Poitiers, September 4
Day 41 of the March on Brussels. From La Ferrière-Airoux, 34 km.
There is no feasible alternative over the small roads this time, we march straight to Poitiers. I walk along with comrade Abdullah, the old man with the grooved face and the long white hair. He has nominated himself the ‘Analysis commission’.
“We are going to take Poitiers”, he says, “and this time we’re not going to turn back.”
I look at him from the side, and I begin to suspect that he is lying about his age.
At Poitiers, in the eigth century, the muslim advance was brought to a halt by a christian army under Charles, ‘the Hammer’. Abdullah sighs. “The Arab intellectuals were very disappointed that civilization hadn’t advanced any further.”
He speaks out of experience, I know it. So I ask, “civilization?”
He starts to speak about Moses as if they had been brothers in arms. “Moses, for the jews, signified freedom. Jesus brought the message of brotherly love, and Mohammed gave people a social structure. Take away the religion, and that is what is left, the social structure.”
Catholic priests preached the future kingdom of heaven, and that way they more or less justified the misery on earth. European society at the time was based on the exploitation of the farmers by noble warlords.
The muslim society was based on families and clans, Abdullah explains. Money was a means and not an end. Demanding interest on a loan was forbidden and the price of bread was fixed. It was a sacred obligation for every muslim to open his door and to feed people who were in need. Rich people were not only celebrated for their succes, but also judged on their gifts in charity. If they didn’t they were considered social outcasts, however rich they were.
The land was divided among big estates and small farms. A landless farmer could offer his work to a landowner and take care of a cow or a goat. The milk and the offspring would be shared equally. After years a farm boy could have his private herd and settle on a piece of land of his own.
Most notably, while Europe was in the darkest of the dark ages, the muslim society stimulated research and speculation. They read Aristoteles while the European nobles boasted about their ignorance as if it were a virtue.
Just outside of Poitiers we are welcomed by groups of local indignados. They point us the road through the forest which will lead us to the old city along the river.
I like the city from the start. It’s like a big big village. The houses have an air of real old, not just renovated old. The medieval streets invite you to lose yourself deep in the entrails of the city.
When we come out into the open we stand next to the Notre Dame du Marché, our Lady of the Market. There are small groups of locals observing our travelling tribe and waiting for the assembly. They are most hospitable. They come to offer shopping bags full of food and coffee to the kitchen.
As I prepare to look for internet to send my daily communication, comrade Roberto comes by to speak to me in a conspiratory tone. “Have you heard the story of the showers?”
No, I didn’t, so he explains. Everything was already settled. On a secret mission, comrade Roberto had gone ahead to Poitiers the other day, he had pretended to be a pilgrim and got access to the local monastery. Today, he has been shipping people there back and forth in groups of five, to take a shower. “It’s a risk,” he says. “Just be quiet, and follow me.”
So there we go, off to take the monastery of Poitiers under the cover of darkness…