At first, the CIRA was to me a tiny basement premises in Geneva. Quite dark, warm in winter and cool in summer. Premises where one had to knock for admission.
Tuesdays and Fridays were good days, with staff on duty. Visits from Marianne and other comrades, male and female. A merry-go-round of accents and age groups.
Be they light-hearted or crotchety, anarchists are characters; and when they argue, they throw their lives into it.
The CIRA was predominantly black and (occasionally yellowing) white, ink and paper, characters, varying alphabets, caricatures with sprinklings of red.
There in that basement one could hear tongues that did not mince their words, rebellion and slang. With the occasional revolutionary anthem sung in Italian, Spanish or Yiddish.
It is hell when there newly arrived archive boxes and shelves stuffed to overflowing, with not as much room as could accommodate a cigarette paper, yet there is no loss of heart.
It was there that I read Reclus, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Malatesta, Bakunin, Mercier Vega, Pierre Clastres, Claude Guillon and so many others whom I wouldn’t have come across anywhere else.
In those days we were busily organising a ‘Cinema and Anarchy’ festival which spawned a pamphlet. And in 1984, for the Venice symposium we organised and staged the ‘History and Geography of Anarchism’ exhibition and had a three week break in our routine.
I have mentioned the older hands already but I would like to say how fond I was of André and his wife Coucou, who stood fast through the hard times out of a ‘natural’ courage. Then there was Gaspard, massive and always incognito in his overalls, and, beneath his flat cap, those round specs and his bottomless lunch-box, a chatterbox who couldn’t go for a walk without accosting and sharing a joke with somebody; and then there was also Gentile, the little tailor from Tessin who so lived up to his name and who went off on a round-the-world tour to celebrate turning 80 years of age; he once met Malatesta in the flesh and he used to say: “He was even smaller than me!”
From: CIRA Bulletin No 63. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.