Inclusion and exclusion of the rural… – Jan Schakel in Rennes – Part 4

As I wrote before, there are many relations between the urban and the rural. I just mentioned some of them: the markets, the food,  the regional identity, the life histories of families and …. biking trails… Although many people (in Rennes) don’t recognize this aspect, they do agree when I explain it to them. Maybe it’s too familiar to them –it might be in their backbone. But maybe also, because many Rennes’ peoples are getting very global: they just travel by car, TGV, Thalys or plane. Not any more by bike. Anyway, every day –after work- I’ll take my Batavus, and start roaming around. But when sunsets starts, I go to the écluse de St Martin’ (“shiplock”),  just nearby the Agrocampus. It is exactly on the edge of the city and the countryside. I go there, just to experience a beautiful phenomenon. I am not the only one that goes to that place. When it’s getting dawn, I see ten, hundred, thousand and ten thousands, maybe even millions of birds (starlings) coming back from the countryside. I don’t know where they have been all day, but every night the gather together on the electricity pylons and its wires; they come from everywhere, with thousands and thousands. Like me, but I’m there just to watch them. It almost takes an hour when they’re “all there”..(although I do not count them).  And then, suddenly (who said to leave; which bird took the initiative; and why?) they disappear, and they all go into the city. I’ve been told that they always go to the same places, and that hundreds of  trees are fully loaded with birds, really: fully loaded, and you can listen all night to their talks and stories…you can’t even sleep. But the next morning: they all have left. Where have they gone? Fascinating. But even more astonishing is the fact that this daily rural-urban migration became part of an urban ‘exclusion’ policy. The birds are not welcome anymore in the city, at least: not everywhere. For example, in the luxurious  Avenue de Jean Janvier (just opposite the central railway station)all trees are covered with nets(see picture), so the birds can’t have their sleep there anymore. I noticed these nets one morning on my daily trip to the station to buy my “de Volkskrant”. Rennes is changing … Anyway; the peoples who I asked about these nets, they just shook their head; they didn’t understand it either. Why exclude the birds…?

Some years ago, Rudolf van Broekhuizen and I did some research on “breeding and culture” as part of the EU funded project called “Sustainable Farm Animal Breeding and Reproduction” (SEFABAR). We studied the cultural context of breeding (for four species: poultry, pigs, ruminants and aquaculture)in 6 different countries.  France was one of them, together with the USA, Thailand, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands (by the way: why do I have to say in French that ‘je suis Hollandais, je parle Neerlandais, et je habit a Pays Bas’? Three words for one nationality; rather complicated!). Anyway, breeding can be embedded in or intertwined with culture in many ways and with different meanings. Although we noticed –especially in breeding – an ongoing process of globalization, we also noticed processes of (re-)localization. Our main conclusion was: culture and context still do matter! In Italy for example, breeding is strongly related to food, and in France breeding still is deeply rooted in the region: ‘origine’, ‘identity’ and ‘terroir’ are the keywords  to understand the cultural context of French breeding.

The French agronomist Bertrand Vissac (founding father of the French system approach in agricultural sciences) wrote a wonderful book, called: “La republique des vaches “, a very well documented work on (rare) local breeds. This reminds me to another Bertrand, Berstrand Hiervieu:  In spite of the idea that France was an still is a very centralized country (all roads lead to Paris), the reality is either the other way around. This French (rural) sociologist (Bertrand Hervieu, now Directeur General du Ministre d’Agriculture de France) characterized France once as a “Republic des Villages”, and indeed: the identity of the regions differs strongly. Rennes is a city on its own, but it is also the capital op (rural) Brittany, and you can experience this in so many ways. Like in breeding, as our Sefabar-research findings showed clearly. By the way: another finding of the Sefabar project was that breeding (especially in cattle breeding) in Norway is embedded in the (urban) perception of the quality of the rural. Almost every Norwegian citizen has a ‘stuga’  (a cabin) in the countryside, and every weekend and every holiday peoples from cities like Oslo go into rural for hiking , fishing, gathering berries etc. So agriculture –including breeding- is not only linked to the city be producing food, but also (or moreover) to maintain a livable and viable and green countryside: it is the back garden of the citizens. Actually, I noticed in Rennes the same, but more the other way around. Many peoples in Rennes –every family I met had one -do have a second house in Brittany (mostly along the coastlines), and just like in Norway they do go very regularly to their holiday homes. But instead of taking everything from the city with them (like the Norwegian and also the Dutch mostly do), the French do the other way around: they take rural stuff (especially food, but much more things, like arts, crafts, clothes etc) with them on their way home. Instead of ‘consuming’  the countryside (like people in Norway do), here the peoples from Rennes appreciate the rural because its ‘productivity’. And even on the markets in Rennes (like the big one on Saturday), they buy their coquilles and oysters and cheese and vegetables etc. from the same growers and producers , as they do in the village where their second house is located. Cause every market day there is an invasion of sellers and producers form the rural into the city, and they are very, very welcome! And birds –like pigeons, starlings and quails? They are also welcome in the city, but alas for them: not alive, but ‘slaughtered’.

You can buy them in the market halls and the fresh markets in the city. They are a ‘delicatesse’