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

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.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Excursion into a fairytale land

Yesterday, we drove westward to visit Christine's brother Lan Mafart at his seaside tavern named Caplan & Co near Lannion.

[Click the photo to visit their French-language website.]

After lunch, we visited the church of St-Jean-du-Doigt, where the term "doigt" (finger) indicates that their treasure is a silver reliquary containing a knuckle of John the Baptist.

Today, it's hard to imagine that fire could break out in such a damp stone church... but this happened (for the third time in the history of the village) last century, and the stained-glass windows had to be replaced. The new non-figurative windows are extraordinary. One has the impression that we're observing the silhouettes of colorful vines and shrubs growing outside the edifice, with maybe the misty sea on the horizon.

In a nearby village, the church is dedicated to an exotic Breton saint named Melar. As you can guess from his golden crown, scepter and blue cowl with fleur-de-lis motifs, Melar was no run-of-the-mill pious villager. In fact, he was a prince. But a jealous and wicked relative cut off Melar's right hand and his left foot, in the hope that this would prevent the young prince from manipulating an épée and riding a horse, thereby making it impossible to accede to the regional throne. But lo and behold, Melar's artificial hand and foot, made of silver, soon functioned magically, even better than his original limbs... and it was obvious to everybody that they had a saint in their presence. I forget the rest of the story, which Christine read out to me while we were crawling around in the underground crypt where Melar was laid to rest at the end of his fabulous life.

I should point out, for readers who don't know so already, that Brittany is a place where all sorts of strange things happen.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Enchanting vegetation

The day after my arrival in Brittany, Christine took me to a magnificent 42-acre botanic garden near Tréguier named Kerdalo, created during the final decades of the 20th century by a Russian nobleman, Peter Wolkonsy [1907-1997].

Peter became a specialist in dendrology, the science of trees, and his domain can be considered, first and foremost, as a celebration of great trees of many kinds.

A tiny stream enters the upper edge of the property, and its waters have been channeled into a series of pools of differing shapes and sizes.

The largest pool is in fact a small lake surrounded by giant tropical plants, masses of hydrangeas, reeds and rushes.

In the middle of the domain, a square array of splendid flower beds corresponds to what might be described as a "clergyman's garden".

Often, the pools are bordered by fountains and fanciful constructions.

On one edge of this tiny square pool covered in greenery, there's an Italian grotto whose walls are adorned by frescoes.

In certain places, there's an air of giantism, with roses climbing into the branches of huge trees.

When Peter Wolkonsy discovered the property, around 1965, the splendid residence was little more than an old farm house.

The far end of the domain slopes down into a magnificent estuary, with Tréguier across the waters.

Since the death of Peter, the domain has been evolving under the guidance of his daughter Isabelle and her English husband Timothy Vaughan, who's an expert horticulturist.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Evening sky in Brittany

Quite late in the evening, Christine called me outside to observe this fantastic sunset. Back home in Choranche, the hour of the evening at which the sun goes down, and night sets in, is much earlier than here in Brittany. Besides that difference due to longitude, the evening sky above Gamone rarely looks like this pastel poem over Gommenec'h.

Blogging from Brittany

For the first time ever, I took the TGV [high-speed train] from Valence to Guingamp in Brittany, accompanied by Sophia. Christine picked us up at the station, only a dozen or so kilometers from her village of Gommenec'h. It's certainly a rapid and comfortable way to cross France, largely less tiring (and cheaper, too) than driving.

Sophia and her daughter Gamone get along nicely together.

I'm always amused to rediscover the dog-house I once built for my first companion at Choranche, named Bruno.

Incidentally, this is the first time I've ever created a blog article while away from my house and my usual machine. Today, I'm working on my portable MacBook, and using Christine's Internet connection. The result appears to be satisfactory.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Old house in Brittany

[This happens to be my 600th post in the Antipodes blog.]

Christine has always been so much in love with her ancestral Brittany (in a simple but profound paternal family fashion that has no apparent links with silly Celtic folklore) that it's only right that she should reside there today in a beautiful house.

Christine's splendid dwelling is an ancient presbytery: that's to say, the residence, once upon a time (when the Church was rich), of the village priest. The least that can be said is that her house (which I know quite well) has a soul. The question, of course, is: What kind of soul? Breton Catholic? Celtic? Maybe even Druidic? Now, I don't expect that my ex-wife will necessarily agree with me... but I'm totally convinced that, whatever old souls might have been hanging around there up until recent times, in the ancient stones of this delightful village, Christine has finally chased them away and replaced them quietly and calmly by an intriguing new soul: hers.