topics: cassoulet (food), langue d'oc versus langue d'oïl, Association DIA, Marseille, history; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: June 5, 1998

Food of the Day: cassoulet

Cassoulet is a dish originally from the Langue d'oc region of France. It is made of haricot beans cooked in a stewpot with pork rinds and seasoning, and then served with a garnish of meat. It is an electrolyte- and carbohydrate-packed dish sure to satisfy the hunger of anyone but a BikeAbouter.

Person of the Day: DIA headquarters staff

We have been very lucky in our travels. Very, very lucky. We elected, from the start, to make every effort to visit every country and almost succeeded. Unfortunately, conditions in three of them (Algeria, Libya, and Yugoslavia) made visits impossible. But we might have been compelled to be even more cautious and to make decisions based on ignorance if it had not been for the benevolence and dynamism of an incredible group of people.

The Association DIA (see the Place of the Day) is managed by a team of motivated young people whose paths we are proud to have crossed more than once and whose influence we have felt throughout the Mediterranean. click to view a photograph It would only be fair to name them individually and then rhapsodize at length about their skills, their motivation, their follow-through, and savoir-faire. But, in the interest of space and out of fairness to those we don't know as well, we will treat them as the team they are. And take this opportunity to applaud them for the work that they do, the countless hours they devote to it, and the readiness they all showed to extend to BikeAbout their resourcefulness, their resources, and their strength of purpose.

So, for the sake of very sensible flattery, let us anyway name those we know: Eric A., Fatma, Fabrice, Stéphane, Jean-Yves, Eric M., Vincent, Emmanuel, and Laurence. Those are the French folk. In addition, there are the local coordinators - Emad (in Gaza) and Renato (in Sarajevo) - who, though far from the center, we are just as happy to have met and worked with.

First established in 1989 in Lyon by Eric A. and Fatma, DIA has grown steadily ever since and should continue to make its impact felt on embattled cultures within the scope of its mission. It now counts amongst its adherents even one of BikeAbout's own; andrEa Siegl, who left the BikeAbout journey in Istanbul when BikeAbout's finances did not permit her to carry on, is now working with the DIA Dobrinja (Sarajevo) Euroclub. We hope that the people of DIA and the riders with BikeAbout continue to find ways of working together.

Place of the Day: Association DIA (Dialogues and Initiatives)

Since its conception in Lyon in 1989, the Association DIA has believed that, confronted by today's challenges, the notions of citizenship and cooperation must be reaffirmed and fleshed out. Thus it has selected as its mission to support young people in crisis situations, to work with them, listen to what they have to say, and offer the means by which they may play a part in the reconstruction and revitalization of their own societies. The problems young people face today, not to mention their hopes and aspirations, create links that must be given new energy. This new energy will let local people be heard, will carry messages across divides, and will make it possible for everyone to enrich his or her life by learning about the experiences of others. click to view a photograph

Have they put into practice the lofty mission they have given themselves? Boy oh boy they have. Resettled in Marseille since 1995, in an office smack dab in the middle of the historical Panier Quarter, an area known (and once feared) for its rich ethnic mix, DIA is a discrete nerve center for activities occurring in many parts of the world. At last count, DIA had three active projects funded by the European Commission - the Diwan el Shabab in Gaza, Palestine (active since 1996); the "Dialogue pour une génération" program in Bosnia-Herzegovina (active since 1993); and a youth and social integration program in Iraqi Kurdistan. Work is advancing very quickly on programs in Yemen and the Comores Islands. And plans for another possible program in Beirut, Lebanon are being discussed.

In all cases, the programs give renewed credence to expression, interaction, and learning when it happens for and with youth in both currently and recently conflict-ridden areas. One or more Centres d'Initiative et de Dialogue, managed by a team of local and French coordinators, are opened which serve as focal points for information, professional training, artistic expression, and youth-inspired activities adding to the vibrancy of the community. Then, according to available resources and local need, any number of activities are promoted: a Fonds or Crédit d'Initiative Jeunesse (Youth Initiative Credit or Fund) may be established to help establish and support local, sometimes revenue-producing youth initiatives (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Palestine, Kurdistan); teaching and coaching groups are formed that look at local democratic practices, new job opportunities, and teacher training (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Palestine, Kurdistan); public service, youth-oriented television and radio programs are prepared (Bosnia-Herzegovina); and much much more. DIA also has its own Euro-Mediterranean magazine, called Links, through which it spreads the word about its own and other youth initiatives.

BikeAbout has had the honor of being able to work with two of the DIA programs, those in Gaza and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We saw the centers that have been opened (full of information and resources and an impressive vibrancy), we led and attended meetings at these centers, we worked with the local and French coordinators, and most importantly, we met the youth that DIA has made such progress in finding and animating. We were always extremely impressed. Just as we were by the calm flurry of activity at DIA headquarters in Marseille.

In fact, our visit to Marseille, our third venture into DIA space, was a great opportunity for us to meet more of the behind-the-scenes people (see our People of the Day), those who are the anchor and the sails for the field programs. We also got to take advantage of DIA's excellent work ethic and their comfortable workspace click to view a photograph, and make some determined progress writing dispatches and catching up on email. All that accomplished, we got to know our friends a little better and hope that the collaboration we have greatly appreciated will be able to continue into the future.

If you would like to learn more about DIA, we encourage you to reach out to them directly at:

DIA - Organisation Non Gouvernementale de Solidarité Internationale
B.P. 170
13474 Marseille Cedex 02
Tel: +33-
Fax: +33-

Tech Fact of the Day: langue d'oc and langue d'oïl

"Langue d'oc" and "langue d'oïl" are the names of the two principal groups of medieval French dialects that had developed in France by the 13th century. Although, today, all of France is united in its use of modern French - which developed out of langue d'oïl - there are still other provincial dialects (from both langue d'oc and langue d'oïl), called "patois," spoken throughout the country but without an official recognition by the state.

Langue d'oc and langue d'oïl take their names from each dialects respective word for "yes" - "oc" in langue d'oc and "oïl" in langue d'oïl. Apparently, in early medieval times, the languages spoken in the area north and south of France's Loire River began to develop separately. The main difference between the two is how the "a" of the parent Latin language is pronounced. In langue d'oc (the language of the south, whose principal dialect is Provençal, with which it is often equated), it remained an "a", whereas in langue d'oïl it became an "e". The main dialects of langue d'oc, other than Provençal, are Gascon, Languedocien, Auvergnat, Limousin, and Béarnais. Those of the northern langue d'oïl were spoken in Ile de France (the area around and including Paris), Normandy, Picardy, Poitou, and Burgundy.

Langue d'oc, although once extremely popular, never recovered from langue d'oïl's dominance in the French court especially after the latter extended its dominion over the south. The language of the troubadours of the 11th-13th centuries - troubadours were noblemen and crusader knights whose song-poems about courtly love, war, and nature were very popular - langue d'oc is the Provençal (also known as Occitan) of today that is still spoken by several million people (almost one-fourth of the French population). Provençal is, in many ways, more similar to Catalan and Spanish than it is French.

When, in 987, Paris became the seat of the French government, the common language of the area - langue d'oïl - the same as that of the Court, began to have an effect on the other languages under and sharing its influence. For instance, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the language if the court of Napoli was langue d'oïl, the language also taught to German princes and barons, and learned by the English. It was, however, not until the 14th and 15th centuries, a time during which France was often at war, that rising nationalism united the people behind one linguistic standard, that of the king. It was thus that langue d'oc became the language of the land and slowly became what modern French is today.

Group Dispatch, June 5
picture of Ethan

We were all a little disoriented when we awoke. We were in an apartment - complete with a kitchen and living room and lovely patio. And we were all alone. Perhaps it was just another of the dreams we had been having common to travelers who have been away from home for a long time. You know, where you wake up a little disoriented and alone in an apartment complete with a kitchen and living room and lovely patio. Well, OK maybe this only happens to us....

However, it only took a few moments to realize that we were still in Marseille, and that we had enjoyed another quiet and very comfortable night in Florence's apartment. We still could not believe her generosity and our luck. But we were determined to use it to every possible advantage. Needless to say, we worked on our dispatches... but not for too long.

We had set a 10 a.m. meeting time with Fabrice (see our People of the Day) of the Association DIA (see our Place of the Day) at the DIA offices. In the next of the meetings they had been able to set up for us in Marseille - the first having been yesterday at the Maison Orangina - we were to visit the Centre Régionale Information Jeunesse (Regional Youth Information Center), or CRIJ, of Marseille. Only one center in a very large system of information points throughout France, we did not want to be late for an opportunity to learn more about this valuable network.

So, from Florence's pad we strolled back along our "usual" route through the Panier ("Breadbasket"), the oldest part of Marseille, once considered slightly unsavory and now a zone being appreciated for its windy streets and 16th- and 17th-century buildings. Of course, as the times have changed, this tight maze of narrow alleys has not gone unaffected. New developments have brought new buildings, and contemporary aesthetics brought contemporary art. (The façade of one building, so striking in its contrast to a nearby religious structure from an earlier century click to view a photograph, is a testament to the skill of local graffiti artists who have turned each "panel" into a taste of modern television art. click to view a photograph) Still, the special flavor of this area, typified by the calm around the Bar des 13 Coins (a local favorite neighborhood hangout) and bustle on the Place de Lenche, apparently the oldest "place" in Europe, remain.

From the DIA offices just off the Place de Lenche, we worked our way back down to and along the Vieux Port.

We reflected a bit on how 2,000 years ago, Marseille began as a Greek colony built on the port (Marseille very recently celebrated the anniversary of its second millennium and claims to be the oldest city in France). Originally called Massilia, the city and its excellent natural port were a great spot from which the Greeks could "claim" the entire Mediterranean. Well, by now we all well know that that idea only lasted so long, especially since the Greeks were actually happy to let their distant cities maintain the local languages and cultures.

Marseille was subsequently annexed by the Romans (1st century BC), converted to Christianity (3rd century AD), and then fell to the local counts of Provence before it became an independent republic in the 13th century. During this time, Marseille was a great center of langue d'oc, the language of southern France in the medieval times (see the Tech Fact of the Day. Marseille became part of the kingdom of France in 1481.

Today, Marseille is the largest seaport and second-largest city in France. The port is extremely important to the economy, as it has been since the beginning. The Vieux Port along which we were walking is the Old Harbor, whose entrance was easily defended by forts - like the 17th-century Fort St. Jean click to view a photograph) - built atop natural bulwarks. Despite these precautions, the port has always suffered greatly during times of war, most recently during World War II. Its destruction during that time did however lead to the renovation and modernization of large parts of the city. In fact, very little remains of Marseille's illustrious past.

But what is most interesting about the Marseille we encountered is not so much its past as it is its unique present. More than in any other city in France, Marseille is a fantastic mix of cultures. Its residents are often descendants of immigrants from all over the Mediterranean (especially Italy, Spain, and North Africa - Marseille was a major resettlement point for former colonists who returned to Europe when Algeria became independent in 1962) and other former French colonies. We were particularly struck by the cultural diversity after having spent many days along the Côte d'Azur, by contrast an extremely homogenous part of the country.

But back to the BikeAbout day into which we were about to plunge.

Sooner than we expected, having been lost in historical reverie, we arrived at the Centre Régionale Information Jeunesse (Regional Youth Information Center), or CRIJ. click to view a photograph Cyrille was waiting there to meet us. click to view a photograph He showed us a table where, if we wanted, we were invited to set up a computer and show passersby about BikeAbout. But, on a Friday early afternoon, we were not likely to nab many people, so we instead joined Cyrille on a tour of the facilities and introduction to the French Youth Information network. click to view a photograph

The CRIJ of Marseille is just one of many similar CRIJ throughout France. The idea behind the network they constitute is that young people, as they grow older, are often faced with very difficult challenges for which they are not always well equipped, particularly those of finding work, finding an affordable place to live, finding out about social support or educational or sports programs and opportunities in the cities they call their homes or to which they will be moving, learning about overseas travel requirements, and plenty more. Regulations about things can be difficult to locate, forms that must be filled out may be impossible to find, qualified advice may be in short supply, billboards where informal offers and requests may be made can be scattered far and wide, and materials about personal and confidential issues may be hard to secure in an anonymous fashion. The network of youth information centers is the French government's response to this lack of centralization and institutional support.

With loads and loads of folders and notebooks packed with (constantly updated) information about all of the above, a CRIJ is a permanent public place where young people of all ages can find what they need (on paper and in person). click to view a photograph It is a free facility to which anyone can turn for the latest about any of the many forces that change our lives.

Each folder contains a series of pages researched and prepared by the main center in Paris. These pages list resources and contacts for all of France and distributed to all the regional offices. Then each regional center - like the one we were in - creates similar pages, but looks at the region more closely. Additional found materials - taken from magazines, left at the center, etc. - make up the body of the folder. And there are many, many, many folders dealing with many, many, many topics.

Let's assume, however, that you don't live in Marseille and don't have the resources for getting there. Well, in addition to the CRIJ, there are BIJ (Bureaux d'Information Jeunesse) and PIJ (Points d'Information Jeunesse). A BIJ is a smaller CRIJ, which can be found in the offices of another organization. A PIJ is an even smaller installation set up as an information kiosk for a local neighborhood. click to view a photograph Both BIJ and PIJ depend entirely on a CRIJ for the pages distributed by the central office in Paris and the regional center as well.

Cyrille led us around the main room of the CRIJ click to view a photograph, pointing out shelves and folders, highlighting a new area that had been created by a team of European volunteers and that focuses on programs and opportunities in the 15 countries of the European Union. He also treated us to a visit of the nerve center where all the folders are put together and regional pages researched and assembled. We were very surprised to learn that - in this era of computerized information exchange - they have only two computers (their budget just doesn't allow for more), neither of which can be placed at the disposal of the public, and only one of which has recently been connected to the Internet. Cyrille proudly displayed to us the new Web pages he had just designed for the CRIJ in Marseille and which should be online at The Web site for the main center in Paris is Cyrille emphasized that, despite the present-day importance of information availability over the Internet, the CRIJ Web site will remain a simple space on which a list of available resources is provided. It will still be up to the curious and motivated individual to get to (or call) a CRIJ, BIJ, or PIJ and do the legwork him- or herself.

Our heads spinning in sea of names and acronyms, we worked our way back along the port, talking with Fabrice about another youth information network that DIA is in the process of building in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Taking its inspiration from what we had just seen, DIA has received funding from the European Commission to supply and staff Youth Information Offices and Points throughout the war-torn land. The hope is that the self-help support it will bring will help motivate young people to take more active role in the development of their own futures as well as that of their country's.

Back at the DIA office, we all settled down for some concentrated work time. So concentrated, that we almost forgot about lunch... Almost.

By early evening, with our eyes falling out of our heads, we paused. Finally. Besides, it was time for Anthony, Padraic and Corinne to head over to our final public appearance of the two-day sprint through Marseille. Through Florence, we had learned about an organization called Transitions that was having an open house to which they were inviting organizations with a strong social bent. Florence thought that we would fit in perfectly and so, through her, we had coordinated with the Transitions team and worked out the details of what we would need.

Meanwhile, Ethan stayed behind to meet with some of the DIA staff and talk about the past, present and future of the BikeAbout-DIA collaboration. Ethan appreciated this opportunity to sit down quietly with Eric Anglade (the Director of DIA), Fabrice Coppin (whom Ethan had even met in New York on one occasion), Stéphane, and Jean-Yves. So much of what BikeAbout does involves large format presentations with new faces that this more intimate setting of by now familiar voices was very satisfying. They talked about how the work had gone in Gaza and in Sarajevo. They talked about how pleased or frustrated they were by the work each organization was laboring to accomplish and how plans for the future looked. In particular, they touched frankly on feelings about future projects - local and international - in which both organizations are involved and about how everyone could work to meet personal and organizational goals in the mid- and long-term.

By 7 p.m., they were all ready to head out for the evening's events. Ethan and Stéphane click to view a photograph beat the familiar path around the port (staring up at the hard-to-miss thing up on the hilltop that looks like a castle and is actually the 19th-centruy Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde click to view a photograph) to the open house where they met the rest of the BikeAbout team (and Florence - whom they had not seen all day - Solenne) and explored the setting. Fabrice came along later on his motorcycle.

BikeAbout was set up in the multimedia room right by the front. We had brought three of our four computers (and our Iomega Zip drive), one of which we hoped to use for a live Internet connection in addition to the Transition computer set up nearby. Our other computers would be used as an off-line display of the BikeAbout Web site. click to view a photograph We never did succeed in making the connection through our computer (nor do we know why...) and we didn't have thousands of people come to see our handiwork (we never really had time to prepare a proper display as others had), but we enjoyed the chance to reach out through this venue. click to view a photograph

We also took full advantage of our time to roam through the fantastically large space and appreciate the festive atmosphere and the work being done by other organizations. There were hors d'oeuvre, drinks, good conversation, dramatic displays, photographs, artists' studios, rooms devoted to the work of other organizations. It was a fascinating mix of people and social responsibility, and made for an evening of great distraction.

Later than we expected, we shut down our display and followed the crowd to a nearby basement restaurant. The owner, aware of the open house, had created a special and cheap buffet menu that everyone seemed eager to try. So, the whole DIA-BikeAbout crowd, including Ethan, Anthony, Corinne, Padraic, Fabrice, Stéphane, and Solenne, smooshed into a cubby and around a table (from which all the chairs had been removed) and stuffed their faces.

It had been a long day for us all.

After midnight, while the lure of the festivities that were planned post open house was tempting, we could barely keep our eyes open. It was time to head back to Florence's apartment and get some shut-eye. Besides, tomorrow, we knew that we would be back in the saddle and faced with another long day of biking.

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