Immigrants Partout – 27 February 2016 Pique-Pique on the N165
The grey February sky and the fields flat and bare, littered with shredded plastic and clumpish sea gulls. Not far over the other side of Calais, passed the super stores, the drive by shopping malls, the “OutLet Centre”, is that encampment where thousands of asylum seekers are crammed together in their muddy enclave, waiting. Yet everything still strains for optimism along the road to St Omer, by the canal, where all remains calm and quiet in the early morning light.
I turn back onto a suburban roadway – Rue Strasbourg and then pass a sign for the Park Bleirot – the road is open and another marker rushes by welcoming us to the Porte de Lille. The contrast here between the modern optimistic Europe and the reality, could not be harsher, cruelly exposed now these fantastic monuments to union, as you now drive out of the port – either way now: south to Paris you have to pass the disheveled campsite of the Jungle or onto Boulogne-sur-mer where the rolling fields in front of Sangatte now carved in two by a vast cutting. Here where the TGV crosses and joins the Tunnel to England the grass and earth has been replaced by a network of oversized whitened fences, topped with razor wire and patrolled by gendarmes in menacing vans. It seems to stretch forever, and nothing can prepare you for these fences, this giant enclosure, a brutal cut into the soil of France; a fateful blow to Europe’s much vaunted ‘freedom of movement’. Not long ago the fences and barriers were merely kept hidden away in people’s minds, now they are being made out in the open again, with a feverish intensity. As if all the bile and resentment, long buried, was being resurrected from the deepest most hellish pit of European Fascism. I stop to get a coffee and returning to the car park find I am confronted by a dozen white vans filled with bored looking CRS riot police. It’s deeply frustrating and depressing.
But now, only 24 hour later I am among thousands of expectant people gathering at Le Quatre Nations – waiting for the start of the latest Zad manifestation, this grand resistance against the planned airport at Notre Dames des Landes. And people keep coming, arriving in buses, on bikes and on the backs of tractors, carrying colorful and inventive banners. The sun is pouring over the horizon as we start along the N165. Ten Thousand, Fifteen Thousand, Sixty Thousand, whatever the number this march is going to block the road to Nantes and stop the traffic for a day. Why so? Because of their plans and their technocratic orders – pinching the earth – and it’s certainly been piqued. The ground beneath the thin tarmac literally trembles with a roaring cry as the people beat the central reservation barrier with sticks; this impromptu collected curse on the concrete and asphalt is a terrific roar, extraordinary, speaking through the trodden soil, from beneath this manmade artificial skin,‘this breach of promise earth’ sends its unbroken shiver up, up into the skies, to shake the blades of the police helicopter circling overhead.
I think of how this road now filled with people, abandoned by the traffic, could once again become totally silent, peaceful, where ‘the shy speechless sound of fruit falling from trees’ returned ‘to the silent music/Of the forest, unbroken…’. A different sense of Europe, peacefully sustained by the rich resources of place and intermingling people, working all together.
Here again witness the extraordinary activity in the collective creation of a watch tower in the form of an oversized can – a corrugated grain hopper – made up of a number of prefabricated parts; the whole building operation made in an hour, overseen by the crowd who wait patiently to see the Zadists finally lift the can-like structure into place. Everyone is expectant, willing and ready. Then one final warning cry and the forklift roars, raising the can up and up, impossibly high on its extended hydraulics, so that it can rest on its plinth. The crowd cheering, the tower now stands tall looking out across the road, sentinel to nature, its three pronged legs lightly held into the rich earth, gently vibrate with the weighted tension. If the Zad can do this what more can it achieve… If this is what we can do together then what else might be possible? What else might we make? Other structures, other worlds, entirely other solutions yet to be imagined? On the way back along the silent road, as darkness falls I make out the signs: Refugees Welcome, Nantes- Calais Solidarity, Immigrants Partout. The native and the foreign combine together, richly interlaced, into the new jungle that will surely take root… (counterproductions March 3 2016)
Postscript: Deja vu
“…Since it opened in 1999 (Sangatte) has attracted thousands of would-be asylum seekers, and the people traffickers who exploit their dreams of a new life.
Eurotunnel claimed it stopped some 18,500 refugees trying to smuggle themselves into Britain in the first half of last year alone – some 200 a night – and that the vast majority of them were from the camp.
Sangatte is just half a mile from the entrance to the Channel Tunnel and many of the refugees are prepared to pay traffickers to show them how to breach security measures.
The British government and railway executives have accused France of inadequate policing of their side of the tunnel, while France has pleaded it is unable to cope with the vast numbers of refugees crossing its borders.
Sangatte officially has capacity to house some 600 people, but up to 1,500 refugees use the camp, including Iraqi Kurds, Afghans and Iranians, many of whom live in cramped, squalid conditions.
The centre has flooded in the past, and undercover reporters who have entered the site have also reported overflowing toilets and filthy sinks.
But the French Red Cross insists closing it would not help France’s immigration problems, and would deprive refugees of even the most basic humanitarian assistance. (Guardian Thursday 23 May 2002)
To halt the onrush of our history, times bleeding hand
You hold out for and onto that place where time stands still
And where the clocks rattle back as well as forth with equal measure
Telling, that nobody can or should pretend to know the future from the past
And where the past is ever present, in the slow ritual of remembrance words:
the passing on of life recipes, and slow wisdom, that lingers in the limbs;
Time, time to rest, to think and breath, to smell the earth and touch the tongues of other things you wish to celebrate, tasting the equal treasure of other folk, of otherness (and other time) reversed and concertinaed.
“Culture doesn’t put food on the table,” the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s finance minister is reported to have said recently.
The Roman Empire in Europe, it is generally explained, was defeated and overrun by a barbarism that overcame its borders from outside, by conquest, raid and mass migration. However this, like most of narrative history is a gross simplification of how the Empire really disintegrated, both as a military, economic and political entity. It would have felt very different then, for the inhabitants of Europe, especially those in thrall to, or enslaved in, the machinery of Empire who gradually saw the hegemony and purpose of that grand enterprise slipping away, as it dissolved into new entities. They did not worship the god Emperor or follow the strict duties of familias and service to the ideals of Roman citizenship, but saw their world in relation to the natural resources and to their social position, viewing their existence less in an excess of trade and a constant building of Imperial glory, and more in a return to exchange, subsistence and surfeit. It may have felt that the world was contracting back to its constituent parts, in local rhythms of season and climate, to a simple quotidian routine where daily pleasure and pain alternated across the agricultural year. Of course in hindsight we are led to read this as a disintegration and a dark age, but reuse, renewal and realignment created something different, new potential from this apparent collapse into barbarism. A renewal that gave birth to new freedoms and new political entities.
After all we should be more aware and sensitive to the fact, that most of what we admire as Roman, was in fact created by barbarian people who inhabited Italy or the shores of the surrounding Mediterranean. This Roman borrowing, stealing and adapting extends not just from the architectural advances so admired by aficionados of Roman Imperial culture, the aqueducts, sewage systems, public baths and networks of paved road building, but also to literature, clothing, food, civil and religious rituals. All these were advances of culture, made by the foreigner – the Etruscan, Ligurian, or the Phoenician and to a lesser extent the Greek – in the Centuries before Rome became a military power. We are just not aware of it, because Rome in its conquest and military prowess considered total destruction as a central part of its modus operandi. Insubordinate or rebellious cities were routinely razed to the ground, and peoples executed en masse or converted into slaves. Many of the finest Roman sites and monuments that we can still see today are built over the foundations of former structures and cultures erased by brutal force.
In 2007, President Sarkozy of France berated students in a speech: “You have the right to study classic literature, but the taxpayer is not obliged to pay for your studies in classic literature.” Then during a state visit to India he proclaimed: “You can like Céline without being anti-Semitic, just as you can like Proust without being homosexual.”
The Villa of Oplontis in Naples – Nero’s real, now as illusion.
Sitting outside Berlin Haubtbahnhof, the lights of the Bundestag in the distance, curving in an arch, I look up at the silvery dust, the flickering agitation of thousands on thousands of insects caught in the glare of huge arc lamps. Their light bathing the distant steel and glass act as a funeral pyre to the curious and unfortunate mayflies that fly too close to the upturned illumination. A slight billowing of invertebrate incense dances over the light. A smell of burnt flesh and I see Berlin devastated, burning, completely erased. And thousands, millions of brief lives extinguished. Sitting here suddenly alone, the café tables and chairs emptied of people I understand. Understand I’m not wrong to want to resist, seeing all this now.