Our new neighbor

Yesterday after a long day working in the garden, picking cherries, and discussing the looming neighborhood construction project (full report on all three subjects coming soon), I met up with Alvaro for a beer by the Rhône, with a paper bag full of the day’s harvest of aromatic herbs, beets and black radish nestled in my bike basket. “Cariño!” I sang as I rode up to where he was sitting on the boardwalk, “We shall not go hungry this summer!” I was all full of myself after an excellent day gardening, and eager to show him the bounty, but he had a better story.

When he went to the bus stop to head into town to meet up with me there was a dog running amok in the (very busy) street. He called to it in Spanish and immediately it ran over to him. He said siéntate! and the dog se sentó. The first thought that went through his head was, “yipee! A dog!” and the second thought was, “I’m going to bring him home to surprise Kate, she’ll be so excited!” (Alvaro has a history of bringing home lost or homeless animals. Our brief stint with Brutus the Rabbit still haunts the collective memory of our apartment’s inhabitants.) The dog was a big, chunky mutt with some Bernese mountain dog in him, and after a bit of scratching around the dog’s ears Alvaro realized that there was a collar buried under all that fur, and on the collar was a little tag with a phone number. He called up the dog’s owner to let him know he was out playing in traffic. The guy picked up on the first ring. “Son of a bitch!” he said (re: the dog, not Alvaro), “I’ll be right there.”

He arrived in a couple minutes and thanked Alvaro for corralling his dog, and then said, “I suppose you missed your bus.” Yes, he replied, but no problem, he could wait for the next one. The man insisted on driving him into town and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so he and Alvaro went to his house and got in the car and drove down to Geneva. They hit it off right away. The man — let’s start calling him by his name, which is Alex — spent a lot of time in South America as a journalist in the 1970s and so was very happy to pull his Argentinian accent out of storage. Long story short, Alvaro and I were both invited for dinner that night.

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The Problem of Work (part 2)

(First read part 1, here)

By Camillo Berneri, in Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society. Vernon Richards, ed. London: Freedom Press, 1983, pp. 59-82.

This essay was first published in Italian with the title Il Lavoro Attraente (Geneva 1938). An English translation was serialised in FREEDOM in the late ’40s. This is a new translation by the editor based on the FREEDOM version and restores the Kropotkin quotation from The Conquest of Bread but not those from Marx and Engels.

III. “Lazy” People and the Problem of Free Work

Many “lazy” people would work could they find an occupation suited to their psychic and physical personality. Kropotkin writes on the subject in Conquest of Bread:

Somebody has said that dust is matter in the wrong place. The same definition applies to nine-tenths of those called lazy. They are people gone astray in a direction that does not answer to their temperament nor to their capacities. In reading the biography of great men, we are struck with the number of “idlers” among them. They were lazy so long as they had not found the right path; afterwards they became laborious to excess. Darwin, Stevenson, and many others belonged to this category of idlers.

Very often the idler is but a man to whom it is repugnant to spend all his life making the eighteenth part of a pin, or the hundredth part of a watch, while he feels he has exuberant energy which he would like to expend elsewhere. Often, too, he is a rebel who cannot submit to being fixed all his life to a work-bench in order to procure a thousand pleasures for his employer, while knowing himself to be far the less stupid of the two, and knowing his only fault to be that of having been born in a hovel instead of coming into the world in a castle.

Lastly, an immense number of ‘idlers’ are idlers because they do not know well enough the trade by which they are compelled to earn their living. Seeing the imperfect thing they make with their own hands, striving vainly to do better, and perceiving that they never will succeed on account of the bad habits of work already acquired, they begin to hate their trade, and, not knowing any other, hate work in general. Thousands of workmen and artists who are failures suffer from this cause.

[p. 73] On the other hand, he who since his youth has learned to play the piano well, the chisel, the brush, or the file, so that he feels that what he does is beautiful, will never give up the piano, the chisel, or the file. He will find pleasure in his work which does not tire him, so long as he is not overdriven.

Under the one name, idleness, a series of results due to different causes have been grouped, of which each one could be a source of good, instead of being a source of evil to society. Like all questions concerning criminality and related to human faculties, facts have been collected having nothing in common with one another. People speak of laziness or crime, without giving themselves the trouble to analyse the cause. They are in a hurry to punish these faults without inquiring if the punishment itself does not contain a premium on ‘laziness’ or ‘crime.’

This is why a free society, if it say the number of idlers increasing in its midst, would no doubt think of looking first for the cause of laziness, in order to suppress it, before having recourse to punishment. When it is a case, as we have already mentioned, of simple bloodlessness, then before stuffing the brain of a child with science, nourish his system so as to produce blood, strengthen him, and, that he shall not waste his time, take him to the country or to the seaside; there, teach him in the open air, not in books — geometry, by measuring the distance to a spire, or the height of a tree; natural sciences, while picking flowers and fishing in the sea; physical science while building the boat he will go to fish in. But for mercy’s sake do not fill his brain with classical sentences and dead languages. Do not make an idler of him! …

Or, here is a child which has neither order nor regular habits. Let the children first inculcate order among themselves, and later on, the laboratory, the workshop, the work that will have to be done in a limited space, with many tools about, under the guidance of an intelligent teacher, will teach them method. But do not make disorderly beings out of them by your school, whose only order is the symmetry of its benches, and which — true image of the chaos in its teachings — will never inspire anybody with the love of harmony, of consistency and method in work.

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The Problem of Work (part 1)

By Camillo Berneri, in Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society. Vernon Richards, ed. London: Freedom Press, 1983, pp. 59-82.

This essay was first published in Italian with the title Il Lavoro Attraente (Geneva 1938). An English translation was serialised in FREEDOM in the late ’40s. This is a new translation by the editor based on the FREEDOM version and restores the Kropotkin quotation from The Conquest of Bread but not those from Marx and Engels.


On this eve of social upheavals and in the midst of so much ranting about state socialism, authoritarian communism and simplistic economics it should be the anarchists’ specific task to put the problem of the discipline of work in clear and concrete terms; a problem like any other social problem needs to be up-dated in accordance with new technical trends, with new economic physiological and psychological knowledge, as well as with the various problems that are having to be faced as a result of the different tendencies emerging from the ranks of the industrial proletariat.

While keeping to its broad aims and final objective, Anarchism must define the means and methods of its future as a new order. What activity is more universal than work? What problem is vaster and more intermingled with all other problems than that of work? Economic, physiological and psychological laws, as well as practically all society and nearly the whole of man’s life are involved in this activity, which even to-day is drudgery, but which tomorrow will become the supreme human dignity.

The essay which follows is a kind of introduction to the theme of “Attractive Work,” to which I should like to see the attention drawn of all those who could contribute ideas, personal experience and particular technical knowledge. An expert would have done more and better; but as the experts are usually disinclined to part with their acquired knowledge, it is up to the less inhibited to raise these questions and bring them to the attention of our comrades.

We shall have made a stride forward if, at our meetings and in the press, we are able to analyse the question of free and attractive work, the more so as this problem involved many others and is, by its very nature, likely to recall interesting experiences and to suggest constructive schemes.

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An article, a story, a video and some updates

An article:

Guerilla gardening, Freecycle and swap till you drop: how to live for free. An article from The Guardian, a couple months old. It’s absolute crap, written in a cheery voice that, as one commenter put it, “has the feel of someone who thinks they’ve slummed it at some point. Look at what the proles do to survive! How quaint.” I’m all for mainstreaming sustainable living practices, but not like this. I am posting it here solely to point you toward the comments, the majority of which are all sorts of hilarious.

A story:

A Descent into the Maelstrom,” by Edgar Allen Poe. Discovered thanks to Sandrine Teixido & Aurelien Gamboni.

A video:

Some updates:

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Work schedule

Thinking a bit these past two weeks or so about rhythms of productivity in my research and writing: Since late April or so I’ve felt a kind of …. I don’t want to say lack of motivation, because it’s not that. My cohorts and I are shifting into a phase of hyperproductivity, to be expected as we’re on the brink of summer, so a lot of my time and mental space has been going into our collective work, which is linked with my research. And I’ve been plodding along on knitting the world’s most time-consuming scarf, and making bread a couple times a week, and working in the garden, and reading plenty. All of this, though, I’m doing without the same sense of urgency that I felt earlier in the year. I’m taking my time. It’s like entering a phase where you can’t handle much more mental input, and you aren’t quite in a phase of giving output, instead swimming about in that in-between time of reflection and rest. Maybe we could call it winter.

I’ve got taped to the wall above my desk several things that make me feel happy and inspired while I’m working: old photos of my grandmothers, a tiny Rhode Island flag, an epic manifesto that Mas and I wrote over a couple too many gin tonics a few Christmases ago… One of the artifacts is Henry Miller’s writing schedule (most of the points applicable to other kinds of creative work), and I think I like it so much because there’s both strictness and leniency to it — it demands personal discipline but also makes room for periods of winter.



1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.

2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to “Black Spring.”

3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

4. Work according to program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time.

5. When you can’t create you can work.

6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.

7. Keep human. See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.

8. Don’t be a draught-horse. Work with pleasure only.

9. Discard the program when you feel like it — but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.

10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.

11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterward.

That’s all for now. I’m going to go work specifically on Numbers 1, 3, 6, 8, 10.


Things to read and watch on a rainy Tuesday

Am I the only one feeling all doom and gloom lately? I think not — several other people I know are feeling the same thing. Must be in the air.

My escape: an afternoon dose of craftiness and inspiration toward the construction of my future tree house.

The Beauty of Function in Creatures’ Constructions (a review of the new book Animal Architecture)

Building a Reciprocal Roof

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Disco soup & recoup

My friend Claire, always vigilant in her search for interesting foodie happenings in the Geneva area, alerted me to the existence of:


From Slow Food International:

Disco Soup, with its roots in Slow Food Youth Network Deutschland (Schnippel Disko), sees people, young and old, come together in public places to chop vegetables sourced from local farms and markets that would otherwise have been wasted; often in huge quantities, always to music. Soups and salads are then prepared and distributed free to the general public. The events have been going from strength to strength with people around the world armed with chopping boards, peelers, pots, pans and disco beats showing that the best thing to do with food that would otherwise have gone to waste is to eat it! Recent highlights include New York, Amsterdam (Disco Soep), Nantes (Disco Soupe), and last week, during Slow Food’s AsiO Gusto, in Namyangju, South Korea (Yori Gamu). This World Food Day, for the first time, Slow Food Youth NetworkYouth Food Movement NederlandDAMn Food WasteDisco Soupe, and Feeding the 5000, teamed up for an exciting collaboration to organize simultaneous events, in different cities for what became known as Disco Anti Food Waste Day! The collaboration was a huge success, with events organized in Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Luxembourg, Macedonia and the Netherlands – reaching a wide audience, the media and even politicians. YFM Rotterdam took part in a record breaking event, cooking continuously for 38 hours, serving 800 people with food that would have gone to waste; while Slow Food Youth in Prague met with students to demonstrate how to easily cook a healthy and tasty meal on just one hob. Meanwhile in Mexico, the Slow Food Network was invited to celebrate World Food Day together with the FAO. In Brussels, Feeding the 5000 used the occasion to officially launch their international campaign against food waste. All in all a great day, and maybe the start of something much bigger.

There was one in Lausanne in April, Claire said. Click here for a video of a Disco Soup (or Soep) in Amsterdam (note on that — I couldn’t believe the quality of the vegetables they were using, and to think that all that would have gone in the dumpster… ugh). So far nothing in Geneva, but this needs to happen here. We have, like everywhere else, an astonishing amount of food waste and … lots of people who like to dance. Why not?



On BF Skinner, revolution & societal blueprints

I made this:

image (44)

I’m going to go ahead and flatter myself: it was awesome. Maybe could have used a little more salt, but other than that I was very happy with it.

image (45)

I baked it Sunday night and by last night it was all gone. But I have a confession to make — I cheated and used yeast instead of leaven. It was dried natural yeast at least. I used it in the interest of saving time and sanity. Oh well, we can’t be purists all the time.

I’ve also been reading this, which is what I really want to talk about:



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Thoughts on art and craft + a knitting update

I was at a workshop a couple of years ago with a bunch of other master’s of arts students, and in our discussion one of the attendees said something that really made my blood boil. He was from a small town in the Jura Mountains and said that a few years prior one of the guys in the village decided to organize a local art biennial. Because why should biennials only be reserved for big cities? So this inspired individual got everyone together and actually pulled it off, but in telling the story this student chuckled at the small town naivety over what qualifies as “art” — “So I went, because (ha!), I thought, this would be interesting, and it was all a bunch of craft.” Ho ho. How quaint.

In that vein, some thoughts on:

Craftivism (blog by Betsy Greer)

Functional Beauty and Handmade Political Art (Maria Alina Asavei – Art & Education)

Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter Public Sphere (Gregory Sholette)

The Counterfeit Crochet Project

Speaking of that, you ask, how’s the knitting going? Just great, thanks for asking. Here it is:

image (43)

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