Monday, May 19, 2008

from Brittany, France: paths

And the next day, everything changes. I’m in just one small corner (the northern coast), of one small department (“Finistere” – the end of the earth), of one small province (Brittany), of a not too large country (France) and I wake up to a day where nothing is as it was yesterday..

First, the weather has changed. Clouds roll in, the wind picks up. The pavement is wet. And yet, there is hope. Sunrise out the window shows cloudbreaks.

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It’s Sunday – a big family promenade day with a lot of eating thrown in. I can handle that.

We head to the village next door and inspect the bakeries. It’s a small place and so there are only four, all within two blocks of the imposing church.

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We’re not the only ones looking for bread products.

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Okay, this part’s easy. I have a café crème with pain au chocolat. I rolled croissants for a bakery in Madison a few years back. I know this stuff -- it’s all in the chocolate. No, it’s all in the butter. No, it’s all in how they make it. I’ve heard all the arguments and none of them explain why every bakery here makes perfect pains au chocolat while we struggle to get it right back home. And so many of our bakeries give up the fight and stick with investing in lots of sugar. Ah well. We got ‘em, hands down, on the work ethic. None of this bloated vacation stuff and leisurely week-ends. What a waste of quality work time. (I wonder why Sarkozy is doing so poorly in the polls. Oh, I see -- he’s regarded as lacking the stature befitting of a French president. That’s sort of funny.)

For lunch, we pack a couple of veggie quiches and water. We head out to the next big Aber Benoit (one last reminder: aber = a wide, long ocean inlet, sort of like a fjord except without the drama, unless you can call the huge tidal variations drama). The local map shows a trail along the edge. Some ten kilometers of forest path, with promises of rural scenery. Excellent.

It is a gorgeous walk. And, though just kilometers from yesterday’s hike, it's completely different. We’re at low tide and so we share the space with birds, the occasional fisherman and two horseback riders. Noone else. Take a look:

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We come to a point where path meets road. We sit or a rock and eat our lunch and watch monsieur dig for clams. For dinner tonight? I ask. Of course, he says.

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Is there another path back to our starting point? I prefer loops to retracing steps and our map dead-ends here. He doesn’t know. He’s not familiar with this spot. Just that it has clams. But the next man to come out the mud (with a bucket of seaweed, also for the missus) lives just up the road. No other path and don’t walk the road – he warns us. It’s dangerous! Noting our reluctance to repeat the hike backwards, he offers a ride to our starting point. We’ll take it! Just one of you – he says. My car seats just two.

If you love small cars, as we do, this is the place for you. Even if it means that sometimes one has to wait while the other gets the ride. I send Ed to bond with monsieur. And I sit down to watch a farm cat prowl around the yard, at the same time that a rooster is strengthening his vocal chords. This, to me, is a good way to while away idle time.

And now the sun is occasionally poking through. We drive to the far western coast (don’t think big distances here – we’re talking maybe 10 miles). I pick up a noisette (sort of like an American macchiato) at a sister café to Ocean, the blog and we set out again.

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The wind is strong here. But we are hardly alone. The path is a local favorite and this is, after all, Sunday and the big meal has to be properly digested. We exchange bonjours with all passersby (the dynamic is always the same – as an obvious outsider, with huge camera dangling from my neck, I get the first call. If I greet the local walkers, they are all over us with friendly responses; if I don’t, they look down to avoid the awkwardness. Except for the kids who don’t know any better and shout out bonjours before anyone else has a chance to make the gesture).

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The shoreline is rocky here. Where are the quiet coves of yesterday? Some would say that this is the more beautiful coastal path, but my summer cottage would face the gentler waters. Then again, other people like drama.

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Our evening meal is back in Aber Wrac’h. A small port village with three good restaurants. Ed comments – they sure know how to work with food here. Indeed.

We ask for more bread to wipe the plate of every last bit of avocado mousse. And I look forward to the last sweet bite of … crème brulee.

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