Tuesday, May 20, 2008

From Brittany France: food for the soul

Ed ‘s itch to sail is mounting. So much so, that I feel sorry for the man. And so, when I throw back the window in the morning and see this…

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I tell him – Ed, we must sail.

But the boat people have other ideas. Too windy – they tell us. Come back Wednesday. I see Ed’s suffering – it’s perfect out there, he mumbles. But then, he knows and I know that he is a sailing genius. To the boat people, we’re a risk. And so we grudgingly agree to come back Wednesday with a mutter from Ed – big wind is better than no wind.

We appease ourselves with a breakfast at an outdoor café bar in the village to the west (Landeda; as opposed to the village to the south -- Lannelis; such lovely names), with treats from the bakery across the street.

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Maybe we can do a picnic lunch. Ah food. It can bring you out of any slump. We do a quick trip to the grocers and, equipped with a baguette, a Normandy cheese, Breton cider, cherries, tomatoes, chocolate, pastries, and an onion (I caved on that one; Ed loves onions, what can I say, his soul is hurting), we set out due south, to the Atlantic coast of far western Brittany and the rugged and beautiful peninsula - Presqu’ile de Crozon.

With stops (even though it’s just an hour’s drive from Aber Warc’h).

This, for example, was too tempting to just drive by.

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So first came the camera, then the idea that we should of course sample their crepes, and just one wont do, so how about one savory, with tomatoes, cheese and mushrooms and one sweet with chocolate and Brittany (slightly salty) butter?

The chef knows his crepes. We are impressed. We lap up cider from bowls (like the locals!) and sit back wondering if this counted as a second breakfast or a prelunch snack. You are Dutch? – the chef asks us. No, American. He smiles. It’s nice that this admission can still produce a grin. (Note the crepe below.)

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I chat to him later in the kitchen. I baked in Switzerland for a while, he tells me. But then I had a baby girl and I wanted her to grow up here. We live above the creperie. Did you know that there are 3500 creperies in Brittany?

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Ah, but this one was the best. I’m sure.

Just down the road we stop again. It’s the apple trees. Apples to Brittany are like apple pie is to America. Coastal Brittany means oysters and lobsters and fish. Ten kilometers in and you forget about the ocean. Now you’re thinking apple thoughts and of cows in pastures and farms, producing the very best butter and cheese.

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A grandma type comes to the car as she watches me take lazy pictures through the open window.

They’re beautiful, aren’t they? You have a large orchard? Yes, we make cider on the farm! Ah. I see the sign: Cidre, scrawled on a wooden board. We can’t just wave and take off after that. Monsieur displays his apple drinks and we purchase a bottle of this and a bottle of that and we continue.

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And now I have a problem. My summer house of an imagined and highly fictional future was to be just outside Aber Wrac’h. But this peninsula is nearly perfect as well! It has the cliffs, sure, but the beaches – they are maybe the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. As we get out to take a look, I am stunned. White, smooth layer of sand. Ripples of ocean waters. Ripples of sunlight.

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Ed eggs me on. You’ll love it here in your little cottage. I already love it here. How much more of my hyper love can I give to this place?

A man rides a horse rides across the beach. Pompously. Fitting well into the majesty of the scene.

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We drive to Camaret sur Mer, a small port at the tip of the peninsula.

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Everyone here knows the tough changes that have come to families who for years have relied on fishing for a livelihood. The love of Breton seafood worldwide has meant that by now, demand exceeds a sustainable supply. Breton men still fish, but there are fewer of them and they haul in less. We stroll and look at old boats, left as prominent reminders of how it once was.
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There is a path out toward the cliffs and we take it – the never ending hiking trail no. 34, the one we have followed throughout Brittany. And the views are, well yes, what can I say -- sublime.

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Near the summit, we find a sheltered area from the wind and share our late lunch with seagulls.

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Boats are returning to shore with their catch. The final run. Nets are removed, the fish, crab, lobster, all of it are handed over to the fishery.

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It’s late, but the sun is not anywhere near ready to call it a day. We drive along the coast, admiring it all – the views, the gentle clear waters of the ocean, the artichokes, the orchards, all of it as soothing as the cider in the back seat.

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One more short drive up one last summit for one last look out on the peninsula, hazy now in the evening light.

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We drive back thinking a light supper will suffice. But at 9:30, Aber Wrac’h is pretty much shut down for the night. Except for one creperie, just by the dock. There, madame is counting the bills and monsieur is watching TV and we wonder why they stay open even as we’re grateful that they are. She tells me -- we’ve been here for some thirty or forty years now. When the wind picks up and in the cooler seasons, there aren’t that many boats coming in. But, on other days, we are busy.

Aber Wrac’h, busy? I can’t imagine it. I know, I need to come back in the summer season. Of course I will. Someday. When you have a summer house, you need to check up on it frequently, no?