Wednesday, December 09, 2009

both sides of the River Rance

It’s rush hour in and around Dinan – insofar as the French are ever really in a rush. We hike up into the village on our side of the river, finding the going rather uninteresting here. It’s one of those things: we are technically residing in Lanvallay, but the walk up to its commercial heart (two bakeries, two café bars, a tabac and an epicerie; oh, and a hair dresser) is longer than the walk to big Dinan’s hilltop center (population: circa 11,000).

But we like knowing even the plainness of our surroundings. There is a misty drizzle, though it's not really cold. It is indeed one reasons why I love Brittany so much. The weather is mild, never extreme. The south of France gets the winter winds that chill the socks off of you. In Brittany, life is always moderated by the gulf stream.

At the bakery, there is a small gathering: standing, waiting for the evening bread to come out of the oven. Should we get something? No, no. We can’t eat our way through this place.

We’re at the supermarket that's along the main road just outside the village. Not many customers here. Still, it's well stocked. I’m looking at rows and rows of rosés. Ed is searching for the local apple juice. We find it among crates of produce (pears from the region of Lyon, apples from Normandy). But it’s not just apple juice (I call it juice here even though it's our cider; in Brittany, I can’t say cider, because cider is always with alcohol). It’s pink lady apple juice. And granny smith apple juice. And so on.


Ed has me read the descriptions. I can see how people get into this with wine! It’s rather captivating. He selects the “Tentation” Apple – "mildly acidic, but on the sweet side of the continuum. Leaves you with a sense of tarte tatin (apple upside down cake)."

We walk up and down the aisles, looking for the little things that would make this a French supermarket. There are many to smile at. Okay, language, sure. But also the content of labels. Boxes of soup that spell out the percentage of each vegetable pureed within. 14% carrot, 12% leek. And so on. Then there is the chestnut spread. Cheap, Ed comments, checking the label to make sure it's really mainly about chestnuts. It is. But wait: there is one and only one type of snack chip. Potato. One wee bag. Don't Bretons love chips and TV as much as we do?? Finally we find the foods for the immigrant, separately placed, much as we segregate our Mexican foods back home. Except here, it's shelves of British foods. Oh British food! Digestives (cookies). Worcestershire Sauce. Lemon curd. Their own orange marmalade. Life's necessities.

Walking back to the apartment, we pass the second bakery. The line is forming here, too. Next door, at the epicerie, we admire the salmon, the salads. Sort of what delis used to be like back home - Ed comments. Not anymore. We prefer to shop for everything in our big markets. Here, so long as you’re stopping for bread at the bakery, you may as well go next door to pick up shrimp. Or a salad.

Food. That reminds me. Earlier, there was lunch. Oh, now let me completely go back in time. To the morning, when we woke up to a day view of the River Rance.


Crossing the bridge, we begin the long hike up that pretty cobbled street you saw here last night.


Our riverside road has a bakery and a few bars, but they’re closed. Our landlord explains – many businesses close now for a week or two. They like a break before the Christmas holidays. Of course they do.

Up we go. The climb is steep. We almost change weather systems by the time we reach the center of town – from the partly sunny skies that greeted us just minutes ago, to the cloudy misty air that will keep us company for the rest of the day.




looking down at the river port where we are staying

Holidays in France. There isn’t the shopping flurry here. Not for another week or so. But the mood of Christmas is vividly with us.


We stop for a pain au chocolat and café crème at a bar and then we meander.

Dinan is a lovely old place and even Ed, who is no fan of towns on any side of any ocean, is charmed by it. Medieval, quiet, moody and imposing, it is one of Brittany’s best. And now, it is free of the tourists that, in the summer, come in for the day, pick at the foods and souvenirs and leave to get closer to the sea. Dinan is a passing through kind of place. That was me once. (Diana, remind me: what ghastly period of years ago were we here?) Not today. Today, I can pretend to be a resident.





By noon, I am craving lunch. At home, I never eat this meal. Too busy, too mindful of the big dinner at the end of the day. But here, I cannot pass it by. We tell ourselves: a few more churches to explore, a few more passageways to go through and we’ll stop and do as the French do. Or at least as the old Bretons do. Because if you look inside the numerous creperies and moules frites restaurants, at midday, the clientele is going to be, well, our age. (Younger people in this neck of France so often eat at home.) We order the north coast special: la galette – a savory crepe made with buckwheat flour. It takes me only fifteen minutes to decide on the filling. (I finally settle for local scallops and leeks.) The beverage, a local cider (yes, cider) is, of course, the drink of choice.


You would think that this would tide me over until the next day. So wrong. By late evening, we are climbing up to Dinan’s heart again. Almost empty now, near 9 pm. The older people are replaced at the eateries by a younger crowd. We stop at a moules frites place (how many ways can you steam mussels? According to our menu, some two dozen; I opt for the moules in the Brittany style: the broth has wine, onion, cream and tiny shrimp; Ed's happy with a broth of wine, onions and mushrooms).


Night time. Quiet time here, along the river's edge. How many times can I photograph the river? With lights and reflections that take your breath away? Oh, so many.