. I read maybe three hours every day. That’s my very normal life in Bedarieux. Now I have to get into it.
Attac meeting in Bedarieux
I just got back from my last of three trips, involving a lot of driving (3500k), and am settling down to my own private “rentrée”. Rentrée is when the summer holiday is over and all the associations, lessons, events of the normal year, schooling … start again after the two month break. Although there are some exceptions, most of this normal daily life stops during the summer, replaced by holiday trips, family and friends visiting, blossoming of musical and other cultural events and nothing much happens on the socio-political front at the local level. What with my bike trips to the Dordogne/Luberon, the drive to Vesoul with Naurika to do various things for my mother-in-law, now wheel chair bound in a retirement home, plus a genuine five day holiday in Spain with Naurika (hotel, beach, Costa Brava), it is only now that I am beginning to make my choices for the next year. The first meeting I went to was Attac, where I have been a member for 12 years, through many manifestations of the group.
Attac (Google it if you want to know more) is without a doubt the most politically active group in town, and has an active group life and wide variety of concerns. Not only is there a monthly meeting, but every Monday earlier in the morning there is a meeting which decides things, but is technically subordinate to the monthly meeting in the evening. So a meeting nearly every week. It is a good enough reflection of political concerns at the grass roots in France. Not every Attac group is the same, and ours is a rather exceptional group for a town of 7,000 in the middle of nowhere. We are way more active than Beziers Attaceven though they have a urban area population of 150,000. While I was in Spain Attac showed a movie about Strikes at the local cinema. The NEW cinema itself is now open and running films by the Cinema Club, other groups like Attac and mostly first release French films. So far I have not been to the cinema, but that is another story.
There were about ten people at the Attac meeting, a pretty good turnout. With fifteen the room would be too crowded and not everyone could speak. One new person, a woman, don’t know much more about her yet. I also missed a meeting of the Collective Non-violent while I was gone. Not to mention the meeting of the Social Forum to evaluate the event we organised in July. I really did miss the rentrée. I try to catch up, but it never is the same hearing the story from someone else.
First item of business was to figure out how to pay some bills, how to distribute the expense of the management of our “citizens’ local”. This is the first time so many citizens’ organisations have used the same local and have to share upkeep costs. The rent is covered by the mayor with a subsidy (subvention). So all we have to pay are things like electricity (heating, lighting) and costs involving improving the local (minimal). All the groups will no doubt pay whatever Attac asks, although on close examination, the criteria for paying more and paying less will be a little fluid and contestable. More on that next months when the amounts are announced. Money does focus the mind.
There was some discussion about whether Attac should “support”, or help organise, an initiative for a slightly tighter organisation of the “alternative groups” in Bedarieux, present some kind of front, some kind of image, to the world. But more particularly a unified voice directed toward the immediate sources of finance and some useful expertise, “the mairie”, all those people who work for the state, at the town government level. In any case my understanding of the discussion got confused between the notion of “supporting” a local young sheep farmer in his very difficult struggle to get enough land to ply his trade. Everyone was for this, especially since we all know him, although not everyone will be involved in this support group. On the other hand there was a subtle change in organisational direction also advocated, led by the people who in fact were a bit agro-ecologically inclined. At present, all the associations who use the “citizen’s local” are quite autonomous. They occasionally support the same project, a movie, an initiative, a teaching event, a particular action, but always as a one-off support by a completely autonomous group. It should be added that there are many double or triple memberships in these groups, so they are never really totally autonomous. This new initiative is beginning of a debate about whether and how we find some procedure to express a unified voice, on various local issues, perhaps on wider issues. The point would be to increase the efficiency and power of the “alternative scene”, within a larger framework, that is, the local government, and maybe regional government. This is where “things can get done” and where there is a greater financial support for projects that are normally too expensive for each group on its own, or even with one or two temporary allies. It should be an interesting discussion as it percolates through the various associations and groups. I am keen to keep up on this issue. It focusses attention on the way that the political sector which most of these groups are not in and never have been in, will try to tempt the groups to join in their game. I might go to the meetings of this initiative, but I think I better keep my mouth shut.
There is one other guy in the valley who had a Social Forum workshop on “an alternative intercommunality”. Intercommunality is when a number of adjacent communes (towns, villages, hamlets) get together and agree to have a budget and make decisions about daily life in the area. So it is less than a departmental level group, but more than just one commune. So this guy, a recently elected councillor and very much an “alternative” guy, wants to figure out what an alternative at this level might look like. I figure he will join up with this initiative for co-operation between alternative action groups, and something might happen that is somewhat interesting. I will always be suspicious of such incorporation into the ways and means of the local government. Even if there is some serious money in it. But then my constant insistence, for fifty years, in local federations and local power, makes this level very interesting. The limit of the permissible. Having been here for a long time, I know lots of the people, and two of the local councillors are people who are genuine friends, if not bosom buddies. Attac was, as a whole, slightly suspicious of yet another set of meetings that would distract from the real work of organising our actions.
There was a quick reminder of how it is relatively easy to put on films at the new local cinema. We suggest the film, and the cinema puts it on, collecting 5 euros from everyone who attends, keeping it all. Some in the group thought that was not how it should work. We do free films, or contribution as you wish. So maybe a film of high technical quality might be in the cinema. But normal films can quite easily be shown, as always, by us, in Salle Achille Bex, which can hold a hundred people easily. We were a bit suspicious of suddenly charging money for what used to be free.
There seems to be a nascent connection with what might be called “alternative forestry management”. Someone might come to talk. There might be a film. I learned the French for clearcut, “coup blanc”. This was very interesting, must read about it a bit. Seems from the talk that none of them burn wood for heat, but I could be wrong. There is also some kind of notion in the group Etc&Terra, for organising an AMAP for wood. You make deals with some local wood cutter to supply a group who guarantee payment up front, or on the day. Everyone gets a stable situation and good wood. I would join for sure. The home wood business is exceedingly local already. You need to get your wood from someone who does not have to drive an hour to make a delivery. It is all local wood. There is plenty of it. It is a business sector that is perfect for supporting local rural businesses. Green too. Looking forward to seeing how this works out. I am interested in wood.
Some discussion of an anti-TAFTA day of learning and action in Narbonne. TAFTA is about the opening up and crushing of barriers to commercial relations with anyone, all over the world. Starting with the USA, and us Europeans. There is an Asian American TAFTA also, but that does not make the papers here. Basically a “free market” solution to everything. Health, education, food, energy, air, everything. “The state” will lose its feeble influence over the capitalist barons. Those with money have more power, end of sentence. I think several in the group are going to Narbonne, car sharing. Narbonne is only one hour and eight minutes from here, but I have never been. Doubt if I will go. There was some discussion of a guy called Serverin Pistre, a Montpellier based Hydro-geologist who is against fracking. Was he also some kind of right wing guy? Must look him up.
Last thing was developing the notion that some kind of educational thing on the VI Republic might be good. People seem to agree that, slowly seeping through the grass roots, the notion that we need to re-do the constitution, re-organise political decisions is taking form. The French can talk about this easily, they have already had five Republics, so a sixth is not exactly subversive. If this discussion happened, it would be VERY interesting period. I am pretty sure that nearly everyone in Attac would be for a VI Republic, a severe re-crafting of democratic power in France. Attac people would be for a “genuine democracy”, although what that means is not clear in the French context. So Attac people will search out some person who will come and advocate a VI Republic. And no doubt within Attac, casual conversations about this subject might be more frequent.
So there you have it. A superficial take on what concerns lefty, political minded folk at the grass roots in France. No discussion of the “High Politics” of parties and presidents and elections. My kind of politics.