Thursday, 24 November 2005

Longo Mai- preparatory meeting for PGA France 2006

re:pga France 2006

Went to the PGA meeting which was held in an annexe of Longo Mai.

Longo Mai is a community that's been going since 1973 and is building Eco houses, from straw bale for instance. There are many families there. They try to be self-sufficient which is why they eat meat. As the location is quite high up, it is more of an animal farm in terms of agriculture. Also water is a problem there.

Meals are communal. They produce meat, veg, honey, jams, bread, herbs and essential oils which they sell in the local market in Limans. But this is becoming a problem as the French state is clamping down on small businesses producing dried herbs and oils. The official excuse is that this is for health reasons but in reality it's because big pharmaceutical companies have 'copyrighted' certain herbs. Next spring they will get their own mill so they can grind their own grain for their bread (they are particularly interested in using heritage grains to produce gluten-free bread). They also have their own radio station, Radio Zinzine.

It seems to be financed by rich Swiss benefactors. There is a branch of Longo Mai in Switzerland and in also in Eastern Europe.

Everybody gets 15 euros a week pocket money for drinks and fags but if they want any other money to, say, buy clothes, they have to ask the community.
I have visited this community before and have found some of the people terribly rude and unfriendly. They seem to be very into themselves and not interested in other activists. However on getting to know some of the Longo Mai residents, they explained that the personal coldness is due to the Swiss German origins of the community. Also they wish to discourage activist tourism, that is when activists bum around the world staying in communities and squats and never give anything back or commit. This branch of Longo Mai, being in Provence, a popular tourist destination is particularly wary of that.

The conveners of this PGA are 'les sans-titres' or STAMP as they are called for this PGA. PGA in French is AMP so it's s.t.(sans titres) and a.m.p. (action mondiale des peuples) together which makes ...stamp!
These consist of activists from Dijon (Les tanneries) Grenoble, Geneva, St.Etienne, Lyon (La Friche), Ales and a squatted village near Ales called La Vallette.

The next PGA won't be held at Longo Mai itself or perhaps just one bit of it. They have decided to split it up into five different locations around France, some in the city, some in the countryside. This is to avoid centralisation and an overemphasis on either urban or rural issues. It is also designed to encourage contact between activists which is thought to be harder at a larger centralised gathering. Decentralisation will also lessen the burden of provision on each site chosen. Each location will have a practical project in which people can contribute to helping, learning and interacting with the locals.

Each location would concentrate on 3 of the 5 themes to be discussed at this PGA conference.

Then at the end it is planned that everyone will meet for four days in one location. The whole thing will last around 17 days. It will need some fund raising as it costs about 15,000 euros to put on the conference.

I will be doing the translations into English so I will post translations to English speaking samba and activist lists when I receive the documents. They have a call-out for people who want to hold practical workshops such as self-building, fuel conversions to bio diesel, building unusual pedal powered vehicles, artistic projects.

In terms of the samba band, which they were all thrilled about us coming, it means that unless we have a huge amount of people going from across Europe, we will have to choose one of the locations.

Geneva and Dijon expressed interest in starting a band. Just think! When those poor people do protest marches, they just walk along silently like we did in the past... how boring. Although thinking about stuffy French cities in August it may be nicer to go to one of the rural locations.

This will all take place next August after the July anti-g8 in St Petersburg. So this will also be a time for a debrief of that meeting.

There were a couple of Russian activists at this meeting. If people are considering going to the anti-G8 in Russia, they need to be aware that Russian police are not fluffy and that Russian fascists have just killed a couple of 'Food not Bombs' protesters. Also be aware that visas for Russia are expensive. However the Russian activists were worried that no one would support their anti-g8 protest.

Olivier from Geneva asked if Dissent or the British would be interested in hosting the PGA in 2008, for it is bi-annual, so if anyone knows anybody from that network could they pass this message on? He was so impressed with the organisation of the g8 in Scotland.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

France is on fire!

It's beautiful here; I'm up at dawn to drop my daughter off for school bus. At that time it's cold but the light is amazing, red hillsides, ochre farmsteads and golden vineyards. You can see why Cezanne et al were inspired to paint here. Then I go to the local tabac/bar and down an expresso whilst breathing in other peoples unfiltered tobacco.
Everybody smokes and eats meat. My daughter is the only vegetarian in her school (1,200 pupils) not just now but ever. All the mums dress to the nines, teetering on kitten heels towards the school bus, are rail-thin (elles font attention, bien sur, à ce qu'elles mangent, French women don't get fat) and smoke like chimneys. Which means, girls, that along with the sun they've got faces like leather handbags. Dark brown lip-liner is a makeup must!
Around 10ish, the sea mist clears and it heats up, enough to swim and wear a thin t-shirt even in November.
Dark drops suddenly at 5.30. the air is filled with wood smoke and you can see the stars and even the planets- no light pollution.
The markets are full of amazing produce and need I mention the inexpensive wine, olive oil, tapenade and cheeses wrapped in leaves or volcanic ash.
But, but, I miss London. I don't know anyone here so I feel pretty isolated. Work is hard to find in winter. I'm doing my motherly duty, school run four days a week then helping my daughter with her homework of which she has tons. French school is tough, strict and very academic. My daughter has got mates now although it was hard for her at first. Her French is good but it's frustrating for her not to be able to communicate as quickly as she can in English and it seems that French secondary school communication between pupils is all about being cool and putting others down just like it is in English school. But it gives her an insight on what it's like to be foreign and trying to fit in.
I've found her a drum teacher, first lesson last night in the little hillside village of La Garde-Freinet (apparently the heroin capital of the Cote D'Azur). The teacher, Francois, has two kits set up in his garage amongst the drying washing. I've managed to set up her kit in my parents' garage. (This is a major achievement on my part, I mean, have you ever tried to put together a hi-hat? maybe I could get a job as a mum/roadie...)

As you have all probably heard, France is on fire! The suburbs are in revolt. It's the inverse to Britain, the poor live outside the town in the suburbs and the posh people live intra-muros. The suburbs are not leafy estates with 1930s semi- detached houses and gardens. No, its cheap post-war housing, huge blocks.
It doesn't surprise me that the children of immigrants are pissed off. You never see an Arab face on TV, there is no integration represented in the media. France has had a policy of low wages and high unemployment for at least 20 years ( I lived here last between 1989 and 1996 and it was impossible to find work even in Paris). It's hard to start your own business because of all the bureaucracy, taxes and regulations.
The social policies of France are great if you are in the system. Fantastic health care, roads, schools. But if you never manage to enter the system you are fucked.
In Britain at least there is a youth culture, you can start your own projects without too much interference from the State, and actually pretty good racial integration. I know Rhythms is an activist band and dedicated to fighting the system but I believe that France is way more oppressive. Especially if you aren't French. Even our press is more lively and there is actual debate going on. French newspapers don't even have a readers letters page.
Now French cities are in a state of emergency with a curfew. Unbelievable response to the situation! Maybe the revolts will push the French government into change despite their draconian initial response.
Vive l'esprit de mai 68! (you know when I was at university here, I was told that the architecture of all universities built after May '68 was expressly designed not to have any gathering points for students, to prevent student solidarity occurring again).

love et bises