topics: bouillabaisse (food), exchange networks, Association DIA (Dialogues and Initiatives), Maison Orangina, Corsica, Marseille, French colonial and political influence around the world; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: June 4, 1998

Food of the Day: bouillabaisse

OK let's start with facts first. The word "bouillabaisse" is probably derived from the combination of two French verbs, "bouillir," which means to boil, and "abaisser," which means to reduce. This, in essence, is how you make bouillabaisse.

Bouillabaisse actually started out, as many foods often do, as a simple peasant food. Fishmongers, after the day's market was over, would take the leftover fish scraps and the fish that did not sell (usually the bottom shelf stuff) and boil it all up into a hearty stew. Before long, the bourgeois, not wanting to miss out on anything, latched onto the idea of bouillabaisse (it was, after all, a very yummy thing) and elevated it to the heights of culinary delight. Well, this might be a bit of a stretch, though it is extremely tasty.

A proper bouillabaisse, like its name suggests, is prepared by quickly boiling, or infusing fish (often shellfish, like langoustine [Dublin Bay prawns]). The resulting soup is then reduced to the proper consistency and served with toasted bits of bread, raw garlic and a sauce called a rouille (a thick mayonnaise-like spread composed of garlic, peppers, tomato and little else).

Eating a bouillabaisse also happens in a very particular way. The proper technique is to scrape the toast with the garlic and then to spread the rouille on the top of the toast (yeah, we know, this sounds like a lot of garlic, but trust us). The prepared toast then goes into the bottom of a bowl and the hot bouillabaisse is poured on top. The coup de grace is shredded Emmental cheese sprinkled over it all. In Marseille, the fish used for the infusion is served separately and can be added to the bouillabaisse or eaten alone (with vegetables).

We have seen adaptations of this dish in other countries (in Italy it is called Zuppa di Pesce), but only in Marseille have we seen it prepared with such ceremony and attention to detail. This is definitely not a dinner for a first (or even second) date; but with friends (properly spaced around a table and all driving home in separate vehicles) bouillabaisse is great fun and extremely tasty. Bring breath mints.

Person of the Day: Florence Bouillon click to view a photograph

We had a run of incredible luck in Marseille. It began (but certainly didn't end) when we met our fabulous and remarkably interesting hostess: Florence! click to view a photograph

Florence was willingly roped into helping BikeAbout when, while sitting at a café, she met (through shared friends) some of the DIA office staff who were looking for hosts for us. She offered her place at the drop of a hat, without any knowledge of who we were or what we were up to. While she initially recommended that only 2 people stay with her, we are used to squishing ourselves into small places. She also found a generous friend who would host her while all four of us occupied her apartment! Yes, she actually just turned her home over to us for three whole days! After confirming two and three times that she didn't mind being temporarily ousted from her home and office, we thanked Florence and settled into her adorable flat.

Florence is a woman of many skills and enormous energy. In addition to the time she spent with us and help she offered, she has plenty to do as a student beginning work on her Ph.D. thesis in Sociology (looking at how people treat public and private places, especially the hard-to-define zones like squats), the writing of which we tried not to interrupt too much. Then, Florence also works quite a bit with some local organizations whose work touches on areas relevant to her doctoral focus. On top of that, she helps out a few hours a week with two different networks, whose underpinnings are also relevant to her studies.

These interesting networks - particularly fascinating to us - were founded on the belief that networking and exchange do not have to include money. But they do have to do with encouraging people in a shared area to get in touch with one another and, well, exchange exchanges. Florence participates in the actual interpersonal connections.

The idea of "exchanging exchanges" is not new. In fact, it was the basis for much of the world's economy before money came into play. However, today, exchanging exchanges has been made complex by the use of money as a substitute currency for actual goods and services; most people assume that an exchange of goods requires cash. The exchange networks, on the other hand, reassert that individuals and their skills can meet society's basic needs. They are premised on the belief that money can "not exist" and that people can make swaps through what the organizers call a SEL, or Système d'Echange Local (Local Exchange System). "Sel" is also the French word for salt, one of the world's original currencies. Get it?

Another network that Florence and her friends have developed takes its inspiration from the SEL but focuses more on the exchange of knowledge, again without any kind of money involved. It's called an RERS, Réseau d'Echange Réciproque de Savoir (Network for the Reciprocal Exchange of Knowledge). Instead of money expended in exchange for services, individual requests and offers are made, and considerations and negotiations take place, whereby one person with a talent or piece of knowledge "donates" it to another, who has specifically made known a need for that talent or knowledge. The idea is that everyone has something to give and may at one time or another have a need; ideally, a readiness to give within a network means that once a person has a need, and makes it known to the network, that need can be met by dipping into the network's pool of resources, i.e., the group of other people with knowledge and skills that are just as ready to give. Basically, what comes around goes around. Eventually, someday, what someone has to offer will be called upon by another person. It may sound simple, but it's a lot of work!

Here is a real example that Florence gave to Corinne to make it all crystal clear:

"Juan lives in Marseille, but his parents are from Spain, so he speaks perfect Spanish. He offers Spanish lessons to a woman, Mathilda, in his apartment building, who plans to travel a lot in Spain next year. Mathilda, who is no chef but great in the kitchen, is currently giving cooking lessons to a person just around the corner, who made that request. Now, while Juan, is 'only' giving, Mathilda is giving and taking, and the person around the corner is 'only' taking. But, once Juan has a specific need, perhaps where the talent of the person around the corner is called upon, there will ultimately be what most people might consider a more equal exchange. All of this happens without money, it brings people in the area together, and makes use of everyone's inner resources."

Cool, huh?

What Florence and her friends do is help the matching process, and literally bring the people together to discuss the terms of the exchange. The whole concept may sound overly simplistic, but while simplistic it is not, simple it is; the problem is that consumerism and money have just confused this humanistic, applicable idea about life. This is a method that could and should be employed in all apartment buildings, communities, cities, and countries around the world, but of course Florence is just getting started, so we'll give her a little while...

The more we learned about Florence's involvement in the management of these person-to-person networks, the more we understood why she had so easily and calmly elected to give us a place to stay. We had a need, she had a service. The exchange was obvious. Similarly, she might have seen in BikeAbout a free service being provided to people with a desire (or need) to learn about people and places beyond where they might be able to go right now. What comes around goes around.

Regardless of her motivation, we are thrilled to have met Florence and sincerely hope that we can continue to learn from her. Of course, should she ever make it to BikeAbout's headquarters in New York, we would be happy to reciprocate the service she so magnanimously offered us!

Place of the Day: Maison Orangina - espace multimedia click to view a photograph

Today we visited and gave a presentation at the Maison Orangina click to view a photograph, a hub of youth-oriented non-profit multimedia activity in Marseille.

Serving as both a groovy meeting place and a learning facility, the Maison Orangina has given itself the mission to provide associations and groups of people working with youth in Marseille with technical as well as infrastructural support for their multimedia projects and activities, notably those involving computers and the Internet. Funded by Orangina (the soft drink corporation), the Maison Orangina itself is a non-profit designed for all associations seeking information, organizational help, and access to multimedia material for the realization of their work. Particular emphasis is placed on groups involved in cultural, educational and recreational opportunities for young people, that provide the latter with chances to meet, exchange ideas, get to know one another, and form other groups.

Practically, this means that a comfortable place (with free access to members of registered groups and their partners or guests) packed with on- and offline computers, scanners, printers, information folders, a presentation area (complete with a computer-linked projection screen), and a bar serving - you guessed it - Orangina products has been opened in the center of Marseille. Similarly, the Maison Orangina server has been placed at the disposition of all adherent groups so that they may broadcast their initiatives to the world via the Internet (the World Wide Web, BBSs, chats, etc.). Of course, there is a qualified team on hand to help everyone with their organizational and multimedia needs.

Speaking of the team, we were happy to be able to meet the Director of the place, Ms. Martine Sousse (pictured here on the far right click to view a photograph). She showed us around and gave us a full explanation about the real and cyber sites and their missions, as well as introduced us to some "members" present to learn about BikeAbout. Martine, a specialist in new communications technologies and independent multimedia consultant and producer, has been around since the conception and development of the Maison and naturally took over its day-to-day operation when it opened on October 16, 1997.

For more information on the Maison Orangina, please contact them at:

Maison Orangina
35 rue de la Paix
13001 Marseille
Tel +33
Fax +33

Tech Fact of the Day: the island of Corsica is part of France

With the exception of 14 years as a self-governed country (1755-1769), the island of Corsica has always been part of a larger territory. Under Genovese rule from the 13th century, in 1769 it became been part of France, which it has since remained. Prior to the 11th century, Corsica was home to the Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Lombards, Franks, the Catholic Papacy, the Italians and even the British Empire!

Reminded of its beauty at (DIA volunteer) Laurence's house before dinner, when Corinne met some of Laurence's family friends from Bastia, Corsica's business and commercial center, we are unfortunate not to have had the time to visit what we hear is a magnificent island, the most mountainous and geographically diverse in the Mediterranean. Corsica is also the fourth largest island (8720 sq km / 3366 sq mi and over 1000 km / 621 mi of coastline) in the region and has been called "a miniature continent," complete with snow-capped mountains, protected forests, marshes, and even a desert. Located significantly closer to Italy than to France, Corsica is less than 75 km (47 mi) from the slightly offshore Italian island of Elba and is separated from the Italian island of Sardinia by the 12-km- (7.5-mi-) wide Strait of Bonifacio. Corsica's most famous native son is probably Napoleon, born in 1769 in the city of Ajaccio.

Having been a part of France for so long, Corsicans speak French and have adopted a French way of life. That said, Corsicans, a fiercely independent people, have and work to preserve their own language (called Corsu), culture and traditions.

(See the Rider Notes for more on French territories throughout the world.)

Group Dispatch, June 4
picture of Corinne

Thursday morning we slept late - cozy and comfy - in the beds provided by Florence click to view a photograph, our hostess and Person of the Day. Florence was willing to let us all sleep at her place for the full three nights of our stay in Marseille without knowing the first thing about us or BikeAbout. (Little did anyone realize how perfect a match we would be for one another.) Working on her Ph.D. in Urban Sociology, she has been active with area non-profits and people at creating an exchange network that will help address neighborhood needs that can be met by the skills of the citizens themselves. Take a look at the full description of this network in Florence's Person of the Day biography.

Although the gentlemen remained annoyed by Corinne's disappearing act the previous day, we went en masse to the DIA office to check in with our friends there before our first meeting in the afternoon. We also needed to give Florence her home/office back, so she could get some work done. Even this early in the day it was HOT and we didn't want to crowd her.

At the DIA office we found none other than Fabrice, just returned from a youth workshop meeting in India and the person who had asked Florence to help us out, though it was her first time learning about DIA too. (Florence must have known that by offering her flat to us in Marseille, now she has four different places to stay when she visits the USA someday! It's all a part of the same "network and exchange" theory that she and we will try to continue!) We had last met Fabrice when, on our way from Morocco to Tunisia via Marseille, he met us on the train platform in Perpignan and helped us transfer bikes from one train to another. It is hard to believe that that was already almost EIGHT months ago! So much has happened and we have learned so much about DIA in the interim.

Marseille is the headquarters of the Association DIA (Dialogues and Initiatives), a group click to view a photograph with whom we have been working since before the trip began and then again in a couple of places around the Mediterranean. You may recall that people working with DIA-initiated projects collaborated with and hosted the BikeAbout team in Gaza City at the Diwan el Shabab and welcomed us in Sarajevo at the DIA Dobrinja (Sarajevo) Euroclub. Our friends in these places showed us around their cities, and introduced us to local youth and organizations. Unlike the project offices in the field, the DIA offices in Marseille do not run any local youth programs; rather, they facilitate the operations of the many offices elsewhere, using the resources and established infrastructure of France as the center of operations for everything from management to fundraising to external and internal communications. (For lots more about DIA and its motivated staff, see tomorrow's People of the Day.)

For us too, the DIA office in Marseille was a temporary but very welcome place to work and coordinate.

After chatting about our work, checking our email, and sending off another few dispatches, it was time for lunch. Fabrice and Laurence (the only official volunteer in the Marseille office), led us to the nearby café they frequent - Bar des 13 Coins (Bar at the 13 Corners) click to view a photograph - where we could all finally catch up on DIA's many activities and also just plain get to know one another better. The bustling sandwich shop across the street serviced the café as well, and that's where Corinne had yet another meal based primarily on goat's cheese, or "chèvre".

After snarfing down our food (we were beginning to run a little late) and picking up Stéphane on our way to the port, we headed off to a gathering at the Maison Orangina, our Place of the Day. Not wanting to be too tardy for our first real chance to meet some of the other people working the social, educational, Internet and non-profit circuits in Marseille, we took a ferry from one side to the other of the famous Vieux Port click to view a photograph, historic and living center of the city which just celebrated its second millennium and claims to be the oldest in France. The trip across the port took only a few minutes and saved us a bit of a trek (and time). In fact, much sooner than we expected, we were before the doors of the Maison Orangina.

Maison Orangina bills itself as an "espace multimedia," or multimedia space, designed for the young, the sports-minded, the school-going, the creative, the computer-crazy or the cyber novice. It is a place where costly and sometimes intimidating multimedia tools and people who know how to use them can be found and used for projects designed by or destined for young people. It is a meeting place where imagination and collaboration are encouraged, and computers, the Internet, a server for new Web sites, scanners, printers, and other tools are all used to that end. Already in January 1998, just three months after it had opened its doors, more than twenty local associations and schools had taken advantage of the resources, including classes on Web site development and a server on which to put them, use of the Internet for networking, and so much more. Of course, for registered groups, all classes and use of the equipment is free and provided for by... you guessed it, Orangina. Don't forget to visit the Maison Orangina Web site!

When we arrived click to view a photograph, we were eager and ready to occupy the meeting room that adjoins the café area and present BikeAbout to anyone who had responded to the invitation distributed by the Maison to its members. Unfortunately, the turnout for our meeting was quite small. Apparently, the short advance notice was part of the problem, as was the belief that Thursday afternoon simply isn't the most convenient time during which to distract volunteers or social association personnel from their own work. So Ethan gave an intimate presentation in French to the Maison administrator, Ms. Martine Sousse, and to Jean-Louis Gambicchia and Laurence Coupard, two representatives from the Centre Social de La Capelette, a new group working with the somewhat marginalized Capelette community of Marseille. Meanwhile, Padraic and Anthony browsed the Web, chatted with other customers, and worked away on their dispatches.

Corinne also pursued her own agenda. She spent the afternoon getting to know a few people from the skilled moral-support team backing up the official DIA headquarters staff. She talked first with Laurence, a DIA volunteer who puts in part-time hours but a full-time effort. They shared their thoughts about how BikeAbout and the DIA are great working partners. A "professional volunteer," Laurence also goes on volunteer missions in different countries to assist with various kinds of relief efforts. Another important person that keeps the DIA office running smoothly is Solenne, Stéphane's dynamic girlfriend, who is an artist and designer.

Given all the demanding work managed by the DIA office personnel, reliance on strong friendships in and out of the workplace is crucial; a good support network always keeps encouragement up. We, too, always appreciate our experiences with people who applaud what we are doing. Sometimes their cheers feel like lifeblood, bolstering our dedication to continuing this journey. Also, meeting people working to promote communication and helping people help remedy their own situations wherever they are in the world only affirms our purpose.

After the time allotted for BikeAbout at the Maison Orangina, Stéphane had hoped to use their facilities to do a live online chat between us click to view a photograph and the folks at the DIA Dobrinja (Sarajevo) Euroclub in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unfortunately that plan was foiled due to technical difficulties in Sarajevo. Thus, we found ourselves with the early evening at our disposal.

So, heading back to the DIA office with Stéphane, we stopped again at the edge of the Vieux Port click to view a photograph for some quiet contemplation and laid back conversation. Observing the sun on the water click to view a photograph, the boats coming and going, other people strolling around click to view a photograph, and the occasional marine visitor peeking out of the water to say hello click to view a photograph, it was a nice moment of non-obligation.

Later, more drinks and discussions at Bar des 13 Coins, the favorite DIA corner café click to view a photograph, brought in the evening sun, and prepared us all for dinner, which would be held at Stéphane and Solenne's place. Corinne went home with Laurence to find a few dinner items, and to see more of the city. They took Marseille's brand new subway (installed just in time for the World Cup to begin) with three lines that run throughout the city and suburbs. Incredibly clean and odor-free, the downside of this mass transportation option is that it closes at 9 p.m.! This means that anyone wanting to enjoy an evening on the town has to take a car, as normal buses don't run late either. Of course the fear is that the later the subway runs, the greater will be the chance of violence and the subsequent loss of revenue from reduced ridership. However, young people could sure use more non-car options.

And so Laurence had to get her parents' car to use for the night, as well as a few dinner items for our planned group feast. Her parents had guests over for a barbecue, which is how Corinne was able to meet some people from the French island of Corsica, our Tech Fact of the Day. This made her think about how the territories of France currently include a number of lands in the Mediterranean that are not part of the hexagonal mainland. Only a few decades ago, these territories were even more numerous than they are now. In fact, many of the "immigrants" that now make up the permanent population of Marseille (not all of whom arrived in France by choice) came from nearby areas formerly under the French sphere of influence, including Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in North Africa, and Lebanon in the Middle East.

But given France's role as a major 20th century economic and military superpower, France's political force has been felt throughout the world. For instance, there was once an area known as "French Indochina" which comprised Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. These countries became independent of France starting in 1953. Other areas soon followed suit. "French North Africa" was liberated by Muslim revolts in Morocco and Tunisia as early as 1958, with Algeria as the last to achieve independence in 1962. Be sure these were not graceful partings, however, as many French nationals had made huge investments in the area, and fought, sometimes viciously, to hold on to them. However, some friendly relations do continue, particularly with Tunisia. More of the French territories elsewhere in what was the "Federation of French West Africa" also took up the mantle of independence. France's African colonial days came to an end between 1958 and 1960 in the west in what are now Benin, the Ivory Coast (Cote d'Ivoire), Nigers, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Congo, Gabon, and Chad. Other territories located in Africa were Cameroon and Togo, as well as Mauritania and the islands of and around Madagascar. One such enclave is the Comoros Islands, which still had political dealings with France through 1990, and now struggles with the re-birth of democracy. Formerly French areas are also to be found in Canada and South America. Owning and reaping the resources of all these places helped keep France a rich country.

Driving back into the city with Laurence, Corinne realized that Marseille has the familiar big-city hum she loves. The fast-paced nature of the inner city, the terrific diversity of the various inhabitants, the vast range in music, style, art, people, and food that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and just absorbed on the various streets and in the neighborhoods is exciting. People in and out of Marseille agree that much of the city "isn't French" but rather it's own world made of immigrants who have changed the feel of the place to suit their needs, honor their traditions, and develop this new, diverse world within France.

Everyone met back at the apartment of Stéphane and Solenne to cook dinner, bringing different ingredients and plenty of wine with them. The group effort in preparation kept their tiny kitchen buzzing, while conversations on the narrow balcony raged on. Their neighborhood is on a high plain north of the city's center, and their rooftop apartment affords a lovely view over an enormous market square, the green and gray hills beyond Marseille, and rooftops of the city stretching for kilometers in all directions. Not far from a district full of bars, the apartment combined a scenic and serene panorama with the sights and sounds of the scooters, cars, people, and music, of the city life below.

Taking turns in the kitchen, with only Stéphane hovering consistently over the stovetop as he concocted his culinary masterpiece and jammed to thumping techno music, we watched the sun fade, the summer affording lasting rays of light until nearly 10 o'clock. The hills beyond were filled with darker and darker hues of gray until they just disappeared behind the bright flashing neon signs from shops and pubs, the streetlights and glowing apartment windows. Soon nightlife would come alive below, with families and couples strolling toward restaurants, cafes, and discos.

The dinner was excellent, and consisted of salad, bread, rice with vegetables, and cheese, as well as many topics of conversation, including politics, films, fashion, drug policies, and the future of youth worldwide... You name it, we discussed it! Just the usual, average after-dinner chatter when you put non-profit heads together.

Yet another big day in BikeAbout-land, well after desert and coffee it was time to call it a wrap. Since it was late and we were all tired, everyone but Corinne and Florence squished into Laurence's small car so she could deliver folks to their destinations. The stroll through the city on this balmy Thursday evening gave Corinne and Florence a chance to talk more about personal goals and career aspirations, as well as discuss what Marseille might look like once the World Cup begins. click to view a photograph An already bustling town, it was anyone's guess what extra uppity tourists might do to add to the flavor.

Dropping Florence off safely at the door of her friend's apartment around the corner, Corinne then joined the boys for a late-night ice water on Florence's great terrace in the moonlight. On nights like this, it doesn't take much for us to realize how truly graced we are and have been.

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