Monday, July 7, 2008

Back home from Brittany

The return journey in the TGV, with Sophia stretched out on the floor at my feet, was very comfortable. In France, the train is certainly a great way to get around. The only problem, for me, is that the gentle movement tends to put me to sleep, so I don't get through as much reading (of Dawkins, of course) as I would like to. Besides, as soon as the train gets down to the Burgundy region, I can't resist the simple pleasure of watching the glorious rural landscapes glide past the train windows, as if I were scrutinizing a TV travelogue. France is truly a beautiful country, and I remain enthralled by its splendors.

During this pleasant trip to Christine's place, it became clearer than ever to me that each of us is living in an ideal location: Christine in Brittany, and me in the Dauphiné. Each of us appreciates the other's home place, and admires its many charms, while realizing that it would surely be an error for either of us to try to live in the other's region. For me, Brittany is quaint, sturdy in a stony style, and ultra-folkloric. The people there appear to live on an island, and take pride in being Breton prior to being French.

The villages are often pretty in a quiet old-fashioned way, but many of them strike me as granite graveyards built around a gray church. Insofar as I have no time for archaic attitudes towards the dead, I find cemeteries both stupid and ugly. Once upon a time, I liked to crawl around in certain graveyards in the hope of discovering genealogical data... but written archives are infinitely more effective in that domain. Above all, I persist in considering that fragments of a decaying corpse, such as we might find them in a cemetery, bear no relationship whatsoever, "spiritual" or otherwise, to the deceased... whose soul resides henceforth in an ethereal territory that we might designate as InformationLand. Cemeteries are vulgar and uninteresting junkyards for mindless and anonymous DNA. Human society would lose almost nothing if all our cemeteries were to be plowed under and sowed with crops. Meanwhile, our dead are elsewhere...

Christine, who owns and lives in an ancient presbytery, possesses detailed documents on Gommenec'h priests, including a martyr who was struck down by silly revolutionaries. But this morning, while leaving the village, I was amused to discover that Christine hadn't yet stumbled upon the tombstone, fixed to the wall of the local church, of a 19th-century Gommenec'h priest who died at the age of 30. Who was this young fellow? As I said, words are lovelier and more effective than stones... even though the latter can be moving.

I agree with Christine that my beloved Dauphiné is a rude country, whose inhabitants often reside in ramshackle abodes. My analysis of the situation is as follows. Dauphiné residents live in the shadow of mountains, which are surely the most permanent entities on the surface of the planet. A Breton might build his home in stone as a reaction against the ephemeral waves and windy mists of the sea, whereas a Dauphiné peasant would look silly if he attempted to construct an artificial fragment of an eternal mountain. So, our Dauphiné artifacts are primarily simple shelters from the elements, bivouacs, not monuments. At an adjacent level, I would be tempted to suggest that Brittany may not even think in the same way as the Dauphiné... but that's an enormous subject, which I cannot approach within such a superficial context as my Antipodes blog.

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