Eco-designer Samudra writes about growing up in Brittany (Northern France) – from her memoir ‘The Freedom of Having Nothing’: “There was never really a time when I wasn’t making new things out of old. It was always going to be that way.”
I was six years old when the petroleum super tanker Amoco Cadiz, bearing the Liberian flag of convenience, drifted and broke into two off our coast of Brittany in 1978.
Two hundred and twenty thousand tons of crude oil and 4,000 tons of fuel oil leaked out for days, creating one of the worst ecological catastrophes in history. The nauseous odor filled the air. For weeks, columns of army vehicles brought soldiers in for the clean-up. Marine birds died in their thousands on the beaches, choking in a thick brown morass, wings glued together, eyes and mouth full of toxic sludge. Countless rescue centres rapidly sprang up to save the struggling birds as scenes of dying marine life began broadcasting around the world. Everyone felt helpless and enraged. My village of Le Conquet was not spared. Every rock and every centimeter of coastal sand for more than four hundred kilometers was stained and slicks of oil caught on our swimsuits, beach towels, toys and feet for years after. The hand of man on nature, still a vivid and sad childhood memory today.
I grew up in Le Conquet, a small fishing village on the coast of Brittany, with my younger brother Sebastien and Caroline, my older half-sister. For centuries Le Conquet was home to merchant sailors, the King’s seamen, captains and their families, and the businesses that supplied them. I spent my childhood days in the fresh air, exploring the ancient cliff-top chemin des douaniers (the path of the coast guards), roaming the rocky coast, the beach and the local woods. The outdoors was my playground, limitless, ever-changing. Freedom. My parents didn’t want a TV in the house so free time was for being creative or exploring outside. We bought eggs from an old lady who came from her small farm into the nearby village, my mother made jams from the wild blackberries we harvested in nature or from the rhubarb in our garden, and we made our own yoghurt. Nothing was organic, the word didn’t exist.
Most days I walked the wild path above Le Bilou beach, taking in the soaring views to Pointe Saint Mathieu and its tenth-century abbey; sweeping to the right, Pointe du Renard and home of Radio Conquet, fondly known by sailors and navigators who encountered the menacing ocean currents of the Mer d’Iroise. Broom, brambles, blackberries, heather and dune grass hunkered low to the ground in the constant battering winds. Clusters of seagulls nested on craggy shore rocks, swooping and swaying up into the gusts. Rich smells of le goémon (the local seaweed) filled the air. From Pointe du Renard, another panorama unfolded towards the beach of Portez and the arcing coastal road, Route de la Corniche. Heading along Route de la Corniche and past Portez beach, I waved and chatted to my friends Françoise and Guy through their open window.
A fleet of nearly thirty deep-sea fishing boats anchoring in the harbor offloaded hundreds of tons of crabs, scallops and shellfish every year. My father was a scuba diver, always available when the local fishermen needed help under their boats or their nets had stuck fast underwater; the fishermen gave him kilos and kilos of local fish and seafood as thanks. He also did spearfishing and our dinner table was generous with crabs, shrimp, shellfish, mussels, scallops, lobsters and more – a gift from the Mer d’Iroise or the local people. Further into the harbour, at the bottom of the slope, was the scuba diving center founded by my father. The blue wooden life-saving boat lay waiting, ready to launch along the rail into the sea at the sound of the siren. The pier reached into the blue, taking passengers on a ferry to the islands of Molène and Ouessant. At the end of the pier, leaning against the wall, I could gaze for hours at the Beniguet and Litiri archipelago of islands.
I was deeply in love with this place. I thought I would never leave.
The bricolage habit wove through my childhood; I inherited it from my ancestors, on both sides of the family. Bricolage is the hand art of patching and piecing together old things to make new, making things instead of buying new or factory-made. I grew up in an environment where we made, created, fixed or upgraded. Very little was thrown away. My parents grew up in the post-war era, a period of increasing wealth in France, but they still carried their parents’ imprint telling them not to waste, to récuperer (spend as little as possible). Sebastien was always falling down the wooden stairs so my mother made him some little slippers to grip onto the wooden surface: black neoprene for the soles, cut from one of my father’s old diving suits, then some padded jacket material (already seen many lives) for the uppers. I swooped on the leftover scraps and made a miniature pair for Emilie, my doll. By the time I finished my fingers were pierced and painful, trying to push the needles through the tough neoprene. But Emilie’s slippers were peerless. There was never really a time when I wasn’t making new things out of old. It was always going to be that way.
Samudra (Katell Gélébart), originally from Bretagne, France, studied Scandinavian languages at Paris University. Self-taught and passionate about reusing since childhood, she opened Art D’Eco, a tiny eco-fashion boutique in Amsterdam. She has travelled to Denmark, India, Australia, Ukraine, working with local people and staying long enough to inspire them about new ways of living lightly on the earth. In 2007 she took sannyas in Pune and, in 2012, she won the Kairos Prize and last winter she published her memoir ‘The Freedom of Having Nothing’. katellgelebart.com
Samudra’s ‘Profile’ on Osho News
Aesthetic and Creative Eco-Design – Samudra’s life as an eco-designer and environmental activist