There were three clues that told me I would be staying in a squat in Rennes. The first was my couchsurfing hosts profile saying ‘squat the world!’ The second was being warned I would need to say my name when I got to the door and the third was seeing the door itself.
On entering I have my suspicions confirmed by Manuel, my friendly Europunk host. The main reason I am in Rennes is after searching CS for the keywords ‘anarchist’, ‘vegan’, and ‘squat’ in France, his was the one that kept popping up. This is great – squats were on my list of things to find in France along with permaculture communities, social centres and protest sites.
I have arrived just in time for what Manuel nicknames ‘The Green Meal’ – green beans with pea soup and some other green vegetable broth that nobody can remember the English name for. There is also some nice French bread and some sweet stewed fruit for dessert. I break out my jar of vegan chocolate spread as well. It is everything I dreamed it would be.
Manuel explains that they go skipping at the markets a couple of times a week for vegetables. He has an old friend who runs a bakery and gives him whatever bread is left over at the end of the day. They also steal some food from supermarkets.
After dinner I get a tour of the building. It used to be several appartments and I get lost through room after room after room. Some parts of the building are in better nick than others. They have also been busy repairing, cleaning and decorating some of it. The nicest bit is the attic, particularly Manuel’s room which has wooden panels on the walls and a slanted ceiling. The worst is covered in damp patches and peeling plaster – a wall Manuel says they wanted to knock through but then discovered it was keeping the building stable. There is only one toilet in the whole building. A peak out of the back door reveals why – a row of toilets, each with it’s own door. One for each of the old apartments. How bizarre! There is also another apartment which is only accessible from out the back door. This one is very large and I’m told they will be having a gig in there on Saturday. It is also sometimes used for large group meals.
I choose ‘The Tea Room’ to sleep in. It’s in the attic next to Manuel’s room and has a heater, fairy lights, two sofas, bookshelves, a couple of coffee tables and a good supply of redbush and honeybush tea. The attic is where they all slept for the first few nights. This is confirmed by a row of hardy locks running down the inside of the main door up here. The tea room is now a chill-out space as well as a venue for small feminist gatherings. It also has a nice clean looking mattress. I get some allergic reactions anyway – probably from the damp and the dust (I am allergic to everything!), but sleep about ten hours in spite of it.
In the morning I do yoga in the other attic room – a large one with nothing but a sink, bare floorboards and a table made out of a large wooden pallet with bricks supported by two computer towers for legs. Yoga helps with my aching, but not much and I’m really feeling it as I walk around town on my unsuccessful mission to hire a bike (why is it so hard to hire bloody bikes in France?!?)
Before leaving the house I found Manuel dragging a shower cubicle out of the downstairs outside apartment. He says he is cleaning it up to use as a changing cubicle for their free shop. The shop is currently lots of boxes and shelves of clothes and books in the room by the one functioning downstairs toilet. I think I can successfully tick squats and social centres off my list of things to discover here. Mission successful! Tomorrow I am moving on to La Sorga, a permaculture community East of Bordeaux.