We´re All in The Same Boat

Whilst threatening action in Syria looms large, cycling across the Île de Ré, allows the mind time to turn over and contemplate the complexities of the butterfly effect that normally gets lost in the noise of daily life.   
      St. Martin de Ré is one of the 10 communes hosting a small harbour, where Parisians flock to its bustling quay in August away from Paris for fresh blue and white holiday apartments au-bord-de-la-mer.  They meander carefree cladded in espadrilles, blue and white striped tops, white shorts and red sailing jackets.  This Tricolore alternates in different garments, for each person that passes.

    Locals sell designer summer clothing, marked down for the end of season, and hand-made soap.  A smattering of English people walk by, perhaps influenced to visit the island from when it became English in 1154. This was due to Eleanor of Aquitaine from the region, marrying Henry Plantagenet, who became King Henry II of England.
   Finding a street cafe overlooking the numerous yachts is quite a simple task as many neatly sit together above the harbour, like shells upon a shore.  Ordering Moules Marinières, I await as they arrive so fresh that barnacles still rest upon some.  A delightfully refreshingly breeze, calms the heat but Syria becomes a point of discussion between muscle shelling.  
Further international "help" would only lead to prolonging the war causing more harm to civilians.  Russia would supply the arms to Assad, and 'western democracy' would be siding with Al Qaida. Wouldn´t that exacerbate further wars?  What can be done to stop chemical warfare?  Pangs of guilt.  Guilt to be part of a western 'democracy' that exerts power again and again never learning lessons from the past.  Looking across at a table, a group of thirty somethings, dressed smart but casually in Tricolore breathable crew shirts, sip iced Rosé. A young Gaul man with a strong chin confidently chats across to a young sophistiquée doting on her small child, whilst nodding across at the man with chestnut hair.  I wonder if they know Francois Hollande`s plans to 'punish' those behind the chemical attacks on Syria?  In February 2003, being part of the million that marched in London warning Blair that it would spell disaster to go to war with Iraq.  At the time it felt like we were doing something, but in reality it didn`t seem to make a difference.  Or maybe it did?  There is hesitation now.  But is Cameron et al going to walk us into a similar fate? 
      The butterfly effect: my mind wonders to a true life example of the effects of war, far away from the place of conflict.  A Head of Languages teacher at a school where many are Muslim.  She felt like she was having an impact. Second generation immigrants from Pakistan were growing up with a good education, tolerant views and open minds.  Until 9/11 happened, then it all changed.  The once minimal racist comments became more frequent and intolerable. She got out and quickly, no longer able to take the hate that fell from these children`s lips.  Many that she taught who were segregated both geographically and socially in England felt they had more of an affiliation with their Muslim brothers who were being attacked by 'the enemy' in Iraq. Seeing this teacher as belonging to 'the enemy', she was to them at war with 'their' people.   Their people, our people.  “Us against them” attitude, always equals tribal war, endless hate, that spans across generations. We are all in it together as Robert Fisk`s article  elucidates.
     Looking at the different yachts bobbing up and down peacefully in the harbour, my eye rests upon a boat that has 'Objectif UNESCO' emblazoned upon the side.  I suddenly remember an idea for a project I dreamt up a couple of years ago 'We Are All in the Same Boat'.  It would involve a diverse group of people with diametrically opposed views.  Think along the lines of Muslim brotherhood with Egyptian secular, Sunni and Shiite, Jewish and Muslim and combinations of many different groups not just one or the other, living on a yacht for four to six weeks or perhaps longer.   Sailing lessons would be part of the program and training. In order to survive, it would be necessary to collaborate. 
      Whilst upon the yacht hopefully allegiance would strike not only by sailing and daily survival such as cooking and cleaning, but also it would be about participating in an art project, such as a documentary, a photo essay or mural for the boat. Contributing with different skills such as language, writing, image making and craft that would give diametrically opposing views the opportunity to find expression and hopefully some resolution.  Like colours from a stained glass window reflecting upon stone walls, all unique and contrasting, yet together harmoniously exquisite.
    Hiring black with white polka dot bikes from a white haired monsieur that pens in our rental as "The Magical Mystery Tour, is coming to take you away", belts out of speakers, we mark a route from St. Martin to Ars de Ré that stretches for approximately 18 miles across the island.  The cycle paths are clear and well marked.  Exiting the harbour, to a path beside the sea, thick mud flats house oyster beds.  On paths above, we cycle past a smattering of cabanes where you can sample the fresh Oysters that have been harvested à l’ancienne, with dry white Carbenet Sauvignon at reasonable prices, yet these are the very Oysters that will make their way to top restaurants in Paris, New York London and as far away as Hong Kong.
      I´m reminded of Caviar, the staple diet of fishermen that live by the Caspian sea who laugh at the usual  connotations of luxury attributed to caviar and instead spread on thick the tiny black eggs to their toast every morning.  Similarly, the French living on the littoral see these Oysters as an every day source of protein.  The more doused in sea water as they touch the pallet the better.  This au naturelle way of enjoying this local delicacy is refreshing.  There is no shortage of cyclists. families, couples and friends, we all cycle en masse, crossing each other`s path to the myriad of communes dotted across the island.  Somehow, I am reminded of the DDR documentary we shot a couple of years ago in Berlin.  At the DDR museum, they had documented photos of holidays taken by people living within its confines.  Armies of Trabants parked and cyclists in convoy enjoyed their designated "play time" for two weeks before returning to regulated work.   At least we are not all fashioning mullets and tom boy cropped hair and I note the bikes are quirky and varied.  Passing an atelier, this conforming image fades away and I convince myself that battling against the strong wind is what brought this image on. 
     Finally reaching Ars-de-Ré, there are more retired locals and in-the-know chic families with their designer clothed toddlers catching the last rays of pale, baby blue sea light.  A bright pink Haribo stand begins to pack up as people sit in the harbour cafes sipping the last of their Menthe a L`Eau.  The ride back takes half the time, with a tail wind pushing us along, we glance at windsurfers making the most of these gusts in the miniature lakes on the island.
     Back in St. Martin, the yachts are returning to the harbour.  Watching one from the Centre de Voile enter and the group quickly unite and ally together to moor yacht`s rope onto the jetty for the night.  Yes, we are all in the same boat, no matter what our differences are and we have to pull together, not against each other or we will forever remain adrift in a limitless ocean.