Progress Rumbles Through Your Yard

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

photo by photos lignes tht / flickr

The lower Normandy that I’ve come to know is an amazing world of deep green fields, breathtaking skies, and a silence I have never heard before. The few houses you pass are modest and functional. They can be found between the long stretches of corn and the grazing land where content cows and sheep seem to have all the time in the world to eat and relax.  One of the busiest metropoles in the world is 3 to 4 hours away, but out here it may as well be on another continent. Still,  people here are busy, building things, cleaning things, working the land in one form or another. Some grew up here and continue a family tradition of agricultural work. Others come from different parts of the country, even foreign countries, to live the healthy, calm, and satisfyingly simple life they always wished for.

Looking out over the mystifying landscape one night, a friend shows me with great disappointment, massive new structures on the otherwise beautiful horizon. With their feet planted firmly in concrete, towering high above the corn and fruit orchards, are massive high tension power lines.  “They just put them in, stretching from the power plant that isn’t online yet several hundred kilometers away,” my friend describes with an alarmed tone like someone talking about an oil slick or a forest fire swallowing up his neighbors. “The power company is planning to use these lines to sell electricity to Spain, all the nearby farmers protested, but the company built it anyway.”  He went on to describe the extensive campaign to fight the power company and how they are able to seize land for installing power cables and towers regardless of what the nearby community thinks.

I stepped back from the situation and thought about how often scenario’s like this take place. The massive dam projects in India that displaced thousands of people with little to no consultation. The coal power plant right next door to the city of Ulan Bataar in Mongolia, bringing electricity and horrific air pollution to hundreds of thousands nearby.  Throughout history and including today, projects are pursued for different reasons, some to improve lives, some just for the sake of profit or prestige.  And regardless of their purpose, sometimes those same projects wind up harming the very people they set out to benefit.

These same questions will still be asked about major decisions and risky initiatives long after all of us have left the planet, when is worth it and when is it not worth it? Innovation and development that improves quality of life for more people on this planet – who could argue with that? But innovation and development for the sake of profit for a tiny few while harming a larger part of the population – why should that be acceptable?

A different issue but yet somehow related, I’m reminded of Mario Savio’s speech in 1964: “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

The Backbone of our World

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

“Family farmers are the backbone of our nation’s economy,” – the words of the legendary Willie Nelson speaking on behalf of farm-aid not too long ago.  I thought about the words of Willie today as I walked through the mud, under the fences, past the sheep, next to the cows, over the stream and yes.. through the woods. Up here in Normandie, I’m not sure there has ever been a farm-aid organization, though we do know that farmers in France get their share of – often referred to as unfair- subsidies and market protection. Maybe it is unfair, but when you’re walking passed the old fashioned farm houses and over the majestic green hills, you can’t help but breath deep and feel… healthy.

Back in New Jersey, in the town where I spent much of my childhood, older people always told me about how my sprawling suburban hamlet used to be a farming town.  Yet by the 1990’s there was not a single farm left, and it looked more like a town made up of strip malls, big box stores, and cozy suburban homes. Whatever majestic green there may have once been was long paved over by several highways criss-crossing the town.  No one thought about what had been lost – too late now anyway.

Country life isn’t for everyone. It may not even be for me. But when you’re eating cheese or bread, and you can look across the street and wave to the sheep or baker who were responsible for the deliciousness on your plate – there is a satisfaction that anyone could and should get to enjoy (city or country dweller).  And my utmost compliments to the people of Northwest France who have managed to preserve their farms and their wonderful environment. Wandering around these sleepy forgotten places, it doesn’t just feel like the backbone of France, it feels like the backbone of a sustainable world.

Somewhere in Normandy today, looking towards the sea.

Restoring and Reconnecting: The Legacy of Sousa Mendes

by bicyclemark 5 Comments
Restoring and Reconnecting: The Legacy of Sousa Mendes

Gerald Mendes was born in Canada and raised with the story of his grandfather Aristides de Sousa Mendes. As he grew up he came to learn not only about the history of his family, but also about those that the actions of his grandfather during WWII helped to save. At a restaurant in Paris we sat down recently to talk about his family, his life experiences, and his activities related to the legacy of his grandfather.

We mention:

The Sousa Mendes Committee in France

As well as the book: Aristides de Sousa Mendes, héros “rebelle”, juin 1940 – Souvenirs et témoignages by Manuel Dias Vaz

Good Postal Ideals

by bicyclemark 1 Comment

Ever notice all the overnight delivery-parcel company planes at the airport? They’re everywhere. Taking off, landing, filling the sky, spanning the globe.. to get your packages to you fast.

Rarely does anyone talk about the world of express delivery and the ever-growing fleets of planes in that industry, and their effect on our planet.  Why even within distances between cities only a few hours away from each other, the fastest way is said to be by plane…  so naturally there is yet another plane flying from one city to another, adding some more pollution to an earth that is begging for some relief.

As I think about this, I read the news out of France; TGV trains handling mail! Yes indeed, they called person who proposed this idea crazy at first, but in a country where high speed trains make long distances seem like nothing, with modernized and plentiful connections, France has the right circumstances to provide fast mail transport without having to fill the skies with more planes. And they’re really doing it!

Of course they have their share of problems once they want to go beyond France. Der Spiegel talks about problems that connecting German rail lines aren’t prepared for this plan. I know here in the Netherlands, the high speed rail lines are still few and just barely completed.

However, the point is that here we have a great solution for a problem that few nations are willing to talk about or seriously try to solve.  Cut down on unecessary flights, including those dedicated to postal delivery.  France wasn’t just born with this infrastructure… they planned rail transport properly some 50+ years ago .. and now not only can their businesses benefit, but so can our environment, with less emissions coming from rail transport.  With the new AGV trains, we’re talking EVEN less emissions.

Just because some countries, be it here in Europe, or anywhere in the world, don’t currently have the infrastructure to do this.. doesn’t mean this is the time to simply give up.  Investments should be made, elected officials should be working for such innovations, and citizens should demand this kind of solution.