La Sorga

My female driver – the first of my etire journey – takes me out of her way, up the mountain and into the driveway marked `La Sorga’. It is gone 8pm, cold and dark. She wouldn’t hear of me walking the rest of the way. I walk towards the faint voices and even fainter light behind some tree-shaped silhouettes. The light and voices are coming from what appears to be a wooden cabin, but turns out to be part caravan, part wooden construction. I knock lightly on the glass door, thoroughly surprising the inhabitants whom I discover have never heard of me and were not expecting anyone at all. The `owner’ of the place is away. It must have been him I was emailing and he hadn’t mentioned I was coming to the others. But it’s ok – the more the merrier!

I am introduced to everyone: Caroline is French and has been here only two weeks herself. Antoine and Laura are a couple who met here for the first time two months ago. Antoine is a sunny-faced guy from Belgium and Laura is German and almost always laughing. Then there is Ash, a New Zealander who has been here the longest. He is currently on crutches having slipped in the woods about a week ago and badly twisted his ankle. Ash is freegan. He spent a bit of time squatting in London and also used to work at Pogo Cafe. We probably know some of the same people – small world! Christoph is the only one who doesn’t speak a great deal of English. He is a bit of a clown and always up for some fun and games. I think I will definitely get on with everyone here. We are all around the same age and I cannot help but think that La Sorga feels more like a youth hostel than a community. There are no permanent residents here at present and it all feels rather transitory. This is great for me as a passer-through but I’m not sure how I would feel about it if I wanted to stay for longer.

I arrived in time for a dinner of spaghetti bolognese. Laura is vegan too, so all evening meals will be fine for me to eat. It is decided that I will share a cabin with Christoph. This turns out to be my own double mattress on a mezzanine above where he is sleeping, with my own lamp, a window and bookshelves. Hurrah!

Day 1 – Friday
Porridge for breakfast. Already I can tell this is my kind of place! The morning is spent moving an enormous pile of wood from the front entrance. It has been given to us by a neighbour apparently. It is the last thing I feel like doing after a full day of hitchhiking, but I dutifully take wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of wood behind the caravan for stacking.

I am expecting more work after lunch, but find that everyone goes off to do their own thing. I end up `sunbathing’ in my polo-neck jumper and two pairs of trousers on my rollmat near to the front drive. A peculiar place to lie but with a lovely big patch of sun. A big white tom cat – clearly the bravest of the five feline residents and one of only two who are not blind – comes to sit beside me – then on my book – then on my back, where he gives me a lovely massage. We remain firm friends after this.

I have discovered that La sorga has some strange contrasts: a compost toilet, wood burners and permacutlure principles – but also running water, a boiler, internet and – bizzarely – a washing-machine!

Day 2 – Saturday
There is a market in Le Bugue, the nearest town, on Saturdays and Tuesdays. The market shuts at midday, so that is when we need to get there – to ask the market people for any unsold food they are throwing away – kind of a cross between skipping and begging. Four of us walk down to the main road with the intention of hitching in pairs. Two cars pull over at once – success!

I’m told there is usually a lot more and people seem dissapointed, but we manage to fill a few carrier bags. Antoine has a tip-off about a field where a lot of corn has bee cut and is being left to rot. He and Laura head off to pick some while Caroline and I return home. They arrive hours later with sacks of the stuff. In the field was enough sweetcorn to feed the chickens for a year. We will go again another day and get more.

Since I arrived people have been talking about the party we will go to on Saturday night. The time has arrived and I am almost reluctant to go. I have not enjoyed the last few parties I have been to and not drinking means always being on a different wavelength to people at parties. I have not drunk alcohol for six weeks and have been attempting to abstain for three months. I even spent my birthday sober. Something about the surroundings and the people weakens my resolve and the minute I get in the door and see tables covered in bottles of free booze I pour myself a large glass of champagne and have done with it.

The party is wonderful. It is in a shop which has just opened. It is not-for-profit and runs solely on donations – everything from clothes to toys to computers to furniture – which they fix up and sell on at an affordable price. It is huge and bright and clean and beautifully decorated with a large Mongolian yurt frame (no canvas) at one end, filled with cushions, paintings and information about various projets, of which La sorga is one. A stage has been set up and the bands play some excellent folky stuff that we can’t help but dance to. I am properly warm for the first time in a week and go right down to one layer of clothing. Antoine takes to the stage at regular intervals – a bit of drumming here, a little singing there. He adopts strange squeaky voices and somehow manages to fit in with the rest of the band – at least mostly! We can’t help but dance – all except poor Ash who spends the eveing on one of the sofas with his twisted ankle. There are plenty of children and people of all ages. I am very glad to have come and also very glad for my champagne. Bad girl.

Day 3 – Sunday
I am informed early on that this is our day of rest. Suits me fine. My first hangover in six weeks and I am feeling guilty about drinking last night. I console myself by reasoning that it is still the longest I have ever gone without drinking (since age 15 anyway). I turn down a glass of walnut wine in the evening, to the shock and dismay of Christoph, who claims it is a traditional French drink and I must at least try it. I feel a little better with myself for refusing and feel certain that I can now go on to abstain for another six weeks.

Day 4 – Monday
I was originally planning on leaving today, but I was going to Barcelona and heard by email that the squatted community I wanted to visit there is at capacity until February. I will stay here for two days extra and try to visit Barcelona on the way back.

Christoph left this morning, so now there are only five of us. It seems there are even fewer as Antoine and Laura spend most of the day in their little house and Ash is ill in bed. The skipped paella is suspected but unconfirmed as the culprit and is consequently fed to the cats, much to their delight.

Another lazy day. I spend most of it reading `Frech Phrases For Dummies’. I must sound very odd to the others, sitting in the corner muttering phrases like `What a lovely dress!’ and `peaches are my favouite fruit’.

By evening I am feeling a bit rested out. I have done little but sit for two days. I go for a stroll and nose around some of the other structures for the first time. I also finally make frinds with one of the blind cats and end up with a trail of cats following me around the grounds pied-piper style.

Day 5 – Tuesday
I woke up late – almost 10am. Last night we had a projet meeting and chastised ourselves for doing so little work this week. We resolved to go into town early for the market. On entering the caravan I discover that I am first up. Hmm, strange. I entertain myself while waiting by washing-up and watching the chickens outside.

The cockrel and one of the chickens have escaped again. They are strutting and waddling around on the wooden platform outside the caravan. I witness my first ever chicken-rape scenario when the cock forces himself on top of the squarking, flapping hen and holds the wobbly red bit on her head in his beak to keep her down. I am shocked. After he’s finished she shuffles her feathers violently and he struts about crowing loudly. What a cock. He struts over to a nearby plastic bucket and stretches his head to peer over the brim. On finding it is filled with pieces of sweetcorn he pecks one out onto the deck and gobbles it aggressvely.

Eventually the others emerge. Caroline and I hitch into Le Bugue while Laura and Antoine finish breakfast. There is something good in the air today. The first car we see pulls over before we have even made it to the main road. A man at the market breaks open an orange and gives me half as I pass his stall and another sticks his tongue out. Perhaps it is my pigtails. Caroline says I look like a little girl.

We fill all three backpacks and three large shopper-bags with food. Lots of it skipped from the supermarchè and market and some more we actually paid for, like the indispensible yeast extract and some apples and broccoli. Some of us have been feeling a little lacking in vitamins. I buy almost €5 worth of olives as a treat for us all to go on the pizzas we are making tonight. Today is also Bread Day, and that means pizza also. Yum.

Tomorrow I will leave here early in the morning and hitch down to Ecodharma. It’s strange leaving here – in a way it was just one stop on my way to Spain, but I have stayed longer and settled in more than I expected. I wonder if I will return?

Links:
La Sorga’s page on Intentional Communities Website (how I first found them)
Website
La Sorga Wiki

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Rennes

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.

The Weirdest Meal

A few of us have decided to start a monthly foraging trip and today was our first jaunt out. None of us have a great deal of knowledge, but armed with a pocket ‘Food For Free‘ book and some second hand advice we cycled (yep, I’m really getting into that now but my arse is *really* sore!) down to… the seafront. A strange place for a foraging trip you may think, but near to Brighton Marina we found a huge amount of sea kale, sea beet, samphire and rosehips, which I have now discovered were rosa rugosa.

The rosehips didn’t really look like the ones in the pictures yet. They were still a lighter orangey colour, so we decided to leave them and come back again later in the year when the book says they will be at their best, but we each gathered bagfulls of the other stuff. The book says sea kale is very rare but there was so much of it, I don’t think we even took a fraction of a percentage. According to a web resource it is one of the few vegetables native to Britain. The book also says to only eat the stalks, not the leaves, which is a shame because the leaves are these huge great cabbagy things and are really abundant. It was only later that I reaised the flowers I collected all had tiny black insects living in them which marched indignantly around the polythene bag I had unwittingly rehomed them in. Alas, I will have to put the sea kale out with my compost tomorrow as I don’t really want to drown a whole village of insects just so that I can eat their homes. My rather more experienced friend now tells me the leaves are in fact fine to eat and delicious in a stir fry – next time!

So, my meal tonight was one of the strangest I have ever had. It consisted of…

A mixture of three different kinds of pasta (ends of bags), served with tomato and basil soup (free from FareShare) with chickpeas and sea beet flowers and leaves cooked in it, samphire (also known as sea asparagus) blanched and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and locally grown lettuce with tahini dressing.

All rather nice other than the samphire, which has a ‘distinctive’ taste. It’s strangely chemically and not all that great really. We are going to try pickling it to see if that helps.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Beth has made with her samphire, being one month into her year long 100 Mile Diet.

Because you’re Worth It!

Because you’re Worth It!

I was talking to a girl about my desire to live without money. I’m still far from money-free but am down to living comfortably on around £25-£30 a week (minus housing benefit).
“But you can’t live on that!” From her reaction you’d have thought I just told her I was paying my way by robbing banks. “I mean,” She continues, “I need fresh organic vegetables and yoga classes and…” she reels off a list of things that she believes she needs lots of money for… “And you need that too… you deserve it!”

Aaah, I see. This is about you, not me. This is similar to the kind of reaction sometimes provoked when I mention I’m vegan – immediate defensive mode and a string of arguments against my chosen way of life, often ending up with the statement, “you can’t tell other people what to do!” No, I wasn’t. Are you?

Why is it we humans so often take somebody else’s difference as a direct attack on ourselves? Is it because on some deeper level we look for sameness with others of our species and are deeply offended if we don’t find it?

An extreme example: I was reading in the news this morning about a girl who was repeatedly kicked in the face and beaten to death. Her boyfriend who was with her was also beaten into a coma and has now reverted to a childlike state, afraid of leaving his house. Their crime? They were Goths. A group of teenage boys set upon them for no other reason than that they looked different. The ambulance men were unable to tell the genders of the couple because their injuries were so severe.

The word ‘deserve’ is a dangerous one. Do I ‘deserve’ to eat organic fruit and veg? Is there anybody who doesn’t deserve to eat organic fruit and veg? I recently gave up alcohol for a month and then conned myself into going out on the piss because I ‘deserved’ a break. Did I then deserve the hangover which wiped me out for two days and then turned into a cold? Did the assholes who kicked that girl to death think in some way she deserved it? Who gets to decide what we deserve? Surely what’s important is what we need? Do I need money? Not necessarily. Do I need food, shelter, clothing and a warm place to sleep at night? Yes. Do I deserve that? Hmmm…

One of the reasons I ‘need’ so much less money these days is that I’m no longer a wage-slave. Back when I was working I thought I deserved all kinds of stuff because I had been working so hard, or because I was hung over, or because I was hungry and couldn’t be bothered to go home to eat. Marketing really prays on this kind of mentality… ‘Because you’re worth it!’

Worth what? Worth entering into a cycle whereby I’m earning money just to pay for all of the stuff I deserve to buy because I work so hard?