Monday, March 10, 2014

Sunday in France

Maybe it's all in my head, but to me, Sunday in France always feels special. Different. Notable. And this is true whether I'm in Paris or the countryside: I see things on this day that belong only to Sunday.

How so?

Well, so many people still do adhere to the middle of the day, family meal routine. The afternoon dejeuner where two, three generations sit down to eat. I have had one French woman scoff at this and tell me -- for us, it's like any other day. But she was in the States as she said this. Her family and her husband's family were in France, likely lamenting that their children have ruined the Sunday tradition for all of them.

Then there is the afternoon promenade en famille, or perhaps with your sweetie. I cannot tell you how many such walks I witnessed today. And here's something that is more common in this country than perhaps in any other place that I've been to: people hold hands. At all ages. a lot. You'll see this in my photos later on. And you may laugh at me for noting it. Isn't it just one of those irrelevant French things? Young people kiss in public, old people hold hands. Yawn.  But to me, it's so... life affirming. It's as if you're saying -- the world may come crashing at us from all sides, but I have you at my side and that is enough to get me through it all.

I write all this because I don't treat Sundays in France lightly. I am always aware of this special day, particularly at meal time. I recognize the importance of eating early, in a familial stting.

True, most Sundays I am here alone. My participation in any afternoon ritual is always from the perspective of an observer. I'm not one of those sitting with family and friends, I'm only watching others do so.

Still, I take great pleasure in knowing that this love of intimate connection is there and I don't run from it: I put myself right in the middle, so I can savor this aspect of French life, as the French live it.

So -- what to do, what to do on this second and last Sunday in France? I decide to go back to Roscoff. Saint Paul de Leon takes its action mostly home. Roscoff is much more public in her presentations, especially on a gorgeous day like today.

A quick honey cake breakfast...


...and I'm off. I catch the one bus that runs to Roscoff today. I'm somewhat in a hurry: I want to walk, my sore back notwithstanding (walking is good, sitting is okay, getting up from a sitting position is torture), but I want to cover new terrain: along the western shores of the Roscoff peninsula. I want to follow the coast far enough so that I can get to the sandy beaches that look out toward the ocean (and still have time enough to make it back for a big lunch in Roscoff).

And so I take the minibus along with one or two others and I begin my walk in Roscoff. And I must repeat this again and again: the day is absolutely brilliant. The tide is low now and I first walk along a small bay that is, therefore, almost without water.



But when I come to the long stretches of sand along the open seafront, I have my fill of ocean views. Not that I even consider getting wet. Only one person is swimming and he has a wetsuit. And a dog, wondering what the hell his master is up to.


At 90 minutes out, I have to turn around and head back (for the 90 minute return).


If I want my big Sunday meal, I must get to Roscoff by 1:30. I'll catch the tail end then of the grand repas.

I'm back at the place I ate in two days ago. It's small, intimate, crowded. It has freshness written all over its sweet white lace curtained face. Today, there are the families. Here's one right next to me. They were already eating when I arrive and they barely are at the dessert stage when I leave.


So what to order on this special day? It's time for my one sampling of the Breton seafood platter.  It is full of the shell fish of Brittany: oysters, small snails, large snails, shrimp, crab.


It takes forever to eat and you need to work hard to get out all the good stuff and typically Ed cleans up what I cannot get to, but it stands for all the good stuff the waters have to offer and it is served absolutely plain -- with only a vinaigrette at the side for oysters and a home made mayo in which to dip snails and crevettes, if you're so inclined.

It's at once a filling dish and a light dish. Seafood bare and simple. I'm enthusiastic, until I eat one too many snails and then I just count how many until the end. It is so satiating that I wont miss it for the next handful of years.

And now I still have another 90 minute segment -- the walk back to St Pol de Leon. And it is so sweetly satisfying now. I know the route, the bends, the farms along the way. The sun is in my face and I take off my glasses and close my eyes as I walk on.

In the Roscoff segment, I am, of course, surrounded by Sunday strollers.




All the way to the edges of town.

But after, I am mostly on my own.





Except for the occasional passerby, equally enraptured by this perfect spring day (we all comment on it). Oh, and at one point I pass a picnic table by the fields. Two couples are at it, not eating, but listening while one person reads out loud from a book. Poems maybe?


As I approach St Pol de Leon I feel so much like I am coming home. My little house is just at the edge of town and I always see it there, by the fields, as one of the first markers of the town. The cabbage field belongs to a manor that is hidden in the forest to the side and as I come closer, I pass a group of four locals chatting at an intersection amicably. One of them has a plastic bag full of daffodils. And then I pass another woman and she, too, has a bag of daffodils. So I ask about them.
They're from the forest -- she sweeps her arm in the direction of the chateau.
Can I go in there? Is it allowed?
Well, it's part of the chateau, but if you enter over the stones at the end of this path, you can see the daffodils. Just stay to the edge of the property.
Can I pick one or two stems?
She laughs. Look how many I have!

Is it that there is a popular rebellion against the spoils of the chateau landowners? I don't think so. He (it is likely a he, no?) probably knows that the local folk come and pick the wildly spreading flowers and he probably looks the other way. I'd like to believe that I am here with tacit permission. But maybe not. And I've seen a dog run through these fields so I am sure not to overstay my (possible?) welcome.

Oh, but it is beautiful here! A mysterious forest, dappled by rays of the late sun, with endless patches of daffodils. Most are not blooming now (or, have they been gathered by the locals?) and still, it is a place where fairy surely play.


I do come across another woman, picking with her friend. We murmur greetings. The forest deserves a silent presence.


It is a beautiful moment.


They say there's an ocean fog rolling in tonight. No matter. I had my Sunday in Brittany. And it was sublime.