So I left Ireland with a 17 hour ferry journey ahead of me to France which went so much quicker than I could have hoped, thanks to brilliant sunshine for lounging on deck and mostly thanks to making a new friend from Brittany called Yannick. It also helped that Yannick seemed to know everybody on the boat, including a woman who worked behind the bar – free and discounted drinks for the whole journey, and somebody to share them with! That journey is an entire story in itself, which I’m going to keep to myself for now as I think it belongs in a novel, rather than a blog post. But to cut a long story short, Yannick and I had a lot in common – he loves to read, works in a bookshop in fact (so I gave him a copy of Is this the Future? Yippee for shameless self-promotion), also after he named Beirut as one of his favourite bands we went through my iPod to see what other musical tastes we had in common – it turned out pretty much everything, which is a great starting point to any friendship. So the hours flew past, talking about music, writing and art, drinking free Pina Coladas and laughing at the typical cheesy in-boat entertainment.
When we arrived into Roscoff, Yannick’s father kindly gave me a lift to Morlaix which saved me a three hour wait at the ferry port for a bus. I then managed to get myself onto an earlier train to Paris and even got out of the twenty euro fine I should have paid for changing my ticket… a good start. I drifted in and out of sleep on the train, chatted with a Spanish couple and eventually arrived into sunshiney Paris. I tackled the metro and arrived at Gare du Nord to meet Matthew with an hour to spare. So I locked away my big luggage, had a quick baby-wipe wash and even applied some make-up… ready to meet Matthew off the train all shiny and clean!
Paris was a bit of a shock to the system after six weeks in the mountains of Ireland. Matthew and I were eager to explore, and spent the afternoon walking for miles in the sunshine. We acquired a map and wandered the streets – in much less clothes than everyone else, it seemed – trying not to spend any money. The city really tired us out and we were glad to be on our way the next afternoon. One of the eight (ish) permanent residents of ECOlonie, Henkjan, picked us up from Vittel, along with a Dutch couple, from an eco-village project in Bolivia who were coming as guests and happened to arrive at a similar time.
It’s easy to forget we are in France here as most people, including the residents, are Dutch. There was one other English couple here, Sarah and Rich, when we arrived who were very pleased to see us! Another English girl also arrived a few days after us, and there’s a few Germans and a couple of French. Of course, everyone can speak English which is useful for us but it does give me The Guilt at being just another lazy English person who can’t speak any other language well enough to hold a conversation. However, it’s interesting to observe the way we end up speaking when there’s a group of many different nationalities together. We create this weird slang, with nonsensical grammar rules, a mixture taken from each language.
The working day is split into two-hour slots which works really well, especially if you are doing something different each two hours. There’s a half an hour break in the morning, an hour for lunch, and another half hour break in the afternoon. A lot of the work is in the garden, planting, weeding and harvesting in the sunshine (or the drizzle if you’re less lucky). It can be as peaceful or as social as you want it to be, and it’s nice to have a mixture of both. There isn’t such a thing as an awkward silence here, and there’s rarely small talk. If you have a thought you want to share, then share it… and if you have a thought you want to keep to yourself, then keep it to yourself. Wednesday mornings, Saturday afternoons and the whole of Sunday is free time, unless you’re on the rota to be in the kitchen that day, as that’s a whole day job.
I was in the kitchen as 2nd assistant on Thursday and it was so much fun. There’s three people working in the kitchen each day, with a long term volunteer acting as ‘head chef’ and two other volunteers as assistants. We listened to music, chatted and took our time cooking for 50+ people. I’d harvested carrots the day before and in the kitchen I got to be a part of the next leg of their journey – washing, peeling and chopping. It must be great to be here for a long time and go through the process from the very beginning of weeding the ground ready for planting.
On our second day we were invited to join in with a sweat lodge in the evening in a little hut by the lake. Eight of us got together and sweated out whilst chatting and getting to know each other. We got to know a little more about a group of three German ‘long-term volunteers’ who have been here for over a year after a stint of living in the woods in Germany. Everybody here has a story to tell, and although there are, of course, many different personalities, there is also some kind of connection between everybody, simply because we all decided to come and be a part of this place. When researching for Is this the Future? I started to come to the conclusion that many people living as part of a community are searching for something. You can definitely see that here with a lot of the volunteers, but you can also see the people who have found what they’re searching for. Matthew and I immediately realised that twelve days is nowhere near long enough to visit this place really, it would be so easy to make a home here. It’s great to know that ECOlonie is here, and I know I’ll come back (and there’s many friends I’d love to bring here), but I’m not sure that I’m ready to make a home yet, I think I’m still searching…
We emerged from the sweat lodge into the cold evening after a good hour and a half, and some of us jumped in the lake. Rich had told me that after jumping into the lake, I wouldn’t feel the post-sweat lodge coldness in the air. I don’t think I’d entirely believed him but he was right! After jumping in the lake, I felt positively warm although it was quite a chilly night. My skin felt amazing after the sweat lodge too and I slept like a baby that night.
After a group of us got together to watch ‘What the bleep do we know?’ one night (which I highly recommend by the way), I’ve been thinking a lot about the ability we have to create our own realities. How much of what’s happening around us can we control with our thoughts? If I think… not not just think, if I believe that I can play guitar, can I play guitar? The difficulty comes with how to really believe something. It’s easy to believe something at surface value, but harder to tell if you really believe something at your core. I guess it’s similar to stating how you will act in a hypothetical situation… when that situation actually comes around you may end up acting in a completely different way – therefore showing that you maybe didn’t believe in the values you thought you did which led to the prediction of how you would act.
We’ve also been talking a lot about how your feelings towards something can change how that thing reacts. For example, with food. How much is down to the actual nutritional value of certain foods, and how much is down to your attitude towards the food you are eating? Is it possible that if you are truly grateful for the food you are eating, you will be able to digest the food more efficiently and therefore get more nutritional value from it? And how about the feelings of the person making the food? The other night a big group of us got together to help Sarah and Rich make pumpkin pies for the following nights dinner. We had a lot of fun, dancing to music, laughing and joking. Would the pumpkin pies have tasted as good if Sarah had stayed up alone, tired and wanting the endless cutting of pastry circles to end?
On our first whole day off yesterday, a few of us went to a nearby woods known as Wolf Valley. Margot (the English girl that arrived after us) and I decided to follow the lead of ‘The Germans’ and go barefoot. It was such an incredible experience, walking for hours through the woods, feeling the earth between my toes… noticing the different textures of moss, how a tree branch feels on your feet when it has rotted away and become part of the ground. I gave myself a little challenge of trying to walk as quietly as possible, as I generally make a lot of noise when I move around. Matthew commented on how I wasn’t leaving foot prints because I was stepping so lightly. The extra personal challenge for me, was not worrying about the various creepy crawlies beneath my feet. I had a few anxious moments of seeing something crawl out of the corner of my eye, or needing to walk through a particular sinky bit of mud and not really knowing what I was putting my foot into… But I realised that I was in control of my own anxiety, I created it and therefore I could let it go whenever I wanted to. So I did.
I don’t think I’ve really got the hang of this blogging business, they keep being very long… If anyone wants to know more about ECOlonie, Google it or YouTube it… or come here, it’s awesome.
PS. I was hoping to have a whole bunch of photographs in this post, but the internet connection isn’t playing ball… I’ll get some pictures up dreckly.