Paths through utopias: Love and lepers

IssueFebruary 2008
Comment by Isa Fremeaux, John Jordan

Most journeys require a return, unless they are fugues or escapes into exiles. We've been on the road for 130 days now, we've passed through eight utopian communities and although we still have another 3 months ahead of us, the thought of coming home is already making us feel quite ill. We thought we might feel homesick, but in fact we have caught another kind of bug, a wonderful infection that has made us lose our immunity to the impossible. We can't go back to our life as a working couple in a mortgaged flat in London. What was once a recurrent daydream, the idea of living a radical collective life despite capitalism, has become a distinct possibility. More than that it's become a necessity. Now it's utopia or nothing.

It's hard to pinpoint the moment when we crossed the threshold between dream and inevitability. There have been so many extraordinary experiences. Perhaps it was whilst tasting the conviviality of collective meals, cooking and eating with dozens of people every day. Maybe it was whilst encountering the sheer ingenuity of communities who have little income but boundless imagination, such as the pedal-powered washing machine in the squatted leper colony on the edges of Barcelona. Perhaps it was just the audacity of those such as the French collective in Longo Mai who have rebuilt three hamlets and mix farming with a 24-hour free radio station that has been transmitting for 25 years from a wooded hilltop.

It is also very much about the extraordinary people met along the way. Aymeric the high level business manager who gave it all up to milk goats on a self managed farm. Alex who ran away from home at 16 to live with 100 other young people on a hillside in Provence. Clement who despite his nightmare visions of a nuclear winter caused by the impending explosion of a super-volcano, has carved dozens of wild sculptures and gruesome gargoyles that decorate the rebuilt ruins of his squatted hamlet. Axel and Britta who self-expropriated, refusing to sell their property to rich speculators when they wanted to expand their farm and move to bigger premises, instead giving it away to set up a network of collective farms without private property. Or Juan, the Andalusian mayor of a village of 2700 people, who together with agricultural day labourers occupied and eventually expropriated 1,500 hectares from the local count, and told us from his town hall office “Utopia is not just a word or a dream, it's a right.”

But overall it is about a found sense of coherence. The possibility of an existence that makes sense, where daily life doesn't threaten our ecosystems or our mental health, where we feel reconnected to the earth that feeds us, where the struggle for social justice is consistent with every day activities. Not an idealised life free of all contradictions - how could this be possible? - but a deep sense of balance. We just could not live without it anymore.

Topics: Reportage