France, December 2015
Quentin, or the libertarian machinism
Wednesday the 25th of November, 2 p.m. Kicking towards Niort. After about 30 miles under a heavy rain and a frosty wind, I decide that I will stop early, hoping for a nice covered and, if possible, dry spot to spent the night. All my stuff is drenched, the tarp tent I’ve folded covered with an icy layer in the morning is now like a fresh water tank, and I’m freezing whenever I stop.
Eventually, after some research, I stumble upon a small shelter in a bunch of public buildings at Germon-Rouvres, a very tiny hamlet (1000 inhabitants) in the Deux-Sèvres department. One of the small warehouses door is open. Soon enough I realize it won’t be that warmer, and prepare myself to spend some rough next nighty hours.
After having hung out my stuff on the old jumble stocked there, slipped on some less humid clothes, seen a white cat all at once run from behind things, whose existence I was totally unaware of when parading half-naked between those four walls, and that I obviously bothered and chased from a good hideout, I’m launching a meal.
But, all of a sudden, I hear a vehicle crushing the gravels, rolling in the yard leading to my now favorite building. And it’s coming right on my stash! Unbelievable, the roadmender and his acolyte are just coming to put a new lock on my door, they should have done so for the last few days… When the man finds me here, with my socks and my little fur hat, a spoon of noodles and soup in the hand, having clearly set my home, he does not seem surprised, nor furious, on the contrary, he seems worried that I might spend a night in such tough circumstances. He comes back a few minutes later, happily announcing that a neighbourly farmer has accepted to accommodate me in a small room on its ground, with an electric heating, please.
Quentin and his farm.
Quentin is 23 years old, sheep breeder, he’s acquired the business two years ago, after being employed by another farmer in the region. In doing so, he made his dream come true, having his own farm. All of his friends, sons and daughters of farmers and breeders, he tells me, do the exact opposite, running away to other trades, whereas he’s always wanted to be in that activity, always wished he’d had farmers parents. Between poultry and sheep, his choice was quickly made, chicken and pigs, « it’s inhuman as a job, it’s an industry ».
He bought the parcel and part of the present stock from a Belgian man, now far away in the Orne (a land the Walloon considers much more friendly), who practiced organic breeding. Wool is sold to a south american enterprise, engulfed in he-does-not-know-what-network, animals, lambs are destined to be eaten. Banks and public investors « have trusted him », he’s engaged for a period of time under similar modalities (5 years sections), he will see then, considering the amounts of the subventions and the cost price of his farm at that time, if he keeps on working on the organic field. Sheep (after a long fall for the last decades) are now buoyant, so is organic productions, but there are more and more businesses on the two sectors, which will consequently lead to a value drop. Everything depends on the future economic climate, investors and a long rentability arithmetic.
Quentin (and Java, his dog) is taking care all by himself of 700 heads of cattle: a unique case in the district (there are 3 sheep breeders), and, as I eventually figure out, probably unique in the
region, if not in the whole country! But in order to help him in his pharaonic tasks, he just invested in 10 000€ piece of equipment, a brand new peeling-strawing machine which performs an automatic distribution of the straw and hay bales. A thing that does not prevent him from loving the old tractor from the 90’s to which he couples it. Before that, he would do the task manually for an hour and more first thing in the morning, nowadays, he can eat breakfast at 8h, once the allocation done in a bunch of minutes. So, holidays? Not really. « Some sundays, a few hours at La Rochelle, just an hour drive from here ! – Yeah well, not with a footbike… – sheep, they always need to be looked after ».
The breeding and the domestic canteen.
I arrive at the end of a day, so I propose to accompany him to feed the ewes at the shed, once his technical check-up done on his car, and a farmer friend of his dropped by to tell that 2 of his beasts had escaped. About 150 of them have been put under shelter, by lots, depending on the date of calving. The little ones are cavorting in the large boxes, having fun provoking lateral massive races, jumping higher than their fellows, observing each other in circles, with ram attitudes, head down to the ground…
First thing is to deliver the straw, to prepare a warm litter for the night. Off we go, Quentin, Java and I in the cockpit of the towing tractor, to pick up a bale of straw in the outside stock and dispose it down to the millimeter in the new machine, after carefully observing in which way it would deploy. Here we are now bringing it back in the building, proceeding to a festive bombing of the enclosures. The cattle is progressively covered up with a thick mellow golden layer of hay.
Then, we go back, picking up a bale of clover hay now, a must-eat, that will be delivered in the next morning. Quentin disposes the machine in the back of the sheep shed, and releases the wires, so that everything is ready for tomorrow at dawn. Oh, and oats time now! Distribution with a bucket, left and right on the 30 meters of curly necklines skimming the ground. He walks fast, the gesture is quick, efficient, precise. Java jumps and yaps from time to time, she seems to be sharing the growing excitement of the crowd.
Lastly, pelleted food is on a the menu. Apparently, to the ovines, granules are the equivalent of our tiramisu. For, until here, a hellish party was going on between the four walls of that giant nursery, cavalcades and ears rustles, bleating and bawling shouting each other down, and suddenly, nothing more. In the robust wooden cathedral wherein the cattle’s dodecaphonic counterpoints were rising, one can now hear the echoes of the clapping jaws, shutting at top speed on the precious encapsulated nutriments. A genuine race has been launched between the stretched heads at the end of oesophagus, in order to conquer and engulf the maximum of the granulated food before their accomplices. Their bulging eyes seem more skillful indeed at sorting out the bad seed from the good than the little hands of the tomatoes calibration workers in Spain, at the speed of a November lighting. A few minutes after stays only on the side the greenish fodder from yesterday’s session (the famous organic clover worth figuring on a Michelin’s chef menu) and old straw. Isn’t it curious those flocks, favouring prefabricated and suppository shaped-like food, calibrated by the very animal that feeds them to eat them, rather than an old good countryside fresh herb? Well, we might say, isn’t it curious those hordes, throwing themselves on a piece of meat between two slices of bread, meat nourished with meat, calibrated, genetically engineered, profitable, marketed and sold with a pretence of a choice (what’s needed is a « concept » and its variations to package emptiness, trigger the foolish pulsion to decide with the illusion of free will of the better choice, and its very short-lived calming) by the very financial beast that put them to sleep to get their buck? Now, what kind of pleasure is that, what kind of instinct, drive, on which everyone seems to be betting, and from which no living beings seem to escape? And does everyone end shorn?
Time to sleep everybody!
Next morning. I’m out of my miracle night, watching outside of my comfy room to see what the day will bring concerning weather… heavy fog. Quentin is already at the barn , assembling, putting back to its place with a giant broom yesterday party’s remnants, fruits of the devilish discernment of the four-legs gastronomers. Again, here we are in the tractor’s cabin for the early distribution, and again, the 10 000 euros sophisticated machine shows off its mechanics, and flings in a groovy rhythm decaliters of herbs to the beast’s gobs.
This is a task he always does before breakfast. When he had not the machine yet, no need to say he had to work for a good hour before devouring any oats himself.
Yes, once, he took at home a lambkin in bad shape, but, having found him dead one morning though he thought it was doing better and better, he’d never do it again.
So much animals, all by himself, it’s unusual, isn’t it? Yes, others would totally be many more to handle such responsibility and work… Opportunities show themselves, I can’t resist taking a hundred more sheeps, and… here we are. In a few months, they will be a thousand then? Yes, yes! Seen the hormonal controlled reproduction processes, echographies and inseminations techniques, it’s a quick calculation. He has not enough lands to feed everybody, but we take a look at a stock of seeds mixed up with peas (they add a natural azote that would otherwise require chemical intrants), happy to plunge hands in the grains issued from the previous year and that he will put back in soil in time (with OGM seeds and multinationals unsurprising law, no legal right for people to use their own grains, and anyway, plants are unfertile). Friends of him breeds pigs, chicken, one comes and help sometimes on a task, and Quentin gives a hand back to another, or yet there are material borrowings, or skills, products of the fields exchanges, some money transactions on heavier services, a whole very local economy that emerges spontaneously. So, really, you are running the artisanal way a business generally led in an automated industrial way ? Yes, and no! You can’t make an industry of sheep (contrary to winged creatures, porks), because you need to be always there for them, « it’s sad, but truthfully, those animals do not know anymore how to be by themselves in the fields. A mother won’t breed all of her little ones spontaneously anymore ».
When I leave the farm, the fog is dissipating finally, all of my things are dry again, Quentin is washing from head to foot his tractor for the repair man, otherwise the mechanist will tell him again that he does not take care enough of his machine.
As for myself, I’m trying to figure out unformulated and often contradictory contents that kept surfacing and scratching my neurons, excited by the challenge of some rationnal, complex, fertile and open translation of that reality simply exposed, lived, through intuitions, dialog, in gestures, senses, human relationships, animal relationships (Java happy to see me in the morning, beasts being, coming, going, living their lives and Quentin living his life, conditioned by the very life of the animals, in an endless loop, and all of them, in the waiting at last of the fine finances of the finest financial Capital). Mental observation of that bag of reality threads, that I manipulate and turn in every way I can whilst kicking during hours, the progressive formulation of problematics that at last, articulate themselves with those that have clearly emerged from the beginning of the journey, and eventually lessons I think I can draw from all that, will occupy me during a few days ride.
La Rochelle, 27-28th of November 2015. A simple Life, Europe Tour. France.
To be followed.
In Part 2, « Quentin, or the libertarian machinism », I will try to articulate the following issues:
- technics and machines, essence and uses
- ethics of virtue and balanced need
- libertarian municipalism, emancipating machinism.
by elaborating on the basis of the very particular case of Quentin, his machine, his 700 sheep, his neighbors, his village, and his district, which show every characteristics of a world walking upside down (french : « un monde qui marche sur la bête » is a play on words bête/tête which sound similar – beast/head), whereas everything seems in place for a genuine emancipating « libertarian machinism ».