Thursday, May 22, 2008

from Brittany, France: sales and sails

From the early minutes of the day, talk is of weather.
Sky looks good. Wind’s a little tame. I don’t know how that’ll work.
But there are boats out on the water.
Seem pretty slow to me.

I suggest we go to Lannelis (4 km south). It’s market day there and markets are an upbeat thing. Besides, Ed is smitten with one particular baguette, from the second bakery there. It’s true love. Other baguettes are mere infatuation compared to this one.

I’m sipping my café crème, nibbling at an apple pound cake, Ed is breaking off chunks of baguette and taunting me with a real estate newspaper. Sure enough, I find the perfect house for me. Modest, pretty and only1 kilometer from the sea.

Would you be surprised if in the weeks ahead I spontaneously walked in and purchased it?
I would if I could.
And that is precisely why you can’t and you wont.

Is there a suggestion there that I tend to spend with the heart rather than with a calculator and a strategic plan in hand? Fine, I admit it. I haven’t outgrown my post war Poland skepticism with the whole idea of planning for a future. Life then was a day to day thing. That attitude stuck.

We pick up the essentials: more cheese, more strawberries, and as my special gift to Ed – a big slab of local butter.

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And now it’s close to two – the afternoon opening time of the Aber Wrac’h sailing school. Ed is thrilled to see the wind kicking up. I am getting nervous. Did I mention that I don’t like to sail? In principle, it seems perfect: I love water. I love controlled speed in open spaces. I love order and clean surfaces sprayed with ocean water. But I don’t like to bounce on waves.

We’re handed the keys (so to speak) to a Dart 16 catamaran.
Long sleeve or short on the wet suits? – the school instructor asks (at the time of our outing, local children, very very young children, are having a sailing and kayaking lesson).
I don’t know…
Take the long.
You’re always cold. (This from Ed.)
I look at the two wet suits. The long sleeved one looks all encompassing. Sort of like hiding in a black rubber brace. The short sleeved one looks … cute.
I’ll take the short sleeved one. Ed is grinning. My decision making process, exposed.

The instructor tells us to not go beyond a certain landmark. He’ll be out on the waters with the kiddies keeping an eye on things.

Ed tells me to leave the camera on shore.

I’m stunned. Leave the camera? I’m engaging in this death defying activity, bouncing on ocean waters for hours on end and I should not even take photos?

You don’t understand. You’ll be sitting on the hull and salt water will be coming at you from all sides. You’ll ruin your camera.
I have the small one
(it’s not THAT small). I have a plastic baggie. I’ll tie it to some line or post…
But Ed is shaking his head.
If it’s calm, we can come back for it.

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And so we launch the monster ship. Surrounded by little ones and their dainty little boats.

At first, it is tame.
I want my camera.
Alright, back we go.
Ed is a patient person. It is one of his greatest traits.

But the going back part is tough. Ed maneuvers the boat brilliantly close to the dock and a fellow sailor catches the line.
Off you go.
I teeter on the hull. Lord, the things I do for my hobby.

Back again, camera in hand.
And here comes the sailing instructor on his motor boat.
What’s happening here? He shouts out.
My camera…
You can’t pull up like that! The boat isn’t made for docking! I thought something was wrong.
It was. I didn’t have my camera. We’re really sorry.
He shakes his head and speeds back to his class.

The little ones with their little boats are like dolphins. In and out of water, turned over, right side up again, down again, all in seconds, again and again. Ed is amazed at the cleverness of the simple design of the small boats. What a perfect boat for kids, he says again and again.

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And now we’re on the Aber waters. The tide is coming in, but we’re still not at the high mark. And the wind indeed kicks in. I am drenched. My camera is hidden under my life jacket. I need a hand to keep it from being exposed. The other hand is clinging to a handle on a line.
Move your ass up over the hull! Ed shouts.
I can’t do that! I’ll fall in!
It’s that, or we capsize.

I move my ass over the hull.
And it’s all quite thrilling, in a cold, wet sort of way. Aber Wrac'h is fading into the distance.

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Take my picture! I shout, thinking this sailing moment must be commemorated.
Ed is busy holding a rope by his teeth, so the no comes out garbled. One hand is on the tiller, the other is jerking the jib this way and that.
And still he manages to do it. Nothing to write home about, but then, neither are the photos I took. That catamaran lacks the stability and dryness of solid land. I spend the better part of three hours protecting the camera rather than using it.

Still, there are the occasional shoreline shots. Of oyster farmers. Of children in and out of boats. Of quiet country scenes and distant lighthouses. None of them especially good, all of them quite memorable in the taking.

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oyster farming

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three lighthouses

We were told firmly to bring the boat back so that everyone can go home at five. We oblige. We pull the boat out and haul it to its destination.

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The school instructor, appreciative of our efforts has mellowed. We’re all friends now. In the dressing room, the tiny little girls are neatly stacking clothes and wet suits, giggling at this and that. Happy – it strikes me how happy they are.

The sailing day is finished. People disperse (taking their dogs with them).

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Ed and I walk home. Salt covers my arms, my face. I soak in a hot tub and think about it all. Predictably, Ed was terrific with the boat. Only one curse at a dropped line during the entire trip and some deft maneuvers between poles and buoys and little kid boats.

It’s good to have skills.

We eat at our favorite place across the road. Moules frites with garlic for Ed, buckwheat crepe for me. (Which one do you recommend? I ask the owner. I love them all! – he answers.)

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The place is packed. Rapid fire French, loud laughter, men with thick whiskers, women giving a rub to their husband’s back. Fishermen? Farmers? It’s not a fancy place and these are not fancy people. But it is a buoyant place.

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two favorites: local artisanal apple juice and rosé wine

The owner and the waitress are running between the tables. I see sweat on their faces. As we get up to leave, I ask Monsieur if his business (here for ten years now!) is mainly supported by the locals. No, we need the tourists that come in too. But they’re mostly Parisians, with summer homes here. Do you have any Americans here? No! He laughs at that. Oh, but your salad! The one you served us the other day? I posted a photo of it and it got so many nice emails and comments! He smiles, pleased.

From our rooms, the water takes on the deep blue colors of the night.

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