There is a country within the country.
And everything in me began with resisting to its new dimensions.
I was emerging from a country wandering in the ruralities of Normandy, Loire and Poitou-Charentes, where I cut my teeth in the inhospitalble winter, working at imposing quickly to myself a particular disciplinary, since I was not going away for just a few weeks, this time. My disciplining would apply on many things. It would first consist in learning slowness, stroll, in unlearning the rhythm of a job to do, that of administration, of the town, the tempo of a social dailyness. I had to unmake the conditioning of a sedentary society’s structural temporality in order to embrace an individual and nomadic time, but not an egoistic ultra-mobile one, rather a time of listening, of apprenticeship, reviewing everything from the very base. It would also consist in finding a physiological balance between efforts, nutrition, sleep, my new life’s conditions, days and nights outside. Temporal let go, opening to sensory aptitudes usually undervalued, bodily and psychic education (which can also be to not do anything with them), research of the trueness of the need and its satisfaction outside the consumerist injonctions and the sports industry, stoicism of the situation (to go in the sense of things), exercice of the peripatetic thinking, a whole re-programming of the behaviour, of the imaginary and the symbolic about which I’ll write again, and that took a serious turn throughout the wild coast.
The Mayenne, the Deux-Sèvres that had appeared empty and full of mysterious ways to me, became in retrospect extremely full of life, of remains, of human activities traces, since a very long time ago. There can seem to be a spotless appearance of a landscape whereas it is moulded, really, kneaded by a hand as much ancient and powerful as the regional civilization it shelters. By riding through them, I felt like a gothic novel’s character on a horse, bearer of some important papers, stopping when night was falling, preparing a spartan camp, observing the clouds, getting back on board early the morning after, stuff soaked, threatening sky, doubling ancient luxurious manors, old castles missing glass on their windows, disused water mills… I would dream only of inns to sit in for a few minutes near a fireplace, to make my things dry, that would be a recurrent fantasy, but such places don’t exist anymore. Hopping from villages to hamlets, criss-crossed farmlands to open fields, and though I would rarely meet a living soul in those humid, windy and chilly weathers, everywhere I would observe carefully housing environments, fabrics, ways and architectures, layout of the towns and lands. I’d love gliding in the very heart of localities, at the first hours of light, when houses and church are yet entirely coated in a heavy white fog, when I would finally heat up a bit after the bite of the morning frosts and air currents of the first miles on my hands, my legs and feet, when I would guess from the prime glowings behind windows, from the prime purring of a car, from the thick smoke rising from the chimneys, from the evasive echo of a stock behind a hedge, from the slow tinting of the spoon scraping the bottom of a bowl, that there were, in fact, some living here, ignoring in that very moment the strange being speeding quietly between their places, every sense wide awake.
When I got back on the footbike at La Rochelle to tackle the Silver Coast, from Royan, well, one could say that eventually it is the coastline from Aquitaine that caught me. This is how.
To the previous familiar density succeeded a strange feeling of alterity. Not that one coud say that by crossing the forest which dresses up the ocean’s river for numerous solitary days, one is dealing with « genuine Nature », an abstract and obsolete share. On the contrary, the process of the world becoming world as a gigantic interactions system between acting potentials becomes very clear. It is named, showed, naked. What one call the forest of the Landes, partly millenary, and partly extended by humans since 150 years (instead of the agro-pastoral activity formerly well-adapted to the swamp territory, hardly fertile, and by subduing rebellious shepherds), is a huge sea pines monoculture, maintaining the dunes, cleansing the place, exploited, under surveillance, debated, under experimentations, regulated, measured, squared from A to Z with numbered perpendiculars. Driveways, trails, tremendous fireproof gaps, vastly deforested zones where little placards are put stating that here, one takes care of Nature by planting trees again! It’s from the very facticity, totally exposed, of those hybrids pluggings (it’s more like this, « Nature », hybrids in perpetual becoming, in an infinity of organizations – I’m borrowing the term and ideas from the remarkable demonstrations of Bruno Latour) that raised a radically different experience. (Amazonian forest too is a long-shot result of the sum of interactions between all the living things in it, humans included, for centuries).
To that would add up the traces of an estival population, rapidly growing in number, but totally absent in that season, a gesticulating specter, chatty, covered with sun burns, smelling like protection cream, brats, sandy bikinis, dragon shaped like balloons, radio waves and barks, all appearing at each trench, reduced to the mutism of an expressionist mime. For on the border of the borders of the sylvan land are growing like mushrooms zones of summer leisure, agglomerates of shacks, bunches of bungalows, holiday resort mobile homes. All of this emptied, inert on my way, and between branches, all bathed in Morse coded rays from a winter star. And when vegetation is no more, stopped by mountains of sand carried along by the ocean, there are more solid houses, but nonetheless as much surrealist towns, looking as if they had been left in a hurry, petrified, hamlets from the far west where marine winds blow, where old party favors lay around, where all shutters are shut, where the alleys are covered with a sand layer, growing on the sides and climbing up the walls, snow in december on the beach, yes, if I were not myself walking on that geometrician paths, if under my footsteps and tires were not scraping novemdecillions of micro-shards of rocks and their nano-fauna, if I were not feeling in my socks the warm accumulation of femto golden nuggets, I would indeed believe I’m in a snowy village on a Christmas day, abandoned because of a dunes collapse, because of the great return of the avenging mosquito, because of a pastoral riot, because of a big old twist of destiny, because of a divine punishment.
Cooled off by that world at first, I mentally resisted to leading an analyze of those places looking so weird to me, uninteresting, somehow disposed, that I could not understand, missing datas, and I resisted physically to the long lines of gravels or asphalt on which I was notified to ride, endlessly unwinding in arterial circulation tracks, in the heart of that alien green lung under artificial breathing. Resulting from my obstinate and narrow-minded refusal of truly embracing the situation, I got fed up.
Let’s try a little detour inlands then, looking for the Girondin.
I was looking for heirs of the revolutionary elites who moderated themselves and where decimated, who left their names on the scroll of the history of the republic in France and in Europe, I find many surly characters giving me funny looks, I look shady it seems, I’m observed carefully when I cook with the stove on the open market place, in the heart of the village, am I giving a bad impression, I can feel that I’m put in the careless tourist box coming to the spectacle, or seen as a tramp potentially bearing bad news, dirty, without manners, not at her place, two characters opposed in nature I dare to say, that I’m now embodying in a single time for them, a threat of increasing the decay of order, an order for which it appears one should fight without rest by building new walls between oneself and the ennemy, great cause of all that disintegration of values. How many « bonjour » shall I shout, before one responds to me, sometimes five, without any answer.
The hardly concealed hostility of the inhabitants surprises me, it will only be once ran out the totality of the Landes’s length now covered with conifers, that I will seize again what a loop it hides, a strong magnetic entanglement of the poles, that I will reckon that about the dusty periphery, industrial and probably privatised, full of capitals and intermittent exogenous populations, they would have a lot to say, about its repercussions on their here and now life, in their very own centers. Yet, loops and centers like this, off and back centering depending from where one is observing them, well it’s probably the only thing there is, and it’s not by summing them up with causality lines running from A to B in a unique way with citadels at the end of it that we will be able to grown things on the vast land of the common good, for sure. I’d notice quickly enough though that no people evade from political reductionism when I’d meet by a sunny morning, in the midst of the pinophytes,a spanish couple that I first happily saw as obvious buddies, peers, lugging all their goods in a rolling box. They had walked more than 50 000 during 7 years across Europe, thrown on the road after everything had been taken from them. The gossipy man ended up talking grosso modo like this: « be suspicious of strangers, in the south of Spain, coming from north Africa, and in the east of Europe ». In doing so he perfectly illustrated the story of the indigenous, in every new country, warning the falsely naive wanderer that the next country will be stuffed with thieves and vilains and that his own country is a marvel of welcoming and honesty, and so much on, until a world tour is done.
I came back to it, then.
But this time I was remembering Seneca, delivering a few life rules to whomever would want to hear them – his young writing buddies in this case, in his respectable age rambling on the meaning of destiny. Go with the flow of things rather than struggle and loose all of your strength. Oh yes, yes, put like that, read like this, between two clicks on the virtual network, such a vast and vague sentence, bearing an evident slippery slope, for to those who are not ignoring the passed centuries and their successive knowledge layouts how shall one answer before the quarrel of the natural law, from which indestructible and objective plinth shall one decree, record that things do indeed go in that direction and not in another one, that this is good or bad, what kind of interpreters and ideologies an ethics thus calling the destiny as sledgehammer argument can it deliver ? But, and it is a milestone of this journey, the huge task of our generation might very well be to find some familiarity again with “the flow of things”, and to answer that it is in the very accuracy of an action being delivered with measure, humility that lies the future of a true ethical revolution. Accuracy, measure, humbleness, knowledge of oneself, I will write again about them. Gauge the talk, one’s or another acts with this benchmark in mind… the compass rarely lies. Greeks have been warning us since millenniums about the harmful effects of the hubris. Careful though, it’s all the contrary of tepidity, of compromise, of soft reformism. It’s a formidable cutting-edge weapon. And like every other production (since it is a production of the self, a work, a craft) it bears its counterfeiters.
And then my stride lengthened, became less sickly, I found my environment less annoying. I let myself immerse, day after night after day, during 10 solo days and nights, I let be the arid path and let come the wild life, slowly becoming a lesson. I trained myself to recognize my North, my South, mon East and my West from the sky observation and the trajectory of the roads, in an attempt to permanently situate myself on a mental map. I would look up and see wild gooses fly, migrating towards the south west, I would be more or less far from the ocean, facing it, being on the side, in the back, shadows would deport in precise angles.
One day, as I was riding through the pines, I heard the recurrent shout of a bird, one that emits a particular and powerful kind of parrot hiss. I had noticed their presence many time, curious of that noisy and not very discrete species. On that day, I understood one was warning its fellows about my intruding, my passing. From that sudden inversion of perspective, when I could see myself penetrating the territory, stared at from a hundred meters, from that whistling communication about the animal that I then was (reference in french to Derrida) and which was approaching, whom behavior was alerting, from the awaking degree I had won at this precise moment in the exchange of the points of views, I draw a pure and profound joy, I was part of a whole and I was aware of it with an acute consciousness. Every following alarm was an occasion of savoring my beginner practice in a perspectivism à l’amérindienne (the ameridian way): I was debuting in shamanism, the one that possesses the ability to slip himself into another’s skin, animals, fantoms, gods, and shares their subjectivity. A metaphysics of the beings telling that all share a common origin consisting in a human interiority, point of view (a jaguar has an anthropomorph subjectivity thus), and that from the stock of that shared representations unity, it is forms (aspects, behavior, clothes) that vary ( one common culture and a multi-naturalism), a cosmogony that unites us in another manner in shared origin and history.
I would meet several does, they were far more fearful, once their heads graciously straightened up, it was already too late to convince them with a low voice talk to let me approach them. I would meet, at the tarmac edges, passing on the road – not even slightly wondering if the thing is natural or not, it is and that’s all, with the rest of things – pilfering squirrels, cats, birds, unidentified hairy quadruped, I would hear in the bushes hooting less and less lugubrious of owls.
Then, there was the ocean.
From afar, the ocean is a continuous bass of infra low-notes. A gigantic vibration lower than 20 hz. Closely, it sounds like a plane reactor. It bursts, it explodes, it takes off all the time. From 1000m, one can hear a constant roar, a surd agitation is massively rising in the distance, from which one would endure the backward surge. From 100m, one is submerged with a never-ending blare, under a cosmic artillery’s firing, bombing our auricles with explosives droplets. It took me a few days before I dared pitching my tent on the dune, facing the whole ocean. I spent an incredible evening and night, and did my best, at the coast of efforts bigger than the sum of those furnished in the day, to find, the following days, the best places at the top of dunes. I had no souvenir of observing the starry vault above such a liquid mastodon, foamingly breathing. I found myself violently dropped on all the ships I had visited as a kid, the rebellious Bounty, the fragile rowing boat of the old man, the sombre hold of Jonas, Medusa’s raft, the whaler of Achab, the frigate of Ulysses… Everything that seems frightening on earth is nothing when a night without clouds has deployed itself, iridescent with powerful twinkling above the water. On gains back immediately an inner dimension, by the disarming recording of the simple sensation of one’s smallness. Not a disproportionate crushing (though there is something unmeasurable), rather a more harmonious distribution. And, if there are favorable conditions, if the bareness is sufficient in order to mind it: it becomes clear why nightfall, the moment between the disappearance of the sun at the horizon and the distinct appearance of the galaxy, when winds always seem to arise and sounds always seem to turn more threathening, what nightfall is like an uncertain and of little comfort moment. It’s a whole world that is reversing. To the incandescent unique star that shines on us during a full day and stamps the existential back-theater of operations, succeeds the positionning of an infinite cosmic setting, empty, silent, carrier of a billion far-off stars that stud it. That fragile corridor that leads from a precise moment to another, and from which one can see as if from behind the curtain, is aa source of all fears. It’s a moment when one gets vulnerable, landmarks are blurred, one has to get prepared to be confronted with that great reversal of perspective. Nightfall howls to us each evening our certain death, and at the same time it booms to us our certain life – one can choose to ignore the moment, in many ways. I think of the human jaguar staring at the sky from an old man’s boat, I think of those does with their open ears, turning their heads towards the milky way, I think of those wild gooses which, generation after generation for thousands of years find again the path on the globe between continents because continents were so closed and moved so very slowly, centimeters after centimeters, under the same celestial lightning, I think of the bats in the garden in La Drôme, at my grand father’s house, that always appeared at this transition hour, I think of the little birds that he would look at through the window’s glass, I think of that grand father, who passed away a year ago, the vision of his dead body, his shrinked corpse, his mouth wide open, his twisted face, as one can see them in tragic paintings, my first dead body from close my last grand parent, as if he had tried to engulf the whole air of the universe, as if he had for a last time contemplated the whole interstellar space by eating it just like that, like a jaguar, like a doe, like a bird, like a garden, like a pine tree, like a human, like a planet, on on his very tiny chest, on his holey pullover, a humble bouquet of starry flowers from the garden, a few tied sprigs, carefully put here in his joining hands by very small children that knew him.
Saint Jean Pied de Port, Pyrénées Atlantiques, 8-9st of December 2015. A simple life – Europe Tour.
To my grandfather Michel, architect, born in 1915 in La Drôme and who died in 2014 in the same house where he saw the light of day for the first time, at the dawn of a century long life, I dedicate the crossing of France and its marvelous regions.
6 (Thanks, keep going !)