"It is never the same landscape, depending on what the weather is like, or what time of day it is", V. describes the region where she lives. "The same field can be luminous and vivid, giving off gold reflects in the sun; it can be of a saturated green at the end of a rainy day, or shine silvery in a full-moon night." We are in the ZAD, the "Autonomous Zone of the (planned) Airport" of Notre-Dame-des-Landes in North Western France.
In this picturesque area the local authorities want to built a new airport of a 30 kilometre perimeter, and two large roads cutting through the countryside in order to connect it to the large agglomerations Rennes and Nantes to the North and South. The local ecosystem will be destroyed, as will be the lives of the people inhabiting this land. The state tries to buy the properties of the owners, in order to evict them or their renters. Nantes actually already has an airport, but in the name of "progress" a bigger one must be built, the authorities decided as far back as twenty years ago. A campaign against this has been going on for almost as long, intensifying over the past couple of years.
A local boy I met said to me: "My father already was implicated in this struggle. We had our pigs killed and our sheep stolen from our farm because of this."
The house V. lives in was squatted only a few months ago. It is one of many houses whose owners sold to the state a long time ago. The police subsequently destroyed the building, taking out all doors and windows and smashing a large hole into the
roof, in order to make it un-liveable. Of course this does not scare off squatters, as it was intended to. V.'s housemate Noémie and two friends of hers went in a few months ago and made the thing inhabitable in a mere three days. The only problem is intermittent watercuts, since the plumbing freezes over in the harsh winter temperatures.
This is the case the evening that I arrive. The only drink water in the house are three plastic bottles filled up at the neighbours'. Luckily, there is a healthy alternative to water present: V. and Noémie just had their vats filled by the local winery. Their reservoir is impressive; over the next few days the pitcher just keeps getting filled up, the wine keeps flowing. We finally drink all the wine there is, but it takes us a good few days, sometimes starting with red wine at breakfast. We keep drinking and drinking as we go through this week's task which is cleaning out the neighbour's shed, and dolling it up for a party this week-end. We knock together a bar and paint the walls. I paint a pair of goofy police running after three pogoing, mowahawked punks. Julien paints a pair of fucking chicken.
They go well with the shed-theme.
One night after a day's work V. and I go to the skips of the local supermarket. V. climbs over the fence, with her head-lamp on, filling up plastic-bag after plastic bag, handing them out to me. Among tons of fruit, bread and biscuits, we skip smoked salmon and even the lemon to squeeze over it. Later that evening back in the house, at the dinner table, V. jokes "on est à l'Elysée là ou quoi?", "this is what it's like at the presidential palace".
V. is a musician. Once, on a demo against the planned airport she played the piano in front of a row of CRS, French riot cops. "Merci d'être venus si nombreux", she addressed them as she sat down, rubbing her fingers because of the cold before starting to play, "Thanks for having come in such great numbers".
Another evening we decide to extend the drinking session till after dinner and have a little knees-up before the final big bang on sunday.
The party is comic to the point of tragedy. At a certain point of the evening, males and females, everyone gets topless, including the old, fat guy whom I believe no one particularly desires to see naked. But hey, he is everyone's mate, of course he is part of the party. Noémie even grabs his ass in the generalized comical exuberance of the night.
I really feel a little as if in a liberated zone, with all the drunk driving after the party, and with everyone leaving their houses unlocked, and the cars in front parked for a few hours with the doors wide open or even with the keys on them.
Most of the squats in the area are farm or family houses, although Le Cent-Chêne, the squatters bakery, is an impressive self-made house in the greenery, and another part of the ZAD is an occupied forest area, where an international crowd of people built treehouses at 15 metres above the ground in the pine trees. The first evening I come round there and spend a few hours chatting, I am unimpressed, thinking "met these kind of hippies before." Only the next day I am to realize how, in thinking so, I entirely missed the point: That day I lean how to use the rope to climb up the trees! Seeing that I am daunted by the task, Daniel, who teaches me how to climb, says to me: "I also used to be afraid of heights, now I am addicted to them."
Up I go to Peg's treehouse. Peg tells me he just used his treehouse to sleep in, but spends the day time on the ground.
What a place to wake up to see the sunrise indeed, with its complete, circular view of the horizon through the tree-tops! Looking out from up there throughout our conversation, I realize I am no less scared to get back down than I was to get up there.
"I think I am also going to sleep here", I joke, meaning I am too chicken to connect myself back to the rope and rappel down. It honestly hasn't even occured to me that there is only one bed up here. My comment however provokes Peg to move away from me with a daunted look on his face, which makes me laugh.
Sure enough, that night I am on my bike, back to "le Tertre", the name given to V's house - meaning "the hillock".
The neighbours bulls are good buddies of each other, always hanging out together. In the night, as you ride home with your bicycle lamp showing the way, three pairs of eyes glow red and threatening from behind the tick of the electric fence where they stand aligned.