3 weeks without electricity and hot water (4/2017)




Some people will find out where we are

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 Gorges Guil mars

1.5 km from our home on March 26.

WE MOVED IN THIS LOVELY TOWN ON SPRING DAY. To get there, we drove 650 miles from northern France in a van with a loading capacity of 20 cubic meters. It was fine on highways, but much less fun on our tiny square with a big fountain in the middle. Once in our small apartment, the real fun could begin. We had to unpack 100 cardboard boxes and assemble a dozen or so pieces of furniture.

We need to fit out our apartment using only one light source: a modest roof light. There is no other window apart from the large one in our living-room. But that one is behind a sliding shutter that won’t work without… electricity. Our cap lamps (to be recharged with electricity) are more than welcome in the evening.

Aside from the little worry caused by dust and cardboard boxes scattered all over our two rooms, life is good without power and hot water. We tend to go to sleep earlier; we have our daily invigorating wash with cold water; we make our lunches with our camping stove and eat outside on our square where it usually feels like late spring; we try to get one of the (rare) decent jobs in the vicinity using a computer provided by a group of local municipalities; I write this article on my laptop at the municipal library; and we walk a lot.

Because we are disgusted with our oil-based society, the polluted air of big cities and our warming climate, we don’t want a car. It takes two hours to walk to the nearest self-service laundry. So we fill our large backpacks with dirty clothes. We joyfully walk across a plateau of grassland, farmland and scattered trees overlooked by snowy pastures and summits. On the edge of the plateau, a small trail leads us to a wide valley 150 meters below. At 5:20 pm, we find our “civilization” as we left it (a congested highway). Fortunately, we don’t stay there very long. We are delighted to sweat on our way back up the hill to return to our nest where our two unlit rooms await us. It takes 22 days for our new electricity supplier (Planète Oui) to give us our denuclearized power.

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 trip laverie Guillestre

Back from our « self-service laundry trip ».

Our chilly and snowy first weekend is one of our best memories. Early on Sunday morning, 10 to 15 centimeters of fresh snow cover the plateau. By the late afternoon, most of it has melted. It’s another story in the land of marmots, chamois and eagles where up to 60 centimeters of snow or more fell in 36 hours. On Monday morning, we hasten to catch the shuttle bus that links our town to a nearby ski resort. From there we head to a pass on snowshoes where we enjoy a splendid view over another impressive mountain range.

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 guillestre mars neige

March 25.

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 gorges Guil mars neige

And the following day, at the gates of the gorges…

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 plateau Guillestre neige mars

… and on the neighboring plateau.

After the biting morning cold comes the little sunstroke of the early afternoon. 2,200 meters above sea level on a south-facing slope, it gets pretty warm on March 27, 2017. It is a little too much sun for me. So much light that it fills my drowsy brain at night.

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 col de Vars 27 mars

View on the south from the pass…

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 raquettes Vars mars

… before the early afternoon’s local warming during our second climb.

As the effects of my minor sunstroke diminish, we carry on with our daily routine of moving in and discovery of our new environment. We go back and forth from sunny outdoors to our top-story apartment with a sloping ceiling between the thick walls of a 18th century’s building.

A long way from urban crowds, we meet some people at the gates of high mountains, even out of season. A couple of young architects, who were in competition with us for an apartment six weeks earlier, recognize us during one of our dinners under the stars (on our tiny square). They invite us for dinner in their apartment two blocks away. During the evening, we meet with another couple from a remote hamlet. We get to know the economic and ecological issues of the southern Alps a little better. We appreciate the kindness of our neighbors: they invite us to stay at their place during our « offline transition ». Despite their opposition to a project of very-high-voltage line across the southern Alps, they offer us juice. We opt for cap lamps.

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 soir bougie Guillestre sans courant mars

An evening like others: April 1 in our living-room lit by candles.

With two meetings in a row the same evening, Thursday is our day of community outings… At the town hall. The first one is about wolf biology in a packed room. About a dozen sheep producers gather at the back of the room and don’t stop talking with each other like teenagers. The irritated wolf biologist tries to ignore them as much as possible. The rest of the public has a hard time to stay focused. As soon as the biologist wraps up his talk, the sheep producers monopolize the discussion. The impact of their worst enemy on their herds overshadows all other topics. It could have been an opportunity to address effective methods for coexistence between wolves, sheep producers and environmentalists (e.g., a radio collared wolf for each wolf pack so that shepherds avoid them in the summer). The meeting should have been an opportunity to understand the ecological role of wolves on the ecosystems. But the biologist neglects this issue. Let’s also point out that the successive French governments and majorities at the French parliament have never used the public funds allocated to wolf management (about € 20 million per year) in favor of a peaceful and fruitful cohabitation between wolves, sheep producers and environmentalists. Instead, high level elected officials harden existing conflicts. No real dialogue. Just an angry and sterile debate. I’ll see what I can do. I drafted a proposal that I will submit to the competent regional agency.

That Thursday evening, we are glad to follow up with our second meeting about the brand new public compost bins set up on various locations within our town. The representatives of the municipality and a syndicate who present the project are motivated. They take the time to explain it to a novice like me. My girlfriend and I will even be « points of contact » for compost in our neighborhood! At least we will add a little less trash to the huge waste disposal site located right in the middle of a major regional river bed (managed by the Veolia corporation).

The following day in a steep, narrow valley and along a snow-fed torrent, we alternate hiking and running on a hilly path amid evergreens, deciduous trees and rock walls.

That day just like the other 21 days without electricity and hot water, our outdoor activities, camp stove and daily nap are all we need.

ventdouxprod nicolas barbier 2017 site Guillestre Ecrins

April 4, on our way back from our daily hike, we look forward to hiking in the mountain range in front of us.

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