Turn austerity into a great life adventure.

So what is a kid from The Bronx doing all grown up and now living in a small village in the south of France? Building composting toilets, putting up solar panels and trying to understand what his neighbor’s are saying.

The south of France may conjure up images of beaches, cafes, bikini clad women, men with deep tans and dark sunglasses looking cool in the hot sun but my south of France is a slightly different.

French Riviera Beaches
Not here!
Here it is, our Sunday village marketplace.

Here it is, our Sunday village marketplace.

The village I speak of is cozily nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains.

Ah, here it is!

The surrounding countryside.

The lifestyle here is quite different than anything I might have imagined 30 or so years ago when I took off from The Bronx to find my niche in the world. I wasn’t sure where I was headed and took in quite a bit of the world while exploring my choices. Like all of us, our lives have unfolded in ways we may never have planned but “voila” as they say in my neck of the woods. Here we are.

Where's the beach?

Where’s the beach?

Life in a small village in one of France’s poorest regions in financial times replicating the late 30’s comes with lots of small adventures, learning to speak French is just one of them.

Many economic experts try to give different names for the world’s money situation since 2008, but the simple truth is the old way just isn’t working. It gave the illusion of working for a while, but in actuality handed us all the collateral damage we are now living with and handing down to the next generation.

The beginnings of a wood-fired bread oven.

The beginnings of a wood-fired bread oven.

Being creative, living more simply and realizing that just maybe the new paradigm can be a lot of fun and give us precious time with our families and in our communities is the smartest way to face the future.

The finished product!

My wife Angie’s project finished.

I just listened to an interesting 2 hour podcast about austerity and where we may be heading. Many of us are finally discovering the only way forward is to get back to basics.

The real reason for building it!

The real reason for building the ‘bread’ oven!

Last year I built a simple solar shower. It works well and we can use it here in the south for at least 6 months. It cost about 25 euros ($35.00 U.S.) to build, and has saved us hundreds on water heating bills. I never realized saving money, being creative and doing our bit for the environment could be so much fun.

Hot showers in the great outdoors!

Hot showers in the great outdoors!

A friend recently helped in converting a simple hot water tank that now has two extra heat exchanges besides the original electric-only possibility. So now we’ll have the ability to obtain our indoor hot water from the sun, and in the winter from our wood-burning stove.

Putting 2 heat exchanges into a normal hot water tank.

Modifying a normal hot water tank.

We all use a toilet but only a small percentage of us have the luxury of flushing our waste products somewhere unseen to be treated somewhere unknown to be put back into the same water system once again. Many in the world do it quite differently. Some out of necessity, but others out of a desire to take an active part in all matters of life, even the matters people don’t like speaking about. The basic composting toilet is easy to use, and there’s no need to flush your money – or a valuable natural resource – away. A small compost bin on the other side of the garden helps break down the waste product, and in a year or two it isn’t wasted at all. There are other ways to lower toilet water consumption, but if the land is available composting toilets win hands down both financially and environmentally.

The lack of bills coming through the door gives us more free time for ourselves. Then it starts to gather momentum; more time to garden less food to buy in the markets, more time at home less driving to do, more time for our children and our local community, less time looking elsewhere for fulfillment. It doesn’t feel like austerity at all.

Recently our small village hosted a skill-sharing weekend. In a small community of close to 500 people we learned how to make our own washing liquid, weld, fix bikes, repair electric motors, build furniture with pallets, construct a small wind turbine, and much more. We ate together on two evenings, danced, listened to music, and more importantly got together to find solutions on how to live with more creativity than cash.

Next week we are going to help a friend to smear on the final mud layer on his newly-built straw-bale house. It can be known as a chantier collectif (collective worksite), but he’s preferring to call it a mud party. He and his wife will supply mud and food, and the community will supply helping hands and empty bellies!

Under construction. The straw bale house.

Under construction. The straw bale house.

Transportation in the countryside is always a tricky one. Our family were pretty much destined to have a few bicycles in the garage and a good portion of our transport is done while pedaling. We just had to make sure we were careful when choosing the location of our house in this rolling hilly area. Cycling is a sure way to beat the crisis; you stay fit, steer clear of gas stations, and once you know a small bit about doing repairs you have the perfect beginnings of self-sufficient transport.

Creative bicycle trailer use.

Creative bicycle trailer use.

In this part of France hitch-hiking is still alive and well, and works as a great way to help those without vehicles to get around. Years ago I saw a movie on how Cuba dealt with it’s rough period after the collapse of the Soviet Union and it was an uplifting chance to see real creativity at work.

The list goes on, but creativity is such a big part of it all. Most importantly keep fear at bay, and try to keep your mass-media intake to a minimum. Politicians, big business and the banks will not get us out of the crisis they have led us into, we will.

If you have the space, don't forget the chickens!!

If you have the space, don’t forget the chickens!!

For the moment life is in transition all over the planet. Be it climate or financial, there are times awaiting us all that we have never experienced. The big difference will be in how we deal with it on a personal and community level. The most important advice I can give is don’t give up your power. Look back to a generation ago and how our lives were lived on a more local level. Trust in our neighbors and neighborhoods was the default setting. Life isn’t meant to be a scary experience. The media may want you to believe it is so, but from experience I can vouch that the world is indeed still a lovely place, and we have the power to make it even better.

Take time out to see and be part of the simple beauty.

Take time out to see and be part of the simple beauty.

Look into a weekend of sharing skills, dust off the old bicycle hanging in the garage, dig up a small part of your lawn and plant some veggies, get a few chickens for your egg intake, learn to knit, sew patches on trouser knees, build a composting toilet if you dare. Whatever you do, don’t wait for anyone else or a political movement to help you along. You have all the skills you need at your disposal, and man the future’s so bright I gotta wear shades!!!

About thebikeguy61

I was born in The Bronx, in NYC. I traveled a fair bit of the world by bicycle for many years. In more recent years I have moved around Europe with my wife and 2 children. My first book was published in 2010, "Cycles of a Traveler". www.cyclesofatraveler.com Back living in France after a fantastic voyage across America with my family. Next book on its way, and always more interviews to look forward to.
This entry was posted in Climate, Cycling, Energy Consumption, Food, Life on planet earth., Money & Economics, Natural resources, Recycle - Reuse - Rethink, Technology & Progress, The City, a town, small village or countryside?, Transportation. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Turn austerity into a great life adventure.

  1. michelle says:

    nice one joe!


  2. thebikeguy61 says:

    Thanks Michelle.


  3. Andy says:

    Hey Joe, wise words my friend. Good to see some photos.


  4. nanny marres says:

    filling my heart with hope, thank you. I am so happy and proud to live in the neighborhood


  5. Nancy Cammerato says:

    Hi Joe, That was so good- encouraging to say the least!!!! I absolutely loved the photos-nice touch. You never cease to amaze me. I am so proud that you’re my brother. I didn’t print this out for mom as yet. I will eventually. Love you:)


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