by Ben Best
From June 29 to July 8, 2001 I attended a libertarian (ISIL) conference in the South of France and attempted to see what was of interest to me in the region of the French/Spanish border. Here I record my memories as both an attempt to save them for myself and as an offering for others who may find them of interest. I include many tedious detail on the inconveniences of my travel because don't want to forget this aspect of travel. I have become increasingly scrupulous about writing without permission of private conversations with identified persons — which means I will deprive myself of recording many key memories.
For a 10-day trip, half of which was spent at a conference, I spent a great deal of time beforehand planning what I would do — making extensive use of books and information on the web. I bought my plane ticket from Expedia and my railpass from Eurail. Along with my Eurail pass I was mailed a copy of the Thomas Cook European Railway Timetable for April 2001. As I worked through the timetable of schedules and transit times I realized it was unrealistic to think that I could visit Gibraltar, Morocco, Portugal or even Andorra in the time I had available — I had to stay focused on a few French/Spanish border cities.
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I flew from Toronto, Canada to Montreal. The Toronto plane was behind schedule and we were let into the Montreal airport without any connection information. I started heading for the main terminal to find a monitor with departure information, but for some reason I turned back. A man was motioning for people wanting to catch the flight to Paris — and the fact that I made this connection in time seems like a lucky accident.
The transfer from Paris to the flight to Bordeaux was even more of a cliffhanger. I stood in line to find someone who spoke English and when I finally reached the front the woman told me that I had to rush to the other side of the airport to catch my plane — which I barely succeeded in doing. It was a labyrinthine & confusing route I had to take — and I was running.
After I arrived in Bordeaux I waited a long time for luggage until it became evident that my suitcase had missed the plane. The baggage person took the address of my hotel and informed me that Air France would forward the suitcase when it arrived at the Bordeaux Airport.
I took the bus to the Bordeaux train station and went to the international section to get a reservation for Bilbao, Spain. The agent spoke only a smattering of English, validated my railpass and gave me a reservation for Irun (just south of the French border). She told me to rush to track 5 because the train was leaving at 3:58pm — in about 3 minutes. I made it to track 5 and got onto the train, which left without much delay.
My train was a TGV, which travels as fast as Japan's bullet train (nearly 200 miles per hour — over 300 kilometres per hour). I found it fascinating to watch the countryside rushing by with such speed. And I was impressed by the smoothness of the ride — no "clickety-click" of wheels & rails. There were smoking cars and non-smoking cars — with most of the passengers being in the non-smoking cars and very few in the smoking cars. I noticed that quite a few people in the non-smoking cars were smokers who would only go to the smoking car when they wanted to smoke. I saw this pattern repeatedly in my railpassing.
The conductor looked somewhat askance at my reservation, but was satisfied when he saw my railpass. It did seem to me that the trip was taking longer than expected, but only when I noticed that the train was pulling out of Tours did I realize I was headed to Paris. My reservation ticket to Irun had 3:58pm departure time stamped on it, so it seems quite coincidental that TGV would be leaving for Paris at the same moment as another was going South. And why I was sent to the wrong track, I really don't know.
At the international section of the Paris train station I again discovered that there was no one who spoke more than a few phases of broken English. I would expect more from the section specializing in international tickets, especially considering how many travelers speak English. I was determined that I would see Bilbao — if even for only a few hours — before going to the conference. So I made a reservation for a TGV that would get me from Paris to Irun between midnight and 6am. That left me with about three hours to waste in the Paris train station — more precious time I could have spent in Spain.
I really missed my suitcase because it contained good books that I could have been reading. My most memorable experience in the train station was being approached by a woman with pastel paints on her face. She spoke reasonably good English. She told me she was soon to be married and asked me if I would donate 10 Francs (US$1.35) in exchange for a pancake she had made. I gave her a 10-Franc coin. She was with a group of women friends and when she told them I was from Canada and had donated money they cheered and toasted me with their drinks. There is something surreal about celebrating a wedding shower in a Paris train station on Saturday night and trading pancakes for donations. It was one of those unassuming moments in life that only becomes extraordinary upon reflection. I even ate some of the pancake, despite my reservations about sanitation (she had handed it to me from a group of pancakes she had folded on a cord she wore about her neck).
I managed to get a reasonably good sleep on the TGV by going to a private compartment on a smoking car and closing the door. In Irun I discovered that despite clearly designated rail lines and train schedules between Irun and Bilbao in the Thomas Cook timetable, no such trains existed. To get to Bilbao by train I would have to go south to Pamplona. The faster, direct route was by bus.
The bus to Bilbao was quite a nice coach. You had to sit in the seat designated on the bus ticket. An elderly gentleman would walk the aisle selling drinks & snacks. In the front of the bus was a TV screen which featured a video about sharks — with lots of shots of sharks avariciously attacking hunks of meat. The main thing that impressed me about the countryside was how much it reminded me of Wales — green hills that aren't quite mountains, covered with sheep and foggy, low-lying clouds.
This is Basque country, and Bilbao is the largest Basque city — containing half the Basque population. I had become fascinated with the idea that Basques were descended from Cro-Magnon Man. The Altamira Cave in Northern Spain was where Cro-Magnon cave paintings were first discovered, but no public access is allowed. There are other cave paintings in the Basque region of Northern Spain which can be viewed by the public, but I had no time for that. I still wanted to get some firsthand sense of Basque culture.
I made a beeline for the Tourist office in Bilbao. My first of several attempts to find the Museo Vasco (of Basque culture) failed. The square, building-enclosed Plaza Nueva had the atmosphere of a flea-market, except that quite a few of the vendors were selling birds.
At 10am Sunday morning one might not expect many tourists, but I would not have expected to be the only tourist on the city tour-bus. I sat at the front on the upper deck of the bus, with the tour-guide sitting beside me. She was a young Basque woman who was fluent in Basque, Spanish, German and English. She had begun learning French, but hadn't gotten very far. I greatly appreciated the individual attention and the opportunity to interrupt & ask questions as the bus drove through the city.
She spoke with considerable emotion in describing the time during which Franco had made Basque language illegal — and it could only be spoken in homes. She said the repression was horrible at that period, so Basque people experienced joy & hope when the ETA (underground Basque/Euskadi separatists) began shooting & bombing. But in these post-Franco times she felt that most Basques were irritated by the continuing terrorist activities of the ETA — and the effect on the region's tourism & reputation (the ETA recently began to target tourism in their terrorism).
Being the only person on the tour-bus, I was able to request that the bus wait extra time at the US$100 million Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao's foremost tourist attraction. Opened in 1997, the Guggenheim already holds the record for the most single-day visits to any Spanish Museum. Above all, the museum is an architectural wonder — and much of what is fascinating inside is something of a cross between architecture & sculpture — with a large contribution from the interior of the building itself. The creativity/imagination of the environment is extraordinary. The Guggenheim contains the world's largest exhibit hall — and one of the exhibits therein was a large wooden maze/labyrinth that visitors could explore (no more than 5 people permitted in the maze at a time). My rushing through the museum in a 20-minute period was an artistically intense experience — and I wish I had taken some notes.
On my way back to the bus station I stopped-off at an Internet Cafe at which I was able to telnet to my ISP. This was to be my first and last good Internet connection for the rest of my vacation. Internet connections in Southern Europe are greatly inferior to those in the North or in North America (only South Korea exceeds Canada in world ranking for per capita broadband connections).
I was hopeful of returning to France/Dax in time to attend the conference reception. I would probably have been successful were it not for the delays in Irun. Repeatedly the guy at the ticket booth told me that the train to Dax would be leaving on track 4 within a few minutes. Yet a freight train continued to sit on track 4. A half-hour after the purported departure time a passenger train appeared on track 5. The guy at the ticket booth told me to get on that train. I ran to the train and got on one of the front cars — which was not too crowded.
The train seemed to pull out of the station, but then stopped. After a while, the few other passengers left the car — one person saying something to me in Spanish, but I could not understand. After a longer while I became impatient with the fact that I was alone and the train was not moving. To my surprise I discovered that the railcar (and the one behind) were sitting on a track not connected to any train — and there was no sign of trains. I somehow was lucky enough to find a railway worker who spoke enough English and was helpful in getting me to a train.
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My primary motivation for attending the 2001 International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) Conference was my resurgent interest in economics. I had attended ISIL conferences before, and have written-about one in Estonia in 1993 and one in Costa Rica in 1999.
The 2001 conference seemed to feature many presentations on free banking, currencies, etc. — and was being held in honor of the 200th birthday of the libertarian economist Frederic Bastiat. The original advertisements featured "A Nobel Prize Winner in Economist (On Bastiat and Public Choice)" who was most probably James Buchanan — but no Nobel Economist was in the final schedule. Another superstar, however, was Robert McTeer, and I looked forward to the chance to meet and ask questions of a Fed governor.
I arrived at the Hotel Calicéo, where the conference was being held, but was too late to catch the bus for the reception. A group of other eager latecomers persuaded me to share a taxi with them. I had a long chat with one of them, who said that he stood a good chance of becoming the next mayor of a small (population 500) town in Utah (he was on the town council). He told me what he would do as a libertarian mayor. The town's Mormon polygamists had separate households for each wife — a social arrangement which I didn't fully grasp from his explanation.
Evidently the reception had been greeted by a large group of anti-capitalist, anti-globalist demonstrators — of which there was little evidence by the time I arrived. To my surprise & delight I spotted Bob McTeer, and found him to be extremely friendly & approachable. When I noted that he was a member of the most powerful economic decision-making group in the world, he was dismissive of his importance, saying he was only one of 17 others. We had a mutually-enjoyable conversation about CNBC, and Fed-related issues which I will refrain from detailing out of respect for his privacy.
Robert McTeer was the lead speaker Monday morning, with his speech Why Bastiat is My Hero . He speaks as a folksy down-to-earth populist — he is genuinely affable and unpretentious. He argued strongly for free trade (against protectionism) and was critical of attempts to artificially lower electricity prices in California.
I sat next to the microphone in the audience so that I could ask the first question. I asked how he could believe in free market pricing about milk and electricity while supporting price-fixing of interest rates. He said that the demand for money & the velocity of money are currently very unstable — which makes controlling the quantity of money less feasible than targeting the fed funds rate through buying & selling of securities. He said that this "price fixing" only affects the extremely short (overnight) of the interest rate spectrum and that all other interest rates are set by the market (ignoring the fact that bank prime rates move in lockstep with the fed funds rate).
In response to other questions McTeer expressed the opinion that central banks can more efficiently make the money supply grow at a beneficial rate than would be the case under a gold standard, where the rate of gold discovery is uncontrollable (ignoring the fact that gold discovery is unnecessary since an increase in demand for money will increase the price of money — and supporting the questionable thesis that there is such a thing as a beneficial rate of central bank induced inflation). He said that the stable & low gold price in recent years is a suggestion that the dollar is as good as gold — and that this vindicates Fed actions (ignoring the fact that a demonitized gold being dumped on the market by central banks is a different commodity than gold used as a medium of exchange).
I took another turn at the mike and this time was more emphatic about the fact that government should have no role in setting interest rates, finding a backing for money or making money. Somewhat as a sop, he said that he thought American Airlines frequent flier miles would be the new currency (American Airlines is based in Texas).
I had brought copies of four essays I had written & posted on my website: Monetary Systems and Managed Economies, Man, Economy and State — Book Review/Summary, Say's Law and Economic Growth and An Austrian Theory of Business Cycles . I had the intent of distributing these to people at the conference to provoke discussion and as a means of promoting my ideas & the availability of these essays on my website. So as I met people, I encouraged them to take a copy of one of my essays — especially the one on Say's Law.
It is illegal in France to conduct a conference that is not in the French language, but this conference was being illegally conducted in English. Nonetheless, the English-speaking abilities the next couple of speakers were so poor that it hardly made a difference to me. I began thinking that I would be skipping most of the presentations.
At lunch I somewhat aggressively sat at Robert McTeer's table. I wish I had been able to ask him more questions and take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity to get insight into Fed workings. But not thinking of questions, I commented that the current recession of capital goods is a classic example of the Austrian Theory of Business Cycles caused by central bank credit expansion. I also noted that the one-day jump in the NASDAQ accompanying the Fed inter-meeting January rate-cut was the largest in the history of the index — and was a powerful opportunity for Fed members, their family & friends to exploit inside knowledge to make a fortune in the equity & bond markets. And I even made reference to my favorite debunking of Alan Greenspan on the von Mises Institute website.
McTeer was feeling somewhat "beaten-down", and when it became clear that he was not wanting to talk to me further I left the table and went to my room for an afternoon nap. At that point I had great doubts about what use I had for the rest of the conference. I had been disappointed with the actual interest-in and knowledge of economics of the participants. And I was feeling "full of myself" in trying to hawk my essays to people.
I had heard that there was a Say's Institute in France and was hopeful of finding followers of Jean Baptiste Say, but I was having no luck. Jacques de Guenin, the conference organizer, told me that Pascal Salin, the first speaker on Tuesday morning, knew of a group of Say's admirers.
Salin's lecture struck me as somewhat ivory tower in denying that hierarchies exist in business organizations because employees & employers are equal participants in a contract. When I began expressing my opinion, the Master of Ceremonies, Mary Lou Gutscher, interrupted my by saying, "Do you have a question?" I had been irritated by this presumption that only supplicants are welcome. I snapped at her, asserting that I did not have to ask a question, but was expressing an opinion that differed from that of the speaker. She did not interrupt me further when I expressed my opinion that since most employment contracts are for time rather than for tasks, that a voluntary subordination exists in which the employee agrees to follow orders.
Afterwards, when I asked Salin about a Say's group he told me that he had named his seminars after Jean-Baptiste Say, but only because Say is reviled by the Keynesians & Socialists rather than because he is familiar with Say or Say's Law.
Disappointed though I was with the level of economic sophistication at the conference, there was one redeeming ray of light — my old friend Fred Foldvary. I had met Fred years ago through the argumentative APA THE CONNECTION and at least once had referred to him in print as a "bonehead". Nonetheless, I had met him in person on better terms both in Vancouver where we attended the World's Fair, and in Toronto, where he and his wife stayed in my apartment while attending a stamp collector's conference. Fred is now an Economics Professor. During the conference sessions he spent some of the lecture time reading my essays and writing detailed comments.
Tuesday afternoon & evening the conference attendees saw some of the sights in the southeast corner of France, including a walk on the extremely scenic seafront at Biarritz. The first stop, however, was a dedication of a plaque on Bastiat's birthplace — an event I expected to be somewhat boring & pompous. My companion on the bus told me about how much she had enjoyed arguing with the anti-capitalist demonstrators at the reception. When we arrived at Bastiat's birthplace, the demonstrators were waiting for us — carrying signs, jeering and chanting.
The plaque of Bastiat had been draped-over with the flag of Europe's largest anti-capitalist, anti-globalist group Attac. Their symbol on the flag, a "%" sign, promoted their claim that international currency traders should be taxed a percent of each trade to pay for international causes.
At an extremely appropriate moment, amidst the shouting between conference attendees and demonstrators, someone yanked the flag of the Attac group from the Bastiat plaque. This dramatic unveiling provoked such an emotion-filled cheer from the conference libertarians that I think everyone, including the demonstrators, was swept-up with the feeling. The ISIL people began chanting "Liberté, liberté, liberté ..." Only after a considerable delay did the demonstrators respond with "Equalité, qualité, qualité ..." — a fairly weak response considering the "Liberté,Equalité, Fraternité" was the slogan of the French Revolution that appears on all French coins — and without the intention that these ideals are in conflict.
My bus companion had found a demonstrator who spoke English and she was having a great time arguing with him. I couldn't resist the temptation to join-in — nor to put him on the defensive by taking a more radical position than he was taking. When he began criticizing (non-socialist) politicians, I told him that all politicians are evil. I sometimes feel that my heart is anarchist even if my head is minarchist and that I should not allow myself to have this irrational inconsistency.
The demonstrator complained that multinational corporations exploit people who cannot otherwise survive. I could have quoted what Frederic Bastiat said nearly two hundred years ago ("On Wages"):
"Capital, no matter how high it sets its claims and whatever its success in realizing them, can never put labor in a worse position than would be its lot in isolation. In other words, the presence of capital is always more favorable to labor than would be its absence...
Thus, doing without capital is always the final way out for labor. ...labor can always say to capital:'I prefer going it along to the terms you offer.'
Someone objects that this refuge is an illusion and a mockery, that, for the worker, going it alone is completely impossible, and that without the equipment he would die.
This is true, but it confirms the truth of my statement..."
Robert McTeer was in the crowd of conference attendees, and I apologized to him for giving him a hard time, acknowledging his free-market sympathies even though he is not "100% libertarian". He seemed relatively genial and he even accepted a copy of my essay on Say's Law. As an act of kindness I told him that I would not try to talk to him again. Oddly, I later had doubts about whether he really appreciated that this was an act of kindness. I hadn't given him a choice in the matter.
Dinner that evening was at a Basque village, and I had my meal with Fred Foldvary while discussing some of the economics questions that troubled me. Fred had some very good answers. Without Fred I would not have gotten satisfaction from the conference concerning my quest for more economics understanding, but thanks to Fred I did.
I was feeling restless upon returning to the hotel and I somewhat impulsively decided to walk to downtown Dax. The more I walked the more I discovered what a great distance I was covering and the less eager I was to walk back. When I finally reached the downtown I could hardly find anything but dark, empty streets. In particular, I saw no sign of a taxicab. The memory of being robbed at gunpoint on a dark & empty street in Costa Rica knawed on me until, with resignation, I began the laborious walk back to my hotel. After covering most of the distance my spirits began to lift. I found my consciousness generating strings of sentences of Rimbaud-like symbolist/surrealist prose-poetry — the likes of "...explode into the perfume of luminescent sunflowers" (the only phrase I wrote down, but not necessarily the best). I sat in a trance in a small park — hypnotically enchanted by the spontaneous ever-changing sculpture of a thickly gurgling water-fountain. Eventually the spell wore-off and I returned to the hotel.
Other than the ones I have mentioned, I only made one other question/comment at a conference lecture — at Ken Schoolland's Wednesday morning presentation against immigration restrictions. He basically equated anti-immigration policies with racism and denounced national boundaries. I asked what his response would be to 100,000 Iraqi soldiers immigrating to Kuwait. The question caught him completely by surprise — he had neither thought-about nor previously been questioned-about the national defense aspect of border control. He replied that "Marching armies are not immigrants", but I could have asked about "infiltrating armies". Rothbard was not a minarchist, but Rothbard thought that private property issues render immigration issues irrelevant.
I only found a few of subsequent presentations to be of interest. In the debate on democracy Leon Louw demonstrated that as the number of people in a voting unit becomes smaller, a larger proportion of people get what they want. He argued for voting on issues rather than for representatives. And he spoke of the importance of the intensity of a vote — people should not vote on issues about which they do not have strong feelings, but should leave the voting to those who do feel strongly about those issues. Frances Kendall gave a good description about how democracy is an effective device for peaceful conflict-resolution among people who seek to co-operate.
At the banquet I sat next to a man from Sri Lanka who spends most of his time buying mint coins for a business headquartered in the Channel Islands. He is a member of the Mont Pelerin Society and regularly attends their meetings. I had believed that Frederick von Hayek had started this organization as a kind of club for free-market academics, but evidently anyone can join so long as they are recommended by an existing member. Next to him was a man from Mongolia who had been converted to libertarian thinking by Ken Schoolland during one of Ken's trips. Ken's role as a Johnny Appleseed spreading libertarianism to remote parts of the globe must be unsurpassed. The Mongolian man was interested in my Monetary Systems essay, and I was pleased when he took a copy.
I hadn't expected much from the dancing — I mostly danced with other people's wives — but the music was surprisingly good. I experienced moments of gaiety & joyousness which really lifted my spirits.
On the final day of lectures, Michael van Notten had some interesting things to say about family/tribal based decision-making in Somalia — but I am doubtful that this would be of much value to a minarcho-capitalist society. Jan Narveson gave a clear & relevant description of the application of game theory to justice. And he said that the right to liberty is not a justification that others must pay for your protection.
At the end of the conference I had been planning to make a bee-line for Barcelona. But Fred Foldvary told me that he and Janelle were going to Cap d'Agde (the largest nudist community in the world) — and he invited me to join them. I had been curious about Cap d'Agde, but wasn't sure how I could include it in my trip. Now Fred had given me a way to do it, so I agreed to go.
In the Dax train station Janelle suggested that we take turns describing the evolution of our libertarian beliefs. I suggested that we also take turns describing the evolution of our religious beliefs and our work history. This process kept us busy until we were well on our way on the train from Bordeaux to the Mediterranean coast. Both Janelle & Fred are people who have a rich fund of knowledge & experiences.
Janelle said James Mitchner's THE SOURCE explained a lot of mysteries about why people are so hateful to each other over religion, and was the turning point in her becoming first a believer in God without the "middle men" priests, rabbis, etc., who felt you should believe their explanation of things without questioning their authority, and later, because of George Smith's HANDBOOK FOR ATHEISTS, she became a "Jewish Atheist", much to her father's astonished reaction when told.
Fred had worked as a computer programmer at Lawrence Livermore physics lab as a means of avoiding the draft. He later worked for the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank until going for his PhD in Economics. His first teaching position was in Latvia, where he designed the curriculum for the post-communist economics department at the university where he worked. Fred's views on economics are a blend of Austrianism and Henry Georgism. Janelle has an interest in cryonics so I spent a couple of hours giving her background on the subject. She had thought that she had been familiar with the essential ideas before listening to me, but when I was finished she said that she knew a thousand times more about the subject. I told her I had only scratched the surface.
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When we reached the Narbonne train station we hastily attempted to find the train to Agde City. Once on the train Fred sought further confirmation by asking the passengers whether the train would stop at the Agde station. When we were told it would not, we hastily got off the train and went to the main station. Only to discover (after the train had departed) that the passengers had misled us. Now we had to wait an additional two hours to catch the next train to Agde. Fred was to be met at the train station by the people from whom he was renting an apartment, so he tried to phone them, but only succeeded in reaching an answering machine.
After about an hour I was driven by impatience to tell Fred & Janelle that I would pay 80% of the cost of a taxi to Agde. Considering all I had paid to fly to Europe and get a Railpass, it seemed like false economy to be losing precious time waiting for the next train. My slowly arrived-at decision only got us to the Agde train station about a half-hour ahead of the train. As we got out of the taxi I saw a man holding a card with "Foldvary" printed on it — and I pointed him out to Fred.
Once settled in the apartment, Fred was eager to practice his nudism so Fred & I removed our clothes and allowed the man who had picked us up at the station to give us a brief tour. Cap d'Agde has three malls, which have shops and clubs. After walking into one of these malls, Fred & I joined our guide for a drink at a cafe. Our guide fully clothed, and it was at the cafe that I spotted the second unclothed person I had seen other than Fred and myself. At Cap d'Agde almost everyone wears clothing in the evenings, but there is no prohibition against nudity, our guide told us. Our guide had only picked-us up as a favor to his friends Ann & David James, who were the owners of the apartment Fred was renting. He was a retired Brit — who drives a truck in the UK for a few months each year, spends 6 months in Cap d'Agde and 3 months in Thailand. His residence in Cap d'Agde is a trailer, and his annual fee for parking the trailer is about US$1,500.
After our brief chat we parted company with our guide and walked back through the mall. One of the nightclubs had no walls, and was packed with young people — roughly equal parts male & female — who were enthusiastically cheering the strippers on the stage. I found such enthusiasm for stripping at Cap d'Agde somewhat bizzare — especially since the strippers could not strip much below the waist (French law). Fred and I were the only naked people in the club. While Fred stayed at the back I tried to work my way to the front (being naked in a crowd can be awkward when you are trying to avoid the appearance of frottage). A man pointed approvingly at my naked pubis to his female companions and seemed to be trying to say something to me, but I couldn't make-out what. After a short while longer Fred & I returned to the apartment.
Early next morning Fred was again eager to go for a nude walk and Janelle was still wanting to relax in the apartment. So Fred & I explored the beaches, malls and walkways. Fred looked exactly what you might imagine a naked Professor to look like. It was a cool morning and the vast majority of people we saw were fully-clothed. In fact, including the previous night, I had counted only 6 other naked people in Cap d'Agde other than Fred & myself — and every one of them had been an elderly man. We dropped by the tourist office where I was able to get my own map of Cap d'Agde. I finally had a sense of geographical overview to complement our exploration.
By midmorning we had returned to our apartment and Janelle was now ready to join us. We went to the main mall for breakfast in a small cafe/bakery. Janelle was surprised that all the shopkeepers were fully clothed because at the only other naturist resort she visited, the workers were nude. But at Cap d'Agde French law requires all workers to wear clothes.
After breakfast we walked through the mall some more. The bank was now open and I was able to cash some traveler's cheques. I had a slight self-consciousness of my nakedness in dealing with the two clothed young female tellers who were handling my transaction, but for the most part I felt strangely "natural".
There were now increasing numbers of naked people to be seen walking about, but they were still a small minority. I saw a naked woman with her naked child in a stroller. Others wore odd bits of clothing, such as an fiftyish looking woman whose only object of apparel was what appeared to be a small kitchen apron. Janelle was very uncomfortable with the idea that she was naked while so many others were clothed — so she started wearing a towel. Unfortunately, I became aware that many of the men (especially the younger ones) had shaved their crotch. I say unfortunately because my curiousity about the matter was turning me into a crotch-watcher.
Fred found a laundromat. It was evidently a long-held fantasy of Fred's to walk fully-clothed into a laundromat, place his clothing in the washing machine, wait nakedly for his clothes to wash & dry, and then put his clothing back on & leave. But this fantasy was frustrated by the fact that laundry had to be left with an attendant and picked-up later — there was no self-serve. It was my fantasy to go grocery-shopping in a store where everyone was naked — and this proved to be an easier fantasy to fulfill (although the shopkeepers were clothed). Janelle, too, wanted to go shopping in the nude, and did so in a small grocer's where she purchased a tomato with a lump on its side that looked like an erect penis. She and fred both later platonically shared the penis tomato.
It was getting to be late in the morning and I had been hoping that as things warmed-up nearly everyone (except shopkeepers and workers) would shed their clothes. No such luck. It was still cool and overcast, and it began to rain. Fred was unconcerned by the rain, and he teased Janelle that the wet towel she was wearing would give her a chill.
Given my limited time, I decided that I would not wait for the afternoon — when the beaches and shops would undoubtedly be crowded with nudists — but instead would head for Spain in the hope of seeing the Salvador Dali Museum on my way to Barcelona (I have seen nude beaches before).
David James drove me to the train station for 50 Francs. While driving he commented that many women found it off-putting to see so many naked men (who considerably outnumber them) walking around at Cap d'Agde. But he said the resort had never had a case of rape, to his knowledge. He felt that Cap d'Agde has much more of a family & naturalist atmosphere when compared to Paradise Lakes resort in Florida — which is one-tenth the size and caters more to young singles.
I caught the train to Perpignan, but ended-up spending about 3 hours in the Perpignan train station. This meant that I would not have time to see the Salvador Dali Museum if I wanted to devote as much time to Barcelona as I had planned. In this case the train schedule was correct — if I had read it and believed it I could have spent 3 more hours in Cap d'Agde (catching the afternoon warmth) and still been as far along as I was. Nonetheless, my hot afternoon siesta in the Perpignan train station really hit the spot.
As part of my trip preparation I had done a bit of reading on the history of Spain, with a particular emphasis on the Spanish Civil War. I will therefore make a brief summary of some of the history of interest to me as background on my travel objectives.
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I had visited Spain before, as part of a tour-group, but had only seen Madrid & Toledo. Barcelona & Catalonia are a world apart. Charlemagne captured Barcelona in 801 A.D., driving the Moors from NorthEast Spain. With its distinctive Catalan language, Barcelona has long resisted the Castilian authorities in Madrid.
But the antiauthoritarian instincts of the Catalonians go light-years beyond ethnocentric separatism. There is nothing in the annals of history to compare to the Spanish Civil War. Although I have only in rare moments gone beyond minarchism — in my late- teens/early-twenties I read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and was inspired by the passion of Spanish anarchist sloganeering: "Open the prisons! Disband the army!" and " and "Hang the last politician by the guts of the last priest!" I am not a violent person, but the slogans move me emotionally. No where else on earth or in history do I know of such a combination of large-scale anti-religious, anti-government sentiment.
When the First International (International Workingmen's association, 1864) split between communists and anarchists, the Castilians went with Karl Marx and the Catalonians went with Michael Bakunin. In 1909 there was a general strike in Barcelona against conscription of Catalonians to fight in Madrid's colonial war in Morroco. Ten years later the anarcho-syndicalist trade-union CNT had more than a million members, mostly in Catalonia. To prevent reformist tendencies in the CNT, the FAI was formed in 1927 for the purpose of maintaining the anarchist principles of the CNT.
Spain was largely agricultural, with 67% of the land in the hands of 2% of the population (landowners). The army had one officer for every six soldiers, with officers chosen from nobility. The Jesuits controlled the educational system and owned 30% of Spain's wealth. From 1901-1909 the anarchist educator Franciso Ferrer had organized 109 Modern Schools in Spain, which educated children to think for themselves, independent of the dogmas of Church & State. His schools did not use reward/punishment or exams, but stressed practical knowledge (with trips to fields & factories). His schools also had a printshop which printed rationalist books, some of which were used as texts. Accused of teaching children to "hate God" and of being an enemy of the State, Ferrer was executed in 1909.
In 1931 King Alfonso fled to France and a Republic was established in Spain. Nobility was abolished, education was declared secular & free, and the vote was given to all persons of both sexes from age 23. Catalan & Castilian were made "co-official" languages, and Catalonia was granted autonomy. But in 1933 a new government annulled Catalonia's autonomy. Later the Falange (Spanish Fascist Party) was formed, Franco invaded Spain from Morocco and by 1936 the Spanish Civil War was in full swing.
In February 1936 the prisons of Catalonia had been filled with political prisoners. Through general strikes the CNT took control of factories, newspapers and other businesses, but it never attempted to seize political power. The political authorities were simply rendered ineffectual and were ignored. Prisons were opened, over a hundred churches were burned and there were many bombings. Buenventura Durruti took the revolution to the countryside, seizing land from landowners and giving it to the peasants. About 90% of the peasants formed collectives with the other 10% choosing to be independent farmers. While many of these collectives experimented with communal living, sexual equality, vegetarianism & nudism, this contributed little to the war effort.
Franco received arms & supplies from Hitler & Mussolini, while the communists received arms & supplies from Stalin. The Comintern organized the International Brigade of volunteers who came to Spain to fight fascism, but ended-up being a tool for the communists. Although the anarchist militias fought against Franco, they lacked military discipline (on principle) since all were equal comrades. The outside influx of arms & fighters to the communists, their military discipline and their eagerness to take political power — eventually gave the upper hand to the communists against the anarchists who had outnumbered them. But by 1939 General Franco triumphed in a civil war that left a million dead.
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In the hopes of finding some remnant of the anti-religious, anti-statist sentiment that had made Catalonia historically exceptional, I headed to Barcelona.
Crossing the French-Spanish border is a slow process, especially on the eastern side. The train ride, however, is incredibly scenic. The Pyrenees extend right to the ocean, it seems, and the train track runs right along the coast to give passengers fabulous views of rock & sea.
It was about 10 pm when I reached Barcelona — much later than I prefer to arrive in a city. In hopes of getting some help/advice, I went to the Welcome office in the train station, but (remarkably) no one there spoke English. Rather than try to puzzle-out the subway system on my own, I took a taxi to Plaça de Catalunya. This plaza stands at the head of La Ramblia, the main tourist walking street which runs through the center of Barcelona. My first priority was to find a hotel room and this area had the highest concentration of lodgings.
Rarely in my life have I seen so many tourists. La Ramblia was packed. I made my way down the street, stopping in every little hotel I could see. None had a vacancy. By 12:30 am I decided to go back to Plaça de Catalunya and look for lodgings on other streets, but with little success. The number of people on the plaza was thinning and I didn't feel comfortable with the character of those who were remaining.
I headed back down La Ramblia, checking any hotel or hostel I had missed, without success. I found a plaza which was still loaded with people and spent some time at an Internet Cafe (the connection was terrible). It was 2 am and I still had found no hotel, after having tried at least 20-30 places. Seeing the plaza was packed with people and remembering my pleasant siesta in the Perpignan train station I decided to try to sit & sleep there until morning. But I was uncomfortable and kept worrying about what would happen if the crowds thinned and my pack was stolen or the cops told me to "move on".
I found a well-trafficked side street which I followed a fair distance until I found a hotel with an empty room. I was charged about 3 times the usual Barcelona rate, but I didn't complain. It was a double room with two small beds, about 15 feet on each side with a toilet/sink/shower which were hardly separate from the room. But it was a place I could call my own.
Barcelona has two tour-bus lines, a red line for the north and a blue line for the south — both starting at Plaça de Catalunya. At 9:30 am there was an incredible lineup for the red line bus — I had no chance of getting on the first bus — so I ran across the plaza and managed to get on the blue line bus. The north line featured a building by the eccentric architect Antoni Gaudi, Casa Batilo´ — but the most remarkable thing about seeing the building in person is the oddness of its placement — cramed between two very prosaic buildings on a block of prosaic buildings.
Barcelona has lots of things for tourists to see — art, architecture, the world's only albino gorilla in captivity, etc. My hopes of finding the "spirit of Catalonia" were fading. I had found possible contacts on the web — a Barcelona anarchist cultural center and an anarchist bookstore/bar/publisher. But I had no guarantee that I would meet someone there who would speak English or enlighten me. My time was very limited. I went to the Museum of the History of Barcelona — which is one of the best city museums I have been to in the world (I have been to quite a few). But the section covering the Spanish Civil War was fairly superficial. Franco was identified with the Nazis. Anarcho-syndicalism was mentioned, but without significance.
I decided that rather than spend more time in Barcelona I would make an effort to go back north to Figueres so that I could see the Salvador Dali museum. On the train I sat with 3 women, but made no attempt to communicate. I noted that in the space of about an hour, one received two calls on a cell phone, one received one call on a cell phone and the third had her face in a book the whole time.
Figueres is Dali's small home town, and by building his museum there he created a major industry. Although the museum is not distant from the train station, directions for getting there are obscure. Fortunately, one can obtain a taxi at a flat rate (extortionist by Barcelona standards). The special rate to the museum is a special rate for tourists.
I was able to spend much more time in the Dali Museum than I had at the Bilbao Guggenheim. Dali's theatre-museum is reputedly the largest surrealist object in the world — multi-media art ahead of its time (inaugurated 1974). The building and the art it contains are one, inseparable artistic object. It is impossible to walk through the building in a systematic manner — one must backtrack and be careful not to miss the many passageways & cubby-holes.
Dali consciously tried to conjoin objects not usually associated and to describe them in unusual ways. He called his sculpture VENUS DE MILO WITH DRAWERS (a nude woman having drawers for breasts with drawer-handles for nipples) a cure for "the sickness of psychoanalysis". It is a bronze cast painted to look like plaster. Dali intended for the visitor to strike it with a spoon and be surprised at the metallic sound. Another piece of participatory art is his MAE WEST HALL. The visitor climbs an "A"-shaped staircase and stands at the top beneath a camel figure from which is hanging a lens. Looking through the lens the visitor sees a "Mae West" face — the eyes being two framed photos and the nose being a fireplace. A big red lip-shaped sofa sits in front. These are only samples, I will make no effort to describe the museum in greater detail other than to say that it does contain many imaginative combinations of colors, forms & objects.
I was back at the Figueres train station expecting that I would again have to go through the ordeal of lengthy train stops & transfers on both sides of the Spanish/French border when I noticed a train from Barcelona that was not on the schedule — which was going all the way to Montpellier. I had heard that part of the problem with the trains is that the tracks in Spain & France are of a different gauge. But this train did a minimum of stopping. When I was nearly to Narbonne a conductor asked to see my ticket. When he saw my railpass he told me that this was a special train and that I would have to pay him 45 Francs. He took the money, and whether he kept it for himself or turned it over to his employers I may never know.
I thought I was making good time when I got to Toulouse, but the train to Bordeaux described in my timetable was nonexistent on the Toulouse train station timetable. I found a cheap hotel across the street and spent some hours that night & the next morning wandering the streets & parks.
The train trip to Bordeaux, bus from the train station to airport, and flight from Bordeaux to London involved a lot of tedium & waiting. But getting from Gatwick Airport to Heathrow Airport to catch my flight to Canada was another cliffhanger. The bus was stuck in traffic almost the entire ride. I kept wondering who I could complain to if I missed my flight as I nervously watched the time until my departure evaporating.
Could I complain to the British Air flight which had been late in arriving at Gatwick? Could I complain to Expedia for arranging a failed connection? Certainly Air Canada would be blameless if I missed my flight to Canada — the airline that could best give me the restitution I would want (a flight home). The bus had to go to each of Heathrow's 3 terminals — mine being the third. If someone had wanted to go to Terminal 2 I would have missed my flight, but fortunately we were able to skip it. Arriving at the Air Canada desk the clerk was kind enough to arrange for someone to rush me through the terminal in a motorized cart so that I could catch my flight. Not long after arriving back in Canada I learned that there are websites that specialize in handling the problems of disgruntled passengers: PassengerRights.com, AirTravelComplaints.com and TravelProblems.com