Wednesday, May 21, 2008

from Brittany, France: missed boats and other good things

Up early. Need to get going. Goal: get to le Conquet, some 45 minutes away. Le Conquet is the furthest point west in mainland France. And, it puts you officially on the Atlantic coast. Weird how that works: look left – ocean. Look right – channel.

It’s also the port from which a ferry runs out to the outer islands. I’m thinking a bike trip around one of them would be cool.

Ed drives the backroads as if he were a local. Madness. But, we’re in a rush. I called the ferry and they are full. Will only take standbys. Get there early! – they tell me.

So we don’t manage to get there that early and the place is packed with agitated local men and women. Looks like a tour group used up most of the ferry spots. One ferry per day means that a lot of people who depend on this service don’t get to go. We back away from the mob and stroll the pier looking at lobster pots and fish nets and all the paraphernalia of a fishing port.

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So what now? Oh, café and croissant, for sure. And people watching.

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And, it happens that today is market day! So perfect. We stroll… And are utterly charmed by the regional seasonal artichokes. But why am I convinced that we need six large ones??? It's because Monsieur is so tickled that he is selling his big chokes to Americans. And so I want us to convey our appreciation for his artichoke growing skills. Still, when and how are we to cook them?

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Later. In our tiny kitchenette. Surely there is a pot there…

The other absolute winners: local butter. Ed is wondering if he can stash some in his pack to take back home. It is that good. And the berries. The taste is pretty near perfect.

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And the cheeses. And the tomatoes. And endive… slowly, our bags fill.

We walk back and forth, taking it all in, feeling the thrill of this sunny day and a market of produce that makes a winter-chilled Wisconsinite weep. With pleasure. And a big dose of envy.

By noon, we are ready to move on. We pick up maps at the tourist office and we set out along the ridge just outside of town. This time I want to lollygag on a beach. None of this sprinting all afternoon long. I want warm sand and stone, I want the trickle of water, I want to do nothing. I’m in France, the desire for quality idle time has taken hold.

The views are now, predictably, magnificent.

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And within a half hour, we select a beach, empty now, at lunchtime. The rocks form coves where Ed can find shade. We settle in for a meal and a nap.

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As Ed continues to dream away, most likely about boats, I get up to look for interesting things along the water’s edge. And I find them.

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Who are they? I ask another fellow beacher. A real wedding maybe? Or la couture, they suggest.

As the afternoon progresses (and Ed continues to doze among the lizards), others drift in for a few hours in the warm air. Just a handful. Enough to make it interesting, but still quiet, so that only the voices of gulls drift toward you.

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But, we still have a hike to accomplish and eventually we leave behind the most perfect cove. A few kilometers up, at the lighthouse, we turn inland. The country road is completely empty. The stillness of the air, the buzz of the occasional fly and the preoccupied bee (she is inundated with flower choice! The stone walls alone would make you spin)...

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...give you the sense of country life that I find so often missing back home (maybe because the fly and the bee compete so unsuccessfully with the mosquito in Wisconsin). Birds, bees, butterflies -- they're all here, sharing space, impressing me with their habits.

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Within a few kilometers, we come to the tiny village of Lochrist.

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Look inside the chapel there, the tourist office tells us. We do. The sun streams in through the stained glass , the stones take on honey tones, all lovely, all still.

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Can a summer day be more idyllic? All because of a missed boat. How fortunate.

At Aber Wrac’h, we take out the artichokes. Huge. There are two small pans and two burners. We rotate the chokes as they half cook, half steam themselves into doneness. And the soft, slightly salty butter makes it a perfect… what? Predinner snack.

Ed looks at me with amazement as I tell him that I am ready for the big meal now; ready for the dish I’ve been waiting for: the Brittany seafood platter. At the local sea food place, he watches as I eat it all – the snails, oysters, langoustines, and the might crab.

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Okay, I do need help with the mighty crab. The waitress pounds, Ed cracks. I eat.

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