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.

1 comment:

  1. You are a rock star. And I'm glad you got to spend some awesome woman time :) I love reading your blog!