Monday, November 30, 2009

La Friche: a rough translation of this French word means old, vacant factory. The physical translation of this word equals a 30,000 square meter squatted factory in Lyon, France.
La Friche is a legal squat, established ten years ago. It houses two circuses, two samba bands, potters, painters, sculptors, comic book writers, dancers, a basement dance club, around 20 resident caravans, an amazing bike workshop (more later), and dozens of other creative spaces.
About 300 people (so I’ve been told) use La Friche in some way or another. Only about 50 of those people actually reside in this semi-condemned warehouse with art, murals, graffiti, etc covering nearly every applicable surface (walls, windows, bathrooms, doorways…). For the past 20ish days, I too have been a resident of La Friche.
My connection to this place is through a person I know though the coop/forest defense scene in Eugene named Fox. Fox has lived in various squats in France for the past few years and in La Friche for the past 1.5 years. He lives with one flat mate named Tomas in a tall and narrow three story flat about 30 meters from the bike workshop.
The bike workshop, the flat and occasionally the circus room are where I spend nearly all of my time in France. Fox has created the most impressive bike workshop that I have ever seen. Besides all of the tools need to fix bikes, there are all the parts necessary to build bikes and the machinery to create mutant bikes and trailers and all other bike related paraphernalia that your mind can imagine.
Since arriving in La Friche, I haven’t really left. There are endless things to do and learn in the workshop and with enough hula hoop breaks throughout the day, there is little reason to venture out into the grey winter sky. The only real impetus to leave this chaotically creative space is for food. These ventures occur on Tuesday night, Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. There is a small, dedicated collective of people who have a very impressive and efficient dumpstering route. From these expeditions, we collect all of our food: yogurts, cheeses, breads, fruits, eggs, vegetables, soups, dried and packaged goods, sweets and more. The kitchen is fully stocked with nearly 100% recouped foods. Since arriving in France almost three weeks ago, I have yet to spend any money on anything but alcohol, toothpaste and dish soap.
Being at La Friche is the strongest, best, most attainable example of a societal dropout lifestyle.
The largest drawback for life in La Friche (besides the fact that I do not speak French), is that it is it has a horrible gender balance. Of the La Friche residents, only 4 are women (including me!). There is something about warehouse living that is not as attractive to women as it is to men, I suppose. Because I haven’t been here long and I do not speak French, I can’t really understand, nor fully explain.
The gender imbalance doesn’t really bother me as much as it may seem. Because I don’t speak French, I kinda live in my own world anyway; focusing on whatever my mind desires and that is rarely other people.
All that said, I was very excited when an Australian woman came to the bike workshop to fix the breaks of a friend’s bike. I was taking a break from my welding project by attempting to ride a mini clown bike (about 10 inches tall and 20 inches long), when Cion came to the workshop. She laughed but said nothing and got to work on her bike. Because I am so accustomed to not speaking the language and I didn’t feel up to a mime conversation, I ignored her for the majority of the day. It wasn’t until much later when I overheard a conversation she was having with Fox that I could understand that I realized she was an English speaker too. Haha.
I invited her to dinner and found out that she lives in Grenoble, about 90 kilometers away, at the base of the Alps, in an all women’s squat. Strangely, I had met one of her housemates a few days prior and she invited me to visit their squat the following Wednesday for an international march against sexual violence called Take Back the Night.
The Take Back the Night march has a long tradition in Eugene and for the past four years I have participated. When I learned of an opportunity to take part in the march in Grenoble I was really to not only see how they do things here but also to spend some much needed time around radical feminist women.
I arrived in Grenoble on Wednesday afternoon and found my way to the squat where Cion and the women who invited me to the march live. There was lots of energy in the house because many of the march organizers live there and were busy prepping for the evening.
At around 6pm we boarded the tram heading towards a local social center for a pre-march dinner of peanut stew, rice, somosas, carrot soup and cooked spinach. Cion doesn’t speak French either so we sat off to the side talking quietly to each other as I observed the scene and made comparisons between Grenoble Take Back the Night and Eugene Take Back the Night.
Overall, Take Back the Night in both cities attracts the same type of people (young, radical women). The Grenoble march is not open to men (neither was Eugene until just a few years ago). The Eugene march has police escorts to “keep the peace”….or something. The Grenoble march also had police riding at a alongside yet they never intervened with the march, not even when open, in-your-face shouting matches occurred between marchers and patriarchal bystanders, or when march participants decorated the route with wheat-pasted posters and graffiti promoting feminism and radical ideas. The energy of the march was pure, strong and empowering. This, I think, is universal.
Because my life in Lyon consists almost entirely of La Friche, I will write about the 4 days I spent in Grenoble.
Grenoble is a beautiful town (as beautiful as civilization can be, that is), situated in a valley and surrounded on all sides by tall, snow-tipped mountains and dispersed mountain villages. The views from any window in Grenoble are spectacular.
I stayed at the women’s squat and found the change of pace to be quite nice. My sophomore year of college I lived with only one room mate, Teresa but since then I have not spent any significant amount of time living with just women.
The day after the march, Cion, Lucie and I went on a hike up one of the mountains to the old fortress called the Bastille. It was a beautiful, crisp, fall day. I enjoyed the familiar crunching of oak and maple leaves under my feet as we talked and casually walked up the hillside. All of this really reminded me of the wonderful Cascadian autumn. The Bastille is a huge fortress with confusing, disconnected architecture and amazing views of the Alps and small mountain villages surrounding Grenoble.
As the sun set (earlier and faster than we expected), we descended from the fortress and made our way to a radical bookstore where they were hosting a documentary about the Senegal feminist movement and serving a traditional Segalases dinner of chicken and vegetable stew over a plate of spiced rice. This was my Thanksgiving dinner.
The next afternoon was “sport day” at the self defense club that one of the housemates teaches. Once a month the group trades in their self defense lesson for a few hours of random, crazy, fun, games and exercise. This is also an all women’s group. We played follow the leader, relays, did pushups, did balance and equilibrium exercises and I taught a bit of hula hooping.
Later in the evening, Cion, Lucie and canned our homemade, hand picked kiwi and persimmon jam and Cion made a delicious pumpkin and sweet potato pie (in my Thanksgiving honor).
Saturday morning the three of us hitched back to Lyon for Veloroution (Critical Mass). When I arrived back to La Friche, I was totally swept up in the energy of the warehouse as people ran around gathering mini bikes, tall bikes, cargo bikes, fixed gear bikes, signs, flags, portable music equipment and all other supplies for the fun bike-protest ride. I assumed that because there were lots of people putting lots of energy into crazy bikes, crazy signs, crazy flags and crazy music for Velorution that they would also include crazy costumes. So, I began to buzz around the La Friche free pile looking for a sweet costume to match my tall bike for the ride. The free pile is full of treasures, including pink and green striped jeans, a light teal shirt which I stenciled “VELORUTION” and an image of a girl on a tall bike kicking over a car, a yellow fabric that I fashioned into a tutu and the cherry-on-top of this ensemble was the pink converse high tops.
Well, I was wrong. And as a result, the only person in costume (minus Bruno the Clown, but I‘ve never seen him out of costume).
The ride was wonderful. The tall bike lasted almost the entire ride, until Fox ran into it as I stood next to it at an intersection, totally fucking the back wheel. So I spent the last bit of the ride being biked around in a cargo bike.See Photos:
Now I’m back to my usual routine at La Friche. I spent all day Sunday in the bike workshop. Not making bikes however, rather wind chimes out of bike parts! I sawed some old bikes frames into short tubes, connected them to a large cog at the top with derailleur cable, and hung an old front hub in the middle.
And now it is Monday, I will place my first frame on my new bike stand and start building a bike. I will also do laundry because all of my clothe are dirty so I have to wear the only clean article of clothing I have, my dress and some tights I found in the free pile to the workshop. I think it will match my workshop jacket just fine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The grand update:
When I posted my last update I was in the suburban beach community of Retamar on the Mediterranean sea. Since that update, I have moved onto France, but not without spending ample time on the beautiful beaches of southern Spain.
Here is my story:
After leaving Retamar, I went to the beach town of San Jose. San Jose is a magnet for foreigners located in the Cabo de Gata nature reserve. The reserve was established a few decades ago, after the town was built, so no further expansions can be made. Unfortunately, this does not stop developers from tearing down old beach shacks to build million dollar vacation homes within the previous boundaries.
I arrived in San Jose around 9am. The street leading up to the beach was lined with travel vans with wet suits hanging over the windows to both dry from their last use and offer protection from the evil morning sun that turns these caravans into ovens by 10am, easily. One guy was up, drinking coffee in the drivers seat. I approached him and inquired about a beach both suitable and safe for camping. It was obvious that I could have just pitched my tent right there in the parking spot next to his but I was looking for something a bit prettier and a bit more hidden. He pointed east, around a small mountain and said people often camp there. I thanked him and started walking. About 30 minutes later we reunited on the road; he was driving to Playa Mogul, 5k away, and I was walking to Playa Genovasa, 3k away. Since they are in the same direction, he offered me a lift and with the sun getting hotter and my pack not getting any lighter, I took it. You could indeed camp at Playa Genovasa, but there were still lots of caravans and a huge parking lot indicating that crowds of tourists frequented this beautiful beach. I inquired with some caravaners about more beaches beyond the hills and they assured me that there were more beaches and perhaps caves too! I began walking down the sandy path until I reached the next small beach. It was very beautiful yet lacking in caves or other hidden camping spots. At this point, I stashed my pack in some agave plants and continued over the hills in further search of the perfect spot. I walked about 2 miles along the rocky cliffs above the sea when I came to a very secluded beach. I scouted the site a bit, including a through test of the water. At first, it was really fun to be all alone, floating in the ocean, but then my mind started to wander off to sneaker waves, jelly fish attacks and all the scary things oceans can offer when you‘re out without a buddy. Swim session over.
I also decided that this beach was too far away and began retracing the rocky path. On the ocean side of one of the first hillsides a cave formation caught my eye. A natural, semi carved out cave on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean sea was to be my new home sweet home. I set up my tent, leaving off the rain fly so I could see the stars and moon at night, created a small cooking area and was quite content with my condition.
For the next few days I stayed in this beautiful place. One day, while hitching back to the beach from a food run in town, I met a guy that came to Cabo de Gata to snorkel. He had brought extra snorkels and offered to share. Lovely! We snorkeled in the beach near my cliffside residence all day long. It took me awhile to get the hang of the snorkel mouth piece, but once I started floating and relaxing in the waves it all came together. I saw rainbow fish, bottom feeders, pretty opaque schools and purple anemones.
After the sun had set, my snorkel buddy assured me that the Cabo de Gata lighthouse was a must see and well worth the 20K drive. He had lots of maps of the area and a good guide book so I assumed that he was on to something. Well, he wasn’t. But I pretended to be impressed as the chain link fenced, 1970’s era, tower flashed it’s unique light combination.
The most amusing part of this trip was the interpretive sign for the light house had a huge seal painted on it. Seals? I asked. In the Mediterranean? No, there are no seals in the Mediterranean. Why they made a seal the focal point of their sign is beyond me. My only guess would be that the Spanish word for seal is foca and the word for lighthouse is foco, or the masculine version of seal. Seems like a bit of a stretch to me…
This night was also Halloween. Spain doesn’t really celebrate Halloween though. There are small western influenced festivities for children and a few clubs have adopted the theme but it really isn’t big. After the lighthouse trip we went into San Jose for a drink. This is where I saw the cutest thing ever: elementary school kids performing Thriller in the plaza! Actually, this might be how Spain celebrates Halloween because a few nights ago I saw another school group doing the same thing on a local talk show. Or maybe this is part of the international tribute to Michael Jackson. Did they do this in the States?
From there, the evening went down as I expected. We drank some beers, ate some tapas, he told me that he was interested in me, I told him I was going home, end of story.
The next day I made a day for myself. This may sound funny because, well, everyday when you are traveling alone without a plan is a day for yourself. But today was a day for myself because I was not going to talk to anyone. I hiked through the hills of San Jose, admiring both the coastline and adjacent desert. It is in these hills that I found the connection between Gaudi’s architecture and nature. The wavy designs of the balconies and rooftops reflect their similarity to the curves of these natural cave formations. Very cool.
I kept walking, did some yoga on the beach, wrote in my journal, tried to meditate but the pokey rocks interrupted my peace, found another beach and went for a swim. Well, I tried to swim. I got about 50 feet out, still walking, when OUCH! A foot-falling-asleep sensation shot up my leg! Jellyfish attack! I dove back towards the shore and swam back to shore, afraid of stepping on more jellyfish. At the time, it appeared that I had recovered just fine from the quick moment of pain however, as I write this, almost two weeks later, I still have a mark about 2”x2” on the outside of my right lower calf. It feels like a burn and hurts to touch. Boo. I dried off in the sun and set off to my camp for a night of boxed wine, full moon, and campfire dinner.
After this, exact details begin to fail me. I might have stayed another night at this beach, I think I did. A quick consult of my journal would clear this up but it is far away at the moment (other side of the room). Anyway….
In a few days I found myself at the beach of San Pedro. San Pedro consists of a rapidly deteriorating castle, a few buildings in a similar state, a beautiful cove-esq beach, a beautiful freshwater fountain, perhaps 30 shanty homes and caves which are occupied by San Pedro residents for all or part of the year and three bars. San Pedro is unique because it is not a town. There are no roads, no signs, no laws. If you want to live there, you build a shack. If you want to open a bar, you hike in some beer. If you want to walk around all day with your 3 foot homemade bong taking and offering hits to whoever you encounter, that is ok too. San Pedro is like a beach that has been squatted and for some reason or another, has been provided with immunity from the Spanish police. It does help that there is no road to San Pedro, just a 5 mile trail that begins in nearby Las Negras. You have to bring in everything and take out everything. The only things available for consumption in San Pedro are fresh water from the fountains, beer from the bars, drugs from the guy who lives in the last cave on the left, and pomegranates from the trees.
You can stay in San Pedro as long as you like. I made friends with two Italian guys who were staying there for 2 months, then going further south to avoid the winter. I also met a guy from Switzerland who arrived the same day I did and was staying for his entire 6 week holiday. I also met two American girls! These were the first Americans that I have encountered during my travels in Spain. They were taking some time off of university to travel and heard about San Pedro via a hitchhiking ride. They only stayed in San Pedro for a few days before leaving for Granada. I also met a very nice guy from Czech Republic. He confirmed my previous notion that people from Czech are super nice. We swam really far out in the ocean together, shared travel stories over tea, and talked a lot about farming. He is a juggler and taught me a bit, I taught him how to hoop. I didn’t really get good at juggling but he picked up the hoop quite easily.
San Pedro was an interesting experience for me. I had lots of ups and downs as I dealt with the both the joy and restlessness of more or less doing nothing. Maybe I’ll walk to the beach, go fill up my water bottle in the fountain, climb the tree and read, listen to my iPod, etc etc. At times, I very much enjoyed this floating lifestyle while other times, usually when I was trying to imagine what was happening outside of San Pedro, I was restless. Internet was easily two hours away so I really didn’t have the means to contact anyone. I was mostly preoccupied with thinking that Trip had already left for Brazil and I missed the opportunity to chat or email him before he went to the Amazon for a two week expedition. (Note: his trip has been pushed back and he will not leave the States until November 23rd).
There is a huge windstorm plaguing the coast of Spain right now. Originally, I had my tent situated under the biggest tree in San Pedro. The tree is called Ape’s Bread or something like that, and has long seed pods that are very sweet, like tamarind, that you can eat. It was a great spot for a tent because the tree protected my from the sun until at least 3 in the afternoon. This spot however, failed me. During the first night of the windstorm, the gusts were so strong that my little one person ultra light was blowing over in half; the side of the tent was literally touching my nose. I was more afraid of a branch falling on me than the tent and until my mind started to wander off to all of the death-by-branch-of-tasty-seed-tree scenarios, I was prepared to stick it out until morning in my windswept tent. In the end though, I took the fly off (to avoid it catching more wind), weighted down the tent with all of my gear, moved my sleeping bag into the more sheltered tent of one of the Italian guys and stayed awake all night-unable to sleep due to worrying about my tent and the consistently loud gusts of wind that swept around the canyon of San Pedro.
This is probably the first time I have felt fully conquered by an element. It was strange. The gusts of wind are so strong here. They create such loud noises as they sweep around you that it is, for me, impossible to sleep. This was the first of three nights in which I was kept awake by these strong winds even though I moved my tent to a more secure location.
The evenings, before the wind started of course, were my favorite part of San Pedro. We would gather around a campfire, waiting for the moon to rise over the canyon wall. You could monitor the rising of the moon based on how much it illuminated the hillside directly across from it. At night the moon was so bright that you had a perfect shadow and no need for a light. We would cook a dinner over the fire too. One night, upon the insistence of one of the Italian guys, I made French fries over the campfire. This is a first for me, in fact before, I had never thought it possible. Yet they turned out to be some of the best fries I’ve ever made. Unfortunately, the entire process used up pretty much all of our wood supplies and I had to do a resupply the next day.
Had I not had further plans beyond Spain, I probably would still be in San Pedro; slightly sunburnt, hair becoming more and more dreaded by the sea water, trying to plan a day of swim, eat, walk to the fountain, etc. But, this was not my plan. And now I am in France. I am staying at a beautiful beautiful beautiful squat with a friend from back home. This place is crazy fun and warrants it’s own entry….later.
Well, thank you for reading this update, I hope that the story was worth the length. Lots of love.