Showing posts with label Brittany. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brittany. Show all posts

Monday, September 26, 2016

Back to Brittany

Nantes, last Saturday. Several thousand marchers were crying out for the reattachment of the Loire-Atlantique department to Brittany. [AFP] Here's an extract from Wikipedia:

Loire-Atlantique is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. Its name was changed in 1957 to Loire-Atlantique. The area is part of the historical Duchy of Brittany, and contains what many people still consider to be Brittany's capital, Nantes. However, when the system of French Regions was reviewed by the Vichy Government, the department was excluded from the Region of Brittany and included in the newly created Pays de la Loire Region. Whilst these administrative changes were reversed after the war, they were re-implemented in the 1955 boundary changes intended to optimize the management of the regions. Regular campaigns reflect a strong local mood to have the department reintegrated with Brittany.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Deadly bagpipes fungus

When I was a child in Grafton, I started to dislike bagpipes of the Scottish variety. I simply found their sounds unpleasant. More recently, in Brittany, I met up with so-called Celtic bagpipes, and found them equally unpleasant.

I was therefore intrigued by a story in the French press of the death in 2014 of a 61-year-old British fellow who had inhaled for years a deadly fungus that had proliferated in his bagpipes. Click here to see the original article on this affair of fatal lung disease that has just appeared in the Thorax medical journal. Musicians can apparently encounter mortal molds in other wind instruments such as saxophones.

Friday, May 13, 2016

People in Brittany should teach their cars to swim

The municipal authorities do their best to inform visitors that they must not forget that the tide rises and falls once a day... as it has been doing for many centuries. Some visitors seem to imagine that their precious automobile will surely notice that the water is rising, and climb to higher ground.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

DNA testing

Click here to see a video about a DNA trial carried out this weekend in a French village, Trélivan (Côtes-d'Armor), in the hope of identifying a local youth who had attempted to rape a 22-year-old jogger a year ago.

This criminal investigation reminds us of the terrible affair involving the rape and murder of a 13-year-old English girl, Caroline Dickenson, in July 1996, in a youth hostel in another Breton village, Pleine-Fougères (Ille-et-Vilaine, near Saint-Malo). In spite of systematic DNA trials, the murderer— a Spaniard named Francisco Arce Montes—was only captured by chance, 5 years later, thanks to a bright US detective, Tommy Ontko, when the criminal happened to be holidaying in Miami.

Ontko's fortuitous work played a fundamental role in enlightening the French public on the amazing possibilities of DNA testing to track criminals. Today, in the village where yesterday's testing was carried out, I would imagine that everybody was motivated by the fantastic possibilities of this kind of scientific police investigation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Places that can be seen by my son in Brittany

Up until recently, I was constantly puzzled by the question of the not-so-distant places that could or could not be observed from the house of my son François Skyvington in Brittany. Click here to see a recent post that mentions a few of these places. I had the impression that my blog offered a good conclusion to most aspects of this interesting question. Well, I don't know whether my son actually studied that blog post carefully. Be that as it may, half-an-hour ago, he phoned me up to say that he was thrilled to have concluded, this afternoon, that distant lights that he could see in a north-easterly direction from his upper-floor study (using binoculars) were in fact located, not on French territory, but in the British island of Jersey.

I found that news weird, because I believed that my son had spent so many hours (days, months and years) staring out across the splendid English Channel, from his delightful house on the cliff-tops of Plouha, that the wonderful view no longer held any kind of secrets for him.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Alone in an old lighthouse at the tip of Brittany

Marc Pointud isn't getting paid to look after the ancient lighthouse of Tévennec for two months, nor was he washed up here after a shipwreck.

No, he took the initiative of asking maritime authorities to enable him to reside here for a while, with the unique aim of spreading information about this extraordinary place... and maybe persuading philanthropic companies to participate as benefactors in the restoration of the site.

Click to enlarge

Click here to access the TV website about this adventure.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

English Channel seen from space

Here's a photo of the English Channel, looking towards the east, viewed from above the tip of Brittany. The image was obtained by the first official British astronaut, Tim Peake, aboard the International Space Station, orbiting the Earth at an average altitude of 350 km.

Click to enlarge

Here are some helpful geographical labels:

I'm not good at identifying landmarks in photos taken from space, but I would imagine that the big dot at the bottom of the photo, above the "o" in Astro, is lighting from the city of Brest. Above it, one of the dimmer dots on the coastline would indicate the city of Saint-Brieuc.

During my recent convalescence with my son François at Plouha (Côtes d'Armor), I was constantly intrigued by our splendid vision of the English Channel, whose waters lapped the base of the granite cliffs just a few hundred metres in front of the house. We were charmed by the presence of all kinds of small vessels: mainly pleasure yachts and fishing boats. But I often wondered why we never caught a glimpse of giant cargo ships and tankers moving along the busy lanes of the Channel. François showed me how to use my powerful binoculars to get a glimpse of an exotic place near the horizon known as the Roches-Douvres Lighthouse.

Inevitably, since this name means "Dover Rocks", I immediately asked my son a naive question: "Is that old lighthouse located in the vicinity of the English town of Dover?" François said no, not at all. So, I never understood (and still don't) why the name of this shelf of rocks, off the coasts of Brittany and Normandy (between the islands of Bréhat and Guernsey), should evoke the distant town of Dover. In the following map, the lower tip of the red blob indicates the location of the Roches-Douvres Lighthouse, whereas a green star marks my viewpoint at Plouha in Brittany.

Click to enlarge

This map of the English Channel makes it clear that, from my son's house in Plouha, I was unlikely to catch sight (even with powerful binoculars) of the stream of great vessels moving along the wide sea-lanes between France and England.

The fist-shaped peninsula of Cotentin, jutting out from Normandy, includes a pointed finger that seems to be saying "piss off" to any ship's captain moving too close to the French coastline. Fortunately, no courageous Allied commander was led astray by this warning on D-Day, 1944, when the outstretched hand formed rather a sign of V for Victory.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Holiday idea for spring tourists in Brittany

I've just heard that, for the first time since the creation in 1992 of the Breton King Scallop Festival (fête de la coquille Saint-Jacques), it will be taking place this year, on April 23-24, in the marvelous little port of Paimpol, in the Côtes-d’Armor department. That's in the home land of my son François, and my ex-wife Christine and her companion Michel, where I spent time convalescing last autumn.

This superb scallop, Pecten maximus, is a species of the edible saltwater clam, a marine bivalve mollusk in the family Pectinidae. It is one of the finest foodstuffs in Brittany.

Its shell has always symbolized Christian pilgrims setting out on foot to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.

Monday, March 10, 2014

New concept in speed sailing

A fabulous French catamaran named the Flying Phantom was introduced to the international sailing world at the Paris Boat Show 2013. Its revolutionary J-shaped foils cause the craft to rise up out of the water as soon as the speed attains 10 or so knots. And the cat then appears to levitate above the surface.

The manufacturer’s headquarters are located in the beautiful Breton village of Saint-Lunaire, near Saint-Malo. (What a delightful name for a Breton saint: Lunatic.)

The company has a splendid website.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Everyday Breton meal

Maybe (surely) I've retained far too little, sadly, from my relationship with my Breton ex-wife Christine Mafart... apart from two brilliant offspring, bien entendu : Emmanuelle and François. What I'm trying to say is that I never really got around to appreciating the habits and culture of Christine's native region, Brittany, which has always had, for me, the hues of damp mists, granitic churches and tombstones, ignorance, religious bigotry and dull archaic traditions, dominated by the stupid pride of being Breton. Whatever way I try to adjust myself to that Breton environment, I simply can't convince myself that I might be Celtic (which I probably am, funnily enough, in one way or another). I prefer the mountains, clearcut cliffs and the relative sunshine of south-east France. On the other hand, up until my dying day, I shall regret the fact that nobody in Christine's family environment ever had an opportunity of introducing me, ever so little, even superficially (to whet my appetite) to the fabulous maritime environment of this mythical land... but I would need a second life to change things at that level. (In fact, I discovered sailing much later, briefly, out in Western Australia, in 1986.) Meanwhile, I'm thrilled to see that my son is discovering exactly and profoundly the legendary and marvelous Brittany that escaped me.

Having said that, I hasten to add that I've got into the habit of eating Breton delicacies such as their wonderful buckwheat galettes (de sarrasin in French), and I often have the impression that I could survive indefinitely on this meal, particularly since the galettes have become available in supermarkets everywhere.

On a hot plate, after a dab of butter, you spread out the galette and cover it with an egg, a slice of ham and grated cheese. Salt and pepper.

With a spatule, turn over half the galette to form a crescent.

Turn it over a second time, to brown the other side. Apart from exotic seafood such as crabs, lobsters and St-Jacques seashells, this is no doubt one of the finest and simplest tasty dishes that Brittany has to offer.

And its charm lies in the fact that it's such an everyday preparation, involving no culinary effort whatsoever.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Gaul with a sudden urge

You probably saw the story in the world media, a few weeks ago, about the French actor Gérard Depardieu at the start of a flight from Dublin to Paris.

He informed the cabin crew that he had an urgent need to pee. Since the plane was taking off, the toilets were out of bounds. So, Depardieu was obliged to pee into a plastic bottle. But this recipient turned out to be far too small for his voluminous production of piss… so you can imagine the uncontrolled splashes and the subsequent mess.

My readers are no doubt familiar with the cunning little Gaul named Asterix, and his bulky but immensely powerful companion Obelix.

Obelix is a hearty eater, with a constant yearning for wild pig. At a single sitting, he's capable of consuming, all on his own, several baked boars. In October last year, I mentioned this meat in my blog post entitled Celtic cooking [display].

Getting back to the Depardieu incident, the actor had been in Ireland for the shooting of a film about these heroic Gauls. As in a previous movie, Depardieu was playing Obelix, and his fellow-actor Edouard Baer was playing Asterix. Well, they've just released a French-language video in which Obelix, at the start of a plane flight, is beset by a sudden urge to eat roast boar (in French, sanglier).

An excellent publicity gimmick for the forthcoming film! Besides, here's a nice CNN interview concerning the notorious Depardieu incident:

In a totally different domain, here's a curious photo that shows a wild boar, on a beach in Brittany (home of Asterix and Obelix), about to be taken for a ride on a quad bike.

Are they about to prepare a Celtic banquet? Not exactly. It's one of a dozen or so dead bodies of wild boars that were no doubt poisoned by toxic hydrogen sulfide gas emitted by a thick layer of decaying seaweeds. The seaweeds thrive at the outlet of a stream that is polluted by nitrates used abundantly by local farmers… many of whom raise domestic pigs.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tidal-power engineering

Electricité de France (EDF), the national French electricity authority, has purchased a series of four giant tidal-energy turbines, which will be towed out into the sea off Brittany, to the north of Paimpol and the Ile-de-Bréhat, and lowered onto the sea floor.

These huge turbines are manufactured by an Irish company in Dublin named OpenHydro.

[Click the image to access their website]

Each circular turbine has a diameter of 16 meters, and will be installed on a tripod posed on the sea floor. The combined weight of a turbine and its base is 850 tons, which means that the structure is unlikely to move around.

For the moment, tidal turbines of this kind remain an experimental technology. On the other hand, France was a world pioneer in a related domain: the installation of tidal turbines in a barrier across the mouth of an estuary.

Opened in November 1966, the Rance tidal-power station in Brittany was the first such system in the world. Today, the station is still perfectly operational, and it produces electricity at three-quarters the cost of nuclear energy.

Obviously, to exploit this source of energy, you need to be located in a part of the world with a powerful tidal system. This is the case in Brittany and Normandy… where there's a well-known local saying about the tide going out "at the speed of a galloping horse". Personally, before becoming acquainted with the coasts of these two French provinces, I had never encountered the phenomenon of ports that simply lose all their water when the tide is out. I was amazed to discover vast beaches of dry sand covered in boats propped up on their sides with wooden poles.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Breton sailors

A few weeks ago, I spoke of the beautiful maiden named Nolwenn [display] who lives deep in a dark forest somewhere in Brittany, surrounded by fairies. Happily she emerges from time to time, to sing ancient songs that she learned from her Celtic ancestors, many of whom were seafarers. On such occasions, her singing enchants the local peasant kids, who gather spellbound around the princess. This lilting song, in the archaic Breton language, celebrates three sailors.

Talking of Breton sailors, many of them used to go out to Australia. In 1882, one of them, a 16-year-old fellow named Guillaume Le Queniat, actually liked Melbourne so much that he jumped ship there.

I would imagine that the Izel was a navy brig. (The expression Breizh Izel designates the westernmost territory known as Lower Brittany, where Breton was the only language used by the local folk.) Today, a descendant of the sailor lives out in Australia [genealogical website], and he still has relatives in the region of Plouha, on the northern coast of Brittany. The story of this Breton sailor was brought to my attention by my son, whose house is located on the clifftops, just up the lane from the ancestral home of Guillaume Le Queniat.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Beautiful people of Brittany

Hordes of tourists visit France constantly. Many spend their time in places such as Paris, the Loire Valley and Provence. Some people, generally with kids, consider that the term "France" designates little more than a touristic package including the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, the Champs Elysées and Disneyland, with remote exotic sites such as the Mont St-Michel thrown in for the adventurous. Certain visitors (probably not many) imagine that France is surely a romantic wonderland where determined explorers can find medieval knights in armor, incredibly beautiful long-haired princesses and Druidic magicians: a bit like corners of the British Isles, once upon a time, with the advantages (for visitors) of good weather and decent food.

My advice to visitors in this third category is to head directly to Brittany. In this north-western region of the territory controlled by the French Republic, a lot of excitement has been stirred up as a result of the recent discovery of a beautiful Celtic maiden known as Princess Nolwenn. It is said that she grew up in the dark woods of central Brittany, where she was raised by fairies, who fed her on berries and nectar. The beauty of her voice is said to calm ferocious beasts such as dragons and bunyips (which originated in Brittany before swimming to the Antipodes). Up until recently, Nolwenn spoke only a primitive form of a Gaelic dialect, but she's now getting along remarkably well in French. Here's a sample of Nolwenn chanting a French version of one of her childhood poems. The glorious princess is surrounded by her beautiful people from the Breton forests, some of whom are preparing peasant pie:

Breton nuns and priests are currently attempting—thank God—to persuade Princess Nolwenn to abandon her ancestral pagan beliefs and to accept Sarko's Savior.

POST SCRIPTUM: Over the last few weeks, I've noticed that videos picked up from YouTube (such as the above one) are proposed with iframe tags, which make it possible to use a simplified reference to the video source. I trust that the various browsers employed by readers of the Antipodes blog are all capable of recognizing these tags correctly, and that the videos in question get displayed optimally. A blog author often fails to realize whether something like this is, or isn't, the case.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Old friend in Brittany

Christine phoned early this morning to inform me that her father, aged 94, had finally slipped away peacefully yesterday evening. In the context of a large family, characterized by diversity along with a strong current of coherency, Jacques had become a patriarch in a similar fashion to his own father (whom I had known well). I believe that Jacques and I knew each other in depth. Christine has told me that her father, during his long journey into old age, often asked her for news about me. It will indeed be weird for me to imagine Christine's corner of Brittany without Jacques Mafart.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

At the seaside in Brittany, 83 years ago

The excellent Gallica service provides a copy of this delightful illustration that accompanied an article entitled "Punishment for flirts" in the newspaper Le Petit Journal illustré of 11 September 1927:

At a seaside resort in Brittany, a few female visitors had got into the habit of strolling back to their residence while still attired in their bathing outfits. The local women, wearing their traditional costumes (including bonnets, flowing skirts and clogs), decided to flagellate the bathers with bunches of stinging nettles and thorny blackberry branches. The crime of the bare-legged bathers, for which they were being chastised, had consisted of attracting the lusty gazes of the husbands of the Breton women.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bretons at play

I thought I knew a thing or two about what goes on in the native land of my ex-wife Christine, but I've had occasions to discover that many Breton traditions escape me. The last time I visited Christine, she and our son took me to a simple country tavern where local musicians had decided to get together for an evening of Irish music. Although I was familiar with musical evenings in Paris cafés (where I used to play guitar and sing Leonard Cohen stuff), I have to say that this event in Brittany was one of the most unexpected and extraordinary musical evenings I had ever experienced. It was ostensibly a normal tavern with ordinary customers (like Christine and me) dropping in for drinks. But I soon discovered that almost every individual who stepped through the door of that tavern that evening was accompanied by a musical instrument: violin, flute, guitar, bodhrán, etc. By the end of the evening, we were among the few non-playing people, surrounded by some thirty musicians... who all managed to collaborate splendidly!

Today, for the first time, I heard about Breton wrestling, called gouren. You lose, apparently, as soon as you get knocked off your feet. Thankfully, during all the years I've known Christine, she never once tried to do that. This video shows Breton girls wrestling on a beach:

In traditional bouts, the grand champion receives a special trophy: a live ram, which he has the right to hoist up onto his shoulders.

I appreciate the symbolism of this trophy. Back in the days when I had a small flock of sheep at Gamone, I was often knocked off my feet by a blow from an otherwise friendly ram. Funnily enough, they always attack you from behind, and when you're least expecting it.

Now, there has been a court case in Brittany because the league opposing cruelty to animals considers that there's something immoral in the idea of awarding a live ram to the winner of a wrestling tournament. But the legal judgment was most appropriate: the animal-rights plaintiff got knocked off his feet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Flatland creature

I'm sure you won't believe me, but I'll nevertheless reveal, tardily, the truth. As an adolescent, about to start university studies, I imagined for a moment that I might apply to be trained as a fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. It sounded like a fascinating occupation... although I must admit that I had never, at that time, flown in anything bigger (as a thrilled passenger) than the tiny yellow Tiger Moth belonging to a distinguished South Grafton gentleman named Eric Hudson, father of my childhood friend and current blog-commentator Bruce Hudson.

Retrospectively, I believe that this professional choice would have been a mistake, even though I love to get into big airplanes of the kind that fly between Paris and the Antipodes. I know today that I'm essentially a flatland creature... in the spirit of my ancestors who moved around over the flat grasslands of Africa and later the steppes of Asia. Back in those days, our archaic brains had to be good at detecting the presence of wild beasts, edible plants and nubile females. Since none of these entities hung around in the air, our brains (if I can speak for all humankind) had no reason to get adapted to bird's-eye views of things.

Today, there are two environments in which this inherited weakness hurts: mountains and seas. Here in the Vercors, I'm often stunned to realize just how hard it is for me to comprehend the topography of the landscape in which I reside. To put it bluntly, mountains seem to move, not only sideways, but up and down. A peak that looks tall when viewed from Saint-Jean-en-Royans becomes a pimple at Pont-en-Royans. Distant summits that lie far apart when seen from Saint-Marcellin nudge closer to one another when I get up close to them... or maybe the opposite. It's all very disconcerting, particularly the weird phenomenon of neighboring summits that change their respective altitudes, depending from the place and angle of view. Somebody said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. He might have added that geographical coordinates seem to behave exactly like beauty. It's a kind of idiot version of Einstein's theory of relativity. When I drive from one village to another, or when I stroll on foot from one vantage point to another, mysterious space-time dilatations—contractions and expansions—come into play. Up until now, I've never bothered contacting the scientific world to let them know that I've made these observations. So, you might consider this blog article as a personal coming-out. Others take pride in announcing that they're homo, hetero or travelo. As for me (big news), I'm basically flatto: a flatland being.

A case in point. In recent articles, I've evoked the newly-acquired cliff-top property of my son François (also known as Chino in his ancestral Breton territory):

Rapid trip to Brittany [display]

Ocean silence [display]

Virtual dream house [display]

My son's place lies somewhere in the following bird's-eye view of the region:

But, even with highly-enlarged satellite images, I find it hard to determine exactly where my son resides, and what kinds of inaccessible beaches lie at his doorstep. What I really need is a new-fangled high-tech system of powered wings—à la Nicolas Hulot–that would enable a flatland creature such as me to explore at ease these questions, from the skies of Brittany. Or maybe, simply, a boat.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Virtual dream house

During my week in Brittany, the focal point of my attention was my son's recently-acquired house on the cliff tops at Plouha.

To a casual observer (such as me), it looks already like a real house surrounded by vast grounds with luxuriant greenery (including a cluster of maritime pines and half a dozen rhododendron trees).

But it remains a virtual home in the sense that François is devoting his imagination and energy into transforming this simple abode into a cozy cocoon of intimate harmony. The present symbol of this ongoing transformation is his newly-constructed attic, with windows looking out onto the wonderful waters that separate France and England.

My son's dreams, over the last year or so, have embraced the idea of moving around on a moped to create movie documentaries about exotic faraway places such as Madagascar, Burkina Faso, etc. That was his primary dream, and it has become a reality in that, at present, his movies are indeed being produced and screened. By the same token, his place on the cliff tops of Plouha can be thought of as a dream house in the sense that François discovered this amazing site at exactly the same moment that he learned that his project of moped movies had been accepted. Call it a double dream come true.

Here's another ordinary view from the field in front of his house:

While speaking with genuine enthusiasm about my son's dreams, I have to admit that my own dream home at Gamone has become, by the force of things (as they say wisely in French), a project that concerns, henceforth, only me. This is normal, in the modern world, where a son is no longer expected to inherit, let alone develop and bring to fruition, the dreams of his father. If my son doesn't mind, I'll borrow the title of this blog article, Virtual dream house, and make a lukewarm attempt, with a wisp of paternal sadness, to convince my readers that I was thinking, in fact, about my humble home at Gamone.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ocean silence

My short trip to Brittany is drawing to an end. Yesterday afternoon, we returned to the cliffs of Plouha to inspect the work being carried out by François on his future home. He hasn't yet completed the electrical wiring and plumbing, which means that he carries on residing at Christine's place in nearby Gommenec'h. Meanwhile, he has built a totally new upper floor, which will be his bedroom and office. He has installed a pair of large roof windows, which open out onto a magnificent ocean view. François has already set up a chair and a makeshift table on which he has posed a telescope, purchased for ten euros in a second-hand shop. Clearly, he has spent quite some time peering out over the waters, because he seems to have acquired precise knowledge concerning the appearance and daily behavior of the small boats that drift around there for one reason or another.

There's an atmosphere of misty solitude, silence and peace… which reminds me of my cliffs and mountains at Gamone.

The path along the top of the cliffs used to be the regular itinerary of customs inspectors on the lookout for smugglers. François tells us that local folk are aware of the existence of tracks, hidden beneath the ferns and bushes, that lead down to the edge of the water, but it would be dangerous to search for them, since the cliffs are often abrupt.

Moving cautiously to the edge of the path, you can glimpse a tiny pebble beach alongside jagged rocks that are the home of cormorants and gulls. But the only access to this beach would be from the water.

This tiny rocky island has a curious name, Mauve, which has nothing to do with its color. It's funny to think that, beyond the horizon, the English Channel is one of the world's busiest ocean itineraries.

For the Skyvington family, the custom officers' track is rapidly becoming one of our busiest photographic itineraries.

On the way back to house, I made the remark that it's a setting I would like to rediscover in winter, when the sea and sky are the color of steel, and the fields are icy.

I've spoken of silence. In fact, one hears constantly the soft eternal sound of water lapping up rhythmically against the rocks. One imagines this magnificent site, too, in a tempest. I have a sudden vision of the past, with uniformed customs men slipping and sliding on the damp stones as they pursue, shouting, a fleeing smuggler, who finally disappears into the thicket. Truly, it's a place that stirs constantly the visitor's imagination.