Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday en Bretagne: la vie en rose

Sunday. I step outside. Brisk. The fires are lit, the stoves are burning.


Overnight, the French made significant adjustments to their attire. Whereas at the start of the week-end, only half wore scarves (and I should note that there are those here who wear a scarf year round), by this morning, not many flaunted a bare neck to the elements.

The elements were not especially threatening, but the temperatures dropped and the wind kicked in. I would put it at an “upper thirties” level. A warm spell by Wisconsin winter standards, but nippy for the French man or woman. And let me emphasize this (are you listening, Ed?): it is not a sign of weakness to wear a scarf. Men and women guard that larynx. How else would you be able to carry on the many conversations you typically have in the course of a day?

at the marché de Noel in Taden

The routine has been set: we leave at noon in search of a breakfast. Today we climb up to the center and then down to the other side of town just to pick up a breakfast pastry at our very favorite bread place. We feel we owe support to the Mesdames who somehow always have a hot baguette traditionel there at the counter when we show up.

Not that they need our support. At noon, the line had formed. Which is fine. It gives us time to think about what would be best. We settle for, among other things, a slice of this:


Just around a corner, a café-bar appears inviting. Up to now, I had taken to ordering my café crème at a small place with a lot of horse betting traffic. The coffee was good and there were always spare newspapers for Ed to “read.” But the café we enter now is different. The clientele is more, should I say maybe “hip?” Stylish, in a lively Breton way. The scarves have flair. The buzz is around something other than horses.


I ask if I can take out our pastries and as always, I'm reassured with a biensur! We eat and people watch. It is so pleasant not to see a row of computers (the norm at Madison cafés) and to hear, instead, animated voices. (It must be the scarf effect.)


Sundays in France (and I know I have said this in previous posts) charm me no end. If the weather is at all favorable, the towns and cities spill out, as people fill every conceivable communal space. If you choose to join in on this mass outdoor promenade (with refreshment time thrown in), you feel like you are indeed part of something far bigger than just your own preoccupations.

But all this does not happen until after the time of le dejeuner (the big midday meal). And so at midday, the streets are only moderately alive. (I see many who have been charged with picking up the baguette for the meal -- a task made even more pleasant by the availability of so many places to pause along the way for a quick refreshment.) We take a brief stroll through the old town center, admiring the shops from the outside (and, for Ed, the cat on the inside).



But as we are nearing the end of our time in Brittany (we leave early Tuesday), time is suddenly very precious and I no longer want to simply drift through the day. I have plans.

There are two big items set for this day: a hike up to Taden, the next village along the River Rance, and an evening of gift shopping at Dinan.

Still, the minute we hit a good stride along the river path, I begin to have doubts. Yes, it’s sunny, but I have become softened by the gentle winter and the warm interiors (the French heat their indoor spaces to my preferred level of warmth – some ten degrees higher than you’re likely to find in, say, Madison). I am feeling a bit nipped by the Breton breeze there, by the Rance.




But, I recall the words of Monsieur the other day (courage! It’s for the sport!) and I trudge forth. The French, for all their love of warm scarves and toasty interiors, do take to le sport in no light manner. This morning, we had quite the commotion outside our apartment as groups of young and old enthusiasts carried boats back and forth for a quick spin.


Now, as we briskly walk in the northern direction, I notice that the Rance is wider here. There are water fowl to admire, too. Shy creatures that take one look at you and swim away.


Our walk has a destination. The village of Taden is hosting a Christmas market. I’ve read the ads for it: nearly 80 stalls of foods, gift items, hot wine, cold wine, champagne... the typical attractions.

We turn away from the river and walk up the hill toward the village.


At the fair, we taste and compare honey cakes and wines and champagnes, and I purchase all the above (you’re going to carry that back? – this from Ed. Of course! Backpacks were meant for bottles of champagne sold by Monsieur le producteur himself. As always, I’m quite smitten with the idea of buying food straight from the person who made it).


At the side, there is a bouncing area set up for kids...


...but mostly, children here stay dutifully at their parents' side. I always am struck by how strong the lure of family is here. Children don’t rock the boat. I've wondered if it is because their school days are so long and their parent time is, therefore, too short in the course of the week. In any case, fussing is rarely tolerated.


(My daughters will remind me that the no fussing allowed bit was the norm at our house too. As were the scarves. In these small ways, I suppose, we were quite French-like.)

The holiday market is crowded and we do not stay long. I think Ed is a little puzzled by it all. Holidays are a mystery to him and people coming together to crowd a Manoir courtyard and rub shoulders with each other, given that they could wander, instead, in the vast beautiful spaces around us has to be a little odd. I explain to him that it’s for the joy of being together, sipping hot mulled wine and eating bits of honey cake.


It’s for the fleeting encounter with Santa – who in this country is always quite thin and has a beard made of excessively coiffed curls.



And for a look at the newest in caps and hats (Breton older men appear to favor the cap that you see in the first two rows, whereas the middle aged often appear in the rimmed hat).


A food day, a family and friend day. A stroll in the fresh air day. Markers of a good week-end day.

As we walk back toward the river, momentarily lost even here, on roads that give every indication that we are headed in the right direction...


...I drift momentarily into a review of my Sunday routines back home: clean house, work, eat a hastily thrown together meal. If the weather is superb, we will hike, bike or ski, but these hours will be squeezed out of an otherwise overburdened day. I shake off that reality and concentrate on the other one: that sometimes, not too infrequently, I have the good fortune of being able to place myself in these other worlds, where people treat Sunday regally. Up there with Christmas and birthdays, it seems. Every Sunday is a holiday.

We walk back along the river toward Dinan, shouting out an occasional bonjour to the families we pass along the way. The light is fading, but I don't feel the cold anymore. The wind has died down. An evening calm has set in.





At the Dinan river port, the night lights have already been turned on.


We climb up the hill and join the stream of pedestrian traffic in the old town. We buy chocolates and I make a few other small holiday purchases. Our plan had been to eat a supper of crepes, but the creperies are closed for the evening. We go back to yesterday’s little restaurant in the port across the river and order pizza. With veggies and a dollop of crème fraiche to make it just a little bit more of a Breton pizza (Brittany is seafood along the coast, and all about cows, fruits and vegetables as you head inland).


Again, I cannot help but express the feeling of contentment. It may be the country air, the fresh and honest food, the carafe of wine. The pink and rosy glassware, throwing pink and rosy hues on the table -- that may be it too.