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Letters from the GR 11 – Left behind

Letters from the GR 11 – Left behind

If I refer myself to the four cardinal points, I shall say that the North looks a lot like the south, and the East, a lot like the West. The Fontainebleau forest in the South matches the Chantilly forest in the North. The cereal fields of the Brie in the East, matching the cereal fields of the Beauce in the West. All circling around the city of lights…

Having covered two thirds of the journey, I am now riding on the vast plains of the Beauce, suffering from an unfiltered sun too strong for substantial physical efforts. Just like on the other side of my just described compass, the fields here are endlessly monochromatic. Thanks to heavy doses of chemicals, the ground are only producing what it has been ordered. Any other form of life has been banned, destroyed, thanks to our love for chemical warfare. Monotony has never been considered exciting ! Where are the wild flowers ? The bright red poppies, the thistles ? Where are the bees and butterflies I saw back in the forest ? Where is nature ?

Where are people I could add ? Villages I cross are beautiful, but seem out of souls ! Sleepy, if not empty, forgotten, as left behind after a sudden exodus.

They call it here “l’exode rural” – The rural exodus – when people from the countryside left their farms after the war, to seek a better life as factory workers in the city. In the most charming areas, well to do folks from the city are returning to buy expansive week-end retreats, but elsewhere, in the middle of those flat plateaus of the East, covered by industrial labour, there isn’t enough natural beauty left to attract disenchanted urban investors. The East has always been on the wrong side of life anyway. The rich live in the West, the poor live in the East. It’s an old wind thing in Europe. Back in the day, industries where dirty and very smoky, and since the wind traveled from the West towards the East, it pushed the dirty smoke eastward. Only those who could afford clean air lived in the West ! Industries and the suffering masses lived in the East. Same thing in London, Berlin, etc…

abandoned shop
The deserted villages of rural France

The second devastating blow to those ancestral villages came with the rise of regional suburban shopping malls. Those giant shopping centers, supposedly providing to all our endless consumption needs, sucked the life out of the little family owned shops, which had been the center of those village’s life for centuries. One after the other, the local baker, butcher, grocer, etc, went belly up, transforming once close knit villages into empty dormitories. Everything is now closed, even the old post offices. In the parking lot of churches nobody attends anymore, has been installed a bread and eggs dispenser. It’s red, as bright as it is ugly. An older lady, with her old dog on a short leash, stands in front of it never too sure if she’ll remember how to use it. To get the rest of her essential needs she will have to wait for Sunday to get on an early morning bus, all the way to the next bigger village, which still holds a weekly market. I bet nobody in those governmental planning agencies thought of her when designing our future filled with electrical cars, smart phones and internet dependencies. Or maybe they did, all too eager to park them in retirement homes, where they’ll conveniently wait for their last stop, forgotten by everybody, including their loved ones.

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