Tales of modern nomads, rural communities and creative miracles
Piece by our artist in residence — Miriam. Follow her blog “Handstands on the road” here.
Quite recently, I was lucky enough to be accepted as one of the first residents of the outstanding, miraculous and extremely beautiful space that is Homade by Nomadways.
Simplified, Homade is the organisation’s new co-creation space for all sorts of international creatives, ranging from illustrators to social activists to circus artists and anyone and everyone who wants to get involved. Now, while no doubt impressive, I don’t want to list all the accomplishments, values, workshops and amazing ideas behind Nomadways.
Let me tell you instead about the overwhelming night sky, the kind locals, about long talks in a magical space in the middle of the night, about bonfires and French songs. I want to speak of the intimidating challenge of hosting a strongly physical movement workshop for 9 year old kids and 50 year old builders alike and the beauty of finding simplicity in the midst of a unique and inspiring community.
My first brush with Nomadways happened a few years ago when I randomly stumbled upon the nomadways.eu website that, other than a catchy name and some vague workshop descriptions, did not offer too much information at the time. I signed up to their newsletter anyway, drawn in by the captivating title “nomadways” — most of the time, I identified as a modern nomad myself, someone who always had the urge to run away, to explore, to break out of the norm and dream bigger and further.
While I have been semi-settled in London for nearly 4 years now, I still feel like a turtle every now and then, carrying my home in my backpack and still very much convinced that movement is life and stillness to be avoided (freely paraphrased from Hazrat Inayat Khan).
However, sometimes, not having a permanently settled lifestyle can be isolating and a little uncomfortable to say the least — cue late night worries about what I am doing with my life, concerns about having a family and children one day (which I guess is a lot harder as a woman), ongoing financial struggles and never really fitting in or becoming part of that group of friends that have known each other for the last 15 years. Craving community and “normality” in the form of like-minded individuals, Nomadways naturally spoke to me and, looking for a way to get involved, I found their project Homade, which is, ironically, based around the idea of building a home — if a temporary one — the very thing I have been struggling with!
As a circus girl and movement artist, I naturally enjoy physical activities and seek out big spaces in which to practice and develop new routines and when I sent in my application offering a two day handstand workshop for the local community as well as a showcase of my work, they said yes, and now here I am, in a tiny French village called Brivezac sporting one bar, one shop selling fishing supplies, one post office and now an international co-creation space. And so far, it is amazing.
The weekend gone, I had the wonderfully daunting opportunity to teach a handstand workshop. I love handstands and I love teaching, earning my bread and butter as an instructor for rock climbing as well as the odd bit of circus, but I’m used to having a very specific group setting. That can be a school group, a corporate party, a bunch of students in yoga pants, a family… but usually it’s not the challenging melange of international artivists and volunteers, clowns, aging gardeners, young children wanting to play and explore and some folks who have likely never seen the inside of a gym but sport bodies steeled by years of carpentry, farming or building.
So on Saturday morning, I was rather nervous when expected to fill three hours teaching handstands to a small yet incredibly diverse group of people. I credit all my handstand teachers and previous workshop leaders for my making it through and hopefully providing an enjoyable, physically challenging experience to everyone! It definitely gave me more confidence in my movement teaching outside the climbing gym or circus school. Success!
A big thank you goes to Guillermo Justel at this point, who, in his recent transition workshop ‘Hands to Feet to Hands’ inspired me to be more playful with my handstands and transitions and who sponsored the knee pads!
What amazes me most though aren’t the waterfalls, or even the incredible nightsky, but the involvement of the small local community here. Where I may have imagined some conservative French village folk, suspicious of the English speaking, bare-footed artivists invading their home town, I found instead some of the kindest, quirkiest people and an abundance of joie de vivre.
At the moment I am honoured to share the space with French puppet master, pianist, singer-songwriter, poet, philosopher and highly skilled jack of all trades — Manu Audibert, making my artistic efforts pale in comparison.
He has created intricate marionettes of musicians, playing songs in real-time, moved by hundreds of tiny motors pulling their nearly invisible strings… just look at it!
And then there is Anne, a Danish clown, creator and social activist who works with refugees and has travelled to some of the most awe-inspiring places. She is also a rather talented photographer if the few silks snaps in this blog post are anything to go by… check out her Instagram @ana_nazzzz!
When the formerly nomadic creative visionary behind Homade was looking for an international workshop space for artists, educators and social activists a little over a year ago, she could not have anticipated the magic that was about to unfold.
After buying a barn off a Dutch expat in Brivezac, she transformed it in the short span of only a few months with the help of several pairs of strong hands and minds:
There is Alison, the recovering musician and Betty Boop look-alike with the strength of a Canadian lumberjack who arrived last year to help out for a few months and never left;
Valentin, the wood-worker, multi-instrumentalist and African music fan who is always willing to lend a helping hand, cook delicious food or chat about anything and everything until the wee small hours while cracking walnuts with a hammer;
Marise, the elderly neighbour who is grateful for an opportunity to dust off her English (which is so much better than she dares to believe) and knows more about herbs than most of us ever will.
And there are so many more, like the knife maker who pops by every once in a while or the children that always seem to be playing in the garden, happy about the open space, the larger-than-life playground that was built here, if wary, sometimes, of the artsy foreigners dangling of silks, standing on their hands or jumping about in a colourful clown’s costume.
Nomadways gracefully builds a bridge between digital nomadism and the remote rural community. Recruiting international artists and volunteers via social media, Nomadways brings modern nomads to rural France and makes a conscious effort to socialise both ways, offering new cultural experiences to the locals while providing a beautiful space to city dwelling artists and young travellers. Personally, I can feel some of my school French coming back to me and understand more than I would have anticipated. My rushed, London-based time perception is slowing down and some days, I can even get to terms with the fact that lunch can last for three hours and dinner longer and don’t feel too guilty that the final presentation of my work here will be more of an informal barbeque interspersed with small performances.
The second week of my stay at Nomadways‘ Homade was equally full of good times. After delivering a not nearly well-enough rehearsed show of my work to the wrong track — I do, in fact, refuse to post footage of it, but let it be known that my first hand balancing act on actual canes is done, dusted and now history — I finally had more time to focus on the delicious distractions all around me.
Deciding to have a rest day after the bonfire and show night, I spent the morning lazing around, deciding to visit a walnut oil mill that was allegedly an hour’s cycle away. My leisurely rest day activity may have gotten a little out of hand when I discovered that my perception of an hour on an old three-gear town bike, schlepping my weight up the hills of Limousin, differs slightly from that of a guy on a decent bike who is actually used to cycling long distances. To say that it wasn’t totally worth it or even that I didn’t enjoy it, would, however, be an absolute lie.
After about two hours of predominantly uphill cycling and me counting my strides — the old trick to get through strenuous repetition of painful patterns by counting in 8’s or 20’s in a language of your choice still works a treat — and countless reassuring repetitions of “We are SO close” from my cycling partner Dani, we arrived at a lush old farmhouse, nestled between fields of fruitful trees and inhabited by an incredibly hospitable elderly man and his wife who were thrilled to show us around their walnut oil mill, introduce us to the donkeys, the stunning family dog and an array of machinery that I would have expected to see in a history book instead of in perfect working order, producing delicious walnut oil!
Turns out that while my still somewhat existing knowledge of the French language surprised me, it wasn’t sufficient to understand the intricacies of the machines at a walnut mill, but the family run business and the owner’s passion and knowledge about it where nonetheless impressive.
After more than sufficient coffee and having bought all the walnut oil a person could desire, we made our way back home — heavy backs loaded in the van of our friends from Homade, who had luckily turned up outside the farm ten minutes after we arrived.
The way back was a breeze in comparison, because what goes up must come down, and we reached home dry, chased but never caught by the approaching rain clouds and the dark of night.
Further leisurely rest day activities included feeding my new found Homade family with the sweet Portuguese treat that are Farófias and Ovos Moles. And when you don’t have a mixer, you make do with brute force.
While there were definitely moments where I tried to focus on further training and movement exploration instead of eating all the scrumptious things, the surroundings also needed exploring and when a new group of people arrived, two other residents and I decided to be a little antisocial for a day and go for a roadtrip… little did we know that we would end up at the stunning abandoned mine come rock garden “Les Pans de Travassac” instead of the neighbouring village Argentat. Since it was grumpy Monday, which seems to have become somewhat of a French tradition [correct me if I’m wrong French people, but everything is shut on a Monday…and I’m grumpy, too], we had the whole gorgeous location to ourselves.
Descending a few flights of outdoor stairs, twilight engulfed us and the sudden drop in temperature made for a palpable eerie vibe around an old miner’s house dated 1911 above its time-withered window frame. Not wanting to spend too long in the cool mist, we hurried along through an arc, back into the sunshine.
Back at Homade, it turned out that the new arrivals were actually rather lovely folks and between eating, training, acroyoga and trick sharing on silks with the wonder woman that is Kristina (social activist, circus lady extraordinaire and another happy hiker by nature), whose work you can checkout at freedomofmovement.de, I may have just not had the time to take more pictures, but let me assure you, it was luscious in every way!
Full moon rituals were had, wild baby kittens watched, 30 year old nectar (or was it wine?) drunk at a wild drum circle, wood was chopped and face paint distributed freely. And somewhere along the line, so much healing happened that I simply let go of a bunch of old baggage, burnt in a fire under a full moon, surrounded by love, laughter and music. I learned and taught new songs, played the Shruti box and made a serendipitous discovery. Let me tell you, it is a funny feeling when you and the person next to you suddenly find out that both of you can overtone sing, and neither of you knew that about the other! Well, to quote Kimya Dawson in Tire Swing, “the sound of our voices made us forget everything that had ever hurt our feelings.”
Ah, yes, I also did some handstands and despite some health niggles here and there and a minor wrist injury, I feel that the one arm prep is coming along nicely… what do you think?
I am further excited to announce that handstandsontheroad now has a Facebook page, to promote further social projects and trips. Please support it and follow it to stay tuned and help with my next adventure.
Miriam Mindt is a German-Portuguese circus artist, hand balancer and rock climbing instructor who is inspired by travelling, nature, long distance hikes and the people around her. She is currently based in London but instead of letting big city life stress her out , she prefers to keep her hands planted firmly on the ground and put her feet up in the air, because she has long since decided that life is better upside down. After conquering her initial fear of heights and inversions, she chose to transform her art into discipline and her physical training into art. Balance is the ongoing challenge, both in her movement and handstand work as well as her personal life story.