During the summer of 2017, I travelled throughout France. Now I am sharing the stories of the commons I met along the way, never knowing what I would find in advance. These articles were originally published in French here: Commons Tour 2017. The English translations are also compiled in this Commons Transition article.

Mainstenant and the pirate island

The extraordinary thing about nomadism is that it lets me discover people and places whose existence I could never have suspected! On the recommendation of a commoner friend, I found myself one day with my little suitcase-on-wheels at the Paris Saint Lazare station; I took a suburban train and 25 minutes later disembarked in another dimension…

After a good fifteen minutes of walking, I reached a barely noticed dock and before long, a small boat approached and I boarded for a trip to the opposite side of the river. I had arrived on the island of Platais! Here, Laurence came to greet me, and guided me through a maze of small green pathways.

Laurence, a researcher at the university, is part of Mainstenant, a group of about fifty people who set out to revive abandoned places, villages and buildings – not only for leisure or work, but also to settle permanently and live with their families. And among the places they discovered, there is this extraordinary island.

It is, in large part, inhabited, sometimes year-round but most often in the summer. There are lots of cottages, large and small, made of fibre cement or wood. This place looks like a giant campsite whose tents and caravans would fall down eventually. As you stroll along the narrow roads, it’s almost like “The Village” in the Prisoner series.

But the most surprising thing was yet to come. A whole part of the island is indeed uninhabited, abandoned after a period of glory now past. Accompanied by Adrien, Nicolas, and a whole bunch of explorers of all ages, I crouched in the grass beside an old disused swimming pool worthy of a cinema set.

My hosts were obviously at home in this ruin! They brought me around the property with a big smile, happy to show me the empty cabins, the old piano, the graffiti (more creative than many others), the tiled terrace giving onto a splendid panorama, the vestiges of an unlikely miniature golf re-colonized by nature…

Then we pushed a little further on, between the trees and the nettles, and settled down on a hidden beach. While the children laughed at each other in the muddy waters of the Seine, the adults took care to calmly pick up potentially harmful objects: rusty rims, pieces of glass, plastic and scrap metal…all the rubbish from civilization landed on the shores of this magical island.

When the sun set, we went to the association’s chalet to prepare the evening meal together around the wood fire. And while the humidity was already starting to invade the lawn, we happily settled around a large tablecloth, just below the pirate flag that proudly floats on the garden fence.

For a city girl like me, this getaway was a real life lesson. It reassures me that people can explore and invest in abandoned places in order to open up spaces of possibilities. I really felt that what they do, they do for us as human beings who are completely disconnected from their needs and from nature, left so vulnerable to the challenges that lie ahead.

Photoa : © 2017 Mainstenant | all rights reserved.

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