Thursday, July 25, 2013

How Hippie Is It?

I am sitting in an open air cafe at a folding metal table. Chez Bernadette is run out of a refitted bus. A long haired shirtless cook is sorting fake meat. This is the Landjuweel festival at the Ruigoord community, which is celebrating its 40th year this summer. They produced a book – their second – and hosted a “Futurological Symposium on Free Cultural Spaces.” That's what I am here for, sleeping in a tipi and (not) taking cold showers. It's in part a Zerzanesque future, a rural-like community sandwiched between the Amsterdam port of ships, containers, and massive storage tanks, unfolding on a small strip of land carefully let to go to nature. Overhead the jets roar continuously, on approch to Schjipol airport, even the four-engined transatlantic behemoths like the one that brought me here from New York a few days ago.
The tipi we are sleeping in was built by a pair of Dutch twins who brought the two dwellings down from their community in Jutland, in the north of Denmark. They are expertly made and set up. One of the van der Schaar boys spent nearly a year in a tipi while he was at university. It seems the best spot for us Americans, me and Stevphen Shukaitis, who was also invited to this symposium.
It's nice to be invited. We get the tipi, and a few free meals with the volunteers. But the real deal here is the festival. It's one of many – only a couple of weeks ago the barefoot festival – but this is the big one, the largest of the year. The tipi now is surrounded by tents, since it is on the “familie veld” campground.
The symposium has been grand – chock full of subcultural history, the hard stuff. I spent most of the time seated next to Alan Dearling, a historian of the traveler movement in England and Europe. He's written 42 books, sold hundreds of thousands, and lives off the proceeds. He lives in Scotland and teaches archery for a living. That scotch company can't have him, though – he drinks cider.
The proceedings of the symposium were rigorously conducted by Felix Rotenberg, a Dutch TV host who has also served in the Labor Party. On the first day of “historical sessions” we heard from the long-time denizens of Ruigoord, a lineup which included our host Aja Waalwijk (who wrote on this in “House Magic” #4) and ex-Provo Hans Plomp. The symosium is being held in the heart of the community, a deconsecrated Catholic church. As the village was evacuated, the last man to turn out the lights, the priest of the church, handed the hippies the keys to the gothic-style edifice. Over the handsome wooden door now hangs a new sign, “fortune favors fools” (translation from Latin). After this infro, Simon van Dommelen outlined the “cultural defense line” of Amsterdam, the alliance of squatted houses and lands, all in various stages of legalization, which have banded together in the face of shrinking culture subsidies and tightening repression. Britta Lillesoe and Nils Vest arrived from the Copenhagen “free city” of Christiania – she let out a whoop and he showed maps. Frank Sol talked up the Doel project outside Antwerp, another small town evacuated of residents in preparation for a harbor reconstuction project, just like Ruigoord. The project has not been built – the installations around Ruigoord were constructed only in the late 90s – although hundreds of millions have been poured into the paper plans. Sol and his comrades are pitching Doel as the next Ruigoord, and an embryonic free town is already well developed there.
Ralf van Schaar talked of the place he lives in Jutland – ThyLejren, “the People's Lair.” Inga Cholmogorova pitched her project Art Guslitsa as a straight-up artists' residency program, on land given by a rich sympathizer, then fell into a twisted, expressionistic Butoh dance. This to me more or less said it all about the repression nonconformists face in Putin's Russia. After lunch at the organic canteen, we trooped back to the church to hear from the Italian organizer Chiara Baldini about the Boom Festival in Goa, Portugal, a trance dance rave which has been going many years (see HM #4 on the links with Ruigoord). Then Rutger van Ree, a writer and organizer I met at Quartair in the Hague this spring, gave a rousing rhetorical call to resistance.
Geanme Marin came over from New York to talk about her life in the “Umbrella House” squat on the Lower East Side. She showed a filmic portrait Sebastian Gutierrez had made of her eventful life, which began in the sefl-organized city of Pereira in Colombia. Several important people did not show up. Missing were the group from Tacheles, the recently evicted cultural center in Berlin, and the group from Warsaw, the “Orange Alternative,” a Kabouter-style pranking protest movement which was a key ally of the Solidarity Union in the move away from Soviet dominance in the later 1980s. The organizers filled in with more Dutch groups. There is sure no shortage of them!
Now, with my feet in the sand of the open-air cafe, and blossoms following gently on the keyboard I think it may be time to pause in this telegraphic account of the Ruigoord free spaces symposium, and pick up tomorrow. A small band is playing the Monty Python song, “Always look on the bright side of life” alongside the church. Besides, it is time for the presentation of the embassies – Christiania, Boom Festival, and the North Americans. I have to go; I think I may even be part of it somehow, although I have mislaid my diplomatic robes....

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