Thursday, 12 January 2006

Gormenghast

went to a Sans-titres meeting last weekend at La Valette, a medieval squatted village near Ales. They've been squatting it for 14 years. It's up a hillside, in an abandoned mining village. They have renovated the houses very creatively; it looks like Ghormenghast, with carved stones of gargoyles, turrets, bizarrely stained glass windows, forged iron gates and signs made from garden forks, shovels twisted into interesting shapes.

There is no toilet paper, and no walls or doors on little open air wooden shacks they use for toilets, just water and your hand like in Asia. You can squat over a hole on a little wooden platform and gaze out at the terraced hills, with coal-blackened paths and mountain streams and pools, as the punk 'peasantry' walks by...
As this was winter, there was snow everywhere. I drove as far up the track as I could, which was risky in case I got stuck in the snow.It was still quite a walk up a steep path through to the village. I imagine part of the reason the community have been allowed to stay there is because of its inacessibility. Plus the Cevennes, the region in which it lies, is one of the least populated and poorest parts of France. You can still buy property there for a song.
Wet feet were not a problem as fortunately they possessed an extensive "free shop" where there were lots of boots and thick socks which you could borrow. We spent a good deal of time huddled over the wood fired stove in the communal dining room, drinking home grown herbal tea from a large enamel pot.
My daughter stayed with a girl of similar age in a yurt for the night. The girls father lives in this community in the yurt and the girl spends the rest of the time with her chic and 'normal' mother in a nearby town. The chic mum was there and we discussed their unusual arrangements. Chic mum had no problem with her daughter squatting with dad and new punk girlfriend and various other kids in the yurt. It felt like being in a hunter-gatherer society.
In the morning, we had home-baked bread and honey. Now normally I don't like honey but this was the best I've ever tasted. It was made at La Valette.
I didn't attend all the meetings, but on the Sunday we gathered to talk about our feelings and ideas about the riots last autumn in France. We discussed the lack of links between the anti-capitalist, anarchist movement and the disaffected youths of the banlieux. We watched films and documentaries from France and Spain. My political French is getting better and I actually managed to contribute to the discussion (I remained very silent at the November one, too shy to talk politics in French).

Jeanphi is involved with an interesting court case in France regarding biometric data. My daughters' school is one of the few so far to use it: the kids have to show their hand print to a computer to get lunch at the cantine. Jeanphi is fighting the French State in court over the introduction of biometric data into schools. The French government admit that they are using it to get the younger generation used to being checked in this way. There was a protest by some people dressed as clowns last December in Paris who smashed up this gear in a lycee. They are now in jail and Jeanphi is fighting this as an expert witness (he is a teacher in a lycée at Alés). The case has been adjourned to 20th of January.

love n croissants