The House of the Babayagas in Montreuil (near Paris) opened its doors in 2012. Seven years on, let’s take a look at this communal, self-run living space envisioned by Thérèse Clerc for women who want to age differently.
Valérie de Saint-Do
On the 18th of November, the Michèle Firk bookstore in Montreuil screened the film ‘HLM et Vieilles Dentelles’ (‘social housing and old lace’) by Chloé Bruhat and Aurore Le Mat. This documentary provides an empathetic, affectionate account of the House of the Babayagas that avoids over-romanticising these women or denying the difficulties their collective has faced over the years.
The House of the Babayagas could have papered itself in column inches even before it was built. In 1995, the firebrand Thérèse Clerc, a longtime feminist activist, planned the
project after the pain of witnessing the end of her bedridden mother’s life, and meeting women who faced the same difficulties. The House of the Babayagas Association was founded in 1999. Its purpose? To create an “anti-retirement home”, which meant starting with a re-imaging of what old age should be. “What we want is to change the way older people see themselves and society, and above all the way they are seen by society. We argue —with support from certain gerontologists— that degenerative diseases stem from society’s contempt for older people. This condemns them to a life of card games like belote, Scrabble, chocolate boxes and Christmas meals, leaving them utterly infantilised. No, old age is neither a catastrophe nor a pathology. It’s a beautiful time of life, a time of great freedom,” said Clerc in a January 2013 interview with Cassandre magazine. “We want this house to be self-run by secular, green feminist citizens working in solidarity!”
Read the full article in AA’s 424th issue – Ageing, well and in place – available in our online shop.